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AmRev Final Paper

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Arguing the Importance of Post-1787: Building a New America
The formation of the new American nation was not instantaneous; was not as
straightforward as a battle won, or a document signed. Rather, the process of succession from
Great Britain was a culmination of both physical and mental battles, spanning decades and
ever-evolving ideologies. But can one era in this process be considered to be more critical
than the rest? This is a crucial question to examine, as it forces one to consider which events
had a lasting impact, and are reflective of the process of the American Revolution as a whole.
While it would be easy to claim that the physical “revolution” itself was most influential in
the formation of new America, this would be overly simplistic, as, while the events that
transpired pre-1787 ​are​ acclaimed for their contribution to the creation of the new American
nation, they were kinetic and idealistic, and ultimately did not have as great of an impact in
defining America as those that transpired post-1787. The ideas set in place pre-1787 took a
new shape in the years after the revolution, and began to take motion in a manner that
definitively defined what officially became the United States of America.
Author Gary B. Nash claims that, post-Revolution, “colonists were practiced at
overthrowing government, but not at constructing it...creating a new, constitutionally
sanctioned government was infinitely more difficult.” (Nash, 210). This is indicative of the
significance of the period that came after, as while the events that preceded the Revolutionary
war were radically focused on simply freeing America from monarchical oppression, the
journey that transpired post-1787 saw the grueling task of actually building the new country
they fought so hard for. The most critical step in the creation of America’s foundation was
arguably the formation of the Constitution, which John Adams claimed to be “The greatest
single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen" (Barrett). Penned during the
Constitutional Convention from May 25 to September 17, 1787, the Constitution lay the
groundwork for the centralized and unified system of governing that would define American
politics for years to come. One pillar of this system is the Virginia Plan: “which set aside the
Articles of Confederation and created a government...with separate legislative, judicial, and
executive branches” (Spalding). These three branches of government are part of the
foundation of United States democracy, and their creation in 1787 is thus a critical event in
the timeline of of the formation of New America.
Another legacy of the constitution was the Connecticut Compromise: a multi-faceted
plan proposed by statesman Roger Sherman. One of these facets was the idea that "the House
of Representatives would be apportioned based on population and each state would have an
equal vote in the Senate” (Spalding). A Committee of Eleven (with one representative from
each state) devised the intricacies of the proposal. One such intricacy dictated that states with
higher population would have greater representation, and thus the original electoral college
was born: an greatly influential aspect of our government that defined both the new American
period and modern day America. Another facet of the Connecticut Compromise was the
three-fifths clause, which determined that slaves were not considered to be of equal worth as
whites, and in a total count of a state’s population, slaves were only counted as three-fifths of
a person. Southern delegates (whose states’ had a higher concentration of slaves) wanted to
count slaves “equally with whites” (Maynard)-- not as a matter of morality, but so their states
would have greater representation. They were overruled, however, and the three-fifths clause
would remain in place, and act as the seeds for the conflict that would, almost a century later,
boil into the American Civil War. Thus, the Constitution was a lasting legacy that defined the
creation of new America and the American revolution, and would continue to affect the
growth and development of America as a nation long after the time of the founding fathers
who birthed it.
Contrastingly, one could argue that the formation of state constitutions (a process that
preceded 1787) was equally as important in defining the new American Nation than the
drafting of the federal constitution. Nash claims that state constitutions were meant to
dismantle the British system of centralized power, and “broaden participation” in a way that
the revolutionaries viewed as a manifestation of the ideals that they had fought for throughout
the Revolution. This idea was better in theory than in practice, however, and the use of
individual state constitutions was not a suitable system of governing for a number of reasons.
One of these reasons was that it was idealistic, and rather than broadening participation, it
diminished the voice of many citizens in states such as Maryland, where the constitution was
“drawn up by wealthy, conservative interests, frightened by the egalitarian impulses of the
Revolution” (Nash, 209), and thus diminished the voice of the common people. Furthermore,
these wealthy conservatives believed that the Revolution’s primary purpose was to gain
independence from Britain, rather than to create “a new social order” (Nash, 209), and they
thus clashed with the radical liberals who wished to create a new form of government distinct
from their prior rules. In the excitement to create a new, unified America, it was forgotten that
Americans were, in fact ”deeply divided” (Nash) during this time, and the formation of
individual state constitutions further dismantled any unity that might have existed between the
states. Rather than creating a functioning system of government that would define the new
America, state constitutions began the formation of distinct ideals within each state. For
example, some states such as Connecticut and Rhode Island opted out of crafting a new
constitution, and instead simply “amended their English Charters by deleting all reference to
the English Crown” (Nash, 212), while other states started from scratch in order to
differentiate themselves from Great Britain to as great of an extent as possible. This thus also
exemplifies how the ideas presented throughout the revolution worked in theory, but less so in
reality, and the amends made to these ideas in the period following 1787 (which held events
such as the Constitutional Convention) were thus more critical in forming the reality of what
America came to be.
The Constitutional Convention was a momentous event for reasons other than the
Constitution: namely, the naming of George Washington as President. The unanimous
appointing of one man as a centralized leader was momentous, and both his presidency and
legacy it left behind were defining moments of the new American nation: from his
inauguration in 1789 to his farewell address in 1796, George Washington set a precedent in
everything he did as the very first president of the new American Nation. He "invented
tradition as he went along”, with his actions becoming “more than any other founding
father...a part of the ‘unwritten constitution’” (Knott). One such action was his utilization of
his war experience in his position as president. As Knott claims in his essay “George
Washington: Impact and Legacy”, Washington had relied on his war council for advice
throughout the revolution, and thus similarly relied on department heads for advice, which set
a precedent for the inclusion of the cabinet as part of the executive branch of our government.
