How the Founders Perfected the British System [No. 86]
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How the Founders Perfected the British System [No. 86]


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. 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 in to 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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