The United States Constitution was ratified in 1789. That sets the framework for the running of the American government and is still followed. Most people do not pay all that much attention to what happens on Capitol Hill in Congress so the way a bill becomes a law may seem like a mystery. Of course, people know even less about the states’ systems of government. The Texas legislative history might be fascinating to some but others are not that interested.
Things People May Not Know about the U.S. Government:
- The U.S. Constitution is the shortest in the world. The most important document for the U.S. government is not a long one. Containing only 4,400 words, it is the shortest constitution (and the oldest) of any major government on the planet. Originally, the entire thing was just four pages (each page was about 29 inches by 24 inches so they were larger pages than what we are used to today).
- The American “Founding Fathers” were terrible spellers. There are tons of spelling errors in those 4,400 words. One notable misspelling is that “Pennsylvania” is spelled “Pensylvania.” Maybe it is just that people from that state do not care much for spelling because they also spelled it wrong on the Liberty Bell.
- The Thanksgiving holiday was meant to celebrate the Constitution. On November 26, 1789, President George Washington signed the executive order that created the holiday. It was to give thanks for the Constitution itself. That gives it an entirely different meaning than the breaking of bread between Puritans and Native Americans that many school children are told about.
- People did not always elect senators directly. Many people probably do not realize that when the U.S. Constitution was first implemented, people voted in a very different way. Yes, women and African Americans were not eligible to vote but U.S. Senators were not elected directly by the people. In the beginning of the republic, members of the U.S. Senate were elected by the state legislatures. It took the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which was not ratified until 1913. If you look through the Texas legislative history, for instance, you will see they ratified the amendment on February 7, 2013.
- America is not a democracy. That is right. Not only does that word never make an appearance in the Constitution but the country is actually a republic. In a democracy, the people make decisions for themselves directly. If you look at the legislative history of California, for instance, they have a lot of real democracy in the form of propositions, which are voted on directly by the people and then enacted. The federal government is a republic in that the people make their decisions through people they elect to represent them. It is actually a big difference. If you look at the Texas legislative history that is more like the federal government.
- Money bills have to start in the House of Representatives. Any bill that raises revenue needs to be introduced first in the House of Representatives. The thinking is that this is the body closest to the will of the people. It makes a lot of sense because remember, at the time, the citizenry only voted directly for the members of this side of Capitol Hill so they were the closest to the people. The Founding Fathers wanted “the power of the purse” to be handled by the people closest to the people.
The U.S. government is divided into three equal branches. The legislative branch creates the laws. The executive branch enforces the laws. The judicial branches interprets the laws. The problem comes when people in the judicial branch have to interpret laws that they may not understand the legislative intent. What was the legislature trying to do when they passed this? When looking at different state law, it may be helpful to look at the history. Say if you are working on a case in Texas, you might look at the Texas legislative history to see what the goal was in passing a law. Doing law research time consuming but it is very helpful when working to interpret laws for which there is no set case law to look to.