The Confederation and the Constitution

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CHAPTER 9—“The Confederation and the Constitution” (1776–1790)

AP Focus

As a consequence of the American Revolution, Americans begin to rethink their views regarding the separation of church and state, as well as the future of slavery in a democratic republic.

The American economy is profoundly affected by the war. Along with the consequences of British mercantilist policies on the development of the American economy, the absence of a governmental structure that could address the nation’s economic and judicial requirements aggravates the situation.

The first government, the Articles of Confederation, fails to deal adequately with the problems facing the new nation. Social tensions stimulate the demand for a stronger central government, one with the power and authority to suppress domestic disturbances, such as Shays’s Rebellion.

The antecedents of the United States Constitution can be found in the political ideas, theories, and concepts associated with the state constitutions. Politics and Citizenship is an AP theme.

The U.S. Constitution is ratified and replaces the Articles of Confederation, but not before advocates and opponents of a strong central government do political battle on the state level.

Take note of the following:

1. Despite the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation, the government did address a significant problem associated with disputed land claims by passing the Northwest Ordinance. The government was unable, however, to prevent British and Spanish encroachments and influences in the west. See the map in The American Pageant (13th ed., p. 175/14th ed., p. 184) for the locations of disputed territory and continued foreign influences.

2. Because of opposition from antifederalists, the Constitution extended certain delegated powers to the federal government, while reserving important powers to the states. Further, a Bill of Rights was later added.

Chapter Themes

Theme: The American Revolution was not a radical transformation like the French or Russian revolutions, but it did produce political innovations and some social change in the direction of greater equality and democracy.

Theme: Compromise, on a number of important issues, was required in order to create the new federal Constitution. Adopting the new document required great political skill and involved changing the ratification process defined in the Articles of Confederation, writing persuasively in support of the stronger central government, and promising to add amendments to protect individual liberty and states’ rights.

Theme: The federal Constitution represented a moderately conservative reaction against the democratic and decentralizing effects of the Revolution and the Articles of Confederation. In effect, it embedded the revolutionary ideals of liberty and popular government within a strong framework designed to advance national identity and interests against the dangers of fragmentation and disorder.

CHAPTER 10—“Launching the New Ship of State” (1789–1800)

AP Focus

In 1794, an uprising in Pennsylvania over a federal tax on whiskey is suppressed by the militia on orders from President Washington.

As secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton has a profound impact on establishing policies that will determine the nation’s economic direction and growth. Deficit spending, initiated in large part by Hamilton, endures as an economic and political tool. (It was used most famously by FDR.) Students need a good understanding of these economic issues for the AP exam.

Politically opposed to Hamilton is Washington’s secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, a staunch opponent of Hamilton’s brainchild, the Bank of the United States.

Despite Washington’s concerns about political party affiliations, the period witnesses the emergence of two political parties: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.

Washington warns the new nation about establishing alliances with foreign nations; the key to America’s future, according to the first president, lies in a policy of neutrality.

After Washington’s administration, the Federalists passed legislation that restricted civil and political rights. A response, in the form of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, offers a states’ rights challenge to questionable federal laws.

The American Revolution inspired France's Revolution. Thinking Globally (The American Pageant, 14th ed., pp. 208–209) looks at the similarities and differences between the two.

Take note of the following:

1. Debate continues over the distinction made by most historians that Jefferson and Hamilton represented opposing views: Hamilton, as an advocate of a strong central government, commerce, and manufacturing; Jefferson, as a supporter of states’ rights and an agrarian future for the nation. Some historians contend, however, that the two adversaries simply represented two types of wealth and class: manufacturers and planter-slaveholders.

Chapter Themes

Theme: Led by Washington and Hamilton, the first administration under the Constitution overcame various difficulties and firmly established the political and economic foundations of the new federal government. The first Congress under the Constitution, led by James Madison, also contributed to the new republic by adding the Bill of Rights.

Theme: The cabinet debate over Hamilton’s financial measure expanded into a wider political conflict between Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans—the first political parties in America. Federalists supported a strong central government, a loose interpretation of the Constitution, and commerce (business). (Democratic) Republicans supported states’ rights, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and agriculture (farmers).

Theme: The French Revolution created a severe ideological and political division over foreign policy between Federalists and Republicans. The foreign-policy crisis coincided with domestic political divisions that culminated in the bitter election of 1800, but in the end, power passed peacefully from Federalists to Republicans. American isolationist tradition emerges as a result of Washington’s strong neutrality stance and his farewell warnings about foreign alliances.

