American Confederation and Constitution

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the country was in the process of forming an independent republic. There was political uncertainty as debate unraveled about the nature of American democracy, which had to balance the rights of states with the overlook of the federal government. Fundamental differences of leading figures allowed for the formation of two major ideologies which later became political parties. The Constitution underwent stages of the amendment as the Articles of Confederation failed, and the accepted version was signed in 1787 after compromises were made. To understand the essence of American political theory, the process which the Constitution underwent to compromise and establish the principles of Democracy must be carefully examined.

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Articles and the New Constitution

The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, were essentially the first constitutional document of the newly formed the United States of America. The underlying concept behind them was to ensure the sovereignty of the states and weaken the federal government. After British occupation, many feared a strong government, thinking that such leadership could lead to abuse of power often seen in monarchies. The legislative body called the Confederation Congress faced severe limitations trying to govern as even the basic functions of any national government were rendered ineffective. In 1787, representatives convened and created the Constitution which became the law of the land (Office of the Historian, 2017).

There were fundamental differences in the Articles and the Constitution that followed. Political weaknesses of the Articles included a lack of any federal executive or judicial branches. Lack of federal courts could not guarantee rights or any nationwide law. There was a difference in the federal legislature, with Articles having a unicameral system with one vote per state regardless of population, while the Constitution provided two chambers, with the House of Representatives based on population and the Senate providing two votes for each state.

Lack of central authority under the Articles had an economic impact also, as Congress could not impose taxes to pay for national expenses or debts. Commerce was deregulated, and there was a discrepancy in the currency as each state could print its own (The Library of Congress, 2017).

The weak federal government experienced numerous issues with Western territories. Borders needed to be protected from Spanish in the South and British in the Northwest (some forts have not surrendered). Despite states claiming land in the West, Congress was able to secure the right to control it and quickly determined to sell to create income. However, there was an ongoing conflict with Native American tribes (at times supplied by foreign powers) which prevented peaceful expansion.

Congress lacked the power to deal with foreign and domestic threats efficiently. The Constitution created a central authority that had extensive outreach through various means and agencies to effectively face threats and govern the nation. In turn, a system of checks and balances, as well as federal courts, was established to protect the rights of individuals and states (Ablavsky, 2014). The Constitution of 1787 had certain flaws. It failed to address slavery and numerous economic issues. It is purposefully vague on certain matters, which allows for the document to be amended, but some articles are still up for interpretation to date.

Drafting the Constitution

When delegates gathered at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, there were many disagreements on the structure of the new document and government. First, there was not a fair representation of all the classes of people, but rather the ruling legislative elite from the Revolutionary times. Only the 13 original colonies were present with Western territories lacking representation. The biggest debate centered around the issue of representation.

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The Virginia Plan proposed by James Madison aside from drafting the branches of government proposed a bicameral Congress with representation based on state population. The New Jersey plan proposed by William Paterson and supported by many of the smaller northern states kept equal representation from all states as seen under the Articles. Eventually, the Connecticut representative Robert Sherman came up with a hybrid solution of creating a bicameral Congress, with one chamber being based on representation and the other giving each state an equal two votes. This became known as the Connecticut or “Great” Compromise leading to Article Five of the Constitution, “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate” (US Senate, 2017).

Under the Articles of Confederation, slavery regulation was left up to the states, however, under the new Constitution, it became a heated topic. Southern states with agrarian-based economies wanted to keep slavery while counting them as part of their population thus gaining more representation in Congress. Northern states were mostly opposed to slavery, and many have outlawed the importation of slaves.

Also, already lacking the representation due to size, they wanted to limit how the South counted its population. As a result, the Three-Fifths Compromise was passed, allowing for Southern states to count each slave as 3/5 of a person in a census. Also, many of their demands were met regarding the slave trade and fugitive slave clause. Northern states regarded slavery as a dying institution and were willing to compromise to enact a new Constitution and central government (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2017).

Federalists and Anti-Federalists

After the Constitution had been signed in 1787, it needed to be ratified by state legislations. At this point a political clash emerged between the Federalists, supporting the new document a unified central government, and the Anti-Federalists, still fearing abuse of authority by the central leadership, rallying for more power to the states. Federalists led by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton consisted of merchants and plantation owners, while the other faction led by Patrick Henry and George Mason was mostly farmers and artisans. Anti-Federalists feared the new government had too much control over private citizens and states, as well as having an inefficient representation and taxation system (Duncan, 2014).

In the continued debate, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay published a collection of essays arguing for the adoption of the new Constitution called The Federalist Papers. Essay #10 by Madison is considered influential in political science, arguing that a strong republic would not be beset by factionalism, such as seen in state disputes under Articles and would consider the plurality of opinions. There was the impact on constitutional law, written by Hamilton which established judicial review and a system of federal courts.

Governor John Hancock was chosen by both sides to lead the Massachusetts Ratification Convention in 1788 and voiced a compromise by proposing a list of amendments known as the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. It protected many individual rights such as Habeas Corpus, freedom of speech, and due process of law. States could provide further protection, but never take away any civil rights. This answered the concerns of Anti-Federalists seeking to limit the federal government and was the final compromise in the long process of ratification (Constitution, n.d.).

Conclusion

The road to the adoption of the Constitution was paved with many political debates and compromises. It is a unique document establishing a form of republic Democracy seen around the world today. While the debate between state and federal government persists, the system of governance stands to this day, albeit with its many faults and benefits. Taking lessons from history, the Constitution stands as a fundamental example of government evolution and cooperation that can be applied to the troubled political climate of today.

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References

Ablavsky, G. (2014). The savage Constitution. Duke Law Journal, 63(5), pp. 999-1045. Web.

Constitution of the United States – Federalists versus Anti-federalists – government, Madison, national, and papers (n.d.). Web.

Constitutional Rights Foundation (2017). The Constitution and Slavery. Web.

Duncan, C. M. (2014). Anti-Federalists. Encyclopedia of Political Thought, pp. 98-100. Web.

The Library of Congress (2017). The Articles of Confederation. Web.

Office of the Historian (2017). Constitutional Convention and Ratification, 1787–1789. Web.

US Senate (2017). A great compromise. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "American Confederation and Constitution." June 20, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/american-confederation-and-constitution-essay/.

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