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Parts 1-3 the historical introduction and the formation of the constitution

Page history last edited by mberry 14 years, 1 month ago

previous section 'Introduction, Constitution, and Federalism'                  

                        next section 'Federalists and Anti Federalists' 


The History of America's Beginnings  


Part I :In the Beginning 

It’s rather amusing, and at the same time incredibly fascinating to think that, we, as Americans, have come so far in such a short span of time from such humble beginnings. When we won our independence we were a simple agricultural nation which depended upon our extensive overseas trans-Atlantic trade with Europe for everything of a manufactured or complex sort. We had no factories, no manufacturing plants and almost no source of income. Everything before that had either been provided by either Britain or France, and since one of those powers was currently undergoing a tempestuous revolution and the other used to be our master before we rebelled, it seemed to America, that she was, for the moment on her own. The jump from an undeveloped isolated nation to the world’s premier superpower in less than two hundred years is quite a feat indeed!

                The first settlements began appearing in  America in the early 1500s in the Southwest and the early 1600s on the east coast with Jamestown settled in 1607 and the exiled Puritans arriving in 1620. For a while, the settlers were mostly independent from the countries they left, over time, however, when the European nations began to realize the great potential in the new world (both in materials and expansionist opportunities) they took a more active role in the governing of the colonies. The two main powers with major continental land holdings were the British who owned the thirteen colonies (now the eastern seaboard of the United States) and the French who owned the Ohio River valley and almost all the lands in what is now modern day Canada. Such was the animosity between these two countries that they had been in almost a perpetual state of war since 1066. It was only a matter of time until such resentment and animosity also engulfed their colonies. 

                In 1754, the Seven Years War broke out in Europe. It was a territorial conflict between all of the major powers in Europe at the time (Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, Spain, and Russia). However, since many of those nations also had various colonies scattered overseas the conflict quickly developed on a global scale. Some historians call the Seven Years War the First World War as the only continent left untouched was Australia. The French used the opportunity of the war in Europe as an attempt to gain all of Britain’s colonies. In what would later be known as the French and Indian War, the British and the American colonists (backed with supplies and troops from their respective mother nations) fought a series of bloody battles with the end result of both France and Spain ceding most of their New World possessions to Great Britain. This left the British in total control of most of the North American continent and also able to regulate and tax some of the wealthiest trade routes in the world.

                While they had defeated some of their biggest rivals and gained massive amounts of land in the Americas, the war had left the British treasury dangerously close to bankruptcy. They decided to tap into the wealthy colonies' finances to replenish their Empires’ capital. With a series of tariffs, the British Parliament taxed the sales of many essential items in the colonies.  Outraged at Parliament's actions, the colonists began a series of boycotts, and when the taxes increased, they eventually began open protests which culminated in the Boston Massacre and the stationing of a British Army in Boston. After several clashes between British troops and rebel militia, the Continental Congress drafted and published the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The War of Independence had begun.   


  (1) The famous painting by John Trumball of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

          The turning point of the War came at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 when a rag-tag Continental army under George Washington defeated and forced the surrender of a far superior British army. With the defeat of half of their forces in the Americas, the British fought a defensive war from there on. In the desire to win back some of their colonial lands and humiliate their long time enemies both the Spanish and the French entered the war on the side of the Colonies.  Resupplied and reinforced by their new allies the combined armies were able to defeat the remaining British  in the Americas and bring the British to the negotiating table. In the second Treaty of Paris, the British Government acknowledged the sovereignty of the United States of America. 



              The Signing of the Treaty of Paris, 1783

                Now that the War of Independence was over, the intellectuals and representatives of the colonies set about to attempt to create a stable system of government.



Part II: Americas’ first attempt at government: The Articles of Confederation

                Even before the War of Independence was successfully resolved, the intellectual elite of the colonies met to discuss the plans for the formation of Americas post war government. At this point their primary fear of this new government was that it might not potentially uphold the ideals of the revolution and have the possibility of becoming a tyrannical system much akin to the one they were currently fighting to escape from. To ensure this they created a Confederation which would include a weak central government but whose primary power would be held by the states. Created in 1781, it was clear by a few years later that the system possessed some serious flaws and was unable to help the economy recover from the post war debt. The states were simply too divided on important issues, and the central government didn't possess enough power to force them to compromise. With the economy in tatters and the nation bitterly divided, plans were soon made for the creation of a new government. -- one that could help rebuild America and maintain order between the diverse and culturally different states.   


