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SSUSH5. The student will explain specific events and key ideas that brought about the adoption and implementation of the United States Constitution. 5.a- Explain how the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and Daniel Shays’ Rebellion led to a call for a stronger national government.

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The student will explain specific events and key ideas that brought about the adoption and implementation of the United States Constitution


5.a- Explain how the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and Daniel Shays’ Rebellion led to a call for a stronger national government

  • The Articles of Confederation was the first constitutional government of the United States. It was formed in the midst of the Revolution, (proposed in 1777, and formally adopted in 1781.)
  • The Articles created a “confederation” style government, which means that the constituent states were essentially sovereign and independent. The designers of the Articles purposefully established a weak national authority, because they believed that most matters were best left to the governments of each state. The national government, under the articles, consisted of a single branch- a unicameral Congress, and would only handle matters that affected the 13 states as a whole- national defense, diplomacy with foreign nations, etc.
  • Through the 1780s, however, the weaknesses of the Articles began to seriously hamper the effectiveness of the national government. Two detrimental weakness came to produce serious problems for the young nation, 1) Congress under the articles had no power to tax, and 2) no power to regulate trade between the states.
shays rebellion and interstate commerce
Shays’ Rebellion and interstate commerce
  • In 1786, an event in western Massachusetts put the weaknesses of the national government under the Articles into sharp relief. Daniel Shays was an army captain during the Revolutionary War.
  • Like many veterans, Shays ran into hard times in the post-Revolution years of inflation, and a corresponding lack of currency. When the Massachusetts government refused to print more paper money and lenders began foreclosing on farmsteads for non-payment, Shays gathered a group of farmers who took up arms and led a full-scale rebellion.
  • Fearing that the unrest might spread, leaders from various states began to take seriously the idea of altering the Articles to address the fact that the National Congress had no way of raising revenue through taxation.
  • Other events around the same time also convinced various state leaders to address amendments to the Articles. Many states had developed prohibitive trade regulations against other states to try and strengthen their own economies. The effect was contentious inter-state relations, and economic inefficiency in national trade as a whole. Leaders from several states met in 1785 and 1786 to discuss the problem of interstate trade.
  • These ongoing issues, with the addition of Shays Rebellion, convinced all but Rhode Island to elect delegates to attend yet another meeting in 1787. The meeting was held in Philadelphia, and shortly after it began the 55 delegates in attendance agreed that simply revising the Articles would not be enough. Rather, an entirely new constitution needed to be drafted. The Philadelphia Convention then turned into the Constitutional Convention.

5.c- Explain the key features of the Constitution, specifically the Great Compromise, separation of powers, limited government, and the issue of slavery

  • Once the delegates (now known as the “Framers”) gathered at Philadelphia determined to scrap the Articles and draft a new Constitution, they had to decide how the new government would be structured, and how much power would be given to the national government.
  • Several key decisions and compromises were made between the delegates of the 13 states.
  • The idea of “limited government” was an important consideration of the Framers as well. Simply put, this is the idea that government is not all powerful, and that no one, not even the government itself , is above the rule of law established in the Constitution. A related concept is that of “popular sovereignty,” meaning that under our Constitution, the people hold the ultimate authority of government. The first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution, “We the people,” indicates this principle.
great compromise
Great Compromise
  • One of the most important compromises achieved at the Constitutional Convention, later known as the “Great Compromise” (also sometimes referred to as the Connecticut Compromise) had to do with how the states would be represented in the national government.
  • There was a fear, especially among smaller states, that they would have too little say in the newly formed Congress, when compared to the larger states. A solution was reached by creating a bicameral Congress, where the membership of one house would be determined by population (House of Representatives), while in the other house (Senate) states would be represented equally.
  • A state’s population determines how many members it has in the House of Representatives. States with large populations have more members in the House. For example, California, the most populous state, has 53. Georgia has 13 House members, and a state like Wyoming, the least populous state in the union, only gets one. In the Senate, all states, regardless of size, have two Senators.
separation of powers
Separation of Powers
  • The Framers also agreed to create a government based on the principle of separation of powers. To activate this principle (inspired in part by the French political philosopher Montesquieu) the Framers created three separate and independent branches of government- legislative, executive and judicial.
  • Furthermore, the Framers devised a system of “checks and balances, ” so that no one branch could exercise too much power independently. One example of checks and balances is the process of nominating federal judges. The president nominates judges, but the Senate must approve that choice. The legislative branch (Senate) can “check and balance” the power of the executive branch (president) to nominate judges serving in the judicial branch.
limited government
Limited Government
  • The idea of “limited government” was an important consideration of the Framers as well. Simply put, this is the idea that government is not all powerful, and that no one, not even the government itself , is above the rule of law established in the Constitution. A related concept is that of “popular sovereignty,” meaning that under our Constitution, the people hold the ultimate authority of government. The first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution, “We the people,” indicates this principle.
  • The idea of limited government in the Anglo-American tradition goes back to 1215, when King John of England signed the Magna Carta, agreeing to abide by certain limitations in the exercise of his power.
the constitution and slavery
The Constitution and Slavery
  • Another major compromise reached at the 1787 Constitutional Convention dealt with the divisive issue of slavery. Some delegates from northern states, all of which had abolished slavery by that point, argued that the slave populations in the South should not be counted for representation in the federal Congress. The southern states thought they should and a compromise was reached to count 3 out of every 5 slaves for representation and taxation purposes. This is known as the 3/5 Compromise.
  • Interestingly, the words slavery or slave never appear in the Constitution. Instead, in the clause establishing the 3/5 provision, slave populations are referred to as “other persons.”
  • The Framers also reached a compromise to place a 20 year moratorium on any laws that would prohibit the slave trade. When the moratorium was satisfied in 1809, Congress passed laws that banned the foreign slave trade, but left the domestic trade intact where it existed.

