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The Founding and the Constitution

The Struggle for Ratification

The Constitution

Review Questions

Article VII specifies that at least nine of the thirteen states had to ratify the Constitution in order for it to become law. The framers of the Constitution, however, knew that the Constitution would only have real power if all thirteen states ratified it. The debate over ratification from 1787 to 1789 was extremely bitter and divided Americans into two factions, the Federalists who supported the new Constitution and the Antifederalists who did not.

Federalists and Antifederalists disagreed on a number of issues, as indicated by the table on the next page.

 
FEDERALISTS VERSUS ANTIFEDERALISTS

Issue

Federalists

Antifederalists

Constitution In favor of the Constitution Against the Constitution
Popular Sovereignty Feared too much democracy, so advocated limited popular election of federal officials Feared that the Constitution took too much power away from the people
Federal Power Wanted a strong federal government to hold the nation together Thought the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government
State Power Believed that states are ultimately subordinate to the federal government Believed that states should be more powerful than the federal government because states are closer to the people
Bill of Rights Considered unnecessary because state governments already had such bills Considered necessary because the absence of such a bill raises the threat of tyranny

Supporters: The Federalists

Supporters of the new Constitution, known as the Federalists, included such prominent figures as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Their chief concern was strengthening the national government in order to promote unity and stability.

The Federalist Papers

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of newspaper articles to convince New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution. These articles collectively are known as the Federalist Papers and are among the most important writings in American history. First published in 1787–1788, the papers explained the new federal system and probably helped convince many Americans in New York and in other states to approve the Constitution.

Opponents: The Antifederalists

The Antifederalists were a diverse group that included small farmers and shopkeepers, as well as prominent men such as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry. Their chief complaint about the Constitution was that it took power away from the states, thereby taking power away from the people.

Ratification

The debates between the two sides raged fiercely. The Federalists agreed to add a bill of rights to the Constitution as soon as possible after ratification, which convinced some in the middle to back the new document. By 1788, enough states had ratified the Constitution so that it went into effect in early 1789. The few holdouts all ratified the document by 1790.

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