The principle goal of the American Revolution was to secure the
“liberty” of the American colonies against the “tyranny” of the British.
Yet, in many ways, once this goal was achieved, the problems of the new
republic had just begun. Under the Articles of Confederation, the new
states were much more like thirteen separate countries than a single
nation. It was still questionable as the whether or not the fledging
country, the United States of America, would survive.
The problems for the country under the Articles of Confederation were
considerable. Pertaining to the economy, it lacked the authority to
establish tariffs and to regular commerce, or even to levy taxes
(Anonymous, 2002). Pertaining to foreign relations, the central government
did not have exclusive authority over US international policy.
Consequently, a number of states, after the victory over Great Britain
began their own negotiations with foreign powers (Anonymous, 2001). Nine
states organized their own armies, and there was a hodgepodge of
currencies, a “bewildering variety of state and national paper bills, all
fast depreciating in value” (Anonymous, 2002). The government under the
Articles of Confederation had no power to establish courts, or to control
trade between the states(INS, 1990). Some states even had their own
customs offices in regards to interstate trade.
George Washington was appalled to see the new nation that he had
fought to establish falter. During the American Revolution, the efforts of
Congress had been ineffectual at best, but afterwards, the actions of
Congress were actually hampering the viability of the new republic. One of
the most serious problems was still with Great Britain. English merchants
were giving liberal credit to their old customers in the US, encouraging
the former colonies to buy. But the England still closed its ports to
American ships, so the trade was all in one direction, and many colonies
going into debt to England relented, but this strategy would do no good
unless all the states cooperated. Washington urged that Congress should be
given the power to impose such sanctions, but simultaneously despaired at
the thought of giving power to men who had obviously demonstrated the
inability to use it. This and other problems caused American leaders to
convene a Constitutional Convention. Washington was asked to preside
While all agreed that the Articles of Confederation were insufficient
to hold the new nation together, there was still considerable dissension
about how a new government could be structured. When the Constitutional
Convention was called in 1787 the fate of the young nation, literally hung
in the balance. The tasks for the delegates at the convention were not
easy. For one thing, only twelve states were represented, as Rhode Island
was too independent to even attend (INS, 1990). The delegates began with
only two issues in full agreement-a stronger, more centralized federal
government was needed, and this new government must not take away any of
the hard-won freedoms of the people (INS, 1990).
One of the most problematic issues facing the Convention was the issue
of representation. The “Great Compromise” that was worked out has since
been copied time and again by other governments. This compromise entailed
having a bicameral legislature with two lawmaking branches-the House of
Representatives, where representation is based on the number of people in
the state; and the Senate, where every state has two senators no matter
what the size of the state. Small states, such as Rhode Island, were
satisfied because they had equal representation in the Senate. Large
states, such as New York, were satisfied because they had many more
representatives in the House to represent their greater numbers.
However, it is also true that Washington wrote at about this time that
he had been told about “respectably” people speaking of a monarchy form of
government, which was news that upset Washington greatly (Morgan, 1977).
As this suggests, many citizens were not yet completely committed to what
Green (1975), calls the “grand experiment in federalism” (pg 1). While
some people talked of monarchy, others were hesitant to allow the states to
give up even a little of their autonomy to a central government. So what
happened was there was a resistance to the ratification of the new
Constitution. While the Constitution offered solutions for the problems
caused by the Articles of Confederation – it said what the government could
do – the original draft of the document failed to state what the government
could no do (ACLU, 2000).
Therefore, the Bill of Rights was added in order to institutionalize
the freedoms of speech, press and religion that the American people to come
to expect as there natural right. It is a misapprehension to believe that
the Bill of Rights was conceived to create certain freedoms. Rather, the
Bill of Rights (and the liberties that it conveys), was something that the
American people insisted upon because these were freedoms that were already
a part of their lives and for which they had fought.
The Constitution of the United States provided solutions for the
problems facing the new nation. In addition to a legislative branch that
satisfied all of the states, large and small. The Constitution also
established a judicial branch and an executive branch to the US government.
Through a system of checks and balances, the powers of government were
allowed in a manner designed to keep any one branch of government from
dominating the others, thereby providing one more safeguard for American
At the time that the Constitution was ratified, Americans argued over
the proper role of government versus the freedom of the individual. To a
certain extent, this argument had never been settled. Yet, things do
change. For example, the argument of state’s rights and the “freedom” of
the individual to choose whether or not to own slaves were issues central
to the American Civil War. This aspect of American culture changed with
the victory of the Union and the abolishment of slavery. At the time that
the country was founded until the twentieth century, it was assumed that
the “liberties” of the Constitution pertained only to males, but in 1920
the voting franchise was extended to women and by mid-century the
inequalities in American law regarding the gender were abolished. It is
true that Republicans generally seek to limit the powers of the federal
government, and Democrats believe that it is appropriate for the federal
government to provide certain social guarantees and to supervise some
domestic areas, such as Environmental safety. Yet, both of these groups
uphold the liberties provided for by the Constitution of the United States.
Therefore it can be seen that the Constitution is a remarkable document
that provides a suitable structure in which constructive change could occur
without bringing down the government.
Anonymous (2002, June 15) An Outline of American History
American Civil Liberties Union Briefing Paper (ACLU) (2002, June 15)
The Bill of Rights: a brief history. Online. Available:
Greene, Jack P., Ed. (1975) Colonies to Nation: 1763-1789, a
documentary History of the American Revolution.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton ; Company
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (2002, June 15) United
States History 1600-1987 Chapter II Revolutionary War
and the Constitution. In U.S. History. Online.
Morgan, Edmund S. (1977) The Genius of George Washington.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton ; Company