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Lecture 13

Lecture 13 - The Constitutional Revolution: Designing a New System

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Western University
History 2301E
Aldona Sendzikas

Lecture 13 – The Constitutional Revolution: Designing a New System Introduction • Revolutionary distrust of executive sets the stage • Enthusiasm lived under the “world’s greatest constitution” ○ Justified their resistance under the British constitution • Corruption of the executive branch of British government The Making of Revolutionary State Constitutions, 1776-1783 • 1776 – Radical phase of state constitution-making ○ Governor’s powers decreased, legislative powers increased • 1780 – conservative phase of state constitution-making (e.g. Massachusetts) ○ Governor’s powers increased, legislative powers decreased ○ American leaders coming to realized the powers of the legislature is more feared that the governor’s ○ Tried to regain some of the lost powers of the British constitution ○ Governor’s regained some of the powers held originally by the Royal Governor’s (e.g. veto powers) ○ Checks and balances of each branch of the government The Movement for a Stronger National Government • Articles of Confederation (ratified 1781) ○ Weak national government; unicameral legislature ○ Powers of the national government; unicameral legislature (each state had one vote)  Produced a weak national government  War, foreign relations, settled intercolonial disputes, Indian trades, evaluation of the currency, etc. ○ Weaknesses: no income, could not tax, no uniform commercial policy, no coercive powers ○ Articles not meant to create a strong national government – America meant to be a strong “league of friendships” • Reasons for movement: flaws of Articles of Confederation, army supply, national finance, fear of democracy (Shay’s Rebellion) ○ Shay’s Rebellion: Massachusetts, led by Daniel Shay, group of indebted farmers, threatened their own local government, democracy out of control ○ Similar to what will happen to the Confederacy in the Civil War • Constitutional Revolution: transformed structure of central government ○ Was constitutional a counter-revolutionary document? (Charles Beard)  Writers trying to undo the revolution for economic self interest ○ Or was delegates’ sense of crisis sincere? (Gordon Wood)  Felt the republic was in peril, state governments gridlocked and powerless, popular rebellions in progress • Meaning of “revolutionary” th ○ “Return of older ideas” – 18 century idea; now meaning more new and innovative ○ Aspects of the constitution are innovative ○ Ideas of a strong central government seem to come and go Creative Innovations • How could they create a strong national government without seeming to “undo” the revolution? What innovations could be seen as consistent with the revolution? ○ Written constitution – British constitution by and large not written, Americans made it clear what they wanted ○ Constitutional convention and popular ratification, popular sovereignty - don’t let any governing body, create a new branch (constitutional convention) and then disband it after; subject to people’s ideas afterwards; could only be revised by unanimous consent, 9 of 13 states had to agree in order for changes to pass; appeals to the people, not the state governments ○ Checks and balances; separation of powers – House of Representatives elected by the people, Senate elected by the State; President elected by the Electoral College; separation of executive, legis
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