Chapter Study Outline

The First Founding: Interests and Conflicts

  1. The American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution were outgrowths and expressions of a struggle among economic and political forces within the colonies.
  2. In an effort to alleviate financial problems, including considerable debt, the British government sought to raise revenue by taxing its North American colonies. This energized New England merchants and southern planters, who then organized colonial resistance.
  3. Colonial resistance set in motion a cycle of provocation and reaction that resulted in the First Continental Congress and eventually the Declaration of Independence.
  4. The Declaration of Independence was an attempt to identify and articulate a history and set of principles that might help to forge national unity.
  5. The colonies established the Articles of Confederation. The first goal of the Articles was to limit the powers of the central government. Under the Articles, the central government was based entirely in Congress, yet Congress had little power. The relationship between the national government and the states was called a confederation, a system of government in which states retain sovereign authority except for the powers expressly delegated to the national government.

The Second Founding: From Compromise to Constitution

  1. Concern over America’s precarious position in the international community coupled with domestic concern that “radical forces” had too much influence in Congress and in state governments led to the Annapolis Convention in 1786. Delegates from only five states attended, so nothing substantive could be accomplished.
  2. Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts provided critics of the Articles of Confederation with the evidence they needed to push for constitutional revision.
  3. Recognizing fundamental flaws in the Articles, the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention abandoned the plan to revise the Articles and committed themselves to a second founding—a second, and ultimately successful, attempt to create a legitimate and effective national system of government.
  4. Conflict between large and small states over the issue of representation in Congress led to the Great Compromise, which created a bicameral legislature based on two different principles of representation.
  5. The Three-fifths Compromise addressed the question of slavery by apportioning the seats in the House of Representatives according to a population in which five slaves would count as three persons.

The Constitution

  1. The new government was to be strong enough to defend the nation’s interests internationally, promote commerce and protect property, and prevent the threat posed by “excessive democracy.”
  2. The House of Representatives was designed to be directly responsible to the people to encourage popular consent for the Constitution. The Senate was designed to guard against the potential for excessive democracy in the House.
  3. The Constitution grants Congress important and influential powers, but any power not specifically enumerated in its text is reserved specifically to the states.
  4. The framers hoped to create a presidency with energy—a president who would be capable of timely and decisive action to deal with public issues and problems.
  5. The establishment of the Supreme Court reflected the framers’ preoccupations with nationalizing governmental power and checking radical democratic impulses while guarding against potential interference with liberty and property from the new national government itself.
  6. Various provisions in the Constitution addressed the framers’ concern with national unity and power. Such provisions included clauses promoting reciprocity among states.
  7. Procedures for amending the Constitution are provided in Article V. These procedures are so difficult that amendments are quite rare in American history.
  8. To guard against possible misuse of power by the national government, the framers incorporated into the Constitution the principles of the separation of powers and federalism, as well as a Bill of Rights.
  9. The separation of powers was based on Montesquieu’s theory that power must be used to balance power.
  10. Although the framers’ move to federalism was a step toward greater centralization of national government power, they retained state power by devising a system of two sovereigns—the states and the central government.
  11. The Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791 as the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

The Fight for Ratification

  1. The struggle for ratification was carried out in thirteen separate campaigns—one in each state.
  2. The Federalists supported the Constitution and a stronger national government. The Antifederalists, on the other hand, preferred a more decentralized system of government and fought against ratification.
  3. Federalists and Antifederalists had differing views regarding issues such as representation and the prevention of tyranny.
  4. Antifederalist criticisms helped to shape the Constitution and the national government, but it was the Federalist vision of America that triumphed.

The Citizen’s Role and the Changing Constitution

  1. Provisions for amending the Constitution, incorporated into Article V, have proved to be difficult criteria to meet. Relatively few amendments have been made to the Constitution.
  2. Most of the amendments to the Constitution deal with the structure or composition of the government.
  3. As the Supreme Court reviews cases, it interprets the meaning of the Constitution and its amendments.

Thinking Critically about Liberty, Equality, and Democracy

  1. The Constitution’s framers placed individual liberty ahead of all other political values. But by emphasizing liberty, the framers virtually guaranteed that democracy and equality would evolve in the United States.