Ratification of the Constitution

Federalists and Antifederalists

While the Constitutional Convention was held to revise the Articles of Confederation, an entirely new constitution was drafted.

Learning Objectives

Explain the arguments made by the Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the new U.S. Constitution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A Constitutional Convention was called in the summer of 1787 to change the Articles of Confederation. During this time, many compromises were formed to appease regional factions.
  • The Great Compromise brought together the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan to create the Constitution ‘s legislative system. The Three-Fifths Compromise appeased Southern representatives by allowing them to count slaves for representation and taxation purposes.
  • The Federalists wanted a strong government and strong executive branch, while the anti-Federalists wanted a weaker central government.
  • The Federalists did not want a bill of rights —they thought the new constitution was sufficient. The anti-federalists demanded a bill of rights.

Key Terms

  • Articles of Confederation: The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the thirteen founding states that established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution.
  • delegate: A person authorized to act as representative for another; in politics, a party representative allocated to nominate a party candidate.
  • Three-Fifths Compromise: an agreement between Southern and Northern states reached during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, in which three-fifths of the population of freed slaves would be counted for representation purposes regarding both the distribution of taxes and the apportionment of the members of the United States House of Representatives

The Constitutional Convention

In 1787, a convention was called in Philadelphia with the declared purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. However, many delegates intended to use this convention to draft a new constitution. All states except for Rhode Island sent delegates, though not all delegates attended the Convention. At the Convention, the primary issue was representation of the states. Under the Articles, each state had one vote in Congress. The more populous states wanted representation to be based on population (proportional representation). James Madison of Virginia crafted the Virginia Plan, which guaranteed proportional representation and granted wide powers to the Congress. The smaller states, on the other hand, supported equal representation through William Paterson’s New Jersey Plan. The New Jersey Plan also increased the Congress’ power, but it did not go nearly as far as the Virginia Plan. The conflict threatened to end the Convention, but Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the “Great Compromise” (or Connecticut Compromise) under which one house of Congress would be based on proportional representation, and the other house would be based on equal representation. Eventually, the Compromise was accepted, and the Convention was saved.

Compromises were important in settling other disputes at the Convention. The Three-Fifths Compromise designated that three-fifths of slave population would be counted toward representation in Congress. In another compromise, the Congress agreed to ban slave trade after 1808. Similarly, issues relating to the empowerment and election of the President were resolved. This led to the Electoral College system in choosing the Chief Executive of the nation.

Federalists vs. Anti-federalists

The Constitution required ratification by nine states in order to come into effect. The fight for ratification was long and difficult. The Constitution was to be ratified by special ratifying conventions, not by state legislature. Interested in retaining power, states were resistant to ratifying a new, stronger central government. Those who favored ratification were known as Federalists,while those who opposed it were considered Anti- Federalists.The Federalists attacked the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. On the other hand, the Anti-Federalists also supported a House of Representative with substantive power. They acknowledged that the Constitution was not perfect, but they said that it was much better than any other proposal. Three Federalists—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—wrote a series of essays called The Federalist Papers. These essays explained the Constitution and defended its provisions. The documents were intended for the state of New York, though people from across the country read them. The Federalists defended the weakest point of the Constitution—a lack of a Bill of Rights—by suggesting that current protections were sufficient and that the Congress could always propose Amendments. Anti-Federalists such as Patrick Henry attacked the Constitution, suggesting that it would lead to a dangerously powerful national government. One of the Anti-Federalist’s strongest arguments was the Constitution’s lack of a Bill of Rights. Many Anti-Federalists were eventually persuaded by the Federalists’ arguments.

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Alexander Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton was a key player at the Constitutional Convention.

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers were written between 1788-9 and encouraged people to ask their representatives to ratify the Constitution.

Learning Objectives

Identify the three authors of, the individual papers in, and the principal reasons behind the Federalist Papers.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Federalist Paper No. 10 said that the Constitution had a check and balance system so that no branch of government dominated the other.
  • Federalist no. 51 said that a government like the U.S. naturally prevented factions from forming, thus protecting the peoples’–not the government’s–interests.
  • The Anti-Federalists had several complaints with the Constitution. One of their biggest was that the Constitution did not provide for a Bill of Rights protecting the people.

