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Government 2301

September 1998

Unit 1 - Lecture 3

The U.S. Constitution

I. History -

Unitary Government:

The United States first existed as a group of colonies of Great Britain. Under the British, the colonies had a unitary form of government. Under a unitary system, there is one central government which holds all power. In this case, governmental power was held by the British government.

Confederal System:

After 1776, the year the United States became independent of British rule, the Articles of Confederation, our first governmental document as a nation, was written and adopted. Under a confederal system of government, the states have most of the governmental power. In our case, this system did not work well. The states were in constant conflict with one another. Each state printed its own currency, had its own military, and charged tariffs on goods from other states. Additionally, there was the risk of military invasion from nations across the Atlantic Ocean because the United States was not protected. There was no American army or navy. There was also a war debt that needed to be paid and the central government did not have the authority to force the states to help pay the debt.

It was obvious that something had to be done, therefore, in 1787, the Congress called 74 men to a meeting in Philadelphia. The purpose of the meeting was to amend the Articles of Confederation and create a more workable system

Federal System:

55 delegates came to Philadelphia. Several of them arrived early and made some important decisions. First, George Washington was elected president of the convention. Then, the delegates decided to insist upon secrecy for the convention. Last, the delegates decided that they were not going to rewrite the Articles of Confederation, but that they were going to create a new document and a new government. This led to the writing of the Constitution of the United States.

II. Issues at the Convention

Strength of the national government:

The delegates decided that the new central government had to be strong enough to protect our shores, to police the states in their dealings with one another, and to provide for the development of the nation. (This meant that the central government would provide for the people those goods and services that were impractical for the people to provide for themselves, such as streets and schools.

The Major Compromises:

The Great Compromise (also called the Connecticut Compromise)

There was much discussion about what the representative body, the legislature, under this new system should look like. The legislature under the Articles of Confederation was unicameral (it had one chamber) and each state was represented equally.

The controversy at the convention was between the states with large population and those with small populations. The large states wanted proportional representation - representation in the legislature to be determined by population size. This was called the Virginia Plan.

The smaller states proposed that representation be equal as it had been under the Articles of Confederation. This was part of the New Jersey Plan.

The Great Compromise was designed to please both large and small states. The legislature would be bicameral (two chambered). There would be a House of Representatives in which a state’s representation would be determined by the size of the state’s population. In the Senate, the second chamber, each state would have the same number of members as every other state, regardless of the size of the population.

The 3/5 Compromise

Once it was established that the new government would have a bicameral legislature, another controversy arose. This one was between the North and the South. Remember that at that time, the South had a fully developed slave system. The southern states wanted to count their slaves as part of the population for the purpose of determining their representation in the House of Representatives. They did not want to extend to the slaves any rights such as the right to vote, they only wanted to count them to increase the representation in the House.

The northern states objected to this, arguing that the slaves were not treated as citizens, but, rather as property and that the southern states should actually pay taxes on the slaves.

The compromise is called the 3/5 Compromise. This compromise did result in an increase in the representation for southern states in the House of Representatives. This compromise proposed that each slave be counted as 3/5 of a free person. This plan was adopted.