The Background to the Debate over the Ratification of the Constitution


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The Background to the Debate over the Ratification of the Constitution

The transition to the United States Constitution from the Articles of Confederation was not always seamless. Fixing the issues of the Articles of Confederation needed a series of long debates during and after the convention took place. The one that was certain was that changes had to be made. Fifty-five delegates convened in 1878 at the Constitutional Convention to assess the best ways to rectify existing documents. Some of the weakness of the articles was that they lacked a national court system, every state was allocated a single vote regardless of size, and lack of an executive branch to enforce acts that Congress passed. Another weakness is that congress lacked the mandate to tax or regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Also, laws need a nine out of thirteen majority to be passed in Congress and amendments of the articles needed a unanimous vote. These loopholes brought a great deal of conflicts between states, something that delegates tried to resolve by drafting the Constitution. However, when the Founding Fathers finished signing the constitution, under the Articles, it required ratification from nine states before going into effect, which was not easy. The push for ratification sparked a seemingly endless barrage of articles, documents and pamphlets opposing and supporting it.

There were two sides to this debate: Antifederalists and Federalists. The Federalists were pushing for the ratification of the Constitution, while Anti-Federalists were against it. One of the significant issues that the two parties were not conflicting about was the inclusion of the bill of rights. To the Federalists, the addition was not necessary as they believed that as is the Constitution stood for limited government rather than the people. The Anti-Federalists on the other hand were of the opinion that the Constitution provided the central government excessive power and people would be exposed without the Bull of Rights.

The Split of Government between Federalists and Anti-Federalists

The Federalists who were led by Alexander Hamilton, although secretly were the first political party to form in the United States. Federalists supported the Constitution and tried to convince the States into ratifying the document. Alexander Hamilton alongside James Madison and John Jay, published a series of essays anonymously under the pseudonym “Publius” that were regarded as Federalists Papers (Gilbertson, 255). Madison and Hamilton argued that the Constitution did not need a Bill of Rights as it would cause a parchment barrier that would limit people’s rights rather than protecting them. However, the two eventually formed a concession and announced their interest to take up the issue of the series of amendments that would eventually become the Bill of Rights. Without such compromise, the Constitution might never have gotten ratified by States. It is surprising that it was James Madison, a Federalist that eventually showcased the Bill of Rights to Congress irrespective of his former position on the matter.

In the great debate concerning the ratification of the constitution, the Anti-Federalists were opposed to the new system as it did not protect individual rights and threatened liberties. While the anti-federalists were not always united, they involved various elements. One section did not support the Constitution as they thought that more powerful governments had threatened the sovereignty of sports. Others opined that a new central government would possess the traits of the despotism of Great Britain they had strived hard to separate themselves from. Others were still afraid of the new government threatening personal liberties. In the push for ratification, majority of the articles that were in opposition were given pseudonyms such as “Centinel,” “Brutus,” and “Federal Farmer” however renowned revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry came out publicly against the constitution. Although the Anti-Federalists were not successful in keeping the Constitution from being adopted, their efforts were responsible for the development and implementation of the bill of rights.

Jefferson and Hamilton’s Debate over the Role of the Federal Government versus the State

Following months of compromises and battles, the United States Constitution was eventually sent to Congress by the Convection on September 1787. Throughout the first decade and the ratification process in the first decade of the new government, the American society was at the center of a heated argument about exactly the way governments would function and the kind of powers they could have. Political parties started developing soon afterwards as people argued about the direction in which the discussion was headed. Alexander Hamilton soon became the leading voice for the Federalists who strongly opined that the federal governments were supposed to be strong. On the contrary, Thomas Jefferson who was a Republican argued that trusting the federal government would cause tyranny. A clause in Article 1 of the constitution gave Congress the power to make provisions and laws which would not be categorized as enumerated powers. Jefferson and Hamilton debated numerous times about what ‘necessary and proper’ would mean. Hamilton adopted a more liberal reading of the clause and pined that Congress thought do what they deemed necessary for national responsibilities, Jefferson, in the other hand, maintained that the clause indicated that Congress should only take actions they deemed absolutely necessary and nothing more (Mikhail, 507). Hamilton proposed the US charter should have a national bank to cater to the Revolutionary War debt, stimulate the economy, and develop a single currency. Jefferson on the other hand argued that the development of a national bank was not proper and necessary. After presenting both arguments to Washington, he agreed with Hamilton’s viewpoints.

Works Cited

Gilbertson, Nils. “Return of the Skeptics: The Growing Role of the Anti-Federalists in Modern Constitutional Jurisprudence.” Geo. JL & Pub. Pol’y 16 (2018): 255.

Mikhail, John. “Fixing Implied Constitutional Powers in the Founding Era.” (2019): 507.

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