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 newrepublic had just begun. Under the Articles of Confederation, the newstates were much more like thirteen separate countries than a singlenation. It was still questionable as the whether or not the fledgingcountry, the United States of America, would survive. The problems for the country under the Articles of Confederation wereconsiderable.
Pertaining to the economy, it lacked the authority toestablish tariffs and to regular commerce, or even to levy taxes(Anonymous, 2002). Pertaining to foreign relations, the central governmentdid not have exclusive authority over US international policy. Consequently, a number of states, after the victory over Great Britainbegan their own negotiations with foreign powers (Anonymous, 2001). Ninestates organized their own armies, and there was a hodgepodge ofcurrencies, a “bewildering variety of state and national paper bills, allfast depreciating in value” (Anonymous, 2002).
The government under theArticles of Confederation had no power to establish courts, or to controltrade between the states(INS, 1990). Some states even had their owncustoms offices in regards to interstate trade. George Washington was appalled to see the new nation that he hadfought to establish falter. During the American Revolution, the efforts ofCongress had been ineffectual at best, but afterwards, the actions ofCongress were actually hampering the viability of the new republic.
One ofthe most serious problems was still with Great Britain. English merchantswere giving liberal credit to their old customers in the US, encouragingthe former colonies to buy. But the England still closed its ports toAmerican ships, so the trade was all in one direction, and many coloniesgoing into debt to England relented, but this strategy would do no goodunless all the states cooperated. Washington urged that Congress should begiven the power to impose such sanctions, but simultaneously despaired atthe thought of giving power to men who had obviously demonstrated theinability to use it. This and other problems caused American leaders toconvene a Constitutional Convention.
Washington was asked to preside(Morgan, 1977). While all agreed that the Articles of Confederation were insufficientto hold the new nation together, there was still considerable dissensionabout how a new government could be structured. When the ConstitutionalConvention was called in 1787 the fate of the young nation, literally hungin the balance. The tasks for the delegates at the convention were noteasy. For one thing, only twelve states were represented, as Rhode Islandwas too independent to even attend (INS, 1990).
The delegates began withonly two issues in full agreement-a stronger, more centralized federalgovernment was needed, and this new government must not take away any ofthe hard-won freedoms of the people (INS, 1990). One of the most problematic issues facing the Convention was the issueof representation. The “Great Compromise” that was worked out has sincebeen copied time and again by other governments. This compromise entailedhaving a bicameral legislature with two lawmaking branches-the House ofRepresentatives, where representation is based on the number of people inthe state; and the Senate, where every state has two senators no matterwhat the size of the state.
Small states, such as Rhode Island, weresatisfied because they had equal representation in the Senate. Largestates, such as New York, were satisfied because they had many morerepresentatives in the House to represent their greater numbers. However, it is also true that Washington wrote at about this time thathe had been told about “respectably” people speaking of a monarchy form ofgovernment, which was news that upset Washington greatly (Morgan, 1977). As this suggests, many citizens were not yet completely committed to whatGreen (1975), calls the “grand experiment in federalism” (pg 1).
Whilesome people talked of monarchy, others were hesitant to allow the states togive up even a little of their autonomy to a central government. So whathappened was there was a resistance to the ratification of the newConstitution. While the Constitution offered solutions for the problemscaused by the Articles of Confederation – it said what the government coulddo – the original draft of the document failed to state what the governmentcould no do (ACLU, 2000). Therefore, the Bill of Rights was added in order to institutionalizethe freedoms of speech, press and religion that the American people to cometo expect as there natural right.
It is a misapprehension to believe thatthe Bill of Rights was conceived to create certain freedoms. Rather, theBill of Rights (and the liberties that it conveys), was something that theAmerican people insisted upon because these were freedoms that were alreadya part of their lives and for which they had fought. The Constitution of the United States provided solutions for theproblems facing the new nation. In addition to a legislative branch thatsatisfied all of the states, large and small.
The Constitution alsoestablished a judicial branch and an executive branch to the US government. Through a system of checks and balances, the powers of government wereallowed in a manner designed to keep any one branch of government fromdominating the others, thereby providing one more safeguard for AmericanLiberty. At the time that the Constitution was ratified, Americans argued overthe proper role of government versus the freedom of the individual. To acertain extent, this argument had never been settled. Yet, things dochange.
For example, the argument of state’s rights and the “freedom” ofthe individual to choose whether or not to own slaves were issues centralto the American Civil War. This aspect of American culture changed withthe victory of the Union and the abolishment of slavery. At the time thatthe country was founded until the twentieth century, it was assumed thatthe “liberties” of the Constitution pertained only to males, but in 1920the voting franchise was extended to women and by mid-century theinequalities in American law regarding the gender were abolished. It istrue that Republicans generally seek to limit the powers of the federalgovernment, and Democrats believe that it is appropriate for the federalgovernment to provide certain social guarantees and to supervise somedomestic areas, such as Environmental safety. Yet, both of these groupsuphold the liberties provided for by the Constitution of the United States. Therefore it can be seen that the Constitution is a remarkable documentthat provides a suitable structure in which constructive change could occurwithout bringing down the government.
Works CitedAnonymous (2002, June 15) An Outline of American HistoryOnline. Available:http://odur. let. rug.
nl/~usa/H/1994/ch4_p2. htmAmerican Civil Liberties Union Briefing Paper (ACLU) (2002, June 15)The Bill of Rights: a brief history. Online. Available:http://www. aclu.
org/library/pbp9. htmlGreene, Jack P. , Ed. (1975) Colonies to Nation: 1763-1789, adocumentary History of the American Revolution. New York, NY: W. W.
Norton ; CompanyImmigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (2002, June 15) UnitedStates History 1600-1987 Chapter II Revolutionary Warand the Constitution. In U. S. History. Online.
Available: www. elibrary. comMorgan, Edmund S. (1977) The Genius of George Washington. New York, NY: W.
W. Norton ; Company