The Prehistory and Ratification of the American Constitution

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13 January 2016

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To ratify a treaty or agreement is to make it official by signing it or voting for it. For amendments of the federal constitution to take place, it usually requires the support of both the federal government and a given percentage of the constituent governments.

Article five of the constitution of the United States of America illustrates how to amend the document. There are two steps involved; proposal and ratification. In proposing an amendment, either congress or the states can propose an amendment of the constitution. (Both houses of congress must propose the amendment with a two-thirds vote. Two-thirds of the state legislatures must call a congress to hold a constitutional convention.)

In ratifying an amendment, regardless of how the amendment has been proposed, it must be ratified by the states. (Three-fourths of the state legislatures must approve the amendment proposed by congress or three-fourths of the states must approve the amendment through ratifying conventions.)

Ratification of the constitution in 1787

           In 1787 and 1788, after the constitutional convention, there was a great debate in the United States of America over the constitution that had been proposed. Federalists were in favor of the constitution and a strong central government as well. These federalists were people like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. On the opposing side were the anti federalists who were in favor of stronger state legislatures and a weaker central government. The anti-federalists did not want the constitution to be ratified. They were people like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry.

Federalists were in support of the ratification process due to the following reasons

           Federalists also reasoned out that the new government would not be dominated by any group and there were various adequate safeguards to protect individuals and the states. The constitution, therefore, did not need a Bill of Rights since it could create a ‘parchment barrier’ which limited the rights of people instead of protecting them. They considered a Bill of Rights unnecessary because the state governments already had such bills.

They wanted a strong federal government which would hold the nation together. The nation was facing several problems, especially constant trade disputes which were at the verge of dividing the nation. A strong federal government was, therefore, necessary.

Anti-federalists, on the other hand, did not support the ratification process for the following reasons;

They were concerned about the liberties that Americans had won in the revolution. They feared that a strong federal government would destroy these liberties. They were worried that the constitution did not list specific rights for the people.

From the above discussion, if I had been alive in 1787, I would have supported the ratification process because of the following reasons;

A stronger national government was required to solve persistent problems in America such as lack of a common currency, constant trade disputes between the states and a lack of unity in trade. Features of the constitution would provide adequate power to the national government to address these problems while protecting the rights and freedoms of the people.

There were philosophical reasons to oppose the constitution as well. The new government which would be established by the new constitution would create a link between sovereign states. Besides, government did not have power because it was the government, but because the people had granted it power.

Federal courts had limited jurisdiction. Many areas were left to the state and local courts. New federal courts were necessary to provide checks and balances on the power of the other two arms of government. Federal courts would thus protect the citizens from government abuse and guarantee their freedom. By separating the basic powers of government into three equal branches, and not giving too much power group, the constitution would provide balance and prevent potential for tyranny.

In addition, the anti-federalists’ main reason for not accepting the ratification process was that the bill of rights had not been included. Later on, the proposed bill of rights was incorporated in the new constitution, and therefore the ratification process was now a valid one.


Bailyn, Bernard. The Debate on the Constitution: Federalist and Anti-federalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters during the Struggle over Ratification. New York: Literary Classics of the United States:, 1993. Print.

John, Jeffrey. A Child of Fortune: A Correspondent’s Report on the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Battle for a Bill of Rights. Ottawa, Ill.: Jameson, 1990. Print.

“The Constitution before the Judgment Seat: The Prehistory and Ratification of the American Constitution, 1787-1791.” Choice Reviews Online: 50-0478. Print.

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