The Constitutional Period: 1787-91 The period directly following the American victory in the American Revolution was marked by a number of problems. These include debt, issues, hostile neighbors, currency problems, and squabbling between states. At this time, the United States was operating under the Articles of Confederation, which created a weak and ineffective central government.
After Daniel Shays led a rebellion among about 1000 farmers in western Massachusetts, political leaders called for a constitutional convention to meet in Philadelphia in 1787.
55 white males met in secret in Independence Hall in the summer of 1787 to hammer out a new constitution. Foremost in their minds was securing liberty and securing stability. Inspired by thinkers like Montesquieu and the success of state constitutions they set out to divide power up, but not too much. Features of the Constitution that accomplished this goal include federalism, checks and balances, separation of powers, and popular sovereignty.
The Constitutional Convention was not debate free. Indeed, compromises were required to hold the country together. Representation in Congress was a major point of tension. Large states, like Virginia wanted representation according to population, while small states, like New Jersey wanted equal numbers of representatives from each state. The Great Compromise resulted in a two house (bicameral) Congress with a Senate with two representatives from each state and a House of Representatives based on population. Slavery was also a cause for tension. The 3/5ths Compromisepreserved slavery, counted slaves as 3/5ths of a person, and extended the slave trade for 20 years. Finally, concern over a lack of stated rights in the Constitution resulted in an agreement that a Bill of Rights be added shortly after the ratification of the Constitution.
The Constitution dealt with religious rights by including a clause in the First Amendment that prohibits governments from establishing or supporting a specific religious group (establishment clause), while prohibiting the government from limiting the free exercise of religious beliefs (free exercise clause).