U.S. Constitution - Business in United States of America

U.S. Constitution: The Constitution and Contract Law

Identification: Foundation document that established the structure and principles governing the national government of the United States

Date: Ratified in 1789

Significance: The U.S. Constitution provides a stable rule of law and an economic framework that makes American business and finance possible. 

From the earliest recorded times, successful business activities have depended on the existence of peaceful and stable legal environments. When human societies moved beyond the hunter-gatherer stage to primitive agriculture, their members recognized that peace and security were extremely important to the growing and harvesting of crops. Without such security, farmers might expend their labor planting and weeding only to have neighbors steal their crops when they ripened. Within the United States, the federal Constitution has provided the basis for such an environment.

The Constitution was drafted during the summer of 1787, because the nation’s previous foundation document, known as the Articles of Confederation, failed to provide a secure environment for living and for conducting business. Tariff barriers and trade wars among the states dampened economic development and threatened outright civil war. The lack of a national currency and the inability of the weak national government to protect contracts and private property made conducting business across state lines extremely difficult. Moreover, the absence of a national court system meant that disputes between citizens of different states could not be reliably resolved, as each state’s courts tended to uphold the interests of its own citizens against those of other states. National economic activity was becoming stagnant.

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution addressed business and financial security in a number of specific ways. For example, Article I, section 9, prohibits taxes and duties on items exported from states. This clause promotes business by protecting the value of agricultural and manufacturing goods from being eroded by taxes. Article I, section 8, known as the commerce clause, gave the U.S. Congress authority to regulate commerce among the states, centralizing that critical power at the federal level. These two sections of the Constitution went a long way toward ending the dangerous trade wars among the original thirteen states and created one of the world’s largest free trade areas.

Richard L. Wilson

Further Reading

  • Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2005. Provision-by provision study of the Constitution that incorporates the events and issues that have helped shape each portion of the document. 
  • Berkin, Carol. A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution. New York: Harcourt, 2002. History of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, describing the conflicts and compromises among delegates, the disagreements between Federalists and anti-Federalists, and the development of the document itself. Contains one hundred pages of appendixes, including the full text of the Constitution and brief biographies of convention delegates. 
  • Ely, James W., Jr. The Guardian of Every Other Right: A Constitutional History of Property Rights. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Scholarly history of property rights under the Constitution and its interpretation by the Supreme Court. 
  • _______, ed. Contract Clause in American History. New York: Garland, 1997. Scholarly study of the impact of the Constitution’s contract clause on American business history. 
  • Farrand, Max. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. 4 vols. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966. The definitive set of primary source documents for the convention. 
  • May, Christopher N., and Allan Ides. Constitutional Law—National Power and Federalism: Examples and Explanations. 3d ed. New York: Aspen, 2004. Examination of the U.S. federal system that analyzes the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce. 
  • Rakove, Jack N. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1996. Examines the concerns that shaped constitutional decision making during the late 1780’s, exploring federalism, representation, executive power, civil rights and liberties, and other issues confronting delegates. 

See also: Annapolis Convention; U.S. Presidency; Supreme Court and banking law; Supreme Court and commerce; Supreme Court and contract law; Supreme Court and labor law; Supreme Court and land law; tariffs; taxation.

U.S. Constitution: The Constitution and Contract Law

Supreme Court and contract law

Supreme Court and commerce

U.S. Congress

First Bank of the United States

Articles of Confederation

Annapolis Convention

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