Modern World History 2.8 Early American Democracy

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you at the dinner table, governing a

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country is hard work, especially when

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you're building a democracy from scratch

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and, well Martha Stewart wasn't exactly

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around with an easy-to-follow recipe. And

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the founding fathers did not get our

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government right the first time around...

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surprise surprise. They set out to create

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a country with the Articles of

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Confederation in 1777. Well, this document

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was problematic from the beginning.

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Because the writers of the Articles were

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terrified of having a too-powerful

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central government for obvious reasons,

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they made the central government of the

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new United States too weak. Flimsy,

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almost. Well, the American government

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couldn't tax its citizens, couldn't raise

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an army. There was no president, no

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national court, and no national strategy

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for combating the restrictive trade

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policies put in place by various

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European nations. Well that thing was so

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weak, you'd think it was on muscle relaxants.

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It became clear pretty quickly that the

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Articles of Confederation needed a do-

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over. The document had been ratified by

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all 13 States by 1781, but just six years

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later, America's leading brainiacs

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were in Philadelphia working on what

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would become the US Constitution. Hey,

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practice makes perfect, right? There were

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some huge differences between the

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Articles of Confederation and the

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Constitution. First off, the Constitution

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called for three branches of government.

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Makes for a boring tree but a strong

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democracy. There was the Executive branch,

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which would soon become home to George

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Washington and his wooden teeth, the

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Legislative branch, or the Congress, and

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the Judicial branch, or the court system... now that's a tree worth hugging. Second,

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the Constitution was careful to ensure

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that no one branch of the government had

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too much power. Enter checks and balances,

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which unfortunately had nothing to do

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with tightrope walkers paying their

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bills. It worked a little more like this:

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the Senate and the House of

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Representatives may pass a bill that the

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judiciary then declares unconstitutional.

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Wah, wah. Or, the Senate and the House of

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Representatives may pass

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a bill that the president then vetoes. Wah, wah. Or,

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the legislative branch may in certain

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circumstances impeach the president or a

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member of the judiciary, and we don't

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need to tell you which circumstances

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those are. *Cough* Clinton. The idea of a central

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authoritative government made many

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Americans nervous... very nervous. Some say

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that those guys are still nervous today.

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They just live in Idaho now. At any rate,

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two-thirds of the states needed to say "aye"

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in order for the Constitution to be

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ratified. Well, the founding fathers knew

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that they would need to be persuasive in

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order to get the necessary votes. Enter

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James Madison, also known as father of

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the Constitution and the fourth

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president of the United States, and our

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personal favorite, J-Mads, yeah. J-Mads

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wanted his fellow Americans to

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understand that, while the Constitution

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would create a stronger central

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government than the one that had existed

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under the Articles of Confederation, the

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individual rights that had been at the

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center of the American Revolution would

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also be central to the new United States.

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Our country was like a tootsie roll pop,

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except instead of candy at the center,

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it was state liberty. Well, with help of

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John Jay, who would become the first

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Chief Justice of the United States, and

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Alexander Hamilton, who would become the

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first secretary of the Treasury and the

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subject of a super successful Broadway

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musical, well, James Madison produced the

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Federalist Papers for publication in New

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York's newspapers. While the Federalist

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Papers made for a compelling read,

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several states, including New York,

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Virginia, and Massachusetts, refused to

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ratify the Constitution until the

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founding fathers agreed to the inclusion

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of a bill of rights that would protect

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specific individual rights. So you've got

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New York and company to thank for your

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freedom of speech... no big surprise there.

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The Constitution was ratified in 1788,

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and when the first US Congress met in

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1789, Madison got busy composing the

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first ten amendments to the Constitution,

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also known as, yes, the Bill of Rights. Not

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to be confused with our right-handed

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friend, Bill. The American Revolution

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ended at Yorktown in 1781. It took

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another eight years for America's

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political leaders to get a functioning

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system of government in place, and well, you know,

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next time grandpa tells you that he

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could run D.C. from the comfort of his

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armchair, perhaps you

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should consider breaking out the James

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Madison cosplay and giving Gramps a

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lesson in American history, which you now

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know thanks to us. You're welcome.