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Criticism of the Constitution (1) as to slavery

(2) as to other property interests

protected slavery to the extent at least of requiring the return of fugitive slaves. On the other hand, the slave-owners of the South believed that they were not sufficiently protected by it and so determined to leave the union which the Constitution provided. After the war the Constitution was changed to make it conform to the changes in the spirit and purpose of the people. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments gave legal form to the abolition of slavery.

The second period of criticism is the present. It is felt by some that the Constitution prevents people from obtaining certain reforms which are needed. And that it makes it possible for a few to block the will of the majority. It is claimed that instead of being adopted by the whole people, the Constitution was really adopted by a very small majority who formed perhaps only about one-sixth of all male adults. It is claimed that it was not made by men who were thinking first of all of the welfare of the whole country but by men of property who were thinking of their own interests.

We may as well face these questions frankly. It may be we shall find that precisely the same thing was true of the Constitution which we have found true of other institutions. Men“ builded better than they knew.” In the struggle for liberty and justice, some men have been moved chiefly by their own wrongs or their own advantage. Nevertheless, in securing justice for themselves they have made it possible for others to gain justice. On the other hand, some have always fought the battle of justice and liberty because they loved their fellow-men and believed this to be a cause worthy of their efforts, and if need be of their lives. So in the union which was secured by our Constitution.


It may be that we shall find some working for their own advantage and yet helping the cause of all, while others even at the outset were disinterested.

It undoubtedly is true that many, in fact almost half Early of the people of the country, did not at first like the division new Constitution which was proposed. Votes in many

opinion of the states were nearly evenly divided. In Massachusetts the eastern part of the state was for it, the western part against it. In New York at first a large majority of the delegates was opposed to it. In general people of the cities favored it, people in the country opposed it. Those who favored it wanted a closer union and a stronger government; those who opposed it feared that under it they would lose liberty and independence.

Why was the need of greater union felt?

First of all, the after-effects of the Revolution bore hard upon the people. War is always expensive. Some one must pay for the losses of life and property. Both the government and the people were poor. Hard times came on. Many were in debt.

Taxes were hard to pay and were very high. It has been estimated that in Massachusetts the burden of taxes and interest on private debt for the average head of a family was about two hundred dollars. In those days most of the farmers never saw so much as fifty dollars in the course of a year. To pay two hundred dollars was clearly impossible. They had secured freedom from taxation to Great Britain, but this did not seem to lighten their burdens.

In Massachusetts, which we now think of as a rather Property conservative state so far as property is concerned, owners ideas of a highly radical sort found expression in Shay's Rebellion. The views of the discontented were

stated by General Knox, who was in charge of the forces of the state.

Their creed is 'That the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscations of Britain by the joint exertions of all, and therefore ought to be the common property of all. And he that attempts opposition to this creed is an enemy to equity and justice, and ought to be swept from off the face of the earth.' In a word they are determined to annihilate all debts public and private."


No wonder that property owners were alarmed and decided that some firmer government must be established if the country was not to be ruined.

Merchants and traders were another class who were strongly interested in firmer government. Pirates on the Barbary Coast in the Mediterranean attacked and plundered our ships. There was no national navy and no one state was strong enough to protect its merchants. The British hampered foreign trade by an order that all trade with the West Indies must be in British ships. Moreover, the states set up barriers which hindered trade between the states. New York required boats from Connecticut and New Jersey to pay entrance fees and duties as if they had come from a foreign country. Connecticut business men signed an agreement not to send any goods whatever into New York for a period of twelve months.

Besides these groups of property owners and traders, a third group that supported the demand for a stronger union was made up of statesmen like Washington and Franklin, who were large enough and far-sighted enough to see the necessities of the whole people. Alexander Hamilton mentions these three groups in summing up the interests favorable to the new Constitution.


He named “the very great weight of influence of the persons who framed it, particularly in the universal popularity of General Washington-the good-will of the commercial interest throughout the states which will give all its efforts to the establishment of a government capable of regulating, protecting, and expanding the commerce of the Union—the good-will of most men of property in the several states who wish a government of the Union able to protect them against domestic violence and the depredations which the democratic spirit is apt to make on property ... a strong belief in the people at large of the insufficiency of the present confederation to preserve the existence of the Union."




The Constitution



adjustment of interests

HERE were, then, in the minds of those who framed the Constitution, the following conflict

ing claims and needs to be met. (1) The conflict between local government in the various states and a central government representing the union of all.

(2) A conflict between the mass of the people who at this time were farmers, and on the other hand, the larger property owners and commercial classes.

In general, the commercial classes were the ones who wanted the strong central government. The Constitution as actually framed represents a compromise, or rather a series of compromises, between the two sets of opposing views. It established what was called a federal system. That is, a league or union of states, with a division of powers.

In certain respects the states were sovereign, that is, for certain purposes the people would act through their state governments without any interference by the federal government. In certain other respects, the newly established central government was to be sovereign.

The powers of the federal government relate especially to those matters which are common to the whole nation “either because all the parts of the nation are alike interested in them, or because it is only by the

(1) Ad. justment between states and central government

Powers of the federal government

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