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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
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 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.
The highest judicial body in the land, as created by the Constitution.
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.
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.
Chief Joseph Brant
A Mohawk Chief who had distinguished himself during the Revolutionary
, Joseph Brant organized a military alliance
of Native American tribes in the northwest, which, while it faltered because of
limited support from certain portions of the Iroquois, presented the government
under the Articles of Confederation with a challenge in the west.
An inventor, a writer, and former ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin was
the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention. The other delegates
admired his wisdom, and his advice was crucial in the drafting of the
The outspoken leader of the Federalists, Hamilton emerged as a major
political figure during the Constitutional Convention, and during the period
of ratification, as one of the authors of The Federalist Papers
Secretary of Treasury under Washington, Alexander Hamilton spearheaded the
government's Federalist initiatives, most notably through his proposals on the
subject of public credit and the creation of the Bank of the United States.
John Jay played an important role in the establishment of the new government
under the Constitution. One of the authors of The Federalist
, he was involved in the drafting of the Constitution, became the
first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under Washington, and went on
to negotiate Jay's Treaty with Britain to head off war in 1795.
Jefferson attained political fame originally as the author of the Declaration
of Independence. A prominent statesman from
Virginia, Jefferson became Washington's first Secretary of State. However,
in 1793, Jefferson resigned from that post in opposition to Alexander
Hamilton's continued efforts to garner power for the national government.
With James Madison, Jefferson took up the cause of the strict
constructionists and the Republican Party, advocating the limitation of the
Washington appointed Henry Knox his first Secretary of War. Knox played a
valuable role in the development of the executive branch. His most notable
actions came in relation to the struggle with the Native Americans on the
frontier, where he declared the Indian title to the land officially recognized
by the US in the early 1790s.
Madison joined forces with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay as a
Federalist leader during the Constitutional Convention and beyond. He
was one of the authors of The Federalist Papers
and, as a member of
the first Congress, a staunch advocate of strong central government.
However, after a string of Federalist measures that asserted the power of the
national government over the state in questionable areas, Madison defected from
the Federalist cause and became a critic of excessive central power. He joined
Thomas Jefferson in leading the rising Republican Party.
Washington, as the general of the Continental Army during the
, was the obvious choice to be
the first President of the United States. Washington took on the task of
defining the presidency, attempting to establish the role through precedent. He
intervened little in legislative affairs, and concentrated mostly on diplomacy
and finance. A Federalist, he granted Alexander Hamilton a great deal
of support, despite frequent misgivings.
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.
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.
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.
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