Constitution of the United States Term Paper

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In addition it was agreed that issues of federal budget, revenue and taxation would originate with the House of Representatives.

The Great Compromise issued in a spirit of success to the convention and essentially ended the division between the small and large states. However, it did nothing to alleviate the pending debate between the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist. Decisions on how much power to give to the people and to the government had yet to be debated. Divisions started to arise over such issues as whether federal officials should be elected indirectly or from a broad electoral base and whether western territories should be excluded or allowed to eventually become states. Further divisions developed on questions of the powers and election procedures for the President and what type of role the federal courts should play.

From these debates and resulting compromises in which ensued, a committee was formed to draft a detailed draft of the proposed Constitution. From the committee of detail came the proposed document which was debated, clause by clause, by the convention as a whole. Finally, on September 17 the convention met to approve of the document. However, not all of the delegates were enthused with the results of their work. From here the delegates had to get the Constitution ratified by gaining the consent of the States. It was during this tedious process of ratification that the divisions between the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist, which had been simmering throughout the convention, came to light. The essential debate was whether or not the Constitution should be ratified.

The ratification debate created two opposing camps. The Anti-Federalist were in opposition to ratifying the Constitution, whereas the Federalist were in support of the Constitution's ratification. The main proponents of the Federalist ideas were Alexander Hamilton, John Madison and John Jay. They were ultimately successful in getting the Constitution ratified through their collection of nationally published essays and editorials, using the pseudonym "Publius," that are collectively known as the Federalist Papers. Although history has favored a close reading of the Federalist Papers, this debate was by no-means one-sided. The debate was fierce and closely read by the citizens as the Anti-Federalist also published their own set of editorials and essays under the collective names of Brutus and Centinel. These essays are referred to as the Anti-Federalist Papers.

It is through a close reading of these essays that the modern day historian is able to best understand the debates of the Constitutional Convention. Even today the Federalist Papers are relied on as one of the primary sources of interpreting the Constitution. The Federalist Papers, and thus the Federalist cause, promoted essentially six ideas, each of which was discussed in at least one of the eighty-five essays that make up the totality of their treatise. According to the Federalist, the issues that supported the ratification of the constitution included: 1) that personal prosperity was dependent on the prosperity of the states (essays 2-14); 2) that the Constitution is necessary because the Articles of Confederation failed to preserve the Union (essays 15-22); 3) the government had to be, at the very least, energetic about the obtaining the objective of preserving the Union (essays 23-36); 4) the proposed constitution conformed to the true principles of a republican government (essays 37-84); 5) that the proposed constitution is more similar to the State constitutions (essay 85); and 6) the ratification of the constitution would create additional means of security will lead to the preservation of the government and thus lead to liberty and prosperity (essay 85).

Interestingly, the Federalist were also adamantly opposed to the addition of what later became the Bill of Rights, an idea of a proposed comprise issued towards the end of the convention. According to the Federalist, adding a bill of rights to the constitutional document was in contradiction to the constitution itself in that the constitution did not enumerate or protect the rights of the people but instead did so through placing limitations on the rights of governments, giving all other powers to the states and the people. The Federalist feared that an enumeration of specific rights, once written and ratified, would be interpreted as a list of the only rights in which people were granted.

On the other hand, the Anti-Federalist were in favor of the Bill of Rights. According to Anti-Federalist Paper Number 84, Robert Yates argues that a government that was unrestrained by a bill of rights would easily devolve into tyranny. They further argued that such a list would not be interpreted as exhaustive but merely as examples of the rights important to the individual.

Overall, these debates are best characterized as bitter and brutal, with the focus being on the conferring of additional powers on the central government. However, in the end, the Federalists prevailed. On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the constitution by unanimous vote. However, when several states based their ratification on the guaranteed that a bill of rights would be added, both sides of the debate had to give in. The Federalist submitted to the addition of a Bill of Rights and the Anti-Federalist agreed to the central form of government. In the end, largely as a result of the work of both the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist, the Constitution was ratified and adopted and a new form of government was put into place.

What is interesting about this debate is how it continues to play a part in our modern day politics. Not only do the judges sitting on our federal courts look towards these papers for assistance in interpreting the Constitution, the basic theories as to the strength of the government and the role of the Bill of Rights continues to drive, and all too often divide, our politics.

For example, one of the main issues dividing the current mainstream a party is the role government should play in individuals lives. Traditionally Republicans have favored limited federal government and favoring states rights, whereas Democrats favored the federal government playing a larger role in individuals lives. However, under the current administration and the War against Terrorist, this division has shifted. Further, the Federalist's fear of that the Bill of Rights will be viewed as a statement as to what rights individuals have has seen some truth. For example, the Supreme Court has ruled that since the Constitution and its amendments says nothing on such issues as the right to vote or the right to privacy, these rights do not exists.

What can be seen is that the bitter debates between the Federalist and the Anti-Federalists that occurred during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution still ring true today. Perhaps that is why the United States Constitution has lasted so long. Because of the debate that surrounded the document from the start, the terms of the Constitution are ambiguous, flexible and thus always open to debate.


Breyer, Stephen. Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution. Knopf Publishing Group, 2006.

Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James and John Jay. Federalist Papers. (Clinton Rossiter, Ed.) New York: Mass Market Paperback, 2003.

Gibson, Alan Ray. Interpreting the Founding: Guide to the Enduring Debates Over the Origins and Foundations of the American Republic. Manhattan: University Press…[continue]

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