In Pursuit of Equality
- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, 1786 - a separation of church and state
- Quakers in Philadelphia started the world's first anti-slavery group in 1775
- 1774 Continental Congress had called for the abolition of the slave trade
- Many states emancipated blacks and abolished slavery altogether (although no state south of PA abolished slavery, and laws were often harsh to free blacks)
- Women became unofficial 'conscience and freedom keepers' (became a voice of reason)
Trying to Make a Constitution
The Continental Congress of 1776 called upon states to draw up constitutions, and Massachusetts radically submitted a draft for national approval. It was designed to establish permanent, basic laws and guidelines. Some poorer, western areas felt neglected, so many colonies moved their capital westward.
Economic democracy preceded political democracy. Americans made many products for themselves, and cut ties with Great Britain. While many Americans became impoverished, forming a new class of poor commoners, there was also a new class of rich profiteers. There was also heavy inflation.
Creating a Confederation
Luckily, all of the 13 Colonies' constitutions caused all colonies to run in the same basic manner. In 1777 a committee appointed by the Continental Congress wrote a constitution: The Articles of Confederation, which was ratified by all 13 colonies in 1781.
Problems with the Articles
While the colonies were finally united to deal with common problems, there were problems created by the Articles, dealing mainly with Congress and the economy:
- Congress had no power to enforce commerce (so states could establish conflicting economic laws involving tariffs, navigation, etc.)
- Congress could not enforce tax collection program with the states: could only request that states send in money
- Land Ordinance of 1785: land of Old Northwest should be sold to citizens, with the proceeds going towards lessening the national debt
- Northwest Ordinance of 1787: created the Northwest Territories, which were given to the government, then sold to people by the acre - if a territory had 60,000+ people, it could apply for statehood (had to be approved by other states)
- British: The Brits made no economic agreements with US; remained in America for fur trade with indians; relations were tense: Americans didn't fully honor the loyalist-related sections of the Treaty of Paris
- Indians: Indians were friendly with Brits, who weren't friendly with Americans; thus, Indians were not friendly with Americans
- Spanish: Spain was unfriendly, closing the Mississippi to American commerce in 1784
Shays' Rebellion (1786)
A rebellion by back-country farmers in western MA (they faced tax problems, rising mortgages, and the loss of farms). They rebelled under the leadership of Daniel Shays, trying to gain their desires (cheap, paper money; low taxes; a hold on property seizures). While the rebellion was crushed, there was a lasting fear of mobs, and it was the first sign of anarchy.
Convention of the "Demigods" (1786)
Alexander Hamilton in a convention with only 5 states, called on Congress to meet in Philadelphia next year to try and alter/fix the Articles.
Nationwide Meeting (May 25th, 1787)
Representatives from all states (but RI) went to Philadelphia and discussed a future government. They elected George Washington as the nation's leader. The representatives wanted to curb and suppress anarchy and preserve the union. Eventually, they decided to scrap the Articles, and they handed out a bundle of compromises.
The Great Compromise
Established 2 sections of Congress:
- House of Representatives, with representation based on population
- Senate, with equal representation from all states
Slaves would count as 3/5 of a person each (for counting population numbers).
- Favored a strong government, with three branches of checks & balances
- Electoral votes would decide the presidency (afraid that the uneducated would ruin popular vote)
- Only members of the House were chosen directly by the pople
- Government based on the consent of the governed
- Economy: demanded smart, sound use of money & protection of private property
- States' rights devotees
- Often (poor) back-country men, debtors
- Many saw the Constitution as a plot to steal power from the commoners
- Led by Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee
- Supported the Constitution
- Lived mainly in settled areas along the seaboard
- Often wealthier, more educated, and better organized
- Controlled the majority of the press
- Led by George Washington and Ben Franklin
A special vote was held to decide on the ratification of the Constitution. Nine states, many small, quickly ratified the Constitution: DE, PA, NJ, GA, CT, MA, MD, SC, & NH
Four Laggard States
- Virginia: strong anti-federalist power, but signed later because they realized that they couldn't function well independently
- New York: heavy anti-federalist power; propaganda was used in NY by proponents of the Constitution (Federalist Papers, by A. Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison); but they too realized that they couldn't function well independently; signed, put forth 32 proposed amendments, and called for a new convention
- North Carolina and Rhode Island didn't vote (Constitution already had enough votes to be ratified), but they could not function alone, so they signed