The Constitutional Convention

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What inspired the Constitutional Convention in 1787?

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There were several factors that led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The main issue was that the government created by the Articles of Confederation had many weaknesses. The federal government was unable to do many things. For example, the federal government was not allowed to levy taxes. This made it very hard for the federal government to raise money to pay its debts. The federal government also could not make people join the military. This made it hard for the federal government when other countries began to push us around. When Spain and Britain interfered with our trade, we could not take military action. There also was no place where states could resolve disputes with each other because there was no court system.

There were other issues with the Articles of Confederation. It was very difficult to pass a law. Nine of the thirteen states had to vote to pass a law. It was even more difficult to change the Articles of Confederation. All thirteen states had to vote positively to change the plan of government. The federal government had trouble keeping order. When Shays’ Rebellion occurred, it was the state militia that ended the rebellion.

These issues led to a call to have a meeting in Philadelphia to write a new plan of government, which led to the writing of the Constitution.

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The expressed purpose of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was to revise the Articles of Confederation. Several realities emerged from life under the Articles of Confederation which indicated to the framers that the government was not working.  The idea of the Articles being "a loose confederation of states" as opposed to a national union was proving to be a challenge.  Different states had different laws, making it so that moving from one state to another was akin to going to a different nation.  Rules in one state were not being upheld in another.  States operated outside of one another, something that proved to be difficult to navigate in the new nation.  Such a condition of being horrified George Washington as he articulated the need to do something else:

I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon any country. You talk of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. Influence is no government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties and properties will be secured; or let us know the worst at once.

Along these lines, the inability to collect federal taxes proved to be another reason why the Articles needed to be revised.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government needed consent from the states in order to collect taxes and generate federal revenue.  The states would naturally feel disinclined to given their consent.  As a result, the federal debt was staggering for the new nation.  Fighting the American Revolution endured significant financial cost, expenditures that could only be paid.  The need to revamp the relationship between state and federal governments demonstrated another source from where the Constitutional Convention was inspired.  Finally, the bloodshed caused by Shays' Rebellion was a convincing factor that something needed to be done to make government more responsive.  When Daniel Shays and a group of farmers attempted to take over government through a violent uprising that was motivated by economic hardship and marginalization, the framers became concerned that the Articles of Confederation were simply not working.  In both the causation and response to the rebellion, the framers concluded that something more in terms of government was needed. These factors helped to inspire the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

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