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Chapter 2

The Constitution
Learning Objectives
Point out some of the influences on the American political tradition in the colonial

Explain why the American colonies rebelled against Britain.

Describe the structure of government established by the Articles of Confederation and
some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles.

List some of the major compromises made by the delegates at the Constitutional
Convention, and discuss the Federalists and the Anti-Federalist positions with respect
to ratifying the Constitution.

Summarize the Constitution’s major principles of government, and describe how the
Constitution can be amended.
The First English Settlements

Colonial Legislatures
The First English Settlements
• The first New England colony was founded by the
  Plymouth Company in 1620 at Plymouth,
• The settlers at Plymouth, Pilgrims, were a group of
  English Protestants who came to the New World on the
  ship Mayflower.
• Before going ashore, they drew up the Mayflower
  Compact, which was essentially a social contract and
  was the first in a series of similar contracts among the
The First English Settlements, cont.
• In 1639, some of the Pilgrims who felt that they
  were being persecuted by the Massachusetts
  Bay Colony (a trading post established in 1630),
  left Plymouth to settle in what is now
• They developed America’s first written
  constitution, the Fundamental Orders of
• By 1732, all thirteen colonies had been
  established, each with its own constitution.
Colonial Legislatures
• By the time of the American
  Revolution, all of the colonies had
  representative assemblies, which
  consisted of representatives
  elected by the colonists.
• Through their participation in
  colonial governments, leaders
  became familiar with the practical
  problems of governing and
  learned how to build coalitions
  and make compromises.
“Taxation without Representation”

The Continental Congress

Breaking the Ties: Independence
“Taxation without Representation”
• In 1764, the British Parliament passed the Sugar
  Act, imposing a tax on all sugar imported to the
  American colonies.
• In 1765, the Stamp Act imposed the first direct
  tax on the colonists.
• The American colonists could not vote in British
  elections and were not represented in the British
  Parliament. They viewed Parliament’s attempts
  to tax them as contrary to the principle of
  representative government.
“Taxation without Representation”
• In October 1765, nine of the thirteen colonies
  sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in
  New York City, where they prepared a
  declaration of rights and grievances which they
  sent to King George III.
 ▫ The British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.
• In 1767, laws that imposed taxes on glass, paint,
  lead, and many other items were passed.
“Taxation without Representation”
                                • In 1773, anger over taxation
                                  reached a climax at the
                                  Boston Tea Party, in which
                                  colonists dressed as
                                  Mohawk Indians dumped
                                  almost 350 chests of British
                                  tea into Boston Harbor as a
                                  gesture of protest.
 • The British Parliament responded by passing the
   Coercive Acts (aka “Intolerable Acts”) in 1774, which
   closed the Boston Harbor and placed the
   government of Massachusetts under direct British
The Continental Congresses
• The First Continental Congress met on
  September 5, 1774, in Philadelphia.
  ▫ Only Georgia did not participate.
• The congress decided that the colonies should
  send a petition to King George III to explain their
• The congress also passed resolutions calling for
  the continued boycott of British goods and
  requiring each colony to establish an army.
The Continental Congresses
• Britain responded with even stricter and more
  repressive measures.
• Delegates from all thirteen colonies gathered in
  Pennsylvania less than a month later for the
  Second Continental Congress, which
  immediately assumed the power of a central
Breaking the Ties: Independence
• One of the most rousing arguments in
  favor of independence was presented
  by Thomas Paine, who wrote a
  pamphlet called Common Sense.
• He mocked King George III and
  attacked every argument that favored
  loyalty to the king.
• He contended that America could
  survive economically on its own and no
  longer needed its British connection.
  ▫ More than 100,000 copies were sold
    within a few months after its publication.
Independence – The First Step
• On June 11, 1776, a “Committee of Five” was
  appointed to draft a declaration that would
  present the colonies’ case for independence.
• The Declaration of Independence was formally
  adopted on the afternoon of July 4, 1776.
• The concepts expressed in the Declaration of
  Independence clearly reflect Jefferson’s
  familiarity with European political philosophy,
  particularly with the works of John Locke.
Independence – From Colonies to States
• In May 1776, the Second Continental Congress
  directed each of the colonies to form its own
• Eleven of the colonies wrote completely new
  constitutions, while two made minor
  modifications to old royal charters.
• All constitutions called for limited governments.
Powers of the Government of the

A Time of Crisis – The 1780’
The Confederation of States
• A confederation is a voluntary
  association of independent states. The
  member states agree to let the central
  government undertake a limited number
  of activities, but do not allow the central
  government to place many restrictions on
  the states’ own actions.
• The Articles of Confederation, signed
  by all thirteen colonies on March 1, 1781,
  served as this nation’s first national
Powers of the Government of the
• The central government created by the Articles
  of Confederation was quite weak.
• The Congress of the Confederation had no
  power to raise revenues for the militia or to force
  the states to meet military quotas. This means
  that the new government did not have the power
  to enforce its laws.
A Time of Crisis – the 1780’s

• Following the Revolutionary War, the states
  bickered among themselves and refused to support
  the new central government in almost every way.
• The states increasingly taxed each other’s imports
  and at times even prevented trade altogether.
• States started printing their own money, which
  caused inflation. Individuals who could not pay their
  debts were often thrown into prison.
A Time of Crisis – the 1780’s
Shays’ Rebellion
• In August 1786, Daniel Shays, along with
  approximately two thousand armed farmers in
  western Massachusetts seized county
  courthouses and disrupted the debtors’ trials.
• Shays and his men launched an attack on the
  national government’s arsenal in Springfield.
• Similar disruptions occurred throughout most of
  the New England states. These were an
  important catalyst for change.
A Time of Crisis – the 1780’s
The Annapolis Meeting
• Five of the thirteen states sent delegates to
  Annapolis, Maryland on September 11, 1786 to
  consider extending national authority to issues
  of commerce.
• In February of 1787, the congress called on the
  states to send delegates to Philadelphia “for the
  sole and express purpose of revising the Articles
  of Confederation.”
• The Philadelphia meeting became the
  Constitutional Convention.
Who Were the Delegates?

