Constitution of the United States of America Term Paper

Pages: 10 (2713 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

Constitution of the United States of America is perhaps the world's oldest written national constitution. Adopted on September 17, 1787, the Constitution is the result of a significant and heated debated between who have become known as Federalist and Anti-Federalist. It was largely due to the arguments and propaganda of these two groups that lead to the final form of the document that was adopted. This debate was far reaching in that it occurred physically both in the various forms of the constitutional conventions and in the streets and homes in the form of editorials.

To truly understand the nature of the constitutional debates between the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist that led to the adoption of the document that has governed the United States of America ever since, one must start with an understanding of the history both leading up to and during the period of debate.

The constitutional debate began as a result of the general failure of the Articles of Confederation, the governing document adopted following independence from Britain. The general complaints of the Articles of Confederation were that it was inherently weak. For example, it quickly became apparent that the federal government had a strong need for revenue yet, under the Articles, they had no authority to levy taxes and thus had to request that each state contribute their share of revenue to the federal treasury. The problem was that the states were not contributing the requested amounts.

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Further, under the Articles, the approval of every state was needed before the federal government could gain any additional powers. This created the weakness of liberal veto power that every state possessed and therefore had the power to veto any amendment or legislation.

Thus, when the federal government applied to the states to get the right to levy taxes, although every state except Rhode Island approved of the measure, it ultimately failed due to Rhode Island's refusal.

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Other weaknesses of the system was that the Articles contained no provision that allowed the executive branch to enforce the laws that actually were adopted, nor did it create a federal court system capable of interpreting the laws of the nation. Under such a system, the legislature was the sole governmental body but even it lacked the power to force states to do anything in which the state did not want to do. Under the system, there was no federal army and although the federal government could declare war and raise in army, it depended on each state to contribute their quota to the cause.

Within years of its creation, under the Articles of Confederation the federal government found itself in uncontrollable debt. Without a single, stable and nationalized form of currency, the governments (both the federal and of the states) could not pay the Revolutionary War veterans and social discontent began to grow. With various currencies and trade restrictions between the states, no economy was growing and all the states were finding themselves working against each other. More so, international trade could not occur because the federal government could not make any promises as to whether the states would be bound to any international treaties.

As these failures wore on, domestic and foreign problems continued to grow and the new nation could best be described as a fledgling country. It became clear to many nationalist leaders that the central government, as established under the Articles of Confederation, was not strong enough to establish such national essentials as a sound economy, regulated trade, international treaties or to enter into war. Even George Washington himself remarked that "There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to." Both Federalist and Anti-Federalist agreed on the premise that the nation could not survive under the Articles of Confederation. It was this agreement that led these nationalists to push forward with a more centralized form of federal government. However, it was here that their agreement ceased and the constitutional debate commenced.

On February 21, 1787, Congress issued a statement saying "It is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation." Thus the invitation to the Philadelphia Convention, which would go on and debate and eventually ratify a new Constitution, was sent.

The fifty-five men who drafted the Constitution, now known as the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, included most of that era's most outstanding and notable leaders. Each has a wide-range of interests, backgrounds and goals for the nation. However, as previously stated, all shared the goal of creating a stronger union through the establishment of a strong, centralized and elected federal government that remained subject to the will of the people. Beyond this general goal, everything was open to debate.

Many of the delegates at the Philadelphia convention felt that the centralized government needed to be somewhat separated, or protected, from the will of the people. This eventually led to the creation of the electoral college and the process of electing Senators through the state legislatures. Others felt that the essential ingredient in American politics was self-government and thus the sovereignty of the people needed to be preserved. Others said that this self-government was the cause of the Articles of Confederation's failure. This balance of power debate eventually led to the Republican form of government mandated by the Constitution.

To start the debate, Edmund Randolph proposed the Virginia Plan by which he proposed a completely new form of government. At the heart of this proposal was the idea that the federal government would be broken into three separate but equal branches of government with the legislature being broken into two additional houses. With this proposal on the floor, the convention went into committee to discuss the plan for fifteen days. Following the dismissal of the committee's, the delegates agreed on the foundation of the new government, which would consist of three separate branches, the legislative, judicial and executive. Further, each of these distinct branches would have specified powers that would work to balance out the powers of the other two branches. Finally, it was agreed that the legislative branch would consist of two houses, much like many of the state legislatures of the time.

Although the convention seemed to have gotten off to a good start, the quick agreement as to how this new form of government should operate ceased after this initial determination. In other words, everyone agreed that the federal government needed to be stronger and thus should be based on the common governmental structure of the states. However, the delegates were split when it came to how this strong government was to operate and just how strong its operations should be.

One of the main divisions that threatened to dissolve the convention was between the small states and the large states. Because the Virginia Plan created proportional representation in both the House and Senate, the small states were concerned about their authority being limited. The large states, on the other hand, favored the concept of proportional representation, arguing that equal representation was "confessedly unjust." This division also cut across the North and South, as the Southern states had the largest claim to Western territories and therefore were expecting to grow into considerably large areas.

Generally, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist camps were drawn along these lines. With James Madison and Alexander Hamilton favoring proportional representation, arguing that the "conspiracy of large states against the small states was unrealistic," citing that the large states were too different from one another to create a general partnership. Hamilton also argued that the states were "artificial entities" comprised of individuals and therefore accused the representatives from the small states of "wanting power, not liberty." However, at this time the factions of the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist had not yet established themselves, however the groundwork was clearly laid.

Since this rift threatened to dissolve the Virginia Plan, when it was time for the Convention to report on the plan, an adjournment was granted in order to allow the delegates who opposed the plan additional time to draft an alternative plan. The resulting alternative plan was drafted by William Paterson of New Jersey and was in the form of nine amendments to the Articles of Confederation, as opposed to a proposal to create an entirely new government all together. After a lengthy debate on the two proposals, the convention ultimately rejected the New Jersey Plan and voted to proceed with a debate on the Virginia Plan. The small states were entirely dissatisfied and threatened to walk out, creating a deadlock in the convention.

The issue went back into committee in hopes of reaching a compromise. Following committee the convention announced "The Great Compromise" that essentially combined the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. Under the compromise's terms, every state would have equal representation in the Senate and each state would have proportional… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Constitution of the United States of America" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Constitution of the United States of America.  (2007, June 19).  Retrieved August 5, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Constitution of the United States of America."  19 June 2007.  Web.  5 August 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Constitution of the United States of America."  June 19, 2007.  Accessed August 5, 2020.