Knott furthermore claims that Washington set a precedent in his refusal to dictate the actions
of the judicial and legislative branches of government. Washington furthermore did not veto
bills that clashed with his personal values unless he deemed them unconstitutional, thus
establishing an extent of subjectivity that the president should adhere to. While this
subjectivity did not last until modern day, it was crucial at the time, as it allowed for events
that were pivotal to the construction of the new American nation. One example of this was the
passing of Alexander Hamilton’s proposed Bank Bill, which established the First Bank of the
United States. Washington “harbored some doubts”, but signed off on the bill anyway
(Alexander). This is just one example of the importance of not only Washington’s
subjectivity, but his time in office as a whole. His legacy is a pillar of our government, and the
events that lay within Washington’s presidency were critical in defining the American
revolution and the formation of the United States.
The late 18th century also gave birth to another defining pillar of new America: the
two-party system. Condemned by George Washington (who believed that multiple parties
were unnecessary in American government), the original political groups were known as the
Federalists and anti-Federalists. These groups were led by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas
Jefferson, respectively, and divided as a result of disagreements over three main issues: “the
nature of government, the economy and foreign policy” (Fellows). Hamilton and the
Federalists believed that the new American government should be based off the British model
of ruling, with a “strong central Government, treasury and financial sector, a national army
and a strong political executive representing the interests of all the states”. Opposingly,
Jefferson and the anti-Federalists believed that success lay in a fundamentally new system of
governing. Jefferson believed that the central government should be limited in its allowance
of power, and thus a central treasury and national army would be disadvantageous to the
American nation. (Fellows) Although the Federalist and anti-Federalist parties did not survive
long past the 19th century, they left a legacy in the form of a multiple party system that would
live on in America for many years to come. Furthermore, the legislature that arose as a result
of the two-party system, such as the Bank Bill, was critical in defining the Revolutionary
period and the process of building a new government that marked the time post-1787.
Another defining event in the period following 1787 was the Second Great
Awakening: a religious revival that was sparked within the United States in the 1790s. The
Second Great Awakening was both a shift in American attitude towards spirituality, and a
tangible movement that took place in the form of camp meetings and social gatherings. This
shift occurred because, by the late 18th century, the presence of religion had greatly decreased
amongst the colonies, and groups such as the Baptists and Methodists felt as though that had
to once more solidify God’s role within new America. The gatherings they would organize
would last for several days, and aimed to reinstill religious values within their fellow
Americans. This was defining of the American Revolutionary period as it left the lasting
legacy of religion that became ingrained within the foundation of the United States. It was
also critical as during this period new religious groups were born. Americans who were
dissatisfied with the current religious order would break off and form their own faiths and
doctrines. It was at this time that the Mormon faith was established, which would go on to
become a pillar of religion within the United States. (Second)
The Second Great Awakening also helped spark the abolitionist movement, which was
“a social and political push for the immediate emancipation of all slaves and the end of racial
discrimination and segregation”. (History) Leaders of the religious movement stressed “the
moral imperative to end sinful practices” such as slavery, and in spreading their religious
influence they also aided in growing the abolitionist cause. This was especially true in the
North, and Americans who had embraced the new extent of religion brought upon by the
Second Great Awakening began protesting slavery “on religious grounds” (History). This
movement not only contributed to the growing controversy of slavery but, in conjunction with
the Connecticut Compromise, sparked tension between the North and South that would
continue to swell until the eruption that came in the form of the Civil War. Abolitionism
wasn’t the only cause aided by the Second Great Awakening: the religious revival also “gave
a major impetus to the later emergence of...other reforming crusades as temperance, pacifism,
and women’s rights.” (History) Thus, the Second Great Awakening was critical to the
foundation of defining new America as it planted seeds for many ideas that would grow to
shape and influence the nation as a whole.
Ultimately, the period after 1787 was a time of growth and development for the young
American nation. The battle for independence had been won, but now the newly freed country
had to begin the process of building their new country. The late 18th century saw the growth
of new system of government, and was also home to a plethora of new ideologies that worked
to both define the Revolutionary period in America’s timeline and leave a legacy that would
affect the development of the United States for years to come.
Works Cited
“Alexander Hamilton.” Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, Head of Zeus, 2017, pp.
353–354.
Barrett, Elmer E, editor. “The Chicago Law Journal Weekly.” ​The Chicago Law Journal
Weekly,​ vol. 18, no. 13, 1 May 1903, p. 273.
Fellows, Ben. “The Origins of the United States Two-Party System.” Made From History,
Made from Media, 21 Feb. 2015.
Spalding, Matthew. “The Formation of the Constitution.” The Heritage Foundation, The
Heritage Foundation, 14 Sept. 2007
Maynard, W Barksdale. “How the Founders Sowed the Seeds of Civil War.” How the
Founders Sowed the Seeds of Civil War : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History &
Citizenship Site, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Knott, Stephen. “George Washington: Impact and Legacy.” Miller Center, 19 June 2017,
“Second Great Awakening.” Second Great Awakening, Ohio History Central ,
Works Consulted
Lause, Mark A. “The Two-Party System, Part 1: The Other Peculiar Institution.” AGAINST
THE CURRENT, a, Apr. 2015.