Colonization of the New World began in 1492 with Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. It was not until 1607 that the English gained a permanent foothold in the New World with the establishment of Jamestown. English colonies began to develop a distinct American colonial identity as they developed early forms of representative government and unified against outside European forces. 

Anger towards the British taxation policy and increasing control over the colonies led to many events like the Stamp Act Congress, Boston Tea Party, and Boston Massacre. These events coupled with influential writings like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, added to the fervor for independence. The Declaration of Independence in July of 1776 signaled the colonies intent to break from British rule.

As the early nation emerged from the American Revolution, questions arose as to how the new nation would govern itself. America’s first attempt was the Articles of Confederation which was a loose confederation of states with a weak central government. But the failures of this early government led to calls for a convention to develop a new government. After much debate and compromise, a new Constitution was written in 1787, that created a strong central government with three separate branches and a system of checks and balances. This new Constitution faced a battle to be ratified and accepted by the states, but ultimately it was successfully ratified in 1789. This is the same document that still governs our nation today.

People

William Blackstone was an English Jurist, the first Vinerian professor of law at Oxford, and Solicitor General to the Queen. Before Blackstone joined the faculty, English universities had focused exclusively on the study of Roman law. Blackstone authored Commentaries on the Laws of England widely regarded as the most complete and readable commentary on English law. The Supreme Court often references Blackstone’s writing as a source for determining the intent of the Founders when interpreting the Constitution.
Abigail Adams was born in Massachusetts, a descendant of the distinguished Quincy family. She married young lawyer John Adams in 1764. They settled on a farm in Braintree, Massachusetts. The couple had four surviving children, including son John Quincy Adams. Abigail raised the children and ran the farm while John traveled as a circuit judge and later while he served overseas. She and John corresponded through their long separations and her letters tell of her loneliness, but she persevered with courage and industry.

Abigail often shared her views with John on political matters. She famously requested of the members of the Continental Congress: “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Later, while John was president, she also told him that she believed there was a need for the Alien and Sedition Acts.

John Adams was born in Massachusetts, the second cousin of Samuel Adams. He began his law practice after graduating from Harvard. A defining moment in his young life was watching James Otis’s courtroom challenge of British writs of assistance, which was based on natural rights theory. The speech filled Adams with zeal for liberty, and Adams would remember it into his old age. Willing to take unpopular stands, Adams courageously defended the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. Advising the courtroom to avoid relying on passion as a guide, he emphasized that “Facts are stubborn things.”

Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution and Declaration of Rights and served in the Continental Congress where he was a leading advocate of independence. He seconded the Lee Resolution and served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence (though the writing was done by Thomas Jefferson). He signed the Treaty of Paris with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, and completed diplomatic missions in Europe. He was serving overseas as the Constitution was being drafted. He and his friend Jefferson wrote to James Madison urging the addition of a bill of rights.

Adams served as the country’s first Vice President under George Washington from 1789-1797. He was elected the second President of the United States in 1796. As President, he kept the United States out of war with France but signed the controversial and probably unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts. He also signed the Judiciary Act of 1801. Six months before he died, Adams’ son John Quincy Adams became the sixth president of the United States. Adams died fifty years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Samuel Adams was born in Massachusetts, the second cousin of John Adams. He worked at various businesses after graduating from Harvard. During the 1760s, Adams became a leader of Patriot resistance to the British government’s attempts to tax the colonies. Adams organized the Sons of Liberty with James Otis and John Hancock. This group took the lead in resisting the Stamp Act and Townshend Duties. Adams was soon famous throughout the colonies.

In 1772 Adams authored The Rights of the Colonists, which appealed to the concepts of the rights of Englishmen and natural rights theory. When Parliament passed the Tea Act, Adams organized the Boston Tea Party. In this nighttime raid, 150 Sons of Liberty members dumped 342 chests of British Tea into Boston Harbor. The governor of Massachusetts pardoned all the members of the Boston resistance except for Adams and Hancock. The shots in Lexington that began the Revolutionary War were fired on British troops with orders to arrest the two men, but they escaped capture.

Adams signed the Declaration of Independence and helped write the Massachusetts Constitution and the Articles of Confederation. Suspicious of strong governmental power, Adams rejected the purpose of the Constitutional Convention—to strengthen the central government—and did not attend. He eventually supported the Constitution after the Bill of Rights was added.

In the Revolutionary War, one of General George Washington’s most effective weapons against the British was an African American slave named James Armistead. Armistead was enlisted as a patriotic spy who worked as a “double-agent” on behalf of the United States. Pretending to be a runaway slave, Armistead was able to infiltrate the British defenses and acquire countless important British war secrets which helped turn the tide of the Revolution in favor of the Americans. Marquis de Lafayette helped him by writing a letter of recommendation for his freedom, which was granted in 1787. In gratitude, Armistead adopted Lafayette’s surname and lived as a farmer in Virginia until his death in 1830.
In 1770, Crispus Attucks, an African American former slave, was the first of five unarmed American civilians to be shot and killed by British soldiers in a riot known as the Boston Massacre. Attucks was credited as the leader and instigator of the heroic upheaval against the British army. The events of that fateful day eventually led to the American Revolution and the fight for ultimate freedom. A “Crispus Attucks Day” was inaugurated by African American abolitionists in 1858. In 1888 the Crispus Attucks Monument was built on Boston Common. And in 1998 a commemorative Silver Dollar was minted honoring Crispus Attucks and the overall efforts of black patriots in the Revolutionary War. His death has forever linked his name with the cause of freedom.
Charles Carroll was born in Maryland in 1737. Educated in Europe, he quickly became involved with the revolutionary spirit when he returned to America. When Maryland decided to send delegates to the Continental Congress, Carroll was one of those chosen. He wasn’t in time to vote for the Declaration of Independence, but he was there to sign the document. He served on the Board of War during the Revolution. After the war, he was involved in setting up the state government of Maryland and served a brief time as the only Catholic in the U.S. Senate once the U.S. Constitution was ratified. He was the last surviving signer of the Declaration when he died in 1832 at the age of 95.
Wentworth Cheswell was a beloved and respected patriot. He was a grandson of the first African American land owner in New Hampshire. Cheswell’s life revolved around freedom, justice and the betterment of American citizens. At an early age, Cheswell became an influential town leader, judge, historian, schoolmaster, archeologist and soldier in the American Revolution. After his studies at Dummer Academy, he became a schoolteacher and was then elected town messenger for the regional Committee of Safety, one of the many groups established in Colonial America to monitor events pertaining to public welfare. As an enlisted man in the American Revolution, he served under Colonel John Langdon in the Company of Light Horse Volunteers at the Saratoga campaign. Cheswell and his wife had 13 children. He was very active in public life in New Hampshire.
John Dickinson was born in Maryland, and his family soon moved to Delaware. He practiced law in Philadelphia and served in both the Delaware and Pennsylvania assemblies. Historians believe him to be the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-1768) which called for resistance to British policies while urging reconciliation. Dickinson also wrote America’s first patriotic song, “The Liberty Song.”

In 1775, Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson wrote Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms. In this document, Dickinson reassured the British King that the colonists were not raising an army with the intent of establishing independence. When Congress debated the Declaration of Independence the next year, Dickinson objected to its strong wording. In what many saw as a sign of integrity, he left Philadelphia when it became clear that Congress would approve the Lee Resolution. Once independence was declared, Dickinson dropped his objections and helped draft the Articles of Confederation. He served as governor of Delaware before being elected governor of Pennsylvania. In 1783, he lent his name to Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

In 1786, Dickinson chaired the Annapolis Convention and later headed Delaware’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention. During the ratification debates, Dickinson authored the Letters of Fabius in support of the Constitution. Because of Dickinson’s articulate defense of American liberty, he is known as the “Penman of the Revolution.”

Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston, took initiative as a publisher, inventor, entrepreneur, and statesman. Working as an apprentice at his brother’s Boston newspaper, he began writing social commentaries under the pseudonym Silence Dogood.

Wishing to work independently, Franklin left Boston and finally settled in Philadelphia where he purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In 1732 he published the first edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack.

In 1754 the prospect of war with France led several colonial governors to call a convention to create a plan to unify the colonies. Franklin’s Gazette ran a “Join or Die” political cartoon urging governors to send delegates. Franklin wrote the Albany Plan of Union at the convention.

Franklin lived in England from 1757 to 1775 serving as an agent of the colonies. He became famous there as a defender of American rights. The British branded him a traitor, but he escaped imprisonment in 1775 by returning to Philadelphia. He served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He acted as commissioner to France from 1779-1785, and along with John Adams and John Jay, negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Franklin returned to the United States in 1785. He believed the Articles of Confederation to be too weak and joined the call for a Constitutional Convention. Because of some of his proposals at the Convention, a cabinet was established to advise the president, and Congress was given the power to override presidential vetoes. Franklin called for slaves to be counted as citizens hoping to encourage abolition, but this proposal was rejected.

In 1787, Franklin was elected president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. His last public act was signing a petition to Congress recommending the end of the slave system. He died at age 84. Franklin’s Autobiography was published the year after his death, and covers the years of his life only to the 1760s.

