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Constitution of the United States


As you can see on the time line, Chapter 13 tells the story of the United States government. The Articles of Confederation, our first central government, did not succeed in uniting the country. In 1787 the Constitution presented a new system of government. Later the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution and was accepted by the 13 states.




Focus Activity


What kind of government did the Articles of Confederation create?


Articles of Confederation

Shays's Rebellion

Northwest Ordinance




Richard Allen

Daniel Shays


Northwest Territory







The colonists' ragged army had defeated the mighty British. What did that mean for the men and women who had risked their lives for independence? Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, and told him what she wanted in the new government. "I desire that you would remember the ladies," she said. "We will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which we have no voice or representation."


Abigail Adams was not the only American thinking about the changes that independence from Great Britain might bring. Encouraged by their victory over a great European power, people in the 13 states believed that anything was possible. Many of the enslaved African Americans who had fought against the British in the American Revolution asked for their freedom and got it. Richard Allen, a former slave, started the Free African Society in 1787. Some historians have called this the first organized movement for rights by African Americans in North America.

Everyone was thinking about change. The states, too, began to explore their independence. First they set up their own governments. By 1777, 10 of the 13 states had adopted constitutions. Soon, however, there were conflicts between the states. In 1783 George Washington wrote, "It is yet to be decided whether the Revolution [was] a blessing or a curse." The states were independent, but they were not fully united.



The Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1781. The Articles set up our country's first central government. Years of living under British rule made many Americans distrust government with a strong central power. The Articles of Confederation gave most powers to the governments of the states.

A Weak Government

Under the Articles of Confederation, each state made its own laws, collected its own taxes, and printed its own money. Money printed by one state was not always accepted in another state. Most people thought of themselves only as citizens of the state in which they lived and not as citizens of the United States.

The Congress could do little to settle conflicts between the states. It had no power to enforce the laws it passed.

Congress did not even have money to pay soldiers who had fought in the Revolution. Lack of money caused serious problems in Massachusetts. Massachusetts charged heavy taxes on land. Its courts began jailing farmers and taking their land when they could not pay the taxes. Many of the farmers were owed money by Congress.

In 1786 a Massachusetts farmer named Daniel Shays organized a group of farmers to protest against the courts. The protest soon turned bloody. Over 1,000 farmers battled against the local militia. Eight men were killed before the uprising called Shays's Rebellion was stopped.

Shays's Rebellion led Patrick Henry to conclude, "Our body politic is dangerously sick." Other leaders agreed. Things would never improve, said George Washington, under the "half-starved, limping government" of the Articles of Confederation.

Shays's Rebellion (left) showed that the central government was weak. Neither paper money from Massachusetts nor coins from New Jersey could buy goods in other states.



In spite of its weaknesses Congress did pass some very important laws under the Articles of Confederation. One of the most important was the Northwest Ordinance passed in 1787. This law provided a way for new territories to become states. A territory is an area of land that belongs to a government.

The Northwest Territory

After the American Revolution the United States claimed all land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. This land included a region called the Northwest Territory. Use the map on this page to locate this area. It is now part of the Middle West of the United States. The Northwest Territory included the future states of Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.

Before Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, the states quarreled over control of the Northwest Territory. Some states, like Virginia, claimed large parts of the territory. The Northwest Ordinance divided this huge territory into smaller territories. The people who lived in a territory could apply for statehood when its population reached 60,000. Statehood means to become a state. The ordinance did not allow an existing state to claim any part of the new territories.

The Nation Grows

Under the British, the Northwest Territory had been set aside for Native Americans. Now thousands of United States citizens began moving into the area. Many arrived in covered wagons with all their belongings. They were coming for the promise of land.

To control settlement of the Northwest Territory, Congress divided the land into townships of six square miles each. Each township became a self-governing part of the territory.

This is a later version of the Great Seal of the United States.


The Northwest Ordinance gave new settlers in the territories the same rights that citizens had in the 13 states. The Northwest Ordinance also outlawed slavery and the hiring of indentured servants. In addition the ordinance required that each township set aside land for public schools. Members of Congress believed that if people were going to govern themselves, they had to be educated.


