What Were the Intentions of the Framers of the Constitution?
Questions involving the original intent of the framers of the Constitution have been raised ever since the U.S. government's formative years. James Madison, known as the "Father of the Constitution," stated that a consistent and stable government was impossible to attain in the absence of a reasonable understanding of the framers' original intent. As they sought to determine the key principles set forth in the Constitution, the framers tried to balance federalist concerns with state-specific interests.
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 met for the purpose of revising an earlier plan of government called the Articles of Confederation. This prior document denied the national government the power of taxation. It did not provide for a system of national courts and it deprived the federal government of the ability to enforce laws. Thus, it was deemed insufficient. "Believing it to be expedient, perhaps essential, to abandon the established constitutional framework in ratification, they abandoned also the form of amendments to the Articles in favor of a new, entirely separate document," notes Thorton Anderson in his book "Creating the Constitution: The Convention of 1787 and the First Congress." As they drafted the Constitution, the framers were interested in revitalizing the U.S. government.
Artful acts of compromise characterized the efforts of the framers of the Constitution. A crucial compromise contained in the Constitution dealt with the issue of slavery. Despite the fact the U.S. Census of 1790 indicates that northern states had effectively abolished slavery, southern states were reticent to accept any plan of government that failed to maintain the institution of slavery. Leaders from both the North and the South ironed out compromises for the sake of promoting national unity. Thus, the framers approved of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which maintained that the slave trade would not be abolished prior to the year 1808.
Central to a constitutional plan of representative democracy are reasonable measures of taxation. Such measures occupied the attention of the framers of the Constitution. Concerning representation, a handful of plans were offered forth to champion federal interests -- as in the case of Alexander Hamilton's plan -- or state interests -- as in the case of Charles Pinckney's plan. Eventually, federal and state interests were assuaged through the adoption of a system of checks and balances. The South gained a victory by receiving increased congressional recognition on the basis of its slave population, each member of which was counted as three-fifths of a person rather than as a non-entity. At the same time, the North benefited from this three-fifths provision, since taxes levied on the South accounted for the presence of the slave population. Since slaves constituted 40 percent of the South's population, tax payments associated with slaves amounted to a considerable sum.
While many people may argue that the Constitution was written by federalists to reinforce federalist aims, this document is also replete with many limitations upon federal power. In their book "Constitutional Government: The American Experience," James A. Curry, Richard B. Riley and Richard M. Battistoni note that the Constitution contains "a number of specific prohibitions on the federal government which the courts could enforce, most notably against Congress's passing bills of attainder and ex post facto laws (these the states were also forbidden to pass)." Prior to the formulation of the Bill of Rights, which would ultimately be appended to the Constitution in order to protect state-based interests, the Constitution itself contained important provisions designed to curb federal power. Having been soured on what they considered to be tyrannical British rule during America's colonial years, the framers of the Constitution did not want to release too much power to the central government.