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Chapter 8: Building a Republic, 1775-1789

Lecture to accompany the text The American Promise: A History of the United States Volume 1 to 1877
by

Jason Holloway

on 2 October 2014

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Transcript of Chapter 8: Building a Republic, 1775-1789

Chapter 8: Building a Republic, 1775-1789
Professor Holloway
1.The Articles of Confederation
How was the story of the early life of James Madison relevant to the history presented in this chapter?
From 1775-1781 there was no legal constitutional basis for American government.
Many ideas were discussed for how to resolve these issues, the Articles of Confederation will embody some of them and further present the lack of settlement of others.
After the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress creates a committee to define its powers.
There is wide agreement on larger issues like war and peace, foreign relations, external trade, etc.
In 1977 they sign the Articles of Confederation which is primarily oriented towards military defense.
The government established essentially duplicates the Continental Congress, there is no national executive or judicial branches.
Each state delegation receives one vote with routine matters passing with a simple majority and bigger ones requiring nine.
To amend the articles all thirteen states must vote yes and have their legislatures approve as well.
Essentially what is the biggest problem with the Articles of Confederation as discussed so far?
Congress and Confederation
The biggest single issue of early disagreement was the question of the western territories.
Eight states have claims with many all the way to the Mississippi.
The other five states want the national government to take over and make new states while selling the land to establish a national fund.
This issue more than any other delays ratification for several years.
A compromise is only reached when Virginia deeds over its western lands inspiring others to do the same.
This issue shows that large divisions in the states are only superficial papered over by the war with Britain.
The Problems of Western Lands
The Articles also do not grant taxation powers to the new government.
All governments need some revenue in particular for military matters.
The new government will issue bonds and print money but that is a temporary fix.
Why is the tax issue invariably sensitive for the Americans?
The other plan for the government to get money is to request it from each state who would then tax their citizens for it.
Requisitioning amounts were proportional for each state.
These state roles preserve rhetoric of direct taxation and representation.
What was the biggest problem with the plan of requisitioning?
Initially the weakness of the Articles government was what most wanted to keep its power in check.
The issue of all thirteen states having to accept the Articles meant its ratification was delayed from 1777 until 1781.
The government suffers near constantly from a lack of quorum.
Many politicians are much more concerned and involved with state politics instead of national ones.
Also the ongoing lack of a national capital further hinders political consolidation.
Why does Congress move as frequently as it does in the late 1770s?
Out of necessity one sees executive lead bureaucratic departments develop.
The Departments of War, Finance, and Foreign Affairs are the first 3 formed in 1781.
Running the New Government
The states are at first all-powerful on most issues.
Initially only limited powers are transferred to the confederal government.
As a British identity evaporates, most see themselves not as Americans instead but as Virginians, Georgians, etc.
The important issue of voting rights will be decided by the states.
Inconsistencies with the issue of slavery would continue despite potential otherwise in the revolutionary rhetoric.
2. The Sovereign States
Between 1776-1778 all states draw up official constitutions.
A common feature of them all is that government rest on the consent of the governed.
Republicanism is the foundation of all institutions.
Republicanism is more than just elections and representation, it is also about creating autonomous individuals, citizens.
Debates exist on the specifics but all agree that government promotes peoples' welfare other than vice-versa.
There is a belief that only small republics can exist effectively.
Almost all states keep bicameral legislature but give more power to the elected popular lower house.
Lower house have direct annual elections and frequent rotation in office in contrast with the Upper houses.
Six states create and pass bills of rights alongside their constitutions.
What are some examples of these rights?
The State Constitutions
All the same voter or non-voter all free people benefit from recently created bills of rights.
In Virginia the state constitution is careful to distinguish between free and unfree peoples.
Over time though revolutionary ideas erodes the basis of slavery in the new society.
In many ways free African-Americans use the legal system to obtain their rights with mixed results.
In Massachusetts they are so successful that by 1789 slavery is effectively abolished.
In Pennsylvania gradual emancipation is proclaimed in 1780 though not completely finished until 1847.
Other New England and Middle Atlantic states do the same and abolish slavery with gradual emancipation in between the 1780s and the early 1800s.
The biggest problems in these regions are in New York and New Jersey but even here the slave populations are small compared to the Southern states.
Gradual emancipation ultimately balances the republican ideas of liberty and property in order to be successful.
Equality and Slavery
Big initial questions remain as to what is meant by 'the people', aka who is a citizen?
