Benjamin Franklin famously stated after the Constitutional Convention that the founders had given the people a republic, if they can keep it. Franklin’s concern had merit because this federal Constitution would not even be law until the people voted to accept it. During this ratification process, both those for and against the Constitution promoted their position. Those for ratification were the Federalists and those against the present Constitution were the Anti-Federalists. Though the Federalists won the ultimate battle, when the Constitution received the required votes from the states, the Anti-Federalists demonstrated the strength of their position by forcing the first Congress to pass the Bill of Rights.
The American founding fathers met secretly in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. These elite men had received from their states the authority to revise the then current national law, the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the founders believed America needed a stronger national government to survive. They also wanted to protect the independence of the individual states. The result of these two desires was a Constitution based on the principle of federalism, with three co-equal branches of government.
Any changes to the Articles of Confederation required a vote of approval from all 13 states. Sidestepping the rules in the present law, the Constitution, in Article VII, declared itself the new law of the United States of America upon ratification by three-fourths, or nine, of the states. Throughout the remainder of 1787 and into 1788, when the Constitution passed, two competing camps debated the merits of the new set of laws.
These people believed, in general, that the Constitution took too much power from the citizens. Anti-Federalists claimed that the Executive could become a monarch. The nation, as well, was too large as a single unit. Historically, the Anti-Federalists pointed out, no large republic had ever been sustained. Slavery, written into the Constitution to placate certain Southern states, violated the spirit of the American Revolution, they also mentioned. Last, but not least, was that the Constitution, in its original form, did not include a Bill of Rights. Anti-Federalists wanted this set of written guarantees of what powers people have to protect their liberty from the government.
Federalists believed that the Constitution provided for both a strong national government and an empowered citizenry. The existence of three co-equal branches prevented an abuse of privilege by any one political institution. The Executive, though the Commander-in-Chief of the military, could not declare war, for example. Justices of the Supreme Court, though nominated for life tenure, were chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Congress possessed the authority to write laws but the Supreme Court could ultimately strike the laws down. Though they felt one unnecessary, to ensure ratification by the required nine states, the Federalists promised that a first order of business for Congress would be passing a Bill of Rights.
- National Archives and Records Administration: Constitution of the United States
- Cornell University Law School: U.S. Constitution, Article VII
- National Archives and Records Administratation: A More Perfect Union,The Creation of the U.S. Constitution
- Slavery and Sectional Strife in the Early American Republic; Gary John Kornblith, Ph.D.
- Federalists and AntiFederalists; John P. Kaminski and Richard Leffler
- The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers; David Wootton, Ph.D.
- Democracy's Discontent; Michael J. Sandel
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