Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lesson 04: The Path to the Constitution

Constitution Class Handout
February 6, 2014
Instructor: Douglas V. Gibbs

Faith Armory
41669 Winchester Rd.
Temecula, CA


·   The Path to the Constitution

·   Mayflower Compact
·   The Spanish Conquistadors
·   The English Charters
·   Religious Freedom in the New World
·   Individual Colonies

Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact is a precursor to the United States Constitution.  Before the American Constitution, written constitutions were not the norm. People  relied on common law, which could be manipulated by the rulers through adjusting popular opinion.  Since common law was known by all of the people, they were indifferent to the necessity of writing them down. They were simply a matter of custom, changing if necessary, when the winds of government, or the whims of the citizenry, mandated so.

In Britain, after the Norman Conquest, the rights of the people disappeared in a flood of blood, and without the people's rights being written down, gaining them back was laborious. The people's rights were regained, eventually, but it took centuries.  Some of them were gradually written down, and then in 1215, the people forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, quite literally by the point of the sword.

During the time period that followed, the "Model Parliament" was formed, enabling the people to have representation in the government.  The Petition of Rights followed in 1628, and the English Bill of Rights was signed in 1689.

Without a written constitution, however, the British had to depend on these fragmentary statutes to manage their political affairs.  The Founding Fathers, studying history, determined that the structure of government must be codified in a more permanent written form.

The Americans wrote down their constitutions from the very beginning, starting in 1620 with the Mayflower Compact.  The document was written by William Bradford, while the Mayflower was anchored at Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  The passengers declared their intention to start the “first colony in the northern parts of Virginia.”  They stated that they had now covenanted and combined themselves into a society for their “better Ordering and Preservation.”  Through the Mayflower Compact, the people pledged to institute “just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices.  Forty-one of the 102 passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.

The Biblical influence of The Mayflower Compact was large, and the document was based on Biblical covenanting tradition. It stressed civic values of justice, equality, and responsibility.  The Mayflower Compact was not a governing document, but it was the first basis for written laws in the colonies, and expressed the necessity of consent of the governed.

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut followed the Mayflower Compact in 1639, making no reference to Britain as the source of authority.  The compact was about "We, the people."  They understood that legislatures are better regulated when their actions are regulated by many, rather than a single person, and when those regulations are written down.

The Spanish Conquistadors

To understand the Character of Americanism leading to the principles contained on the pages of the United States Constitution, it is important to understand why the British Colonies emerged in the manner that they did.  King James watched the rise, and the decline, of the Spanish Empire, and learned that empires in the New World can be expensive.  So, armed with this knowledge, Great Britain did not approach the New World as conquerors like the Spanish.  Instead, the colonization of America by the English became an investment opportunity for private companies, as well as an opportunity of a new start for families.  Riches were available in the New World, and with the hard work of individual investors, the hope of becoming a wealthy property owner awaited those willing to take the chance.

King James offered charters.  Success of the colonies meant a new revenue source for the British monarchy.  Failure would result in a financial loss for the investors, not The Crown.  Because of charters, the entrepreneurial spirit of America existed from the start.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, launching the era of European exploration. Columbus, an Italian by birth, and experienced sailor, was convinced that the way to reach the riches of the Far East was to sail west. Columbus pitched his idea to Portugal’s king in 1484, but the geography experts in Portugal deemed Columbus’ plan impossible.  No sailor, they proclaimed, could withstand such a long voyage across the vast ocean between Europe and the Far East. Besides, Portugal had already established sea routes around the horn of Africa to the lands of the Far East.

After the rejection by Portugal, Columbus pitched his idea to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in Spain.  Recent efforts to remove Muslim strongholds from Spain, and unify the monarchies of Spain, made Isabella eager to expand the wealth and influence of the monarchy, therefore, she agreed to support Columbus’ risky voyage.

The explorations by Columbus led him to an island in the area of the Caribbean we now call the “West Indies.”  Columbus claimed the island for Spain, named it San Salvador, called the islanders Indians, and assumed the island chain he had encountered was somewhere near Japan or China.  Columbus cruised from island to island searching for Japan or China, and the riches of the Far East.  Frustrated, in 1493 Columbus returned to Spain, taking with him seven of the islanders.

Isabella and Ferdinand were thrilled, believing Columbus found a new sea-route to Asia that took barely eight months.  Columbus was rewarded, returned to the New World twice during his lifetime, and died never knowing that he never made it to the Far East, or that he had discovered a new continent.

