American Constitution

American Constitution

  • The United States Constitution was written in 1787 during the Philadelphia Convention. After ratification in eleven states, in 1789 elected officers of government assembled in New York City, replacing the Articles of Confederation government.


Declaration of Independence:

  • On June 4, 1776, a resolution was introduced in the Second Continental Congress declaring the union with Great Britain to be dissolved, proposing the formation of foreign alliances, and suggesting the drafting of a plan of confederation to be submitted to the respective states.
  • Independence was declared on July 4, 1776; the preparation of a plan of confederation was postponed. Although the Declaration was a statement of principles, it did not create a government or even a framework for how politics would be carried out. It was the Articles of Confederation that provided the necessary structure to the new nation during and after the American Revolution.
  • The Declaration, however, did set forth the ideas of natural rights and the social contract that would help form the foundation of constitutional government.
  • The era of the Declaration of Independence is sometimes called the “Continental Congress” period.

Revolutionary Congress:

  • The government of the First and Second Continental Congress, the period from September 1774 to March 1, 1781 is referred to as the Revolutionary Congress.
  • Beginning in 1777, the substantial powers assumed by Congress made the league of states as cohesive and strong. The process created the United States “by the people in collectivity, rather than by the individual states” because only four had state constitutions at the time of the Declaration of Independence.

Articles of Confederation:

  • The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was a document signed amongst the thirteen original colonies that established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution.
  • Its drafting by a committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress began on July 12, 1776, and an approved version was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777. The formal ratification by all thirteen states was completed in early 1781.
  • Over the previous four years, it had been used by Congress as a “working document” to administer the early United States government, win the Revolutionary War and secure the Treaty of Paris (1783) with Great Britain.
  • Lasting successes during its life prior to the Constitutional Convention included the Land Ordinance of 1785 whereby Congress promised settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains full citizenship and eventual statehood.

Weaknesses of Articles of Confederation:

  • This period from 1781 to 1789 is characterized as weakness, dissension, and turmoil. But it also had the evidence of an underlying stability and prosperity. But signs of returning prosperity in some areas did not slow growing domestic and foreign problems. Nationalists saw that the confederation’s central government was not strong enough to establish a sound financial system, regulate trade, enforce treaties, or go to war when needed.
  • The Congress was the sole organ of the national government, without a national court to interpret law nor an executive branch to enforce them. Governmental functions, including declarations of war and calls for an army, were supported in some degree for some time, by each state voluntarily, or not .
  • These newly independent states separated from Britain no longer received favored treatment at British ports. The British refused to negotiate a commercial treaty in 1785 because the individual American states would not be bound by it.
  • Congress could not act directly upon the States nor upon individuals. It had no authority to regulate foreign or interstate commerce. Every act of government was left to the individual States. Each state levied taxes and tariffs on other states at will, which invited retaliation. Congress could vote itself mediator and judge in state disputes, but states did not have to accept its decisions.
  • The weak central government could not back its policies with military strength, embarrassing it in foreign affairs. The British refused to withdraw their troops from the forts and trading posts in the new nation’s Northwest Territory, as they had agreed to do in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. British officers on the northern boundaries and Spanish officers to the south supplied arms to Native American tribes, allowing them to attack American settlers. The Spanish refused to allow western American farmers to use their port of New Orleans to ship produce.
  • Revenues were requisitioned by Congressional petition to each state. None paid what they were asked. Connecticut declared it would not pay at all for two years.
  • Congress appealed to the thirteen states for an amendment to the Articles to tax enough to pay the public debt. Twelve states agreed, Rhode Island did not, so it failed. The Articles required super majorities. Amendment proposals to states required ratification by all thirteen states, all important legislation needed 70% approval, at least nine states. Repeatedly, one or two states defeated legislative proposals of major importance.
  • Without taxes the government could not pay its debt. Seven of the thirteen states printed large quantities of its own paper money, backed by gold, land, or nothing, so there was no fair exchange rate among them.
  • The Massachusetts legislature was one of the five against paper money. It imposed a tightly limited currency and high taxes. Without paper money veterans without cash lost their farms at sheriff’s auction for taxes. This triggered Shays Rebellion to stop tax collectors and close the courts until the proceedings were dropped. Troops quickly suppressed the rebellion, but nationalists like George Washington warned, “There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to.”

