US Constitution 1787 and Articles of Confederation


America in the 1780s was in a state of political volatility, with the country’s system of government undergoing reevaluation and amendment. The need for creating a structure that would answer to the requirements of a newly formed nation, one that had only recently won its independence, influenced the establishment of multiple trains of political thought. The two most popular ideas, conservative and radical, diverged primarily on the topic pertinent to the duty of the national government in the newly formed state. This division in thought created prerequisites not only for the emergence of political parties but also stimulated the idea of a constitution. Thus, the creation of a constitution was supposed to answer the acute organizational questions raised by the formation of the United States of America.

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Historical Background: Articles of Confederation and the New Constitution

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union acted as a basic constitution but served a different purpose, as they were formed to define the role of the states in wartime. The main issue, which remained unsolved, was that “the articles created a legislative body but no chief executive, which made conducting military and foreign affairs particularly cumbersome” (Tushnet, 2015, p. 10). Therefore, they acted only as an agreement between states that retained their independence and, at times, absconded the demands of the Articles, ignoring national war truces, and keeping up their own foreign affairs (Tushnet, 2015).

The Articles created the groundwork for a future governmental organization but did not adequately tackle urgent questions such as the matter of unification, national sovereignty, or even the problem concerning Western territories claimed by different states.

The new Constitution of 1787, hence, was drafted as an attempt to amend the limitations of the Articles of Confederation. Comparing the two documents requires keeping in mind not only their different purposes but also the historical context of their creation. The Articles were accepted in 1781 as wartime government-guiding documents, while the Constitution came into force in 1789 after the end of the American Revolutionary War and rectified the existing government structure to suit peacetime (Tushnet, 2015). The Constitution, thus, solved the problems, which the Articles were unable to tackle, for example, the creation of a centralized army commanding apparatus and the implementation of a valuable currency.

The Process of Drafting the Constitution

Despite the need for rectification to the failing Articles of Confederation, the questions relating to the content of the proposed Constitution varied state-by-state. Different states offered ideas benefiting themselves, bringing the discussion to a stalemate, where, as an example, we can take the Virginia Plan’s proposition for bicameral legislature proportional to population, which would favor populous states (Scott, 2013).

The work of Roger Sherman in the drafting of the US constitution broke this stalemate through the proposition of what became known as the Connecticut Compromise. It was a proposal that equalized the states in the upper house while retaining the population proportionality representation in the lower one (Hall, 2013). This type of bicameral balance defended the less populated states from underrepresentation, while at the same time refraining from undermining high-populace ones. This approach also tackled head-on the discord between states and further helped strengthen national unity without impeaching state liberties.

Federalists and Anti-Federalists on Ratification

One of many hotly debated topics was related to the ratification of the US Constitution, which stemmed from the political disposition of the two groups: pro et contra the strengthening of a centralized government. Anti-federalists, with John Hancock as one of the leaders, opposed the implementation of a constitution and were most concerned with state autonomy and the “breadth of power the new government would have” (Tushnet, 2015, p. 13; Hall, 2013).

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Federalists, in turn, argued that the creation of a centralized government with divided power created a stronger structure, without infringing on state liberty. The federalists appoint this responsibility to the project creators, arguing that “either the mode in which the federal government is to be constructed will render it sufficiently dependent on the people, or it will not” (Hamilton, Madison & Jay, 2006, p. 311). Thus, the debate for constitutional ratification highlights the main difference between the two parties through their idea of America: as a centralized government, acting in tandem with states, or with heightened state autonomy.

The implementation of the Bill of Rights, therefore, was a compromise between the two parties, placating the fears of the anti-federalists and advancing the ideas of federalists. Introduced as something specifically created to appease the opposition to the constitution, the Bill centered on the fact that “power was, first of all, parcelled out between the nation and the individual States” (Schwartz, 2013, p. 5). Thus, it allowed achieving the compromise between those scared of an overpowered government and those seeing disaster in lack of a centralized, state unifying one.


The process of creating the American government was turbulent, but it was an attempt to implement an idea of a new governmental organization on a scale that had not been attempted before. Through compromise and collaboration between parties with political differences, we can see the development of a working system. The analysis of the different proposals provides insight not only into the ideas pertinent at the time of the formation of the US government but also grants historical context for some issues still appropriate today.


Hall, M. (2013). Roger Sherman and the creation of the American republic. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Schwartz, B. (2013). American constitutional law (Reissue ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Scott, K. (2013). The federalist papers: A reader’s guide. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Tushnet, M. (2015). The constitution of the United States of America (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.

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Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (2006). The federalist papers. New York, NY: Cosimo Classics.

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