The crisis of the 1780’s was due in large part to the government structure of the United States in the aftermath of the American Revolution. Due to the traumatic experienced by the American colonies under the rulership of the British Crown, the new government was established under the guidelines set before the Articles of Confederation. However, the legal framework of the Articles of Confederation created a weak national government that in turn was root cause of the economic and security problems that was experienced in the 1780s. As a result, the new government must ratify a Constituton that was designed to fix the weakness of the Articles of Confederation. At the end, a Federal government was created through the legal framework made possible by the US Constitution of 1787.
The Articles of Confederation and the 1787 Constitution
The Articles of Confederation were crafted in order to establish a union of states that is not controlled by a powerful government. The design was due in large part to the idea that central government are oppressive and corrupt. This type of mindset was exemplified in Article 3 wherein it was stated that it was a “firm league of friendship” so that the members were bound under a covenant that compels them to help each other in times of need (National Archives and Records Administration, 2016).
Although the Articles of Confederation succeed in creating a union of free states, and prevented the emergence of a powerful central government, there were also a number of unexpected outcomes. Due to a weak national government there were issues that the members of the Union were unable to solve. For example, the absence of a powerful entity to collect taxes made it difficult to have access to funds needed to solve some of the problems that plagued the nation (Morton, 2006).
The 1787 Constitution on the other hand was created to solve the problems related to the absence of a strong national government. In addition, the said Constitution was able to address issues, such as the fact that the US Congress did not have the power to collect taxes at a national scale. In addition, the Constitution was ratified to solve issues regarding the failure of the US Congress to regulate foreign commerce, as well as trade between states within the Union.
The Constitution of 1787 also solved the problem caused by the absence of a national court system and the absence of a powerful executive branch of the government that had the capabilty to enforce laws all over the nation. Although there were obvious benefits to the creation of a strong national government, the ratification of the US Constitution was not an easy task to accomplish.
The Drafting of the Constitution
One of the critical issues during the process of drafting the US Constitution was on representation. In the original legal framework, each state was given only one representative to vote in the US Congress. This is a problematic issue because there were large states that were inhabited by larger numbers of people compared to smaller states with smaller populations.
No one was able to solve the issue on representation, and as a result, there was a deadlock. Fortunately, Roger Sherman came up with a brilliant idea that was later labeled as the Great Compromise, because he was able to develop a common ground between those who wanted to retain the idea of a lone representative for each state and those who wanted to have more representatives for each state (Bardes, Shelley, & Schmidt, 2010). The Great Compromise called for the creation of a bicameral legislature and the representatives were determined by the number of inhabitants in the said state.
The Great Debate
Even if the delegates to the constitutional convention came into agreement with the creation of the House of Represenatives and the Senate, there was another major roadblock to the ratification of the Constitution of 1787 and it was the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. In the Federalist Papers, those who supported the view of the Federalist argued against the importance of a powerful central government (Hamilton, Madison, & Jay, 2014). However, the anti-Federalist group was greatly concerned with the impact and consequences of such power. The anti-Federalist feared that a powerful central government had the power to trample on the righst of the powerless and ordinary people. Thus, they wanted an assurance that coercion and oppression are not the expected outcomes at the ratificaiton of the said Constituion.
Once again a compromise was made when the anti-Federalist persuaded the Federalist to adopt a Bill of Rights in order to protect ordinary citizens from abuses perpetuated by the central government. It was a good thing that the anti-Federalist group stood their ground, because the Bill of Rights became an important foundation stone for the establishment of a strong national government that does not provoke or oppress its citizens.
There were several weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation that brouth the economic and political crisis of the 1780s. Due to the old legal framework the US Congress did not have the power to collect taxes and to create laws that directly solved the problems that plagued the country. As a result, a Constitutional Convention was assembled to develop the US Constitution of 1787 that provided the legal framework to develop a strong national government. However, this new capability was regulated by the existence of the Bill of Rights.
Bardes, B., Shelley, M., & Schmidt, S. (2015). American government and politics today. OH: Cengage Learning.
Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (2014). The federalist papers. New York: Dover Publications.
Morton, J. (2006). Shapers of the great debate at the constitutional convention of 1787. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.