Compare and contrast the beliefs of radicals and conservatives with respect to the formation of the new government. What were the effects of these differences, as demonstrated in the Articles of Confederation and in U.S. government in general?
Radicals believed that the confederation should protect the sovereign rights of states while providing a Congress to provide for common defense. Conservatives argued for sovereignty in the hands of a strong central government. The radicals mostly got their way in the Articles of Confederation, which placed the balance of power in the state governments. Radicals did not believe the central government should have the right to tax or to regulate commerce, or have supreme authority over the states. The result was that under the Articles, Americans experienced economic chaos and political confusion that actually threatened their rights. After six years of disunity and an ineffective central government, conservatives called for change and were able to persuade the American people to adopt a more centralized form of government. The U.S. Government since 1789 mostly reflects the ideas of the conservatives, in which the balance of power rests securely in the national government.
What was the impact of Shays' Rebellion on constitutional government in the United States?
Daniel Shays' rebellion demonstrated the problems with the state and national governments under the Articles of Confederation. The Massachusetts state legislature, in an effort to quickly repay its state debts, sharply increased taxes while demanding immediate repayment of all debts. Shays followed democratic procedures to protest these measures through petition. When his pleas were ignored, he claimed that his rights were being abused and took up arms, declaring "no taxation without representation." To many, this demonstrated the corruption of democracy in a state government unwilling to bend to the will of its constituents. Furthermore, Shays' insurrection lasted for many months before a state militia suppressed it. This demonstrated the weakness of the national government to suppress rebellion from within. The overall impact of this event was to convince many of the need for a new system of government that would prevent similar incidents. Many agreed on the need for a strong national government that would have the authority to assume the debts of the states, to tax, and to be the final appeal in all cases of injustice. These items were all integrated into the U.S. Constitution.
What is significant about each state having an equal vote in Congress?
By giving each state a single vote in Congress, the Articles of Confederation implied that each state was its own sovereign government, and that the national government did not directly reflect the mass of all the people in the country. If the Articles had dictated that representation in Congress be based on the population of each state, it would imply that sovereignty lay with the national government rather than the states. The equal vote also avoided the potentially difficult and divisive issue of slavery and different size states. If votes in congress had been based on population then the states would have disagreed about the way to count slaves. Non-slave states would have insisted that they not be counted towards representation and slave states would have insisted that they do. Additionally, larger states would have had an unfair advantage over smaller states, which already worried about being economically disadvantaged. Overall, giving each state one vote in Congress was in line with the radical perspective and successfully avoided the contentious issues of slavery and state size. These would re-surface and be dealt with by the U.S. Constitution.
Describe the weaknesses of the Confederation Congress, and explain the significance of those weaknesses to that time period in American history.
What role did land play in the ratification of the Articles of Confederation?
Describe the bonds that sustained the "loose confederation" of states. Was this a successful union of states? Why or why not?
In what way(s) did Congress attempt to address the issue of slavery under the Articles of Confederation?
Pick one of the weaknesses of the Confederation Congress (for example, its inability to regulate interstate commerce) and explain how that led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Explain the way(s)in which the Articles of Confederation established precedents for the U.S. government.
How were the values of the American Revolution translated into practice with the Articles of Confederation?
Signing of the United States Constitution by Junius Brutus Stearns, oil on canvas 1856
The transition from the Articles of Confederation to the United States Constitution wasn't a seamless one, and fixing the problems of the Articles of Confederation required a series of lengthy debates both during and after the convention. But one thing was certain, something had to be changed. Fifty-five Delegates met at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to determine how best to adjust the existing document.
The Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation were:
- Each state only had one vote in Congress, regardless of size
- Congress didn't have the power to tax, or to regulate foreign and interstate commerce
- There was no executive branch to enforce any acts passed by Congress
- There was no national court system
- Amendments to the Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote
- Laws required a 9/13 majority to pass in Congress
These weaknesses introduced a great deal of interstate conflict, something that delegates, through the drafting of the Constitution, tried their best to solve. However, under the Articles, when the Founding Fathers signed the Constitution in 1787, it needed the ratification from nine states before it could go into effect. This was not easy. And the push for ratification brought on a seemingly endless barrage of documents, articles, and pamphlets both supporting and opposing it.
There were two sides to the Great Debate: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists wanted to ratify the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists did not. One of the major issues these two parties debated concerned the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. The Federalists felt that this addition wasn't necessary, because they believed that the Constitution as it stood only limited the government not the people. The Anti- Federalists claimed the Constitution gave the central government too much power, and without a Bill of Rights the people would be at risk of oppression.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution
Led by Alexander Hamilton, albeit secretly at first, the Federalists were the first political party of the United States. They supported the Constitution, and attempted to convince the States to ratify the document. Hamilton, along with John Jay and James Madison, anonymously published a series of essays known as the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym "Publius."
Both Hamilton and Madison argued that the Constitution didn't need a Bill of Rights, that it would create a "parchment barrier" that limited the rights of the people, as opposed to protecting them. However, they eventually made the concession and announced a willingness to take up the matter of the series of amendments which would become the Bill of Rights. Without this compromise, the Constitution may never have been ratified by the States.
Surprisingly enough, it was Federalist James Madison who eventually presented the Bill of Rights to Congress despite his former stance on the issue.
Patrick Henry, Opposer of the Constitution
In the ratification debate, the Anti-Federalists opposed to the Constitution. They complained that the new system threatened liberties, and failed to protect individual rights. The Anti-Federalists weren't exactly a united group, but instead involved many elements.
One faction opposed the Constitution because they thought stronger government threatened the sovereignty of the states. Others argued that a new centralized government would have all the characteristics of the despotism of Great Britain they had fought so hard to remove themselves from. And still others feared that the new government threatened their personal liberties.
During the push for ratification, many of the articles in opposition were written under pseudonyms, such as "Brutus," " Centinel", and "Federal Farmer," but some famous revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry came out publicly against the Constitution.
Although the Anti-Federalists were unsuccessful in the prevention of the adoption of the Constitution, their efforts were responsible for the creation and implementation of the Bill of Rights.
Reaction in the States
In Rhode Island resistance against the Constitution was so strong that civil war almost broke out on July 4, 1788, when anti-federalist members of the Country Party led by Judge William West marched into Providence with over 1,000 armed protesters.
Although not all of the States underwent the extreme of the Rhode Island case, many of them had a bit of difficulty deciding which side they were on. This uncertainty played a major role in the ratification convention in Massachusetts. Finally, after long debate, a compromise (the "Massachusetts Compromise") was reached. Massachusetts would ratify the Constitution, and in the ratifying document strongly suggest that the Constitution be amended with a bill of rights.
Four of the next five states to ratify, including New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York, included similar language in their ratification instruments. As a result, after the Constitution was enacted, Congress sent a set of twelve amendments to the states. Ten of these amendments were immediately ratified into the Bill of Rights.
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