What is clear in the 1770s is that severe limits exist on the voting franchise.
One huge limit is property qualifications.
Candidates for office must have lots of property and be wealthy.
Voters too must have decent qualifications, in Maryland they must own fifty acres of land.
In Pennsylvania, the most liberal state in voting rights, one solely has to pay property taxes (No 47% here).
Why did property qualifications exist during this time?
1/4 to 1/2 of all white males could not vote.
Many disputes exist over this but the Founding Fathers are by and large rich, property owners so it is pushed through.
Who are "the people"?
Another major voting restriction is that women are not allowed to vote.
Some elite women protest the lack of representation in congress if they are taxed on their private property but their appeals are met in vain.
Most constitutional language does not specifically exclude women from voting because it is assumed.
In New Jersey this non-specific language allows free African-Americans and women to sporadically vote until this loophole is closed shortly thereafter.
Many Founding Fathers simply urge states to continue colonial voting restrictions in order to avoid opening Pandora's box.
Attempts to pass similarly minded laws south of the Mason-Dixon line are unsuccessful.
A few states in the Upper South do pass laws allowing manumission of older slaves but these too are complete taboo in the Lower South.
In general the Northern states recognize that slavery is incompatible with the new ideology of the country.
In the South the same is mostly recognized but fears of a biracial society and many other deep concerns preclude action.
How does the story of George Washington and his slaves represent this Southern predicament?
The idea of "All men created equal" is beginning during this period to acquire real force which alongside a firm geographical divide of regions will impact American history for the next two centuries.
3. The Confederation's Problems
3 big problems exist at first in 1783.
1. War Debt, 2. Peace with the Native Americans, 3. The Question of the Western Lands.
War debt is a huge problem since the government has no revenue stream.
The Army will threaten a coup over lack of payment.
Many people already are beginning to think that the Articles of Confederation are too weak and events in Massachusetts will succeed in convincing most.
The Army is still camped at Newburgh outside New York watching the British army there.
Their pay is deeply in arrears and other financial promises are not likely.
In late 1782 army officers petition for their pay from Congress with a veiled threat of a coup d'etat if nothing is done.
Many in government view this as a chance to acquire taxation rights.
Robert Morris handles American finance and tries to have the Articles amended with a 5% impost tax.
He fails twice by one vote as all thirteen are needed.
Those that vote no are collecting import taxes themselves.
These issues show that absolute unanimity is unworkable for the new government.
The War Debt and the Newburgh Conspiracy
There is an obvious need to settle issues with the Native Americans.
The lands of the Iroquois Confederation are in deep dispute between New York and Massachusetts leading to a possibility of civil war.
New York tries to deal directly with the Iroquois skirting the Confederal Government but is unsuccessful.
Eventually a meeting is arranged at Fort Stanwix in 1784.
The Americans demand for a return of prisoners, recognition of confederal authority to negotiate and some land cession to keep the Iroquois completely in the US territory.
When tribal leaders hesitate at the harsh conditions they are told that they are "a subdued people."
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix is eventually signed under duress and many tribes are unhappy.
In New York the state government starts to sell land in the Ohio Valley anyways despite Confederal authority there.
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix
The Newburgh conspiracy begins to develop as a result of this ongoing lack of pay for the military.
This is the only instance of a potential military coup in US history.
Morris encourages to act as if they would march on the government as a ruse to force changes, there is of course much risk in this strategy.
Washington is left somewhat out of the loop and appeals to his officers to respect civilian authority and the coup is defused.
Morris ultimately threatens to resign causing further scandal.
The government unsatisfactorily settles the payment issue with five year commutation certificates as the states provide insufficient funds.
The end result of this crisis is that the debt is larger and still there exists no potential revenue for the government other than the western lands.
Congress in turn ignores New York's movements and charges Jefferson with drafting the policy for the Northwest Territory.
The original plan is to create nine states with ten mile square towns.
The land is to be given away for quick settlement with money made off of future property taxes.
Ultimately new states will be created rather than colonies of older ones.
There is an idea for slavery not to be permitted here.
Congress adopts most of his ideas in the Ordinance of 1784 but the idea of giving away the land and not permitting slavery is not taken.
There is slight modification in the size of the states and the townships as well a year later.
Further restrictions limit the minimum land purchase to 640 acres and only in debt certificates from the government or hard currency.
As a result only land speculators can buy land and this brings land commodification to new levels.
