Constitutional Period/Critical Period/Federalist Period

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Constitutional Period/Critical Period/Federalist Period
1783-1800
By Emily Rose, Rachel Brunsman, and Stephanie Fullenwider

Overview

Ending the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. During the war, the Articles of Confederation had been drafted, creating a confederation out of the colonies for the first time. Under the Articles, the government could not raise an army or tax. It also lacked centralized power because of the absence of an executive branch. The only strong aspect of the Articles was its orderly settlement of the west, as seen in the Land Ordinance of 1784 and 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Those in favor of a stronger central government became known as the Nationalists, and they wanted the federal government to have more power than the states’ governments. Their concerns were exemplified after Shay’s Rebellion in 1786. Although the rebellion was blown out of proportion, it convinced many that a stronger government was needed to control similar outbursts in the future. The government’s inability to tax and raise an army, as well as their lack of central power, led to what became known as the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Founding Fathers met to fix the problems with the Articles, but ended up drafting the Constitution instead. During the convention, several different plans were discussed. The first was the Virginia Plan, written by James Madison, which suggested the existence of both an executive and legislative branch. The legislative branch was to have two houses of Congress, each with representation based on population. In contrast, the New Jersey Plan was to have a unicameral legislative branch with equal representation for each state. With the help of Benjamin Franklin, the Great Compromise was created, which combined the two plans. It called for three branches; including a legislative branch comprised of two houses. The Senate was to have equal representation from each state, while the House was to have representation based upon population. To settle the dispute over counting slaves, the Three-Fifths Compromise would count each slave as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes. Also, slavery was neither endorsed nor condemned by the Constitution. The founding fathers were aware of the problems with giving one man, or one branch, too much power, and for this reason they developed a system of checks and balances, in which each branch was able to check certain powers of the others. Those favoring the Constitution became known as Federalists, and among them were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, George Washington, and John Jay. They believed in a loose interpretation of the Constitution, stating that what it does not forbid, it permits. However, many were against the Constitution because they feared the Elastic Clause would give the legislative branch too much power. They were known as the Anti-Federalists, or the Jeffersonian Republicans. To support ratification of the Constitution, Madison and Hamilton composed a series of essays, which came to be known as the Federalist Papers. By June 21, 1788, the required nine states had ratified the Constitution. Those that had opposed it now followed a strict interpretation, believing that what the Constitution does not permit, it forbids. They were scared that individual rights would not be protected by the Constitution. In order to defeat this problem, the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The first nine amendments gave specific guarantees of personal freedoms, while the tenth gave powers to the states not held by the federal government. The first test for the new government was when George Washington became the nation’s first president in 1789. He assigned Alexander Hamilton as his secretary of treasury. Hamilton had many policies to promote economic growth, including establishing a national bank and funding a national debt. His polices were debated widely and eventually...
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