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Text 3. Constitution. Bill of Rights.


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In the course of the Convention (May, 1787), the delegates designed a new form of government for the United states. The plan for the government was written in very simple language in a document called the Constitution of the United States.The Constitution set up a federal system is one in which power is shared between a central authority and its constituent parts, with some rights reserved to each. The Constitution also called for the election of a national leader, or president. It provided that federal laws would be made only by a Congress made up of representatives elected by the people. It also provided for a national court system headed by a Supreme Court.

In writing the Constitution, the delegates had to deal with two main fears shared by most Americans.

One fear was that one person or group, including the majority, might become too powerful or be able to seize control of the country and create a tyranny. To guard against this possibility, the delegates set up a government consisting of three parts, or branches, the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Each branch has powers that the others do not have and each branch has a way of counteracting and limiting any wrongful action by another branch.

Another fear was that the new central government might weaken or take away the power of the state government to run their own affairs. To deal with this the Constitution specified exactly what power the central government had and which power was reserved for the states. The states were allowed to run their own governments as they wished, provided that their governments were democratic.

To emphasize its democratic intent, the Constitution opens with a statement, called a Preamble, which makes it clear that the government is set up by “We, the People” and its purpose is to “promote the general welfare and secure blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” (descendants).

Before the new government could become a reality, a majority of the citizens in nine of the 13 states would have to approve it. Those in favour of the adoption of the Constitution argued long and hard in speeches and writing. They finally prevailed, but the states made it clear that one more change would have to be made as soon as the new government was established.

Representatives of various states noted that the Constitution did not have any words guaranteeing the freedoms or the basic rights and privileges of citizens. Though the Convention delegates did not think it necessary to include such explicit guarantees, many people felt that they needed further written protection against tyranny. So, a Bill of rights was added to the Constitution.

Although the world has changed greatly in the past 200 years, it has proved possible for the Constitution to be viewed as living document, one that could be interpreted by scholars and judges who have been called upon to apply its provisions to circumstances unforeseen at the tine it was written.

To all Americans another basic foundation of their representative democracy is the Bill of Rights, adopted in1791.This consists of 10 very short paragraphs which guarantee freedom and individual rights and forbid interference with the lives of individuals by the government. Each paragraph is an Amendment to the original constitution.

In the Bill of Rights, Americans are guaranteed freedom of religion, of speech and of press. They have the right to assemble in public places, to protest government actions and to demand change. They have he right to own weapons if they wish, Because of the Bill of Rights, neither police nor soldiers can stop and search a person without good reason. They also cannot search a person’s home without legal permission from a court to do so.

The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans the right to a speedy trial if accused of a crime. The trial must be by a jury and the accused person must be allowed representation by a lawyer and must be able to call in witnesses to speak for him or her. Cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden.

There were 16 other amendments to the Constitution as of 1991. That is not many changes considering that the constitution was written in 1787. Only a few need to be mentioned here. One forbids slavery and three others guarantee citizenship and full rights to all people regardless of race. Another gives women the right to vote and another lowered the national voting age to 18 years .

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