The adoption and implementation of the United States Constitution study guide



The adoption and implementation of the United States Constitution study guide


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The adoption and implementation of the United States Constitution study guide

SSUSH5 The student will explain specific events and key ideas that brought about the adoption and implementation of the United States Constitution.

Between the end of the American Revolution and the Constitutional Convention, the survival of the United States was in question in large part because the government created by the Articles of Confederation was very weak. This standard will measure your knowledge of the events surrounding the creation of the United States Constitution and during the administrations of the first two presidents.


A. Explain how weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and Daniel Shays’ Rebellion led to a call for a stronger central government.

Articles of Confederation and Shays’s Rebellion
The Articles of Confederation were written during the American Revolution. It reflected Americans’ fear of a powerful national government. As a result, it created a government that had no executive branch and lacked the power to tax, regulate commerce, or establish one national currency. The Articles gave individual states more power than the national government had. As a result, conflicts between the states threatened the existence of the nation.
The political weakness of the United States and its potential for collapse left it vulnerable to attack by foreign countries and convinced many influential Americans to support a Constitutional Convention. Political leaders were further motivated by Shays’s Rebellion, which they felt set a precedent for mob rule.  Daniel Shays led more than a thousand farmers who, like him, were burdened with personal debts caused by economic problems stemming from the states’ Revolutionary War debts. Shays and his men tried to seize a federal arsenal in Massachusetts in just one of many protests debt-ridden farmers made during this period. Without the power to tax, America’s weak government could not repair the national economy.  Responding to Shays’s Rebellion, George Washington supported the establishment of a stronger central government. In May 1787, he was elected president of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where he and the Founding Fathers created a federalist form of government for the United States.

B. Evaluate the major arguments of the anti-Federalists and Federalists during the debate on ratification of the Constitution as put forth in The Federalist papers concerning form of government, factions, checks and balances, and the power of the executive, including the roles of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

Federalists and Anti-Federalists

Writing the Constitution was just the first step in creating the new government. Before the Constitution could take effect, the states had to accept, or ratify, it. As soon as the contents of the Constitution were published, a group of influential people spoke out against it. These people came to be known as the anti-Federalists. They believed the government created by the Constitution would be too powerful and would eliminate the power of the states. They also argued that the Constitution did not describe the rights guaranteed to the states and to each citizen.
To counter these claims, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and others wrote a series of articles that supported ratification of the Constitution and explained the intent behind its major provisions. These articles were known as The Federalist papers, so supporters of the Constitution were known as Federalists. To overcome the anti-Federalist argument that the Constitution failed to include a statement of states’ rights and individuals’ rights, Madison created the Bill of Rights, which could be added to the Constitution after it was ratified.  The Federalist papers, the promise of the Bill of Rights, and the efforts of Federalists convinced a majority of voters to support the Constitution. It was eventually ratified and became the basis for all law, rights, and governmental power in the United States.


C. Explain the key features of the Constitution, specifically the Great Compromise, separation of powers, limited government, and the issue of slavery.

The Great Compromise

One great issue facing the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was how different-sized states could have equal representation in the new government. States with large populations supported a plan to create a legislative branch in which representatives were assigned based on each state’s population. States with smaller populations supported a plan to create a legislative branch in which all states were equally represented.  Delegates to the Constitutional Convention settled the issue of representation in Congress by approving the Great Compromise. This compromise helped “save” the Constitution by settling the dispute between states with large populations and states with small populations. The compromise combined components of the two plans by establishing a national legislature to which representatives were elected based on a state’s population rather than one in which all states were equally represented. The compromise called for the creation of a legislature with two chambers, a House of Representatives with representation based on population and a Senate with equal representation for all states.


Another divisive and controversial issue that confronted delegates to the Constitutional
Convention was slavery. Though slavery existed in all the states, southern states depended on slave labor because their economies were based on producing cash crops.
When it became clear that states with large populations might have more representatives in the new national government, states with large slave populations demanded to be allowed to count their slaves as a part of their population. Northern states resisted. Both sides compromised by allowing the states to count three- fifths of their slaves when calculating their entire population. Also, to protect the practice of slavery, states with large numbers of slaves demanded that the new government allow for the continuation of the slave trade for 20 years and that Northern states return runaway slaves to their owners. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention agreed to these demands.

