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26 September 2010
Chapter 1 Reading Question
Explain why the Founding Fathers chose to create a Federal Republic at the Constitutional Convention.
By 1787 it had become evident that the national government created under the Articles of Confederation was failing to achieve political and economic stability. State governments were also dysfunctional entities incapable of governing effectively with the best example being Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. Animosity, and in some cases open conflict, between the states continue to grow as a weak national government was unable to compel local governments to compromise with each other. The nation, in essence, was tittering on anarchy as the public’s confidence in the national and state governments waned.
The Founders, most notable James Madison, realized that a more powerful national government was essential to provide leadership and a degree of governing uniformity for all states that was not permissible under the Articles of Confederation. So with that realization by the leading political figures of the day why didn’t the Founders adopt an efficient unitary structure of government along the lines of the British parliament? Under this system, a strong, unified national government would replace the role of state governments and establish uniformed law and order throughout the nation. All power would flow from the top down.
The Founders were fully aware of the geographic vastness of the new nation along with distinct regional economies and diverse populations. For a single central government to operate all governmental functions was both impractical and unacceptable. Individual states had a long history of independence and self-determination and were not willing to surrender all of their power to a centralized government structure.
Instead of adopting the unitary model of government, the Founders embraced a federal system of governing that would permit the sharing of power between the various levels of government while at the same time empowering the national government to create and enforce rules essential in the governing of the nation. Under the U.S. Constitution the national government would be the supreme governing body but would also permit states to create governments and laws best suited to their individual wants and needs. In essence both a national and state government would have sovereignty to governor, but their areas of concern would be different. The national government would concentrate on issues that affected the nation as a whole such as national defense, foreign relations, interstate trade, and treaties. State governments would concern themselves with state issues such as the establishment of schools, marriage licenses, and road construction and maintenance.
Under this arrangement the national government would have power and jurisdiction over the states but would leave issues of a primarily local concern to state and local government. This was the essential agreement reached in Philadelphia in 1787 with the adoption of the “Great Compromise” as the framework of the U.S. government.