The Creation of the US Constitution in the 1780s

After the independence of the thirteen American colonies was declared in 1776, the need to lay the foundation for the future existence of the states together arose. In 1781, the Articles of Confederation were ratified; these served as the first Constitution of the USA. However, they were unable to allow the U.S. to effectively protect its interests, and were soon replaced by the Constitution of the U.S., which was created in 1787 and ratified in 1788 (Graebner, Burns, & Siracusa, 2011). This paper compares the Articles of Confederation with the new U.S. constitution ratified in 1788, analyzes the process of creation of this Constitution, and considers the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists regarding the creation of a strong national government.

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Comparing the Articles of Confederation with the New Constitution of 1787

The Articles of Confederation served as the legal basis for the common government of the U.S. On the whole, according to the Articles, the states were considered sovereign units; the Congress had very little power, mostly only that which was delegated to it by the states. The Congress could not levy taxes, could not act directly in most situations, and was unable to regulate commercial relationships between the states or with foreign countries (Graebner et al., 2011, pp. 85-86). This created a number of problems. For instance, the ports of French and British empires were closed to foreign ships, which meant the U.S. could not trade with these countries; simultaneously, the central American government could not close its ports to foreign ships due to the lack of power, and separate states were not able to agree on foreign trade policy; as a result, domestic manufacturers faced strong competition from foreign commerce while being unable to sell their products overseas (Graebner et al., 2011). Thus, it was needed to give the U.S. Congress more power, particularly in order to enable it to affect foreign trade and protect the domestic manufacturers.

Thus, the Articles were replaced by the U.S. Constitution in 1788. The Constitution gave more power to the Congress, allowing it to regulate foreign and interstate trade, levy taxes, and act directly in many situations. In addition, the Congress became bicameral; a federal court system was created; and an independent executive (the President) now was selected by the Electoral College (Graebner et al., 2011).

However, it should be noted that the Articles also had a number of strengths. In particular, the Congress was established thanks to these Articles, so that the country would not become a monarchy; it had certain powers, such as declaring the war and solving disputes between states (Graebner et al., 2011).

Analyzing the Drafting of the Constitution

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia; it lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787. Several compromises were made so that all the represented states would agree to ratify the new constitution. One of the compromises was related to slavery; while George Mason offered to ban slave trade between America and Europe and Africa, the representatives from Georgia and South Carolina strongly resisted and threatened to leave the Convention and oppose its decisions. Therefore, it was decided not to ban slavery (Edling, 2008). Furthermore, the slave states wanted to have more representatives in the lower house of the Congress, and insisted that the slave population would be taken into account when considering the number of representatives. A compromise was reached that each slave would count as 3/5 of a free individual for the purpose of deciding the number of state representatives in the lower house of the Congress (Edling, 2008).

Another compromise was related to commerce; while the northern states desired that the Congress could introduce tariffs on merchandise, which would protect them from foreign rivals, the southern states did not wish tariff to be introduced, because they depended on foreign trade considerably. It was decided that tariffs would be allowed, but only on imported (and not exported) goods (Edling, 2008).

Finally, the Connecticut Compromise, Sherman’s Compromise, and the Great Compromise, was related to the number of representatives in the upper house of the Congress (Edling, 2008). While the representation was proportional in the lower house, small states did not wish to be underrepresented in the upper house; the delegates from the small states (e.g., Gunning Bedford Jr.) threatened to withdraw from the Convention and look for other allies. However, in the end, the Connecticut Compromise was reached; according to it, each state would send two representatives to the upper house, regardless of the size and population of the state (Edling, 2008).

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Comparing the Debates over Ratification between Federalists and Anti-Federalists

A great debate over the ratification of the Constitution took place between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Federalists, the first American political party, supported the ratification of the Constitution, believing that only the creation of a stronger national government than the one established by the Articles of Confederation would allow for an effective cooperation of all the states (Edling, 2008). A number of essays, nowadays known as the Federalist Papers, were published in order to persuade the states to support the Constitution. For instance, Federalist #2 (author: John Jay) argues that America should unite as one people under one government, in order to be able to resist foreign threats (“The Federalist Papers,” n.d.). Federalist #30 (author: Alexander Hamilton) argues that in order to support the national army, the government needs to be able to levy taxes (“The Federalist Papers,” n.d.); as was previously noted, the Articles of Confederation did not give such a right to the Congress; the latter had to rely on voluntary donations (Graebner et al., 2011).

On the other hand, the anti-federalists opposed the Constitution, believing that a strong central government would deprive people of their personal freedoms and rights. The possible tyranny of the Congress and the usurpation of the sovereignty of separate states were also feared, especially because America had experienced the despotism of the British Empire; the Anti-Federalist paper #9 argues that such a central government would be despotic (“Antifederalist Paper 9,” n.d.).

The Anti-Federalists did not succeed in preventing the ratification of the U.S. constitution, but were able to cause the adoption of ten amendments to it in 1789-1791; these amendments are known as the Bill of Rights (Graebner et al., 2011). The Bill of Rights provides additional guarantees of rights and freedoms of an individual, and more clearly defines the boundaries of the federal government’s power. It might be stated that the Bill of Rights achieved an effective balance between the state and federal governments’ power, because the federal government retained the power given to it by the Constitution, but was not allowed to usurp more power; it could only have been delegated to the Congress by states or by the people.

Conclusion

Therefore, the U.S. Constitution was created and adopted in 1787-1788 in order to address the problems that the Articles of Confederation could not resolve. A number of compromises between different states were reached so that all of the states would ratify the Constitution. Although the Anti-Federalists were unable to prevent the ratification of the Constitution, their efforts caused the adoption of the Bill of Rights, which led to an effective balance of power between the federal and state governments.

References

Antifederalist paper 9 – a consolidated government is a tyranny. (n.d.). Web.

Edling, M. M. (2008). A revolution in favor of government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the making of the American state. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Graebner, N. A., Burns, R. D., & Siracusa, J. M. (2011). Foreign affairs and the Founding Fathers: From Confederation to Constitution, 1776–1787. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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The federalist papers. (n.d.). Web.

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