During the American Revolution, England was not only at odds with the colonists, but also with European superpower Spain. In 1776, Bernardo de Gálvez, a descendant of ancient Spanish nobility, became the acting Governor of the Louisiana Territory. Due to the “bad blood” between his home country of Spain and England, Gálvez naturally sided with the Americans throughout the war. He was instrumental in buying Spanish weapons, gunpowder, clothing and many other vital supplies that were essential to the colonial army. Galveston, Texas is named in his honor.
King George III was born on June 4, 1738. He became heir to the throne upon the death of his father in 1751 and succeeded his grandfather George II in 1760. During his reign, there were many conflicts involving his kingdom. After the French and Indian War, the British Parliament angered the American colonists by taxing them to pay for military protection. In 1776 the American colonists declared their independence and listed their grievances against the king. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the Revolutionary War and confirmed the independence of the United States. After 1784, George III largely retired from an active role in government. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1789. After he was declared insane in 1810, his son was appointed to rule for him.
Forever famous for his outsized signature on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock was a larger than life figure in other ways as well. Born in 1737, in Braintree, Massachusetts, Hancock was part of the Boston Sons of Liberty that included Samuel Adams and James Otis. Hancock was a wealthy merchant whose bank account helped to finance the group’s radical activities resisting British tyranny. After the violence that came to be known as the Boston Massacre, Hancock courageously took the lead in raising further opposition to the British. Not long after that, Hancock and Adams organized the Boston Tea Party. The British were seeking Hancock and Adams when the Minutemen fired on the British troops thus beginning the Revolutionary War.

Hancock served as president of the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration on July 4, 1776, and presided over Congress’s signing of the document on August 2, 1776. Disappointed at being passed over for command of the Continental Army in 1777, he returned to Massachusetts, where he had a hand in writing the state constitution of 1780. He signed the Articles of Confederation. Despite his reservations about centralized government power, Hancock eventually agreed to support ratification of the Constitution.

Patrick Henry was born in Virginia where he was educated by his father and expected to become a farmer. After failing at farming and storekeeping, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1760.

As a member of the Virginia legislature in the 1760s, Henry opposed the Stamp Act. By the 1770s he had emerged as one of the most radical leaders of the opposition to British tyranny. He served in the Continental Congress and urged his fellow Virginians to take up arms against the British, famously uttering in 1775 as the British militia advanced in Massachusetts, “Gentlemen may cry ‘peace!’ but there is no peace…the war is actually begun!…I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” Henry later led 150 colonists to Williamsburg demanding the return of gunpowder seized by the royal governor.

After helping craft the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Henry was elected the first governor of Virginia. He would serve a total of five terms. In later years, he helped found Hampden-Sydney College, and attempted to expand government support of teachers—who were mainly ministers of the state’s official church. His proposal was defeated and two years later Virginia adopted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom bringing an end to the state church.

Wary of federal power and suspicious of the motives of the assembly, Henry declined to attend the Constitutional Convention. He became a leading Anti-Federalist critic of the Constitution. When it was sent to the states for ratification, he engaged in heated debates with James Madison at the Virginia ratifying convention. When the Bill of Rights was sent to the states, Henry believed the amendments were not enough and instead called in vain for a new constitutional convention.

Henry retired from politics in 1791 and resumed his law practice. He turned down offers from President George Washington to serve as Secretary of State and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Washington convinced Henry to run for the state legislature. He was elected, but he died before he could take office.

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher, considered to be among the founders of modern political philosophy. His landmark work of political philosophy is Leviathan. His political philosophy influenced later thinkers including Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. He asserted that the natural state of humanity is war, and that people must enter into a compact for their safety and betterment.

The Founders, including James Madison, accepted Hobbes’s premise that individuals must unite into a society for their own protection. However, they disagreed with Hobbes on many important matters. Hobbes advocated a strong monarch as the enforcer of the law. Hobbes rejected the ideas of freedom of religion and separation of powers in government, which are fundamental parts of the Constitution.

John Paul Jones was born in 1747 in Scotland. After being accused of a crime he fled to America. In 1776 with his ship the Bonhomme Richard, he defeated the British warship Serapis, which raised American spirits. Jones’ success against the best navy in the world angered the British and inspired the Americans. Jones’ famous words during this battle were “I have not yet begun to fight!” which became a slogan for the U.S. Navy. Some consider him the “Father of the U.S. Navy.”
Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia. He studied law, was elected to the Virginia legislature, and became known for his writing. Many of his writings reveal the influence of John Locke as well as Jefferson’s belief in natural rights theory. In Notes on the State of Virginia and Summary View of the Rights of British America, he expressed his ideas about religious freedom, education, and property rights, among other things.

While the Continental Congress debated the Lee Resolution in 1776, Jefferson was selected to draft the Declaration of Independence. He authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. Jefferson did not take part in the Constitutional Convention as he was serving as minister to France at the time, but he wrote to James Madison expressing his view that the document should include a bill of rights.

In 1789 George Washington appointed Jefferson the first Secretary of State. He and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton soon became bitter rivals. The nation’s first political parties formed around the two men. Jefferson resigned his post after three years and ran for president in 1796 but lost to John Adams by three electoral votes. Under the system in place at the time, he became Adams' Vice President. He disagreed sharply with many of Adams' policies. He and James Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in 1798 in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Two years later, Jefferson was elected president. He purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. His second term as President was beset by foreign and domestic troubles. After two terms as president, he retired to Monticello. In 1819, he founded the University of Virginia, which he noted as one of his proudest achievements. He died fifty years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Marquis de Lafayette was a French officer who came to help the Americans fight the Revolution against Great Britain. When he learned of the struggle of the Americans in their endeavor to secure independence, he resolved to come to the colonies to aid them in their efforts. He was given the rank of major general, since he represented the highest rank of French nobility. He developed a friendship with George Washington which lasted as long as Washington lived. His influence helped to secure support from France for the patriots’ cause. Lafayette was also able to obtain troops and supplies from France. He was the first foreigner to be granted honorary United States citizenship. When he died on May 20, 1834 at the age of seventy-six, the United States government sent American soil to his gravesite.
Richard Henry Lee was born to one of the wealthiest families in Virginia. He studied law and was elected to the Virginia legislature at age 25. There he was an outspoken opponent of slavery. He asserted that Africans, with the same natural rights as Europeans, were “equally entitled to liberty and freedom by the great law of nature.” Nevertheless, Lee owned slaves and did not free them.

In response to British policies, Lee condemned the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, organized committees, and kept in contact with Samuel Adams, a Patriot leader in Boston. He served in the Continental Congress, and on June 7, 1776, introduced the Lee Resolution calling for independence from England. His resolution led to the writing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Lee signed the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and served in the Confederation Congress, serving as the body’s first president. He helped guide the Northwest Ordinance through Congress in 1787.

Lee was alarmed at the call for a stronger central government and refused to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He attempted to persuade the delegates not to alter the Articles, and became a leading opponent of ratification of the Constitution in Virginia. In 1787 and 1788, an anonymous series of Anti-Federalist essays called Letters from a Federal Farmer appeared, which closely mirrored Lee’s arguments against the Constitution. Some historians believe that Lee and Mercy Otis Warren were the authors of these essays.

When the Constitution was adopted, Lee accepted a seat in the Senate where he was a leading advocate of laws and amendments limiting the power of the federal government. He was pleased when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

John Locke was an English philosopher and Oxford scholar. In one of his most important works, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Locke asserts that individuals unite into a society for the better protection of their natural rights, including life, liberty, and property. This work was of great influence on the Founders, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason.

After William and Mary of Orange assumed the throne and the English Bill of Rights denied freedom of worship to Catholics and Protestants outside the Church of England, Locke wrote “A Letter Concerning Toleration.” This essay argued for a new relationship between civil government and religion. Though Locke asserted that atheists and Catholics could not be tolerated, his ideas formed one basis of the First Amendment, which prevents the establishment of a national religion and protects an absolute freedom of belief.

Robert Morris was born in England and came to Maryland in his youth. After apprenticing at a Philadelphia shipping and banking firm, he became a partner of the company at age 23. The firm was successful, trading in a variety of products, including tobacco, rum, wheat, and, for a brief time, African slaves.

Morris became a prominent Philadelphia citizen, leading merchants to close the port of Philadelphia to British goods. He served in the state legislature and in the Continental Congress. Initially opposed to independence, he voted against the Lee Resolution, but he changed his mind and signed the Declaration of Independence.

He also signed the Articles of Confederation.

As chairman of Congress' Finance Committee, Morris persuaded reluctant states to contribute to the continental system and army. He obtained war supplies and risked his own ships in bringing these supplies past the British Navy. Morris’ company received a commission on each shipment, though some criticized him for profiting at the country’s expense. Some accused him of stealing money, but a committee of Congress found that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing and acted with “fidelity and integrity.” Robert Morris is known as the “Financier of the American Revolution” in part because he risked and spent so much of his own money for the Patriot cause, putting up more than $1 million to finance the decisive Battle of Yorktown alone.

Morris supported revising the Articles and attended the Constitutional Convention, though he rarely spoke during the proceedings. He was pleased with the Constitution and signed it. He turned down President George Washington‘s offer to be Secretary of the Treasury, instead accepting a Senate seat in the first Congress.

