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Menu Find a Book. However, the national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states. The convention took place from May 14 to September 17, , in Philadelphia , Pennsylvania. Although the Convention was purportedly intended only to revise the Articles, the intention of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York , was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one.
The convention convened in the Pennsylvania State House , and George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected as president of the convention. Thomas Jefferson , who was Minister to France during the convention, characterized the delegates as an assembly of "demi-gods. On September 12, George Mason of Virginia suggested the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution modeled on previous state declarations, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts made it a formal motion. Madison, then an opponent of a Bill of Rights, later explained the vote by calling the state bills of rights "parchment barriers" that offered only an illusion of protection against tyranny.
Because Mason and Gerry had emerged as opponents of the proposed new Constitution, their motion—introduced five days before the end of the convention—may also have been seen by other delegates as a delaying tactic. Author David O. Stewart characterizes the omission of a Bill of Rights in the original Constitution as "a political blunder of the first magnitude"  while historian Jack N.
Rakove calls it "the one serious miscalculation the framers made as they looked ahead to the struggle over ratification". Thirty-nine delegates signed the finalized Constitution. Thirteen delegates left before it was completed, and three who remained at the convention until the end refused to sign it: Mason, Gerry, and Edmund Randolph of Virginia.
Following the Philadelphia Convention, some leading revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry , Samuel Adams , and Richard Henry Lee publicly opposed the new frame of government, a position known as "Anti-Federalism". Gerry's Objections", which went through 46 printings; the essay particularly focused on the lack of a bill of rights in the proposed constitution. Jefferson wrote to Madison advocating a Bill of Rights: "Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can. We find they have, in the ninth section of the first article declared, that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in cases of rebellion—that no bill of attainder, or ex post facto law, shall be passed—that no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, etc.
If every thing which is not given is reserved, what propriety is there in these exceptions? Does this Constitution any where grant the power of suspending the habeas corpus, to make ex post facto laws, pass bills of attainder, or grant titles of nobility? It certainly does not in express terms. The only answer that can be given is, that these are implied in the general powers granted.
With equal truth it may be said, that all the powers which the bills of rights guard against the abuse of, are contained or implied in the general ones granted by this Constitution. Ought not a government, vested with such extensive and indefinite authority, to have been restricted by a declaration of rights? It certainly ought. So clear a point is this, that I cannot help suspecting that persons who attempt to persuade people that such reservations were less necessary under this Constitution than under those of the States, are wilfully endeavoring to deceive, and to lead you into an absolute state of vassalage.
Supporters of the Constitution, known as Federalists, opposed a bill of rights for much of the ratification period, in part due to the procedural uncertainties it would create.
In response, Hamilton argued that the Constitution was inherently different:. Bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince.
Bill of Rights: Primary Documents in American History
In December and January , five states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut—ratified the Constitution with relative ease, though the bitter minority report of the Pennsylvania opposition was widely circulated. Following Massachusetts' lead, the Federalist minorities in both Virginia and New York were able to obtain ratification in convention by linking ratification to recommended amendments.
A minority of the Constitution's critics, such as Maryland's Luther Martin , continued to oppose ratification. They began to take exception to the Constitution "as it was," seeking amendments. Several conventions saw supporters for "amendments before" shift to a position of "amendments after" for the sake of staying in the Union. Ultimately, only North Carolina and Rhode Island waited for amendments from Congress before ratifying. Article Seven of the proposed Constitution set the terms by which the new frame of government would be established.
The new Constitution would become operational when ratified by at least nine states. Only then would it replace the existing government under the Articles of Confederation and would apply only to those states that ratified it. Following contentious battles in several states, the proposed Constitution reached that nine-state ratification plateau in June On September 13, , the Articles of Confederation Congress certified that the new Constitution had been ratified by more than enough states for the new system to be implemented and directed the new government to meet in New York City on the first Wednesday in March the following year.
Led by Melancton Smith, they were inclined to make the ratification of New York conditional on prior proposal of amendments or, perhaps, insist on the right to secede from the union if amendments are not promptly proposed. Hamilton, after consulting with Madison, informed the Convention that this would not be accepted by Congress. After ratification by the ninth state, New Hampshire, followed shortly by Virginia, it was clear the Constitution would go into effect with or without New York as a member of the Union. In a compromise, the New York Convention proposed to ratify with in confidence that the states would call for new amendments using the convention procedure in Article V, rather than making this a condition of ratification by New York.
John Jay wrote the New York Circular Letter calling for the use of this procedure, which was then sent to all the States. The legislatures in New York and Virginia passed resolutions calling for the convention to propose amendments that had been demanded by the States while several other states tabled the matter to consider in a future legislative session. Madison wrote the Bill of Rights partially in response to this action from the States.
The Senate of eleven states contained 20 Federalists with only two Anti-Federalists, both from Virginia. In retaliation for Madison's victory in that battle at Virginia's ratification convention, Henry and other Anti-Federalists, who controlled the Virginia House of Delegates , had gerrymandered a hostile district for Madison's planned congressional run and recruited Madison's future presidential successor, James Monroe , to oppose him. Originally opposed to the inclusion of a bill of rights in the Constitution, Madison had gradually come to understand the importance of doing so during the often contentious ratification debates.
By taking the initiative to propose amendments himself through the Congress, he hoped to preempt a second constitutional convention that might, it was feared, undo the difficult compromises of , and open the entire Constitution to reconsideration, thus risking the dissolution of the new federal government.
Related The Constitution and the Bill of Rights: Early America (Primary Source Readers)
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