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The Framing and Ratification of the

Constitution of the

United States


Articles of Confederation: First U.S. constitution, ratified in 1781. It created a loose union of states and a federal government with little power. The federal government consisted of a unicameral (one-house) legislature, no executive and no judicial branch. The Congress lacked the power to tax and to regulate interstate or foreign trade. The Congress did create administrative departments, such as for war/defense and foreign affairs, but most of the governmental power remained in the states. These weaknesses led to conflict between and among states, a disorganized foreign policy, and an ineffectual national government.

Land Ordinance, 1785: It set the process of westward expansion and land organization for all future territories

Northwest Ordinance, 1787: With the Land Ordinance of 1785, it represents one area of success of the Confederation era. It organized the Old Northwest territory into states; it banned slavery in these new territories.


Shays’ Rebellion: Uprising by farmers in Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays to protest debt and foreclosures on property by creditors. The farmers took over courts to stop judgments against their farms. Some began a march on Boston and rumors abounded that they were on a rampage to overthrow the government. The federal government’s inability to stop the uprising showed the weakness of the Articles and caused a national emergency.


“Miracle at Philadelphia”:Constitutional Convention of 1787

After the Confederation’s failure, the country’s leaders met in Philadelphia to create a new government. Washington presided and Franklin gave his authority to the project. Jefferson and Adams were not there. In the summer heat, with windows nailed shut and doors locked because of armed protesters marching outside, the delegates debated, disagreed, compromised, and drafted the Constitution of the United States, the oldest written constitution still in use.


Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804):

One of New York’s delegates at the Philadelphia convention, he led the Federalist faction, calling for a strong central government. Washington named him first Secretary of the Treasury. His economic policies helped create a foundation on which a national economy could grow. An opponent of Jefferson, he helped create the Federalist Party in the 1790s. He was killed in a duel with Vice-POTUS Aaron Burr in 1804.

James Madison (1751-1836):

Called the “Father of the Constitution,” he led the Virginia delegation at the convention; kept notes on convention proceedings; devised the Virginia Plan; and, with Hamilton, led the Federalist faction. To satisfy foes of the Constitution, he wrote the Bill of Rights (1791). He joined Jefferson’s Republican Party in the mid-1790s. He was 4th fourth POTUS.


Separation of Powers: Built on Montesquieu’s ideas of “divided sovereignty,” this divides power and authority among three branches of government so that government will not become too powerful.

Checks and Balances: Coinciding with the separation of powers, this system gives each branch of government a check (control) on the power of the other branches and thereby balances power among the three: in theory, no one branch is more powerful than the others. A primary example of the system is the presidential veto.


Virginia Plan: Conceived by Madison, it aimed to overhaul of the Articles and create a stronger central government: a bicameral legislature with representation based on population; a strong executive and judiciary selected by the legislature—also known as the “Large States Plan.”

New Jersey Plan: a.k.a. the “Small States Plan,” it proposed tweaking the Articles: keeping the unicameral legislature, but giving the national government the power to impose and collect taxes and to regulate trade; and creating a national judiciary. It kept the concepts of the confederation, maintaining the sovereignty of the individual states.

Connecticut Compromise: offered by Roger Sherman of Connecticut, it split the difference on the question of how representation would be determined. Following the Large States Plan, it called for a bicameral legislature with the lower house having proportional representation (by population), but in the upper chamber it protected the small states, granting equal representation (two Senators selected by each state).


Three-fifths Compromise: Counting slaves for representation was another thorny issue for the Convention.

Southerners wanted all slaves counted. Many northerners did not want to count any, but opponents of slavery understood this would diminish the slaves to a status of purely property, not people. The delegates settled on counting three of every five slaves (rendering each slave 3/5s of a person).

Slave Trade Compromise: Opponents of slavery won what many hoped would be a victory over slavery when the Constitution banned importation of slaves in 1808.

In return, southerners demanded that the federal government would require that runaway slaves who had crossed state lines be returned. This was made law in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.


WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure 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 the Constitution for the United States of America


The Federalist Papers: One of the most important documents in U.S. history, this series of essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay explains and defends the Constitution from the perspective of the Federalists (supporters of a strong central government).

Anti-Federalists: Unorganized group opposing the Constitution, they feared placing too much power in a federal government and defended the basic structure of the Articles of Confederation. The Anti-Federalists demanded that the Constitution be amended to protect the people and the states from an aggressive federal government.


Given the state’s past reluctance to be governed by central authorities, the Anti-Federalists composed a majority in North Carolina.

Led by Willie (Wylie) Jones, a planter and slaveowner in Northampton County who as a younger man led opposition to the Regulators at Alamance and as an older man refused nomination as a delegate to Philadelphia, Anti-Federalists feared the Constitution created an over-powerful central government. They believed it would result in a standing army, a U.S. Supreme Court that could overrule state courts, and a federal government that could regulate the economy for the benefit of a few well-placed men.

At the Hillsborough Convention of July-August 1788, they rejected the Constitution, even though eleven states had approved it (only nine were needed for it to take effect).

To establish a philosophical foundation for their opposition, Jones and the Anti-Federalists demanded that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution and until it was done, North Carolina was no longer part of the United States.


The Constitution did have some supporters in North Carolina. Most notable among them were James Iredell and William R. Davie.

Iredell was born in England and came to Edenton to serve as a tax collector. But he was an early supporter of American independence. He wrote an essay, Principles of an American Whig, before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Iredell led the successful Federalist movement at the “Second Convention” at Fayetteville in 1789. Because of his role in NC’s eventual ratification of the Constitution, George Washington named him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1790.


William R. Davie, born in England and educated in Charlotte, was an NC delegate to the Philadelphia Convention. Like Iredell and other Federalists, Davie believed that a stronger central government was needed to ensure the safety of citizens and protection of property. They were particularly struck by Shays’ Rebellion as a threat to the very existence of the country.

Later elected NC Governor, Davie was an important negotiator in the Convention of 1800 (Treaty of Mortfontaine) with Napoleon, ending the “Quasi-War” with France. With Willie Jones, he was a principal founder of the University of North Carolina.


Bill of Rights:

First 10 amendments to the Constitution, drafted by James Madison to satisfy concerns of Anti-Federalists. It was necessary to win the support of North Carolina.

It describes the rights retained by the people and the states under the new more centralized system.