John Peter Muhlenberg was born in Pennsylvania. John was the son of a Lutheran minister. Eventually, he followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a minister himself. While in Virginia, he became a follower of Patrick Henry. He is said to have supported the American cause in a sermon in which he cited the verse from Ecclesiastes which begins with the words, “To everything there is a season…a time of peace and a time of war. And this is a time of war.” He later served in the Continental Army fighting at Charleston, Brandywine, Stony Point, and Yorktown. He was also present during the winter at Valley Forge. After the war, he served in the Pennsylvania state government before being elected to the U.S. Congress. Even though he didn’t serve as a Lutheran minister again, he was active as a Lutheran layman until he died in 1807.
James Otis was born in Massachusetts, the brother of Mercy Otis Warren. Otis went to Harvard and opened a law practice in Boston in 1750. Six years later, the royal governor appointed him an advocate general in the Vice Admiralty Court.

Decisions in Vice Admiralty Courts were rendered by royal judges, not by citizen juries. Many cases involved smuggling, and Otis was troubled by British writs of assistance. (These general warrants gave broad authority to inspectors to search ships, warehouses, and even private homes for evidence of crimes.) In 1761, Otis resigned his post and took the case of Boston merchants who challenged the legality of the writs. In a five-hour long speech, Otis cited the traditional rights of Englishmen to “the freedom of one’s house.” He also based his argument on natural rights theory, asserting that the right to private property was inalienable. John Adams, who observed the speech, would later remark that it marked the start of the American Revolution. Indeed, many of the principles he championed were later enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.

Otis soon became a Patriot leader, joining Samuel Adams and John Hancock in opposing British tyranny. In 1764 he published The Rights of the Colonists Asserted and Proved. This pamphlet criticized British taxation without representation, and denounced slavery: “The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black.”

In 1769, Otis was physically attacked in a Boston coffeehouse by a customs official whom Otis had criticized in the newspaper. The official beat Otis’s head with a cane, fracturing his skull and causing permanent brain damage severe enough to force his retirement from public life. In 1783 he died after being struck by lightning.

Paine was born in England and had little formal education. After working various jobs, he met Benjamin Franklin who convinced him to come to America in 1774. In January 1776, Paine published the best-selling pamphlet of the revolutionary era, Common Sense, which encouraged colonial independence. While serving with George Washington’s troops in the Continental Army, Paine wrote a series of essays called The American Crisis. These essays helped improve morale among the troops during the Revolutionary War.

Paine continued his defense of the American Revolution and natural rights theory in The Rights of Man when he returned to England in 1787. England charged him with seditious libel because of his critique of monarchy. He fled to France, where he became involved in the revolutionary assembly. He was imprisoned and sentenced to death for voting against the King’s execution. While in prison he wrote The Age of Reason, a controversial work criticizing organized religion while insisting on religious freedom for all.

He was freed in 1794 due to the efforts of James Madison, the new American minister to France. Paine had blamed the previous minister, Gouverneur Morris, for what he saw as Morris’ failure to secure his release. In 1796 Paine wrote an insulting open letter to George Washington. This letter won him many enemies. President Thomas Jefferson invited Paine to return to America in 1802, but he soon found he was unwelcome. His New York funeral was attended only by a few. His body was later stolen and taken to England, which denied its entry as Paine was still an outlaw. His remains were later lost.

Benjamin Rush was born near Philadelphia. He studied medicine in Pennsylvania, Scotland, England, and France. When he returned to Pennsylvania in 1769 he was named the first professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. He gained a good reputation in the city, treating the poor and then expanding his practice. During the yellow fever epidemics of the 1790s, John and Abigail Adams were among his patients. He supported innovative techniques but was criticized for continuing to practice bloodletting even when it was shown to be ineffective.

Rush encouraged Thomas Paine to write on behalf of independence, and even suggested the title for Common Sense. He signed the Declaration of Independence. He served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was appalled by the dreadful conditions of the military hospitals, and even questioned General George Washington, telling Congress that officers should be chosen annually. He resigned his post when Congress rejected his plea. Rush attended the Constitutional Convention and, along with James Wilson, helped secure ratification of the Constitution in Pennsylvania.

Rush was also concerned with social reform. He courageously expressed views he knew would be controversial. He supported the new technique of vaccinations against smallpox. He helped establish the first abolitionist society in America. In his view, slavery was inconsistent with the principles of natural rights theory and the Declaration of Independence. His belief in equality also led him to urge public education for all, including women. President John Adams appointed Rush as Treasurer of the US Mint in 1799, a post he held until 1813.

Rush’s influence on the lives of two prominent Founders is also noteworthy. When the divisive political issues of the 1790s took their toll on the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Rush was instrumental in their reconciliation. Rush corresponded with the two men for 20 years. Upon hearing of his death in 1813, John Adams reflected, “I know of no character living or dead who has done more real good for his country.”

Haym Salomon was a Polish-born Jewish immigrant who played an important role in financing the American Revolution. He became a patriot and joined the New York Sons of Liberty. He was a member of the American espionage ring and helped convince many Hessians to desert the British military. He was arrested as a spy by the British but escaped before he could be hung. Salomon became a financial broker in Philadelphia. Using his own personal money, he went on to help finance the Continental Congress and the overall patriot cause. Together with Robert Morris, Salomon is sometimes called the “financier of the American Revolution.” Salomon died penniless in 1785.
Jonathan Trumbull Sr. was born in Connecticut. He studied theology at Harvard and later served as a colonial governor of Connecticut. During the American Revolution, he became the only colonial governor to support the American cause. He was a strong supporter of General Washington and spent the war doing what he could to recruit troops and raise supplies for the cause. General Washington is said to have depended on him for these things during the trying times of the Revolution. Since he supported the cause, he was the only colonial governor to remain in power after independence was declared. Governor Trumbull died in 1785 and is buried in Lebanon, Connecticut.
Mercy Otis Warren was born in Massachusetts, the sister of James Otis. She was an early supporter of independence and anonymously published satirical plays designed to criticize the Massachusetts royal governor in 1772 and 1773.

She corresponded with many Patriot leaders, exchanging hundreds of letters with Abigail Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. Believing in the natural rights theory expressed in the Declaration of Independence, she argued that women should have equal rights under the law.

Warren opposed ratification of the Constitution. She authored an anonymous criticism of the document in 1788 called Observations on the New Constitution … by a Columbian Patriot. Other than the lack of equal rights for women, her chief complaints were later addressed in the Bill of Rights. Some historians believe she was also the author of at least one Anti-Federalist paper attributed to Elbridge Gerry, and that she co-authored Letters from a Federal Farmer with Richard Henry Lee.

In later years she argued for equality in education for girls and boys. She also published a volume of poetry and, in 1805, published a three-volume work, History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. She is sometimes called “The Conscience of the American Revolution.”

George Washington is known as the “Father of his Country.” Born in Virginia, Washington ran his family’s 8000-acre farm, Mount Vernon. He studied ancient republics and read independently.

Washington served as commander of the Virginia militia, the Virginia colonial legislature, and the Continental Congress. In 1775, Congress selected him to be Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. He accepted Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown in 1781, ending the Revolutionary War. Washington then resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon, intending no return to public life.

However, Washington soon grew concerned that the Articles of Confederation were inadequate for the new nation. Washington was selected to lead the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Once the Constitution was complete, Washington was unanimously elected to be the first president, with John Adams as Vice President. Washington’s First Inaugural Address inspired the nation. Washington appointed Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to his cabinet, and James Madison served as a chief advisor.

He served two terms as president, discouraging political parties and working to keep the new nation out of foreign wars. He refused a third term. In his Farewell Address, Washington urged his fellow citizens to cherish the Constitution. Washington served his country with courage and responsibility, believing that liberty would endure.

John Witherspoon was born in Scotland, and came in 1768 to the colonies to assume the presidency of Princeton University in New Jersey. He was also a prominent Presbyterian minister. While serving as the president of Princeton University, he strongly influenced the course of study. He believed that morality was crucial to all those holding public positions of leadership. Therefore, he instituted a required course called Moral Philosophy for the students. One of his most famous students was James Madison. Witherspoon was elected to the Continental Congress and was present to vote for and sign the Declaration of Independence. He served in the Congress all through the war and helped in the drafting of the Articles of Confederation. John Witherspoon, as a delegate from New Jersey at the Constitutional Convention, voting for its adoption, and advocating its ratification in New Jersey.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies, the illegitimate son of a poor Scottish merchant and a woman of French descent. After being sent to America by a local businessman, he became active in New York’s Patriot movement. General George Washington asked Hamilton to join his personal staff and made him a lieutenant colonel. He was admitted to the bar in 1782. In 1783 he served in the Confederation Congress, where he and James Madison both desired a stronger central government.

At the 1787 Constitution Convention, Hamilton’s nationalist views were not received well by the other delegates. He called for a strong executive branch with a president who would serve for life. Though it did not strengthen the national government as much as he had hoped, Hamilton took the lead in promoting ratification of the Constitution in New York. He teamed with Madison and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers, writing 52 of the 85 essays. In Federalist No. 70, he made the case that “the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty.” In Federalist No. 84, he argued that a bill of rights was not needed, because the government had only those powers listed: “why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”

Hamilton served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington. He pressed for the establishment of a national bank—something not in Congress’ enumerated powers. This plan was opposed by Thomas Jefferson and others who feared growing federal power. The first party system in America formed around these two men. After leaving the Washington administration in 1795, Hamilton acted as the defense lawyer in People v. Croswell (1803), in which he made the argument that truth could be used as a defense for libel. Though he lost the case, his arguments led New York to change its law, protecting freedom of the press.

