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Chapter 5 The Constitution

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, we will discuss the federal U.S. Constitution and how it affects businesses. Specifically, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the main purposes of the U.S. Constitution?
  2. How does the Constitution grant authority to the government to regulate business?
  3. How does the Bill of Rights provide basic civil liberties to all persons in the United States?
  4. How do due process and equal protection operate to constrain governments from acting unfairly?

Video Clip: Schoolhouse Rock, the Preamble

(click to see video)

The Constitution is not the first constitution adopted by the original thirteen colonies. During the time of the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, the states were governed by the Articles of ConfederationThe first constitution of the United States of America; it established the union of states.. The articles granted limited authority to a federal government, including the power to wage wars, conduct foreign policy, and resolve issues regarding claims by the states on western lands. Many leading scholars and statesmen at the time, known as Federalists, thought that the articles created a federal government that was too weak to survive. The lack of power to tax, for example, meant that the federal government was frequently near bankruptcy in spite of its repeated requests to the states to put forth more money to the federal government. Larger states resented the structure under the articles, which gave small states an equal vote to larger states. Finally, the articles reserved the power to regulate commerce to the states, meaning each pursued its own trade and tariff policy with other states and with foreign nations. In 1786, work began in a series of conventions to rewrite the articles, resulting in the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787.

In this chapter we explore the Constitution in depth. We’ll examine how the Constitution sought to rectify the weaknesses in the articles, especially in commerce. We go beyond the meaning of the words and explain how judicial interpretation of the Constitution, while still evolving, has forever changed its original place in U.S. political economy. We’ll explore the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of RightsThe first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution., and look at how many of the key civil liberties contained in the Bill of Rights also affect businesses. By the end of the chapter, you should have a solid grasp on why the Constitution remains an enduring document and why it’s important for business professionals to be able to speak on it with authority.

Key Takeaways

The Articles of Confederation established the United States of America. It provided a central federal government with limited powers, including the power to wage war. The articles ultimately failed because the federal government lacked the power to raise its own taxes or to regulate commerce. In 1787, the Philadelphia Convention adopted a new Constitution to replace the articles.