As a founding document of the United States, the U.S. Constitution has been a source of contention since before it was even written. Several notable founders of the U.S. refused to ratify the Constitution, believing the document to possess significant flaws that would result in strife for the country. Some who boycotted the Constitution, such as Patrick Henry and Elbridge Gerry, tended to do so on the grounds that the document invested too much power in a central federal government. Others, such as Edmund Randolph and George Mason, refused to sign the document on the grounds that it did not do enough to protect the rights of U.S. citizens.
Perhaps the most famous opponent of the Constitution was Patrick Henry. Henry, who once proclaimed “Give me liberty or give me death,” refused to attend the Constitutional Convention, stating that he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.” Essentially, Henry feared that the new office of the president would slowly evolve into a king-like position, which he felt had no place in a representative democracy. Henry was a strong supporter of states’ rights and thought that the new Constitution granted too much power to the federal government.
Gerry, who would later serve as the fifth vice president of the United States, also opposed the power that the Constitution gave to the federal government. Gerry did attend the Constitutional Convention, but he refused to sign the document. He argued for a strict demarcation between state and federal government. Gerry also wanted state governments to have control over who held federal government positions. This view was because Gerry, a native of Massachusetts, feared popular elections. This fear emerged from Gerry’s experience with Shay’s rebellion, an uprising in Massachusetts that gathered momentum because of its popular support.
A former governor of Virginia, secretary of state and the first U.S. attorney general, Edmund Randolph offered many key suggestions at the Constitutional Convention, which helped to shape both the Constitution and the U.S. political system. For example, Randolph introduced the idea of having a bicameral or two-sided legislative branch, as well as a national judiciary. Nonetheless, Randolph initially refused to sign the finished Constitution, believing that the final document did not have enough “checks and balances” built into its language. Randolph would later change his mind, however, because he did not want his home state of Virginia to be the only state not to ratify the important document.
Along with James Madison, George Mason is remembered as the “Father of the Bill of Rights.” This is because Mason refused to sign the Constitution because the document did not include a specific listing of rights possessed by U.S. citizens. Like Gerry and Henry, Mason also wanted a weak federal government, favoring instead strong state governments. In addition to this point of contention, however, Mason advocated strongly for the inclusion of a bill of rights, which he believed would protect common citizens from the type of exploitation citizens in England experienced at the hands of their leadership.
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