One of the main reasons that the U.S. Constitution was written was to establish a strong federal government for the young United States. The Articles of Confederation written earlier were not sufficient. Other reasons that the Constitution was created was to provide for the separation of powers in the government as well as rights to U.S. citizens.
The Articles of Confederation
To create written rules of operation for the American government, the Continental Congress met during the Revolutionary War and drafted the Articles of Confederation in 1777. Those Articles basically outlined the duties of Congress, including control over the continental army and diplomacy, the ability to print money, and deal with interstate disagreements, among other matters, according to the Independence Hall Association.
Weakness of the Articles of Confederation
The central government lacked the ability to raise funds. It had to ask the states for money to help fight the Revolution, and before the war was over the central government was bankrupt. The manueverings of Robert Morris, the congressional superintendent of finance, helped to strengthen the economy during the war. Many delegates to the later Constitutional convention in Philadelphia thought that the states had too much power under the Articles of Confederation, prompting demands for a new governing document.
Following the Revolution, the nation faced economic problems as a result of the great debt of the war. To deal with that, the Constitution was drafted. It established a stronger central government than what the Articles of Confederation had provided, and included an executive and judicial branch. Written in 1787 and then exhibited to the public for consideration, the Constitution described a central government that had authority over the states and allowed for representation by the people through Congressional representatives.
Organization of the Constitution
At the time consisting of seven articles, the Constitution set out the functions of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. The concept of a three branch government came from the Virginia Plan proposed by James Madison. The Constitution also articulated the means of how it was to be ratified, among other provisions.
Some Compromises in the Constitution
To appease Southern states, the Constitution also included the Fugitive Slave law, according to University of Houston history professor Steven Mintz. It also held that slave shipments were to continue until 1808, as provided in Article I, Section 9. The Connecticut Compromise was another accommodation, which provided that the number of members of the House of Representatives would be in proportion to state population while in the Senate there would be two senators per state regardless of population.
Following its drafting, the ratification process began. Those against the Constitution as written were Anti-federalists, who opposed strong central government, and those supporting adoption were the Federalists, according to Mintz. The Federalist Papers were written to address concerns about governmental power. As a result of anti-Federalist sentiment, however, the Bill of Rights, which articulated the rights of U.S. citizens, was adopted by the first Congress following ratification of the Constitution.
- Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia; U.S. History Online Program; The Articles of Confederation
- Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia; U.S. History Online Program: Drafting the Constitution
- Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia; U.S. History Online Program; Cast of National Superstars
- University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; Early Influence of the U.S. Constitution in the Western Hemisphere; Prof. Robert J. Knowlton
- Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia; U.S. History Online Program: The Tough Issues
- Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia; U.S. History Online Program; Constitution Through Compromise
- Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images