2 The Constitution

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Chapter 2

The Constitution

Guided Reading Questions

Use your own words to answer these questions. When appropriate, you may answer with bullet points. Complete sentences aren’t necessary if you can make the point with phrases.
1. Make a list of the points that the text makes on what the “Colonial Mind” was thinking at the time of the Revolution.

  • John Adams: denounced the , “luxury, effeminacy, and venality” of English politics

  • Patrick Henry spoke scathingly of the “corrupt House of Commons”

  • Alexander Hamilton described England as “an old, wrinkled, withered, worn-out hag.”

  • The colonists felt that English politicians tended to be corrupt

  • The liberties the colonists fought to protect were, they thought, widely understood. They were based not on the generosity of the king or the language of the statutes but on “higher law embodying ‘natural rights’ that were ordained by God, discoverable in nature and history, and essential to human progress

  • “life, liberty, and property”

  • Declaration of Independence – Thomas Jefferson. Legitimate government would require the consent of the governed. The Legislative branch should be superior to the Executive branch

2. Make a detailed list of the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation.

  • AOC went into effect in 1871; created little more than a “league of friendship”

    • Could not levy taxes or regulate commerce

    • Government could coin but there was precious little to coin

    • National government could appoint key army officers, but the army was small and dependent on support of the state militias

    • John Hancock never showed-up as president under the Articles of Confederation

    • No national judicial system to settle disputes among the various states

    • To amend the A.O.C all 13 states had to agree

3. What was Shays’s Rebellion and what role did that play in the push for changing the Articles of Confederation?

      • 1787 a group of ex-revolutionary war soldiers and officers, plagued by debts and high taxes, and fearful of losing their property to creditors and tax collectors forcibly prevented the Courts in western Massachusetts from sitting – was named after Daniel Shay

      • Governor of Massachusetts asked the Continental Congress to send troops to suppress the rebellion, but it could not raise the money or manpower

      • The government in Massachusetts turned to his own state militia but found that he did not have one

      • Delegates who might have been reluctant to attend the Philadelphia meeting, especially those from New England, were galvanized by the fear that state governments were about to collapse from internal dissention

4. Make a chart comparing and contrasting the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise

5. What were the other compromises involving the president and the Supreme Court decided at the Convention?

  • After the Great Compromise there remained two more issues that would need to be resolved: the two areas of compromise were with the executive and judicial branches

  • The question was should Congress or the people choose the President? Electoral College is the compromise. Also, president would have four year terms with no bar to re-election

  • Supreme Court justices would be nominated by the president, and confirmed by 2/3 of vote in the Senate

6. What is the difference between a democracy and a republic and how did the Constitution strike a balance between these two forms of government?

  • Democracy is direct rule by the people; and, a republic is elected representatives make the decisions.

  • The Framers did not intend to create a “pure democracy” – one in which the people rule directly. For one thing the size of the country and the distances between settlements would have made that physically impossible

  • But more important the Framers worried that a government in which all citizens directly participate, as in the New England town meeting, would be a government excessively subject to temporary popular passions and one in which minority rights would be insecure

  • They intended instead to create a republic – by which they meant a government in which a system of representation operates.

  • In designing that system the Framers chose, not without argument, to have the members of the House of Representatives elected directly by the people. Many of the Framers such as, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut did not think that the government should give the people the opportunity to elect the House of Representatives. Gerry said, “the people do not want {that is lack} virtue,” they are often the “dupes of pretended patriots.” THIS DIRECT ELECTION BY THE PEOPLE OF THOSE WHO WOULD SERVE IS AN EXAMPLE OF DEMOCRACY.

  • State legislators, not the people, would elect the senators; electors, not the people directly, would elect the president.

  • In short, the Framers wished to observe the principle of majority rule, but they felt that, on the most important questions, two kinds of majorities were essential – a majority of the voters and a majority of the states (the electoral college is an example of this statement

7. What is judicial review?

  • The power of the Supreme Court to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional-judicial review – is also a way of limiting the power of the popular majority. The Constitution had to be safeguarded against popular majorities

  • Judicial review is another way to limit the power of popular majorities

  • Judicial Review gives the Supreme Court the power to declare an act of Congress unsconstitutional

8. List and define the two major principles of American representative democracy?

    1. Separation of Powers: three separate branches of government

    2. federalism: political authority was divided between a national government and several state governments

      • Enumerated powers – powers given to the national government alone

      • Concurrent Powers – powers shared by both national and state governments

      • Reserved Powers – powers given to the state governments alone

9. What was the founders’ solution to the problem that people will pursue their own self-interest? How is that different from what ancient philosophers believed? What did Madison argue and propose in this context?

