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How the Founders Perfected the British System

How much did the authors of the U.S. Constitution borrow from the British system? What did they change? Professor Michael McConnell discusses some of the similarities and differences between the US Constitution and the British constitutional history and experience the Framers brought with them to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. https://youtube.com/watch?v=FZsMJ2iZB9Q


The most important source of ideas about government that the Framers brought with them to Philadelphia came from ah British constitutional history and experience. So what were some of the things that they borrowed? They borrowed the idea of having an executive which is separate from the Parliament. They borrowed the idea of a parliament with two different branches, one of them quite dependent and on the people and responsible to the people, and the other less so, and that was what we got with the House and the Senate. They borrowed the idea of life tenured judges which, in the British system came about in the 1702 Act of Succession. Another thing they borrowed was a lot of Federalism comes from the British system. The relationship between the colonies and the crown. Our supremacy clause is patterned on the British imperial constitution. What were some of the things that they rejected? So they greatly reduced the uh prerogatives of the king, assigning many of those to Congress instead. They eliminated any hereditary feature uh uh to the government. They wanted a natural aristocracy, but they did not want a hereditary aristocracy. They greatly increased the suffrage. They were extremely attentive to the problems of how to govern a military. What they wanted was a very small national standing army only authorized by the representatives of the people. And more important than that, the bulk of the military power of the United States would be in the state level in the form of militias, which could then be brought into national service, but only under uh specified circumstances. Also, the Federalism that they created had some resemblance to the British Empire, but was very different from the internal governance of the United Kingdom itself. In Britain, the subordinate institutions, like the counties and shires, were simply administrative units of the national government. They were not independent governing units, their leadership was appointed from the center and were not competitive sources of independent authority the way the states were intended to be. Britain also had no written constitution, so the very existence of a written constitution is a departure from uh British norms, and the way Madison describes this is he says that in Britain all of the struggles for the freedoms of the people were conceived as struggles between the powers of the king and the powers of Parliament, and he uh said that here, in this country, the Constitution would be superior to the laws and the law superior to the prerogatives of the executive. So, there are many ways in which they departed, just as there were many ways in which they borrowed from the British experience.

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