The Spanish Monarchy’s realization that the New World was not the Far East meant the race to the Far East against Portugal had been lost.  However, new riches awaited Spain on this new continent.  Spain staked their claims on the new lands, intent on building an empire that yielded many riches.  With those riches, however, came an empire rapidly becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.  The Spanish monarchy claimed ownership to most of the land in the Western Hemisphere, and gave their conquistadors permission to explore and plunder.  Some of the Spanish colonists intermarried with the natives, creating a steep social hierarchy that placed people born in Spain at the top of the social status.  Abuses by the Spaniards against Indians encouraged the Spanish monarchy to change the system in the New World, slowly replacing the oppressive old conquistadors with oppressive royal bureaucrats as the rulers of New Spain.

The Spaniards used the Indians as forced labor to extract gold and silver from the ancient civilizations and mines of the New World.  In the early decades Spain’s primary import from the New World was gold, but after 1540 silver became the primary Spanish import from the New World.

During the first hundred years of Spanish presence in the New World, a quarter of a million Spaniards settled in the colonies.  Most of the new settlers were soldiers, laborers, and artisans (skilled craftsmen).

Protecting the Spanish Empire from rebelling native populations, attacks against Spanish ships by pirates and privateers, and mutiny by the Spanish soldiers seeing their personal influence and power lessen with the arrival of the bureaucrats, made maintaining New Spain difficult and expensive.  Spain added to its wealth, but New Spain became a long-term curse.  Though the New World had vastly enriched Spain, the expense of maintaining their empire, and battling European monarchies that began to contest Spain’s domination of the New World, became difficult.  Spanish influence over the colonies lessened, and other European powers took advantage by launching their own missions of discovery.


Americanism: a philosophy of freedom that actively seeks less government and more personal responsibility.

Charter: A document issued by a sovereign, legislature, or other authority, creating a public or private corporation, such as a city, college, or bank, and defining its privileges and purposes; A written grant from the sovereign power of a country conferring certain rights and privileges on a person, a corporation, or the people.

Questions for Discussion:

1. If Spain had not gone into the New World as conquerors, would Great Britain still have chosen to use charters for colonizing?

2. Would Columbus had returned to the New World had he realized it was a newly discovered land?

3. Because the Spanish colonists were primarily military, the population was primarily male. How did the intermarrying with female natives change the dynamics of colonization by Spain?

4. How would the relationship between the Spaniards and the natives be different had the Spanish invaders not used the Indians as forced labor?


Free Library by Farlex:

Free Library by Farlex:

Henry Arthur Francis Kamen, Spain’s Road to Empire: The Making of a World Power, 1492-1763; New York: Penguin Books (2002).

J.H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1491-1830; New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press (2006).

Ray A. Billington, American History before 1877: with questions & answers; Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams (1965).

The English Charters

In 1607 the first English colonists arrived at Jamestown.  The English colonization of North America was very different from that of the Spanish.  The lessons of military conquest, and the financial expenses of empire, convinced the English monarchy to use different tact when colonizing the Atlantic Coast. Rather than conquer, adventurers were encouraged to invest in the New World.  English colonists cultivated tobacco, and other crops, for wealth.  They produced crop surpluses for export to the Old World, making the English colonies profitable in a potentially unlimited manner.

Taking gold and silver from the New World could only work as long as more gold and silver remained.  Spain’s cost to maintain the empire, however, left the Spanish with less remaining as far as profit went.  King James I did not wish to create yet another high risk, and expensive, system of colonization, so England’s colonization of the New World on the outskirts of Spain’s New World empire (where Spain could not defend the lands she claimed to rule) was encouraged by a system of investment by various companies with ambitions to reap riches, while benefiting England both overseas and at home.

Rather than invest in colonization directly, England offered charters to investors.  English colonists were not soldiers filled with the desire of conquest and gold, but families filled with the desire of a new start, property ownership, and riches through farming and trade.  Investors, like the Virginia Company, risked their capital because they saw great potential for profit in the new colonies.  For the monarchy, the system was a win-win.  If the colony failed, it cost England nothing, for the loss would be absorbed by the investors.  If the colony succeeded, England would benefit through taxation, trade, global influence, and profits from the agriculture of the new land.  Jamestown, however, failed to yield a profit for the Virginia Company, so after two decades of struggling to survive, the royal government took over operations.