Separation of Powers

Despite the fact that most delegates to the Constitutional Convention believed the government of the Articles of Confederation had to be replaced, many still feared strong central governments. To reassure people that the new government would not be too powerful, the framers of the Constitution created a limited government with divided powers. The rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution limited the power of the government.
Powers were divided in two ways within the new government. First, power was divided between national and state governments. Second, the power of the executive branch was weakened because it was shared with the legislative and judicial branches. For example, the legislature can override a presidential veto of a bill, and the Supreme Court can rule that a bill signed by the president is unconstitutional. To further safeguard against an abuse of power, the Constitution gave each branch of government a way to check and balance the power of the other branches. An example of these checks and balances would be the president’s power to veto laws passed by Congress.

D. Analyze how the Bill of Rights serves as a protector of individual and states’ rights.

The Bill of Rights protects states’ and individuals’ rights.
1st Amendment: Guarantees freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the right to petition the government
2nd Amendment: Guarantees the right to possess firearms
3rd Amendment: Declares that the government may not require people to house soldiers during peacetime
4th Amendment: Protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures
5th Amendment: Guarantees that no one may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law
6th Amendment: Guarantees the right to a trial by jury in criminal cases
7th Amendment: Guarantees the right to trial by jury in most civil cases
8th Amendment: Prohibits excessive bails, fines, and punishments
9th Amendment: Declares that rights not mentioned in the Constitution belong to the people
10th Amendment: Declares that powers not given to the national government belong to the states or to the people

E. Explain the importance of the Presidencies of George Washington and John Adams; include the Whiskey Rebellion, non-intervention in Europe, and the development of political parties (Alexander Hamilton).

Presidency of George Washington
George Washington was elected the first president of the United States. He established important patterns for future presidents to follow. Developments that altered the course of the history of the U.S. government took place during his administration. Washington favored non- intervention in Europe and avoided siding with France against Great Britain.
Instead, the United States persuaded Britain to forgive many pre-Revolutionary debts and to drop certain restrictions on American trade with British colonies in the Americas. This ushered in an era of booming trade with Britain.
Washington’s new government persuaded Congress to pass taxes on liquor to help pay the states’ debt from the Revolutionary War. The tax hit the small whiskey- makers in western settlements particularly hard because they were used to making liquor from excess crops of grain to make it easier to transport and even used it as a medium of exchange. The Whiskey Rebellion resulted when, up and down areas west of the
Appalachians, armed violence broke out as farmers frightened and attacked federal tax collectors. George Washington led a large militia force into the western counties and put down the rebellion. Washington’s response showed his constitutional authority to enforce the law and that if Americans did not like a law, the way to change it was to petition Congress peacefully.

Political Parties

Washington was the most influential and popular figure in the United States. He increased the prestige of his administration by making Thomas Jefferson his Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton his Secretary of Treasury. Despite their talents and reputations, Jefferson and Hamilton had significant differences of opinion about the legitimate power of the United States government. Jefferson believed that the national government must limit its power to those areas described by the Constitution, while
Hamilton wanted to expand the power of the government to stabilize the nation and its economy. 
When Washington announced he would not seek a third term as president, the two men and their supporters attacked one another and competed to replace him. Things got so bad that, in his farewell address, Washington warned about the dangers of political parties (factions ).

Presidency of John Adams
The election of 1796 was a bitter contest between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson with Adams winning a close election. Like Washington, Adams set examples that influenced future presidents as well as the course of American history, but his administration was plagued by conflicts with France and Great Britain that crippled the nation’s economy and he received harsh political criticism from supporters of Vice President Jefferson. To aid Adams, Congress passed laws that increased citizenship requirements so Jefferson’s support would be cut off from the immigrant community.
Congress also tried to stop the criticism with attempts to limit the speech and press rights of Jefferson’s followers. Jefferson and Madison then argued that states could refuse to enforce federal laws they did not agree with. This was the beginning of the states’ rights concept.


Alexander Hamilton
Loose interpretation of Constitution
Strong power held by national
Government led by elite with good educations
Fear of mob rule
Industrial economy
Paying off national & state debts
National bank constitutional
Trade with Great Britain
Supported tariffs and plans that supported manufacturers

Thomas Jefferson
Strict interpretation of Constitution
Limited power shared by states & government localities
Government led by farmers and trades people with good virtues
Fear of over-powerful government
Agricultural economy
Paying off national debt only
National bank unconstitutional
Trade with France
Supported issues important to farmers


John Adams
New England and Middle States
Bankers, Clergy, Landowners, Lawyers, Manufacturers, Merchants

James Madison
Southern states and Rural areas
Farmers,Trades people, Urban immigrants


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