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Opening paragraph from the The United States Constitution: 'We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.'

[Detail] The United States Constitution

Resources | Procedure

Issues

Issue 1: Legality of the Constitution

In May 1786, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed that Congress revise the Articles of Confederation. Congress responded by appointing a committee to draft amendments to the Articles. On August 7, 1786, the committee produced these amendments, written chiefly by committee chairman Pinckney.

Among many changes, the amendments would have granted Congress exclusive power over commerce, and outlined punishments for poor attendance by members of Congress. Although the most ambitious effort to revise the Articles of Confederation, the amendments were never acted upon; a new convention meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, seemed likely to devise a plan for granting Congress power over trade.

"Congress Tries to Revise the Articles of Confederation,"
from the Special Presentation, To Form a More Perfect Union,
in Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Review the following primary source documents to find evidence regarding the legality of the proceedings by which the creation of the Constitution came about.

  • What were the issues related to the procedures of the Federal Convention and the resulting plan of government?
  • Were the Articles of Confederation adequate to address the growing needs of the United States?

Amending the Articles of Confederation
"The grand committee, consisting of Mr.Livermore, Mr.Dane, Mr.Manning, . . . Mr. Pinckney and Mr. Houstoun, appointed to report such amendments to the Confederation, and such resolutions as it may be necessary to recommend to the several states, for the purpose of obtaining from them such powers as will render the federal government adequate to the ends for which it was instituted, beg leave to submit the following report to the consideration of Congress . . ."

Letter from George Washington to John Jay, March 10, 1787.
"How far the revision of the federal system, and giving more adequate powers to Congress may be productive of an efficient government, I will not under my present view of the matter, presume to decide."

Letter from the Hon. Robert Yates . . . to the Governor of New York
"Sir: We do ourselves the honor to advise your excellency that, in pursuance to concurrent resolutions of the honorable Senate and Assembly, we have, together with Mr.... Hamilton, attended the Convention appointed for revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting amendments to the same."

An Address of the . . . Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
"During the fall and spring sessions of the legislature, on the recommendations of the Congress of the United States, your representatives proceeded to the appointment of delegates to attend a Convention to be held in the city of Philadelphia, for the purposes of revising and amending the present articles of confederation..."

Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority
"It was not until after the termination of the late glorious contest, which made the people of the United States an independent nation, that any defect was discovered in the present confederation."

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Issue 2: Regulation of Interstate and International Commerce

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress lacked the authority to regulate commerce, making it unable to protect or standardize trade between foreign nations and the various states. In 1784, Congress requested that the states grant it limited power over commerce for a period of fifteen years, but many of the states did not comply . . . On February 16, 1785, [a] committee recommended amending the articles of Confederation so that Congress would have power over commerce.

Congress is Unable to Control Commerce between America and Foreign Nations
from the Special Presentation, To Form a More Perfect Union,
in Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Review the following primary source documents.

  • What were the issues related to interstate commerce and international commerce that affected the United States under the Articles of Confederation?
  • Were the Articles adequate to address the growing needs of the United States?

Motion to Give Congress Power to Regulate Foreign Commerce
"The committee consisting of . . . to whom was referred the motion of Mr. Monroe, submit the following report: That the first paragraph of the ninth of the Articles of Confederation be altered, so as to read thus, viz . . . That the following letter be addressed to the legislatures of the several states, showing the principles on which the above alteration is proposed."

Elliot's Debates--Report of the States on the Regulation of Commerce . . .
"Friday, March 3, 1786.--The committee, consisting of Mr. Kean, Mr. Gorham, Mr. Pinckney, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Grayson, to whom were recommended sundry papers and documents relative to commerce, and the acts passed by the states in consequence of the recommendations of Congress of the 30th of April, 1784, report"

Report of the Office for Foreign Affairs, 7th October, 1785.
"The Secretary of the united States for the Department of Foreign Affairs, to whom was referred the Representation of certain French merchants, against the Acts of New-Hampshire and Massachusetts for regulating navigation and commerce . . ."

Mr. Charles Pinckney's Speech, in Answer to Mr. Jay, Delivered in Congress, August 16, 1786.
"It is confessed our government is so feeble and unoperative, that unless a new portion of strength is infused, it must in all probability soon dissolve. Congress have it in contemplation to apply to the States on this subject. The concurrence of the whole will be necessary to effect it. Is it to be supposed, that if it is discovered a treaty is formed upon principles calculated to promote the interests of one part of the union at the expense of the other, that the part conceiving itself injured will ever consent to invent additional powers . . . Will they not urge, and with great reason, the impropriety of vesting that body with farther powers, which has so recently abused those they already possess I have no doubt they will."

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Issue 3: National Debt and Treasury Obligations

By the union of the the several states they have rescued themselves from the tyranny of a powerful nation and established constitutions on the free consent of the people...but these constitutions cannot long outlive the fate of the general union; and this union cannot exist without adequate funds to defray the expenses of the government, and to discharge those engagements which have been entered into with the concurrence of the citizens of all of these states, for their common benefit.

An Address from the United States in Congress Assembled to the Legislatures of the Several States: Congress, Oct. 6, 1786.
Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Review the following primary source documents.