One important legacy of the Articles of Confederation was the Northwest Ordinance. It would serve as a model for creating new territories for over 100 years. However, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation created problems for the new country. Many Americans concluded that the United States needed a stronger central government.


How was the Great Seal of the United States chosen?

In the 1700s most countries had a seal that they used to stamp official documents. When our country won its independence, our leaders decided to create a Great Seal to represent the new country. Benjamin Franklin suggested a picture of a wild turkey on the seal. It was not a bad choice–turkeys are one of the few large birds that are native to North America. However, in 1782 Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams settled on a seal that showed an eagle with a ribbon in its mouth. On the ribbon is the Latin phrase E pluribus unum. This motto, as you read in Chapter 1, means "Out of many, one."

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• The Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, set up the first central government for the 13 states.

• The weaknesses of the central government under the Articles of Confederation made it hard to resolve conflicts between the states.

• The Northwest Ordinance was passed under the Articles of Confederation in 1787. It provided a way for territories to become states.


1. Why did the Articles of Confederation give most powers to the states?

2. Under the Northwest Ordinance, when could a territory ask for statehood?

3. FOCUS How did the Articles of Confederation change the colonists' minds about the role of a central government?

4. THINKING SKILL Was Patrick Henry stating a fact or an opinion when he said that the government was "dangerously sick?"

5. GEOGRAPHY You read that part of today's Middle West was known as the Northwest Territory. Why do you think this was so?




Focus Activity


What was the result of the Great Compromise?


Constitutional Convention

Virginia Plan

legislative branch

executive branch

judicial branch

Supreme Court

New Jersey Plan

Great Compromise

House of Representatives



Alexander Hamilton

James Madison

George Mason

Roger Sherman


In 1786 George Washington opened a letter from Congress asking him to attend a meeting. It said, "Commissioners to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States." Four years before, Washington had said he had "retired forever" from public life. Yet his country needed him again.


In September 1786 the lawyers Alexander Hamilton from New York and James Madison from Virginia attended a meeting of the Congress held in Annapolis, Maryland. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss problems between the states. The longer the meeting went on, the more everyone agreed that a second meeting was needed.

The delegates asked Hamilton to write a letter inviting delegates from all 13 states to this second meeting. As you have read in the Read Aloud above, George Washington was invited to this meeting, which became known as the Constitutional Convention.

Hamilton had to be careful about what he said in the letter. The government under the Articles of Confederation was not working. Still many leaders were not ready to get rid of the Articles. So the letter talked about changing the Articles of Confederation. What actually happened, as you shall see, was very different.



In May 1787 the delegates began arriving in Philadelphia for the meeting. Newspapers called it "The Grand Convention." Fifty-five delegates came. They represented the "wisdom of the continent," wrote one newspaper.

The Constitutional Convention

The meeting could not begin until delegates from at least seven states arrived. The meeting finally began, almost two weeks late, on May 25, 1787, in the Philadelphia State House.

The delegates included Hamilton and Madison. At age 81, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest delegate. Other delegates included George Mason, who had helped to write Virginia's constitution, and Gouverneur Morris, who was from New York.

Absent from the convention were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Patrick Henry. Jefferson and Adams were abroad, serving as ambassadors. An ambassador is an official representative sent to another country. Henry refused to attend the convention. "I smell a rat," he declared, believing the delegates would try to take power away from the states.

The delegates had many things in common. All 55 were white men who owned property. More than half of them were lawyers. Most of the delegates had fought beside Washington in the Continental Army. Many had also helped write the constitutions of their own states.

The delegates elected George Washington president of the convention. He insisted that what went on in the meeting be kept secret. It would be easier to work out problems if there were no pressure from the public. So they nailed the windows shut and closed the doors. Not even the terrible summer heat made them open the windows.

Washington Addressing the Constitutional Convention, by Junius B. Stearns, includes portraits of 1. Gouverneur Morris, 2. Benjamin Franklin, 3. James Madison, 4. John Rutledge, 5. Alexander Hamilton, and 6. George Washington.