Steps to a convention:

Mount Vernon Conference

  • Movement towards replacing the Articles of Confederation began the year after its formal adoption in June 1784. George Washington, the future president of the Convention, hosted Virginia and Maryland commissioners to negotiate joint commercial regulation. The compact drafted by the Mount Vernon Commission suggested a convention of states to effectually provide for a uniform commercial system throughout the United States.
  • This meant overcoming tariffs that the states had erected against one another during the Articles of Confederation regime. It was an idea for free trade across political boundaries like that advocated by Adam Smith in his influential 1776 Wealth of Nations.

Grand Committee:

  • The Articles Congress received a “Grand Committee” report on August 7, 1786 proposing seven amendments to the states for power to render the federal government adequate power. It was to be adopted into the Articles of Confederation.
  • Congress was to have sole and exclusive power to regulate trade. States could not favor foreigners over citizens. Tax bills would require 70% vote, public debt 85%, not 100%. Congress could charge states a late payment penalty fee. A state withholding troops would be charged for them. If a state did not pay, Congress could collect directly from its cities and counties. There would have been a national court.
  • The “Grand Committee” proposals for seven amendments to the Articles of Confederation were sent back to committee without a vote.

Annapolis Convention:

  • Nine of the thirteen United States appointed commissioners to meet at Annapolis in September 1786. They were to formulate recommendations for improvements in the international trade and interstate commerce that was faltering under the regime of the Articles of Confederation. In the event, only five States were represented, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.
  • More than trade and commerce, their purpose would be to examine the defects of the Articles of Confederation government and to formulate a plan for supplying such defects as may be discovered.
  • The final report of the convention was sent to the Congress and to the states. The report asked support for a broader constitutional convention to be held the following May in Philadelphia. It expressed the hope that more states would be represented and that their delegates or deputies would be authorized to examine areas broader than simply commercial trade.
  • The direct result of the Annapolis Convention report and the ensuing events was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, during which the United States Constitution was drafted.

Constitutional Convention or Philadelphia Convention:

  • The Congress of the Confederation endorsed a plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787. It called on each state legislature to send delegates to a convention.
  • Twelve state legislatures, Rhode Island being the only exception, sent delegates to convene at Philadelphia in May 1787. While the resolution calling the Convention specified that its purpose was to propose amendments to the Articles, through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that the Convention would propose a Constitution with a fundamentally new design.
  • George Washington was elected the Convention president, and Chancellor (judge) George Wythe was chosen Chair of the Rules Committee.
  • The Constitutional Convention voted to keep the debates secret so that the delegates could speak freely, negotiate, bargain, compromise and change.The accepted secrecy of usual affairs conducted in regular order did not apply.
  • It promised a fundamental change from the old confederation into a new, consolidated yet federal government.

Agenda and Debates on Different Plan:

  • New York enjoined its members to pursue all possible “alterations and provisions” for good government and “preservation of the Union”. New Hampshire called for “timely measures to enlarge the powers of Congress”. Virginia stressed the “necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects”
  • On the other hand, Delaware categorically forbade any alteration of the Articles one-state, equal vote, one-vote-only provision in the Articles Congress.
  • The Convention would have a great deal of work to do to reconcile the many expectations in the chamber. At the same time, delegates wanted to finish their work by fall harvest and its commerce.

Virginia Plan:

  • The Virginia Plan (Randolph Plan, after its sponsor, or the Large-State Plan) was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch.The plan was drafted by James Madison (Father of USA Constitution)
  • It was weighted toward the interests of the larger, more populous states. The intent was to meet the purposes set out in the Articles of Confederation, “common defense, security of liberty and general welfare”. The Virginia Plan was national, authority flowed from the people. If the people will ratify them, changes for better republican government and national union should be proposed. Much of the Virginia Plan was adopted.
  1. All the powers in the Articles transfer to the new government.
  2. Congress has two houses, the ‘house’ apportioned by population. It can enact laws affecting more than one state and Congress can override a veto.
  3. The President can enforce the law.
  4. The Supreme Court and inferior courts rule on international, U.S. and state law.
  5. The Constitution is the supreme law and all state officers swear to uphold the Constitution.
  6. Every state is a republic, and new states can be admitted.
  • The Convention recommendations went to Congress, from them to the states. State legislatures set the election rules for ratification conventions, and the people “expressly” chose representatives to consider and decide about the Constitution.