5.b- Evaluate the arguments of the anti-Federalists and Federalists during the debate on ratification of the Constitution as put forth in the Federalist Papers, concerning form of government, factions, checks and balances, and the power of the executive, including the roles of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison

  • Once the Constitution was finished, it was sent to the 13 state legislatures to be ratified. 9 of the 13 states had to ratify the new Constitution for it to take effect.
  • As the document made its way through the various state houses and among the public, a great debate emerged about whether to support ratification. Two sides emerged: The Federalists supported ratification, while the Anti-Federalists did not.
  • The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and others, supported the Constitution because they believed that for the United States to be truly “united,” the central (national) government must be given more power- as the Constitution did by allowing the federal government to tax, regulate trade, and enforce its laws with a powerful chief executive (president).
  • The Anti-Federalists, led by old-school Patriots like Patrick Henry, were opposed the Constitution because they thought the government it created was too powerful. They believed that most powers of government should reside with the states.
federalist papers
Federalist Papers
  • The Federalist Papers were a series of 89 essays written by leading Federalists Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay. They were intended to convince (especially) New York to ratify the Constitution.
  • In these essays, the authors made a forceful and eloquent case for ratification, extolling the numerous advantages of the republican form of federal government created by the Constitution, as well as the virtues of a strong executive.
  • The Anti-Federalists continued to argue that the government created by the Constitution was too powerful and might lead to tyranny. They insisted that a Bill of Rights be amended to the Constitution, and its guarantee proved to be the last major hurdle to get the Constitution ratified, which it finally was on 17 September 1789.
5 d analyze how the bill of rights serves as a protector of individual and states rights
5.d- Analyze how the Bill of Rights serves as a protector of individual and states’ rights
  • The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, were ratified in 1791. Whereas the original Constitution consists almost solely of how the government CAN exercise its power, the Bill of Rights are mostly guarantees of what the government CANNOT do to the states and their citizens.
  • The Bill of Rights protects the rights of citizens to free speech, religious freedom, free assembly, protections from government search and seizure, protections and rights for people accused of crimes,protections from cruel punishments, and provisions that any powers not given to the national government are “reserved” for the states.

5.e- Explain the importance of the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams; include the Whiskey Rebellion, non-intervention in Europe, and the development of political parties

  • Global and domestic events during the first two presidencies provided a real test of the responsibilities and authority given the national government and the office of the president under the new Constitution.
whiskey rebellion
Whiskey Rebellion
  • George Washington, hero of the Revolution, was the near unanimous choice to be the first person to grace the office of president. He served two terms, choosing not to run in 1796 so as to establish a principle of a willful and peaceful transition of power in the nation’s highest office.
  • During his second term, he was faced with enforcing the federal government’s right to tax. In western Pennsylvania, an uprising had occurred over a federal tax on whiskey. The Whiskey Tax was imposed ostensibly as a source of revenue for the national government, but it had as much to do with the principle of a federal tax as it did with actually raising funds.
  • Western farmers argued it was an undue burden on their prosperity and periodically protested the tax and harassed federal tax collectors after its initial passage in 1791. In 1794, resistance to the tax climaxed with a full scale rebellion among farmers near Pittsburgh. The federal government intervened with military force to quell the rebellion- reinforcing the principle of federal tax enforcement, and marking the one and only time a Commander-in-Chief (president) led American forces in the field.
non intervention in europe
Non-Intervention in Europe
  • John Adams, Washington’s vice-president, was elected president in 1796, after GW decided not to seek a third term. A major issue facing Adams during his presidency was the increasingly nasty situation among European powers, especially the long-standing bitterness between the English and the French.
  • Both of these European superpowers were vying for military and commercial dominance, leaving the young and not-yet-powerful United States in the middle of the feud.
  • Following Washington’s advice to “avoid entangling alliances” Adams pursued a policy of non-intervention in European affairs. This isolationism became a driving force in US foreign policy for the next century and a half.
  • Events during the Adams administration tested the policy of neutrality. For example, a scandal involving the bribery of French diplomats (XYZ Affair) aroused public outcry and eventually led to a series of naval skirmishes known as the Quasi-War.
development of political parties
Development of Political Parties
  • Another important development during the Adams administration was the full emergence of political parties. Washington was not a member of any party, and was strongly opposed to what he saw as the “baneful effect” of political factions. Strong sentiments about the nature of federal power still lingered however, and parties coalesced around these two opposing viewpoints. The central tenets of each party were quite similar to the Federalist /Anti-federalist arguments during the ratification debate.
  • Hamilton, Madison, along with President Adams led what became the Federalist Party, while Thomas Jefferson became the lead voice in the opposition party, called the Democratic-Republicans, or Jeffersonian Democrats or in their own day, Republicans. The two-party system that emerged in this early phase of American political history profoundly shaped our political structures, and continues to have a great impact to the present.