Land speculators also have no interest in settling the land and completely avoid its biggest obstacle, that of settlement by Native Americans.
Land Ordinances and the Northwest Territory
In 1787 the Northwest Ordinance is passed setting the official stage for future statehood.
When 5,000 voters are established in a territory they can elect a legislature and send a non-voting representative to congress.
When 60,000 voters are reached they can write a state constitution and apply for full admission to the Union.
Every step along the way is subject to confederal taxation and authority similar to normal states.
This successful act ensures that there will be no future colonies in the west and that there is an orderly pattern for the growth and expansion of the United States.
Native Americans are discussed in the act with lofty promises seldom upheld.
Slavery is in fact prohibited in the new territories this time due to the inclusion of a fugitive slave clause.
Also the existence of large territories for the future expansion of slavery south of the Ohio River settles other concerns.
The Northwest Ordinance as a result acknowledges and supports slavery while banning it in one place.
North-South sectionalism is further taking place as a result.
With the impost tax voted down and land sells taking time more revenue is needed by the government.
The government requests three million dollars in 1785, about four times more than the year before.
30% is for the government, 30% is for foreign debt, and 40% is for the IOUs given to American soldiers.
The states are themselves struggling with taxes and particularly those without major ports relying primarily on income derived primarily from farmers.
Some states outright refuse the request, protests occur in others, and places like Georgia just print a bunch of money.
In MA things heat up as the western 2/3s of the state are deeply unhappy.
The legislature there neglects their demands and growing protests occur.
These protests close the courts and local militia neglects orders from the state capital.
The Requisition of 1785 and Shay's Rebellion, 1786-1787
One of these protesters was Daniel Shay a farmer and former soldier.
The governor of MA and Sam Adams declare the rebels as traitors meriting death.
Why was this an awkward position?
The dissidents claim that even representative government can be unjust and repressive.
As much displeasure exists over these issues Congress calls the army and tries to enlarge but only a few enlist.
The governor of MA hires his own militia and marches towards Springfield to prevent the rebels from taking over the weapons depot there.
After a few short battles the rebels are defeated and disperse.
The captured rebels are forced to pledge loyalty to government and are banned from public life for three years.
Two of the leaders are executed and sixteen more only avoid that fate at the last minute.
Shay's Rebellion causes many to worry about the Confederacy's ability to deal with disorder.
Ben Franklin writes in that in 1776 Americans feared "an excess of power in the rulers" but now what they had was "a defect in obedience" of the subjects.
Most are fearful that the confederacy is not working in the aftermath of Shay's Rebellion.
Virginia calls for a congress to rework some of the articles of confederation.
These talks, originally looking at trade regulations in 1786 would lead to a complete restructuring of the US government.
4. The United States Constitution
If the constitution was to have been ratified by popular vote it probably would not have happened.
The bigger states are less favorable of the document and are less willing to give up power.
Seven states are a sure deal though reaching nine was harder.
The debate over ratification would be carried out by the two sides the Federalists and the Anti-federalists.
5. Ratification of the Constitution
How were debates over were 'the people' settled during this period?
What were the chief problems of the Articles of Confederation?
How did the Constitution seek to correct these problems?
How did the Constitution restructure the American government?
What problems were they in its ratification?
Two distinct views of American society emerge from these debates that continue to influence politics to the present day.
6. Conclusion: "The Republican Remedy"
James Madison leads the 1786 meeting in Annapolis to discuss trade regulation amendments.
Only five states show up and agree to meet again in 1787 at Philadelphia to discuss revising the Articles of Confederation.
Alexander Hamilton has plans as do others for a complete rehaul of government in order to strengthen it.
Those arriving in Philadelphia in 1787, 55 in total, were almost exclusively those who wished for a complete revision of government.
Several well-known people such as Patrick Henry do not go, some states send no representatives, and other delegates leave in the middle of deliberations.
Of those attendants, all were white men, 2/3 are lawyers, most were previously congressmen who understood the articles weaknesses, and a few were former governors lamenting the lack of executive power.
A few older politicians like Ben Franklin and George Washington are there but most are younger.
From Annapolis to Philadelphia
The Delegates distinguish between democracy and republicanism.
Most fear direct democracy as being dangerous and unstable.
They institute checks against pure democracy with the upper house containing unelected members with longer terms encouraging experience and maturity in office.
Similarly the presidency is out of direct democratic hands through the creation of the electoral college.