Fifteen years after Hamilton’s death in a duel with Aaron Burr Chief Justice John Marshall held in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) that the creation of a national bank was an implied power of the federal legislature and was therefore constitutional.

John Jay was born in New York City to a prominent family and gained notoriety as a lawyer throughout the state. He served in the First Continental Congress and published Address to the People of Great Britain in which he argued that the colonists had the same rights as the British, including rights to private property, jury trials, due process, and religious liberty. Though he opposed many British policies, he favored a moderate approach to Britain. In what many believed to be a sign of integrity, he resigned from Congress rather than sign the Declaration of Independence. He joined his fellow Patriots once the rest of the colonists rallied behind the action.

In 1777 Jay helped draft the New York constitution, served as state supreme court Chief Justice, and in the Continental Congress. He was elected President of the Assembly, the highest office under the Articles of Confederation. Together with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, he traveled to Europe to negotiate the Treaty of Paris. While he was away, Congress appointed him Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He found the job difficult to execute because under the Articles each state could act alone, and he had no power to negotiate meaningful treaties. This experience strengthened his resolve for a stronger central government. He teamed with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to write five essays of The Federalist Papers encouraging ratification of the Constitution.

President George Washington appointed Jay the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1789. In 1794 he negotiated “Jay’s Treaty” which was successful at avoiding war with Britain, but which received a negative reception in the United States because of the belief that Jay had made too many concessions to the British. The next year Jay resigned from the Supreme Court as he had been elected governor of New York—an office he neither requested nor sought. As governor, he signed an emancipation bill and continued to work for the abolition of slavery.

Madison was born in Virginia to a wealthy family. After graduating from Princeton, he served in the Virginia legislature. He worked closely with Thomas Jefferson and helped draft and win support for the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. In 1780 he joined the Continental Congress and became concerned that the Articles of Confederation were inadequate.

In 1787, he was a leader at the Constitutional Convention. The author of the Virginia Plan, he suggested a system of checks and balances. He also worked to balance the reserved and concurrent powers of the states and federal government. He also took detailed notes through the convention. Because of his efforts, Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution.

When the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, Madison teamed with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers in support of ratification. He led the debate to approve the Constitution in Virginia, taking on Anti-Federalist leader Patrick Henry. When it became clear that the Constitution would not pass without the promise of a listing of rights, he proposed seventeen amendments, twelve of which were sent to the states for approval. Of those twelve, the states approved ten which became known as the Bill of Rights. Madison was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789, where he became George Washington’s chief supporter. Madison eventually split from Washington politically as Washington aligned himself with Alexander Hamilton and his plan for a Bank of the United States. Madison moved away from the Federalists and closer to Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.

After leaving Congress in 1797, Madison and Jefferson wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. Madison became Jefferson’s Secretary of State and later succeeded him as President in 1809. As President, he allowed the nation to enter the War of 1812—called “Mr. Madison’s War” by many at the time—a decision that many historians count as a historic failure. However, the war won respect for the new republic overseas and Madison emerged from the war with great popular support.

George Mason was born in Virginia. He was George Washington‘s supply officer in the French and Indian War, and served in the Virginia colonial legislature. Mason supported independence and was the primary author of the Virginia Constitution and Virginia Declaration of Rights. Both documents were adopted in June of 1776. Mason’s words in the Virginia Declaration, which were based on the ideas of John Locke and natural rights theory, influenced Thomas Jefferson‘s writing in the Declaration of Independence.

During the 1780s, Mason was among the many statesmen who believed the Articles of Confederation to be an inadequate form of government. Mason was called on to serve at the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787. There, he opposed the Constitution because he believed the central government was too strong. He argued that the document needed a bill of rights to protect the people from government abuses. He also called for an end to the importation of slaves. All these calls were rejected. Acting with integrity, Mason refused to sign the Constitution. He argued against its ratification, making enemies of James Madison and George Washington.

Mason became a leading Anti-Federalist after the Convention, writing a pamphlet called Objections to this Constitution of Government. He argued that the Constitution gave “no security” to the “Declarations of rights in the separate States.” At the Virginia Ratifying Convention, he joined Patrick Henry in opposing adoption. Madison promised that a bill of rights would be added, and Virginia voted to ratify. Three years later, many of the protections in the U.S. Bill of Rights would be based on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. For this reason, Mason is known as the “Grandfather of the Bill of Rights.”

Baron Charles de Montesquieu was a famous French nobleman who lived from 1689 to 1755. His ideas about government and law were recorded in several books. The most influential of these was The Spirit of the Laws written in 1748. In this work, he proposed separating the powers of government so that power would not be concentrated in the hands of one person or one group of people. His ideas inspired James Madison and were echoed in Federalist 47 in which Madison defended the division of power detailed in Articles I, II, and III of the U.S. Constitution. Madison went on in Federalist 51 to defend the checks and balances system as a way to further define the powers of the three branches. Montesquieu is thought to be the most quoted political philosopher by the men at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Gouverneur Morris was born in New York. During a visit home from King’s College (now Columbia University), Morris’s right arm was crippled when he was burned by an overturned pot of hot water. After being admitted to the New York bar, Morris became interested in politics and after initial resistance, took up the Patriot cause. He helped write New York’s new constitution and served in the Continental Congress. He signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778 and soon after, lost his left leg in a carriage accident. He had to use a wooden leg for the rest of his life.

In 1781 as Assistant United States Superintendent of Finance, Morris struggled to finance the Continental Army. He hinted that the Continental Army might employ force if Congress did not act. The officers assembled at a barn in Newburgh, New York to discuss marching on Philadelphia, but George Washington quelled the Newburgh Conspiracy by appearing at the gathering.

Morris was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He was appointed, along with Alexander Hamilton, to the Committee of Style and was responsible for the final language of the Constitution. Some believe he glossed the wording to enhance the power of the federal government, including beginning the Preamble with the words “We the people” rather than “We the states,” signifying that the Constitution was not the creature of the states, but the work of the nation as a whole.

Morris turned down an offer from Alexander Hamilton to co-author a defense of the Constitution which became known as The Federalist Papers. He succeeded Thomas Jefferson as ambassador to France and courageously remained at his post during the bloody Reign of Terror—the only foreign diplomat to do so. In 1812 he became distressed by the war with Great Britain and called for the secession of New York and New England from the Union. This attempt was discredited, and Morris died four years later at the age of 64.

Morris was a delegate at the Constitutional Convention. He was appointed, along with Alexander Hamilton, to the Committee of Style and was responsible for the final language of the Constitution. He rewrote the Preamble to begin with the words “We the People” rather than “We the States,” signifying that the Constitution was not the creature of the states, but the work of the people as a whole.

Virginian Edmund Randolph, born in 1753, is sometimes called a “Forgotten Founder” because his name is not familiar to many Americans despite his many contributions to the United States. During the Revolutionary War, he served as an aide-de-camp to General George Washington. He also served in several public offices including delegate to the Continental Congress, delegate to the Annapolis Convention, as well as the Constitutional Convention.

At the Constitutional Convention, Randolph introduced the Virginia Plan. By the Convention’s end, though, Randolph refused to sign the Constitution. He believed his integrity required him to refuse. He thought the final version had strayed too far from what he called the “republican propositions” of the Virginia Plan. He also feared that a single President would lead to tyranny. Instead he supported a three-person executive council. James Madison later persuaded Randolph to support ratification at the Virginia Ratifying Convention. The compromise was made easier for Randolph because eight states had already ratified by the time of Virginia’s Convention.

Randolph was appointed to serve as the nation’s first Attorney General by President George Washington.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland. His political and philosophical writings, including The Social Contract (1762), were both influential and controversial. Banned in France and Geneva for criticizing religion, The Social Contract nonetheless had an influence on governments in Europe and on the Founders.

Rousseau held that human nature was essentially good—that man was naturally a “noble savage”—but degrades into cruelty without a system of laws. Rousseau held that in a natural state, individuals must compete with each other, but they are also increasingly interdependent on each other. This contradiction was to blame for man’s degradation. By uniting under a social contract, individuals surrender their natural freedom and agree to submit to the general will of the people, who are sovereign.

While the Founders accepted some of Rousseau’s philosophy, such as supporting freedom of religion, they rejected others. Rousseau criticized private property and asserted that the general will of the people was sovereign over the individual’s body and property. This argument put him knowingly in opposition to other enlightenment philosophers including John Locke, Rousseau also advocated restraints on free speech in order to protect people from bad ideas. For this and other reasons, he is considered an intellectual ancestor of socialist systems.

Roger Sherman was born in Massachusetts, and moved to Connecticut in 1743. He owned a cobbler shop, published a series of almanacs, and studied the law independently.

In the 1760's Sherman became a leader in the resistance to British tyranny. Dedicated to moderation, he urged peaceful forms of protest, including boycotts and petitions. In 1774 he was elected to the Continental Congress. He served on the committee in charge of drafting the Declaration of Independence, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson; it was the committee that chose Jefferson to draft the document. In 1776, Sherman helped frame the Articles of Confederation, and he later signed it. After leaving national politics to return to public service in Connecticut, Sherman returned to Congress in 1783 to approve the Treaty of Paris.

Sherman was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he worked to guard the power of states against the national government. He argued that the legislature should be the strongest branch of government, suggesting Congress should have the power to select the President. He suggested the Connecticut Compromise, or Great Compromise, which determined the method of representation in Congress. He initially opposed adding a bill of rights to the Constitution, but eventually supported James Madison’s effort to add amendments. In 1791, the 70-year old Sherman was appointed to the U.S. Senate, where he served until he died in 1793.

