Massachusetts farmers were in trouble. In 1786, many had lost their farms because they could not pay their debts. Farmers had borrowed money to buy goods. Many did not have enough money to repay these loans.
The state of Massachusetts was in trouble, too. To pay the costs of the Revolutionary War, it raised taxes. The taxes put farmers even more into debt. Farmers who could not pay their debts and taxes were brought to court. In western Massachusetts, where Daniel Shays and many other farmers struggled, these court cases, or debt cases, soared into the thousands. Follow the diagram on these pages to see how farmers got into debt and why getting out of debt seemed impossible.
About how many more cases were there in Worcester County, Massachusetts, between 1784–1786 than between 1770–1772?
Between harvests, farmers borrowed money from shopkeepers to buy goods. The farmers would have to pay for the goods later, after they sold their next harvest.
Farmers often did not have enough money to pay their debts and their taxes. Those who did not pay could lose their farms or go to jail.
Shopkeepers in western Massachusetts borrowed money from wealthy merchants in big cities such as Boston.
To pay their debts to the merchants, shopkeepers demanded the money that the farmers owed them.
Boston merchants borrowed money from banks or wealthy merchant companies in Britain. The former colonies still needed British money to run their businesses.
The debt went back down the chain. To pay what they owed the British banks, merchants demanded the money shopkeepers owed them.
Core Lesson 2 Constitutional Convention
Public comes from a word that means people. In a republic, the people choose leaders.
Problem and Solution Make notes on how delegates solved their disagreements about the Constitution.
Build on What You Know Have you ever solved a problem by giving up one thing to get something else? Delegates who met to change the national government had to give up some things they wanted to solve their differences.
Leaders of the Convention
Main Idea Delegates gathered in Philadelphia to change the way the American government worked.
In the spring of 1787, 55 delegates traveled to Philadelphia. Remember that delegates are chosen to speak for others, or represent them. The delegates came from every state except Rhode Island. They met to discuss how to change the Articles of Confederation. Their meeting has become known as the Constitutional Convention.
The delegates were landowners, business people, and lawyers. Most were wealthy and educated. About 20 were slaveowners. About 30 had fought in the war against Britain. Eight had signed the Declaration of Independence. Many had served in Congress or state government.
Independence Hall Delegates met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the same place delegates met in 1776 to declare independence.
Delegates Statues of delegates at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia include James Madison 1 (above), who read many books on law and government. Other famous delegates at the Convention were George Washington 2 and Alexander Hamilton 3.
Such a convention today would include Americans of many different backgrounds. In 1787, though, only white men who owned land were included. No women, African Americans, American Indians, or men who were not landowners took part in the convention.
James Madison of Virginia arrived before the other delegates. He was a member of Congress. Madison wanted to do more than change the Articles. He had a plan for a new system of government. During the convention, Madison took notes. Thanks to these notes, we know much of what people said and did.
George Washington, the hero of the Revolution, came as another Virginia delegate. Ringing bells and cheering crowds greeted him in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin, representing Pennsylvania, was respected for his wisdom. He had served the United States for many years.
Goals of the Convention
The delegates knew that the Articles of Confederation had to change. As one said,
“If we do not establish a good government … we must either go to ruin, or have the work to do over again.??
The Articles did not give Congress enough power. Some delegates, such as Madison and Washington, wanted a federal system. In a federal system, the states share power with the central government, but the central government has more power than the states.
Madison believed that a republic was the only type of government that could keep order and still protect rights. A republic is a government in which the citizens elect leaders to represent them. The power in a republic comes from the citizens themselves.
REVIEW What was the advantage of a federal system?
Creating a New Government
Main Idea The delegates all had to give up some of the things they wanted.
The Convention began on May 25, at the start of a very hot summer. The delegates elected George Washington as president of the convention. They also agreed to keep their debates secret. This allowed them to talk openly with each other without being influenced by people who were not part of the convention.
On May 29, Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, described Madison's plan for the new government. This plan, known as the Virginia Plan, called for a federal system in which the national government had three parts, or branches. Many state governments were already set up this way. One branch, the Congress, would make laws for the nation. Another branch would carry out the laws. Yet another branch, the courts, would settle legal arguments.
The delegates accepted most of the Virginia Plan, but many did not like one part of it. Madison had suggested that the number of each state's representatives in Congress be based on the state's population. Large states would get more votes in Congress than small states.