Part III: The Framers of the Constitution

          Many famous names were among our founding fathers but what united them in their goal was not their quest for political power or their affiliations. It was their innovative and revolutionary concepts. These men, almost all born in the colonies were, arguably, the best brains in America. They all had very good educations (or educated themselves) and were all highly influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment. This fact is quite obvious when one examines their political documents. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”  (The Declaration of Independence).   Few other individuals in that era, would assert that each and every human being was in possession of certain unalienable rights. It is the work of intellectuals who held the best ideas of the Enlightenment at heart. These ideas, while old in practice had, ironically, never been applied to government. In Europe, where almost all of the various countries were ruled by various forms of nobility, the monarchical system was too firmly entrenched. There had been some strides to incorporate these components into the governments, but the rulers, worried about infringements on their power and possible revolutions, had these movements quickly and effectively crushed.  However, in the New World, where no form of government (save for the ineffectual Articles of Confederation) had ever been enacted, was the perfect testing ground for such new ideals. The closest major power was half a world away, and currently Europe was too engulfed in its own internal problems to care overly much about the new and potentially dangerous developments now being enacted across the Atlantic. As Abraham Lincoln would later say at the Battle of Gettysburg, it was going to be a “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (The Gettysburg Address)


Part IV: The Constitution                      

      In 1787, the representatives met in Philadelphia and, after much hashing and debate, were able to sort out a cohesive and functional Constitution. It began with what was known as the Virgina Plan. Created by James Madison it proposed the discontinuation of the Articles of Confederation and the creation of a more "consolidated" government. Madison and many of his compatriots belived that the power to tax the people should rest with the Federal Government not the states. They also included a plan that called for a three branch system of government. The states would be represented by a bicameral national legislature. The officials in the House of Representatives would be elected by a popular vote. However the Senate's members would be chosen by state legislatures (which was changed by a later amendment) to minimize the effects of the majorities influence. In most cases, the Senate would have power over the House of Representatives, especially in matters of foreign policy and appointment of officials (more on that in later chapters). Finally, Madison advocated for an Executive Branch and a Judiciary Branch to maintain a watchful eye over the proceedings of the nation and have the ability to veto any national and state legislation that they felt was not in the best interests of the nation.

     This, among other stipulations, caused great concern in the advocates for a weak central government (more on that in the next page).  In particular, many smaller states feared that their importance would decline as they had less of a say in matters because of their size and populations in respect to the other larger states. They in turn, came forth with a new proposal: The New Jersey Plan. It stated that the federal government's power should be increased to protect the smaller states and that a single house legislature was the best option. After much discussion and argument they agreed to a compromise (presented by the Connecticut delegation and eventually known as The Great Compromise). The slave states were also nervous because they wanted their slaves to count in the population count for representation.  The 3/5 Compromise allowed for some recognition of the slave population but not for all the slaves as non-slave states feared that would be unfair.  What all the compromised led to would eventually become the Constitution of the United States. A document that, while it has been adapted and changed occasionally, has remained a constant source of legal direction in America's history.


Do read on, your journey is only just beginning!


previous section 'Introduction, Constitution, and Federalism'                                     

     next section 'Federalists and Anti Federalists'


Works Cited


(1) http://farm1.static.flickr.com/17/23192670_e51fb65486.jpg

            (2) http://www.americaslibrary.gov/assets/aa/adams/aa_adams_leader_2_e.jpg

            (3) OOM: A History of the American People, Fifth Edition, Pearson Pretence Hall C 2007




Comments (1)

mberry said

at 1:41 pm on Dec 14, 2009

A nicely detailed history. I had to clean up some of the writing (typos, etc.) but the content is quite good. Please use Chicago Manual of Style for your citations (you may find the format in an attachment on the Front Page of PB Works)!

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