Key Terms

  • federalist: statesman or public figure supporting the proposed Constitution of the United States between 1787 and 1789
  • James Madison: James Madison, Jr. (March 16, 1751 (O.S. March 5) – June 28, 1836) was an American statesman and political theorist, the fourth President of the United States (1809–1817). He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights.
  • Federalist Papers: The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles or essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
  • Alexander Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757[1] – July 12, 1804) was a Founding Father,[2] soldier, economist, and political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

The Federalist Papers

During 1788 and 1789, there were 85 essays published in several New York State newspapers, designed to convince New York and Virginia voters to ratify the Constitution. The three people who are generally acknowledged for writing these essays are Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Since Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were considered Federalists, this series of essays became known as The Federalist Papers. One of the most famous Federalist Papers is Federalist No. 10, which was written by Madison and argues that the checks and balances in the Constitution prevent the government from falling victim to factions. Anti-Federalists did not support ratification. Madison also wrote Federalist No. 51, under the name “Publius” or “Public. ” He argues here that each branch of government would not be dependent on other branches and, thus, forming factions within the national government. That way, the government can work in the best interests of the people and not each other.

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The Federalist Papers: Title page of the first printing of the Federalist Papers.

Many individuals, such as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, were Anti-Federalists. The Anti-Federalists had several complaints with the Constitution. One of their biggest was that the Constitution did not provide for a Bill of Rights protecting the people. They also thought the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government and too little to individual states. A third complaint of the Anti-Federalists was that senators and the president were not directly elected by the people, and the House of Representatives was elected every two years instead of annually. On December 7, 1787, Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution. The vote was unanimous, 30-0. Pennsylvania followed on December 12, and New Jersey ratified on December 18, also in a unanimous vote. By summer 1788, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York had ratified the Constitution, and it went into effect. On August 2, 1788, North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution without amendments, but it relented and ratified it a year later.

Ratification of the Constitution

In order for all states to ratify, a compromise over a bill of rights had to be made.

Learning Objectives

Discuss differences among the states on the question of ratifying the Constitution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Beginning with Delaware, many states ratified the new constitution Between 1787 and 1788. Some ratified because they were promised a bill of rights.
  • All states except North Carolina ratified the new document and the Constitution went in effect by 1788. North Carolina demanded a bill of rights before ratifying it.
  • On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was added and listed natural liberties that the people had which could not be taken away by the federal government.

Key Terms

  • ratify: To give formal consent to; make officially valid.
  • Bill of Rights: The collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.

Ratification of the Constitution

Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution on December 7, 1787. The vote was unanimous, 30-0. Pennsylvania followed on December 12 and New Jersey ratified on December 18, also in a unanimous vote. The Constitution went into effect by the summer of 1788 after the following states had ratified the Constitution: Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York.

On August 2, 1788, North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution without amendments, but relented and ratified it a year later. North Carolina was not the only state that wanted amendments. New York and Virginia ratified the Constitution under the condition that a Bill of Rights be added. On September 26, 1789, Congress sent a list of twelve amendments to the states for ratification. Ten of the amendments would become the Bill of Rights.

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Congress of Confederation and the Constitution: The signing of the Constitution of the United States.

North Carolina ratified the Constitution in November of 1789, followed by Rhode Island in May 1790. Vermont became the last state to ratify the Constitution on January 10, 1791.

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights was enacted on December 15, 1791. Here is a summary of the ten amendments ratified on that day:

  • Amendment 1: Establishes freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petition.
  • Amendment 2: Establishes the right to keep and bear arms.
  • Amendment 3: Bans the forced quartering of soldiers.
  • Amendment 4: Interdiction of unreasonable searches and seizures; a search warrant is required to search persons or property.
  • Amendment 5: Details the concepts of indictments, due process, self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and rules for eminent domain.
  • Amendment 6: Establishes rights to a fair and speedy public trial, to a notice of accusations, to confront the accuser, to subpoenas, and to counsel.
  • Amendment 7: Provides for the right to trial by jury in civil cases.
  • Amendment 8: Bans cruel and unusual punishment, and excessive fines or bail.
  • Amendment 9: Lists unremunerated rights.
  • Amendment 10: Limits the powers of the federal government to only those specifically granted by the constitution.