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Society of the Cincinnati

(1783) Exclusive, hereditary organization of former officers in the Continental Army. Many resented the pretentiousness of the order, viewing it as a vestige of pre-Revolutionary traditions.


To separate an official state church from its connection with the government. Following the Revolution, all states disestablished the Anglican Church, though some New England states maintained established Congregational Churches well into the nineteenth century.

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

1786) Measure enacted by the Virginia legislature prohibiting state support for religious institutions and recognizing freedom of worship. Served as a model for the religion clause of the first amendment to the Constitution.

civic virtue

Willingness on the part of citizens to sacrifice personal self-interest for the public good. Deemed a necessary component of a successful republic.

Articles of Confederation

(1781) First American constitution that established the United States as a loose confederation of states under a weak national Congress, which was not granted the power to regulate commerce or collect taxes. The Articles were replaced but a more efficient Constitution.

Old Northwest

Territories acquired by the federal government from the states, encompassing land northwest of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. The well-organized management and sale of the land in the territories under the land ordinances of 1785 and 1787 established a precedent for handling future land acquisitions.

Land Ordinance of 1785

Provided for the sale of land in the Old Northwest and earmarked the proceeds toward repaying the national debt.

Northwest Ordinance

(1787) Created a policy for administering the Northwest Territories. It included a path to statehood and forbade the expansion of slavery into the territories.

Shays's Rebellion

(1786) Armed uprising of western Massachusetts debtors seeking lower taxes to property foreclosures. Though quickly put down, the insurrection inspired fears of "mob rule" among leading Revolutionaries.

Virginia Plan

"Large state" proposal for the new constitution, calling for proportional representation in both houses of a bicameral.

New Jersey Plan

(1787) "Small-state plan" put forth at the Philadelphia convention, proposing equal representation by state, regardless of population, in a unicameral legislature.Small states feared that the more populous states would dominate the agenda under a proportional system.

Great Compromise

(1787) Popular term for the measure which reconciled the New Jersey and Virginia plans at the constitutional convention, giving states proportional representation in the House and equal representation in the Senate. The Compromise broke the stalemate at the convention and pave the way for subsequent compromises over slavery and the Electoral College.

common law

Laws that originate from court rulings and customs, as opposed to legislative statutes. The United States Constitution grew out of the Anglo-American common law tradition and thus provided only a general organizational framework for the new federal government.

civil law

Body of written law enacted through legislative statutes or constitutional provisions. In countries where civil law prevails, judges must apply the statutes precisely as written.

three-fifths compromise

(1787) Determined that each slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportioning taxes and representation. The compromise granted disproportionate political power to southern slave states.


Oppponents of the 1787 constitution, they cast the document as antidemocratic,objected to the subordination of the states to the central government, and feared encroachment on the viduals' liberties in the absence of a bill of rights.


Proponents of the 1787 Constitution, they favored a strong national government, arguing that the checks and balances in the new Constrictution would safeguard the people's liberties.

The federalist

Collection of essays written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton and published during the ratification debate in New York to lay out the Federalists' arguments in favor of the new Constitution. Since their publication, these influential essays have served as an important source for constitutional interpretation.

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