AP US History Document Based Question Directions: In the essay you should strive to support your assertions both by citing key pieces of evidence from the documents and by drawing on your knowledge of the period.
QUESTION: The political movement which led to the writing of the Constitution of 1787 represented an attempted conservative counter-revolution against the excesses of democracy which threatened chaos under the liberal Articles of Confederation. The political battle over ratification which followed proposal of the new Constitution resulted in a governing document which compromised between the two extremes of position. Assess the validity of this statement.
Document A “. . . .That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.
That government is, or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people. . . . [and] when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
[All]. . . . men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience. . . . ” Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776
Document B A Poor Man Protests, circa 1780
In the western counties of Massachusetts there were a number of illegal convention after 1780 to protest the new state constitution which increased property requirements for voting and the general direction being taken by the state government. Plough Jogger was a delegate to one of those convention, name probably assumed, and this printed report of what he said illustrated the attitudes of the poor in that state just before Shays’ Rebellion.
“I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war; been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates and all rates... been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth....
...The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers....” Plough Jogger, Massachusetts protest convention, circa 1780 .
“ARTICLE II. EACH State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
ARTICLE III. THE said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense... against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them... whatever.
ARTICLE IX. THE United States in Congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war..., of sending and receiving ambassadors — entering into treaties and alliances....
THE United States in Congress assembled shall also be the last resort on appeal in all disputes and differences now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more States concerning boundary, jurisdiction or any other cause whatever....
THE United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective States — fixing the standard of weights and measures throughout the United States — regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the States, provided that the legislative right of any State within its own limits be not infringed or violated — establishing and regulating post offices from one State to another, throughout all the United States, and exacting such postage on the papers passing throw the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office — appointing all officers of the land forces, in the service of the United States, excepting regimental officers—appointing all the officers of the naval forces, and commissioning all officers whatever in the service of the United States — making rules for the government and regulation of the said land and naval forces, and directing their operations.
ARTICLE X. THE committee of the States, or any nine of them, shall be authorized to execute, in the recess of Congress, such of the powers of Congress as the United States in Congress assembled, by the consent of nine States, shall from time to time think expedient to vest them with....
...Know ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said articles of confederation and perpetual union... And that the articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual. Articles Of Confederation, 15 November 1777.
Document D “I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve of them. For, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions... which I once thought right. . . .
I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us. . . . I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better constitution. For when you assemble a number of men... you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does... Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. . . .” “Philadelphia, September 17, 1787, Benjamin Franklin. Saul K Padover and Jacob W. Landynski. The Living U.S. Constitution. Meridian, 1995.
Document E The Annapolis Convention, 1786
“TO THE HONORABLE, THE LEGISLATURES of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, the commissioners from the said states, respectively assembled at Annapolis, humbly beg leave to report:
...That there are important defects in the system of the federal government is acknowledged by the acts of all those states which have concurred in the present meeting; that the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous than even these acts imply is at least far probable, from the embarrassments which characterize the present state of our national affairs, foreign and domestic. . . .
(These defects are). . . . of a nature so serious as, in the view of your commissioners, to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the united virtue and wisdom of all the members of the Confederacy.
(Your). . . . commissioners with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction that it may essentially tend to advance the interests of the Union if the states. . . . would concur and use their endeavors to procure the concurrence of the other states in the appointment of commissioners, to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the Untied States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the Constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union. . . .” Jerome Agel (ed). Words that Make America Great. Random House, 1997.
Document F "Your sentiments, that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct; we have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our Confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt, and carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation without lodging, somewhere, a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the state governments extends over the several states.
To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the people without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointments [annual elections], must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? . . .
What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgusted with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme to another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingencies would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious. Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend." George Washington to John Jay, August 1, 1786 J. C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1938), vol. 28, pp. 502-503.
Document G “I have lately been far eastward of Boston on private business, and was no sooner returned here than the commotions in Massachusetts [Shay’s Rebellion] hurried me back to Boston on a public account.
Our political machine, composed of thirteen independent sovereignties, have been perpetually operating against each other and against the federal head since the peace (end of the Revolution). The powers of Congress are totally inadequate to preserve the balance between the respective States, and oblige them to do those things which are essential for their own welfare or for the general good. The frame of mind of the local legislatures seems to be exerted to prevent the federal constitution from having any good effect. The machine works inversely to the public good in all its parts: not only is State against State, and all against the federal head, but the States within themselves (do not possess). . . . the power of preserving the peace, (or) the protection of the liberty and property of the citizens. . . .
