Introduction to Congress 2

The following is an extract from Lesson 1 of An Introduction to the U.S. Congress. You can get the whole thing here:

We need Congress as a way to solve national problems. Can that be done in way that is responsive to, and accountable to the people?

In some places and times, the laws are controlled by a king, a dictator, a junta, or a one-party state. Those laws generally benefit only a favored few people and often tyrannize some or all of the general population. There is little, if any, representation of the people nor accountability to the people. (For more comparisons with autocracies, see Democracy is Precious.)

Our history, however, is one that rejected the rule of kings and unrepresentative parliaments in favor of laws made by legislators who are accountable to the people. The Declaration of Independence (1776) put that rejection into words. It contains a long list of complaints about the abuse of power by the government of Great Britain.

The leaders of the newly independent states wanted to avoid anything like the British tyranny they were fighting. In trying to avoid that abuse, they created a confederation of state governments. The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789) prioritized the autonomy of the states (Article 2). The Confederation lacked the authority to levy taxes or regulate commerce. Congress could ask the states for money, but few were willing to comply after the War of Independence was won. Without tax revenue, the Confederation accumulated debt and could not pay the Revolutionary soldiers for their service.

The powerlessness of Congress under the Articles of Confederation convinced many of the men who would become our Constitution’s framers that a stronger national government was required. To achieve that goal, the Articles of Confederation needed to be reformed or replaced. The framers chose to solve the problem by writing a new constitution. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, however, remained quite wary of creating a new national government with too much concentrated power.

To be continued …

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