Articles Blog


October 16, 2019

– Often when you hear folks
discuss the creation of the American Constitution, they will say something along
the lines of, “The Constitution was written
to limit the size and power “of the Federal Government. “The Founding Fathers,”
they will argue, “wrote the Constitution “to keep the Federal Government
from growing out of control. They wanted to limit the power
of the Federal Government.” This explanation, however,
is completely wrong. The men, yes, they were all men,
who wrote and supported ratification of
the American Constitution, sought to dramatically increase the power of the Federal
Government, not decrease it. Why, you might skeptically ask,
would they do such a thing? Well, keep in mind that
the Constitution we have now did not take effect until 1789. The War for Independence
from England ended in 1783. Does this mean that
the United States had no governing constitution
for most of the 1780s? It does not, of course. In fact, the United States
did have a constitution. It was called the Articles of
Confederation. The Articles of Confederation
national government, however, was very weak. Many Americans in the 1780s
truly did fear the power of strong national governments. After all, they had just
rebelled against one of the most powerful
national governments on the face of the planet,
Great Britain. The Articles of Confederation,
America’s first constitution after the War for Independence,
was, therefore, designed to keep most power
at the state level. The national government was
given very little real power. Among other things,
it had no power to collect taxes or regulate trade,
the very things that had caused so much trouble between
the American colonists and the British government. However,
the national government, under the Articles of
Confederation, was so weak that it could barely
hold the country together. Massachusetts, for example, was
rocked by an anti-tax revolt known as Shays’ Rebellion. Now, remember, the national
government did not have the power to tax,
but the states did, and sometimes in states like
Massachusetts, the taxes were far higher than
they had been when the colonies were under
British rule. The nation was also
deeply in debt. Congress was sometimes unable to
make even the interest payments it owed on the money it had
borrowed to wage war against Great Britain. The weak national government was powerless to address
these issues. The individual states had
little interest in surrendering their autonomy to a stronger
national government, nor did they have much interest
in supporting the national government
financially. In the opinion of some
Americans, however, people like James Madison,
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin,
and Alexander Hamilton, the country needed
a much stronger, more powerful
national government. They feared that the brand new
United States would dissolve. That this experiment
in republicanism, government without a king, would
fall apart and the United States would break up into 13 separate
small vulnerable nations unless they took action to give
the national government more power and authority. These men, commonly called
Federalists, believed in what they called
energetic government. Their answer to such fears was
the 1787 Constitution, a plan of government which
dramatically strengthened the national government. Among other things, it endowed
the national government with the power to tax and
the power to regulate trade. Of course not all
Americans agreed that a stronger national
government was either desirable or necessary. Many Americans, like
revolutionary war hero Patrick Henry, strongly opposed
the new constitution and sought to prevent it
from going into effect. After the Constitution was
written, it had to be ratified, or approved, by at least nine of
the 13 states for it to replace the Articles of Confederation. The debate between
those who favored the newly written Constitution,
the Federalists, and those who opposed it, commonly called
anti-Federalists, although they called themselves
Republicans, this debate played out between
1787 and 1789 in a series of ratification
debates that took place in each and every
American state. In the end, the Constitution did
become the law of the land. But just barely.

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