The Articles of Confederation, drafted during the independence movement in 1776-1777, became the first official regulation that increased the power of the states through the creation of a decentralized government structure (Mittal & Weingast, 2013). However, they proved to be rather weak in governing the decision-making process made by the states and the central government, which led to the development of the Constitution of 1787 (Mittal & Weingast, 2013). Despite being widely debated throughout the process of its creation and ratification, the new Constitution proved to be a more long-term solution to the problems faced by the post-revolutionary American government (Broadwater, 2012).
The Articles of Confederation vs. the New Constitution of 1787
Essentially, the strong point of the Articles was that they provided for increased freedom and independence of each state, as well as for the expanded power of the states in the decision-making process: for example, “Under the Articles of Confederation, the votes of a majority of states were required to pass routine measures” (Broadwater, 2012, p.12). The Articles gave the Confederation Congress no power to require the states to meet their obligations, which lead to the weakening of the central government and deprived it of its constitutional authority (Mittal & Weingast, 2013). Another significant drawback was that the Articles proved impossible to reform: numerous attempts for reformation were unsuccessful because it was impossible for all the states to agree on them (Mittal & Weingast, 2013). The difficulties to reach an agreement between the states affected the entire decision-making process within the country (Broadwater, 2012). For example, during the Western problem, the western lands of the country were claimed by several states at once (Broadwater, 2012). The new Constitution, on the other hand, was made to consolidate the power of Congress over the states, thus supporting the authority of the central government. According to the proponents of the Constitution, this would erase the tensions between the states and facilitate the decision-making processes in the government: “Federalists agreed that Congress should have positive powers to levy and collect taxes and to regulate foreign and interstate commerce” (Mittal & Weingast, 2013, p. 290).
Creating the Constitution
The process of drafting the constitution, on the other hand, proved to be another challenge for the states and the central government. One of the debates was linked to the increase in the power of the central government. Whereas anti-federalists argued that such power could be easily abused, the Federalists believed that “Granting the national government more power would in principle allow it to solve a wider variety of problems” (Mittal & Weingast, 2013, p. 290). A compromise was reached when the Federalists agreed to impose a distinctive set of limits on the national government’s power (Mittal & Weingast, 2013). Another debate was centered around the equal representation of states. Madison wrote that according to the new Constitution, “representation in Congress must be based on population” (Broadwater, 2013, p. 42). However, this provision meant that more populous states would have more decision-making influence in Congress, which caused an uproar among the representatives and residents of the smaller states (Broadwater, 2013). The issue was solved by Roger Sherman’s plan, which offered for the Constitution to grant a proportional representation of all of the states (Broadwater, 2013). Despite the fact that Sherman’s plan was met with skepticism at first, it eventually helped the Federalists to win the support of the smaller states and resulted in the Great Compromise, which further facilitated the approval of the Constitution (Broadwater, 2013).
Debate over Ratification
After the challenging process of the Constitution creation there came the time of ratification. One of the objections to the convention was the absence of Bill of rights (Hamilton, Madison, & Jay, 2016). The Federalists were afraid that the bill might interfere the religious freedom. Besides, they stated that “the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS” (Hamilton et al., 2016, p.268).
The Anti-federalists objected to the Constitution because of its governance structure. There was the idea that “the seat of that government must of necessity be too remote from many of the States to admit of proper knowledge on the part of the constituent, of the conduct of the representative body” (Hamilton et al., 2016, p.268). Still, the supporters of the Constitution debated such objections promising equal access to the information of the government. After months of debates, Federalists and their opponents could not get to consensus. The Constitution was ratified due to the suggestion of Governor John Hancock. At the meeting in Massachusetts, he introduced the idea of amendments which will be considered by the first session of Congress. It stimulated the voting, and the Constitution was finally ratified in all the states.
The process of Constitution formation and ratification was a challenge for American society. It was full of debates and arguments. Nevertheless, with its several amendments, it is the major law of one of the biggest countries. The years of application confirm its effectiveness in the protection of the rights of American citizens.
Broadwater, J. (2012). James Madison: A son of Virginia and a founder of the nation. Cape Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J, (2016). The Federalist Papers: The making of the US Constitution. London, UK: Arcturus Holdings Limited.
Mittal, S., & Weingast, B. R. (2013). Self-enforcing constitutions: With an application to democratic stability in America’s first century. The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 29(2), 278-302.