The Constitutions Used Throughout Political History Politics
Hundreds of constitutions have been used throughout history to outline the main political principles of which a society chooses to operate. To provide an ideal government, each constitution presents its own diverse guidelines for the institution it serves. In the United States there is a federal constitution, as well as individual state constitutions. The federal constitution and the Texas state constitution, although similar in their fundamental principles, are vastly different.
The United States has operated under two constitutions throughout its history: the Articles of Confederation and the current Constitution of the United States. The Articles of Confederation was written by the Second Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War from 1775-1777. After declaring independence from Great Britain, the United States wrote this document to provide some sort of structure and order among the states. However, after its ratification in 1781, the Articles of Confederation proved to be only a temporary, short-term fix. The document gave almost all of the power to the states; the federal government was not permitted to regulate any of the necessities of a successful society such as trade, taxes, a monetary system, or a military. Without power, proceeds, or protection, the government was unable to control or provide order in the states, and the Articles of Confederation soon became known as the monster with thirteen heads. After years of economic turmoil, civil conflict, and foreign attack, the Continental Congress met in Annapolis, Maryland on September 11, 1786, to decide the country's next course of action. Through discussing the nation's problems and the weaknesses of the current government, the Continental Congress proposed a second convention to be held in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. On May 14, 1787 fifty-five delegates attended the Constitutional Convention, a conference that lead to the making of the Constitution of the United States that we Americans still abide by today.
The Constitution of the United States was written by Thomas Jefferson and approved on September 17, 1787, after months of heated debates and difficult compromises. Then, on June 21, 1788, the ninth state ratified the constitution and put it into full effect. The constitution is a mere 7,000 words broken into a preamble, seven articles, and twenty-seven amendments (a shocking amount considering the number of years of its success). The preamble introduces the founding concept of our nation's constitution: we the people. This idea of a government run by the people, for the people is emphasized throughout the entire document through the checks-and-balances of the three branches, the limitations of the government, and the duty of the government to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to its people.
One reason the constitution has been so long lived is the flexibility it provides. Unlike many documents, the constitution provides leeway for interpretation by the reader. The vague, imprecise way in which it was written has enabled the constitution to adjust from the colonial days to the rock-n-roll fifties to the high-tech twenty-first century.
Unlike the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Texas was not so easily acquired. The first constitution of Texas was created in 1836 when, after seven months of war, Texas became independent from Mexico. After only a decade of independence, however, Texas was annexed into the United States, and the Texas Constitution of 1845 was written. Not surprisingly, these acts angered Mexico, and in 1946, the Mexican War began. Fortunately less than two years later, on February 2, 1848, a treaty was signed at the Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Mexico surrendered all of current day California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Thirteen years after this success, America once again found herself at war; this time the enemy was even closer to home. In 1861, the Civil War began and Texas succeeded from the union to become part of the Confederate States of America. Upon this action, Texas created yet another constitution, the constitution of 1861. After the war ended in 1865, Texas reentered the United States, and naturally, created yet another constitution. The Constitution of 1866 was written to correspond with President Lincoln's 10% plan and was the first Texas constitution to eliminate slavery. However, after radical republicans took charge of congress and enforced reconstruction of the south, the Texas Constitution of 1869 was written, granting centralized power to the governor. In 1870, Republican Edmund Davis became governor. During his period of office till 1874, Governor Davis fought heavily for the civil rights of Black Americans angering many Texans, former slave-owners and racists. Governor Davis was also very abusive of the powers allotted to him by the constitution, furthering the hatred towards him. In 1874, he was defeated by Democrat Richard Coke in a supposedly crooked election. Once the rest of Davis' fellow Republicans were booted out of office, the Southern Democrats immediately began developing a new constitution.
The sixth, latest constitution of Texas, The Constitution of the State of Texas, was written in 1876. In spite of reconstruction and abuse of government authority, the constitution is an extreme, harsh document that specifically restricts the powers and operation of the state government. It is twenty-six pages long with 100,000 words and is composed of seventeen articles. The constitution has had 467 amendments since 1876, a whopping average of approximately 4 amendments every year, revealing its not flawless composition.
