09 February, 2009

Critical Period, Constitutional Convention, and Ratification Debate

Critical Period, Constitutional Convention, and Ratification Debate

Critical Period: 1783-1787 (Under Articles of Confederation)

Constitutional Convention Period: Summer of 1787

Ratification Period: 1787- 1789


Look at the events of the critical period

Examine the major arguments made by the opponents of the Constitution: the Anti-Federalist

Look at Federalist 23 and 25

Thach Reading

Balancing Act:

Balance between:

  1. Governmental Power
  2. Individual Liberty and Security

What is the common assumption about how to balance these two things?

Under Articles of Confederation:

  • Very weak Governmental Power "The United States in Congress Assembled"
  • Almost all power resided in the State power
  • A strong Government can be used as an oppressive instrument

What were the "Founders" most concerned about?

Founders: People who founded the country (1776)

What were the "Framers" most concerned about?

Framers: People who framed the constitution (1787)

Balance of Power: Between Governmental power and Peoples liberties

Power to the State or Nation

Individual liberty can be threatened from 2 sources:

  1. From Fellow citizens (dangers from within)
    1. This is the danger of "majority fraction"
    2. Federalist 10 & 51
    3. Anti-Federalist: Centinel # I
  1. From the Government (dangers from without)
    1. This is the danger of an oppressive government
    2. Federalist 47-51
    3. Anti-Federalist: John DeWitt # III

What did the Founders learn during the Revolutionary War?

Answer: they learned that times of crisis change the situation quite a bit

  • Times of crisis call for (1) an increase in governmental energy, and (2) an increased need for citizens to submit to that authority

What happened after the Revolution?

Answer: A general collapse in governmental energy or vigor

The Newburgh Conspiracy

The Articles of Confederation

Under the Articles of Confederation

The General problem of the Critical Period under the articles of Confederation was broadly a lack of government strength ("Lack of coercive power"), but more specifically it was a lack of NAIONAL governmental strength (Pg 16 of Thach)

  • Most all power was at the state level

Lack of National Government

  • The non-payment of the national debt
  • A general commercial depression
  • A rising discontent of the lower socio-economic classes

How does a strong central government help to solve each of these problems?

  • A strong central government would have the power to levy taxes to fund a Federal treasury in order to pay back the debt, it would also be able to manage the national economy

Shays Rebellion (1786- 1787)

  • An uprising of small farmers (think, lower, socio-economic class)
  • Farmers were suffering under the impact of their debts
  • Thousands took up arms to keep from being thrown in debtors prisons

Henry Ox said the national government was powerless to stop it

  • Shays rebellion shoed that History was repeating itself!
  • In popular forms of government, then tendency is for people to join together with like-minded others toward getting what they want

Violent: Shay's Rebellion

Non-Violent: Majority Factions

Anti-Federalists and Federalists

Who were the Anti-Federalists and what was their concern?

  • Many simply see the Anti-Federalist as a group of people in opposition to the proposed Constitution
  • While true, it is also key to see that the Anti-Federalist were actually for something as well

General Characteristics of Anti-Federalist thought

  1. Anti-Feds were for conserving the status quo- no wholesome changes to Articles of Confederation
  2. Anti-Feds were for a union, but a very different kind of union that the one proposed under the Constitution
  3. Anti-Feds were for the bulk of governments power to reside with "small republics" (think States)

Anti-Federalist were Conservatives

  • Anti-Federalists knew that the AOC was lacking, but believed that it only needed to be tweaked or adjusted in a minor way

  • Anti-Federalists saw themselves as the true conservators of "federalism" which they thought was a confederal

Which is the best system?

  1. Confederal- A system where the parts are united into a whole, but the bulk of power resides with the parts (compact of states theory)
  2. Federal- union represents a mix of power between parts and whole (Federalist 39)
  3. National- a union which results in a power residing at the whole (thus eliminating the parts)

What bothered the Anti-Federalists about the Constitution?

  1. The consolidating aspect of the Constitution shifting the bulk of power to the new central government
    • Seen as a threat to State sovereignty
  1. The power possessed by this new central government
    • Would lead to despotism

Why was this perceived consolidation so bad?

A: Because they thought that this consolidation of power at the national level would effectively eliminate the state power (Federalist 39)

Why was it so important for the Anti-Federalists that the States maintain political supremacy?

A: Because they thought that there was an essential connection between (1) state, power and (2)individual liberty

What characteristic did the States have that made this possible?

A: They were small. This is why Anti-Federalists are called "small republic" people

  • Anti-Federalists believed that a small republic (again, think primacy of the States) was necessary to promote free societies

Perceived Benefits of a small republic

  1. Voluntary attachment of the people to the government and its laws
  2. Effective representation
  3. Formation of virtuous citizens

Federalists reply…

Large republics work better

  • They do a better job of protecting people's liberties
  • Better representation will be gained in larger republics

(Federalist 9 & 10)

What about the fact that this new central government would be so powerful?

Anti-Federalists looked at this new government as a monster Leading to despotism


  • Supremacy Clause of Article IV
  • Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I
  • Article II in general

Federalist Respond…

  1. We've already seen where weak government led us..
  2. Means/Ends argument justifying greater governmental power (Federalist 23 & 25)

Federalist 23

An energetic government raises three questions:

  1. What objects are to be provided for by a federal government?
  2. What quantity of power is necessary to achieve these ends?
  3. To whom will that power be entrusted?
    • This starts in Federalist 52


Anti-Federalists lost because they had weaker arguments

But it was not a total loss because they got the Bill of Rights

Anti-Federalists thought endured beyond 1789 in two lingering issues

  1. Attachments to small republics (compact of states theory)
  2. Fear of royal prerogative (Article III)

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