Debate over the Strength of Central Government

The period of 1783-1800 was shaped by the debate between those who supported a strong central government and those who wanted more power given to the states. This period dealt with issues surrounding the formations of factions that threatened to split the young nation, the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, and the constitutionality of a national bank. Factions divided the people into those who supported a strong central government and those who wanted more power given to the states.

These two groups had differing viewpoints, which influenced decisions regarding the addition of a Bill of Rights and the formation of a national bank. The two major factions that almost disrupted the developing nation were formulated at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. At this convention, delegates representing all states expect Rhode Island formed a new type of government with the creation of the Constitution. In the ratification process America was divided in two, the federalists and anti-federalists.

Federalists were in favor of a strong central government and hence supporting the new Constitution, while anti-federalists were in favor of giving the states a greater amount of power, thus opposing it. The opposition to the Constitution spreads from a mistrust of central government due to the grievances of English monarchy. The rights obtained by the central government took away states’ rights as seen in Sections VIII and X of the Constitution of the United States of American (Document 5).

Most people who lived in cities, manufacturers, and northern merchants supported federalist views and most small farmers, southerners and frontiersmen sided with the anti-federalist views. Key federalists included Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, John Marshall, John Jay, and James Madison. In order to promote ratification Hamilton, Jay, and Madison published a series of Federalist Papers, (Document 8). On the anti-federalist side, important figures included Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Aaron Burr, Richard Henry Lee, and Patrick Henry.

These men were in favor of the Article of Confederation, which greatly limited the powers of the central government and maximized the powers of state rights. One major flaw that the anti-federalist expressed concerning the Constitution was the lack of a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights would secure the rights of the people and prevent the central government from becoming too powerful. The federalists argued that the system of checks and balances would prevent tyranny. However, when many states ratified the Constitution they attached a list of amendments to be added in a Bill of Rights.

James Madison compiled these amendments and presented twelve of them to Congress. Ten were passed and added to the Constitution resulting in the American Bill of Rights. One of the most significant amendments is the tenth amendment, which states “All powers not delegated to the federal government belong to the states or to the people,” (Document 6). This declared that whatever was not restricted or allowed in the Constitution was a right retained by the people or states. The most heated debate amongst federalists and anti-federalist was over the constitutionality of a national bank.

Anti-federalists believed the central government did not have the authority to create a national bank, while the federalists believed it was stated in the elastic clause of the Constitution. The United States Constitution was written in a vague terminology by the Founding Fathers, which added to the contention amongst Americans. Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, proposed a national bank to “wish the most proper and speedy measures may be taken, to discharge both foreign and domestic debt,” (Document 7).

The anti-federalists, in particular Thomas Jefferson, who favored a strict interpretation of the Constitution, rejected this notion and claimed it was unconstitutional because it was not a power directly stated in the document. However, Hamilton argued that the “elastic clause” as seen in Article I Section VIII, the powers of congress (Document 5), allowed the central government to establish a bank because it was necessary and proper and constitutional, (Document 1). Hamilton, along with the other federalists, favored a loose interpretation of the Constitution.

The debate of having a national bank was resolved by giving the national bank a twenty year charter to test it out. This debacle leads to further issues on the topic of government rights versus state rights, and almost leads to the destruction of the country. When the Constitution was in its ratification process the small states sided with federalists in wanting a stronger central government, while larger states sided with anti-federalists in wanting more state rights. This was seen in two important proposals to the Constitutional convention surrounding the executive branch.

First, the New Jersey Plan or the small states plans, wanted one house that has equal representation, with one vote per state. This would make small states more powerful and have the same say in the government as the larger states did. Second, was the Virginia Plan or the large states plan (Document 4), was to have a bicameral legislative, with one house with representation based on population, and the other elected through that house. This gave more power to the states, the larger states gaining a clear advantage as well.

These two plans clearly portrayed the different ideas of federalists and anti-federalist and demonstrated how vital a role states played throughout this period. This dispute was settled with the great compromise, proposed by Roger Sherman, making a bicameral legislature with the Senate with equal representation for each state and the House of Representatives based on population and direct election. The debate between those who supported a strong central government and those who wanted more state rights truly shaped the period between 1783 and 1800.

It dealt with the creation of two factions that could have potentially destroyed the emerging nation and the debates over a Bill of Rights and a national bank. If it were not for the ideas, factions, and development that occurred during the making of the Constitution and the continued building of our nation after, the government of America would not have been as successful as it is today. The Idea that were fought over from 1783 to 1800 has shaped our country and allowed us to be the great nation that we are.