The ratification of the United States Constitution sparked several lively debates during 1787 and 1788. The issues contested are outlined and investigated in the Federalist Papers, a collection of letters and essays, often published under pseudonyms, that appeared in various publications after the Constitution was presented to the public. Those in favor of the Constitution are remembered as Federalists, their opponents as Anti-Federalists. Their discussions concerned five main issues.
Illegality of the Constitution's Formation
Many of those who contributed to the public debate about the constitution regarded the production of the document as an illegal act. According to some Anti-Federalists, the men sent to the constitutional convention had exceeded the limits of the task originally given them, which was to simply modify the Articles of Confederation. Federalists argued that the articles needed to be abolished rather than amended.
Centralization of Power
Anti-Federalists were appalled that the new constitution centralized the power of the federal government. Under the Articles of Confederation, state sovereignty had been respected to such an extent that the national government could only make requests for crucial things, such as money to pay off the war debt left over from the Revolution. Federalists replied that a certain amount of centralization was needed so that the federal government could respond adequately to difficulties the nation faced.
The powers granted to the executive branch, which had not even existed under the Articles of Confederation, similarly disturbed Anti-Federalists. They claimed that the President of the United States would be too powerful, given his veto power and role as commander-in-chief. Federalists pointed out the checks and balances inherent in the newly created three branches of government and said these would prevent the President from becoming a dictator.
The Slavery Issue
The framers of the Constitution debated the issue of slavery before finishing the final draft of the document and presenting it to the public. Slaveholders had wanted each slave to count as one whole person, giving slave states an electoral power that exceeded their actual population of voters. Northern states feared this potential influence. The framers had compromised and counted each slave as three-fifths of a person for electoral purposes. Opponents of slavery thought this compromise hideous.
The Bill of Rights
Anti-Federalists noted that the Constitution simply explained the procedures under which the government would function without providing for rights that would be retained by the states. Federalists assuaged their fears by agreeing to attach the Bill of Rights to the end of the Constitution after ratification. These first 10 amendments to the Constitution were approved and added to the document in December 1791.
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