Government arises from the consent of the governed.
Power should be divided among separate institutions.
Citizens' rights must be protected.
Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan (1651).
Without government, in the “state of nature,” life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Hence people formed a social contract.
Hobbes was a monarchist, not a republican.
John Locke's Second Treatise on Government (1690)
Also based on consent of the governed, although people did not give up their natural rights
But no need to concentrate power in one ruler
Baron de Montesquieu, in The Spirit of the Laws (1748), later added judicial power as well.
Locke also argued government should protect individuals' natural rights to “life, liberty, and property.”
Revolution might be justified if government failed to secure those rights.
Colonists were asked to help with cost of keeping troops in colonies after the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War in Europe).
1765, imposition of the Stamp Tax on the colonies:
Already in use in Britain, where taxes were higher than in the colonies
Colonists had never paid a direct tax, had no voice.
Believed this violated the spirit of the Magna Carta: the principle that the people's representatives had to approve of taxes and spending.
Colonial legislatures dated back to Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1619.
Plymouth colonists agreed to the Mayflower Compact in 1620.
Distance from imperial government meant colonists effectively ran their own affairs most of the time; governors often “went native” too.
Colonists' resentment of British taxation culminated in open conflict at Lexington and Concord in 1775.
Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia; efforts to broker compromise unsuccessful.
Thomas Jefferson built on Locke's ideas in drafting the Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776.
War officially ended with the Treaty of Paris (1783).
“Firm league of friendship”—each state saw itself as independent and sovereign.
Continental Congress was granted limited powers:
Could not tax directly; requested contributions to national budget from the states instead.
Could declare war, but not raise an army directly.
Could coin money; but could not stop states from doing so as well.
States could tax imports and exports to other states.
Supermajority (2/3) required to take most actions; unanimity required to alter Articles.
U.S. had won the war with Britain, but British colonies remained nearby.
Spain and France retained colonies to the west and south.
British had previously managed relations with Native Americans.
American shipping was no longer protected from piracy by Britain's navy.
Preceded by the Annapolis Convention in 1786:
Only five states were represented.
Recognized need for reform; called on states to send delegates to a convention in 1787.
Shays' Rebellion (1786–87) made additional states realize need to improve on the Articles.
In 1787, more delegates came to Philadelphia to consider reforms.
Initial purpose: revise the Articles.
Most states favored some revisions.
Rhode Island the exception.
Individuals in opposition stayed away: notably, Patrick Henry.
Ten delegates abandoned convention; another three refused to sign.
The Virginia Plan (proposed by Madison and Randolph) had support of more populous states.
System would be dominated by the national Congress.
Called for representation in Congress based on states' population or wealth.
Less populous states feared they would be dominated by Virginia and New York.
Delegates from smaller states favored the New Jersey Plan instead:
Three branches with different powers.
Kept one chamber of Congress with each state having one vote.
Did not grant Congress broad powers
Instead, Congress had a limited number of enumerated powers.
A majority of states supported the Virginia Plan.
Small states considered leaving and thus ending the convention.
Committee appointed to resolve the issue.
Solution: split the difference with a bicameral legislature.
Big states: House seats based on population.
Small states: equal seats per state in the Senate.
Northern states favored taxes on imports and exports to protect domestic industry, raise money; opposed the slave trade.
Southern states opposed trade tariffs, particularly on exports; favored continuation of slave trade.
Compromise: no export tariffs, but national government could tax imports; slave trade permitted until at least 1808.
Direct taxes were to be apportioned based on population.
Northern states favored counting everyone for taxation but only non-slaves for representation.
Southern states favored the opposite.
Solution: the three-fifths compromise. Equalized representation between the agrarian south and commercial north.
Using vague language
The “necessary and proper” or “elastic” clause.
The supremacy clause.
Leaving decisions to the states:
The Electoral College.
Congress could now levy taxes.
Congress regulates interstate, international trade.
Only national government can mint coinage.
Independent executive and judicial branches.
Congress can act with simple majorities, subject to veto.
Congress can propose amendments (by two-thirds majority in both chambers), or 2/3 of states can request a constitutional convention.
Constitutional amendments require 3/4 of states to agree; can be ratified by either:
special ratifying conventions.
In 1787 and 1788, voters chose delegates to ratification conventions in each of the 13 states.
Federalist Papers (Hamilton, Madison, Jay)
Campaigned for ratification of the Constitution.
Anti-Federalists (including Patrick Henry)
Opposed the Constitution; thought it centralized power too much.
Federalists won by persuading 11 of the 13 states to ratify the Constitution:
Several states only agreed after Federalists agreed to propose a Bill of Rights, against Hamilton and Madison's original wishes.
March–April 1789: Washington takes office as president, new Congress begins operations.
Secretive, unseemly process.
Did not work within existing legal framework to amend Articles of Confederation.
Powers of the President and courts poorly defined.
The Electoral College.
Did not guarantee basic liberties in the states.
Shortfalls related to the need for ratification:
Slavery and the right to vote.
Needed to win support of white, male, propertied population.
Created unified nation capable of defending itself.
Facilitated the country’s economic development:
Outlawed separate state currencies.
Outlawed state tariffs.
Created flexible, enduring institutions.
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