GOVT 2301
Week Six
Readings, Notes, and Assignment




The U.S. and Texas Constitutions

Readings:

- The U.S. Constitution
- The Texas Constitution
- Wikipedia: The U.S. Constitution
- Handbook of Texas: The Texas Constitution.
- Wikipedia: The Texas Constitution

Additional resources:
- The Library of Congress: The U.S. Constitution.

Assignment:

Read through the United States and Texas Constitutions and, in 250 words, describe their similarities and differences. Use the Wikipedia and Handbook of Texas links to provide more specific background infomration about the documents. For lecture students, we will go over general details in class.

Terms:

  • separated powers
  • legislative power
  • executive power
  • judicial power
  • checks and balances
  • veto
  • legislative oversight
  • judicial review
  • bicameral legislature
  • federalism
  • delegated powers
  • implied powers
  • elastic clauses
  • necessary and proper clause
  • commerce clause
  • inherent powers
  • reserved powers
  • representation
  • delegate
  • trustee
  • House of Representation
  • Senate
  • Presidency
  • single executive
  • energy in the executive
  • bureaucracy
  • Supreme Court
  • full faith and credit
  • priviledges and immunities
  • amendments
  • national supremacy
  • Bill of Rights
  • civil liberties
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • civil rights



Commentary

The U.S. Constitution was the product of an attempt to establish a stronger government that could coordinate the actions of the different states. The instigators of this process were the merchants and landowners who suffered the worst financial losses as a consequence of the break with Britain and the inability of the government under the Articles of Confederation to provide coordination (week five's reading The Formation of a National Government provided a great overview of the problems posed by the lack of coordination). These people would become the Federalists. The small businessmen, artisans and farmers who dominated state governments would become the Anti-Federalists. Perhaps the easiest way to conceptualize what these individuals were after was to remember that the break with Britain meant that the colonists no longer has the protection of the British Navy nor the benefits of the Britain's developed financial system. Its tough to run a business without a guarantee that transported goods would get to where they needed to go, the currency one used was solid, and the stability of the system allowed for the establishment of the financial institutions that facilitated commerce. These had to be recreated from the ground up, which required a governing system with real strength. The question was how to do it.

This involved tying the national government directly to the people, by passing the state governments which had been the source of so many problems. The House of Representatives was specifically designed to be the glue that made the connection. The Senate became the institution that allowed the states continued influence over the national government. The Constitution also created a national executive and judiciary. The latter wasn't especially controversial, but the former was. One person was placed at its head in order to ensure efficiency, but this also created the possibility that the position would gradually consolidate power. Anti Federalists thought it just a matter of time before the president became a military king.

The problem then became how you ensured that the powers given the national government would not allow for abuse. The first three articles of the Constitution vested the three separated powers into three separated institutions (separated by different means of election and different terms of office -- meaning each has a unique connection to the electorate), but there was no guarantee that these powers wouldn't come back together at some point. The system of checks and balances was meant to be the method by which the internal structure of each institution, specifically the manner each channeled the ambitions of officeholders. The ambitions of one was to check the ambitions of the others. The result would be a balance of power that would ensure strength within limits, a difficult trick, and one that is not always successfully accomplished. Other governing systems had separated powers before, but this was the first put in place that separated power according to the functions of government. The guiding force behind this design was the French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu, in his book The Spirit of the Laws.

The separated powers is one of three ways that the powers of government are divided in the Constitution. The second is federalism, which is the word we use to describe the division of power into national, state and local levels. We can define national power as those established by the delegated (or enumerated, or expressed) powers written in Section Eight of Article One of the Constitution or based on loose readings of the elastic clauses, state powers as those that fall under the reserved powers of the Tenth Amendment, and local powers as those recognized by the states. Theoretically, the division is justified because each level of government is good at certain things. The national government can handle defense, financial matters, domestic insurrection, and establish justice. States governments are better suited to deal with the particular regulatory matters associated with business and professional interests in their states as well as the welfare and educational needs of their citizens. Local governments can also deal with some of these issues, but also are best suited to handle the provision of basic services such as roads, water, sewage, drainage, and the many other unglamorous things that are more central to our daily life.

In reality the federal system was the produict of bargaining. Some paricipants in the constitutional convention were in favor of far more powers for the national government, but were simply unable to have their ideas accepted by the members who were committed to state power

A third division concerns the realtionship between the individual and the state. These are civil liberties and civil rights. The former is established by the Bill of Rights, the second by the 14th Amednment.