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Creating the Constitution Chapter 8
Introduction After the Revolutionary War ended, Virginia Patriot, James Madison worked in Congress to tried to get the states to work together. He failed. After declaring independence in 1776, Congress had tried to unite the states under one nation government. Members of Congress feared that a strong central government would crush the rights they were fighting to preserve. Their solution was a plan of government called the Articles of Confederation.
Articles of Confederation The Articles created “a firm league of friendship” in which “each state retains its sovereignty (power), freedom and independence.” This “league of friendship” was a loose union in which the 13 states cooperated for common purposes. It was run by Congress where each state had one vote. On paper, the Articles of Confederation gave Congress several important powers: Make war and peace Raise an army and a navy Print money Set up a postal system
Articles of Confederation In reality, these powers were limited by the inability of Congress to impose taxes. Congress had to ask the states for funds to do anything and often, states would ignore Congress’ requests. James Madison said the Articles of Confederation were no more effective a binding the states into a nation than “a rope of sand.”
Articles of Confederation Title page: The first Constitution of the United States. The states held the most power. The national government could not collect taxes or settle disputes between states.
Early Quarrels and Accomplishments Before the end of the Revolutionary War, states began quarreling (arguing) among themselves about taxes on goods that crossed state borders. States quarreled over boundaries and Congress was unable to end the arguing. This was one of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
Developing Western Lands Congress did get the states to agree on how to develop the western lands acquired by the United States in the Treaty of Paris. There was no organized way to settle that land. Settlers simply moved there and claimed land. This resulted in disputes over who really owned the land. Congress ended the confusion by passing the Land Ordinance of Under this law, western lands were divided into six-mile squares called “townships”. Each township was then divided into 36 sections of 640 acres each. One section of each square was for public schools and the other sections were sold to settlers.
Developing Western Lands Surveyors proceeded to lay out townships in the Ohio Valley, then known as the Northwest Territory. By 1787, the government was ready to sell sections to settlers. This raised the question of how these areas would be governed. Were they to be colonies of the United States or new states?
The Northwest Ordinance Congress answered this question in the Northwest Ordinance of This law divided the Northwest Territory into smaller territories, each governed by a territorial governor. When a territory had 5,000 free adult males, it could elect its own legislature (lawmaking body). When the population reached 60,000, a territory could apply to Congress to become a state.
The Northwest Ordinance The Northwest Ordinance included a list of rights that gave settlers the same privileges as other citizens, except for one=slavery. Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory. This system of settlement served the nation well. Over time, the United States would continue to establish territories as it spread to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
The Need for Change Under the Articles of Confederation, the new nation also had serious money problems. The paper money printed by Congress during the war was worthless. Congress had the power to make coins that would not lose their value, but it lacked gold or silver to mint into coins. The states reacted to the money shortage by printing their own paper currency (money). Eventually, bills of different sizes and colors were floating from state to state. No one knew what any of these currencies were worth, but most agreed that they were not worth much.
Shays’ Rebellion: Massachusetts Farmers Rebel The money shortage was particularly hard on farmers who could not earn enough money to pay their debts and taxes. In Massachusetts, judges ordered farmers to sell their land and livestock to pay off debts. The farmers rebelled under the leader, Daniel Shays. (Shays was also a hero of Bunker Hill.) Shays and his followers closed down courthouses to keep judges from taking their farms.
Shays’ Rebellion Next, they marched on the national arsenal (place where weapons and ammunition are stored) at Springfield to seize the weapons stored there. Congress was unable to stop them because the Continental Army was disbanded. Massachusetts ended Shays’ Rebellion by sending militia troops to Springfield to restore order. To many Americans, the uprising was a disturbing sign that the nation they fought so hard to create was falling apart.
A Call for a Convention Shays’ Rebellion shocked Congress into calling for a convention to consider “the situation of the United States.” Each state was invited to send delegates to Philadelphia in May 1787, “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” James Madison believed that a nation made up of many groups needed a strong central government.
Opening the Constitutional Convention In the summer heat on May 25 th, 1787, the Constitutional Convention met for the first time in the east room of the Pennsylvania State House (later called Independence Hall; also where the Declaration of Independence was written 11 years earlier.) The delegates first action was to elect George Washington president of the convention. He was admired and respected as the former commander of the Continental Army.