The Constitution of the United States is based on a type of government dating back to ancient Greece: the separation of powers. In this model, the government is split into three different branches including the legislative, executive, and judicial branch, each having certain powers and control over the institution being governed. In order for this structure to work however, there must be certain checks and balances in place. The checks and balances provide each branch certain power over the other branches to guarantee that no one branch has more or all of the power; instead, each branch is equal. This model prevents corruption and assures the interests of the people remain the agenda of our government.
The first branch is the legislature, which is responsible for the making of laws. In the United States, our legislative branch is bicameral meaning it is divided into two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. At the time of our constitution, the bicameral legislature was created as part of the Great Compromise, a compromise that settled the debates between large and small states about representation in the legislature. The Senate assures each state is represented equally, favoring the small states, while representation in the House of Representatives is based solely on the state's population, favoring the large states. Today, our bicameral legislature or congress ensures both the rights of the people and the states are being considered when making changes to laws.
The United States Senate is composed of one-hundred senators, two from each state. Each senator is elected by the state it is representing unless a seat is vacated in the middle of a term, and only then can the governor appoint a replacement. Senators represent entire states at-large. The legal qualifications to become a senator are simple: the candidate must be thirty years of age, a United States citizen for at minimum nine years at the time of election, and a resident of the state to be represented. Of course, becoming a senator is not a short process. Like most elected politicians, senators are usually well-respected and involved in their communities and have a substantial political background, as well as the money needed for a successful campaign. The term of a United States Senator last six years. However, the Senate operates under a staggered system: after each term only one-third of the Senate expires. The other two-thirds of the Senate are left, providing a continuing body.
The House of Representatives works quite differently. As previously stated, rather than each state having equal representation, the number of representatives is dependent on the state population. Every member of the House represents one district. There are 435 districts in the United States, each including around 800,000 people. Currently, there are 441 total representatives, six of which represent United States territories and thirty-two Texas. According to the constitution, a representative must be twenty-five years or older at the time of appointment, resident of the state in which your district resides, and a United States citizen for at least seven years preceding the appointment. Representatives, like Senators, are elected, however, and must also gain the support of the people they wish to represent.
Each congress is two years long and has two sessions. These sessions are referred to as an odd and even session. The first assembles on January 3 of an odd year, and the second session begins of January 3 of an even year. The regular sessions are adjourned according to the vote of the congress. If congress cannot agree on a date to end the session, the president may choose to conclude the session. However, the congress may have sessions other than the regular sessions. In an emergency, a president may call for a special session, although this has only happened twice in United State's history, both times by President Roosevelt during the time of World War II. The congress can also meet for a closed session, one that can only be attended by representatives or senators, when dealing with issues of secrecy or safety. Unfortunately, the lives of congressmen are not completely all about top-secret meetings and plots. Being a representative or senator can be very stressful and does not allow for much breathing room. Fortunately, the cost is worth the prize. Representatives and senators are not only given fame and discounts at superlative suit shops, but a satisfying $174,000 salary. Members of congress also reap the benefits of name recognition, past experience, and established resources in future elections. People that have served in the House or Senate are known as incumbent members and have a significant advantage compared to new candidates. Unless the candidate obtains a bad reputation, turnover almost guarantees re-election.
The Texas Legislature does not differ much from the structure of the United States Congress. It is a bicameral legislature composed of a Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives. The Texas Senate is composed of 31 senators, each of which represents a single district of about 123,000 people. To become a senator, one must be a minimum of twenty-six years old, a Texas citizen for five years prior to the election, and a citizen of the district to be represented. Texas senators serve a four year term. Like the United States Senate, the Texas Senate also operates under a staggered-term system: every two years only one-half of the senators must be re-elected.
The Texas House of Representatives is made up of 150 members. Similar to the Texas Senate, each delegate represents a single district, though the districts of the Texas Senate and House of Representatives are different. Representatives are elected for two year terms, and like the members of the Texas Senate and United States Senate and House's members, may be unlimitedly re-elected. Qualifications for members of the Texas House of Representatives include: being at least 21 years of age, a Texas citizen for two or more years at the time of inauguration, a qualified elector of the state, and a resident of the represented district for one year prior to the election.
The Texas legislature meets for regular sessions biannually, or every two years. The regular session begins on the second Tuesday of January in odd-number years and can only last for a maximum of 140 days. Though, like the United States Congress, special sessions may also be commenced by the governor. Special sessions allow the Texas legislature to deal with issues that arise in between the regular sessions. They may last, however, only thirty days.
