Week 2 Discussion 2: Confederation and Constitution

Hello Professor and hello everyone;

The Articles of Confederation was the document formed by Congress for the new United States of America. When the articles of confederation were drafted in 1777, the states actually didn’t ratify it for nearly 4 years (Farris, Michael).However, the Articles did not form a national government, but instead formed a strong friendship among the states. There was no formal executive to enforce laws, and congress didn’t have the right to tax either (Mintz, Steven). A constitutional experiment was drafted, allowing all states to draft of their own constitutions. The differences between the two is that a militia was formed as a safety to all states and it also protected national liberties such as trial by jury, freedom of press and freedom of religion.

The Ratification of the constitution took place on June 21st,1788. The Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which is also known as the constitutional convention, began on May 5th, 1787; this convention consisted of the finalization of the drafting process of the constitution of the United States. The constitution was finalized on September 17th, 1787(Articles of Confederation). The most significant obstacle from the list in terms of the ratification of the constitution was “the demand for a Bill of rights was popular among Anti-Federalists, “since only once this was added were most people accepting of the document as a whole. The ratification process stated when the congress turned the constitution over to the state legislatures for consideration through specially elected state conventions of the people. Five state conventions voted to approve the constitution almost immediately (December 1787 to January 1787) and in all of them the vote was ( Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia) or lopsided ( Pennsylvania, Connecticut) (Articles of Confederation ).Clearly, the well-organized Federalists began the contest in strong shape as they rapidly secured five of the nine states needed to make the constitution law. However, a closer look at who ratified the constitution in these early states and how it was done indicates that the contest was much closer than might appear at first glance. Four of five states to first ratify were small states that stood to benefit from a strong national government that could restrain abuses by their larger states (Articles of Confederation).

The process in Pennsylvania, the one large early ratifier, was nothing less than corrupt. The Pennsylvania State assembly was about to end, and had begun to consider calling a special convention on the constitution, even before congress had forwarded it to the states. Antifederalists in the state’s assembly tried to block this move by refusing to attend the last two days of the session, since without them there would not be enough members present for the state legislature to make a biding legal decision. As a result, extraordinarily coercive measures were taken to force Antifederalists to attend. Antifederalists were found at their boarding house and then dragged through the streets of Philadelphia and deposited in the Pennsylvania State House with the doors locked behind them. The required number of members to allow a special convention to be called in the state, which eventually voted 46 to 23 to accept the constitution (Mintz, Steven)The first real test of the constitution in an influential state with both sides prepared for the contest came in Massachusetts in January 1788. Here influential older patriots like Governor John Hancock and Sam Adams led the Antifederalists. Further, the rural western part of the state, where Shay’s Rebellion had occurred the previous year, was an Antifederalist stronghold. A bitterly divided month-long debate ensued that ended with a close vote (187-168) in favor of the constitution (Farris, Michael). Crucial to this narrow victory was the strong support of artisans who favored the new commercial powers of the proposed central government that might raise tariffs (taxes) on cheap British imports that threatened their livelihood. The federalists’ narrow victory in Massachusetts rested on a cross-class alliance between elite nationalists and urban workingmen (Farris, Michael). The Massachusetts vote also included an innovation with broad significance. John Hancock who shifted his initial opposition to the constitution led the move toward ratification. Satisfied individual rights were going to be considered by the first new congress that would meet should the constitution become law. This compromise helped carry the narrow victory in Massachusetts and was adopted by every subsequent state convention to ratify (except Maryland).


     “Articles of Confederation.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 2018, www.archives.gov/historical-docs/articles-of-confederationLinks to an external site.

         Mintz, Steven. “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.” Historical Context: The Survival of the US Constitution | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2018, www.gilderlehrman.org/history-resources/teaching-resource/historical-context-survival-us-constitutionLinks to an external site..

        Farris, Michael. Defying Conventional Wisdom: The Constitution Was Not the … 1 Jan. 2017, www.thefreelibrary.com/Defying conventional wisdom: The Constitution was not the product of…-a0494741848. 

The US faced a lot of hurdles when they wrote the articles of confederation. It was difficult to coordinate all the states together to make decisions which dragged the process of writing the articles out for four years. One issue the federal government faced has to do with the second article of confederation. The second article of confederation states that each state retains ins sovereignty, freedom, and independence and power (Articles of Confederation, 1995). This made it difficult for congress to pass any laws. They could pass them, but the individual states could choose not to follow them or not. This also made it difficult to trade with other countries because they knew that the states could go against what the federal government was telling them. Another issue the federal government faced was that they did not have the power to tax their citizens. By 1784 the national debt was in the 10s of millions (U.S. History). Some congressmen wanted to increase the power of the federal government so they could tax the people, but this would require altering the articles of confederation. They wanted to place a 5% tax on imported goods which would have cleared the debt, however Rhode Island kept the vote from being unanimous, so this did not pass.

The Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was originally supposed to amend the Articles of Confederation, instead they decided to create a new framework for their government. This would late the the United States Constitution. One debate that happened during this convention was on the issue of slavery. The slaveholders in the southern states wanted slaves counted in the population so they could be used for representative purposes. However, those in the northern states did not even want slavery mentioned on the document. To compromise they came up with the 3/5ths compromise which meant that three out of every five slaves would be counted in the population. The northerners agreed to this because they thought it would balance the power between the slave states the free states in the northwest. Another debate during the conference was on the issue of democracy. Some delegates thought democracy would lead to anarchy. To avoid this, they made it so senators were chosen by state legislatures and not the people directly. They also created the Electoral College for choosing the president.  

Federalists were those who supported the 1787 Constitution and Anti-Federalists argued that it would be robbing states of the power to make their own decisions. Anti-Federalists said the government would be run by wealthy aristocrats and not the people. One main anti-federalist was Melancton Smith. Famous Federalists included Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

Articles of Confederation. (1995, July 4). Retrieved from https://www.ushistory.org/documents/confederation.htmLinks to an external site.

U.S. History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://openstax.org/books/us-history/pages/3-3-english-settlements-in-america

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