Major Issues of the Constitution 

What Problems Are the Framers of the Constitution Trying to Solve or What Solutions Are They Trying to Maintain?


What’s the Situation?

What’s the Problem? What’s the Solution?


Articles of Confederation – Congressional approves. Basic rules:

- unanimous vote to change the system – that’s 13 of 13

- 9 of 13 to pass a law

- can’t tax, but can print money and borrow


These are the beginning points for the government, but they are not the only beginning points. Quakers had been the main religious group opposing slavery and they continue. Appropriately, the state of PA is the first one to abolish slavery.


State governments

What do they do about executive branch?

The state governments are a practice ground for future national patterns. The initial experiment is anti-executive branch—a view coming from their recent anti-king experience. They find placing all power in the legislature is equally troublesome.

The solution: an executive branch must exist.


Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (does not pass)

Who wrote it?

Called for no established church.

Click here for the change.

Who wrote it? Thomas Jefferson


Articles of Confederation – States ratify


1781, 1783…

No support for “impost” (5% on imports to fund nation) Note: impost = tariff, a tax collected at port, for revenue

No income meant no ability to pay such things as the money owed soldiers (next line).

The solution: Congress must be able to tax and Congress must be able to pass laws (something true for all below) by shifting

-          from 2/3 (66+%) vote of the states (Scroll up or click here for the Articles of Confederation)

-          to just being more than 50% vote of the representatives with the Constitution


Philadelphia insurrection by unpaid military (one of several)


The solution: Congress must be able to tax.


Treaty of Paris

- US to protect Loyalists, pay debts (US doesn’t)

- British to leave Ohio Valley (Br also doesn’t)

These become part of the problems.



1st (of many) state begins to pass protective tariffs

Note: This tariff is meant to keep out products that are cheaper than those that can be made in the US. If you don’t understand this term, you need to look it up in a detailed dictionary.

Also protective tariffs are usually in the interests of manufacturers, not in the interests of those exporting agricultural products for global markets (such as the South). If you don’t know why, please ask.

2 issues for national well-being:

1. Click here for the British example.

2. Imagine this pretend, simplified example:

­         2 neighboring states in the US, one with a tariff of .10 cents on British widgets valued at $2.00 and one with a tariff of $1 on the same widget. In other words, one state’s citizens can have a British widget for $2.10, but the other state’s citizens pays $3.00

­         Crafty citizens in the .10 cent state haul imported widgets across the state line and then sell them for say $2.75—THUS wiping out the usefulness of the protective tariff while making a .65 personal profit per widget.

The solution: Congress must be able to regulate interstate (between states) commerce.


Spain blocks Americans from lower Mississippi

Americans in the west can only cheaply market their grains if they can put their crops on barges in the rivers that feed the Mississippi River and float downstream to the Gulf and New Orleans and thus to the great global markets.

The solution: Congress must be able to get passable treaties.


Post-war economic recession, beginning of



Issue of British Commercial Treaty

The British refuse to make a commercial treaty with us, saying they’d have to make 13 treaties not 1. BUT Americans are used to British goods and want such a trading relationship to exist.

The solution: Congress must be able to regulate commerce and be able to get passable treaties.


Draft of Northwest Ordinance

-Who writes the first draft?

The Northwest Ordinance is usually talked about as the only positive action of the Articles of Confederation era. It setup:

­         Process for full statehood (not continuing colonial status as the British did) where an area became a territory with appointed governor, then when it had enough population wrote a state constitution and asked to be admitted, and finally when admitted had equal voting rights with any other state (no matter how old)

­         No slavery

­         Sale of public lands to support public education


No solution required.


“Memorial and Remonstrance” against a bill to provide tax support for support of religion by James Madison

Virginia votes for separation of church and state, the model for the nation.


Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (does pass)

- This time submitted to the Virginia legislature by James Madison.


Failure to pass treaty with Spain over the Mississippi “forbear[ing]” US use for 25+ years(Jay-Gardoqui)

Jay negotiated a treaty favorable to one section, his own. The 1 state-1 vote Congress rejected it.

The solution: Some organization other than Congress must negotiate treaties and we must be able to get passable treaties.


States governments (PA, SC, NC, NY, RI, NJ, GA) issuing paper money

Paper money not backed by real assets leads to deadly inflation.

The solution: Congress must be the only level of government that can print or coin money.


Annapolis Convention – interstate commerce issues, but only 12 delegates


The solution: Congress must be able to regulate interstate (between states) commerce.


Daniel Shays’s Rebellion

See your textbook on this rebellion, but the implication is that we are powerless to stop it nationally.

The solution: Congress must guarantee that mobs (even well intentioned) can’t take over government.

1787-05 -09

Philadelphia Convention

- Who’s often called the “Father of the Constitution”?

James Madison of Virginia – He takes notes; he understands historical precedent for different methods. Click here for his role with the Federalist Papers and here for his role with the Bill of Rights.

- Why a convention?

The states had experimented with this method. Reason:

1.       Think for a minute. If Richmond city government in 2000 passes a law saying folks can raise pigs in the city but in 2003 passes a law saying they can’t, which law is true. The LAST law wins. Legislation by those chosen to  create laws can be changed by just having a different city government.

2.       Conventions of representative citizens for the purpose of writing a Constitution, move the process offline and make the document not comparatively temporary legislation, but permanent.

The solution: Write the Constitution in a convention.

- Who are the factions there?

   - Big state/small state

Like most arrangements in the Constitution, this splits the difference:

­         The House of Representatives and representation based on the number of people in the state pleased big states like PA and NY.

­         The Senate with 2 votes per state pleased small states like NJ.

   - Slave owners


Slave owners got:

­         3/5 of slaves counted toward their representation in the House of Representatives (and taxation)

­         Fugitive slave return

­         No ending of the slave trade until 1808


Northwest Ordinance passes

Click here for this ordinance.


Federalists and Federalist Papers

-          Who writes it?



Federalists = name that minimizes the strong central government desired by the framers and maximizes attention on the 2 levels of government (central and state) that existed in the plan.


Federalist Papers = Publications in newspapers to try to convince states to ratify the Constitution.


Who writes it? = James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Madison’s paper # 10 is among the most famous. He argues for a republic (government by elected representatives), not a democracy. The Constitution’s  framers reject democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy.

-          If you don’t know those words, look them up.

-          If you want to be sure of their support for the republic, enter the letters repub. Then try the first letters of the other 3 forms of government listed. The only one you’ll find is republic


- Why?


Anti-Federalist? = men such as Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, John Dickinson


Why? Such issues as:

-          Secrecy of the convention.

-          That the focus of government shifted from the states to the central government.

-          That there was no statement of rights preserved to the people and the states (Click here for more.)

-          Method used to replace the Articles of Confederation (Click here for its method and here for the Constitution’s.



What’s the method of approval?

Method of approval = 9 of 13 states

5 states asked for a Bill of Rights.

Federalists had argued against that saying it was unnecessary.

Do notice IN FUTURE MATERIALS what the Federalist are doing by 1798 with the Alien and Sedition Laws to evaluate how wrong they were.



Bill of Rights

In running for a seat in the House of Representatives, Madison promised his constituency that he would work for the Bill of Rights. He went through existing lists of rights and came up with 12, of which 10 were later ratified by the states.


Copyright C. J. Bibus, Ed.D. 2003-2013


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