This dreadful situation, for which our government have made no adequate provision, has alarmed every man of principle and property in New England. They start as from a dream, and ask what can have been the cause of our delusion? What is to give us security against the violence of lawless men? Our government must be braced, changed, or altered to secure our lives and property. . . .
. . . . Something is wanting, and something must be done, or we shall be involved in all the horror of failure, and civil war without a prospect of its termination. Every friend to the liberty of his country is bound to reflect, and step forward to prevent the dreadful consequences which shall result from a government of events. Unless this is done, we shall be liable to be ruled by an arbitrary and capricious armed tyranny, whose word and will must be law.” Henry Knox to George Washington, 1786.
Document H "Resolution 4, first clause: . . .that the members of the first branch [House of Representatives] of the national legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several states" Mr. Sherman [of Connecticut] opposed the election by the people, insisting that it ought to be by the state legislatures. The people, he said, immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want [lack] information and are constantly liable to be misled.
Mr. Gerry [of Massachusetts]. The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massachusetts, it has been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute. . . . . Mr. Mason [of Virginia] argued strongly for an election of the larger branch by the people. It was to be the grand depository of the democratic principle of the government. It was, so to speak, to be our House of Commons. It ought to know and sympathize with every part of the community. . . . He admitted that we had been too democratic but was afraid we should incautiously run into the opposite extreme. We ought to attend to the rights of every class of the people. . . .
Mr. Wilson [of Pennsylvania] contended strenuously for drawing the most numerous branch of the legislature immediately from the people. He was for raising the federal pyramid to a considerable altitude, and for that reason wished to give it as broad a basis as possible. No government could long subsist without the confidence of the people. In a republican government this confidence was peculiarly essential.
Mr. Madison [of Virginia] considered the popular election of one branch of the national legislature as essential to every plan of free government.... He thought, too, that the great fabric to be raised would be more stable and durable if it should rest on the solid foundation of the people themselves than if it should stand merely on the pillars of the legislatures. . . ." Personal Notes of James Madison, Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 .
Document I "There is no Declaration [Bill] of Rights, and the laws of the general government being paramount to the laws and constitution of the several states, the declarations of rights in the separate states are no security. . . .
The Judiciary of the United States is so constructed and extended as to absorb and destroy the judiciaries of the several states; thereby rendering law as tedious, intricate, and expensive, and justice as unattainable, by a great part of the community, as in England, and enabling the rich to oppress and ruin the poor.
The President of the United States has no Constitutional Council, a thing unknown in any safe and regular government. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favorites; or he will become a tool to the Senate--or a council of state will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments; the worst and most dangerous of all ingredients for such a council in a free country. From this fatal defect has arisen the improper power of the Senate in the appointment of public officers, and the alarming dependence and connection between that branch of the legislature and the Supreme Executive.
Hence also sprung that unnecessary officer, the Vice-President, who, for want of other employment, is made president of the Senate, thereby dangerously blending the executive and legislative powers, besides always giving to some one of the states an unnecessary and unjust pre-eminence over the others. . . .
By declaring all treaties supreme laws of the land, the Executive and the Senate have, in many cases, an exclusive power of legislation; which might have been avoided by proper distinctions with respect to treaties, and requiring the assent of the House of Representatives, where it could be done with safety.
By requiring only a majority [of Congress] to make all commercial and navigation laws, the five Southern states, whose produce and circumstances are totally different from that of the eight Northern and Eastern states, may be ruined. For such rigid and premature regulations may be made as will enable the merchants of the Northern and Eastern states not only to demand an exorbitant freight, but to monopolize the purchase of the commodities at their own price, for many years, to the great injury of the landed interest and impoverishment of the people. And the danger is the greater as the gain on one side will be in proportion to the loss on the other. Whereas requiring two-thirds of the members present in both Houses would have produced mutual moderation, promoted the general interest, and removed an insuperable objection to the adoption of this government.
Under their own construction of the general clause [Article I, Section VIII, para. 18], at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their powers as far as they shall think proper; so that the state legislatures have no security for the powers now presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights.
