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Building the State (1781-1797)

Study Questions

Division into Parties and George Washington's Farewell Address

Review Test

How did the debate over the fate of Alexander Hamilton's proposal to create the Bank of the United States foreshadow the future ideological division between Republicans and Federalists?

The Republicans claimed, correctly, that the Constitution nowhere granted Congress the power to grant charters. Any claim that Congress could create the Bank of the United States relied upon a loose reading of the Constitution, especially the elastic clause, which states that Congress shall have the power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution...powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States." The so-called strict constructionists, advocating a strict reading of the Constitution, focused on the latter part of the clause, claiming that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to grant the bank a charter, so that the passing of the bank charter could not be considered necessary and proper. Loose constructionists, on the other hand, focused on the beginning of the clause, claiming it gave Congress the power to do anything not expressly forbidden by the Constitution.

Furthermore, reactions to the prospect of a national bank foreshadowed the widening rift between North and South. The North was, in general, very much in favor of the bank, while the South was very much opposed. The debate over the bank thus demonstrated both the growing ideological divisions in the United States and hinted at the geographical sources of those divisions.

Many historians describe the American experiment in building the state as a continuous struggle between tradition and change. Evaluate this statement, giving examples to support your evidence.

The founding fathers were no doubt influenced by the traditions and habits of the past, as well as eager to create a new form of government based on the republican values which rose to the fore during the revolution. The first area in which this tension may be seen is during the formation of state constitutions. Despite the chance to radically alter the form of government, states more often than not maintained the practices of the past, including establishing bicameral legislatures, a direct parallel to the structure of British Parliament, and maintaining property ownership as a necessity for voters and office holders. Though the spirit of government was markedly more liberal than that of the British government, these traditions survived the ideological transition. The impact of tradition in the United States did not weaken with time, even in the face of the creation of a new government under the Constitution. This is best exhibited in the creation of the federal-court system. In response to widespread fears that a national justice system would wipe out the legal traditions that had operated in the states for decades, Congress established a federal-court system which placed federal district courts in each state which ran according to local custom. This compromise represented a balance between access to the newly created federal justice system and a preservation of tradition. Throughout its history, the United States has found reason to strike similar balances in countless political arenas as it has evolved.

The division of the United States into political parties took on a distinctively geographic element during the early years of the Union. Explain how this division may be explained?

More than anything else, the division of the nation into political parties exemplified the growing rift between North and South. The conservative industrial North was decidedly federalist, while the more liberal agricultural South was overwhelmingly Republican. Historians most often attribute this split to the differing economic modalities of the regions. Perhaps most important in the division into parties were the differing social concerns which grew out of industrial and agricultural economies. In the North, as in every industrial economy, those with economic power sought to protect that power from those who did not have as much, namely the masses in the workforce. Thus, to the powerful businessmen of the North, an ideology that closely linked the wealthy to the government and put political power in the hands of elites, free from the influence of the masses, sounded very attractive. In contrast, the workforce in the South was made up primarily of slaves, with no chance to rise in the economic ranks and vie for the power of the plantation owners. Moreover, southern plantation owners did not have an antagonistic relationship with small farmers. To the contrary, they trusted their abilities to be elected by the small farmers and to lead them in peace, should they be given the chance to. Thus, for southerners, an ideology that placed the power of the government in the hands of the people did not seem dangerous, but logical.

Which elements of the new national government may be seen as remedies to British errors in governing the colonists?

What were the major areas of weakness of the Articles of Confederation and how were they exposed during the mid 1780s?

What differences can be found between the British-Native American threat to US settlers in the northwest and the Spanish-Native American threat in the southwest? How did these differences affect US policy?

George Washington left office under a barrage of criticism, yet he is now regarded as one of the greatest presidents in US history. Which view is correct, and why?

What were Alexander Hamilton's goals as Secretary of State in regard to the tie between the government and the upper class? How did his proposals in Congress aim at the achievement of these goals?

How did the Constitution respond directly to the problems faced by the national government under the Articles of Confederation? What evidence was there during Washington's presidency to suggest these problems had been solved?

How did the two major domestic uprisings of the state-building period, Shays' Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion reflect the values which arose during the American Revolution? How did each affect the nation's view of the national government?

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