The Revolutionary Context of the Constitutional Convention

Question The Constitutions of 1776 were characterized by a variety of factors, based on the revolutionary need for a “fundamental transformation of political institutions” (Banning, PAGE #). Wishing to create a government body that did not emulate the problematic and tyrannical English aristocratic system, most of the individual States had established government bodies whose representatives held minimal legislative power, where “power rested with the people in a wholly literal sense” (Banning, PAGE #). As further articulated by Banning on PAGE #, the revolutionaries believed that “proper constitutions…depended on consent, but governments existed in order to protect the liberties of all…[the revolutionaries searched for a] governmental structure in which liberty and representative democracy could be combined.” While there were undoubtedly fundamental problems with creating the sort of government where the officials held little to no power, Banning argues that “whatever the Revolution was or would become, its essence lay originally in these thirteen problematic experiments in constructing republican regimes” (PAGE #). As such, it is evidenced that the State Constitutions of the individual colonial governments was a precursor to the greater Continental government establishment, and provided an ideal staging ground for the revolutionaries to experiment with the idea of new government.
Question 2
Arguably, the most significant accomplishment of the Articles of Confederation was establishing “a permanent confederation presided over by a Congress whose authority would be confined to matter of interest to all” (Banning, PAGE #). The Articles of Confederation, according to Banning, “did not issue from a systematic, theoretical consideration of the problems of confederation government” (PAGE #). Rather they merely emulated the government practices that had evolved in the State Constitutions over the years. While it was popularly taught that the Articles of Confederation were characterized by a chaotic period in the early colonies, recent scholarship attributes greater credit to the Articles than in times past. For instance, Banning points out that the Confederation years, aside from consolidating the thirteen states, “secured their independence and won a generous treaty of peace…weathered a severe post-war depression…and organized the area northwest of the Ohio for settlement” (PAGE #). The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, in fact, became the basis for “all the rest of the continental expansion of the United States” (Banning PAGE #). Hence it is noted that, while the Articles had their faults, they also succeeded in maintaining sufficient order and achievement to foster the grounds for new government in the United States.
Question 3
The primary motive for calling the Constitutional Convention evolved from a variety of inter-state government problems, and the threat these problems posed for the revolutionary ideal. Under the Articled of Confederation, the Congress held no power to compel the states to gain funds or to cooperate with one another for the greater good. The States were, at the time, more concerned with their individual interests to maintain a stable government. Banning notes that, with the immense expenses incurred by the war, “Congress could not even pay the interest on these [financial] obligations” (PAGE #). As the years progressed, the situation between the States digressed to the point where interstate commerce was nearly impossible, self-interest was increasingly escalated, and the United States were ridiculed by Europe in contradiction to the revolutionary dream of “national greatness” (Banning, PAGE #). Banning states that “public virtue…seemed to be in danger of completely disappearing as every man and every social group sought private goods at the expense of harmony and other people’s rights” (PAGE #). The culmination of this descent into petty interstate bickering was Shays’ Rebellion, an incident which evidenced the reality of needing to overhaul the Articles. Not only that, says Banning, “they saw in the problems of the Confederation government not merely difficulties that would have to be corrected, but an opportunity that might be seized for even greater ends” (PAGE #). Those ends ultimately resulted in the creating of the present Constitution, and the evolution of our government as it is today.
Works Cited
Forging the American Character: Readings in United States History Since 1985, 4th Edition. Wilson, John R. M.