The Delegates 55 delegates from 12 states attended the convention. Rhode Island, which prided itself as “the home of the otherwise minded” and feared a strong national government, boycotted the meeting. Some leaders of the Revolution were missing: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were representing the United States in Great Britain and France. Other who did not attend included Sam Adams, John Hancock and Patrick Henry – they feared a strong national government would endanger the rights of the states.
The Delegates The delegates were described by a historian as, “the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well- wed.” Their average age was 41. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest at age 81. More than two-thirds were lawyers. More than one in three owned owned slaves.
The Father of the Constitution James Madison was a leader in the convention. His influence was so great that later he would be called “The Father of the Constitution.” Madison addressed the convention over 200 times. When he wasn’t speaking he was sitting near the front taking notes. His notes covered more than 600 printed pages. From this record (James Madison Papers) we know what went on inside the convention day by day.
The Rule of Secrecy No one outside the convention knew what was happening. After choosing the president of the convention, delegates voted on rules for the convention. The most important of which was secrecy. The delegates wanted to feel free to speak their minds without causing alarm or opposition among the general public. Not a single word about the convention debates appeared in any newspaper.
Shared Beliefs and Clashing Views The delegates had a lot in common, but they also had very different views on many of the issues facing the new nation. Delegates were committed to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and agreed the basic purpose of the government was to protect the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They also believed the “just powers” of government came from “the consent of the governed.”
Shared Beliefs and Clashing Views These beliefs reflected liberal ideas of England’s Enlightenment thinkers who believed that human rights are decided by “laws of nature.” Among these rights were the rights to liberty and equality. The best way to protect these rights was through some form of republic (a country governed by elected representatives.)
Shared Beliefs and Clashing Views The delegates used ideas and the framework of government from their own states. Each state had a form of elected representatives and a local constitution (written plan that provides the basic framework of government.) They had difficult questions to answer: How should have a say in a truly representative government? How powerful should the national government be? If it was too powerful it jeopardized the rights of people. Too weak (Articles of Confederation) it cannot do its job to protect liberty and property.
Issue: How should states be represented in the new government? Most delegates initially believed that they were there to revise the Articles of Confederation. Virginia delegates presented a new plan of government. After much debate, it was decided to throw out the Articles of Confederation and write a new constitution. The delegates (later known as the “framers”) were divided on where the government should get its power to rule. Madison’s answer was in the Virginia Plan and said the government’s power should come directly from the people.
The Virginia Plan The Virginia Plan called for a strong national government with 3 branches (parts). Legislative Branch (Congress) would make laws. Executive Branch (President) would carry out (“execute”) laws. Judicial Branch (Courts) would apply and interpret the laws. Congress would be made up of 2 houses (bicameral=2 chambers/houses). House of Representatives Senate The number of lawmakers that a state could send to Congress depended on its population. Larger states liked this idea because larger populations had more power in both houses of Congress.
The New Jersey Plan Delegates from the smaller states disliked the Virginia Plan. Before they voted, William Paterson of New Jersey introduced a rival proposal. Like the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan called for a 3 branch government; however, the legislative branch would have 1 house (not 2). Each state would have an equal vote in Congress regardless of their population. This would keep the smaller states from being overpowered by the larger, more populous states.
The Great Compromise Debates and tempers rose and continued into July. Finally, a compromise was proposed based on a plan put forward earlier by Roger Sherman of Connecticut. The compromise kept the 2-house Congress. The House of Representatives would represent the people and the number of representatives would be based on the state’s population. The 2 nd house, the Senate, would represent the sates. Each state would have 2 senators, to be elected by their state legislatures. The vote was close, but the plan was approved and became known as the Great Compromise.
How should slaves be counted? People or Property? Nine-tenths of the slaves lived in the South. Like everyone else, southerners wanted as many representatives in the House as possible. They argued that slaves should be counted in their total population. Delegates from the North did not agree and argued that slaves were property in the south and if they were to be counted as people they should become citizens and allowed to vote.
