[September 17, 2016] If there is one subject senior leaders lose sleep over, it’s the establishment and clarification of their authority to carry out their organization’s mission. General George Washington struggled with the federal Congress over this very issue and it haunted him during the entire Revolutionary War. It wasn’t until the U.S. Constitution was signed on this date, September 17, 1787 and later ratified that authority to conduct war, enact laws, etc. was established.
Many folks underestimate the U.S. Constitution for what it does and the compromises that made it such a profound statement on how to advance the political process. Prior to the enactment of the Constitution, there was nothing that could be done by the federal government to enforce its requests, rules, and laws. Congress was essentially a “paper tiger.” States could do as they wished and they did exactly what they wanted; subject to the desires of their citizens.
Prior to the Constitution, Congress had the power to govern foreign affairs, conduct war, and regulate currency, but in practice these powers were sharply limited because Congress was given no authority to enforce its requests to the states for money or troops.1 It was clear to many that the Union would break apart if the current system of government – under the Articles of Confederation – were not fixed.
The establishment of a mechanism to ensure Congress had the authority to conduct came about only in the Constitution. After intense debate at a convention in Philadelphia, an intricate system of checks and balances, individual rights, limited government, separation of powers, and popular sovereignty was created.
George Washington was the convention president and had seen what happens when authority for such things is lacking. Being General of the Army he saw much waste and abuse under the Articles of Confederation and was anxious to do away with them. Today, we can respect those that worked to advance the cause of the Union and keep it intact.
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