Monday, March 19, 2018

Early American History

The Congress met in New York City. The Congress called on each state to send delegates to a Constitution Convention meeting in Philadelphia. The stated purpose of the convention was to amend the Articles of Confederation. Many delegates like James Madison and George Washington wanted to use the convention to create a new constitution for the United States of America. The Convention convened in May of 1787 (with 12 of the 13 states sending delegates to the Convention. Rhode Island declined to participate).  It started in the Pennsylvania State House of Independence Hall on May 25, 1787.  The delegates selected Washington to preside over them. Madison was the driving force behind the Convention. The now elder Benjamin Franklin was there to give his experience and prestige. Other leaders in the Convention included:  Roger Sherman, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, Elbridge Gerry, William Paterson, John Dickinson, Charles Pinckney, Edmund Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, and George Mason. Alexander Hamilton was right that a powerful central government was necessary to promote a stable society, he was right to desire a balanced government, and some accused him of expressing some sympathy with aristocracy and monarchy. Morris was definitely wrong to advocate a President ruling for life. James Madison didn’t agree with democracy, but he favored republicanism (filled with diverse interests) without a constitution modeled by the British system. Me personally, I believe in democracy represented fairly among the people. The Constitutional Convention deals with the compromises to cause a government that was strong and acceptable to all of the states. The Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan were 2 different plans for the future U.S. Constitutional government. The Virginia Plan was proposed by James Madison. It wanted a government among 3 branches (legislature, executive, and judicial). For the legislature, he wanted the House and the Senate to be represented based upon population, so states with the greatest population would have the greatest representation. It promoted the interests of the most populous states in America. Madison via his plan wanted Congress to veto any plan of the states similar to the Parliament in dealing with colonial laws. The Virginia Plan wanted a strong President being in office for seven years.

The President would command the armed forces, manage foreign relations, and appoint all executive plus judicial officers subject to the Senate. Patrick Henry didn’t like this plan as the President would have kingly powers. This plan was extreme to put it lightly. The New Jersey Plan was the opposite of the Virginia Plan which represented states with smaller populations. It was introduced by William Peterson of New Jersey. His plan wanted Congress to regulate commerce, to tax, and to keep many of the powers of the Articles of Confederation. It had one unicameral legislature with the same representative regardless of population size. It had an executive committee not a President. The states were sovereign except for a few powers mentioned by the federal government. The problem with the Virginian Plan was that it went too far in expanding executive power and the problem with the New Jersey Plan was that it didn’t go far enough in strengthening federal government power. So, a compromise was achieved. Roger Sherman of Connecticut led the compromise. The Great Compromise made 3 branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial branches). The House would be represented by population while the Senate had 2 representatives for each state regardless of size. Madison abandoned national veto over state laws. This compromise is about federalism or the divided governmental power between federal and state governments. One of the biggest mistakes of this Convention was the Three fifths compromise, which counted slaves as 3/5 of a person. That was disgrace. Cowardly delegates feared southern resistance, so they enacted that nefarious policy. People like Madison, Jefferson, etc. knew that slavery and racism were immoral, but they supported that wicked 3/5 compromise. The slave trade was banned by 1808. The Constitutional Convention ended by September 17, 1787. Edmund Randolph of Virginia, George Mason of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts didn’t sign the document since they viewed it as not perfect. 

The Constitution, as proposed by the Convention (which lasted from May 25 – September 17, 1787), wanted a federal government which was limited in scope but independent of plus superior to the states. It wanted give Congress the role to tax and equipped with both Executive and Judicial branches as well as a two house legislature. The national legislature or Congress envisioned by the Convention embodied the key compromise of the Convention between the small states which wanted to retain the power they had under the one state/one vote Congress of the Articles of Confederation and the large states which wanted the weight of their larger populations and wealth to have a proportionate share of power. The upper House or the Senator would represent the states equally while the House of Representatives would be elected from districts of approximately equal populations. The Constitution itself called for ratification by state conventions specially elected for the purpose. The Confederation Congress recommended the Constitution to the states. They asked that ratification conventions to be called. Many smaller stated led by Delaware embraced the Constitution with little reservations. The two most populous states of New York and Virginia had controversies. Virginia had been the first successful British colony in North America. It has a large population and its political leadership had prominent roles in the Revolution. New York State was large and populous. It had ports on the coast and it was essential for the success of the United States. Local New York politics was controlled by a parochial elite led by Governor George Clinton and local political leaders.

