1 In November 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. This was a plan for a loose union of the states under Congress. Once a year, each state would select a delegation to send to the capital city. There were no executive or judicial branches under the Articles of Confederation. Upon the ratification of the Articles, the Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled. John Hanson was the first president of that body, but not of the United States.
3 States failed to obey the Treaty of Paris, which said that property should be returned to Loyalists and debts repaid to foreigners. The Articles of Confederation set up a weak central government. The Confederation Congress met just once a year and had the power to declare war, raise armies, and sign treaties. It, however, it could not impose taxes or regulate trade.
4 The Confederation Congress was weakened because it could not regulate commerce or impose taxes. As a result, the states set up customs posts on their borders and levied taxes on other states goods to raise money. This weakness of the Confederation threatened the union of the states.
5 The Confederation Congress negotiated trade treaties with European countries. The Congress did open trade with Holland, Sweden, and Prussia under the Articles. By 1790 the trade of the United States was greater than the trade of the American colonies before the Revolution. International trade with by far the best part of the Articles of Confederation.
6 Confederation Congress depended on state contributions for funding. In order to raise money, to pay its debts, the Congress sold land west of the Appalachian Mountains. Congress arranged this land into townships to make it easier to divide, sell, and govern the land.
7 The Congress also set up the Northwest Ordinance as a basis for governing much of this territory. The ordinance created a new territory north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River, which could become three to five states. When the population of a territory reached 60,000, it could apply to become a state. The ordinance guaranteed certain rights to the people living there, and it banned slavery.
8 The Congress couldn t solve this problem because it had no power to regulate commerce. After the Revolutionary War, British merchants flooded American markets with inexpensive British goods. This drove many American artisans out of business. American states imposed duties, or taxes, on imported goods. The states did not all impose the same duties on foreign goods. However, the British would land their goods at states with the lowest taxes or restrictions.
9 The British retaliated by refusing to evacuate American soil as promised in the treaty. Since the Congress could not regulate trade, it could not raise an army and force the British into settlement. Also, the limited powers of the Confederation Congress prevented it from working out a diplomatic solution with Spain when Spain stopped Americans from depositing their goods on Spanish territory at the mouth of the Mississippi River
10 The Confederation Congress had other problems with foreign policy. The federal government had no powers over the states, so it could not force the states to pay their debts to Britain or to return property to Loyalists, which was part of the Treaty of Paris. Also, the Congress had no way to raise money to pay these debts.
11 The end of the Revolutionary War and the slowdown of economic activity with Britain caused a severe recession in the United States. To pay for the war, many states had issued bonds as a way to borrow money from wealthy citizens. To pay back the bondholders, many people urged the state governments to issue paper money. States did not have the gold and silver to back paper money, but many of them issued it anyway. The paper money greatly declined in value. The 13 states treated one another with suspicion and competed for economic advantage. States placed tariffs and other restrictions on the movement of goods across state lines. Boundary disputes also increased tension among the states.
12 During the economic recession of the late 1700s, farmers saw crop prices decrease, and many farmers began to fall into debt. Farm foreclosures also left the state in debt. Between 1785 and 87, states began to issue even more paper money, which in turn caused inflation to occur.
13 Shays s Rebellion broke out in Massachusetts in It was triggered when the government of Massachusetts decided to raise taxes to pay off its debt instead of issuing paper money. The taxes were worst for farmers, especially those in the western part of the state. Those who could not pay their taxes and other debts lost their farms. Daniel Shays was a former captain in the Continental Army who became a bankrupt farmer. He owed a great amount of debt he had to sell a sword personally given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette so his family could eat.
14 Farmers rebelled by shutting county courthouses. The rebellion, led by Daniel Shays, included about 1,200 farmers. They marched to a state arsenal to get weapons. A government militia defended the arsenal against the rebels, killing four farmers.
