Nov 6, 2017 in Politics

Confederation and Constitution

The United States of America has a glorious and tragic history. Seeking for independence by trial and error, Americans have built a progressive state where freedom is the core value. The significant achievements of the early periods of the nation development were the Articles of Confederation and the new Constitution of 1787. Being created in severe times, they caused brisk debates over their advantages and drawbacks among the West and the East, the slavery South and the industrial North, Federalists and their opponents. The destiny of the young American state was fragile, depending on the right choice of the nation.

The Articles of Confederation, drafted and adopted in 1776, are considered to be the first constitution of the United States. Due to the refusal of Maryland to accept them, ratification of the Articles was delayed until 1781. Nevertheless, during all this period the articles were consulted as the de facto constitution. The main achievement of the Articles was the creation of a national Congress under their power when thirteen states annually delegated their representatives to the first governmental structure. The Articles allocated Congress the right “to negotiate treaties, declare war, and make peace” (The Articles of Confederation, n.d.). The national parliament had the power to keep an army and navy and controlled communication with Native Americans. Moreover, Congress had authority “to resolve interstate disputes, grant loans, print money, … operate a national postal system …[and] to govern western territories until they achieved statehood” (The Articles of Confederation, n.d.). Congress immediately took advantage of the situation and launched printing currency to compensate the huge loss of the Revolutionary War, causing the increase of inflation (The Articles of Confederation, n.d.).

Significant Drawbacks of the Articles of Confederation

Nevertheless, the Articles of Confederation had several significant drawbacks. First, Congress had no power to govern trade between states. It complicated the cross-border commerce. Second, the power in the state was not represented with executive and judiciary branches. Third, to pass a law, the legislation had to receive 9 of 13 votes. Fourth, all the amendments to the Articles were to be ratified by unanimous consent from the states. Fifth, each state was represented with one member. Finally, Congress could not levy taxes (The Articles of Confederation, n.d.). The major obstacle to the ratification of the articles consisted in the territory disputes over the western lands. 

The articles decreased the power of Congress intentionally. Getting freedom in a severe struggle, the great majority of Americans felt fear that a strong federal government possessing strong authority would transform into another tyrant, like the overthrown King George III. The second reason was a very cautious approach to federal taxes, allowing only certain states to collect taxes (The Articles of Confederation, n.d.).

To solve the problem of the weak central government, the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia in 1787. Intending to make amendments to the Articles of Confederation, fifty-five participants wrote a new Constitution of the country, which is one of the greatest achievements of American nation. Its emergence caused brisk debates among Federalists and Anti-Federalists (Ladd, 1993). Anti-Federalists claimed that the new Constitution would threaten major liberties and freedoms (Introduction and history of the Bill of Rights, n.d.). As a result, a new constitution was written, allocating a federal government with larger authority. The Constitution was ratified in 1789 and became the foundation of the U.S. government. In drafting, the creators of the Constitution conceived a weak presidency combined with a strong legislature with a parliament consisting of a House of Representatives and the Senate. In the original model of the Constitution, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention empowered the Senate with great authority, such as the authority to ratify treaties. Nevertheless, the executive branch got much more power. For instance, the President had the power to conduct foreign relations (Constitutional Convention and ratification, n.d.).

A “Bundle of Compromises”

The new Constitution of 1787 is often referred to as a “bundle of compromises”. This nickname was caused by the fact that participants of the Constitutional Convention had compromised on numerous major points in order to effectively draft the main law of the country (Kelly, n.d.). There were several controversial issues requiring to be settled: representation in the government, executive elections, tariffs, the role of slaves in the American society, and the problem of slave trade. Roger Sherman proposed the Great Compromise or the Connecticut Compromise. First, he suggested the creation of the government consisting of two houses: the House of Representatives based on the population and the second house representing each state in equal amounts despite its size. Second, Sherman suggested improving the relations with slavery in the South and the abolishment of slavery in 10 years. Small states demanded equal number of representatives to the Congress despite their size. Large states were interested in the representation according to their population.

As a result of the Great Compromise, the number of delegates in the House of Representatives depends on the amount of population. The number of population of each state was to be calculated every ten years. The slavery Southern states and opposing Northern states agreed to calculate slaves as three fifths of an individual in matters of representation and taxation. The tariffs opposing the South and the North interested in the protection of its production with the tariffs were agreed upon the tax import, having free exports. As for the issue of slave trade, the slavery advocated by the Southern states and opposed by the Northern states was agreed to be abolished after 1808. Finally, the certain part of the Constitutional Convention participants adhered to the direct presidential elections by people, while their opponents suggested different alternatives, and elections by state legislatures were among them. The parts agreed to elect the President by the Electoral College to a four-year term.

Debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists

The main issue of the brisk debates over the drafting of the constitution was the degree of power allocated for the government. Federalists suggested a strong central government, and their opponents voted for less federal government.

The Anti-Federalists had two key reasons to reject its ratification. First, they claimed that the above-mentioned legislation would threaten the authority of the states. Instead, “in the place of our democratic state governments we will again have a dictatorship like the one England forced on us” (qtd. in The debate over ratifying the Constitution, 2013, p.86). They highlighted that the authority of Congress under the new constitution was huge. For instance, possessing the power of taxation, Congress would seize all the private property. The second reason for the objections was the power of the President to veto laws. Allocating unlimited power to the President, the right to veto could “be overruled only by two-thirds of the representatives and the senators” (qtd. in The debate over ratifying the Constitution, 2013, p.87). Finally, the opponents rejected the new Constitution “because of the long terms of the President and the Senators and the methods” by which they were voted for (qtd. in The debate over ratifying the Constitution, 2013, p.87).

Federalists believed that the fail of the Articles of Confederation was in “their lack of power” (qtd. in The debate over ratifying the Constitution, 2013, p.86). They argued that lacking the power “to raise armies and collect taxes”, the Congress could not wage a war that it had the legal right to declare (qtd. in The debate over ratifying the Constitution, 2013, p.86). Federalists noted that to solve the problems of the states, the Congress had to take some power from those states. They argued that the Constitution had “a system of checks and balances” that would “protect the common people and privileged” (qtd. in The debate over ratifying the Constitution, 2013, p.88).

In response to the arguments of Anti-Federalists about the danger that the new Constitution brought to liberties, Federalists agreed to provide a number of amendments to the main law of the country (Introduction and the history of the Bill of Rights, n.d.). Being suggested in 1789, the Bill of Rights included ten amendments and caused brisk disputes. In fact, its legislation was adopted despite the rejection of including of the above-mentioned legislation in the original Constitution of 1787. The Bill of Rights protected major freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, the freedom from warrantless searches, and the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment (Head, n.d.). The opponents of the Bill of Rights considered it to be useless. They noted that “in a government where all power flows from the people, the people surrender nothing and retain everything and thus have no need for particular reservations of rights to them made by the government” (Hamilton, 1788). During the first period, James Madison, the major critic of the Bill of Rights, was skeptical of the practical value of the law (Introduction and the history of the Bill of Rights, n.d.). In 1789, Thomas Jefferson convinced James Madison to create amendments to the Constitution of1787 that would satisfy all its opponents (Head, n.d.). In fact, numerous Madison’s suggestions were included in the Bill of Rights. Nevertheless, his genius suggestion about a strict authority separation in the state was rejected as well as the prohibition of state violation of the key freedoms, such as the freedom of conscience and the press. 

Nowadays, the value of the Bill of Rights is highly appreciated, stating the fact that the government of the United States “has no powers other than those the people explicitly delegated to it, but it still hesitates to violate explicit prohibitions issued against it in the Bill of Rights” (Stolyarov, 2007). In fact, the Bill of Rights limits the government ability to violate freedoms and liberties of American citizens.

Conclusion

To sum up, the Articles of Confederation and the new Constitution of 1787 were the significant achievements of the early periods of the nation development. The Articles of Confederation, drafted and adopted in 1776, are considered to be the first constitution of the United States. The main achievement of the Articles was the creation of a national Congress under their power. The Articles allocated to the Congress many rights. Nevertheless, the power of the Congress was weak, lacking numerous significant rights. To solve the problem of the weak central government, the Constitutional Convention was gathered where fifty-five participants wrote a new Constitution of the country, one of the greatest achievements of the American nation. In response to the arguments of Anti-Federalists about the danger that the new Constitution brought to liberties, Federalists agreed to pass the Bill of Rights (ten amendments to the Constitution of 1787). Nowadays, the Bill of Rights limits the government ability to violate freedoms and liberties of American citizens.

Being created in severe times, the Articles of Confederation and the new Constitution of 1787 caused brisk debates over their advantages and drawbacks among the West and the East, the slavery South and the industrial North, Federalists and their opponents. Nevertheless, American nation has made the right choice, choosing the way of wise compromises that has led to the core values – Freedom and Independence.

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