Chapter 8 Creating the Constitution 1 Introduction



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Chapter 8 Creating the Constitution

8.1 Introduction:

-After they declared independence in 1776, Congress tried to unite the states together under one national government. Many people were afraid that this government would crush the rights that they were fighting for.

-There plan was the Articles of Confederation. These articles created a “league of friendship” in which each state retained its sovereignty, freedom and independence. The 13 states worked together for common purposes and it was run by Congress, where each state had 1 vote.

-The articles gave the Congress a few important powers including; making war and peace, raising an army and navy, printing money and setting up a postal system.

-The key was that the states were giving the right to create taxes. Since Congress couldn’t levy taxes they had to ask the states for funds to do things. The states usually ignored the requests for money. The lack of the power to tax left the national government or Congress ineffective.

8.2 Early Quarrels and Accomplishments:

-Before and during the Revolutionary War the states often quarreled over taxes, trade and boundaries. Congress couldn’t fix these quarrels among the states because the Articles didn’t give them enough power.

-The one area of positive results from the Articles was what they did with Western lands gained through the Treaty of Paris. To end the confusion of people just going west and claiming land, Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785. With this Western lands were divided into 6 mile squares called townships. Then the townships were divided into 36 sections of 640 acres each. The area in which they created these townships became known as The Northwest Territory. The next question was how they were going to be governed. The Northwest Ordinance was created to answer this. This set up how the territories would be governed, how they would become a state, the rules of settling and the rights of settlers. Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory with this law. This process lead to the orderly growth of the nation.

8.3 Shay’s Rebellion and the Need for Change:

Money issues also hampered Congress. The paper money printed by Congress during the war was worthless and they didn’t have enough gold or silver to mint coins. States started printing their own money as a result. This created different money traveling throughout he states, which meant most of it was worthless.

-In Massachusetts the taxes they were placing on their citizens was too much for many to handle. The farmers who didn’t earn enough money to pay their taxes were forced to sell their possessions to raise the money, and then if they still couldn’t pay it off they were put in jail.

-Daniel Shays, a revolutionary war vet led his fellow farmers on a rebellion on the Mass. State government. He led the men to an arsenal to seize the weapons. They were stopped by the state militia easily, but the nation saw this as a sign that the nation that they just fought for was falling apart.

-This rebellion caused Congress to call a convention together inviting delegates from all the states to attend. It was in Philadelphia in May of 1787. This convention was being held to fix the Articles of Confederation or create something new.

8.4 Opening the Constitutional Convention:

-The convention was held in the same room that the Declaration was created in 11 years earlier. It was taking place during the summer and it was extremely hot and uncomfortable.

-The first thing that was done was to elect George Washington as president of the convention.

-55 delegates from 12 states attended the convention. Rhode Island boycotted the meeting, showing their fear in a strong national government. A few important members were missing; John Adams and Jefferson were in Great Britain representing the U.S. Sam Adams, John Hancock and Patrick Henry also did not attend, all fearing a strong national government would endanger the rights of states.

-The delegates were well educated, wealthy and important political people. Over 2/3’s were lawyers and over 1/3 owned slaves. Jefferson called it an assembly of demi-gods.

-James Madison was the most prepared member of the group. He would later become known as the Father of the Constitution. He spoke to the group over 200 times, and when not speaking he was taking notes.

-Secrecy was a huge part of the convention. Whatever was talked about within the building stayed in the building. The room was locked up during session, with guards at the doors.

-They all believed that the basic purpose of the government was to protect the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They also believed that the government got its power from the people. These ideas reflected the ideas of enlightenment thinker John Locke.

-Every state had created some for m of republic as their government, with a Constitution at the head. Many states had even expanded voting rights. Even though these things were in place, there were still many questions unanswered. Who should have a say in the government? Who should be able to hold office? How much power should the national government have?

-Many delegates were afraid that too much power for the National government would threaten individual liberty and states’ rights. Others felt the opposite way, citing the weakness under the Articles of Confederation.



8.5 Issue: How Should States Be Represented in the New Government?:

-After much debate the Articles of Confederation were thrown out the window and they decided to write a new Constitution. The framers, or creators of this new document, agreed to design a new framework for the government, but they were divided on where the government’s power to rule would come from. The states or the people?

-James Madison came up with the Virginia Plan which would create a national government that would get its power from the people. This plan would create a strong national government with 3 branches. Congress(legislative branch) would create the laws. Executive branch would carry out the laws. And the judicial branch would apply and interpret the laws. Congress would be made up of 2 houses. The House of Reps and the Senate. Representation in both houses would be based on population. Large states supported this plan. This new government would represent the people, not states.

-Delegates from the smaller states didn’t like the plan so they came up with their own, the New Jersey Plan. This would also have a government with 3 branches. The difference would be that the Legislative Branch, Congress, would have 1 house. Each state would have equal votes in Congress, not matter the states size. They felt that this would put them on an equal playing field.



