CYBERLAND UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
Dr. Almon Leroy way, Jr.
University President & Professor of Political Science
NOTES ON THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1787
& THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
AMERICAN NATIONAL GOVERNMENT UNDER
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
THE ORIGINAL SCHEME OF NATIONAL GOVERNMENT--THE SCHEME OF NATIONAL GOVERNMENT PROVIDED FOR IN THE U.S.
CONSTITUTION, AS PROPOSED BY THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION & RATIFIED BY THE 13 STATES:
THE U.S. CONGRESS--A BICAMERAL NATIONAL LEGISLATURE:
THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES--THE LOWER HOUSE:
Seats in the House apportioned among the states
according to population.
Each state entitled to a number of House
seats based on that state's total free
population and three-fifths of the
House seats were to be filled by direct popular
election--the U.S. Representatives being elect-
ed to TWO-YEAR TERMS, all terms expiring at the
[Once elections began to be held under
the U.S. Constitution, the states quickly
adopted the following practice for U.S.
The legislature of each state di-
vided the state into a number of
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS (U.S. House
election districts) equal to the
number of seats the state was en-
titled to fill in the U.S. House.
The voters in each congressional
district elected one member of the
U.S. House of Representatives.
The foregoing practice is now re-
quired by federal statute.]
All revenue bills had to originate in the House
THE U.S. SENATE--THE UPPER HOUSE:
Egual representation of the states in the U.S.
Two U.S. Senators chosen by each state.
A state's two Senators elected by the legisla-
ture of that state.
U.S. Senators elected to SIX-Year Terms, STAG-
GERED--with the terms of one-third of the Sen-
ators expiring every two years.
While all revenue bills had to originate in the
House of Representatives, The Senate possessed
the full power of amendment.
THE POWER OF ABSOLUTE VETO OVER NATIONAL LEGISLATION:
Each of the two chambers of Congress was to
have the power of absolute veto over national
A majority in either house could prevent
enactment of a law approved by a majority
in the other house.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS OF CONGRESS:
(1) All the powers granted to Congress by the Arti-
cles of Confederation;
(2) Many other powers, including power to--
(a) Regulate interstate and foreign commerce;
(b) Lay and collect taxes.
Included in the taxing power of Congress
was authority to levy the following kinds
Excise taxes--taxes on goods produced
and sold within the U.S.A.;
Import taxes--tariffs and customs duties
on imports. [Power to levy export taxes
denied to Congress by the Constitution.]
Capitation taxes--head taxes, or poll
taxes; [CAPITATION TAX: A tax per per-
son, levied on each person's head.]
Land taxes--taxes on real estate.
[All federal direct taxes had to be ap-
portioned among the states according to
THE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.--THE NATIONAL CHIEF EXECUTIVE:
The top executive authority in the national
government was to be a single office occupied
by one person.
And that top executive officer, the President,
Possess and exercise substantial authori-
ty under the Constitution.
Be fully in charge of the executive
branch of the government;
Be constitutionally separate from and
largely independent of the legislature.
THE UNITARY EXECUTIVE--SOURCES OF THE IDEA IN
PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE:
In American states, the office of Gover-
nor in New York and Massachusetts.
[The New York Constitution of 1777 and
the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.]
The office of Governor in most of Brit-
ain's North American colonies prior to
the troubles leading up to the colonial
rebellion and the War for Independence.
The office of Monarch in the English/
British government during the late 16th.,
17th., and 18th. centuries.
HOW THE PRESIDENT WAS TO BE CHOSEN:
The President was to be INDIRECTLY ELECTED.
The President was to be elected by an ELECTORAL
The Electoral College would consist of PRESI-
DENTIAL ELECTORS chosen by the states.
Each state would chhose a number of pres-
idential electors equal to the total num-
ber of Senators and Representatives to
which the state was entitled in the U.S.
In each state, the method of choice of
that state's presidential electors would
be determined by the state legislature.
The U.S. Constitution did not (and still does
not) call for popular election of presidential
Presumably, the Framers of the Constitu-
tion expected the legislature of a state
to choose the presidential electors for
The historical evidence indicates that the
Framers also expected each presidential elector
to vote INDEPENDENTLY in the presidential elec-
They expected each presidential elector
to vote according to his own judgement
and convictions regarding what was best
for the country.
The Constitution did not (and still does
not) stipulate that the presidential
electors vote in accordance with the
wishes of the voters in their respective
[It is long-standing political
tradition (long-standing political
custom)--not the Constitution--
which dictates that presidential
electors reflect the wishes of the
voters in electing the President.]
Incumbent members of Congress and other office-
holders in the national government were to be
ineligible for election as presidential elec-
The Congress would be prevented from
electing the President.
The election or reelection of the
national chief executive would not
be dependent upon majority support
in the national legislature.
THE PRESIDENT'S TENURE OF OFFICE:
The President' term of office was to be four
Prior to the addition of the Twenty-second
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1951, no
limit on the President's eligibility for re-
election was stipulated in the Constitution.
The Constitution placed no limit on the
number of four-year terms a person could
serve as President.
THE PRESIDENT'S VETO POWER OVER NATIONAL LEGISLATION:
The President was to possess a very strong, but
not absolute, veto over congressional legisla-
The President was to have what is known
as a "CONDITIONAL," or "SUSPENSIVE,"
A bill passed by the two houses of Congress
could not become law without the President's
consent and signature--
UNLESS each of the two houses voted by at
least a two-thirds majority to override
the President's objection to the bill.