  • What were the issues regarding funding for the national government and paying of foreign debt that affected the United States under the Articles of Confederation?
  • Were the Articles adequate to address the growing needs of the United States?

The Grand Committee's Report on the Subject of Supplies, 1785
"Resolved that for the services of the present year, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-five, for the payment of one year's interest on the foreign and domestic debt . . ."

Several Reports and Documents Concerning the System of General Revenue
"The committee, consisting of Mr. King, Mr. Pinckney, Mr. Kean, Mr. Monroe, and Mr. Pettit, to whom were referred several Reports and Documents concerning the system of General revenue, recommended by Congress on the 18th of April, 1783 . . ."

Journals of the Continental Congress. Reported in Congress Oct. 17, 1786.
"Impressed with a sense of the sacred trust committed to them, and with an anxious and affectionate concern for the interest, honor and safety of their constituents, the United States in Congress assembled, have on various occasions, pointed out the dangerous situation of this nation ...Under this heavy accumulation of the foreign debt . . ."

An Address from the United States in Congress Assembled to the Legislatures of the Several States: Congress, Oct. 6, 1786.
"When the interests of a people are endangered, either through the defect of the government they have established, or the want of timely and vigorous, exertions to give efficacy to its operations . . ."

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Issue 4: State versus National Power

. . . the main pillars of the Constitution; which we have shown to be inconsistent with the liberty and happiness of the people, as its establishment will annihilate the state governments, and produce one consolidated government that will eventually and speedily issue in the supremacy of despotism.

The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention, of the State of Pennsylvania, to their Constituents, December 12, 1787,
from Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Review the following primary source documents to find evidence regarding the powers of the states versus the power of the national government and the issues of state representation in Congress.

  • Were the Articles of Confederation adequate to address the growing needs of the United States?

Letter from the Hon. Robert Yates . . . to the Governor of New York
"It is with the sincerest concern we observe that, in the prosecution of the important objects of our mission, we have been reduced to the disagreeable alternative of either exceeding the powers delegated to us, and giving assent to measures which we conceive destructive to the political happiness of the citizens of the United States . . ."

The Committee Consisting of Mr. Kearney, . . . Relative to Indian Affairs . . .
". . . the clause in the confederation relative to managing all affairs with the Indians, &c. is differently construed by Congress and the two states within whose limits the said tribes and disputed lands are. The construction contended by those states, if right, appears to the committee, to leave the federal powers, in this case, a mere nullity . . ."

By the United States in Congress Assembled . . . to Devise Means for Procuring a Full Representation
". . . the committee cannot find on examining the journals, notwithstanding the repeated earnest recommendations for that purpose, that all the states have been represented at the same time: it appears that frequently there have not been more than nine states, and too generally not more than a competent representation for the lesser objects of the confederation . . ."

The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention, of the State of Pennsylvania, to their Constituents
"We Dissent, First, Because it is the opinion of the most celebrated writers on government, and confirmed by uniform experience, that very extensive territory cannot be governed on the principles of freedom, otherwise than by a confederation of republics, possessing all the powers of internal government; but united in the management of their general, and foreign concerns."

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Issue 5: National Integrity

. . .that Congress consider the union bound by the federal compact to protect every part of the nation, as well against the unjust and unprovoked attacks of the independent tribes of Indians within the United States, as against foreign powers. . .

The Committee Consisting of Mr. Kearney...to Whom was Referred
the Report of the Secretary at War, and Sundry Papers Relative to Indian Affairs

from Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Review the following primary source documents to find evidence regarding the issue of preserving national integrity and defending the expanding western lands.

  • Were the Articles of Confederation adequate to address the growing needs of the United States?

The Committee Consisting of Mr. Kearney...to Whom was Referred the Report of the Secretary at War, and Sundry Papers Relative to Indian Affairs
". . . the clause in the confederation relative to managing all affairs with the Indians, &c. is differently construed by Congress and the two states within whose limits the said tribes and disputed lands are. The construction contended by those states, if right, appears to the committee, to leave the federal powers, in this case, a mere nullity . . ."

Letter from the War Office . . . Containing Intelligence of the Hostile Intentions of the Indians
"That the states . . . hereby are requested to use their utmost exertions to raise the quotas of troops, respectively assigned to them, with all possible expedition, and that the executives of the said states be, and hereby are requested in case any of their legislatures should not be in session, immediately to convene them for this purpose, as a delay may be attended with the most fatal consequences."

The Debates in the Convention of the State of New York, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
"Mr. Chairman, as the preamble of the plan under consideration comprises the great objects of the Union, it will be proper, at this place, to introduce such general observations as may with less propriety be noticed, when particular articles are under consideration, and which may serve, at the same time, to show the necessity of adopting some more efficacious plan of union, than that by which we are now bound."

Mr. Charles Pinckney's Speech . . . on the Question of a Treaty with Spain
"It is confessed our government is so feeble and inoperative, that unless a new portion of strength is infused, it must in all probability soon dissolve. Congress have it in contemplation to apply to the States on this subject. The concurrence of the whole will be necessary to effect it. Is it to be supposed, that if it is discovered a treaty is formed upon principles calculated to promote the interests of one part of the union at the expense of the other, that the part conceiving itself injured will ever consent to invent additional powers . . ."

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