8.6 Resolution: The Great Compromise:

-Neither plan could pass and debate went on throughout the summer. Larger state delegates felt that representation based on population was both logical and fair. Small states didn’t see this logic, still fearing what would happen to them in a government like that.

-A compromise was reached, by going back and looking at a plan that had already been brought forward. The Great Compromise would create a 2 house Congress. The House of Reps would represent the people, where the number of reps would be based on the state’s population. The other house would be the Senate, where each state would have two senators, elected by their state legislators. It was a close vote, but it was approved.

8.7 Issue: How Should Slaves Be Counted:

-At this point in time, 9/10 of the slaves lived in the South. Southerners wanted as many reps in the House as they could get, so they wanted slaves to count the same as any other person in determining representation.

-People in the North were not keen on this idea. They questioned whether slaves should be considered people or were they property. Most Northern delegates believed that slaves were property. They did the work in the South that animals did in the North. So they thought slaves should be considered property and taxed like any other property. If they were to be counted as people in determining representation then make them citizens and let them vote.

-This argument showed how white Americans were torn on this issue. The Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War caused many Americans to think about their stance on the issue of slavery. Many people pushed for its ending, and states in the North started passing laws to end it. Many Southerners were uneasy about slavery, but they couldn’t abolish it. The South’s economy was based on slavery.



8.8 Resolution: The Three-Fifths Compromise:

-James Madison came up with a compromise after a heated debate. He said count slaves as 3/5 of a person when counting a states population. 3/5 were counted for taxation and 3/5 for representation. This was in complete contrast with “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. The adopted the compromise just because they needed to, to keep the convention going.

-The issue of the slave trade was also a hot topic. Many of the conventions delegates wanted to end slave trade 100% and this scared the South. They argued that their economy would collapse without a constant supply of slaves. They compromise on this issue also. No taxes on exports to other countries and congress wouldn’t interfere with the slave trade for 20 years. The Fugitive Slave Clause was also passed. It said that escaped slaves had to be returned to their owners, even if they were caught in a free state.

8.9 Issue: How Should the Chief Executive Be Elected:

-After much debate and many ideas the framers agreed on a single executive, and they would call him the President. They also gave him a 4 year term, to limit him from becoming to kinglike. They would also elect a Vice President to fill the term if the president died.

-The next issue was who was going to choose the president. There were also many ideas on this, including letting the people choose, state legislatures choose or a special set of electors choose.

8.10 Resolution: The Electoral College:

-They voted on the issue 60 times, and then they finally compromised on the issue. The Electoral College would choose the president. The Electoral College was a group of electors who would choose the president and vice president every 4 years. The states electors were determined by their number of senators and representatives in Congress.

-In the beginning the state legislatures chose the electors. Now the people choose the electors. Also in the beginning the electors chose two candidates. The one with the most votes became president and the backup became the vice-president.

-The framers created this concept because they were concerned that the voters would not know enough about the candidates outside of their state.



8.11 The Convention Ends:

-9 states would have to ratify the Constitution for it to be official. Also it would be ratified at special conventions by delegates elected by the people in the states.

-On the last day of the Convention, Sept. 17.1787, Franklin gave a final speech. He stated that he did no entirely approve of the Constitution, but he said that he approved it because he expected no better and that there may be nothing better. He urged the other members of the convention to sign it. Only 38 of the original 55 delegates singed the Constitution. The Convention lasted 4 months.

8.12 The Constitution Goes to the Nation:

-To most people the Constitution looked like a plan that created a federal system of government, where the national government was strong, but shared power with the states.

-Federalists were supporters of the Constitution. They felt that it created a strong enough national government that could unite the states together into a single republic. Madison, Hamilton and John Jay were all leading federalists. They argued in newspaper articles that the Constitution would fix the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation by creating a stronger union of the states. To address those who feared a strong national government, they stated how the powers were limited. There were limited because the powers were divided among the three branches of government. This way one branch would not become to powerful. The articles written by these guys were later published as The Federalist Papers.

-Anti-Federalists were the opponents of the Constitution. They felt that Congress would ruin the country with taxes, the president would rule like a king and the judicial branch would swallow up state courts. Their main complaint was that the rights of the people were left out. They didn’t like change and didn’t want to give up state powers to create a stronger country.

-Once all the arguing was over, Madison said that the only question now was if they were going to stay a union.

8.13 Chapter Summary:

-The challenge faced when creating the Constitution was to create a government that would be strong enough to guarantee the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but not strong enough to take them away.



-The Articles of Confederation created a loose union of states under a weak central government. It was successful during the Revolutionary War, but afterwards it was too weak to keep order and protect its own property.

-It took 4 months to create the replacement, the Constitution. It was all about compromises. The Great Compromise established how states would be represented in the legislative branch. The Three-Fifths Compromise settled how slaves would be counted in determining a state’s population. A third compromise created the Electoral College.


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