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The Constitution of the USA

It was the Thirteen Colonies who had won their independence from Britain, but certainly not a united, single country. After 1783, there remained little to bind the Thirteen Colonies together. The mother country had been defeated in war and each colony was happy to go its own way again.

The Continental army was neglected and each individual colony, (now called a state), started minting its own money, making its own laws and imposing import duties on goods from other states. Some states were even preparing to raise their own army and navy and to sign treaties with European countries.

The possibility of war between the newly independent states was very real. One state, Rhode Island, printed lots of paper money and allowed its' merchants to settle debts in other states with the worthless currency.

To prevent crises like this, each state sent representatives to Philadelphia in May 1787, to prepare a Constitution. These were educated men who were determined to use the ideas of the Enlightenment. They decided that America would be a Republic. This was unusual at the time; only Genoa, Venice and Holland were republics at the end of the 18th century. The head of state would be a President, and there would be two assemblies; an Upper House, called the Senate, and a Lower House, called the House of Representatives. Together the two houses were called Congress. There would also be a Supreme Court.

Each of the three branches - Executive (President), Legislative (Congress) and Judiciary ( Supreme Court) - was meant to closely examine the other two. In this way no one branch of government could become too powerful and nobody could exercise tyrannical power. This Separation of Powers can be traced back to Montesquieu and Locke.

It was important to define what powers lay with the Federal Government, in the capital and which powers were left to the states. So that no single state could claim to be the seat of the Federal government, some land was set aside on the banks of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. It was named the District of Columbia and it was here that the capital would be built.

The decisions made at Philadelphia were written down and became the world's first constitution. In 1789, George Washington was chosen as President and the capital would be named after him.

President George Washington 

Americans claimed to have stood up to and fought a tyrannical mother-country. Having beaten Britain in the war, they had set up a republic based on the idea of liberty, equality and justice. Enlightened people all over Europe were happy to see this new nation created. Within two years the same idea would be applied in France.

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Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2014

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.