This portrait of James Madison, made at age 23 or 24, is set in a brooch that is now kept in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


James Madison came to the convention 11 days early. This was not surprising to those who knew him. Madison liked to be prepared. Long before the meeting, he had asked his friend Thomas Jefferson for books about the governments of other countries. Jefferson sent back trunk loads of books from his library in Paris, France.

Madison spent all of his daylight hours reading what he called his "literary cargo." Delegate William Pierce of Georgia wrote that Madison was "the best informed man on any point in a debate."

Today we know a great deal about what happened at the Constitutional Convention because of the notes kept by James Madison. He chose a seat in front so he could hear and write down everything that was said. "I was not


absent a single day," wrote Madison, "nor more than a fraction of an hour in any day."

The Virginia Plan

Madison left nothing to chance. He arrived at the meeting with a plan of government already written. He made sure his plan was discussed first. Presented by Virginia's popular governor, Edmund Randolph, it came to be called the Virginia Plan. The plan would establish a republic. One part of the plan said "that a national government ought to be established."

The Virginia Plan said that the central government should have three branches, or parts. A legislative (LEJ ihs lay tihv) branch, or law-making body, called the Congress, would make laws for the country and raise money for the central government. The executive (eg ZEK yuh tihv) branch would be headed by one President. The role of the President would be to carry out the laws made by Congress. The third was a judicial (joo DIHSH ul) branch that would decide the meaning of laws. It would be headed by a body of judges called the Supreme Court. Most states had already adopted this three-part model of government. It was based on the British government.

On May 30 the delegates voted to accept part of the Virginia Plan. This decision was important to Madison because it meant that the delegates were not going to spend time trying to change the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they were going to form a new central government. From that point on, the meeting in Philadelphia was a Constitutional Convention. James Madison later became known as the "Father of the Constitution."

The New Jersey Plan

Two weeks later, delegates from large states and small states were locked in a heated debate. The Virginia Plan called for one house of Congress that would be based on population. The large states liked this plan, because it would give them more representatives than the smaller states. The small states did not like this plan. If they had fewer representatives than the large states, they would have less power and little influence in the Congress.

Under the Articles, all of the states had equal power. The small states wanted to keep it that way. They presented the New Jersey Plan, which gave all states the same number of representatives. As the graph on page 348 shows, Virginia, with a population of over 700,000, would have the same number of representatives as the state of Delaware, which had a population of about 59,000.

Eliza Powel, wife of a former mayor of Philadelphia, was among those who greeted the convention delegates.


This picture of the signing of the Constitution was painted by Howard Chandler Christy in 1940. It hangs in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.


The debate between large states and small states threatened to end the convention. Some delegates talked of going home. So the delegates set up a committee to work out a compromise. In a compromise, as you have read in Chapter 4, each side gives up something it wants in order to reach an agreement. It took the delegates two months to find a solution.

The Great Compromise

Roger Sherman from Connecticut proposed what became known as the Great Compromise. Sherman, a judge, was known for his clear thinking. Jefferson claimed Sherman had "never said a foolish thing in his life." In the Great Compromise the new Congress would have two separate houses. In the House of Representatives, the number of each state's representatives would be based on population, which favored the large states. In the Senate, each state would have two representatives, which favored the small states.

Other Compromises

Soon another compromise was needed. Some delegates did not want the people to vote directly for the President. They were afraid that people could too easily be fooled into voting for an unacceptable candidate. Finally, the delegates decided that the people would vote for members of an Electoral College. The Electoral College would then vote for a President. However, as in most European countries at that time, only white, men who owned property could vote.

Slavery and the Constitution

Once the delegates started discussing population, the issue of slavery came up. Should enslaved people be counted in a state's population? Many northern states wanted to end slavery. Most southern states, which had many slaves, wanted slavery to continue.


Finally, a compromise was reached. Every five slaves, or people "bound to service," would be counted as three. In addition, the delegates agreed to end slave trading with other countries in 1808.

Many delegates were unhappy with this compromise. Without it, however, the southern states might have left the convention. There would have been no Constitution.

On September 17, 1787, the delegates finally signed the Constitution of the United States. Now they could open the doors and the windows. They would carry the Constitution back to their states for approval. Yet before the Constitution was approved, the states would debate yet another compromise, one that added protection for individual rights.


