At the Pennsylvania Convention, Robert Whitehill rose to speak about the proposed Constitution including—and perhaps especially—its biggest flaw. To Whitehill, despite the fact that the country’s learned people devised the Constitution, “the defect is in the system itself,—there lies the evil which. no argument can palliate, no sophistry can disguise.” The Constitution, as it was written, “must eventually annihilate the independent sovereignty of the several states” given the power that the Constitution allotted to the federal government.
When drafting any written constitution or even any law, there is a question of whether every right should be explicitly laid out in the document. Where there are express rights in a constitution—such as the right to freedom of speech—a reader (including judges) may conclude that the list of rights are exhaustive and that there are no rights but those mentioned in that constitution. A reader could also reason that those rights which are expressed in the constitution are not a complete list but only the most important rights and may, in fact, include other rights. Additionally, a constitution may have express prohibitions such as the United States Constitution at Article I, Section 9: “The privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended.” Questions of interpretation, such as these, led to debates between friends in the winter of 1787 and 1788, and a letter from Thomas B. Wait to George Thatcher illustrated those debates.
Answers to Mason’s “Objections”: “Marcus” [James Iredell] IV
Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal (Virginia), March 12, 1788
Following are excerpts from James Iredell’s responses to George Mason’s “Objections” to the Constitution:
“VIIIth. Objection. ‘Under their own construction of the general clause at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their power as far as they shall think proper Read more
In the 15 years leading up to the Civil War, a wide variety of theories emerged for how the federal government should deal with slavery expanding, or not expanding, into the territories acquired by the United States.
By 1787, the strength and stability of the states was under scrutiny. Shays’ Rebellion had erupted, citizens had become more licentious, and state legislatures appeared to be running rampant, doing significant damage to the health of the country as a whole. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 465.
John Adams had strong opinions about federalism. He believed that the government should be structured similarly to the British Empire, given the British Empire’s extraordinary success.
At the time of the signing of the Constitution, Adams firmly believed that the Constitution had secured a national government, as opposed to a government dividing its sovereignty into states and a federal government. Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 191. Read more