Lecture 5 establishing a new nation 1783 1789
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LECTURE # 5 : Establishing A New Nation ( 1783-1789 ). Presented by Derrick J. Johnson, MPA, JD Advanced Placement United States History School for Advanced Studies. The First National American Government .

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LECTURE # 5 : Establishing A New Nation ( 1783-1789 )

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LECTURE #5: Establishing A New Nation (1783-1789)

Presented by

Derrick J. Johnson, MPA, JD

Advanced Placement United States History

School for Advanced Studies

The First National American Government

  • By 1777, ten new state constitutions had been written. Most of these documents limited the powers of the governor due to the fact that most governors were a symbol of British oppressive power.

  • All states, except for Pennsylvania and Vermont had adopted Bicameral legislatures and most states had some form of a Bill of Rights.

  • In the fall of 1777, the Continental Congress sent a proposed constitution, the Articles of Confederation, out to the states for ratification.

  • Ratified in 1781, the Articles of Confederation (AC) was the first constitution for the United States.

  • It created a government that featured the following:

    • A unicameral legislature where each state had one vote regardless of size and population.

    • For amending the AC and ratification, unanimous consent of all thirteen colonies was needed.

    • The national government was given the power to conduct foreign relations, mediate disputes between states and borrow money.

    • However, the government could not raise taxes, regulate commerce, or raise an army.

  • Financial problems plagued the new nation after the war. Many merchants had over extended themselves by importing foreign goods after the war.

  • Large numbers of American veterans had never been paid for their service and the national government had large war debts.

  • Because the AC made it impossible for the national government to tax, the government began to increase its printing of paper currency called “continentals.”

  • However, due to inflation, these continentals soon became worthless.

  • The government was kept afloat through loans from France.

The Northwest Ordinances

  • The sale of land in the West was one way the national government could make money. So the government began to encourage westward settlement.

  • By 1790, nearly 110,000 settlers were living in Kentucky and Tennessee.

  • The Northwest Ordinances of 1784, 1785 and 1787 regulated the sale of lands in the Northwest Territory.

  • The Northwest Ordinances of 1784 provided governmental structure for the territories and it created a system where the territory could become a state.

  • The Northwest Ordinances of 1785 spelled out the orderly procedure for the sale of land.

  • The Northwest Ordinances of 1787 stated that any territory with 60,000 white males could apply for statehood, provided a bill of rights for settlers, and prohibited slavery north of the Ohio River. The prohibition of slavery provision would become extremely controversial.

Shay’s Rebellion

  • Like farmers in other parts of the colonies, farmers in the western Massachusetts were in desperate shape in the years after the war. Many owed large amounts to creditors, The Massachusetts Assembly had raised taxes and inflation had weakened their economic position.

  • From 1786-1787, a group of farmers rebelled against the government of Massachusetts, closing government buildings and freeing other farmers from debtor’s prison.

  • This rebellion became known as Shay’s rebellion after its leader, Daniel Shay.

  • The rebellion began to spread throughout the state and it picked up support in other New England states.

  • The Rebellion was eventually put down by an army paid for by the citizens of Boston and by lowering taxes.

  • Shay’s Rebellion demonstrated that the government established under the AC was weak and that a stronger government was needed to maintain order.

Towards A New Government

  • After Shay’s Rebellion, many Americans viewed the national government created by the Articles of Confederation as being weak and flawed.

  • The emphasis of the government was more on local state concerns rather than national/continental concerns.

  • In 17887, delegates from 13 states went to Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. Among the notable delegates were George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin.

  • The original aim of the meeting was to amend the AC. However, debates quickly turned away from reforming the AC to creating a new national government.

  • Most delegates believed that the central government had to be much stronger with the ability to do the following:

    • Raise an army.

    • Collect taxes.

    • Regulate commerce.

  • However, some delegates feared having a powerful federal government because:

    • They were concerned about the limits of the government’s power.

    • They also had concerns about who would ultimately exercise that power.

  • Smaller states favored having a legislature with one vote per state while the larger states favored representation based on population.

  • As the debate over the new constitution thickened, several plans began to emerge to address the issue of representation.

The Virginia Plan

  • Edmund Randolph presented the Virginia Plan, which proposed:

    • A bicameral legislature

    • The number of representatives would be based on population.

  • James Madison also proposed a structure of three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial.

The New Jersey Plan

  • Smaller states opposed the Virginia Plan, and the feared dominance by the larger states. In lieu of this, they introduced the New Jersey Plan which proposed:

    • A unicameral legislature

    • The number of representatives would be based on equal representation (one vote per state).

  • The larger states opposed the plan.

The Great Compromise

  • The delegation from Connecticut, sensing the dissatisfaction of the large states with the New Jersey Plan and the dissatisfaction of the small states with the Virginia Plan, sought to offer a compromise.

