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Why is the Constitution Important?

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The Overall Importance of the Constitution

The U.S. Constitution is important because it established a central government with power distributed across three federal branches and the states. The Constitution is also important because it protects individual rights and liberties while allowing the United States to function under a democratic system.

The Origins of the Constitution

The Constitution originated out of a need for a stronger central government. Although the Articles of Confederation from the Revolutionary War established a union among the states, it left most powers to the states. The Articles only granted limited powers to a one-house Congress at the federal level, and there was no executive branch

The weaknesses of the articles and federal government included not having the power to tax or regulate commerce. As revealed by an uprising of indebted farmers called Shays’ Rebellion, the federal government also lacked the power to stop such rebellions.

Recognizing these and other problems, political leaders like Alexander Hamilton and founding father James Madison convened a convention in Philadelphia to create the Constitution.

The Constitutional Convention and Importance of Dividing Powers

In 1787, fifty-five delegates from the states decided to draft a new constitution to hold the nation together in a stronger way, but also in a way that would avoid tyranny. The first aim was to establish a national government that would divide powers and contains a system of checks and balances. Hence, the three branches–the legislative, executive, and judicial–were created with provisions that would prevent one branch from being too dominant.

Photograph of the White House in Washington, D.C.
The Executive Branch is one of three branches of the U.S. government.

The Constitution also divides power between the national and state governments. This important arrangement is called federalism, a shared basis of power between the central government and the states. Further, the Constitution protects individual liberties from being abused by the government. A significant accomplishment of the Constitution was finding a means to agree on this basis of power.

Likewise, it was important that the states’ ratification, or approval, of the Constitution, actually occurred. This meant overcoming the divide between those who supported ratifying the Constitution, called Federalists, and those who opposed it, the anti-Federalists. This was largely accomplished by the agreement to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution during the first meeting of Congress.

The Significance of the Bill of Rights and its Protections

Although some protections of individual rights are provided in the articles of the Constitution, most protections derive from the Bill of Rights. These are the first ten amendments of the Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion. Such protections were initially aimed at the federal government, but additional amendments also secured protections against state governments.

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Most protections in the U.S. Constitution are derived from the Bill of Rights.

The Significance of the 14th Amendment

In 1868, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified and provided for the crucial protection of citizenship rights against state abuses. For example, it specified that states could not take away a person’s life, liberty, or property without due process of the law. This amendment also made it illegal for states to deny equal protection of the laws. 

Permanent Yet Changeable Constitution

The Constitution is also important because of how it is structured. It is meant to be a permanent social contract between the government and the people, but it can be altered. While it is possible to add an amendment, the process is arduous, including that a proposed amendment be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Map of USA
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution must be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

How Else is the Constitution Valuable Today?

The Constitution remains valuable in the modern day in many ways beyond those discussed above. For instance, it guarantees that each state will have a republican form of government. It also allows individuals to gather and protest or vote in an election.

Today, the American Constitution still serves as the main structure for keeping the nation together. The president, any person in Congress, or the Supreme Court is accountable to it, not above it. The states still reserve certain powers to themselves. Individuals are still protected from both federal and state governments.

Guiding Principles of the Constitution

What ultimately makes the United States Constitution important is the way that it guides the U.S. nation. It provides a set of principles to instill a flexible democratic form of government. In the end, it is the supreme law of the land

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