The Virginia Plan

The New Jersey Plan

The Compromises

The Final Draft is Approved

The Debate over Ratification

Who Were the Delegates?
• For the most part, the delegates to the convention were
  from the best-educated and wealthiest classes.
• Nearly half were college graduates, thirty-three were
  lawyers, seven were former chief executives of their
  respective states, and at least nineteen owned slaves.
• No ordinary farmers or merchants were present.
The Virginia Plan
• Favored large states and called for:
  ▫ A bicameral legislature, in which the lower house
    was to be chosen by the people and the upper
    house chosen by the elected members of the
    lower house.
  ▫ A national executive branch, elected by the
  ▫ A national court system, created by the
The New Jersey Plan

• Favored the smaller states & proposed the
 ▫ Each state would have only one vote.
 ▫ Acts of Congress would be the supreme law of the
 ▫ An executive office of more than one person
   would be elected by Congress.
 ▫ The executive office would appoint a national
   supreme court.
The Compromises
• The Great Compromise called for a legislature
  with two houses:
 ▫ A lower house in which the number of
   representatives from each state would be
   determined by the population of that state.
 ▫ An upper house which would have two members
   from each state; the members would be elected
   by the state legislatures.
The Compromises, cont.
• The three-fifths compromise
  determined that each slave
  would count as three-fifths of a
  person in determining
  representation in Congress.
• Slave importation was to be
  allowed until 1808, and escaped
  slaves who fled to the northern
  states were required to be
  returned to their owners.
The Compromises, Cont.
• Banning export taxes was another
  compromise. Congress was given the power to
  regulate interstate commerce in exchange for
  the Constitution guaranteeing that no export
  taxes would ever be imposed on products
  exported by the states.
The Final Draft is Approved
• The final draft of the Constitution was approved
  by thirty-nine of the forty-two delegates on
  September 17, 1787.
The Debate over Ratification
• The debate was chiefly between two groups –
  the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.
• The Federalists favored a strong central
  government and the new constitution.
• The Anti-Federalists opposed a strong central
  government and the new constitution.
 ▫ The Anti-Federalists had no knowledge of the
   arguments for or against the constitutional
   provisions because they had not attended the
• The contest for ratification was close in several
  states, but the Federalists finally won in all of the
  state conventions.
Limited Government and Popular
• The government can do only what the people
  allow it to do through the exercise of a duly
  developed system of laws.
• Articles I, II, and III indicate exactly what the
  government can do; the first nine amendments
  list the ways that the government cannot limit
  certain individual freedoms.
The Principle of Federalism
• In a federal system of government, the central
  government shares sovereign powers with the
  various state governments.
• The Constitution gave the national government
  powers that it had not had under the Articles of
• Because the states feared too much centralized
  control, the Constitution also allowed for many
  states’ rights.
Separation of Powers
• The powers of the national government were
  separated into different branches:
 ▫ Legislative – passes the laws
 ▫ Executive – administers & enforces the laws
 ▫ Judicial – interprets the laws
Checks and Balances
• A system of checks and balances was devised
  to ensure that no one group or branch of
  government could exercise exclusive control.
• The president checks Congress by holding a
  veto power.
• Congress controls taxes and spending, and the
  Senate must approve presidential appointments.
• The Judicial branch acts as a check on the other
  branches through its power of judicial review.
The Bill of Rights
• To secure ratification in several important states,
  the Federalists had to assure that amendments
  would be passed to protect individual liberties
  against violations by the national government.
• By 1791, all of the states had ratified the ten
  amendments of the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution Compared to the Articles of
• One of the weaknesses of the Confederation had
  been the lack of an independent executive authority.
  ▫ The Constitution created an independent executive,
    the president, who is the commander in chief and
    given extensive appointment powers.
• Another problem of the Confederation was the lack
  of a judiciary, independent of the state courts.
  ▫ The Constitution established the U.S. Supreme Court.
Amending the Constitution
• Methods of proposing an amendment:
 ▫ A two-thirds vote in the Senate and in the House of
 ▫ If two-thirds of the state legislatures request a national
   amendment convention, then Congress must call one.
• Methods of ratifying an amendment:
 ▫ Three-fourths of the state legislatures can vote in favor
   of the proposed amendment.
 ▫ The states can call special conventions to ratify the
   proposed amendment. If three-fourths of the states
   approve, the amendment is ratified.
Amending the Constitution
Politics on the Web
• www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html
• www.constitutioncenter.org
• www.thisnation.com/library/madison/index.html
• http://wepin.com/articles/afp/index.htm
• www.servat.unibe.ch/law/icl/index.html
• www.cdt.org
• www.findlaw.com/11stategov
• www.law.yale.edu/library
• www.4ltrpress.cengage.com/govt

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