James Wilson was born in Scotland and came to Pennsylvania in 1765. He joined John Dickinson‘s law firm before opening his own practice. He became involved in Patriot activities and published pamphlets criticizing British policies. He served in the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Wilson advocated direct election of the president. This would have constituted a radical change from the system under the Articles of Confederation (which had no national executive) and from that supported by advocates of republican government. It also put him at odds with major figures from the Founding period, such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, who believed that substantial power should be reserved to the individual states, and that a popularly-elected executive–among other changes–would concentrate power too heavily at the national level. Wilson is credited with the compromise that resulted in the formation of the Electoral College. Once the Constitution was sent to the states, Wilson joined with Benjamin Rush to secure ratification in Pennsylvania.

In 1789, President George Washington appointed Wilson to the Supreme Court. His most important opinion, establishing that a citizen of one state could sue the government of another state, was overturned by the Eleventh Amendment. During his time on the Court, Wilson also served as the University of Pennsylvania’s first professor of law. He lectured on the place of law in society, and cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, and he urged moderation, swiftness, and certainty in punishment as a means of ensuring justice.

Documents/Supreme Court Cases
The story of the Mayflower Compact begins with a group of religious dissenters in England in the early 17th century who believed it necessary to separate from the Church of England. Persecuted in England, these so-called “Separatists” fled to Holland. Concerned by economic woes and the threat of losing their English identity by living in Holland, the “Separatists” planned with investors and began their move to form a colony “in the northern parts of Virginia” in 1620. Forty-one male Pilgrims (as the “Separatists” later came to be called) signed the Mayflower Compact on November 1, 1620, before they ever set foot upon land while their ship, the Mayflower, was anchored in Provincetown Harbor at the tip of Cape Cod. They spent several weeks considering Cape Cod for their settlement before they sailed across Cape Cod Bay and settled at Plymouth. They were, of course, not “in the northern parts of Virginia,” and thus, they had no legal right to settle in this New England area. In the Mayflower Compact the men stated that they “covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick for our better ordering and preservation.” They pledged to institute “just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices… as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” While not a governing document, its significance is that it committed the men to the creation of a government based on the consent of the governed. In this way, the Mayflower Compact served as a precedent for the later creation of a government for the United States.
In 1633, Thomas Hooker and some of his followers sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1636, Hooker and his followers relocated to Connecticut. Apparently inspired by a Hooker sermon in 1638 in which he stated that “the foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people,” residents of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield adopted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in 1639. Hooker was one of the men influential in its writing, but Roger Ludlow, the only trained lawyer in the colony, probably drafted the document. It remained Connecticut’s law until 1662. Some historians claim that it was the first written constitution in North America, but others dispute this. It set up a detailed governmental structure in which sovereign power rested with the freemen of the colony. It did not even mention the king. It created a body called the “General Court” with authority to adopt and repeal laws, impose taxes, and apprehend and punish people for misdemeanors. In other words, this “General Court” had legislative, executive, and judicial authority. One very modern idea found in the document was term limits for the Governor as noted in this provision: “that no person be chosen governor above more than once in two years.” The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut served as a step in the direction of present-day democracy in that it set the example of a written constitution as the basis for government.
After the introduction of the so-called Lee Resolution in June,1776, the Continental Congress debated independence for several days and then appointed a committee made up of Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), John Adams (Massachusetts), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), and Robert R. Livingston (New York) to draft a formal declaration of independence. The committee assigned Jefferson the task of writing the first draft of what became the Declaration of Independence. After completing his first draft, Jefferson presented it to Franklin and Adams who made several verbal changes which Jefferson accepted. This new version of the document was then submitted to the Continental Congress which had the final word. The Congress made several changes which angered Jefferson who said that they ruined it. One of the most important changes the Congress made was eliminating Jefferson’s 28th and final grievance in which he blamed the king for starting the slave trade in the American colonies. The Declaration contains five different sections. The first section is a Preamble which begins with the words “when in the course of human events” and then proceeds to state that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” requires us to declare the causes which compel us to separate. The second section outlines what Jefferson calls four “self-evident truths”: (1) All men are created equal; (2) They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable natural rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; (3) To secure these rights governments which derive their power from the consent of the governed are established; and (4) Whenever government fails to secure the peoples’ rights, it is their right to alter or abolish it and set up a new government. This second section is where the influence of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government and George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights on Jefferson’s writing is most evident. The third and by far the longest section is a list of twenty-seven specific grievances against the King and Parliament but without using the word “Parliament.” Jefferson placed the most serious grievances, often called “war crimes,” at the end of the long list. The fourth section reminds the world that the colonists had tried to resolve their differences with England but with no success. The fifth and final section is the formal declaration of war which concludes with this famous line: “And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign.
Thomas Paine published his short pamphlet Common Sense in January,1776, in support of the case for the American colonies seeking independence from England. Using clear, plain language, Paine rallied the colonists to support the break from England. He stated, “I am not induced by motives of pride, party, or resentment to espouse the doctrine of separation and independence; I am clearly, positively, and conscientiously persuaded that it is the true interest of this continent to be so.” Arguing for American independence, Paine denounced monarchy when he wrote: “Of more worth to society and in the eyes of God is one honest man than all the crowned ruffians who ever lived.” Writing about the absurdity of the American colonies being subordinate to England, he stated: “There is something absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.” The impact of Common Sense is revealed by this fact: it is estimated that it was read by one million persons. Its impact can also be seen by its effect on leaders such as George Washington who observed that Common Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of men” and stopped offering toasts to the king at formal occasions.
Latin for “Great Charter,” Magna Carta was written by a group of Barons at Runnymede, England in 1215 and forced on King John. Although the protections provided were for the Barons only, Magna Carta embodied the general principle that the King accepted limitations on his power. Included was the fundamental acknowledgement that the King was not above the law. Magna Carta is thus an early example of the principle of limited government. Among specific guarantees, the “Great Charter” provided that the Church of England would be free, that no tax for military purposes would be imposed without legislative consent, that no man would be prosecuted for violating the law without credible witnesses, and that freedom of movement into and out of England would be secured. One of the most important, and often quoted, provisions stated that “no freeman shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed; nor will we proceed against or prosecute him except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.” This provision resembles that part of the U. S. Constitution found in Amendments 5 and 14 which states that “no person shall be denied life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Another of the most important, and often quoted, provisions of Magna Carta asserts: “To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.” The men who later wrote and adopted the U. S. Constitution as well as its Bill of Rights were clearly influenced by some of the ideas found in the “Great Charter.”
As some historians have noted, English kings of the seventeenth century either had poor memories or deliberately forgot past promises made in Magna Carta. Just a few years after the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, conflict between the monarch and Parliament grew. King Charles I disbanded Parliament and ruled England on his own. In response to the king’s illegal taxes, quartering of troops in private homes, and arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of citizens, Parliament in 1628 drew up the Petition of Right which reminded Charles I that the law gave Englishmen their rights, not the king, and that the king himself was not above the law. The Petition focused on Charles’s violations of the law which included denying Englishmen due process of law, unjust seizure of property or imprisonment, denial of the right to trial by jury, and unjust punishment. The king accepted the Petition of Right, but soon broke his word and resumed his violations. This struggle eventually resulted in a civil war which ended with the beheading of Charles I in 1649. The framers of later 18th century American documents were familiar with English history and specifically with the English Petition of Right. It is not surprising, therefore, that they included several protections found in the Petition of Right in American documents: no taxation without consent of the legislature, right to petition, right to due process of law, and right to a fair trial by a jury.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan which was published in 1651. According to Hobbes, people naturally love liberty as well as power over others. He wrote that the life of man in a state of nature without government is one of “war of all against all” and thus “life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes is famous for his early development of what came to be known as “the social contract theory” of the origin of government, a theory later developed by other philosophers such as John Locke. The social contract theory argues that government comes into being as a result of the people agreeing among themselves to create it. Unlike other social contract theorists such as Locke, however, Hobbes is also famous for using the theory to arrive at the conclusion that the people should surrender their liberty and submit themselves to the authority of an absolute, unlimited sovereign ruler. He argued that government is created to bring peace and that an absolute ruler was a lesser evil than war because the ruler ensured social order and helped human beings free themselves from their miserable condition. When people are free from the constant threat of war and death, he asserted, they can take part in other pursuits. Also, unlike Locke, Hobbes did not acknowledge the right of the people to overthrow a government which failed to protect them. The framers of American government in a later century were very familiar with Hobbes’ philosophy, but do not appear to have been as influenced by Hobbes as much as they were by John Locke.
