Constitution DBQ (rewrite)
Prompt: Various concerns lead to the demise of the Articles of Confederation and the adoption of the United States Constitution. Discuss these concerns and the compromises that were made to arrive at the Constitution that is still in place today in the United States.
The Articles of Confederation established the first governmental structure unifying the thirteen colonies and went into effect on March 1, 1781. Its purpose was to create a confederation of states where each state could maintain its personal freedom, independence and every power. While this document was effective in many aspects it did have its pitfalls and it was these pitfalls that lead to the Articles of Confederation’s replacement by the Constitution on March 4th, 1789. James Madison, a federalist, expressed the importance of this reform by saying that the best the country could do at that point in time would be to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries and the errors from their own(document 10). The concerns regarding the Articles of confederation were extensive and the compromises that the Constitution then provided in return were even more so.
The need for compromise was long awaited and the desperation for a document of higher potency was craved by the people of the US many years before the Constitution was even written. This desperation can be detected quite effortlessly by a letter from George Washington to James Madison in November of 1786 (Document 1). In the letter Washington expresses his apprehension regarding the current path of the country when he says, “We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion! How melancholy is the reflection, that in so short a space, we should have made such large strides towards fulfilling the prediction of our transatlantic foe!” This expression of uneasiness adequately expresses many of the feelings of the people of the US during this time and therefore it can be understood why some compromises regarding the pitfalls of the Articles of Confederation were desired and later carried out.
Several of these major pitfalls(concerns) of the Articles of confederation are depicted in a piece of artwork titled, “Rough Sailing Ahead?” (Document 2) . In this piece a sail boat represents the Articles of Confederation and a number of concerns are depicted as waves crashing up against the boat symbolizing rough times ahead. Some of these concerns include “no national court system, no power to enforce treaties, no power to enforce laws, no power to raise an army, and no power to collect taxes” These five concerns are vital to the success of a country and therefore their lacking presence in the Articles of Confederation was great reason for concern and a great push towards a document that could more powerfully and fortuitously serve the country.
A major concern when conceiving the Constitution was how exactly to provide the rights depicted in the artwork titled “Rough Sailing Ahead?” without granting the states with too much freedom and thus disruption of the unity of the country. One specific piece of the Constitution that was a major component to the rights and structure of states in this country can be seen in Article 1. Section 10. (document 8). This portion of the Constitution discusses a compromise that had to be made in order to retain the safety and cooperation as a unit. This section states that without the consent of Congress states may not lay any Duty of tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power, or engage in war unless invaded or if in imminent danger. It may seem that this takes away from the rights that the Constitution was trying to provide however it is important that the constitution kept in mind the safety of the country as a whole and thus this compromise was inevitable.
In September of 1787 the Constitution had been written but previous to its completion much deliberation went into its contents. In the Debate over Ratification of the United States Constitution (document 3) two speakers debate over how they believe a decision of high importance should be made. Speaker A argues that the citizens of the united states should make decisions in regards to the greater good of the country. As for speaker B, this individual states that, “… only a well-educated group of electedofficials should be trusted to make decisions for the good of all.” The aftermath of this debate led to a compromise that now defines the major mechanics of this countries political systems. This compromise is known today as virtual representation. Instead of having a group of “highly-educated elected officials” to make the decisions for the country and instead of leaving it solely to the people to decide, the compromise met in the middle to somewhat please both arguments. What ensued was a system where the people voted on a singular representative to represent them in the political system. The details of this compromise can be seen in Article I Section 1 of the United States constitution (document 4). One important detail that is expressed in this section is the fact that “…The number of representatives (in the House) shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have a Representative…” This portion of the Constitution guaranteed that the needs of the people would be properly represented by an educated official and thus both arguments concerning this topic were left content. This quenching of an argument is just one of the many important reasons why the constitution replaced the articles of confederation.
In addition the compromises made for representation of the people, yet another compromise was augmented. This compromise is known as the Three-Fifths compromise and is found in Article 1. Section 2. (document 5) of the Constitution. What this compromise dealt with was how non voting slaves would be represented from state to state and also how each state would be taxed in relation to the number of people residing there. Because slaves were unable to vote, slaveholders would have benefited by the increased representation in the House and Electoral College. The final compromise counted each slave as 3/5s of a white voting citizen and reduced the power of the slave states relative to the original proposals, but increased it over the northern position.
Another crucial compromise provided by the Constitution pertains to the topic of slavery. During this time slaves were a significant component to the economy of the southern states, and therefore the union, because of their major role in the agricultural market. Due to slaves considerablecontributions to the functions of these states, the topic of abolishing slavery was a major concern. The dependence that southern states had on slavery lead to the possibility of these states possibly seceding from the union if slavery was completely abolished. In order to combat the disunion of the southern states Article 1. Section 9 (document 9). was augmented to the constitution. Not only did this keep the southern states content; furthermore, it kept the Northern states, who were anti slavery, content as well. Article 1. Section. 9 stated “The Migration of Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred eight…” This section simply meant that the Constitution would enforce the end of importation of slaves from other countries after the year 1808. At the same time this section granted slave owners the right to continue using slaves that they owned previous to that date. Transactions of slaves would be allowed as long as they occurred within the country. The make up of this section of the Constitution was an extremely successful venture due to its ability to please the two sides of this controversial argument during this time.
In the years following the implement of the constitution many things concerning african americans continued to occur. With the foundation set for the country new hopes were instilled in african americans for their freedom. The compromises of the Constitution gave slaves just enough wiggle room to set the ball rolling for equality, which is a battle still fought to this day. This battle is depicted in a song by Jay Z titled “99 Problems” (document 6). This song expresses a confrontation between a Jay Z, black individual, and a police officer. At one point a very important remark is made by Jay Z when he says to the police officer “And I know my rights so you goon’ need a warrant for that” This small piece of dialogue illustrates an incredibly important contribution of the Constitution to the structures of society of today. Without the compromises of the Constitution african americans would not have the rights that they do today. Nor would women or quite frankly the average american. The evolution of this country is greatly in debt to the concerns that the Articles of Confederation provided. Without these concerns the compromises that were encompassed within the Constitutionwould of been non existent. The replacement of the Articles of Confederation was an enormous stepping stone in the growth of this country and even today more reforms like this are possibly needed. An example of the possible requirement of a new replacement can be seen in the very controversial topic of legalizing marijuana in this country. Even within the Constitution there are discrepancies that must be attended to. Sam Kamin, and University of Denver law professor argues that in regards to legalities of medical marijuana, “We are heading, inevitably, to a collision between state and federal law” (document 9). This situation supports the well known saying that history has a way of repeating itself. While the Articles of Confederation did its part and served its time for this country, it could be possible that the Constitutions retirement is soon approaching.