1 Chapter 5 is about the fourth main source of law: the United States Constitution. Technically, the fourth main source of law is both the federal constitution and the state constitutions, but this course is too brief for us to learn anything about the state constitutions. Instead, we will try to delve into the federal constitution a bit and understand how it affects U.S. law a bit better. In law school, you will take a whole course on constitutional law in your first year as a law student. We have one chapter.
2 Before the constitution was drafted or even imagined, the United States were governed by a different document called the “Articles of Confederation.” The Articles of Confederation were written in 1776-1777, and became the working constitution, even though the weren’t ratified by the 13 colonies until 1781. Ratified means approved. When a constitutional document is RATIFIED, it goes into EFFECT. So the Articles of Confederation went into effect in 1781. They were replaced by the U.S. Constitution in June of 1788. There were two main problems with the Articles of Confederation. First, the federal government had no ability to raise money. Second, the States were imposing import taxes on each others’ products. The so-called “Philadelphia convention” met in May 1787 with the intention of MODIFYING the Articles of Confederation to address these two problems. But after discussions had continued for a bit, most of the delegates began to feel that it would be better to write a new constitution from scratch, and to significantly change the structure and powers of the U.S. federal government. Initially, they decided to keep their discussions and debates secret, so that all the delegates could speak freely about the wide-ranging possibilities for how the new government could be structured.
3 Go straight to this: In order to persuade the states, and especially the anti-federalists, to agree to the creation of a national government that would have the power to tax, the power to raise an army, the power to pass laws, and the power to regulate interstate commerce, the framers of the constitution deliberately made the federal government WEAK in two important ways. One, each of the three BRANCHES of the federal government would have check and balance controls over the other two. Essentially, this meant that in order for the federal government to take some action or pursue some policy, opinion would have to be relatively unanimous among the three branches that such action was a good idea. Squabbling would create INACTION. ACTION would require unanimity, or something close to it. Article I created the U.S. Congress, Article II created the office of the president, and Article III created the U.S. Supreme Court.