In 1688-89, weary of the actions of King James II, the people of England removed him from the throne in what the English call “the Glorious Revolution.” This event ended the old theory of the divine right of kings in England and established the supremacy of Parliament. The two chambers of Parliament meeting at Westminster adopted the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and invited William and Mary of Orange to rule the nation on their acceptance of this document limiting their power. The document asserted that Englishmen had certain inalienable civil and political rights. It made clear that “the pretended power of suspending of laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal.” Unless Parliament consented, the monarch could not act as judges or raise or keep a standing army. The monarch could not impose fines or punishment without benefit of trial. English citizens had the right to petition the king and could not be punished for doing so. Freedom of speech in Parliament was guaranteed. Of interest for the framers of the U. S. Bill of Rights in the late 18th Century was a specific provision of the English Bill of Rights which stated: “that excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” That language is almost identical to that found in the Eighth Amendment of the U. S. Bill of Rights of 1791.
The English philosopher John Locke authored the Second Treatise of Civil Government which was published in 1690 following the “Glorious Revolution” in England. According to Locke: “Man being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subject to the political power of another, without his own consent.” He thus argued that all men are created equal and that no man could be denied his free and equal condition without his consent. He also argued that all people are born with the same natural rights which, therefore, do not come from government, but rather from nature or God. Government, Locke insists, exists to protect these natural rights. Without government, people cannot preserve these natural rights, so they “unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living.” The desire to protect one’s property, Locke argues, is paramount in men’s decision to establish government. Property, for Locke, included life, liberty, and possessions. This is a form of the so-called social contract theory earlier advocated by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Unlike Hobbes however, it is the people’s right, Locke argues, to overthrow a government that fails to protect their rights. This revolutionary natural rights theory, as it is known, strongly influenced America’s Founding Fathers. George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights of June,1776, and Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence of July,1776, especially were greatly influenced by ideas found in the Second Treatise of Civil Government.
Charles Louis Baron de Montesquieu was a French lawyer and philosopher who lived and wrote in the 18th Century known as the Age of Reason or the Age of Enlightenment. His most well-known and influential work was The Spirit of the Laws published in 1748. Montesquieu was particularly concerned with the liberty of citizens. For that reason, he argued, if government is to provide citizens with the most liberty, it must have certain characteristics. He notes, “since constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it … it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power.” This is accomplished, Montesquieu asserted, by separating the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government. In this way, he argued, if different persons or parts of government exercise these powers, each can check the other two if either tries to abuse its powers. This theory, which came to be called separation of powers and checks and balances, apparently had great influence on the framers of the 1787 U. S. Constitution.
Sir William Blackstone, an English jurist, wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England, a multi-volume treatise on English common law, from 1765 to 1769. His work was the first attempt to condense English common law into a clear system. The four volumes of the Commentaries were: The Rights of Persons (structure of the legal system), The Rights of Things (property rights), Private Wrongs (torts or civil actions), and Public Wrongs (criminal law). Blackstone believed that law existed to protect peoples’ lives, liberty, and property. This belief greatly influenced America’s Founding Fathers. For example, to learn the law, all lawyers in the American colonies primarily read Blackstone’s Commentaries, and many the Founding Fathers were lawyers. One important piece of scholarly research has indicated that Blackstone was one of the three individuals most often quoted by America’s Founding Fathers.
George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights in June,1776. It was published three weeks before Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Like Jefferson, Mason was clearly influenced by the English philosopher John Locke. The document begins with a declaration that “all men are by nature free and independent” and have certain natural rights including life, liberty, and “the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” That is followed with a declaration that government derives its power from the people and that whenever government is not serving the interests of the people, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. Insofar as the government itself was concerned, the document declares that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be separate and distinct and that there should be term limits for the legislative and executive parts of the government. Of course, a large part of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was devoted to spelling out the rights of the people of Virginia. Among the many rights guaranteed were: freedom of the press, property rights, a speedy trial by an impartial jury, right to know the cause and nature of any criminal prosecution, right to confront those accusing one of a criminal offense, no self-incrimination, no deprivation of liberty except by the law of the land or judgment of one’s peers, no excessive fines or bail, no cruel and unusual punishment, no general warrants, and trial by jury in civil disputes between man and man. It also called for civilian control of the military, free elections, the right to vote, a well-regulated militia composed of the people trained to arms to defend the nation, no standing armies, and the duty of all citizens to practice justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue. One of the most significant, and often quoted, parts of the document was one of the strongest defenses ever written of the importance of freedom of religion for all persons: “That religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other.” The influence of the Virginia Declaration of Rights on the authors of later significant American documents cannot be exaggerated. All one has to do is examine portions of the U. S. Declaration of Independence, the original U. S. Constitution, and, especially, the U. S. Bill of Rights, to understand how great was the impact of Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. Most, but not all, of the rights spelled out in the U. S. Bill of Rights can be traced to Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights.
The Articles of Confederation was the first of only two constitutions under which the nation known as the United States of America has been governed. It was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in November,1777, and took effect in 1781 when ratified by the states. It was discarded when the new Constitution of the United States of America written at the constitutional convention at Philadelphia in 1787 was finally ratified by the required number of states and thus took effect in 1789. The nature of the system of government which the document created is clearly indicated by Article 2 which provides: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” A portion of Article 3 also indicates clearly the nature of the system created: “The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other …” The national government consisted solely of a unicameral Congress in which each state had one vote. There was not separate and independent executive or judicial branch. This Congress’ powers were very few and consisted only of those granted by the states. Congress, for example, of great significance, had no power to tax and no power over interstate commerce. For Congress to pass any major law required the votes of nine of the thirteen states, thus making it difficult for Congress to pass any major legislation. Even if Congress managed to pass major legislation, this might mean little since the national government had no executive to enforce any law the Congress passed. Because Congress had no power to tax, anything the Congress did which required money to carry it out meant that it had to depend on the states to voluntarily send their fair share of the money needed. In the years the nation lived under the Articles, some of the states never sent any money to pay for anything with which the state might disagree. Because Congress had no control over interstate commerce, it could do nothing to prevent economic warfare between states. One of the most important weaknesses of the Articles was the requirement that any change (amendment) in the document required the unanimous approval of all thirteen states. As a result, it was impossible to amend the document. One of the interesting articles of the document was Article 11 in which Canada was invited to join the union of the United States of America. Somehow the Congress of the Articles of Confederation did manage to adopt two major pieces of legislation: (1) the Land Ordinance of 1785 which provided for a systematic development of western lands and set aside lot No. 16 of every township for the support of public schools; and (2) the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The one event which did more than anything else to persuade leaders of the time that something had to be done about the Articles was Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in late 1786 and early 1787.
Authored by Thomas Jefferson and steered through the state’s legislature by James Madison in 1786, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is still part of the state’s constitution today. The law declared that religion mandated by the government was a violation of natural rights, and therefore “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever….” Furthermore, it asserted that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.” The law was partially motivated as a response to Patrick Henry’s call to expand government support for teachers who at that time were mainly Episcopalian ministers. Passage of the law led to the end of forced government support for the Episcopalian church in the state. Virginia thus became the first state to disestablish its official religion. Other states soon followed suit, especially after the ratification in 1791 of the U. S. Constitution’s First Amendment which included the no establishment of religion and free exercise of religion clauses.
Along with the Land Ordinance of 1785, the Northwest Ordinance was one of the two most important pieces of legislation adopted by Congress under the Articles of Confederation. As a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 ending the American Revolution, the United States acquired from England a large area of land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi River, and south of the Great Lakes. The land included what is today the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. Once the land came under the control of the United States government, a procedure for establishing governments in the region and setting rules for future statehood had to be established. For this purpose, Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Speaking of the Northwest Ordinance, Daniel Webster said he doubted whether “any single law of any lawgiver, ancient or modern, has produced effects of more distinct, marked, and lasting character than the Ordinance of 1787.” According to the Ordinance, no less than three and not more than five states could be carved out of this Northwest Territory. When any of the states had 60,000 free inhabitants, it would be admitted to the Union of the United States “on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever.” The Ordinance spelled out in some detail what the government of each state should look like. The Ordinance also addressed the rights of inhabitants of the territory. For example, it declared that “no person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory.” It listed such fundamental rights as trial by jury, writ of habeas corpus, no cruel or unusual punishment, and no deprivation of life or liberty except by judgment of one’s peers or the law of the land. It declared that “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” It also called for “the utmost good faith to always be observed toward the Indians and their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent.” Perhaps the most remarkable provision of the Ordinance, however, was Article 6 which stated that “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” One significant result of the Northwest Ordinance was that it greatly accelerated westward expansion.