New Jersey Plan:

  • The New Jersey Plan (also known as the Small State Plan or the Paterson Plan) was a proposal for the structure of the United States Government presented by William Paterson at the Constitutional Convention on June 15, 1787. It was weighted toward the interests of the smaller, less populous states.
  • The plan was created in response to the Virginia Plan. The less populous states were adamantly opposed to giving most of the control of the national government to the more populous states, and so proposed an alternative plan that would have kept the one-vote-per-state representation under one legislative body from the Articles of Confederation.
  • The New Jersey Plan was opposed by James Madison and Edmund Randolph (the proponents of the Virginia Plan).
  • The New Jersey Plan was purely federal, authority flowed from the states. Gradual change should come from the states.
  • Ultimately, the New Jersey Plan was rejected as a basis for a new constitution. The Virginia Plan was used, but some ideas from the New Jersey Plan were added. Perhaps the most important of these was introduced by the Connecticut Compromise (Great Compromise of 1787), which established a bicameral legislature with the U.S. House of Representatives apportioned by population, as desired by the Virginia Plan, and the Senate granted equal votes per state, as desired by the New Jersey Plan.

Hamilton’s Plan:

  • On June 18 Alexander Hamilton presented his own ideal plan of government. Erudite and polished, the speech, nevertheless, failed to win a following. It went too far. Calling the British government “the best in the world,” Hamilton proposed a model with few similarity: an executive with veto power over all laws; a senate; the legislature to have power to pass “all laws whatsoever.”

Further Debates:

  • By the end of June, debate between the large and small states over the issue of representation in the first chamber of the legislature was becoming increasingly acrimonious. Delegates from Virginia and other large states demanded that voting in Congress be according to population; representatives of smaller states insisted upon the equality they had enjoyed under the articles.
  • On June 29 the delegates from the small states lost the first battle. The convention approved a resolution establishing population as the basis for representation in the House of Representatives, thus favoring the larger states. On a subsequent small-state proposal that the states have equal representation in the Senate, the vote resulted in a tie. With large-state delegates unwilling to compromise on this issue
  • By July 10 George Washington was so frustrated over the deadlock that he bemoaned “having had any agency” in the proceedings and called the opponents of a strong central government “narrow minded politicians.”

Slavery in debate:

  • Also crowding into this complicated and divisive discussion over representation was the North-South division over the method by which slaves were to be counted for purposes of taxation and representation.
  • On July 12 Oliver Ellsworth proposed that representation for the lower house be based on the number of free persons and three-fifths of “all other persons,” a euphemism for slaves. In the following week the members finally compromised, agreeing that direct taxation be according to representation and that the representation of the lower house be based on the white inhabitants and three-fifths of the “other people.”
  • The Three-Fifths compromise (1787): Three-fifths of the population of slaves counted for purposes  of the distribution of taxes and the number of members each  state was allowed in the House of Representatives. (means one  man = 3/5 slave)

Great Compromise or Connecticut Compromise:

    • The Connecticut Compromise (Great Compromise of 1787 or Sherman’s Compromise) was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution.
    • Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, both of the Connecticut delegation, created a compromise that, in a sense, blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals regarding congressional apportionment.
    • Ultimately, however, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the senate, and thus retaining a federal character in the constitution. Sherman sided with the two-house national legislature of the Virginia Plan, but proposed that the proportion of suffrage in the 1st house should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second house i.e.  Senate, each State should have one vote and no more.
    • Hence this compromise retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by Roger Sherman, along with proportional representation in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally between the states. Each state would have two representatives in the upper house.
    • After nearly four months of debate, on September 8, 1787, the final text of the Constitution was set down and revised. On September 28, 1787, the Articles Congress resolved “unanimously” to transmit the Constitution to state legislatures for submitting to a ratification convention according to the Constitutional procedure.

The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists and Ratification of Constitution:

  • During the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath, the term federal was applied to any person who supported the colonial union and the government formed under the Articles of Confederation. After the war, the group who felt that the national government under the Articles was too weak appropriated the name Federalist for themselves.
  • As the Federalists moved to amend the Articles, eventually leading to the Constitutional Convention, they applied the term anti-federalist to their opposition.
  • The Anti-Federalists were composed of diverse elements, including those opposed to the Constitution because they thought that a stronger government threatened the sovereignty and prestige of the states, localities, or individuals; those that claimed a new centralized, disguised “monarchic” power that would only replace the cast-off despotism of Great Britain with the proposed government; and those who simply feared that the new government threatened their personal liberties and that the President would become a king.
  • Some of Anti-Federalists believed that the central government under the Articles of Confederation was sufficient. Still others believed that while the national government under the Articles was too weak, the national government under the Constitution would be too strong. Famous revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson came out publicly against the Constitution.
  • One anti-Federalist argument gave opponents some genuine difficulty–the claim that the territory of the 13 states was too extensive for a representative government. In a republic embracing a large area, anti-Federalists argued, government would be impersonal, unrepresentative, dominated by men of wealth, and oppressive of the poor and working classes. James Madison, a Federalist, turned the argument completely around and insisted that the vastness of the country would itself be a strong argument in favor of a republic. Claiming that a large republic would counterbalance various political interest groups vying for power, Madison wrote, “The smaller the society the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party and the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.” Extend the size of the republic, Madison argued, and the country would be less vulnerable to separate factions within it.
  • In many states the opposition to the Constitution was strong (although Delaware, Georgia, and New Jersey ratified quickly with little controversy), and in two states — North Carolina and Rhode Island—it prevented ratification until the definite establishment of the new government practically forced their adherence.
  • Individualism was the strongest element of opposition; the necessity, or at least the desirability, of a bill of rights was almost universally felt. In Rhode Island resistance against the Constitution was so strong that civil war almost broke out on July 4, 1788, when anti-federalist members marched into Providence with over 1,000 armed protesters.

Massachusetts compromise:

  • The Anti-Federalists played upon these feelings in the ratification convention in Massachusetts. By this point, five of the states had ratified the Constitution with relative ease, but the Massachusetts convention was far more bitter and contentious. Finally, after long debate, a compromise (known as the “Massachusetts compromise“) was reached. Massachusetts would ratify the Constitution with recommended provisions in the ratifying instrument that the Constitution be amended with a bill of rights. Two noted anti-Federalists, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, helped negotiate a compromise. Following this compromise, Massachusetts voted to ratify the Constitution on February 6, 1788. Five states subsequently voted for ratification, four of which followed the Massachusetts model of recommending amendments along with their ratification.
  • The Massachusetts compromise helped garner sufficient support for the Constitution in order to ensure its ratification and lead to the adoption of the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights.

George Washington elected First President:

  • By the end of July 1788, eleven states (except North Carolina and Rhode Island) had ratified the Constitution, and soon thereafter, the process of organizing the new government began. On September 13, 1788, Congress fixed the city of New York as the seat of the new Capital (to Philadelphia in 1790 and to Washington D.C., in 1800.) It set January 7, 1789 as the day for choosing presidential electors; February 4 for the meeting of the electors to select a president.
  • By March 4, 1789, when the first Congress opened. George Washington was unanimously elected the first president, and John Adams of Massachusetts, the vice president.

Main Features and Characteristics of US Constitution:

  • Constitution consisted of a preamble, seven articles and a signed closing endorsement.
  • Article One describes the Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
  • Article Two describes the office of the President of the United States. The President is head of the executive branch of the federal government, as well as the nation’s, head of state and head of government. The office of the Vice President is also established by Article Two.The Vice President and the President are both elected to serve an identical four-year term.
  • Article Three describes the court system (the judicial branch), including the Supreme Court.
  • Article Four outlines the relation between the states and the relation between each state and the federal government. In addition, it provides for such matters as admitting new states and border changes between the states.
  • Article Five outlines the process for amending the Constitution.
  • Several ideas in the Constitution were new. These were associated with the combination of consolidated government along with federal relationships with constituent states.
  • The Due Process Clause of the Constitution was partly based on common law and on Magna Carta (1215), which had become a foundation of English liberty against arbitrary power wielded by a tyrant.
  • Division of power in a republic was informed by the British experience with mixed government, as well as the study of republics ancient and modern. A substantial body of thought had been developed from the literature of republicanism in the United States, including work by John Adams

Re-allocate power:

  • The Constitutional Convention created a new, unprecedented form of government by reallocating powers of government. Every previous national authority had been either a centralized government, or a “confederation of sovereign constituent states.” The American power-sharing was unique at the time. The sources and changes of power were up to the states. The foundations of government and extent of power came from both national and state sources. But the new government would have a national operation.
  • To meet their goals of cementing the Union and securing citizen rights, Framers allocated power among executive, senate, house and judiciary of the central government. But each state government in their variety continued exercising powers in their own sphere.

Power of The People:

  • While the English “virtual representation” was hardening into a theory of Parliamentary sovereignty, the American theory of representation was moving towards a theory of sovereignty of the people.
  • In their new constitutions written since 1776, Americans required community residency of voters and representatives, expanded suffrage, and equalized populations in voting districts. There was a sense that representation “had to be proportioned to the population.” The Convention would apply the new principle of “sovereignty of the people” both to the House of Representatives, and to the United States Senate.