  • The Connecticut Plan, later became known as the Great Compromise, was offered to appease both the large and small states. It featured the following:

    • A bicameral legislature

      • The Senate and the House of Representatives

    • The number of representatives in the House would be based on population.

    • Each state would have two senators elected by the state legislatures to serve in the Senate (equal representation).

The Great Compromise

  • Many delegates were skeptical of having a chief executive (president). The were fearful of establishing an American version of the king. To help ease their fears, they created safeguards to curb his powers. Such limitations included:

    • Selection by an Electoral College.

    • Giving Congress exclusive power to tax and spend

    • Requiring judicial and executive appointments to be confirmed by the senate.

The 3/5th Compromise

  • The issue of slavery was discussed several times during the continental convention.

  • It was decided that slavery would not be regulated by the national government for 20 years.

  • However, much debate took place over how slaves should be counted when determining representation. Southern states wanted to count their slave population in their total population for apportionment. Northern states objected to this.

  • The issue was resolved by the Three-Fifths Compromise which stated that slaves would count as 3/5 of a person for apportionment purposes.

The New Constitution

  • Drafting of the Constitution took about three months. The primary author of the Constitution was James Madison. The delegates agreed that the Constitution would go into effect as soon as popularly elected conventions in nine states approved it.

  • The final product was a seven articles document that became the second constitution of the United States. Each article dealt with a specific area of the federal government:

  • Article I

    • Concerned the legislative powers and structure of Congress

    • Qualifications of Senators and Representatives

    • Vacancies

    • Removal powers of Congress

    • Executive and judicial checks of Congress

  • Article II

    • Concerned the executive powers of the President

    • Legislative and judicial checks of the President

    • The selection and tenure of the President

    • Eligibility of the office of President

    • Succession to the office of President

    • Removal from office

    • Compensation of the President

    • Military power of the President

  • Article III

    • Concerned the powers of the federal judiciary

    • The tenure and jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    • Trial by jury

    • Penalty for treason

  • Article IV

    • Discussed the notion of federalism.

    • Privileges and immunities

    • Slavery

    • Admission of new states and territories.

    • Power over federal property

  • Article V

    • Amending the Constitution

  • Article VI

    • Supremacy Clause

  • Article VII

    • Statement of ratification

The Ratification Debate

  • The debate over ratification raged throughout the country. Two main groups were formed over the debate: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

  • The Federalists supported the greatly increased powers of the central government and believed that the Constitution adequately protected individual liberties.

  • The Anti-Federalists believed that the proposed government would be oppressive and more individual freedoms and rights should be explicitly guaranteed. They equated the potential tyranny they saw in the new government with the practices of the British monarchs. Because of this, they felt that giving powers to individual states would act as a check on the national government and it would prevent federal tyranny.

The Federalist Papers

  • Ratification of the Constitution was defended by the Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. These documents contains some of the most basic and brilliantly argued philosophical underpinnings of American government.

  • Two of the most famous papers are Federalist Papers #10 and #51. Federalist Paper #10 argued that separation of powers and federalism would check the spread of tyranny. Thus, each branch of the federal government would prevent the other two branches from gaining a concentration of power. Madison also argued that constitutional principles guard against the dangers of direct democracy and the persistence of factions and interest groups.

  • Federalist Paper #51 explained why strong government is necessary. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The Bill of Rights

  • A compromise between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was reached in order to ensure ratification of the Constitution.

  • It was agreed that ten amendments would be added to guarantee individual freedoms and rights. These ten Amendments were known as the The Bill of Rights (BOR). The BOR stated the following.

  • Amendment I

    • Freedom of religion

    • Freedom of the press

    • Freedom of association

    • Freedom of speech

    • Freedom of assembly

    • Right to petition the government for a redress of grievances  

  • Amendment II

    • Right to bear arms

  • Amendment III

    • Quartering of soldiers

  • Amendment IV

    • Unreasonable search and seizure

  • Amendment V

    • Federal right to due process

    • Eminent domain powers

    • Right against self incrimination

  • Amendment VI

    • Right to a speedy trial

    • Right to an attorney

    • Right to confront your accuser

  • Amendment VII

    • Trial by jury in civil trials

  • Amendment VIII

    • Right against cruel and unusual punishment.

    • Right against excessive bail.

  • Amendment IX

    • Rights retained by the people.

  • Amendment X

    • Powers reserved to the states

The Ratification

  • With the proposal of the BOR, the new constitution was ratified on July 26, 1788 by 11 states. It was ratified by North Carolina in 1789 and by Rhode Island in 1790. Elections for new officials under the new constitution were held in 1788 and the elected officials took office on March 4, 1789.


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