Events

The Congress of the Articles of Confederation in February,1787, adopted a resolution calling for a convention of delegates from the thirteen states to be held in Philadelphia beginning in May “for the sole purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” Twelve of the states chose convention delegates. Only Rhode Island declined to do so. Fifty-five men attended some or all of the convention. The convention was supposed to begin on May 14 but did not do so because not enough delegates had arrived to constitute a quorum. James Madison arrived early on May 3, and he and other delegates from Virginia and Pennsylvania then met informally and prepared a new plan of government to present to the convention once it began. Finally, on May 25, enough delegates had arrived to constitute a quorum, and the convention began. The delegates unanimously elected General George Washington to preside as the President of the Convention. The delegates soon decided that instead of simply “revising the Articles of Confederation,” they would write a completely new constitution with a very different system of government from that which the nation had under the Articles.

After spending the entire summer behind closed doors in secrecy dealing with several difficult issues, on September 17, 1787, the new Constitution of the United States was completed. Thirty-nine delegates present at the end of the convention signed the Constitution. Three delegates – Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and George Mason of Virginia—refused to sign it. The new Constitution was then sent to the states for ratification.

The framers of the new United States Constitution written at the 1787 Philadelphia convention understood that it represented a dramatic change in the government of the nation and that as a result there would be serious opposition to its ratification in some of the state conventions called for this purpose. Opposition was particularly strong in the state of New York, and those who supported the new Constitution understood that New York’s ratification (along with Virginia’s) was essential to the success of the entire effort to bring about this major change in the nation’s government. Alexander Hamilton, a resident of New York and an advocate for the new Constitution, decided that a propaganda effort was needed to sway citizens of New York. Hamilton recruited two other supporters of the new Constitution – John Jay, a fellow New Yorker, and James Madison, a Virginian—to join him. Together, writing anonymously under the pseudonym Publius, the three men penned a series of 85 essays, numbered 1 thru 85, explaining the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation as well as the virtues of the new Constitution and why it should be adopted. These essays were published in the newspapers of New York City beginning in October,1787, and ending in May,1788. Jay wrote only five of the essays, Madison wrote 26, Hamilton wrote 51, and three were written by Hamilton and Madison together. Apparently, the essays did not have a significant impact and were not widely read at the time. Only years later were the 85 essays published together in book form and given the title, The Federalist Papers.
Written by James Madison, Federalist No. 10 defended the republican form of government proposed by the new Constitution. It is believed that Madison was responding to an article written in another New York newspaper by Brutus, a pseudonym used by a New York opponent of the Constitution named Robert Yates. Brutus had argued that republican government can only flourish in small republics such as the individual states where people share similar interests. Madison argues that in such small republics government is susceptible to the problem of “factions.” He defines a “faction” as a number of citizens united by some common interest adverse to the interest of other citizens or the interests of the community. He notes that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society.” He concludes that nothing can be done about the causes of “the mischiefs of faction” and that “relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” He asserted that it is the great number of factions and their diversity in what he called an “extended republic” (the entire nation) that would make it more difficult for one faction to gain control. Groups would be forced to negotiate and compromise, thus arriving at solutions that would respect the interests of others.
In Federalist No. 39, James Madison responds to an opponent of the new Constitution who argued that it was neither “republican” nor “federal.” In the first part of the essay Madison defines or explores the structure of the “republican” government which he maintains the new Constitution creates. He defines a “republic” as “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people.” Madison maintains that the new Constitution meets this requirement. He points out that the people directly choose the House of Representatives and indirectly elect U. S. Senators, the President, and judges. Furthermore, he points out, the Constitution forbids titles of nobility and guarantees each state “a republican form of government.”

In the second part of No. 39, Madison examines the “compound republic” created by the Constitution which is what we today call federalism. The Constitution, he points out, has both “national” and “federal” characteristics. The national government will have authority over individuals as national citizens, but in several ways, the new government will be federal in form. For example, he says, federalism is reflected in the method of ratification of the new Constitution where delegates to the state ratifying conventions will vote as citizens of their respective states. The federal form is also reflected, he notes, in the structure of the U. S. Senate where the states will be equally represented by senators chosen by their state legislature. Finally, Madison concludes, the fact that the individual states retain certain important powers is proof of the “federal” nature of the Constitution.

In Federalist No. 51, James Madison explains and defends the checks and balances system in the new Constitution. Each branch of the government is given checks over the other two branches. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” he writes. In an often quoted passage, Madison proclaims: “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Madison also discusses the way republican government can serve as a check on the power of factions, and the tyranny of the majority. “[I]n the federal republic of the United States… all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” All of the Constitution’s checks and balances, Madison concludes, serve to preserve liberty by ensuring justice, and “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.”

Opponents of the new Constitution argued that Article II which created the President as the chief executive would lead to a monarchy. In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton argues for the strong executive created by the Constitution rather than the lack of an executive under the Articles of Confederation. He argues that “energy in the executive is the leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks…to the steady administration of the laws, to the protection of property …to justice; [and] to the security of liberty ….”

Though some delegates had called for an executive council, Hamilton defended a single executive as “far more safe” because “wherever two or more persons are engaged in any common…pursuit, there is always danger of difference of opinion…bitter dissensions are apt to spring. Whenever these happen, they lessen the respectability, weaken the authority.” Hamilton also argued that a single executive would be watched “more narrowly” and vigilantly by the people than a group of people would be.

In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton addresses the new judicial branch of the government created by the Constitution. He responds to the Constitution’s opponents who argued that the national courts created by the Constitution were unnecessary because state courts could handle all lawsuits and also that the national courts were dangerous because they would leave the people at the mercy of a distant national judiciary. Hamilton argues that a national judiciary was needed to handle cases between citizens of different states and those involving the Constitution and national laws. In one of the most remarkable and important points he makes concerning the new judicial branch, he writes that “whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous … The executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse … It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.” He argues strongly as well for an independent judiciary when he writes, “For I agree, that ‘there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.’ … The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution.” Finally, Hamilton makes a strong argument in favor of the national judiciary’s power to judge actions of the legislative branch to determine if they are consistent with the Constitution: “It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the law is the proper and peculiar province of the courts.”
The sixteen Brutus Essays written between 1787 and 1790 argued against the ratification of the new United States Constitution written at the 1787 Philadelphia convention. These essays countered the Federalist essays which argued in favor of ratifying the Constitution. Historians believe that Robert Yates, a New Yorker, was the author of the Brutus Essays. He chose the pen name Brutus in honor of the Roman statesman who murdered Julius Caesar to prevent Caesar from overthrowing the Roman Republic.

Brutus was wary of giving the national government too much power. He wrote, “Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any, in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority. This is a sufficient reason to induce you to be careful, in the first instance, how you deposit the powers of government.”

Brutus had several specific objections to the proposed new Constitution. He believed it would infringe on the peoples’ liberty and argued that a bill of rights was needed. He thought the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8 gave Congress too much power. He also believed that giving the Supreme Court the power to interpret the Constitution would lead to even greater power for Congress and would infringe upon the powers of the states.

The Virginia Plan was prepared by James Madison of Virginia, but Edmund Randolph of Virginia introduced this proposal for a new government at an early meeting of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The Virginia Plan illustrates Baron de Montesquieu’s influence on Madison since, like Montesquieu in 1748, it called for three separate, independent branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. It also provided for a bicameral legislative branch with members of one chamber chosen by the people and members of the other chamber elected by the first chamber. Representation for each state in both chambers would be in proportion to the number of free inhabitants in the state: the larger the number of free inhabitants in a state, the greater the number of members of both chambers that state would receive. The national legislature would have the power to overrule any state law that conflicted with “the articles of union” and to use force against states that resisted. The national legislature would choose a national executive as well as a national judiciary consisting of one or more supreme courts and lower courts. Finally, the executive and “a convenient number of the national judiciary” would comprise a Council of Revision with the authority to examine every act of the national legislature before it takes effect and every act of a state legislature before a veto thereof would be final. The Virginia Plan was supported by delegates from the more populous states. The U. S. Constitution as written and adopted at Philadelphia included several provisions of the Virginia Plan.
William Patterson of New Jersey introduced the New Jersey Plan at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It was in large part a response to the Virginia Plan introduced earlier at the convention. According to the New Jersey Plan, in addition to the powers Congress had under the Articles of Confederation, Congress would have the power to raise revenue by taxing imported goods, “by stamps on paper, vellum or parchment,” and by postage on all letters passing through the post office. Unlike the Congress of the Articles, Congress would now also have the power to regulate trade and commerce. In addition, Congress would elect an executive to enforce all national acts and to direct military operations. The New Jersey Plan said nothing about changing the structure of Congress or the representation of states therein, and thus, Congress would remain a unicameral body in which each state would have one vote as it was under the Articles of Confederation. A national judiciary would be established consisting of a supreme court whose judges would be appointed by the executive and who would hold their offices during good behavior. Finally, the New Jersey Plan provided that acts of Congress and treaties would be the supreme law, and state judicial rulings and state laws to the contrary would be void. The New Jersey Plan was supported by delegates from the less populous states. The U. S. Constitution as written and adopted at Philadelphia included several provisions of the New Jersey Plan.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut introduced the so-called Connecticut Compromise using ideas found in both the Virginia Plan and New Jersey Plan at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Because there was general agreement among the delegates that Congress would be the more powerful of the three separate branches of the new government, representation for each state in this new Congress proved to be the most hotly disputed issue. For that reason, the Connecticut Compromise which eventually settled the issue is also called “the Great Compromise.” It called for a bicameral U. S. Congress establishing a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each state would be equally represented in the Senate by two senators from each state regardless of the state’s population. Each state’s representation in the House of Representatives would be determined in proportion to the state’s population as determined by the census to be conducted every ten years. The greater a state’s population, the more members of the House of Representatives the state would be entitled to send. However, each state would be guaranteed a minimum of one member of the House regardless of the state’s population. Historians agree that adoption of the Great Compromise was crucial to the success of the convention and the new Constitution.
The Congress of the Articles of Confederation in February,1787, adopted a resolution calling for a convention of delegates from the thirteen states to be held in Philadelphia beginning in May “for the sole purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” Twelve of the states chose convention delegates. Only Rhode Island declined to do so. Fifty-five men attended some or all of the convention. The convention was supposed to begin on May 14 but did not do so because not enough delegates had arrived to constitute a quorum. James Madison arrived early on May 3, and he and other delegates from Virginia and Pennsylvania then met informally and prepared a new plan of government to present to the convention once it began. Finally, on May 25, enough delegates had arrived to constitute a quorum, and the convention began. The delegates unanimously elected General George Washington to preside as the President of the Convention. The delegates soon decided that instead of simply “revising the Articles of Confederation,” they would write a completely new constitution with a very different system of government from that which the nation had under the Articles.