There is no declaration of any kind for preserving the liberty of the press, or the trial by jury in civil causes [cases]; nor against the danger of standing armies in time of peace. . . .
This government will set out a moderate aristocracy; it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy. It will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the one or the other." George Mason Kate M. Rowland, The Life of George Mason (New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1892), vol. 2, pp. 387-390.
Document J Samuel Nasson Opposes Ratification of the Constitution
"What occasion have we for standing armies? We fear no foe. If one should come upon us, we have a militia, which is our bulwark.... Therefore, sir, I am utterly opposed to a standing army in time of peace.... " Samuel Nasson, Massachusetts saddler, 1788.
Document K Amos Singletary Opposes the Constitution
"We contended with Great Britain--some said for a three-penny duty on tea; but it was not that. It was because they claimed a right to tax us and bind us in all cases whatever. And does not this Constitution do the same? Does it not take away all we have--all our property? Does it not lay all taxes, duties, imposts, and excises? And what more have we to give?
They tell us Congress won't lay dry [direct] taxes upon us, but collect all the money they want by impost [import duties]. I say, there has always been a difficulty about impost.... They won't be able to raise money enough by impost, and then they will lay it on the land and take all we have got.
These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, that talk so finely and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill, expect to get into Congress themselves. They expect to be the managers of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands. And then they will swallow up all of us little folks, like the great Leviathan, Mr. President; yes, just as the whale swallowed up Jonah. This is what I am afraid of...." Amo Singletary, delegate to the Massachusetts Ratification Convention, 1788. Jonathan Elliot, The Debates on the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1836), vol. 2, pp. 101-102.
Document L Thomas Tredwell Speaks Against the Constitution, 1788
“In this Constitution, sir, we have departed widely from the principles and political faith of ‘76, when the spirit of liberty ran high, and danger put a curb on ambition. Here we find no security for the rights of individuals, no security for the existence of our state governments; here is no bill of rights, no proper restriction of power, our lives, our property, and our consciences, are left wholly at the mercy of the legislature, and the powers of the judiciary may be extended to any degree short of almighty....
In this, sir, a government for freedom? Are we thus to be duped out of our liberties? I hope, sir, our affairs have not yet arrived to that long-wished-for pitch of confusion, that we are under the necessity of accepting such a system of government as this.”Thomas Tredwell in the New York Constitutional Convention, June-July 1788. Saul K Padover and Jacob W. Landynski. The Living U.S. Constitution. Meridian.
Document M “I have the highest veneration for those gentlemen [who attended the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention]; but, sir, give me leave to demand, What right they had to say, We, the people ? ....Who authorized them to speak the language of, We the people, instead of We, the States ?... The people gave them no power to use their name.... I wish to hear the real, actual, existing danger, which should lead us to take those steps, so dangerous in my conception... The federal Convention ought to have amended the old system; for this purpose they were solely delegated....
The principles of this system [the Constitution] are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous.... It is not a democracy, wherein the people retain all their rights securely.... The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost, by the change [of government].... Is this tame relinquishment of rights worthy of freemen? Is it worthy of that manly fortitude that ought to characterize republicans?” Patrick Henry, 1788. Saul K Padover and Jacob W. Landynski. The Living U.S. Constitution. Meridian, 1995.
Document N “Mr. Chairman. “[16 June 1788]
The necessity of a Bill of Rights appear to me to be greater in this Government, than ever it was in any Government before....
...How were the Congressional rights defined when the people of America united by a confederacy to defend their liberties and rights against the tyrannical attempts of Great-Britain? The States were not then contented with implied reservation. No, Mr. Chairman. It was expressly declared in our Confederation that every right was not given up to the Government of the United States. But there is no such thing here. You therefore by a natural and unavoidable implication, give up your rights to the General Government.... The powers of direct taxation, the sword, and the purse. You have disposed of them to Congress, without a Bill of Rights.... You have a Bill of Rights to defend you against the State Government, which is bereaved of all power; and yet you have none against Congress, though in full and exclusive possession of all power! You arm yourselves against the weak and defenseless, and expose yourselves naked to the armed and powerful. Is not this a conduct of unexampled absurdity? “Patrick Henry. David L. Bender (ed.).Opposing Viewpoints in American History (Vol. I). Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Thomas A. Bailey .The American Pageant. D.C. Heath and Co., 1994.
Document Q Washington at the Philadelphia Convention, 1799