When Ben Franklin came out of the convention hall for the last time, Eliza Powel stopped him. She asked him what kind of government the country would have. "A republic if you can keep it," he told her.

The hard job of keeping the republic alive still lay ahead, and it continues today. Writing the Constitution was a struggle that involved many compromises. People with different points of view often have to compromise in order to reach an agreement.

Franklin, Madison, and the other delegates had done something few had done before. They had created a complex written plan of government. You can read the Constitution on pages R22-R45 in the back of this book.

The delegates used this silver inkstand and quill set to sign the Constitution.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• Delegates gathered in Philadelphia in May 1787 for a meeting of the states, which turned into a Constitutional Convention. The writing of the United States Constitution involved many compromises.

• The Constitution set up a central government with three main branches—legislative, executive, and judicial.

• The delegates signed the Constitution of the United States of America on September 17, 1787.


1. How did James Madison prepare for the Constitutional Convention?

2. What did the delegates to the Constitutional Convention have in common?

3. FOCUS On what issues did the delegates need to compromise in order to get the Constitution signed?

4. THINKING SKILL Compare the Virginia Plan to the New Jersey Plan. Who favored each plan? Why?

5. WRITE Write a script for a film about the Constitutional Convention. Focus on the debate that took place to make the Great Compromise.



Delegates William Paterson (left) and James Wilson (above) debated how many representatives the states should have.

Recognizing Point of View


point of view


In the last lesson you read about the Constitutional Convention. The delegates from each state had disagreed about how representatives should be chosen for the United States Congress. They had different points of view. A point of view is the position from which a person looks at something.

The delegates' opinions were shaped by the positions or points of view from which they viewed certain issues. Delegates from small states were concerned about protecting their states from large states. From their point of view, it was important for small states to have representation equal to the states with large populations. Delegates from large states were concerned about losing their power. From their point of view, it was important for representation in Congress to be based on population.

Recognizing a person's point of view is a useful skill. It will help you determine the accuracy of what he or she is writing about. To do this, examine the reasons for the person's point of view.


Read the following statement by William Paterson. He presented the New Jersey Plan to the Constitutional Convention.

There is no more reason that a large state should have more votes than a small one, than that a rich individual citizen should have more votes than a [poor] one. . . . Give the large states an influence in proportion to their


[size], and what will be the consequence? Their ambition will be . . . increased, and the small states will have everything to fear.

Paterson's statement reflects the point of view of the small states. There are several ways you can tell what a person's point of view is. First, identify that person's position. Paterson was against basing a state's representation on population.

Next, think about the information a person gives. Identify which statements are facts and which are opinions. Paterson used the word should, which is a clue that he was expressing an opinion. He was giving his view of what was the "right" thing to do. He also used the words rich and poor when he compared the number of votes a citizen should have. These words let you know that Paterson is using an example to describe less wealthy people as small states.


Now try identifying the point of view of another delegate from the Constitutional Convention. James Wilson of Pennsylvania said:

As all authority is derived from the people, equal numbers of people ought to have an equal number of representatives, and different numbers of people different numbers of representatives.

In other words, representation should be based on population, which would give large states more votes than small states.

What position did Wilson support in his statement? Is Wilson expressing a fact or an opinion? How do you know? What words or phrases tell you about Wilson's point of view and the position he took? What point of view did Wilson's statement support?

Helping Yourself

• A point of view is the position from which a person looks at something.

• To recognize a point of view, identify statements of fact and opinion.

• Next, identify words or phrases that tell how the person feels about the subject.


1. What is a person's point of view?

2. What kinds of clues tell you about a person's point of view?

3. Why is it important to try to be able to recognize a person's point of view in his or her statement?

4. Georgia, then a small southern state, depended on the large southern states for trade. It voted with the large states. What influenced Georgia's point of view? Why do you think it voted with the large states?

5. Historians often present different versions of the same event. How can knowing their points of view help you to understand what happened in the past?

This political cartoon shows that North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet adopted the Constitution.




