During the Revolution, each state had drawn up constitutions, or plans for government, for their state.All the states limited the powers of the governor and ensuredthat government officials would be elected so that the people had the ultimate power.Most people wanted the national government to be a republic,a government where the people elect representatives to act on their behalf.In 1776, the Continental Congress drew up the first constitution for the United States, called the Articles of Confederation.The U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation could negotiate with other countries, maintain the army and navy, borrow and issue money, but it could not tax, regulate trade, and had no executive (President). Each state had one vote on an issue regardless of size orpopulation. Nine states had to agree to something in order for it to happen.
Now that the war was over, Americans could move past the Appalachian Mountains. The U.S. had no way to organize new states however, so the government stepped in.The Northwest Ordinance set up the NorthwestTerritory, and allowed people to move into the present-day states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.When each territory had at least 60,000 people, it could then petition to become a state.Freedom of religion and jury trial were promised in the new territories. The Northwest Territory also outlawed slavery,the first time in U.S. history that the expansion of slavery was stopped.
The U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation was weak. It had a hard time raising money without being able to tax the states or people. The states could not agree on how to raise money, and the countries of Great Britain and Spain began to believe the U.S. would soon collapse. The British had not pulled out all of their troops from North America as the Treaty of Paris had said they were to. They alsowere interfering with American trade by not trading with them in the West Indies. The Spanish closed the lower Mississippi River to Americans to keep them from spreading out more. The Americans could no longer use parts of the river under Spanish control for trade. The Congress could not agree on how to deal with Spain, and American leaders realized that their government was not equipped to handle the country moving forward.
The United States and its government were in debt after the war. Plantations were destroyed, the British were cutting off trade, and the American government owed money to several European nations who helped out during the war. A depression had hit the United States. Farmers had trouble paying their bills because no one could afford to buy their crops. States took the lands of farmers who could not pay their debts leading to a rebellion led by farmer Daniel Shays. The American government worried that if it couldn’t even control uprisings of its own people there would be no way it could handle another country if it chose to attack.Slavery was again questioned. It was pointed out that Americans fought for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while slaves enjoyed none of those things.Some states (mainly in the North) ended slavery but African Americans were still not equal and did not usually have all the rights of whites. Southern states had no way to end slavery without ruining the economy and causing more financial problems than there already were.
In 1787, 12 of 13 states met in Philadelphia to discuss the problems that existed with The Articles of Confederation. Members included, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, and Madison were among the members. The original plan was to change the Articles, but it was quickly decided that writing a new constitution would be necessary. Washington was elected President of the Convention (not of the U.S…. Yet) Everyone agreed that the new U.S. Constitution needed separation of powers between a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branch.They also agreed that that power needed to be shared between the states and the new national government. There were however issues over which delegates to the Convention disagreed.
James Madison had an idea for the new government. His plan for the government was called the Virginia Plan. It had three branches, and the legislative branch had two houses both with representation based on population.Smaller states disagreed with Madison’s Virginia Plan.William Patterson proposed the New Jersey Planin response. It would also have three branches,but the legislative branch would have one house where every state received one vote.This made all of the states equal in the legislative branch.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut helped to reach an agreement between big states and small states. His Connecticut Compromise proposed a government with three branches, and a legislativebranch with two houses. One would be based on population (for the big states), and the other house would be equal with each state getting two votes. This idea was agreed upon, and set up the way Congress works today.We have a House of Representatives (based on population) and a Senate (each state gets two votes).
With the problem of representation solved, the delegates of the ConstitutionalConvention had another issue to deal with. Some states wanted their slaves to be counted in their population when figuring out how many representatives each stateshould get in the House of Representatives. Northern states did not want slaves to be counted because they could not vote and were not treated as people. Southerners wanted them to be countedbecause it would give them more power in the House.It was agreed that 3/5’s of the slaves couldbe counted towards a state’s population in what was called the Three-Fifths Compromise.
The new Constitution would have a federal system of government, where both the state governments and a federal (national) government would govern at the same time. The Constitution set up a new American federal government with 3 branches:The Legislative Branch made the laws, and was set up to be done through a 2-house Congress made up of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The Executive Branch enforced the laws and would be headed by a President of the United States.The Judicial Branch would judge the laws made by Congress. Its power was given to a Supreme Court and other courts to be created as needed by Congress.Each branch could check the others’ powers. This was known as checks and balances. No one branch can do everything, and each had certain powers it can exercise over the others. The Constitution would be the supreme law of the land, and no state government could do anything that would violate it.
9 of 13 states were needed toratify (approve) the Constitution. The Convention ended inSeptember of 1787 and then the states began to debate on whether or not to ratify it. People who supported the Constitution were called Federalists.People were against ratifying the Constitution were called Anti- Federalists.The Federalist Papers were written by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay to inform people why they should adopt the Constitution.
Members of the Convention wanted a Bill of Rights addedto the new Constitution in order to make sure rights were never violated again. The idea of a Bill of Rights was ignored however because the delegates to the Convention felt that the Constitution protected rights well enough without it.Many would not approve of the Constitution without a Bill of Rights however.After the Constitution was ratified (approved) in 1788, a Bill of Rights was added through a series of amendments (changes) to the Constitution. These first 10 amendments are known as the Bill of Rights, and are where rights like the right to free speech, practice any religion, have a jury trial, have the right to sue in court, the right to petition the government for a wrongdoing, as well as protection from cruel and unusual punishment and seizure of personal property are