Separation of Powers

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Separation of Powers

Successful governments in history gained their acclaim by trial and error. The government in the United States is no different. In fact, the structure of the government in the United States has been through many changes: the American government was once feeble and operated with weak alliances between states; however, the present government functions in perfect equilibrium with the separation of powers, the federal system, and regards to democratic ideals.

After gaining independence from the British government, the United States wanted to refrain from the all-powerful central government and establish a weak central government where the powers to govern were given to the thirteen states. This form of government was formed with the Articles of Confederation. In this system, each state retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence. The Articles of Confederation did, however, create a national government. It provided a national legislation, Congress. Congress consisted of delegates from the states, and each state had one vote in the legislation, with no regards to population. The central government had some powers to govern: it can conduct foreign relations, declare war or peace, maintain an army and navy, settle disputes among states, establish and maintain a postal service, and et cetera. These powers, however, were not given to Congress alone; Congress shared these powers with the states. So in many ways, Congress depended on the cooperation from the states. The problems arose when the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederations were becoming more evident. The first weakness was that Congress did not have the power to govern the individuals; it only had powers over the states. Because of that, it could not enforce its legislations. The second problem dealt with taxation. Congress did not have the power to tax the states; it must request money from the states. The states rarely complied. The third problem involved the regulation of commerce. Congress did not have the power to regulate trade, and therefore, it did not have power over foreign affairs since much of the affairs dealt with trades. The last problem, perhaps the most important, concerned the amendment process. These weaknesses all can be fixed through the amendment process; however, in order for an amendment to become effective, it ratified by all thirteen states. None of the amendments passed the ratification process. This eventually resulted in the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 where the new Constitution was drafted to ensure the adoption of the new form of government.

At the convention, the Framers embraced the concept of separation of powers as one of their guides to the construction of practical government. The practical government in this case is a democratic government where the people elect the leaders and have the ultimate authority over the government. The doctrine that provided such democratic ideals for the government is credited to the French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu. His philosophy regarded the separation of powers. The basic idea behind this doctrine is that the people in power have the tendency to abuse their powers; therefore, the government should be divided where each branch of government checks on the others. The Framers took this doctrine and formed the three branches of federal government: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislative branch would make the laws, and the executive branch would put the laws into effect. When disputes occur, the judicial branch would resolve them in accordance of law. This system offers further protection by the election process. The members of each branch of government are to be selected by different constituencies and have different terms of office. All these factors are aligned to the democratic foundation of practical government desired by the Framers because the people exert control over the government by selecting the ruling leaders. The rulers of the democratic governments retain their offices by the approval of voters and must comply with their ideas. Therefore, the system maintains a strict system of democracy.

The doctrine of separation of powers is actually one of the fundamental principles of the federal system that exist in the United States. Federalism is a form of government where the power is divided between the central government and state governments. The central government handles matters such as foreign affairs, defense, and currency while the state governments take control of areas such as education. In the United States, the states surrender some of their sovereignty but retain rights that are not given to the central government by the Constitution. In most cases, the specific rights given to each government are listed in the Constitution. If disagreements occur, the judicial body decides on a solution. The federation that exists today differs significantly from the confederation that once ruled the country because the central authority maintains supreme power in the land.
After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Framers created a powerful but just government. The intricacies in the American government protect the rights of the people and maintain democracy because it is very difficult for a single part of government to initiate abuse. Because of the successful government, the United States is one the strongest countries in our world.