How did debates over the Constitution shape relations between the national government and the states? Identify two different groups that interest you and discuss how they were affected by matters decided at the state vs federal level from 1789 to about 1850 Possible groupings: farmers, merchants, slaveholders, entrepreneurs, women, African Americans, Indigenous peoples, or by region.

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One of the first debates over the Constitution had to do with state vs. federal rights. The Antifederalists had their party base in the South and in the West, whereas the Federalists had their base in the Northeast. The Antifederalists feared the power that a strong centralized government could wield against the people's civil liberties. This debate led to the Bill of Rights being added to the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment explicitly safeguarding the powers of the states. Supreme court cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland upheld federal power over state power, but it would not be until the Civil War when it was generally recognized that the federal government was supreme.

Another early debate was whether or not the Constitution protected slavery. While there were many provisions in the document protecting the rights of men, the document said very little about slavery. The Constitution does have provisions to protect property against seizure; slaveholders claimed that this constitutionally protected their property. The document also contains the Three-Fifths Compromise, which allowed slaves to be counted (as three-fifths of a person) toward the population for representation and taxation purposes. Abolitionists would later point out that the Founders obviously felt uneasy about slavery when they passed a law ending the legal importation of slaves into the country in 1808. The Constitution would finally be clear on the issue of slavery with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery in 1865.

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