Building the State (1781-1797)

Key Terms and Events


Anti-Federalists  -  Anti-federalists rose up as the opponents of the Constitution during the period of ratification. They advocated a governmental structure that granted power to the states.
Antidisestablishmentarianism  -  The movement in opposition to the disbanding of formal ties between government and religion. Antidisestablishmentarianism proved especially formidable in New England. Whereas most states broke all government ties with religion shortly after the Declaration of Independence, the Congregational Church continued collecting tithes (taxes) in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts well into the nineteenth century.
Articles of Confederation  -  Adopted in 1777 during the Revolutionary War, the Articles were the document that established the United States of America. The Articles granted few powers to the central government and left most powers up to the individual states. The result was a weak, rather ill-defined state. The Articles were replaced by the Constitution in 1789. SparkNote on the Articles of Confederation.
Bicameral  -  Name for a legislative system composed of two complementary houses. Congress, like its model the British Parliament, is bicameral; the Senate and the House of Representatives make up its two houses.
Bill of Rights  -  Though the Anti-federalists were not able to block the ratification of the Constitution, they did make progress in ensuring that the Bill of Rights would be created. The Bill of Rights, drafted by a group led by James Madison, was the collection of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which guaranteed the civil rights of American citizens.
Checks and Balances  -  The Constitution set forth a government composed of 3 branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. Each branch was given certain powers over the others to ensure that no one branch usurped a dangerous amount of power. This system, known as checks and balances, represented the solution to the problem of how to empower the central government, yet protect against corruption and despotism.
Congress  -  The bicameral legislative body set up by the Connecticut Compromise. The two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, accorded to both the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, in that membership numbers in the House were determined by state population, and representatives in the Senate were fixed at two per state.
Connecticut Compromise  -  Ending weeks of stalemate, the Connecticut Compromise reconciled the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan for determining legislative representation in Congress. The Connecticut Compromise established equal representation for all states in the Senate and proportional representation by population in the House of Representatives.
Constitution  -  The document produced by the Constitutional Convention, and ratified by the states in 1789. As opposed to the Articles of Confederation, the document the Constitution replaced, the Constitution created a strong central government with broad judicial, legislative, and executive powers, though the extent of these powers were purposely reined in by the Constitution itself. SparkNote on the Constitution.
Elastic Clause  -  Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution 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." This clause, known as the elastic clause, was the point of much contention between those who favored a loose reading of the Constitution and those who favored a strict reading.
The Federalist Papers - The Federalist Papers contain a series of newspaper articles written by John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton which enumerate the arguments in favor of the Constitution and against the Anti-federalists. SparkNote on the Federalist Papers
Federalists  -  First rising to national attention during the process of ratification, Federalists remained an important influence on the government throughout the Washington administration. Led by Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists believed in a strong central government at the expense of state powers.
Jay's Treaty  -  Jay's Treaty provided for the removal of British troops from American land, and avoided the outbreak of war with Britain. While seen as unsuccessful by the majority of the American public, Jay's Treaty may have been the greatest diplomatic feat of the Washington administration, avoiding the outbreak of war.
New Jersey Plan  -  The New Jersey Plan was presented at the Constitutional Convention as an alternative to the Virginia Plan. The New Jersey Plan favored small states in that it proposed a unicameral Congress with equal representation for each state.
Northwest Ordinance  -  The 1787 Northwest Ordinance defined the process by which new states could be admitted into the Union from the Northwest Territory. It forbade slavery in the territory, but allowed citizens to vote on the legality of slavery once statehood had been established. The Northwest Ordinance was the most lasting measure of the national government under the Articles of Confederation, in that it established the model which would be used for admission of new states well into the future.
Republicans  -  Rising up as the opposition party to the dominant Federalists during the Washington administration, Republicans claimed that liberty could only be protected if political power were rested firmly in the hands of the people and those government officials closest and most responsive to the people. They fought to overturn Alexander Hamilton's measures and distribute greater power to the states.
Society of Cincinnati  -  The Society of Cincinnati was a fraternal order of Continental Army officers, which instated a system of hereditary membership. Despite the fact that many political luminaries, such as George Washington, were members, republicans often clashed with the society, fearing that it would eventually become a hereditary aristocracy akin to the British nobility.
Strict Constructionists  -  Strict constructionists favored a strict reading of the Constitution and especially of the elastic clause, in order to limit the powers of the central government. Led Thomas Jefferson, strict constructionists embodied the ideological core of the Republican Party.
Supreme Court  -  The highest judicial body in the land, as created by the Constitution.
Three-fifths Clause  -  During the framing of the Constitution, Southern delegates argued that slaves should count toward representative seats, while the delegates of northern states, most of which had or would soon abolish slavery, argued that to count slaves as members of the population would grant an unfair advantage to the southern states. The result of this debate was the adoption of the Three-fifths Clause, which allowed three-fifths of all slaves to be counted as people.
Virginia Plan  -  The Virginia Plan was the first major proposal covering representation presented to the Constitutional Convention. It proposed the creation of a bicameral legislature with representation in both houses proportional to population. The Virginia Plan favored the large states, who would have a much weightier voice than the small states under this plan. The small states proposed the New Jersey Plan in opposition.


Annapolis Convention  -  Originally planning to discuss the promotion of interstate commerce, delegates from five states met at Annapolis in September 1786 and ended up suggesting a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation.
Constitutional Convention  -  In response to the Annapolis Convention's suggestion, Congress called for the states to send delegates to Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. Delegates came to the convention from every state but Rhode Island on May 25, 1787, and decided to draft an entirely new framework of government, which would give greater powers to the central government. This document became the Constitution.
Proclamation of American Neutrality  -  In the early 1790s, Britain and France went to war with one another. The American public was torn over the issue of which nation to support, the South pulling for a pro-French foreign policy, and the North advocating a pro-British policy. Issued on April 22, 1793, the Proclamation of American Neutrality was Washington's response to the division of the nation, stating that the US would stay out of the war.
Shays' Rebellion  -  As economic depression struck Massachusetts, farmers were increasingly burdened by debt, a problem exacerbated by an increase in taxes. In August 1786, Western Massachusetts farmers organized in an attempt to shut down three county courthouses through violent means in order to prevent foreclosure proceedings. The rebellion was easily put down, but it alerted many to the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation.
Whiskey Rebellion  -  Alexander Hamilton had pushed a high excise tax through Congress as part of his economic policy efforts. However, the tax affected western Pennsylvania distillers almost exclusively, and was administered by federal officials with little knowledge of or compassion for the situation of the small farmers. Violence broke out in July 1794. In a short period of time over one hundred men attacked a US Marshall, the chief revenue officer for Allegheny County saw his house and stables burned to the ground, and organized, militant farmers threatened to form a separate country. In a show of strength, George Washington himself, led a force of militiamen to crush the rebellion.
Washington's Farewell Address  -  Published on September 19, 1796, George Washington officially resigned the presidency after two terms, setting a precedent that would remain in place until FDR in the 1930s. The focus of the address was a warning that Americans should avoid the rise of political parties that the previous years had seen. He further advised future generations to maintain a policy of isolationism in foreign affairs.