Focus Activity


What kind of government did the United States Constitution create?




federal system

checks and balances



Tears streamed down Ben Franklin's face as he signed the Constitution. He looked once again at the carving of the sun on the back of George Washington's chair. "I have often looked at that sun behind the president of the convention without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting," he said, "but now, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun." The rising sun that Franklin spoke of was the new central government of a very young country, the United States of America.


The Constitution of the United States is many things. It is a code of laws and a framework for government. It is also a piece of history—the world's oldest written plan of government still in use. How is it that a document written over 200 years ago remains meaningful today?

The Constitution still works because the people who wrote it made sure that it could change with the needs of a growing country. They provided for amendments, or additions, to the Constitution. They knew that the Constitution needed to be permanent, but at the same time it needed to allow for change. It also had to protect the rights of both individuals and states. In this lesson you will learn why the Constitution has been able to work for over 200 years.



As the delegates wrote the Constitution, they chose every word carefully. Their struggle with Great Britain had made them distrust living under a powerful central government. Yet they agreed that government under the Articles of Confederation had not been strong enough. They worked for a balance. As James Madison wrote, "Every word [of the Constitution] decides a question between power and liberty."

The Preamble

The introduction, or the Preamble (PREE am bul), to the Constitution begins with the words "We the People." The authors of the Constitution wanted to show that the people held the power in this country. The three main branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—had to answer to the people and no one else. Read the Preamble to the Constitution on this page. What other goals does the Preamble list?



Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, approved by the states in 1789.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and, our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

domestic tranquility: peace within the country

posterity: future generations

ordain: make legal

A Federal System of Government

The Constitution set up a federal system of government. In a federal system, the states and the central government share power. Some powers are given only to the states. Others are given only to the central government, which is also known as the federal government. For example, only the federal government has the power to declare war, coin money, make treaties with other countries, run the post office, and settle disputes between states.

The states have power to set up public schools and local governments and run elections. Both state and federal governments have the right to collect taxes and pass laws.



After years of living under British rule, the authors of the Constitution had seen what happened when one branch of government gained too much power.

They did not want any branch of the federal government to become too powerful. So they set up a system of checks and balances. In this system, the powers of one branch of government are balanced by the powers of another. Each branch can check, or stop, another branch. If one branch tried to use its powers wrongly, the other two could keep it under control. The flow chart below shows how the system of checks and balances works.

How It Works

The system of checks and balances makes it impossible for one branch of the federal government to act without the cooperation of another branch. For example, under the Constitution, the President is allowed to order the army into battle. Yet only Congress can


The delegates also debated how many people should head the executive branch. By compromise, the delegates decided on one President.

1. What are the powers of the executive branch?

2. How can Congress check the powers of the executive branch?

3. How can the judicial branch check the powers of both the executive and legislative branches?


declare war. So Congress has a check on the President's powers.

Although the Congress may pass any law, the President can veto, or refuse to approve, that law. The system of checks and balances does not end there. If two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress agree, Congress can override, or cancel, a veto. In this way, Congress can still pass a law even if the President has vetoed it.

The Supreme Court can check the powers of both the Congress and the President. It can put a stop to any law passed by Congress or signed by the President. To do this, the Supreme Court must decide whether such a law is allowed by the Constitution.


The Constitution balances freedom and power by creating a federal system of government. That government unites the states while sharing power with them. The people of each state elect representatives to run the state and federal governments. When times change and new needs arise, the people can amend, or change, the Constitution. The Constitution has been able to work for over 200 years because of the system of checks and balances and its rules for adding amendments.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• The government set up by the Constitution is a federal system in which the states and the central government share power. The Constitution is the "supreme law of the land," as stated in the Constitution.

• The Constitution may be amended by the people.

• The system of checks and balances prevents any one branch of government from gaining too much power.


1. What is a federal system?

2. What are some of the powers that the federal government and the states have under the Constitution?

3. FOCUS How does the system of checks and balances keep one branch of the government from gaining too much power?

4. THINKING SKILL What was Benjamin Franklin's point of view on the carving of the sun on Washington's chair? Explain how you identified Franklin's point of view.