  • The Framers believed that people would seek their own advantage in and out of politics; this pursuit of self-interest, unchecked, would lead some people to exploit others. Human nature was good enough to make it possible to have a decent government that was based on popular consent, but it was not good enough to make it inevitable. One solution to this problem would be to improve human nature. Ancient political philosophers such as Aristotle believed that the first task of any government was to cultivate virtue among the governed.

  • To James Madison and the other architects of the Constitution, the deliberate cultivation of virtue would require a government too strong and thus too dangerous to liberty, at least at the national level. Self-interest, freely pursued within reasonable limits, was more practical and durable solution to the problem of government than any effort to improve the virtue of citizenry. He wanted, he said, to make republican government possible, “even in the absence of political virtue.

  • Madison argued that the very self-interest that leads people toward factionalism and tyranny might, if properly harnessed by appropriate constitutional arrangements, provide a source of unity and a guarantee of liberty. This harnessing was to be accomplished by dividing the offices of the new government among many people and giving to the holder of each office “necessary means and personal motives to resist such encroachment of the others.”


10. Make a chart showing the Federalist and Antifederalist arguments about the Constitution.

  • Antifederalists

    • Did not want too strong a central government

    • Wanted Bill of Rights added to Constitution before they would sign it

    • Thomas Jefferson leading Antifederalist

    • Antifederalists were also known as states’ righters

  • Federalist:

    • Want Strong central government

    • Did not think a Bill of Rights was needed in Constitution

    • Alexander Hamilton and James Madison two famous Federalists

11. The book lists liberties that are guaranteed in the body of the Constitution. Learn that list. Define writ of habeas corpus, bill of attainder, and an ex post facto law.

  • Writ of Habeas Corpus: an order to produce an arrested person before a judge

  • Bill of Attainder: a law that declares a person, without trial, to be guilty of a crime – this is illegal

  • ex post facto law: a law that makes an act criminal although the act was legal when it was committed; this is illegal

12. What arguments did the Federalists use against having a bill of rights?

  • They thought that a bill of rights was not needed because it was in the State constitutions. The Framer’s thought that they were creating a government with specific, limited powers

13. Summarize the three provisions in the Constitution regarding slavery. Why didn’t the Founders abolish slavery?

  • Slavery was dealt with in three places in the Constitution, though never by name

  • One, three-fifths of all other persons (that is of slaves) are to be added to “the whole number of free persons, this was done for state representation in the House of Representatives

  • The Founders also agreed not to allow the new government by law or even constitutional amendment to prohibit the importation of slaves until the year 1808.; after 1808 the Congress was free (but not required) to end the importation of slaves; they never did

  • Three, the Constitution guaranteed that if a slave were to escape his or her master and flee to a nonslave state, the slave would be returned to that state to “the party to whom…service or labour may be due.”

  • The Framers of the Constitution decided sidestep the issue of slavery in order to create a union that, they hoped, would eventually be strong enough to deal with the problem when it could no longer be postponed.

  • The ignoring of slavery occurred because the southern states would not have signed the Constitution if slavery was banned.

14. Copy the box on p. 42 outlining how to propose and ratify an amendment.

  • To Propose an Amendment

    • Two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to propose and amendment, or

    • Two-thirds of state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments

  • To Ratify an Amendment

    • Three-fourths of state legislatures approve it, or

    • Ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states approve it.

Only the first method of proposing an amendment has been used

15. What was Charles Beard’s interpretation of the Framers of the Constitution? What is now known to counter his interpretation?

  • In 1913 Charles Beard, a historian, published a book – An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution – arguing that the better-off urban and commercial classes, especially those members who held the IOUs issued by the government to pay for the Revolutionary War, favored the new Constitution because they stood to benefit from it.

  • But, in the 1950s Beard’s view was challenged by historians who, after looking carefully at what the Framers owned or owed, concluded that one could not explain the Constitution exclusively or even largely in terms of the economic interests of those who wrote it.

  • Some of the richest delegates, such as Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and George Mason of Virginia, refused to sign the Constitution, while many of the Constitution’s key backers James Madison and James Wilson, for example – were men of modest means or heavy debts

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