Essay: Evolution of Constitutional Law the Code

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¶ … Evolution of Constitutional Law

The Code of Hammurabi

The 6th and greatest ruler of Babylonia was Hammurabi, who succeeded in both expanding to its most imposing scale the empire and in bringing it under the jurisdiction of his code of laws. Known as the Code of Hammurabi, this is considered one of the first recorded doctrines in civilized history to establish as set of laws by which to govern a society. As an extension of the notion of the king as having been divinely instated by the Babylonian god, Marduk, Hammurabi proposed his code of laws as having been given by said god. In this way, the secular laws regarding civil affairs, crime and punishment and governance of the people were buttressed by the notion of divine right.

According to the introduction on the Code, provided by Horne (1998), the set of laws begins and ends with an address to god, but proceeds thereafter to regulate "regulates in clear and definite strokes the organization of society. The judge who blunders in a law case is to be expelled from his judgeship forever, and heavily fined. The witness who testifies falsely is to be slain. Indeed, all the heavier crimes are made punishable with death. Even if a man builds a house badly, and it falls and kills the owner, the builder is to be slain."

In other words, though the Code of Hammurabi would be a progressive doctrine in helping to establish the basis for civilization's evolving order, structure and stability, it would still reflect the decidedly less civil values of the ancient world. This makes the Code of Hammurabi an important building block -- perhaps even the cornerstone -- as human history has proceeded to define the right of governments to dictate civil interaction between members of society.

Mayflower Compact

An interesting an unexpected thing occurred to the settlers who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower. According to the source provided by History.com (2011), their intention was to make landing in the Virginia territory that was then occupied by the British Crown. However, the source reports, the Pilgrims aboard the ship instead made landfall around Cape Cod on the site now known as Plymouth Rock. This meant that the colonists were not under the legal jurisdiction of the British Crown or any other governing body. The immediate outcome was concern over potential anarchy among the colonists and settlers now isolated from the authority or enforcement capabilities of their motherland.

Therefore, the heads of the families assembled constructed the Mayflower Compact. According to History.com, "the Mayflower Compact, signed by 41 English colonists on the ship Mayflower on November 11, 1620, was the first written framework of government established in what is now the United States. The compact was drafted to prevent dissent amongst Puritans and non-separatist Pilgrims who had landed at Plymouth a few days earlier." (History.com, p. 1)

The impact of the Mayflower Compact was critical on two levels that would impact the future development of the United States. First and foremost, this represented an independent attempt at Constitutional Democracy, a considerable departure from the monarchy from which it had fled religious persecution. Second, and even more critical, this established a rule of law that was separate from the authority of the British Crown. Whether this independent rule of law would be respected by the British would naturally be a different matter altogether. But it would sow the seeds for the desire to achieve self-determination.

Pilgrims and Puritans

The story of the Pilgrims and Puritans who began to populate New England in swelling numbers during the 17th century is one of great paradox. Groups who notoriously fled for the unsettled wilderness of the American colonies from religious persecution, would in turn establish their own non-inclusive orders of civilization in their new settlements. This would forge a narrative of alternating victim-hood and victimization of others, most particularly the Native Americans who fully inhabited the 'New World' for millennia.

In fact, many primary source report to the religious extremism that came to define these groups as they established their own domains of authority in their growing colonies. Particularly virulent strains of proselytization began to emerge in those areas where Puritan values were dominant. Given its role as the landing point for the first colonists, Massachusetts emerged as a primary site for the extension of Puritan Christian values. In fact, as one report of the Puritan behavior from the firsthand perspective of a less zealous colonist tells that "various are the reports and conjectures of the causes of the present Indian war. Some impute it to an imprudent zeal in the magistrates of Boston to christianize those heathen before they were civilized and injoyning them the strict observation of their lawes, which, to a people so rude and licentious, hath proved even intolerable, and that the more, for that while the magistrates, for their profit, put the lawes severely in execution against the Indians, the people, on the other side, for lucre and gain, entice and provoke the Indians to the breach thereof, especially to drunkenness, to which those people are so generally addicted that they will strip themselves to their skin to have their fill of rum and brandy." (Dorsey, 1) This primary quote reflects not just the set of factors which helped to instigate conflict but also the low cultural regard in which the natives were held by the colonists.

What is remarkable about this perspective is that even as it criticizes those guilty of imposing their religious values on others, its criticism is also significantly directed at the very nature of the Native American. Calling the subject 'rude and licentious' and offering derogatory depictions of the manner in which spirituality impacts this "heathen' population, the depiction here underscores one of the lasting contributions of the Pilgrims and Puritans to American history. Namely, a combination of religious conversation, European disease, active genocide and debasement of its civilization through the introduction of alcohol and firearms would ultimately lead to the eventual destruction of countless native American families, tribes and cultures.

Moreover, there is a legacy of decisive violence within the Puritan cultures which seems to correspond with its mode of religious fanaticism. Not unlike the abused child who develops into a violent and abusive adult, the Puritan settlers descendent from those treated poorly in England would ultimately treat even their own brothers and sisters with this same theologically justified violence.

The Salem Witch Trials, for instance, stand as among the most visible of offenses committed by the Puritans. Here, an isolated village of Massechussetts settlers was gripped by a shared moment of religious insanity in which countless young women were burned at the stake under charges of witchcraft. If the legacy of the Pilgrims and the Puritans may be best characterized in today's society, it is in America's tendency to foster backwoods religious fanaticism in many of its most remote, isolated and education-deprived contexts.

Prelude to the American Revolution

A consideration of the century leading up to the American Revolution reveals that this watershed moment in human history was long in the making. Indeed, from the arrival of the very first settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, a nation with an independent streak and fueled by vast economic opportunity had begun to emerge. For the British, the mid-18th Century was producing considerable challenges. The age of colonialism had spread its influence all over the world. But so had it spread the military capabilities and economic imperatives all over the world.

The incredible wealth of natural sources, commodities and territory represented by the colonies and the massive unexplored body of land connected to them, became an important prize to the British. Indeed, these resources had become the fuel for the domestic wealth of the British Crown and its colonial ambitions on a global scale. This promoted the harsh assessment of taxation and resource displacement against American colonists that, with each passing year, had less cultural and personal connection to the crown than to the land directly beneath their feet. It was thus that their loyalties ultimately turned to their neighbors and families in defending against the incursion of British interests.

The bubblings of the revolution, then, would be designed to promote a concrete break from the British Crown consistent with the cultural and philosophical breaks which had already occurred. Rejecting the concept of monarchy, the colonies that would soon be the United States determined to stand in principled opposition to the undemocratic conditions which had given rise to its founding. And indeed, this separation of philosophical ideals on individual rights, governance and self-determination would set it apart from its originating government. As the text by Sage (2005) points out "the evolution of America's political parties was to a great extent the outgrowth of the British political system, which in an oversimplified analysis, can be said to have been divided into conservatives, who tended to support the monarchy and the power of the King, and liberals, who sought to restrain royal… [END OF PREVIEW]

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