New Thinking on Slavery In the North, new thinking inspired by Ben Franklin’s Antislavery Society, led one state after another to pass laws ending slavery. In the south, people were not ready to abolish it because the economy was still too dependent on the labor of slaves. Some southern states did pass laws making it easier for owners to free their slaves.
The Three-Fifths Compromise After a bitter debate, James Madison proposed a compromise to count each slave as three-fifths of a person in the population. The delegates approved this idea. This compromise was against the line in the Declaration of Independence saying “all men are created equal,” but it served the necessary purpose of moving forward.
The Three-Fifths Compromise
Issue: How should a Chief Executive be Elected? Another Issue: Who would head the new government’s executive branch? James Madison suggested that a single person should serve as the chief executive. The delegates were afraid that one person would take advantage of their power, like King George III had done. The debate started…1 executive or 3… The framers eventually agreed on a single executive, to be called the “president.” To keep this leader from becoming like a king, the president’s term would be limited to 4 years. A vice president would also be elected to fill the position if they president died in office.
Choosing the Chief Executive Some delegates wanted Congress to elect the president, but others feared that the person chosen by Congress would do as Congress instructed him. Other delegates suggested the people vote on the president, but Madison feared people would choose someone from their own state and that would be unfair to smaller states. Other delegates thought the president should be chosen by a group of “electors” from each state in order to make a wise choice for the entire country.
The Electoral College After much debate, they decided that a special body called the Electoral College would elect the government’s leaders. The Electoral College is made up of electors who cast votes to elect the president and vice president every few years. Each state has as many electors in the Electoral College as the number of senators and representatives it sends to Congress. Each state could decide how they choose the electors. Originally, the electors voted for 2 candidates without saying which should be president or vice president. Person with the most votes because president. The runner up became vice president. This system eventually caused much confusion in the 1800 election and would be changed.
The Electoral College Today
Political Parties and Elections The Electoral College was set up due to the framer’s concerns that voters would not know enough about a candidate outside their own state to choose a president wisely. Within a few years of the convention, political parties were nominating candidates for president and educating voters in each state about those candidates. The Electoral College system still affects presidential elections today. In most states, the candidate who gets most of the votes (even if it’s less than half) gets all the state’s electoral votes. A candidate can win a majority in the Electoral College without necessarily winning a majority of the votes in the country. Ex: 2000 election of George W. Bush
The Convention Ends By the end of the summer, the designing of the Constitution was finished, but it still needed to be accepted by the states. First question: How many states would have to ratify (approve) the Constitution before it could go into effect? The framers decided that 9 of the 13 states had to approve it. Second question: Who should ratify the Constitution - the people or the state? Delegates agreed: The Constitution would be ratified at special conventions by delegates elected by the people in each state.
Signing the Constitution On September 17, 1787, the delegates declared the Constitution complete. Benjamin Franklin shared thoughts that would be printed in over 50 newspapers: “I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution…if therefore astonishes me to find this system approaching so near to perfect…and I think it will astonish our enemies.” No convention could create a perfect plan. 14 delegates left before the convention ended and 3 doubters did not sign the Constitution. Only 38 of the original 55 delegates signed the Constitution. Ben Franklin declared that “a new day was dawning for the United States.”
The Constitution Goes to the Nation Newspapers in every state printed the Constitution. Readers saw this as a plan that would create a “federal” system of government, in which a strong national government shared power with the sates. The entire country was debating the same issues the convention dealt with during the four months they met.
The Federalists Supporters of the Constitution called themselves Federalists. They argued that the Constitution would create a national government that was strong enough to unite the quarreling states into a single republic. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay led the Federalist campaign for ratification. They wrote newspaper articles identifying the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and describing how the Constitution would fix those weaknesses. Federalists also addressed fears of Americans that a strong government would threaten their freedom. They discussed how the powers were limited. The most influential articles published were called “The Federalist Papers.”
The Anti-Federalists Opponents of the Constitution were called the Anti- Federalists. They feared that Congress would over-tax them, the president would be like a king, and the judicial branch would overpower the state courts. They complained that the Constitution listed the powers of government, but left out the rights of the people. They did not want to give up any state power to form a stronger union.