The Consolidation of Power Ratification of the US Constitution Essay
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Confederation and Constitution
The differences between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of 1787 were significant. The former entrusted power to the individual states while the latter relinquished the majority of power to the central/federal government. This was evident in the way in which representation was established and legislation enacted. For example, under the Articles, Congress was unicameral -- that is, one house. Under the Constitution, Congress was bicameral, consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. This allegedly gave more power to the states by allowing more state Representatives into the government, in actuality it diluted the process of passing laws, making it much more bureaucratic (Freedman, 1993).
Essentially, the Articles gave sovereignty to the states, while the Constitution gave it to the collective group of states, i.e. the nation -- represented centrally by the federal government. It was in other words a difference of allotting power to one government rather than to several individual governments. The Constitution still involved the state governments in the processes of the federal government, but the hierarchy was evident -- the central government would hold a greater position and authority. This could be seen in the fact that the Articles allotted no independent executive, while the Constitution did, and in the fact that the Articles granted no power of taxation to Congress, while the Constitution did (an ironic right, since it was the issue of taxation that led to the American Revolution in the first place) (Morgan, 1967).
The Articles also gave no power to Congress over interstate/foreign commerce, whereas the Constitution did give Congress this authority. The Articles gave each state a single vote; the Constitution gave votes to the bicameral Congress based on population (the House) and in the Senate each state had not one but two representatives. As for ratifying amendments, the Articles stipulated that all the states had to be in agreement; with the Constitution, only 3/4ths of the states needed to agree. With the Articles, Congress's authority was explicitly stated; with the Constitution, authority was also implied -- which essentially allowed the central government to assume much more power down the road. Finally, with the Articles, the only authority over the people was the state government; with the Constitution, there were effectively two governments -- the state and federal -- thus double the authority and power that the U.S. wielded over its citizenry (Petersen, 2007).
The strengths of the Articles were evident in the way in which it limited the governments from gaining too much power over the Union. The weakness, from a centralist perspective, was that individual claims among the states resulted in confusion, disorder and fighting. For example, the Western problem of expansion according to old colonial charters was not something that the Articles could effectively address. Thus, arguments were made that a stronger central government was needed to resolve such disputes.
The various states compromised in order to effectively draft a Constitution. For example, large and small states drew together in the Great Compromise of 1787, also known as Sherman's Compromise or the Connecticut Compromise, which established that the legislative structure would be bicameral and allow states to send representatives to Congress based on population (the House) and existence (the Senate). For slave and free states, the issue of slavery was contentious. To bring the states together in the Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was enacted, which banned slavery in the Northwest Territory (considered federal property). The Mason-Dixon line extended westward and marked the boundary between slave and free in westward expansion. For east and west states, the issue of representation was important. Sherman's Great Compromise promised that each state would have the same number of representatives in the Senate (2) while in the House, the states' population would determine the number of representatives -- thus smaller and larger states (in terms of numbers of citizens) in the east and west could be more proportionally represented in terms of having a popular government.
...The Federalist Papers (mostly written by Alexander Hamilton and company) supported the idea of a strong central government. Hamilton noted that without a strong federal government, the individual states would fight with one another, the men would become corrupt, they would get involved in foreign wars, and the possibility of any true form of governance would disappear over time (Federalist No. 6, n.d.).
The oppositional voice, led by men like John Hancock, was stated in the Anti-Federalist Papers, which declared that the very freedoms just won by the Americans in the Revolutionary War for Independence from the tyrannous crown of England would be handed over to a new form of potential tyranny in the Constitutional federal government (Brutus No. 1, 1787). The Anti-Federalists held that the states should serve as the only government, that the introduction of a second, more powerful government according to the Constitution would lead to tyranny and would undermine the spirit of autonomy and sovereignty newly one by the states.
The Federalists (especially Madison) argued that the Constitution ensured security for the states and the Union overall; the Anti-Federalists countered that the Constitution essentially would put too much power in the hands of a few. The Anti-Federalists held that a Bill of Rights was needed to ensure individual liberty and states' rights; the Federalists did not view this as necessary.
Madison therefore made a list of amendments (initially changes to the Constitution -- but later adopted as Amendments, once voted upon), which were the Bill of Rights. This was meant to satisfy the Anti-Federalists. Thus, the 1st Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion, the 2nd the right to bear arms, the 4th protection against searches and seizures, and so on.
However, while the Bill of Rights did guarantee certain freedoms, it did not essentially guarantee the "localism" that the Anti-Federalists supported in the face of centralism (Amar, 1993). Thus, it was more of an attempt to show the states that they were not ceding total control and authority to the central government, that the Constitution would not lead to tyranny. Of course, Madison's swift action worked and in the end the Constitution was ratified -- but the fear of the Anti-Federalists did over time prove timely. The debate over the Bill (with Anti-Federalists still suspicious of it and opposed and Federalists for it) was still situated in the terms and framing of it: the Anti-Federalists saw clearly that in listing rights, the framers of the Constitution were ensuring that the federals government would have the ability to control what states could do in the future. This estimation has proven correct, as the U.S. is now governed in a totalitarian manner by the central government.
Thus, while it could be argued that the relative success of the Bill of Rights in achieving an effective balance between national and states' interests was palpable in the early days of the nation (it promoted the concept of liberty), in the long run it was really more about giving a few "bones" to the opposition party in order to effectively gain control of the whole and consolidate power in the hands of a few, as the Anti-Federalists supposed. This is evident in the fact that the states gradually had less and less control over themselves (the southern states were not permitted to secede in the mid-19th century and war resulted, with the federal government leading the charge against the sovereignty of the southern states). The Civil War was said to be for the good of the Union -- and this was true, for the Constitution favored the Union and the central government which represented it; falling by the wayside was the sovereignty of the individual states. Guiding the Union, moreover, were the interests of a few -- the powerful Establishment that profited from a consolidation of power. Liberty was the ruse -- power the objective.
National and states' interests were not really balanced by the Constitution/Bill of Rights. The states continued to fight (and the greatest example is the Civil War -- the inevitable outcome of the ratification of the Constitution). Whether the issue was slavery or tariffs, the division of powers was no real answer, as there remained in the U.S. two wills that were diametrically opposed. This clash of wills, of ideology, of power manifested in a number of ways, and whether the central government was issuing directives through its executive branch or whether the individual states were issuing directives through independent action, the underlying problem remained: the problem of the consolidation of power that the Constitution effected.
Amar, A. (1993). Anti-Federalists, The Federalist Papers, and the Big Argument for Union. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 16: 111-123.
Brutus No. 1. (1787). Retrieved from http://www.constitution.org/afp/brutus01.htm
Federalist No. 6 (n.d.). Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed06.asp
Freedman, E. (1993). Why Constitutional Lawyers and Historians Should…
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