In 1787, when the delegates assembled at the Federal Constitutional Convention, they brought with them certain political ideas -- certain ideas about government. These political ideas were to influence, guide, and shape the decitions and actions of the delegates in drafting the U.S. Constitution. The ideas had a decisive impact on the nature and content of the constitutional document which emerged from the proceedings of the Federal Convention.
A major source of the political ideas of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution was past political experience -- past experience with institutions of constitutional, representative government. Very important aspects of this past political experience included (1) English/British experience with constitutional, representative government and (2) colonial experience with constitutional, representative government.
In other words, very little that went into the U.S. Constitution was brand new. The US Constitution was never a radical, or revolutionary, document. It did not call for overturning the existing social order and establishing an entirely new and different political regime; it was not an attempt to realize the wild, impractical dreams of radical ideologues; it did not (and does not) consist mainly of provisions designed to put into practice completely new and untried political ideas and theories. The U.S. Constitution was and still is a rather conservative document -- a document concerned primarily with preservation and effective operation of governmental institutions based on old and familiar ideas and modeled after existing and past political institutions and practices. The Framers, in drawing up the Constitution, fell back on and borrowed from past political experience -- past political experience of which they were knowledgeable, namely, English and colonial experience.
Thus, the American constitutional system has antecedents. It has important antecedents not only in American political practice during the brief period between adoption of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the meeting of the Federal Constitutional Convention in 1787, but also in the systems of constitutional, representative government that operated in Great Britain's North American colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in England (Great Britain, after 1707) during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.
In Part Four, we will examine important English antecedents to the U.S. Constitution and the American constitutional system. An examination of English antecedents is of crucial importance to our study, for the roots of the American constitutional system and the constitutional document upon which the system was founded run deeply in English constitutional and political history. The long period (709 years) of English constitutional and political evolution from 1066 to 1775 contained many significant developments that are antecedents to the American Federal Constitution and constitutional system. Antecedents of particular importance are those that emerged during the 635-year period from 1066 to 1701, the period during which the English were involved in a long, intermittent but continuing struggle to bring the Monarch under control, the longterm endeavor of the English to devise arrangements which would effectively limit the power of the Monarch, make him subject to the law, and force him to share political authority with Parliament. These important antecedents to the American constitutional system include:
Also of particular importance, as a set of antecedents to the U.S. Constitution and the constitutional system founded upon
it, is the governmental system that, according to colonial and early American perceptions, existed and operated in England
from 1689 to 1707 and in Great Britain from 1707 to 1787 -- the eighteenth-century British governmental system, as it was
seen by America's founding generation.