The US Constitution is seen as the illustration of democratic values. It was developed after the American Revolutionary War that secured the new country’s independence from the British Empire. However, the process of its drafting and ratification was rather long and full of tensions and compromises. The goal of the states was to develop a plan that could guide their effective collaboration for the sake of the new nation. It was a difficult process as the states had different economic and political agendas. This paper describes some milestones of the process of the US Constitution development with the focus on major tensions and compromises.
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The Articles and the Constitution
The states that formed Confederation were mainly concerned with the preservation of their rights and powers but tried to find ways to protect themselves from the Northern states or the British rule. The creation of the Articles of Confederation was rather quick, but the process of this document’s ratification lasted several years (Spalding, 2014). Although the Articles were characterized by serious weaknesses that made them unviable, the document also had some strengths. One of these was the respect for sovereignty and independence of the states, which was of paramount importance for the development of a union. The assignment of governors for new territories, as well as their further election by the increased population, was also beneficial.
Nevertheless, the Articles were characterized by significant downside in comparison to the Constitution of 1787. The major weakness of the document of Confederation was the inability of the central power (Congress) to enforce taxes or any other actions (Spalding, 2014). In simple terms, the states could decide whether they are ready to give a specific amount of money or whether they need or want to follow some treaties.
Making war was another area that needed rather strong central coordination, which was not available due to the lack of enforcement. Poor currency policy was another limitation as inflation skyrocketed because of weak central power. Finally, the so-called Western problem was one of the reasons for states’ reluctance to ratify the Articles. Western states had land claims while landless states had fears about their loss of any power. The compromise was reached when it was agreed that new territories would become new states with equal rights.
Issues and Compromises
However, such compromises could hardly ensure the proper functioning of the new government under the Articles, so the US Constitution came into existence. This document was to satisfy the needs and address their claims. One of the major issues that made the Articles unsatisfactory was the one associated with representation (Sidlow & Henschen, 2018). According to this document, all states had one vote, which made large states dissatisfied.
They claimed that due to their financial input and the significant population they deserved to have a stronger voice in the government. The problem was so serious that it simply blocked the process of Constitution drafting. Roger Sherman was the developer of a system that became known as the Great Compromise. The delegate proposed the bicameral legislature that consisted of the establishment of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the former chamber, all states had one vote while the latter included the proportionate number of representatives from each state.
Slavery-related issues were another significant area where an agreement was difficult to achieve. Southern states insisted on the existence of the institution of slavery as the foundation of their economic order although many southerners despised it (Sidlow & Henschen, 2018). To save the government viable, Northern states did not concentrate on this issue as they believed that slavery would cease to exist due to its archaism, which happened due to technological progress.
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The new Constitution did not focus on the rights of slaves but simply abolished the trade which was to end in 1800 although it was not until 1808 when the trade stopped. Moreover, northerners agreed to pass the laws according to which the slaves who had escaped to the North were to be returned. Another slavery-related issue was associated with the number of representatives. It was agreed that a slave would be counted as one-third of a free person, which satisfied the claims of southern states that had a significantly larger population and paid more taxes.
Federalists and Anti-Federalists
It is also noteworthy that such important aspects as slavery and representation were accompanied by a wider debate concerning the amount of power the federal government and each state had. Federalists insisted on the stronger power of the federal government while Anti-Federalists tried to preserve as many rights to states as possible. Federalists’ position was largely presented in the so-called Federalist Papers crafted by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.
For instance, in one of the papers, the hazards of the dissension between the US states were described (Hamilton, n.d.). One of these dangers was the aggression of other countries, which was still a significant threat to the created United States. It was argued that states had their needs and peculiarities, as well as their ambitions and claims. Hamilton (n.d.) emphasized that loose confederation was not effective as the states “be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other” (para. 2). Strong central power was regarded as the only way to secure the independence of the country and its prosperity.
Such Anti-Federalists as John Hancock believed that economic welfare was possible if states had more power than the central government. It was stressed that states understood their strengths and weaknesses, as well as needs and possibilities. The Bill of Rights became a compromise as the Amendments secured the rights of the states as well as individuals. In many cases, the existence of this document was the reason for the ratification of the Constitution. However, in reality, this document was not applied to the federal government in the days of its creation. The Bill of Rights has been widely referred to since the twentieth century.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the US Constitution became one of the building blocks of the new nation that secured the rights of states while facilitating their fruitful collaboration. The developers of the document, as well as the larger public, had different views on the amount of power granted to states and central government, slavery, and representation. However, they managed to achieve compromises that made people focus on opportunities and similarities rather than differences. It is noteworthy that Constitution did not address all possible aspects and could not fully satisfy stakeholders.
The Bill of Rights was one of the attempts to address this issue. Although these tensions still exist and some states try to oppose the decisions of the federal government, it is clear that Constitution is the set of principles that make the parties compromise.
Hamilton, A. (n.d.). The Federalist 6. Web.
Sidlow, E. I., & Henschen, B. (2018). GOVT (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Spalding, M. (2014). Introduction to the Constitution. In D. F. Forte & M. Spalding (Eds.), The heritage guide to the Constitution: Fully revised second edition (pp. 7-21). Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.