The small states did not like this plan. It gave more power to large states. Delegates from the small states created the New Jersey Plan. Like the Articles of Confederation, this plan gave each state one vote, so that small states would have as much power as large states. Delegates argued bitterly about these plans.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut came up with a solution. He suggested dividing Congress into two parts, or houses. Each state would have an equal number of representatives in one house, the Senate. The number of representatives each state sent to the other house, the House of Representatives, would depend on its population. Sherman's suggestion is called the Great Compromise. In a compromise, both sides give up something to settle a disagreement. The delegates accepted this compromise, and moved on to other topics.
Another problem delegates argued about was slavery. Southern delegates wanted slaves to count as part of a state's population. Counting enslaved people would have given their states more representatives in Congress. Other delegates said this was unfair, because slaves were treated as property, not citizens.
Delegates also argued about whether to end the practice of bringing slaves into the United States. Delegates from the southern states said they would not accept the new government unless the slave trade continued.
Arguments over slavery led to another compromise, the Three-Fifths Rule. This rule counted five slaves as three free people. The slave trade was also allowed to continue until 1808. Although some delegates disliked this compromise and wanted to end slavery, they agreed to let it continue so that all states would support the Constitution.
REVIEW Why did delegates argue over representation in Congress?
Representation The map compares state populations. The graph shows the number of free and enslaved people in each state. SKILL Reading Graphs Compare the map and the graph. Which states would have supported the Virginia Plan? Which would have wanted slaves counted as part of the population?
Main Idea Americans argued over whether to accept the Constitution.
Founders At the end of the Convention, Benjamin Franklin (center) said that the sun on the back of Washington's chair (right) was a rising and not a setting sun. The completion of the Constitution convinced him that the nation was beginning, not ending.
All through the hot, muggy summer of 1787, delegates worked on the new plan for government. They signed the final document, the Constitution of the United States of America, on September 17. It was based on Madison's Virginia Plan. Madison has been called the Father of the Constitution.
Before the Constitution could be used, at least nine states had to ratify it. To ratify means to accept. In each state, representatives from the towns met to decide whether or not to ratify.
Supporters of the Constitution, who were known as Federalists, faced a big challenge. Many people were shocked by the Constitution. They had expected changes to the Articles of Confederation, not a whole new government.
Federalists had to teach the public about the Constitution. To do this, Madison and two other Federalists, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote a series of essays called The Federalist. These essays explained how the federal system would work and why the new nation needed it to suceed. They said that the United States needed a strong central government like the one that would be created by the Constitution.
Not everyone wanted a federal system. People who opposed the new Constitution were called Antifederalists. They believed that a strong central government was a threat to liberty. They also thought the Constitution was dangerous because it had no Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights is a list of the rights of individuals, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Madison and other Federalists promised to add a Bill of Rights. (For more on the Bill of Rights, see pages 334–335.)
While Federalists and Antifederalists argued, state representatives met in their own conventions. Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution. In June 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify. At that point, the Constitution became the country's law. In the end, all 13 states ratified. The United States had a new government.
REVIEW Why did Antifederalists demand a Bill of Rights?
Bill of Rights This single page lists the 10 amendments written to protect many rights of the people of the United States.
In 1787, delegates from the states met in Philadelphia to change the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they wrote a plan for a new government, the Constitution, based on James Madison's Virginia Plan. They made several compromises before agreeing on a final plan. After a long debate between Federalists and Antifederalists, the Constitution was ratified in June, 1788.
Why It Matters …
The Constitutional Convention created the government the United States still has today.
VOCABULARY How do republic and federal describe the U.S. government? Use both words in your answer.
READING SKILL What did the delegates do to solve the problem of how many representatives each state could have?
MAIN IDEA: Government Government Which compromise did the delegates who wanted slavery agree to?
MAIN IDEA: Citizenship Citizenship Why did Madison, Hamilton, and Jay write The Federalist?
PEOPLE TO KNOW Why is James Madison known as the Father of the Constitution?
TIMELINE SKILL How long after the convention did the Constitution become law?
CRITICAL THINKING: Decision Making What were some short-term effects of the delegates' decision to continue to allow slavery? What were some long-term effects?
SPEAKING ACTIVITY Federalists and Antifederalists made many speeches. In a small group, prepare a short speech to convince people to vote for or against the Constitution.