5. WRITE Write a description of how a law vetoed by the President can still become a law. Include the role of the judicial branch in your answer.

Washington, D.C., has many more government buildings today than it did in 1790.




Focus Activity


How was the Constitution adopted by the United States?





Bill of Rights



political party


George Washington


New York City


In 1787 feelings were running high as the states decided whether or not to approve the new Constitution. Some state leaders, like Amos Singletary of Massachusetts, were against it. "If anybody had proposed such a Constitution as this in 1775," said Singletary, "it would have been thrown away at once." Robert Livingston of New York had a different view. "A vote against the Constitution is a vote for mystery and nonsense," Livingston said. "A vote for it is a vote for clarity and sense."


In the autumn of 1787, the Constitutional Convention closed its doors. Yet the debate over the Constitution was not over. In fact, it had only started.

The approval of nine states—two-thirds of the 13 states—was needed before the Constitution could go into effect. Each of the states held a convention to decide whether or not to ratify or officially approve, the Constitution.

The responses of the citizens varied. The idea of a central government troubled some people. Many, like Amos Singletary, worried that the states would lose their rights. Others, like Robert Livingston, felt that the new country's problems could be solved only by a strong central government. The debates over the Constitution had begun.



Two days after the Constitutional Convention ended, a Philadelphia newspaper called the Pennsylvania Packet published a complete copy of the Constitution. Many other newspapers soon did the same. Within weeks, leaders in the 13 states had taken sides in the debate about the Constitution. They gave speeches, published pamphlets, and wrote newspaper articles supporting their cause.

Federalists and Antifederalists

Supporters of the Constitution were called Federalists because the Constitution called for a federal system of governments Opponents, like Virginia's Patrick Henry, were called Antifederalists. Henry was afraid the states would lose their freedom under the Constitution. "Liberty," Henry said, "give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else!"

The Federalists included such people as Edmund Pendleton of Virginia, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. "There is no quarrel between government and liberty," Pendleton said. Yet Antifederalists, like the Massachusetts writer Mercy Otis Warren, were not convinced. Warren saw efforts to ratify the Constitution as "dark, secret" plots of men who were "growing rich" while "lovers of freedom" suffered.

In a series of 85 articles published in New York newspapers, Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay, a lawyer from New York, built a strong case for the Constitution. These articles became known as The Federalist Papers. They argued that a weak government actually threatened people's freedoms. Only the strong government provided by the Constitution could protect the rights of all.

Alexander Hamilton (top) wrote articles in The Federalist Papers (center) supporting the Constitution. Patrick Henry (bottom) was a leading Antifederalist.



By January 9, 1788, five states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut—had already ratified the Constitution. Only four more states were needed to approve it. Then, as the debate heated up, the process slowed down.

"There Is No Declaration of Rights!"

The Antifederalists complained that the Constitution did not contain a bill of rights. A bill of rights is a document that describes the basic rights of the people. It also says that the government cannot take away these rights. Some people called this document a "declaration of rights" because it contained rights that were listed in the Declaration of Independence.

Almost every state constitution included a bill of rights. In 1776 George Mason wrote this country's first bill of rights as part of Virginia's constitution. He based it partly on an English bill of rights that had been written almost 100 years earlier.

Mason felt strongly that the United States Constitution should also have a bill of rights. When it was his turn to sign the United States Constitution, Mason refused, saying, "There is no declaration of rights!"

Conflict in Massachusetts

As the delegates gathered in Boston to debate ratifying the Constitution, many in Massachusetts took up Mason's cry. The Federalists said that the Massachusetts constitution already had a bill of rights. The Antifederalists felt this was not enough. They also wanted a bill of rights added to the United States Constitution.

John Hancock, who had become governor of Massachusetts, told the delegates that a bill of rights could be added to the United States Constitution as amendments. This promise persuaded the Massachusetts delegates to ratify the Constitution.


Other states followed Massachusetts. On June 21, 1789, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document. Now the Constitution was law. By 1790, all 13 states had ratified it. A year later Congress added the ten amendments to the Constitution that are known as the Bill of Rights. You can read the Bill of Rights on pages R35-R37.