THE PRESIDENT'S TREATYMAKING POWER:
The President would have power to make trea-
ties, subject to ratification by a two-thirds
vote in the U.S. Senate.
No treaty could go into effect as Ameri-
can law until--
The President had submitted it to
The Senate had, by at least a two-
thirds vote, ratified the treaty.
THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY--THE U.S. COURTS:
The judicial branch of the national government would
The Supreme Court of the United States;
Such lower federal courts as Congress might
create by law.
The U.S. Courts would hear and decide cases under
The state courts would hear and decide cases under
In a given state, the courts of that state
would hear and decide cases under its own laws.
The court system at each level--federal and state--
would have its own separate jurisdiction.
The U.S. Supreme Court would--
Be the highest federal court;
Have the right of final judicial decision in
in all federal cases brought before it.
Federal judges (including U.S. Supreme Court jus-
tices) were to be appointed by the President, subject
to the consent of the U.S. Senate.
Before a judicial appointment could go into
effect, the appointment would have to be con-
firmed by majority vote in the Senate.
A federal judge's term of office was to be DURING
That is, he could hold his office as long as
he lived or as long as he did not commit an
THE NATIONAL SUPREMACY CLAUSE:
The U.S. Constitution, like the New Jersey Plan and
the Articles of Confederation, contained a NATIONAL
The National Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitu-
tion made the Constitution, treaties, and all consti-
tutionally valid laws of Congress the "SUPREME LAW OF
THE LAND" in the U.S.A. [Article VI, paragraph 2]
The clause also declared that all judges on the state
courts were bound by the supreme law.
The state courts had to recognize the supreme
law and refuse to uphold contrary state laws
PROCEDURE FOR AMENDING THE U.S. CONSTITUTION:
[U.S. Constitution, Article V]
TWO METHODS OF PROPOSING AMENDMENTS:
(1) PROPOSAL BY CONGRESS:
Congress, by at least a two-thirds vote in each
of the two houses, proposes an amendment and
submits it to the states.
(2) PROPOSAL BY A FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION:
At least two-thirds of the state legislatures
petition Congress to call a Federal Constitu-
tional Convention to propose amendments.
The Federal Convention, by majority vote, pro-
poses one or more amendments and submits them to
TWO METHODS OF RATIFYING AMENDMENTS:
(1) RATIFICATION BY STATE LEGISLATURES:
Legislatures in at least three-fourths of the
states ratify the amendment.
(2) RATIFICATION BY STATE CONVENTIONS:
Popularly elected state conventions in at least
three-fourths of the states ratify the amend-
When a proposed amendment is to be submitted to the
states, Congress determines which of the two methods
of ratification will be used by the states.
Either method of proposing an amendment can be used with
either method of ratifying the amendment.
The President has no formal say regarding a proposed amend-
THE ENTRENCHED CLAUSE:
The very last clause in Article V provides that "no
state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its
equal suffrage in the U.S. Senate."
This provision means that no state, without its ap-
proval or agreement, can be deprived of equal repre-
sentation, or equal voting power, in the U.S Senate.
A proposed amendment changing the basis of rep-
representation in the Senate to something other
than equal representation of the states in that
chamber would have to be ratified by ALL the
Anything less than unanimous ratification
would cause the amendment to fail to be
Since it is not likely that this clause will ever be
removed from the Constitution, it is called the "EN-
THE CONTEMPORARY SCHEME OF NATIONAL GOVERNMENT UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION:
The general scheme of American national government today
differs from the original scheme in two important respects:
(1) Members of the U.S. Senate are no longer indirectly
U.S. Senators are no longer chosen by their respective
Since ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in
1913, the two Senators from each state have been
elected by the voters in statewide popular elections.
(2) The Electoral College does not function in the manner
it was designed to function--i.e., as a set of inde-
pendent decisionmaking assemblies chosen by their
respective state legislatures to elect the President
of the U.S.A.
Almost from the beginning of federal elections under
the U.S. Constitution, the state legislatures allowed
direct popular election of presidential electors.
Beginning in the late 1820s, presidential electors,
in voting for President, have largely reflected the
wishes of a majority or plurality of the voters in
their respective states.
With the emergence of the national nominating
convention during the Jacksonian Era of American
politics, a strong POLITICAL TRADITION developed
in presidential elections.
For the most part, presidential electors have
adhered to this tradition in their voting behav-
THE POLITICAL TRADITION:
When voting for President, a presidential
elector will vote for the presidential
candidate nominated by the national con-
vention of the political party under whose
label he was elected presidential elector
for his state.
In the Framers' original design, there was to be only one
POPULAR, or DEMOCRATIC, element in the national government.
Only the U.S. House of Representatives was to be
elected directly by the voters.
Today, the Senate and the President are also popular ele-
ments in the national government.
Return to Page One, Unit One
THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM
Constitutional Democracy & the American Constitutional System
Return to Unit Four,
MAJOR POLICYMAKING INSTITUTIONS
IN THE U.S. NATIONAL GOVERNMENT:
LEGISLATIVE, EXECUTIVE, & JUDICIAL
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