The United States had two constitutions. The first one, known as “The Articles of Confederation,” came into effect in March 1781. The second one, “The Constitution,” succeeded The Articles in June 1788. The documents may seem similar, but they have a lot of differences when analyzed in more detail. Their comparison will explain the advantages and disadvantages of both documents and why finally one replaced the other.
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The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Articles and the Constitution
If compared to the Articles, the Constitution of 1787 is a more working document that represented the interest of a nation. The Articles were much criticized, first of all for the centralization of power (The Articles of Confederation). For the country as big and diverse as the United States it could not be an efficient government. The Constitution suggested a bicameral legislature, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The term limit set for the legislators was one year according to the Articles opposed to six for Senators and two for Representatives as stated in the Constitution. One year is not an effective period for a politician to introduce any positive changes. Thus it is another weak point of the Articles. The Constitution suggested the institution of the Supreme Court, which was its strong point (U.S. Constitution Online). One more weakness of the Articles was the fact that they gave power to the states to have army and navy forces which could lead to wars inside the country. The Constitution authorizes only Congress to deal with military issues. The same was about coining money. Moreover, the Articles did not provide a leader of the country suggesting the states choose their leaders. It could lead to more disagreements between the states. Finally, the Constitution forbade ex-post-facto legislation which was allowed by the Articles. It was another point for the first.
Drafting of the Constitution
As the Constitution differed much from the Articles in power, its drafting gave rise to discussions. I was printed in the majority of the American newspapers to involve the population in the dispute. Still, the debates in newspapers were just the beginning of conventions ratification. The ratification process could not be effective without the compromise, for every state wanted to protect its interests. The issue of trade regulation by Congress became one of the stumbling blocks. The Northern States agreed to this idea, but the Southern States did not want to grant Congress such authority. Fortunately, the compromise was found. The States agreed that Congress could control trade, there should be no export tax, and the slave trade should be unlimited within the next 20 years (Maier, 2011).
After the long discussion, the Constitutional Convention came to a standstill. The problem was in the legislative voting. At that time, Sherman suggested a system that is now known as Sherman’s compromise. It advocated the representation in the House of Representatives by population. The number of representatives in the Senate was the same for every state. This compromise not only resolved the issue of voting but also encouraged the solution of other disagreements (Maier, 2011).
Debate Over the Ratification of the Constitution
Writing the Constitution was a time-consuming process that demanded much negotiations and compromise. Still, its ratification by all the states was not simple as well. The debate arose between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Anti-Federalists disagreed on the Constitution because they considered it did not preserve the rights of the states well enough and was not sufficiently democratic. They were afraid that the president suggested by the Constitution would become a King. Besides, the Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights (Hamilton, Madison, & Jay, 2009). Among the Anti-Federalists the most prominent figures were Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams.
The Federalists Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay, and John Adams were among the supporters of the new Constitution. Madison (2009) in one of his essays stated that “the charge brought against the proposed Constitution, of violating the sacred maxim of free government, is warranted neither by the real meaning annexed to that maxim by its author nor by the sense in which it has hitherto been understood in America” (p.101). Hamilton (2009) spoke on the matter of courts in the Federalist Paper 78: “If then the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges, which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty. This independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of… designing men” (p.238).
In the context of Massachusetts’ discussion there appeared a figure of Governor John Hancock. He suggested some amendments to the Constitution, among which was the Bill of Rights. It positively influenced the debates and stimulated the ratification (Maier, 2011).
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The process of the Constitution making as long as it was necessary to satisfy the interests of all the states. The most important document of the country had to be well discussed. The American Constitution had a long way to its ratification, but it has been used for centuries which is the proof of the correct choice in 1787.
Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J, (2009). The Federalist Papers. M.A. Genovese (Ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Maier, P. (2011). Ratification: The people debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.