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A Constitution for Now and Then


So The Americans had won their war against England and set up the Articles of Confederation to govern them selves.  Everything was going quite well, or was it?  In the back woods of Massachusetts Daniel Shay, a former military Captain was bruiting over high taxes and the fact that he, as well as many other farmers, could loose his property and be imprisoned for debt.  Shay, like many others in his time, decided to take action.  He gathered and rallied men so that, according to Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004 (M.E.E.S. 2004), in 1786 armed mobs prevented the sitting of courts at various locations. This uprising that would be known as Shay’s Rebellion would help to change America, for it was during this time that America’s leaders would come to realize that the government was too week and something needed to be done.  So in the summer 1787 the states asked 74 delegates to go meet in Philadelphia where they would go to work fixing the government. 55 delegates chose to attend. During this convention there were many agreements and disagreements amongst the delegates, but remarkably they drafted a whole new government that would then be ratified by the States becoming the current day Constitution of the United States of America.


During the Constitutional Convention the 55 delegates who chose to attend amazingly agreed on most of the major obstacles that would need to be over come in order to create a new government.  For example, when James Madison suggested that they make a whole new government most the delegates seemed to all agree, which was simply astounding being that they were not sent to Philadelphia to make a new government, but instead simply to amend the old one. Furthermore, the delegates seemed to agree on the major area of how the government would be run.  The government would be split up between 3 branches that would serve to check and balance the powers of the other branches of government.  Lastly they agreed that the new government would be a republic and that it would be a lot stronger than the old Articles of Confederation.


With all of these agreements one might wonder why the convention took so long, well there were many disagreements as well.  For example, although the delegates agreed that there should be a congress, they disagreed on how the size of that congress should be determined.  The big states such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, whose population combined, according to M.E.E.S. 2004, represented half of the colonial population, agreed with Edmund Randolph’s Virginia Plan that suggested congress be determined by population.  So the more people a state had, the more representatives it would have in the congress.  The smaller states did not like Randolph’s Virginia Plan, though, because they would not be able to compete with the bigger states when it would come time to create and pass laws.  So William Patterson, a delegate from New Jersey suggested that we have a congress in which each state had equal representation.  Of course the bigger states did not like this idea.  It was not until the middle of July that the delegates finally accepted The Great Compromise which was a plan originally suggested by Roger Sherman of Connecticut that would allow the states to each have it their way.  The Connecticut plan would allow for a split congress.  One part, “The House”, would be determined by population while the other part, “The Senate”, would be equally representative of all states. Thanks to the Connecticut plan, the delegates could now move on to other issues.


One such issue that the delegates could now move on to was the issue of slavery.  Since the Connecticut plan said that the house would be determined according to population the southern states wanted to count their slaves as part of their population.  The northerners though, did not like this idea because they did not find it fare.  Why, they asked, should one form of property be counted and not others?  If the southerners counted their slaves would they then want to start counting their cows and goats as well?  On this note the northerners pushed to exclude slaves from being counted at all.  Furthermore, many northerners wanted to abolish slavery completely, which caused much strain in the debates.  Finally though, the 3/5 compromise was settled.  It stated that, for population purposes, for every five slaves three of them would be counted. Additionally, according to M.E.E.S. 2004, in Article I of the constitution the delegates promised not to end the international slave trade until after 1808.  The Constitution was finally approved on September 15 1787. 


Now that the Constitution had been created, it still had to be ratified by the states.  The Constitution stated that nine of the thirteen states were needed to ratify the constitution before it would become the supreme law of the land.  This proved to be quite a challenge for the founding fathers because there action in creating a new government could technically be seen as treason against the old government.  People like Patrick Hennery, who refused to be a delegate for fear this would happen, were outraged.  They called the Constitution the Counter-Revolution claiming that the new government was more powerful and indeed worse than the British government ousted at the end of the Revolutionary war.  This Constitution hating bunch became known as the anti-federalists.  The anti-federalist went about claiming that the constitution did not do enough to protect states rights and the rights of individuals. 


The supports of the constitution such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, on the other hand, became known as the federalists.  One thing they did in order to rally Americans to their cause was to write a series of essays known as the Federalist papers that preached the benefits of the constitution.  Finally, according to M.E.E.S. 2004, Delaware became the first state to ratify the constriction on December 7, 1787. It was then followed by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina. Finally on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify The Constitution.  The problem that remained, though, was that not enough of the big states had ratified the constitution so that even though the constitution was now effectively law, it most likely would not work.  In order to get the big states to ratify the constitution the federalist promised to ad a bill of rights that would help to protect the rights of the states and of the individuals.  Finally Virginia, New York, and North Carolina ratified and in 1790 Rhode Island became the last state (out of the original 13) to ratify the Constitution.  As promised the first ten Amendments known as the Bill of Rights was introduced to sooth the fears of the anti-federalists.


In the span of only a couple of years the founding fathers were able to not only create a whole new government but also get it legitimately ratified by all of the States.  Even though there were many issues in which the delegate seemed to agree, there were also many in which they did not.  The delegates found ways around their problems   overcoming the differences between the north and the south, and the big states and little states.  Furthermore, what is truly amazing is that they came up with a document that they could change to fit the current demands of the people who were ruled by its laws.  In essence, the founding father came up with a Constitution for now and then.


© All words and music written and owned by Shawn Nelsen.