In a sign that the American people were better rulers of themselves than the British claimed, the new document gave the federal government most of the powers that Congress had lacked under the Articles of Confederation. This included the power to tax, the power to negotiate and enforce treaties, and — eventually — the power to abolish slavery.
As even Britain would come to recognize, the resulting change allowed Americans to take an important step toward becoming the responsible nation that Jefferson had promised the world they would be. So, what lessons can we draw from these reflections?
The Root Causes of the American Revolution
One is how difficult it is for one nation to understand what is happening in another. In the years following the revolution, the British press got as much wrong about America as it got right. The same, surely, is true of efforts to predict the outcome of the Arab Spring. Even more important, the American Revolution reminds us that whatever comes of the upheavals sweeping the Middle East, it will be the Arab people, not observers in the West, who ultimately decide their fate.
As the American response to the British press makes clear, no nation ever fully controls its own destiny, including a nation founded on the self-evident right of the people to govern themselves. If Americans sometimes have a hard time remembering that lesson today, it is one that they knew very well years ago. Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola.
The Root Causes of the American Revolution
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Thank you for being an FP reader. To get access to this special FP Premium benefit, subscribe by clicking the button below. By Eliga H. Gould July 3, , PM. View Comments. More from Foreign Policy. The U. Trending 1.
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Egypt Is Done Waiting for Liberals. Need an account? Sign up for free access to 1 article per month and weekly email updates from expert policy analysts Sign Up. Already have an account? Wilson and Randolph, and their respective allies in Philadelphia, revived the old debate between the royalists and the parliamentarians: Which posed the greater threat, legislative tyranny or monarchy?
DK History: American Revolution
Had America revolted against a king, or against his parliament? In the end, Nelson argues persuasively, the royalists won. In this telling, the Constitution created not a radical democracy, but a very traditional mixed monarchy.
At its head stood a king—an uncrowned one called a president—with sweeping powers, whose steadying hand would hopefully check the factionalism of the Congress. The two houses of the legislature, elected by the people, would make laws, but the president—whom the Founders regarded as a third branch of the legislature—could veto them. He could also appoint his own Cabinet, command the Army, and make treaties. But these hedges on presidential authority did not make the office a creature of Congress.
Having defeated the armies of George III, the Framers seized upon a most unlikely model for their nascent democracy—the very Stuart monarchy whose catastrophic failure had produced the parliamentary system—and proceeded to install an executive whose authority King George could only envy. S ince the american Revolution, many new democracies have taken inspiration from the U.
Around much of the world, parliamentary systems became prevalent, but some countries, particularly in Latin America, adopted the presidential model, splitting power between an executive and a legislative branch. When, in , a Yale political scientist named Juan Linz compared the records of presidential and parliamentary democracies, the results were decisive. Not every parliamentary system endured, but hardly any presidential ones proved stable.
This is quite an uncomfortable form of American exceptionalism.
In parliamentary systems, governmental deadlock is relatively rare; when prime ministers can no longer command legislative support, the impasse is generally resolved by new elections. In presidential systems, however, contending parties must eventually strike a deal. In the 30 years since Linz published these findings, his ideas have enjoyed wide currency among political scientists and seized the imagination of pundits, but gained little purchase among U.
America has, after all, defied the odds, through the rise and demise of political parties, through depressions and wars, to the present day. Why would that change? Even if we discount the failures of other presidential democracies, though, we should not dismiss the fact that the U.
Constitution was modeled on a system that collapsed into civil war, and that it is inherently fragile. Nothing can compel them to act.
Until recently, American politicians have generally made the compromises necessary to govern. The trouble is that cultures evolve. As American politics grows increasingly polarized, the goodwill that oiled the system and helped it function smoothly disappears. In , fights over the debt ceiling and funding for the Affordable Care Act very nearly produced a constitutional crisis.
Congress and the president each refused to yield, and the government shut down for 16 days.
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For months, the two sides faced off, pledging fealty to the Constitution even as they exposed its flaws. Only at the 11th hour did the House pull back from the edge. Strikingly, in these and other recent crises, public opinion has tended to favor the president. As governments deadlock, executives are inclined to act unilaterally, thereby deepening crises.
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When parliament refused to provide Charles I with funds unless he met its demands, he moved to circumvent the legislators, and they in turn deposed him. Other presidential systems have collapsed in much the same way. The Framers do not seem to have understood this particular flaw of mixed monarchy. But then, neither did they express absolute faith in their own wisdom. That understanding actually encourages politicians to overreact, in the belief that they are playing a vital constitutional role.
It also encourages complacency, because a system that rights itself requires no painful compromises to preserve.