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The Development To The United States Constitution

1546 words - 6 pages

Why did the Americans select the constitutional order they did in 1787-1789, and why did they reject a more democratic and confederal form not more than a decade old? In 1787, twenty-nine delegates convened in Philadelphia to tweak the Articles of Confederation. Some delegates, however, arrived with the intention of creating a completely new constitution. James Madison proposed the Virginia Plan, a plan which advocated a balanced, three-branch method of government with a bicameral, or two-house, Congress. In contrast, William Paterson submitted the New Jersey Plan which merely amended the Articles by giving the federal government more power. Ultimately, the Articles were abolished, the Virginia Plan was chosen, and the Constitution was adopted. The Constitutional delegates wrote the Constitution with the goals of creating commensurate representation, answering the question of state sovereignty, and ensuring a government that was free from tyranny.
The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781, and the United States government operated under them for eight years. From 1776 through 1787, two political parties dominated in America – the Federalists and the Nationalists. Led by Alexander Hamilton, the moderate Nationalists believed in a substantial national government that held sovereignty over the states. The Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson, believed in a feeble federal government and state sovereignty. Under the Articles, the Federalists held the majority view. The thirteen states assembled in an alliance they termed a “…firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare” (Articles of Confederation). The Articles, however, created economic problems. Most of the states printed their own, often inflated, money, and then mandated that creditors had to take these inflated bills from those who owed money. The nation fell into a recession after the Revolutionary War and the disastrous financial situation allowed by the Articles only made matters worse. The problems with the Articles became undeniable in 1786 when Daniel Shay, a Massachusetts farmer and retired captain in the Continental Army, led his fellow farmers in resistance against farm foreclosures. He led armed bands of these men against the courts of western Massachusetts in an effort to force a closure of the court system (Text, 110). The rebellion was defeated by January of the following year but it was clear that change was needed.
By the time that Shay’s Rebellion occurred, the Nationalists ad been trying to amend the Articles of Confederation for several years. Unfortunately, doing so required a unanimous vote among the states and the Confederation Congress could not leverage such unanimity. In September of 1786, representatives from the five states bordering the Chesapeake Bay convened in Annapolis, Maryland, for the supposed purpose of discussing trade issues. “The Nationalists among the...

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