Amendments to the Constitution

Adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was possible because the Constitution included rules for adding amendments. George Mason had realized that people might want to change the Constitution. "It will be better to provide for [amendments] . . . than to trust to chance and violence," he said.

However, the writers of the Constitution did not want people to be able to change it without serious debate. They made changing the Constitution a long, slow process. Before the states can vote on an amendment, it must be approved by two-thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Or two-thirds of the states can request that Congress call a special convention. Then, three-quarters of all the states must ratify an amendment before it becomes part of the Constitution. Since the Bill of Rights was added in 1791, some 10,000 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed. Only 17 have been added. You can read them on pages R37-R45. You will learn about some of them in chapters to come.

Starting at the top of pages 360-361 with Delaware and ending at the bottom with Rhode Island (below), the seals of the original 13 states appear in the order in which the states ratified the Constitution.



Every member of the Electoral College voted for George Washington as President. The Electoral College never again reached a decision so easily.

On April 14, 1789, Washington set out from Mount Vernon for the country's capital, New York City. Parades and cheering crowds greeted him all along the way.

Eight days later, he arrived in New York City. Dressed in a plain brown suit made of American cloth, Washington placed his left hand on an open Bible and took the President's oath of office on April 30, 1789. He swore to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The President's Cabinet

To help the President run the government, Congress set up three government departments. Each was headed by an official called a secretary.

The Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, made decisions about how the federal government spent money. Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, handled the country's dealings with other countries. The Secretary of War, Henry Knox, took charge of the country's defense. The Attorney General made sure that the country's laws were obeyed. Together these officials were called the Cabinet.

Political Parties

Disagreements arose within Washington's Cabinet. Alexander Hamilton believed the country's future lay in trade and industry. He argued for a strong federal government. Thomas Jefferson saw a country of self-sufficient farmers. He argued that the best government was one that governed the least.

Washington (above) arrived in New York City to be sworn in as President at Federal Hall. This statue of Washington (left) is part of a monument in Boston, Massachusetts.


This watercolor shows President Washington and the First Lady, Martha Washington.

These opposing views led to the first political parties. A political party is a group of people who share similar ideas about government. Followers of Hamilton later organized the Federalist Party. Jefferson's followers formed the Democratic-Republican Party.

First in War and Peace

George Washington served two terms, or eight years, as President. In 1797 he retired from office. In his farewell speech, Washington praised the "influence of good laws under a free government." He then returned to Mount Vernon. The country was greatly saddened by Washington's death in 1799. Virginia's United States Representative Henry Lee expressed the feelings of many people in the United States. During a meeting of Congress he said that Washington was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."


The debate over ratifying the Constitution helped establish the tradition of fighting with words rather than with weapons. Each side presented its views in pamphlets, newspapers, and speeches.

The Constitution has become one of the world's most important documents. The United States was the first nation to have a constitution written by the people. The United States seemed to be a great experiment. Most people now agree the experiment succeeded.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• In 1787 the debate over the Constitution began when the states voted whether or not to ratify it. By 1789 nine of the 13 states, or two-thirds, had ratified the Constitution.

• The Bill of Rights was ratified by the states in 1791.

• George Washington was elected the first President of the United States.


1. Describe the Federalist's and the Antifederalist's point of view about ratifying the Constitution.

2. How did the views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton on the future of the United States differ?

3. FOCUS What compromise did the Federalists make to get enough states to ratify the Constitution?

4. THINKING SKILL Why do you think the authors of the Constitution decided to make amending the Constitution a slow and difficult process?

5. WRITE Write a short speech -an Antifederalist might have given in support of adding the Bill of Rights.




Number a paper from 1 to 5. Beside each number write the word or term from the list below that matches the description.

judicial branch





1. Refuse to approve

2. An area of land that belongs to a government

3. Introduction to the Constitution of the United States

4. The branch of government that decides on the meaning of laws

5. Officially approve


1. What were the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?

2. What was the Northwest Ordinance? What states did it help to create?

3. What was the original purpose of the Constitutional Convention?

4. What three branches of government does the Constitution set up? What does each one do?

5. What was the Great Compromise of the Constitutional Convention? What was decided in the compromise?

6. How did the issue of slavery enter into the Constitutional Convention? What did the delegates vote to do on this issue?

