US Documents

Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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US Constitution

The Constitution of the United States sets forth the nation's fundamental laws. It establishes the form of the national government and defines the rights and liberties of the American people.

The Constitution was written to organize a limited national government for the American states. Previously, the nation's leaders had established a national government under the Articles of Confederation. But the Articles granted independence to each state. They lacked the authority to make the states work together to solve national problems.

After the states won independence in the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783), they faced the problems of peacetime government. The states had to enforce law and order, collect taxes, pay a large public debt, and regulate trade among themselves. They also had to deal with American Indian tribes and negotiate with other governments. Leading statesmen, such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, began to discuss the creation of a limited national government under a new constitution.

Hamilton helped bring about a national convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation. But a majority of the delegates at the convention decided instead to write a new plan of government—the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution established not merely a league of states but a government that exercised its authority directly over all citizens. The Constitution also defined clearly the powers and limitations of the national government. In addition, it established protection for the rights of the states and of every individual.

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Federalist No. 41

Federalist No. 41

General View of the [Enumerated] Powers Conferred by The Constitution
For the Independent Journal
Madison

To the People of the State of New York:

Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined.  It has been urged and echoed, that the power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.  No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.

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