How does the electoral college work?
The President is ultimately elected on an independent power outside either the people or the legislature.
Their term is four years open for reelection.
Democracy versus Republicanism
The delegates worked in secrecy so that they could all be more open with potential options.
The representatives from Virginia lay out a fifteen point plan which is a complete overhaul of the confederal government.
This plan is mostly James Madison's work.
It contains a three branch government, an executive, a judiciary, and a bicameral legislature.
Representation is tied to population, which smaller states resent.
It gives the federal government power to veto state laws and to use the military to enforce it.
The executive and the judiciary can jointly veto the legislature.
Smaller states introduce the New Jersey Plan in response.
It will have the same congress of each state having one vote.
It will create a three person plural presidency chosen by the congress.
It would give new powers such as the right to tax, trade and use force on state governments to enforce its authority.
The New Jersey plan also favors national rights over state ones but focuses more on a federal government of states not people.
There are huge debates over these two plans and an impasse is seemingly reached, why?
The Virginia and New Jersey Plans
Finally the Great Compromise is reached laying the framework for the US Constitution.
A bicameral legislature is formed with the lower house using population for representation and the upper house using states for representation.
This compromise here satisfies both big states' and small states' plans.
The next big question is who counted as people, with slavery naturally assuming the greatest dispute in this situation.
Who favors counting slaves and who doesn't, why?
A 3/5 compromise is reached as a result.
The delegates are clearly uncomfortable with the slavery issue as they avoid direct mentions of it in their documents.
Slavery is important though due to its existence in trade issues and fugitive slave laws too.
The U.S. Constitution consequently recognizes, protects and perpetuated slavery.
Proponents act quickly to submit the document to congress.
Congress subsequently sends it on to the states for consideration.
What was the significance of the names federalists and anti-federalists?
Many smaller states quickly ratify the document before opposition can even start.
Generally those in favor were elite, urban and already in power.
Those not in favor were more rural, western, noncommercial, and had more limited access to government.
Massachusetts was the first close contest due to it being the heartland of Shay's Rebellion.
The federalists barely win largely due to promises of future amendments to the Constitution.
By mid-1788, eight states had ratified, two more definitely would not and the biggest two states Virginia and New York had not yet.
The Federalists
Anti-federalists were mainly unified just in their desire to block ratification.
They mainly come from areas that could afford to stay independent outside of a larger federation.
The rhetoric of the early revolution also was not easily forgotten, namely the idea of taxation by a distant power.
Since eight states ratified quickly there was a much harder time for them to stop the momentum of ratification.
It was also difficult for them to defend the flawed Confederal government.
Many were ultimately fearful and doubtful of one government's ability to rule so large a territory without tyrannical means.
New government would be distant, one representative for 30,000 people, they questioned how it would be possible for representatives to thoroughly know their constituency.
In contrast state government was considerably more local and manageable.
They also feared that only the elite would be in charge, which was a federalist objective.
Anti-federalists also unhappy at the absence of a bill of rights.
The Federalists will ultimately winning New Hampshire as number nine ensuring passage of the constitution.
The Anti-federalists
Nine states have ratified the constitution but Virginia and New York are too important to not have them ratify too.
Virginia has many well-known figures on both sides and it passes there only with promises of consideration of amendments after passage.
New York leans anti-federalist but has many native influential federalists.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay publish "The Federalist Papers" which list the failures of the current government and argue for the new constitution.
In the most famous essay, #10,Hamilton argues against conventional wisdom that size is bad for republics, how does he do this?
Ultimately the news from Virginia sways New York to likewise ratify the document but with promises for future amendments as well.
It takes another year and a half for North Carolina and Rhode Island to ratify the constitution.
Ultimately the document is written and ratified in a mere twelve months, a feat impressive for our time let alone theirs.
The Big Holdouts: Virginia and New York
The framers also created a far more complex federal government.
The three branches have many checks and balances.
The President can veto congress but can be overridden.
The Judiciary can settle disputes between the other branches.
Checks also exist on electing groups distinguishing between voters, state legislators and the electoral college.
The future constitution carefully lists the powers of the President and the Congress.
What are some of the powers of the President?
What are some of the powers of Congress?
States are finally forbidden to print money.
The document has flexibility for future modifications.
Most at the convention are satisfied with the compromising work with only three refusing to sign it.
The method of ratification avoids earlier problems with the Articles by stating that only 9 of 13 states must approve it in special ratification conventions.
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