Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.,

University President & Professor of Political Science
In the late Spring of 1787, delegates from twelve of the thirteen original Americam states assembled at the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The delegates, meeting in an attempt to create an effective central government for the young American nation, drafted and proposed a new national constitution to replace the existing Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. This proposed constitution consisted of what are now the seven original articles of the Constitution of the United States of America. By 1790, the U.S. Constitution, as drawn up and proposed by the 1787 Constitutional Convention, had been ratified by all thirteen states and had become the supreme law of the land in the U.S.A. For more than two centuries, this constitutional document, amended only twenty-seven times, has been the legal foundation of the American constitutional system.

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:

    English political institutions and practices arising during the period from the beginning of the reign of King William I (William the Conqueror) in 1066 to the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558;

    English political developments during the reign of Elizabeth I (1588-1603), including the system of government that had evolved by the early 1880s and the body of constitutional theory that justified and supported that governmental system;

    The "Era of the English Revolution" (1603-1689) -- the series of constitutional crises and violent political conflicts of the seventeenth century and their final resolution in the Constitutional Settlement of 1689-1701;

    Important constitutional documents adopted during the period from 1215 to 1701 and constitutionally significant statutes enacted by Parliament toward the end of the period.

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.

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