Oct. 18-23, 2001
Creating the United States
I. A National Government
Without Sovereignty: The Articles
government a major victim of Revolutionary ideas: desire for very direct
representation, suspicion/fear of authority (esp. distant authority) prevented
any power from being conferred on U.S.
B. Most problematic
aspects: Congress elected by states, each state had one vote; Confederation
had no taxing power or ability to compel states, "President" but no
executive, unanimous vote needed to amend.
C. Elements of
confusion: States were supposed to be sovereign, but Congress had many
Weakness of the Confederation
1. Could not force
states to comply with Treaty of Paris (1783) ending war.
2. British kept
their western forts open and restricted American commerce.
3. Spanish closed
New Orleans and the MS River (1784).
E. Economic crisis of
had to pay for war by requisitioning money from the states or printing or
2. New democracy in
the states made taxation hard.
failure to pay Congress or manage their own finances correctly led to
hyperinflation & bankruptcy.
II. The Crisis of the
Confederation and the Movement for a New Government
A. Catalysts for the
Nationalist Movement (clip from video "Liberty! The American
of younger Revolutionary leaders (such as Alexander Hamilton of NY and James
Madison of VA) with weakness of national government, unfitness of state
governments, conflicting trade and economic policies.
2. Satisfaction of
most Americans with localism and decentralization of Confederation.
depression and widespread hardship for common people during 1780s. Conflict
between debtors and creditors.
4. Elite fears of a
further revolution that might get rid of them: Shays' Rebellion, 1786-87.
5. (after video)
Madison and Hamilton saw root of problem in the excessive democracy and
Revolutionary zeal they saw in states.
"Conspiracy" for a Constitutional Convention
1. Conference at
Mt. Vernon led to Virginia's call (Jan. 1786) for a convention to discuss
Convention (Sept. 1786), issued surprise call for another convention to
revise Articles of Confederation.
III. The Philadelphia
A. Make-up and
procedures of convention
1. Convention made
up of nation's elite (in contrast to state legislatures).
2. Met in private,
with no spectators or reporters.
3. Voted by states.
Most delegates thought they were there only to reorganize the Confederation.
Proposals: Led by Madison's Virginia Plan.
1. Main elements of
Virginia Plan: national representative government with bicameral legislature
(both houses apportioned by population), national veto on state laws.
nationalism of Virginia Plan quickly rejected.
3. Issues became:
small states vs. large states; people, states or property as the basis of
representation; sovereign national government or not.
sometimes submerged issue, was how the Constitution would treat slavery.
Deep South wanted protection from North & Revolutionary ideals.
5. Strong executive
(the presidency) emerged as element of most plans partly because all knew
that the trusted George Washington would fill the office.
C. New Jersey Plan:
small-state response, a modified Confederation with representation by states,
but legislative supremacy over states and power to tax.
D. Great (or
Connecticut) Compromise: broke large state-small state deadlock, split basis
of representation (population or states) between two houses.
1. Fudged issue of
sovereignty (where it was located, whether national government had it).
2. Created unique
U.S. "federal" system in which functions of government and
ultimate responsibilities were divided.
3. Basic issue that
came up in Civil War era, relationship of states to federal government
4. Also included a
North-South compromise, the "3/5 clause," partially counting
slaves for purposes of representation and taxation. Debate sometimes bitter,
both sides threatened to walk out.
E. Committee of
Detail then worked up final draft that enumerated national powers and made
other important changes.
1. Headed by John
Rutledge of South Carolina.
2. Among the
enumerated powers: tax and borrow money, regulate foreign and interstate
commerce, establish courts.
nationalist loophole added: power to make any laws "necessary and
proper" to execute the enumerated powers.
prohibited from engaging in diplomatic relations, issuing money, or laying
import duties. National laws "supreme" over state laws.
5. Much emphasis
was placed on protecting property rights and restraining democracy: contract
clause, anti-insurrection powers, Electoral College, Presidential veto.
6. No Bill of
Rights included, in contrast to state
constitutions. Not needed, was the argument.
protections for slavery, demanded by Rutledge: fugitive slave clause,
protection of slave trade (for 20 years), ban on export taxes, "full
faith and credit" clause.
F. Committee of Style
muddied the waters further on key issues of slavery and sovereignty.
1. Slaves or
slavery never mentioned by name in the document despite many special
of Constitution invoked "We the People" and suggested that a
consolidated, sovereign, national republic had been created.
A. Ratification procedures:
only 9 states needed, approval by specially elected conventions rather than
state legislatures, all in violation of the Articles of Confederation.
B. The Ratification campaign
1. Federalist had
strong advantages, including control of press, all big political names
except Patrick Henry, and bad economy. Made heavy use of patriotism as an
2. Voting for
conventions divided most clearly along urban-rural, coast-interior lines.
3. Some northern
Antifederalists complained about proslavery clauses, foreshadowing later
were strong enough to extract promise that a Bill of Rights would be added
immediately if the Constitution was approved.
IV. End Result:
National Government as a "Roof Without Walls"