The American Revolution ended in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. John Jay, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin worked hard to bring an end to the war and independence for the United States. Now this new nation had to figure out how it was going to run itself. The Continental Congress ran things at the start of the war, then got replaced by the Articles of Confederation which were not working out very well. What happened next was the Second American Revolution, the creation of the national government we all know and love to hate, that was unprecedented in its own time. The Constitution has defined the American government for generations, and its creation and ratification spawned the first American political party.
The Constitutional Convention
The Constitutional Convention almost didn’t happen. Founding Fathers like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay worked hard to get people invested in making a better government. Once George Washington agreed to make an appearance at the convention in Philadelphia, many other political leaders across the country decided to come… although they were a few days late.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists
The debates over the Constitution brought ideological issues over the role of the new government to light. How would citizens be represented in the legislation? By population? By state? What sort of powers should the executive branch have? How much autonomy should the states have? What rights, if any, should be guaranteed for citizens? What constituted a citizen? And what was to be done with slavery?
Out of the Constitutional Convention grew the first two American political parties: the Federalists (above, in red) and the Anti-Federalists (above, in green). Both parties would change during the administration of George Washington, but they began to define themselves in this era.
1.The Early Federalists
The Federalists fought for a strong central government, the idea of implied powers, and the creation of a national bank. These issues became most prevalent during the presidency of George Washington. Their name comes out of the Constitutional Convention and could be loosely applied to anyone in favor of ditching the Articles of Confederation for this fancy new Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison advocated for this new Constitution in the Federalists Papers – a series of pamphlets that presented arguments in favor of the Constitution. The authors also engaged in verbal debates in their home states, such as the intense debate between James Madison and Patrick Henry in Virginia. The ratification process to put the Constitution in action was incredibly contentious. It took years before all of the states signed on.
Noted early Federalists:
–Alexander Hamilton, the ten-dollar founding father, Revolutionary War veteran, and later the first Secretary of the Treasury. Also famous for his raps and dope beats.
–John Jay helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ended the war between Britain and the United States in 1783. Jay served as Governor of New York, Ambassador to Spain, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, President of the Congress in the Second Continental Congress, and later became the first Chief Justice of the United States. Sick resume.
–James Madison is known as “The Father of the Constitution” and “The Father of the Bill of Rights,” which are two pretty cool nicknames to have. While initially in support of a strong central government, Madison helped define the early shape of how that would work. Eventually his ideals would become too different from the Federalist Party, and Madison would help organize the next major political party: the Democratic-Republicans.
2. The Anti-Federalists
The Anti-Federalists were not down with the Constitution, especially the idea of a
president. In the 1780’s, nobody had a president, and Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry thought that such an important and powerful office could be easily manipulated into a different form of tyranny. They worried about the lack of protected rights for citizens, which would push the need for a Bill of Rights to be added. They also thought that a national government could never effectively respond to the needs of the people it was supposed to represent. Remember, this is before people could tweet their elected officials.
–Patrick Henry was an important leader in Virginia during the Revolution. Henry is famous for his declaration: “Give me liberty or give me death!” Afterward the war, he worried that America would wind up with a new monarchy that would make all the work and sacrifices of the American Revolution. He even declined to attend the Constitutional Convention.
–Samuel Adams as famous for the beer which bares his name as his revolutionary politics, Samuel Adams came out against the ratification of the Constitution in Massachusetts. Like many Anti-Federalists, Adams wanted a bill of rights amended on to the Constitution.
–George Clinton was one of the leading Anti-Federalists in New York, and fought hard for the inclusion of a bill of rights. Clinton went on to serve as Vice President, and became a founding member of the Democratic-Republicans.
Once the Constitution had been ratified by enough states to get started, American elected it’s first president: George Washington. Washington served as an officer in the French-Indian War, had led the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After the war, Washington had hoped to retire to the quiet life of a private citizen, like his Roman hero Cincinnatus who turned down the dictatorship in exchange for a quiet life on his farm. Before Washington was able to retire to Mount Vernon, he served for eight years as America’s first President.
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