7. What is an amendment? Why is it important that the Constitutional Convention provided for amendments?

8. What is the purpose of the system of checks and balances?

9. What is the Bill of Rights? What role did the Bill of Rights play in convincing the states to ratify the Constitution?

10. Look at the time line above. What events in the chapter could you add to the time period?




Write a dialogue between two members of the Constitutional Convention with opposing views about ratifying the Constitution.


Write a paragraph about the compromises made in the Constitutional Convention and why compromise was needed to help the delegates reach an agreement. Then write another paragraph explaining how compromise might be useful in your own life.


Choose one branch of the United States government and write a report on it.

Describe the responsibilities of this branch. Include, if possible, the names of government officials who now serve in this branch.



To practice the skill of recognizing point of view, answer the questions below.

1. What is point of view?

2. What are the steps in recognizing point of view?

3. Look at page 343. What was Patrick Henry's point of view about the government under the Articles of Confederation?

4. What words did Patrick Henry use that helped you to identify his point of view?

5. Why is recognizing point of view especially important when studying history?

Summing Up the Chapter

Copy the main idea pyramid on a separate piece of paper. Then review the chapter to complete the pyramid. After you have finished, use the information in the pyramid to write a paragraph explaining "How did the Articles of Confederation compare to the Constitution?"




Number a paper from 1 to 10. Beside each number write the word or term from the list below that best completes the sentence.


Constitutional Convention

Continental Army

federal system



Northwest Ordinance



town meeting

1. Many ____, or soldiers paid to fight for another country, fought on the side of the British.

2. The colonists demanded that the Stamp Act be ____, or canceled.

3. The ____ was a group of male colonists who met to solve local problems.

4. ____ is another word for freedom.

5. The ____ was the meeting at which delegates debated and wrote a new plan of government for the United States.

6. The Constitution provides for ____, or additions.

7. Under a ____, the states and the central government share power.

8. A ____ is something that stands for something else.

9. The ____ was a 1787 law that provided a way for new territories to become part of the United States.

10. Washington was the commander of the ____, the troops who fought on the side of the Patriots.



Choose one of the individuals you read about in this unit and, after doing further research, write a short biography about the person. Include facts about the individual's personality, if possible.


Suppose that you have been assigned to report on the Constitutional Convention. Write an article about one of the events that takes place there. Include a headline for your article.


Although the colonists named them the Intolerable Acts, these laws had different names in the British Parliament. Suppose that you are a British government official. Write a speech to your fellow citizens explaining why it is necessary to pass these tax laws.


1. Political cartoons How is a political cartoon different from other cartoons?

2. Political cartoons What is dialogue? What is the purpose of dialogue in some political cartoons?

3. Map scale Which kind of map shows more detail, large-scale maps or small-scale maps?

4. Map scale Look at the maps on pages 336-337. What kinds of information would each map help you to find?

5. Point of view How can recognizing point of view help you to understand historical topics such as the debate over ratifying the Constitution?



Although the Constitution was written over 200 years ago, it remains the law of our country today. How does the amendment process help keep the Constitution useful in the present? What main ideas of the Constitution do you think will continue to make it an important document in the future?


Here are some books you might find at the library to help you learn more.


by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

This illustrated story explains how the Constitution was drafted.


by Jean Fritz

This is a biography of James Madison, our country's fourth President.


by James Cross Giblin

This book includes well-known and new information about the first President of the United States.


Organize a Living Time Line

1. Have each group member choose an event from this unit to research, such as the Boston Tea Party or Paul Revere's ride.

2. List several facts about each event.

3. Write the name and date of your event on a large piece of oak tag. Decorate it with glitter, colorful markers, and colored tissue paper.

4. On another piece of oak tag, write several facts about your event. Make a border for your facts with ribbon and paint.

5. Tie together the left sides of the oak tog with a piece of string. Then tie together the right sides.

6. Place the pieces of oak tag over your head so that you are wearing one piece in front of you and one Piece behind you.

7. Participate in a living time with your group.


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