15 The governor of Massachusetts sent 4,000 volunteer soldiers to stop Shays only four farmers died and the rest ran away the rebellion was over! Shays was convicted and was sentenced to death, but he was later pardoned he lived until The wealthy elite of America began to fear that they would lose their properties, that they could not effectively raise an army, and that the Articles were no longer useful.
16 Many Americans began to see the risk of having a weak central government. They called for a stronger central government.
17 George Washington hosted representatives from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania at his home at Mt. Vernon. They agreed later to meet in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss how to overcome the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. Only five states showed up to the Annapolis Convention, but they discussed how to improve commercial relations among the states.
18 In February of 1787, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton called for a convention of the states to be held in Philadelphia. Their daunting task was to revise the Articles of Confederation.
19 People who supported a stronger central government were called nationalists. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were among the prominent nationalists. Hamilton suggested that a convention of states be set up to revise the Articles of Confederation. All states, except Rhode Island (who was distrustful of a stronger central government), sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in Of the 55 delates sent to Philadelphia for the convention in the summer of 1787, all were white, all were male, and most were collegeeducated. As a group, they were far wealthier than others, and a number of them were practicing lawyers.
20 Patrick Henry turned down an invitation to the Constitutional Convention because he smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy. Most of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention had experience in government. George Washington was presiding officer. James Madison kept records of the debates. The meetings were closed to the public to ensure honest and open discussion from outside political pressures.
21 Nineteen of the 74 delegates to the convention never even attended a single session, and of the 55 delegates who did show up in Philadelphia, no more than 30 stayed for the full four months. The first debate of the Constitutional Convention began with whether or not to scrap the Articles of Confederation. James Madison and others wanted the constitution to be based on a system of checks and balances so that the power of each branch of government with be limited by the powers of the others.
22 Thomas Jefferson called the Constitutional Convention delegates an assembly of demigods. Jefferson was not among the founding fathers who gathered in Philadelphia; he was in Paris serving as minister to France. John Adams was also abroad, serving as minister to Great Britain. Edmund Randolph introduced the Virginia Plan. This plan recommended scrapping the Articles of Confederation and creating a new national government with the power to make laws binding upon the states and to raise its own money through taxes. It also called for a national government made up of three branches of government legislative, executive, and judicial.
23 Small states opposed the Virginia Plan since they had much smaller populations, which meant less representation for their state. The Virginia Plan proposed that the legislature be divided into two houses. Voters in each state would elect members of the first house. Members of the second house would be elected by the first house. The Virginia Plan benefited states with large populations because in both houses, the number of representatives for each state would reflect the population of that state.
24 The New Jersey Plan was proposed by William Paterson. This plan modified the Articles of Confederation to make the central government stronger. Congress would have a single house in which each state would be equally represented. Congress would have the power to raise taxes and regulate trade.
25 Congress voted to proceed with the Virginia Plan with the purpose of working on a new constitution for the United States.
26 The delegates of the Constitutional Convention were divided geographically. The small states wanted changes that would protect them against the big states. Northern and Southern states were divided over the issue of slavery in the new constitution.
27 The committee also proposed that each state could elect one member to the House for every 40,000 people. However, the South wanted to count slaves into their populations. Why? The convention appointed a special committee to resolve differences between the large and small states. The committee worked out the Great Compromise. It proposed that in the House of Representatives, the states would be represented according to the size of their populations. The Senate would have equal representation. The voters in each state would elect the House of Representatives. The Senate would be chosen by state legislatures.
28 The Three-Fifths Compromise came up with a plan for counting enslaved people in a state. Every five enslaved people in a state would count as three free persons for determining both representation and taxes.
29 Southern delegates insisted that the new constitution forbid interference with the slave trade and limit Congress s power to regulate trade. Northern delegates wanted a government with control over foreign imports into the United States. A compromise over these issues said that the new Congress could not tax exports. It also could not ban the slave trade until 1808 or impose high taxes on the import of enslaved persons.
30 The northern states wanted the central government to regulate trade, but the southern states were afraid that export taxes would be placed on its products. The Commercial Compromise allowed Congress to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, including placing tariffs on foreign imports, but it prohibited placing taxes on any exports.