Despite these similarities, the members of the Texas and United States legislature have one major difference: the wider scope the job entails. The federal government is based off a much more global perspective, forcing each state to compromise and cooperate to develop one united legislature. For this reason, the duty of a United States congressman is thought to be more of a "full-time job," which might contribute the salary difference. Members of the Texas Senate and House are paid only $7,200 per year. The delegates do, however, gain many of the same benefits of federal legislators by becoming incumbent members of the government. Multiple state delegates build the support and resources necessary to progress to higher government positions. Other incumbents use their advantage to simply be re-elected for subsequent terms.
The branch responsible for carrying out the laws made by the legislature is the executive branch. The federal executive branch consists of a president, vice-president, cabinet, and numerous departments and agencies. The president is given central power of the executive branch and also acts as the Commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces and head of state. Each president serves a term of four years, unless, under BLANK circumstances, the vice-president is forced to take over. In 1947, congress passed the 22nd amendment to the constitution mandating a maximum of two consecutive terms of presidency. The qualifications stated in the constitution to become president are as follows: the candidate must be a native-born U.S. citizen (or born to parents who were both citizens of the U.S. at the time of birth), at least thirty-five years old, and have lived in the United States for at least fourteen years. Although quite simple, these requirements have raised many questions throughout history including whether or not the fourteen years were to be consecutive or accumulative. So far, fortunately, none of the prerequisites have been challenged. Becoming president, of course, is not as simple as meeting the constitutional requirement qualifications. Candidates build resumes, reputations, and resources for years prior to running for presidency, and although you may become the head honcho, many believe it is not worth the consequences. For years presidents have served as the center of countless jokes, criticisms, and hate-mail. In 2001, however, the annual salary of a president was increased to $400,000 with $50,000 expense allowance, the minimum pay for a first year NFL player.
Compared to the United States executive branch, the Texas executive branch is structured very differently. In response to the abuse of power during the Reconstruction era, the Constitution of the State of Texas of 1876 depicted a plural executive, rather than granting one person with centralized power. Our executive is now composed of not only a governor, but also several other statewide officeholders, in order to disperse the power of the executive branch. However, the governor is still considered the head of the executive branch. To become a governor of Texas, one must be thirty-five years or older, a citizen of the United States, and a Texas resident for a minimum of five years prior to the election. Texas governors serve four year terms and may only be elected to two-consecutive terms, much like the president of the United States. Throughout Texas' history though, the only governor to be re-elected was George W. Bush, who failed to complete his second term due to becoming president. The current salary of the Texas governor is estimated to be $115,345 annually which is approximately one-fourth of the president's income, not bad for doing one-fiftieth of the work.
The most controversial branch of the United States government is the judicial branch. The judiciary system is in charge of interpreting the laws of congress and the constitution. The federal court system is a streamlined system moving from the U.S. District Courts to the U.S. Courts of Appeals and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court. In order to move through each court, cases must be reviewed and accepted by the next higher court. The U.S. Supreme Court is the superior court of our nation and is composed of one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. Unlike the executive or legislative branch, the judicial branch does not have any official requirements for becoming a federal judge. Justices are instead nominated in a non-partisan process by the president and must be approved by the majority vote of the Senate. Thus, justices must meet many non-formal qualifications such as political support and experience, philosophical values, and professionalism. Once the nomination is confirmed, a justice's term is unlimited meaning he or she serves until death, retirement, or impeachment by the House of Representatives.
The judiciary system of Texas is significantly dissimilar and more complicated than that of the federal courts. The Texas judicial branch is divided into five levels including seven courts. Also, rather than being streamlined, the structure of the Texas courts is bifurcated or divided into two parts. If a case is non-federal, it must make its way through the Texas judicial court system. Cases that reach the apex of the system end in one of the two highest courts, the Texas Supreme Court or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas judges also differ dramatically from U.S. justices. Instead of being appointed, state judges must be elected resulting in a large partisan influence. They must also meet several requirements mandated in the constitution, based on the level and court to be appointed, such as age, citizenship, residency, and past lawyer or judge experience. In addition to these formal qualifications, judges must win the support of the voters to win the election. The tenure in office also varies for Texas judges from 2-6 years, but at all levels, re-election is unlimited.
Over all, the United States and Texas constitutions each have their own unique history, structure, and components. In the end, however, both work cooperatively together to provide a superlative government.
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