United States Constitution

From Ohio History Central

The Constitution is the fundamental law of the United States of America and is the oldest written constitution still in effect in the world.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaimed the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain and formally began the American Revolution. The new nation then had to create a new government to replace the monarchy that it was trying to overthrow. After much debate, the United States adopted the Articles of Confederation. This was a very weak national government. It consisted of one branch which was a one house legislature known as the Confederation Congress. The Congress had the power to declare war, sign treaties, and settle disputes between the states. It could also borrow or print money. The Americans were so fearful of a strong, centralized government that they refused to give their Congress the power to tax. This government was then in effect from 1781 until 1788.

In 1783, the Americans secured their independence from Britain with the Treaty of Paris (1783). They immediately began to build their new nation but faced many difficulties, primarily due to the weak national government. Without having the ability to tax, the federal government could not pay for a military. This was an especially important issue for people living in the Northwest Territory. As thousands of Americans moved into the area, Native Americans struggled to stop them. Unable to easily pay for an army, the government could not protect its citizens. To solve this and other problems, a Constitutional Convention took place in the summer of 1787. Called together to revise the Articles of Confederation, the delegates decided that a new and stronger constitution was needed. The federal government now had the power to tax, and its provisions were to be the supreme law of the land. Fearing that one person or faction might be able to gain control of the government, the drafters divided the government's powers among three separate branches, the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Each branch had checks and balances on the powers of the other two. The Constitution created the United States in the form in which it still exists today.

For people in the Northwest Territory, the new United States Constitution led to some immediate, albeit relatively minor, changes. Most notably, the new government had the power to tax, and the United States military increased in size, providing additional security to whites living on the frontier. During the early to mid-nineteenth century, the federal government also began to provide states with funds for internal improvements, most notably roads, canals, and railroads. These funds helped connect Ohio more closely to the rest of the United States.

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