Bill of Rights:

  • The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed to assuage the fears of Anti-Federalists who had opposed Constitutional ratification, these amendments guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public.
  • The English Bill of Rights (1689) was an inspiration for the American Bill of Rights. Both require jury trials, contain a right to keep and bear arms, prohibit excessive bail and forbid “cruel and unusual punishments.” Many liberties protected by state constitutions and the Virginia Declaration of Rights were incorporated into the Bill of Rights.
  • Supporters of the Constitution, known as Federalists, opposed a bill of rights for much of the ratification period, in part due to the procedural uncertainties it would create. Madison argued against such an inclusion, suggesting that state governments were sufficient guarantors of personal liberty.
  • Originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, however, most were subsequently applied to the government of each state by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Amendment I

This guarantees the freedom of religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly.

Amendment II:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

This guarantees no quartering of soldiers, without the consent of the home owner.

Amendment IV

This amendment guarantees the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure.

Amendment V

The right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double Jeopardy.

Amendment VI

Right to a fairand speedy public trial by jury, including the rights to be notified of theaccusations, to confront the accuser, to obtain witnesses and to retaincounsel.

Rest bill of rights:

7. Right to trial by jury.

8. Provision against excessive bail, fine and cruel punishment before trial.

9. Rule of construction regarding the constitution; and

10. The rights of the states under the Constitution.


Q. Was the Constitution of the United States an Economic Document? Examine critically.


  • An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States is a 1913 book by American historian Charles A. Beard. It argues that the structure of the Constitution of the United States was motivated primarily by the personal financial interests of the Founding Fathers. He believed it was economic because it made fundamental rights to property more important than government.
  • More specifically, Beard contends that the Constitutional Convention was attended by, and the Constitution was therefore written by, a “cohesive” elite seeking to protect its personal property (especially bonds) and economic standing. Beard examined the occupations and property holdings of the members of the convention from tax and census records, contemporaneous news accounts, and biographical sources, demonstrating the degree to which each stood to benefit from various Constitutional provisions. Beard pointed out, for example, that George Washington was the wealthiest landowner in the country, and had provided significant funding towards the Revolution. Beard traces the Constitutional guarantee that the newly formed nation would pay its debts to the desire of Washington and similarly situated lenders to have their costs refunded.
  • People that opposed the constitution were either patriots unwilling to change what they had fought for or people that had not learned the facts of economic life which really does make sense. The uneducated and poor class did not attend the convention and did not understand what the Constitution was all about so therefore, they opposed it.
  • To Beard, the Constitution was a counter-revolution, set up by rich bond holders (bonds were “personal property”), in opposition to the farmers and planters (land was “real property.”) The Constitution, Beard argued, was designed to reverse the radical democratic tendencies unleashed by the Revolution among the common people, especially farmers and debtors (people who owed money to the rich). In 1800, said Beard, the farmers and debtors, led by plantation slaveowners, overthrew the capitalists and established Jeffersonian democracy.
  • Beginning about 1950 revisionist historians argued that the Beard’s progressive interpretation was factually incorrect. Forrest McDonald in We The People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution (1958) argued that Beard had misinterpreted the economic interests involved in writing the Constitution. Instead of two interests, landed and mercantile, which conflicted, McDonald asserted that there were three dozen identifiable interests that forced the delegates to bargain.

Justification of having economic clauses:

  1. The Continental Congress’ lack of taxation and borrowing powers nearly lost the Revolutionary War, so the writers of the Constitution immediately established Congress’ powers to do both.
  2. Large portions of the Constitution were designed to do nothing more and nothing less than to create the basis for a sound economy.
  3. The Constitution through its impact on the nation’s economy created the basis for a true unification of the states into a nation.
  4. The Founders clearly recognized both the potential economic benefits and costs of government actions, and sought to design a document that would enhance those benefits and reduce those costs.
  • The Constitution had many non-economic clauses like bill of rights (though it had right to property.).
  • The Constitution did not add property qualifications for voting but states established those.
  • There was no property requirement to hold office though many states required it.
  • The constitution did not have any money abuse prevention laws, overall, the economy was left to run itself based on a balance of interests. The last resolutions were Political solutions to class, interest, section, race, religion, and party problems.
  • These facts show that the Constitution was not just only economic document.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on HISTORY AND GENERAL STUDIES and commented:

    American Constitution


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