After spending the entire summer behind closed doors in secrecy dealing with several difficult issues, on September 17, 1787, the new Constitution of the United States was completed. Thirty-nine delegates present at the end of the convention signed the Constitution. Three delegates – Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and George Mason of Virginia—refused to sign it. The new Constitution was then sent to the states for ratification.

The framers of the new United States Constitution written at the 1787 Philadelphia convention understood that it represented a dramatic change in the government of the nation and that as a result there would be serious opposition to its ratification in some of the state conventions called for this purpose. Opposition was particularly strong in the state of New York, and those who supported the new Constitution understood that New York’s ratification (along with Virginia’s) was essential to the success of the entire effort to bring about this major change in the nation’s government. Alexander Hamilton, a resident of New York and an advocate for the new Constitution, decided that a propaganda effort was needed to sway citizens of New York. Hamilton recruited two other supporters of the new Constitution – John Jay, a fellow New Yorker, and James Madison, a Virginian—to join him. Together, writing anonymously under the pseudonym Publius, the three men penned a series of 85 essays, numbered 1 thru 85, explaining the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation as well as the virtues of the new Constitution and why it should be adopted. These essays were published in the newspapers of New York City beginning in October,1787, and ending in May,1788. Jay wrote only five of the essays, Madison wrote 26, Hamilton wrote 51, and three were written by Hamilton and Madison together. Apparently, the essays did not have a significant impact and were not widely read at the time. Only years later were the 85 essays published together in book form and given the title, The Federalist Papers.
Written by James Madison, Federalist No. 10 defended the republican form of government proposed by the new Constitution. It is believed that Madison was responding to an article written in another New York newspaper by Brutus, a pseudonym used by a New York opponent of the Constitution named Robert Yates. Brutus had argued that republican government can only flourish in small republics such as the individual states where people share similar interests. Madison argues that in such small republics government is susceptible to the problem of “factions.” He defines a “faction” as a number of citizens united by some common interest adverse to the interest of other citizens or the interests of the community. He notes that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society.” He concludes that nothing can be done about the causes of “the mischiefs of faction” and that “relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” He asserted that it is the great number of factions and their diversity in what he called an “extended republic” (the entire nation) that would make it more difficult for one faction to gain control. Groups would be forced to negotiate and compromise, thus arriving at solutions that would respect the interests of others.
In Federalist No. 39, James Madison responds to an opponent of the new Constitution who argued that it was neither “republican” nor “federal.” In the first part of the essay Madison defines or explores the structure of the “republican” government which he maintains the new Constitution creates. He defines a “republic” as “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people.” Madison maintains that the new Constitution meets this requirement. He points out that the people directly choose the House of Representatives and indirectly elect U. S. Senators, the President, and judges. Furthermore, he points out, the Constitution forbids titles of nobility and guarantees each state “a republican form of government.”

In the second part of No. 39, Madison examines the “compound republic” created by the Constitution which is what we today call federalism. The Constitution, he points out, has both “national” and “federal” characteristics. The national government will have authority over individuals as national citizens, but in several ways, the new government will be federal in form. For example, he says, federalism is reflected in the method of ratification of the new Constitution where delegates to the state ratifying conventions will vote as citizens of their respective states. The federal form is also reflected, he notes, in the structure of the U. S. Senate where the states will be equally represented by senators chosen by their state legislature. Finally, Madison concludes, the fact that the individual states retain certain important powers is proof of the “federal” nature of the Constitution.

In Federalist No. 51, James Madison explains and defends the checks and balances system in the new Constitution. Each branch of the government is given checks over the other two branches. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” he writes. In an often quoted passage, Madison proclaims: “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Madison also discusses the way republican government can serve as a check on the power of factions, and the tyranny of the majority. “[I]n the federal republic of the United States… all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” All of the Constitution’s checks and balances, Madison concludes, serve to preserve liberty by ensuring justice, and “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.”

Opponents of the new Constitution argued that Article II which created the President as the chief executive would lead to a monarchy. In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton argues for the strong executive created by the Constitution rather than the lack of an executive under the Articles of Confederation. He argues that “energy in the executive is the leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks…to the steady administration of the laws, to the protection of property …to justice; [and] to the security of liberty ….”

Though some delegates had called for an executive council, Hamilton defended a single executive as “far more safe” because “wherever two or more persons are engaged in any common…pursuit, there is always danger of difference of opinion…bitter dissensions are apt to spring. Whenever these happen, they lessen the respectability, weaken the authority.” Hamilton also argued that a single executive would be watched “more narrowly” and vigilantly by the people than a group of people would be.

In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton addresses the new judicial branch of the government created by the Constitution. He responds to the Constitution’s opponents who argued that the national courts created by the Constitution were unnecessary because state courts could handle all lawsuits and also that the national courts were dangerous because they would leave the people at the mercy of a distant national judiciary. Hamilton argues that a national judiciary was needed to handle cases between citizens of different states and those involving the Constitution and national laws. In one of the most remarkable and important points he makes concerning the new judicial branch, he writes that “whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous … The executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse … It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.” He argues strongly as well for an independent judiciary when he writes, “For I agree, that ‘there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.’ … The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution.” Finally, Hamilton makes a strong argument in favor of the national judiciary’s power to judge actions of the legislative branch to determine if they are consistent with the Constitution: “It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the law is the proper and peculiar province of the courts.”
The sixteen Brutus Essays written between 1787 and 1790 argued against the ratification of the new United States Constitution written at the 1787 Philadelphia convention. These essays countered the Federalist essays which argued in favor of ratifying the Constitution. Historians believe that Robert Yates, a New Yorker, was the author of the Brutus Essays. He chose the pen name Brutus in honor of the Roman statesman who murdered Julius Caesar to prevent Caesar from overthrowing the Roman Republic.

Brutus was wary of giving the national government too much power. He wrote, “Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any, in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority. This is a sufficient reason to induce you to be careful, in the first instance, how you deposit the powers of government.”

Brutus had several specific objections to the proposed new Constitution. He believed it would infringe on the peoples’ liberty and argued that a bill of rights was needed. He thought the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8 gave Congress too much power. He also believed that giving the Supreme Court the power to interpret the Constitution would lead to even greater power for Congress and would infringe upon the powers of the states.

The Virginia Plan was prepared by James Madison of Virginia, but Edmund Randolph of Virginia introduced this proposal for a new government at an early meeting of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The Virginia Plan illustrates Baron de Montesquieu’s influence on Madison since, like Montesquieu in 1748, it called for three separate, independent branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. It also provided for a bicameral legislative branch with members of one chamber chosen by the people and members of the other chamber elected by the first chamber. Representation for each state in both chambers would be in proportion to the number of free inhabitants in the state: the larger the number of free inhabitants in a state, the greater the number of members of both chambers that state would receive. The national legislature would have the power to overrule any state law that conflicted with “the articles of union” and to use force against states that resisted. The national legislature would choose a national executive as well as a national judiciary consisting of one or more supreme courts and lower courts. Finally, the executive and “a convenient number of the national judiciary” would comprise a Council of Revision with the authority to examine every act of the national legislature before it takes effect and every act of a state legislature before a veto thereof would be final. The Virginia Plan was supported by delegates from the more populous states. The U. S. Constitution as written and adopted at Philadelphia included several provisions of the Virginia Plan.
William Patterson of New Jersey introduced the New Jersey Plan at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It was in large part a response to the Virginia Plan introduced earlier at the convention. According to the New Jersey Plan, in addition to the powers Congress had under the Articles of Confederation, Congress would have the power to raise revenue by taxing imported goods, “by stamps on paper, vellum or parchment,” and by postage on all letters passing through the post office. Unlike the Congress of the Articles, Congress would now also have the power to regulate trade and commerce. In addition, Congress would elect an executive to enforce all national acts and to direct military operations. The New Jersey Plan said nothing about changing the structure of Congress or the representation of states therein, and thus, Congress would remain a unicameral body in which each state would have one vote as it was under the Articles of Confederation. A national judiciary would be established consisting of a supreme court whose judges would be appointed by the executive and who would hold their offices during good behavior. Finally, the New Jersey Plan provided that acts of Congress and treaties would be the supreme law, and state judicial rulings and state laws to the contrary would be void. The New Jersey Plan was supported by delegates from the less populous states. The U. S. Constitution as written and adopted at Philadelphia included several provisions of the New Jersey Plan.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut introduced the so-called Connecticut Compromise using ideas found in both the Virginia Plan and New Jersey Plan at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Because there was general agreement among the delegates that Congress would be the more powerful of the three separate branches of the new government, representation for each state in this new Congress proved to be the most hotly disputed issue. For that reason, the Connecticut Compromise which eventually settled the issue is also called “the Great Compromise.” It called for a bicameral U. S. Congress establishing a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each state would be equally represented in the Senate by two senators from each state regardless of the state’s population. Each state’s representation in the House of Representatives would be determined in proportion to the state’s population as determined by the census to be conducted every ten years. The greater a state’s population, the more members of the House of Representatives the state would be entitled to send. However, each state would be guaranteed a minimum of one member of the House regardless of the state’s population. Historians agree that adoption of the Great Compromise was crucial to the success of the convention and the new Constitution.