APUSH- Block C
18 November 2018
Shaping America’s Future
The American Revolution sparked a new era of change in America. America was viewed as a “rising empire” by its people (Foner 258). Americans desired freedom and economic prosperity, but the reality was far from these goals. It was a struggle for independence within America and led to great conflict over how to govern the new nation that everyone hoped America would be. The Constitution was written as a response to this conflict. It was written to mediate the conflict between the opposing sides in America. From 1789-1815, there were many major disagreements and compromises that molded the final content of the Constitution that solved the problem of factions and sectionalism. Compromises were created as a response to the disagreements in America. From the the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century, there were many major disagreements and compromises that forced the two sides to accept each other’s opposing views, but did not abolish factions altogether or make everyone completely satisfied.
George Washington, George Mason, and Benjamin Franklin were among the fifty-five men who gathered for the Constitutional Convention. According to John Adams, the convention was a gathering of men of “ability, weight, and experience” (Foner 267). The delegates agreed on many points including the creation of a legislature, an executive, and a national judiciary. Money could be raised by the government without the states’ involvement. Finding a balance between the opposing claims of liberty and power was essential in the creation of a successful government. Soon after, disagreements emerged based on representation in Congress. As a resolution to this conflict, James Madison proposed the Virginia Plan. It suggested the creation of a two-house legislature, where representation would be based on each state’s population. States with smaller populations feared that the states with large populations would control and overtake the government. As a result, they supported the New Jersey Plan, which called for a single-house Congress in which each state would cast one vote, no matter the population. Eventually, a two-house Congress consisting of a Senate with two members from each state and a House of Representatives was established as a compromise. State legislatures would elect senators for six-year terms. Every two years, representatives were to be elected by the people, giving them a voice in government. This new form of election helped move the government closer to a democracy. The compromise of a two-house Congress with a Senate and a House of Representatives helped create a middle ground between the opposing sides of small states and large states, but did not completely fulfill either side’s needs.
The ideas of federalism and “checks and balances” are prominent in the Constitution. Federalism is “the relationship between the national government and the states” (Foner 269). The states were not allowed to issue paper money, hinder contracts, interfere with interstate commerce, or charge their own import or export taxes. Education and law enforcement remained in the hands of the states. This created great conflict over power and government, which is still apparent today. The “separation of powers,” or the system of “checks and balances,” was put in place to assure that no branch of the government had more power over another and that state governments would not be overpowered by federal governments. The president was given the power to veto laws that Congress suggests, but in order to pass legislation over his objection, a two-thirds majority must be present. Federal judges would serve for life after they are nominated by the president and approved by Congress. The powers of the president, such as how long they could serve and how much power they could have, were questioned as well. According to the Senate, the president may be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” (Foner 270). The systems of “checks and balances” helped balance power between government, but did not completely divide power evenly between each branch, with some branches still being given more power.
There were many disagreements due to the Constitution, perhaps none more influential than the debate about slaves and slavery. The main issues of debate were how large or how small the population should be to determine fair representation among the states and whether or not the slave trade would be banned or not. According to James Madison, “the institution of slavery and its implications” created a separation among the delegates (Foner 270). Both slaveholders and abolitionists of slavery gathered in Philadelphia, leading to great conflict. Neither of the words “slave” or “slavery” appeared in the Constitution, since many people feared that it would damage the goal of American freedom. As a result, Congress could not abolish slave trade for twenty years. Determined to defend slavery, South Carolina’s delegates created the fugitive slave clause, the three-fifths clause, and the electoral college. The three-fifths clause stated that three-fifths of the slave population would be counted in determining each state’s representation in government, which gave the slaves power that they previously did not have. By giving slaves more power, the number of southern votes in the House of Representatives and in the electoral college increased dramatically. The delegates’ threats convinced many delegates to rethink their previous laws. Although the new clauses in the Constitution were introduced as compromises, the people who did not support slavery were left very unhappy.
The issue of ratification was also a topic of debate due to the Constitution. Although only nine states out of thirteen needed to give their approval, ratification did not seem likely to happen. Those who opposed ratification feared that a tyrannical power would overpower and dominate them, just as Britain did. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote a series of eighty-five essays in order to gain support for ratification in a book, called The Federalist. At the time, the authors of the essays had absolutely no idea the profound impact that they would have on America today. They represented one small part of a huge debate over the broad topic of ratification. The main problem with ratification was the large opposition against it. The Anti-Federalists, known opponents of ratification, stated the Constitution gave people too much power instead of both freedom and power. They did not have the leadership and unity of those who supported ratification. Their leaders consisted of included politicians who feared losing their influence and power over people. Some people who opposed the Constitution criticized its protections for slavery, while others feared that Congress would implement a law for the abolition of slavery. The Anti-Federalists feared that the new government would falter and be overthrown. They also did not support the fact the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights, which left rights such as trial by jury and freedom of speech and the press out in the open. James Madison eventually composed the Bill of rights to appease the Anti-Federalists and those who opposed ratification. Hamilton and Madison stated that the Constitution made political tyranny almost impossible, which made many people very satisfied with the government and the actions taken to make America a better nation. Although many people were very happy with the new government and ratification, some people, such as the Anti-Federalists, were still not pleased with the steps that the government was taking.
Although there were many compromises created in response to the disagreements due to the Constitution, the compromises did not solve the problem of factions and sectionalism completely. There were still oppositions for nearly every topic in the Constitution. The debate on how to govern the new, independent nation was the most controversial. The compromise of a two-house Congress with a Senate and a House of Representatives, the system of “checks and balances,” the new slave clauses, and the creation of Bill of Rights solved many problems, but did not make everyone completely happy with the new government. Many people did not support these new ideas and factions and sectionalism did not completely go away. There was still opposition by many groups, no matter the compromise.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History (Third Edition). Vol. 2.
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