These people don’t want to share their power with the national politicians. The New York ratification convention became the focus for a struggle over the wisdom of adopting the Constitution. The process for ratification continued and it was a long process. From December 7-18, 1787, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey ratified the Constitution. Those who advocated the Constitution became the Federalists and quickly gained supported nationwide. The most influential Federalists were Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Many Federalists included business leaders, those who lived in urban communities, and other people. These were the anonymous authors of The Federalist Papers or a series of 85 essays published in New York. They were created under the pen name “Publius.” John Jay also wrote some of the Federalist Papers too. These papers became seminal documents for the new United States and have often cited by jurists. These were written to sway the closely divided New York legislature. The opponents of the plan for a stronger federal government were called the Anti-Federalists. They feared that a government with the power to tax would soon become as despotic and corrupt as Great Britain had been only decades earlier. The Anti-Federalists included many farmers. The most famous Anti-Federalist writers were Patrick Henry and George Mason, who demanded a Bill of Rights to be included in the Constitution. The Federalists had approval from George Washington. Washington chaired the Constitutional Convention. Thomas Jefferson was the Minister of France at that time. He had reservations about the proposed Constitution. He wanted to remain neutral in the debate and to accept either outcome. Promises of a Bill of Rights form Madison secured ratification in Virginia. Yet, New York had the Clintons (who controlled New York politics) found themselves outmaneuvered as Hamilton secured ratification by a 30-27 vote. The Federalists had a much more powerful infrastructure to allow many states to ratify the Constitution. North Carolina and Rhode Island eventually signed on to make it unanimous among the 13 states. The old Articles of Confederation government of America ended to be replaced by a democratic republican form of government. The Anti-Federalists were right to promote a Bill of Rights addendum to the Constitution and they were wrong to abhor a strong federal government. The Constitution then and now advances popular sovereignty or the people are the only source of the government’s power.

It advanced limited government making the government limited in what it can or can’t do. It had the separation of powers, federalism, representative government (citizens can elect representatives to the government to make laws), checks and balances (like the President can veto a law, but Congress can override the President’s veto with 2/3s majority). Congress then set elections to the new Congress as well as the first Presidential election. The Anti-Federalists were wrong in saying that the Constitution should be always narrowly interpreted to limit federal power at every circumstances while the Federalists were right to say that the expansion of federal power when necessary is important to allow implied, broad powers to benefit the people. The Electoral College unanimously chose George Washington as the first President. John Adams was the first Vice President. New York City was designated as the national capital. They (George Washington and John Adams) were inaugurated in April 1789 at Federal Hall. Madison used leadership to make the first Congress to set up all of the necessary government agencies. He made good on the Federalist pledge of a Bill of Rights. The Anti-Federalists promoted the Bill of Rights, as it was a check on the federal government to protect rights. Madison drafted the Bill of Rights. It promoted the freedom of religion, the right to assemble, the freedom of speech, the right to a jury, and other rights that we know about today. Congress passed the Bill of Rights by 1789. Rhode Island, by a margin of 3%, became the thirteenth state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790. The United States Bill of Rights was ratified on 1791. The independent Vermont Republic was admitted to the Union as Vermont, becoming the fourteenth state in 1791 and Kentucky was the 15th state in the same year. The new government didn’t have political parties at first. Alexander Hamilton in 1790-1792 created a national network of friends of the government that became the Federalist Party. It controlled the national government until 1801. There was still a strong sentiment in favor of states’ rights and a limited federal government. This became the platform of a new party called the Republican or the Democratic-Republican Party. It was in opposition to the Federalists. Jefferson and Madison were its founders and leaders. Madison switched from being a Federalist to being an ally of Jefferson since Madison opposed the pro-national bank views of Hamilton.

Jefferson and Madison were the founders and leaders of the Democratic-Republican Party. They opposed strongly Hamilton’s First Bank of the United States. American foreign policy was dominated by the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars between the United Kingdom and France. The Republicans supported France and the French Revolution as a force for democracy. The Washington administration favored continued peace and commerce with Britain and it signed the Jay Treaty. This angered the Democratic-Republicans who accused Hamilton and the Federalists of supporting aristocracy and tyranny (when the French Revolution was right to oppose aristocracy and many people in the French Revolution went too far with the Reign of Terror and acts of murder against innocent people in France. These events were occurring after the short lived Enlightenment era Bavarian Illuminati). People during that time were diverse. George Washington was a planter and the commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. James Madison was a legislator from Virginia. Benjamin Franklin was a writer, inventor, printer, legislator, and diplomat (he lived in Philadelphia). Gouverneur Morris was a lawyer, merchant, and legislator from Pennsylvania. Alexander Hamilton was a lawyer and champion of a strong central government. Roger Sherman was merchant, mayor of New Haven (in Connecticut), legislator, and judge. John Dickenson of Delaware was a lawyer, historian, and independence advocate. John Adams succeeded Washington as President in 1797 and continued the policies of his administration. George Washington would die by the year of 1799. The Jeffersonian Republicans took control of the Federal government in 1801 and the Federalists never returned to power. The beginnings of the United States of America started with controversies, conflicts, disputes, debates, and the development of a new nation.

By Timothy

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