CHAPTER 11 – “The Triumphs and Travails of the Jeffersonian Republic” (1800–1812)

AP Focus

The election of Thomas Jefferson is perceived by many as a victory for the common man. The inauguration of Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, represents the first peaceful transfer of power between differing political parties in the nation’s history.

Jefferson’s foreign policy is noted for his military challenge against the Barbary pirates and for the Louisiana Purchase, which doubles the size of the United States.

Because of violations of U.S. neutral shipping rights and other abuses, the United States declares war on Great Britain, precipitating the War of 1812.

Take note of the following:

1. Many historians consider the election of Jefferson a revolution in political ideas, aspirations, and objectives. Others disagree, pointing to his political moderation as president; the fact that he didn’t seek to destroy the Bank, but merely let its charter expire; and the fact that he represented the interests of what northerners would refer to as the “slaveocracy” of the South.

2. The Marshall Supreme Court handed down decisions that would not only establish the foundation for the judiciary’s responsibilities, such as the power to determine the constitutionality of laws, but also reaffirm the separation of powers among the three branches of government.

3. The War of 1812 was unpopular in the New England states because of the cessation of commerce with a major trading partner, Great Britain. The economy was damaged, and during the war the United States was invaded, but the end of the war found the nation’s worldwide image strengthened—after all, the United States had not been defeated by the powerful British military.

4. Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana was criticized as a circumvention of the Senate’s power to ratify or reject treaties. It also raises the question of the political limitations placed on the president by the Constitution, a question that comes up again and again in American history.

Chapter Themes

Theme: Jefferson’s effective, pragmatic policies strengthened the principles of a two-party republican government, even though the Jeffersonian revolution caused sharp partisan battles between Federalists and Republicans over particular issues.

Theme: Despite his intentions, Jefferson became deeply entangled in the foreign-policy conflicts of the Napoleonic era, leading to a highly unpopular and failed embargo that revived the moribund Federalist Party.

Theme: James Madison fell into an international trap, set by Napoleon, which Jefferson had avoided. Western War Hawks’s enthusiasm for a war with Britain was matched by New Englanders’ hostility.

CHAPTER 12 – “The Second War for Independence and the Upsurge of Nationalism” (1812–1824)

AP Focus

Fighting against the military might of Great Britain, for the second time in less than thirty years, places significant strains on the United States politically, economically, and militarily. The Treaty of Ghent leaves in place most of the grievances that precipitated the war.

The United States fails to conquer Canada despite two major military expeditions.

New Englanders and the Federalist Party strongly condemn the War of 1812. The Federalists meet to discuss their grievances in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. Many consider discussing secession at a future meeting, which, because the war ended, is never convened.

Following the war, a spirit of increased patriotism and nationalism sweeps the nation in what has been referred to as the Era of Good Feelings.

In order to integrate the sectional economies of the nation, Senator Henry Clay advocates what becomes known as the American System.

As the United States expands westward, the question of containing slavery takes on an increasingly large role in the nation’s political affairs.

Concerned about possible European intervention in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere, President Monroe warns Europe that the United States will not tolerate such interference.

AP teachers should take note of the following:

1. Some historians consider the attempt to seize Canada as a reflection of early American imperialism, whereas others view it as a key aspect of American military strategy.

2. Many historians see the Monroe Doctrine as a defensive and altruistic statement by the U.S. government. On the other hand, some historians view the Monroe Doctrine as the foundation of a hegemonic policy that became the cornerstone of future U.S. foreign policy.

Chapter Themes

Theme: The American effort in the War of 1812 was plagued by poor strategy, political divisions, and increasingly aggressive British power. Nevertheless, the United States escaped with a stalemated peace settlement and soon turned its isolationist back to the Atlantic European world.

Theme: The aftermath of the War of 1812 produced a strong surge of American nationalism that was reflected in economics, law, and foreign policy. The rising nationalistic spirit and sense of political unity was, however, threatened by the first severe sectional dispute over slavery.

Theme: Chief Justice John Marshall’s Supreme Court strengthened the federal government by supporting a loose construction of the Constitution, asserting the federal judiciary’s power over state courts, and enforcing economic provisions in the Constitution (interstate commerce, sanctity of contracts).

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