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Decument Based Essay on ratification of the Constitution

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So as any students of AP history classes will know, a document based question requires you to create an essay based on quotes from several provided documents, I recently wrote an essay on the debates for and against the ratification of the Constitution by the Federalists and Ant-Federalists.

Rich D.


APUSH Thomas


Document Based Question: The Ratification Of The United States Constitution

Both the proponents and opponents of ratification of the United States constitution had a plethora of justifications for their viewpoints. These groups however did not agree on which issues were the most relevant to their arguments, and as such fractured into several smaller sub factions. The three eminent factions in this grand debate over the future of our country were the Federalists, who believed in a strong and centralized government that would support, protect, and subsidize their businesses, and two schools of thought both belonging to the cause known as anti-federalism and with substantial overlap but differing on their reasons for opposing the Constitution, one of these factions, led by many celebrated patriots such as Patrick Henry, opposed the Constitution on the grounds that it neutered the sovereignty of the individual states, the second group championed the cause of the yeomen farmers of the time, personified primarily by Jefferson and company.

The main supporters of the Constitution of the United States were the Federalists. As stated by the Massachusetts Sentential, “ Let us look and behold.... our ships rotting in our harbors... View these things, fellow citizens, and then say that we do not require a new, protecting, and efficient federal government if you can.” Trade was being hampered by the inability of the federal government to maintain safe shipping lanes. As such many Federalists, who were primarily wealthy merchants, could not run their businesses. Another major complaint the Federalists made against the Articles of Confederation government was the absolute impotence of the congress against powerful states. They wished the national government to end impost taxes (interstate tariffs) to foster trade within the new nation, this is supported in Washington's letters to Jay when he states “[T]hirteen sovereign, independent, disunited states are in the habit of... refusing compliance with [our national congress] at their option.” This last point nearly diametrically opposed to the rationale of one of the Federalist sub factions.

This sub faction saw the new Constitution as a step backwards toward the regime they had just overthrown. It threatened the sovereignty of the states for which many brave sons and brothers had sacrificed their lives for. In the immortal words of Patrick Henry excerpted from his speech at the Virginia Ratification Convention “[O]ur rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished...” His dislike, his extreme loathing, for the Constitution was proven when he boycotted the Constitutional Convention itself after he “smelt a rat”. A similar viewpoint was expressed by the Massachusetts Constitutional Ratification Convention: “that all powers not expressly delegated by the... Constitution are reserved to the several states.” this was a recommendation for the tenth amendment of the bill of rights, granting states all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states unless specifically forbidden elsewhere.

This convention also recommended amendments to protect the peoples rights. Specifically “[T]hat no person be tried for any crime until... indicted by a grand jury...” which was also addressed in the bill of rights. Mercy Otis Warren shared her analogous feelings in a newspaper article when she said “The Executive and the legislat[ure] are so dangerously blended that they give just cause for alarm...” She here expresses her views that the branches of government are in bed together and have to much dangerous power to harm the people, especially the lack of term limits which could result in a political ruling class that grows accustomed to power and detached from the people who gave them their power. Warren's sentiments are shared by Amos Singletree and he expressed his fears of the learned and wealthy Federalists becoming an aristocracy of the same kind of the one they had just sacrificed so much to free themselves from in a speech to the Massachusetts Ratification Convention: “These lawyers and men, that talk so finely and gloss over matters so smoothy,... Expect to get into Congress themselves... and to get all the money and all the power into their own hands, and then they will swallow all us little folks...”

The arguments of the advocates and adversaries of the Constitution were squarely about the role of government and which rights should be protected and where sovereignty should reside, The Federalists wished for sovereignty to reside with the federal government, prominent patriots and other assorted dissonant argued for the rights of the states and the individual. These debates led to the creation of a more perfect Constitution for the formation of a more perfect government to protect the rights of everyone, from the traders of the north to the state legislatures to the common yeoman and plantation farmers of the south and west.

I just wanted to share my work and ask for constructive criticism for the next time i write an essay :)

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