Published on March 11, 2014
Articles of Confederation Constitution of the United States
After the American Colonies defeated Great Britain in the Revolution, they needed to then set up a government Debate went on for many years over what type of government should control the new country The states were very different back then compared with today Today: a strong national government where the states have some power Then: each state operates almost as its own country, with the national government deciding only important items
The two early forms of government we set up created a union of states in America However, before the American Civil War, it was legal for a state to secede (or leave the union) “No state would have ever joined the union if they did not think they could leave it at a later time.”- Shelby Foote
Our first form of government, before the constitution Main points Each state keeps its freedom and independence The word “nation” or “government” is not mentioned once, instead it refers to the states as a “firm league of friendship” Annual appointment of delegates (term limits) Each state only has 1 vote on national issues, no matter how large the population Government does not have the power to tax states
After a few years, people began to realize that the AOC were not going to work, but fixing it was complicated What kind of government do we want? How much power should the states have? How much power should the national government have? Concerns: If congress has too much power, the states have less rights If the states have too much power, then our union as a country is weak
“The fundamental defect is a want of power in Congress. Too much power in the hands of individual states, making our union feeble and precarious.”- Alexander Hamilton “We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion.”- George Washington By 1787: The AOC was falling apart Country’s first great depression Small rebellions being led against taxes No national unity
In February of 1787, congress saw the need for something to be done about the American government Call for a convention “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein.” Two men, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, each tried to create the new document, but each had very different ideas of what it should look like
Federalists (like Hamilton): wanted a strong national government, also known as centralization Anti-Federalists (like Madison): wanted the states to keep their power and not give the national government too much authority
Argued for a strong government Hamilton was a genius (a financial wizard) but his ideas for a national government were flawed Ideas: “We must establish a general and national government, completely sovereign, and annihilate the state distinctions and state operations.” “I believe the British government forms the best model the world ever produced.” (Anyone see a problem with this?) “Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontrolling disposition requires checks.”
The idea of an “elected monarchy”: “Let one executive be appointed who dares execute his powers. An executive is less dangerous to the liberties of the people when in office during life, than for seven years.” Congress chooses the president Assemblymen: 3-year terms Senators: life terms President: all military power National law has more power than state law Each state has 1 vote no matter how large a population (equal representation)
James Madison nicknamed the “Father of the Constitution” Proposes idea of Republican government, where the people elect the president States are given votes based on how large their population is (proportional representation) Government has three branches (Can you name them?) Senators and delegates have term limits President has the power to veto
Lasted from May through September A meeting where representatives from the states would finally decide on a document that would govern the United States Part of the convention took place in the heat of summer, which was made worse because the windows of Independence Hall were nailed shut to keep people from listening in on what was said Guards posted outside Benjamin Franklin, who loved gossip, was warned to not talk about what was going on
Madison’s Plan: proportional representation, which benefited big states Hamilton’s Plan: equal representation, which gave small states an equal voice Great Compromise: House of Representatives given proportional representation, Senate given equal representation
Word “Slave” or “Slavery” never appears in the Constitution. One man, George Mason (ironically a southerner from Virginia) spoke out at the convention: “Every master of slaves born a petty tyrant.” Before that, John Jay: “To fight for liberty and to deny that blessing to others involves an inconsistency not be excused.” Failure to address slavery as a national issue only delayed the inevitable (the elephant in the room) Was such an explosive issue, that it was left for the states to decide
Because total population now meant how many votes a state was getting, this was seen as a problem by northern states Should slaves count as part of the population? They could not say yes or no, so AGAIN they compromised, which put off the problem, and did not deal with it once and for all When adding up slaves to figure out population, each slave would count as 3/5 of a person Remember, the word “slave” does not appear in the Constitution. They are instead referred to as “those bound to service”
Between 1777 and 1804, all northern states had begun thinking about freeing the slaves Only Vermont outright banned slavery in 1777 All other states gradually freed slaves Pennsylvania, 1780: all future-born slaves would become free at age 28. New York, 1799: all future-born boys would be freed at 28, girls at 25 New Jersey, 1804: future-born boys would be freed at 25, girls at 21
In 1807, the Constitution would ban the mid-Atlantic slave trade Northwest Ordinance: In 1787, slavery would be banned north of the Ohio River in any new territories joining the US
While the nation was finally united, the states were still torn over the issue of slavery Into the 1800’s, power in congress became slave states vs. the free states Slave states wanted new states to have slaves, while free states did not, so that each side could remain in power This would set up many conflicts and debates in congress, which would lead to the American Civil War many decades later
You must understand that during the founding of this country, people constantly disagreed with each other on many different issues. Sometimes things would get heated and there would be debates and conflicts, yet no matter how much we disagreed, we were always able to compromise and then come together as a nation The Civil War is the greatest example of how we did NOT compromise, because rather than work together and stick it out, certain states felt they were better off on their own, and tried to break the Union
Please write a 3-5 sentence response answering the following question: “Should a state have the right to secede from the United States of America? Why or why not?” There is no wrong answer as long as you back up your opinion!
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