31 The presidential term in office was set at four years, but there was no limit on the number of terms a president could serve. The delegates also assigned each state a number of electors equal to the total of the state s representatives and senators. This electoral college system was instituted because the delegates feared that too much democracy might lead to mob rule. Finally, the delegates decided to grant the president the power to veto acts of Congress.
32 The Constitution was approved by the Congress. Before it could take effect, however, at least nine of the thirteen states needed to ratify the Constitution. Ratification was fiercely debated for almost a year!
33 The Constitution was based on the principle of popular sovereignty, or rule by the people. The Constitution created a system of government called federalism. This divided the government between the federal, or national, government and the state governments.
34 The Constitution provided for a separation of powers among the three branches of government. The legislative branch makes the laws. It is made up of the two houses of Congress. The executive branch enforces the laws. It is headed by a president. The judicial branch interprets federal laws. It is made up of a system of federal courts.
35 The Constitution provides for a system of checks and balances to prevent any one of the three branches of government from becoming too powerful. The powers of the President include proposing legislation, appointing judges, putting down rebellions, and the ability to veto, or reject, legislation.
36 The powers of the legislative branch include the ability to override the veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses. The Senate approves or rejects presidential appointments. Congress can impeach, or formally accuse of misconduct, and then remove the president or any high official in the executive or judicial branch.
37 The judicial branch of government would hear all cases arising under federal laws and the Constitution.
38 The Constitution has a system for making amendments, or changes to the Constitution. There is a two-step process for amending the Constitution proposal and ratification. New amendments can be proposed by a vote of two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress, or two-thirds of the states can call a constitutional convention to propose new amendments. A proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states.
40 I long to hear that you have declared an independency -- and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation. That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. - Abigail Adams to John Adams, 1775 Remember the Ladies Letter
41 People who supported the Constitution were called Federalists. Federalists believed that power should be divided between a central government and state governments. Supporters of the Federalists and the new Constitution included many large landowners. Merchants and artisans from large coastal cities also identified as Federalists.
42 Anti-Federalists wanted a bill of rights in order to make sure that a strong central government would always have to protect basic rights and never become tyrannical. Opponents to the Constitution were called Antifederalists. The real issue for the Antifederalists was whether the national government or state governments would be supreme. Many opponents believed the new Constitution should include a bill of rights. Many (including Sam Adams) opposed the Constitution because they thought it endangered the independence of the states. Antifederalists were suspicious of the wealthy and were western farmers living far from the coast.
43 The Antifederalists launched a negative campaign, and claimed that the Constitution failed to protect their basic rights. However, the Federalists were better organized and had the support of most newspapers. A collection of 85 essays entitled The Federalist Papers was written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. The Federalist Papers explained the Federalists arguments for ratification. The Federalist Papers presented convincing reasons for believing in the practicality of each major provision of the Constitution. John Jay wrote 5, James Madison wrote 29, HAMILTON WROTE THE OTHER 51!
44 The first state conventions took place in December 1787 and January Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut quickly ratified the Constitution.
45 In order to get the Constitution ratified in Massachusetts, Federalists promised to add a bill of rights to the Constitution once it was ratified and to support an amendment that would reserve for the states all powers not specifically granted to the federal government. Originally, the bill of rights (the first ten amendments) was designed to provide protection against abuses of power by the federal government.
46 The first eight amendments in the U.S. Constitution protect the rights of individuals against actions of the federal governments. The last two set limits on the powers of the national government.
47 Many feared that without the support of Virginia and New York, the new federal government would not succeed. Virginia ratified the Constitution when the Federalists agreed to add a bill of rights. New York agreed to ratify the Constitution after it learned that Virginia and New Hampshire had ratified it. New York did not want to operate independently of all of the surrounding states.
48 By June 1788, all states except Rhode Island and North Carolina had ratified the Constitution enough to establish the new government. By 1790, both North Carolina and Rhode Island had also ratified the Constitution.
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