The colonists endured Indian attacks, disease, and starvation with little assistance from the homeland.  Bickering among themselves left the colonists with unplanted crops, and shrinking food supplies.  In 1607 the local Indians began to bring corn to the colony for barter, which assisted in feeding the colonists, and stocking the Indians with Old World goods they desired.  However, the corn was not enough, and in 1610 only 60 of the previous 500 settlers remained alive.  These early struggles, however, had an important impact on the English colonies that the Spanish never encountered.  The struggles, with limited help from England, instilled a spirit of survival, self-reliance, and independence into the English colonists.  From the very beginning the virtues of hard work, and personal responsibility, were important for the sake of survival.  Without these characteristics, which were taught to the colonists through their struggles, the English colonies would never have survived.  The promised riches of the New World had not materialized at that point, however, but only because a cash crop had not emerged as had been hoped for.

Tobacco grew wild in the New World.  The native population was using tobacco thousands of years before the arrival of European colonists.  Originally, the Virginia Company had no plans to grow and sell tobacco, but by 1617 the colonists had grown enough tobacco to send its first commercial shipment to England.  Before long, the colonies were sending so much tobacco to European markets that it became affordable, and became a product used by many people.  From that point, Virginia transformed from a struggling colony of aimless adventurers to a society of dedicated planters growing as much tobacco as they could manage.  By 1700 the nearly 100,000 colonists of the Chesapeake region (Maryland, Virginia, and northern North Carolina) had exported more than 35 million pounds of tobacco.  The growing industry attracted droves of English indentured servants to work in the tobacco fields.

Colonizing by offering charters had paid off.  The English colonies were prospering, and they did so with little interference from the English government.  The colonies were self-sufficient, yet England was profiting from the burgeoning tobacco industry.  The only thing holding back the promise of increasing profit to ever higher possibilities was the lack of labor.  English arrivals were limited in numbers, and the indentured servants, after seven years of service, were striking out on their own.  The southern colonies needed a new work force that was less expensive, not likely to strike out on their own, and capable of increasing in number quickly.  The labor-intensive nature of the tobacco crop opened up the eventuality of slave labor.

The charter system served as a large part in creating the American virtue of self-reliance.  In the southern colonies the promise of riches through property ownership and cash crops encouraged more Englishmen to arrive seeking their fortune.  To the north, however, new colonies were being established with a different goal in mind. North of the Chesapeake region, colonies were emerging based on the desire for religious freedom.


Indentured Servants: Colonists serving under indenture contracts which paid for their passage to America and lasted for a term of years (usually seven years) generally ending with a lump sum payment in money or goods, a plot of land, and freedom.

Tobacco: A plant, native to America, of the genus Nicotiana, used for smoking and chewing as in snuff.  As a medicine, it is narcotic.  Tobacco has a strong disagreeable smell, and an acrid taste.  When first used it sometimes occasions vomiting; but the practice of using it in any form, soon conquers distaste, and forms a relish for it that is strong and almost unconquerable.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Did the fact that the British Colonists were families, rather than military soldiers like the Spaniards, contribute to the hardship of survival?  How?

2. Was the struggles of the colonies a contributing factor to the rugged individuality Americans would posses through the generations?

3.  How might the colonies have been different without the advent of tobacco becoming a cash crop?

4.  If the import of indentured servants had been able to keep up with the demand for new labor, would slavery have ever become a part of American Society?

5.  How did the southern colonies differ from the northern colonies in these early years?


American History Suite 101:

Webster’s Dictionary, 1828 Version:

J.H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1491-1830; New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press (2006).

Jonathan Locke Hart, Representing the New World: The English and French Uses of the Example of Spain; New York, Palgrave (2001).

Kelly Knauer (ed.), The Making of America: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Nation; New York, Time Books (2005).

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States; New York: Sentinel (2004).

Ray A. Billington, American History before 1877: with questions & answers; Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams (1965).

Religious Freedom in the New World

The Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620 is the tale we are most familiar with. The Pilgrims were separatists.  Though the Pilgrims’ roots were with the Puritan Church, they endeavored to separate themselves from the Puritan Church, as well as British mainstream society.

The Protestant Reformation was rejected by England at first. The Church in England stayed with the Catholic Church, continuing allegiance to the pope. King Henry VIII changed his mind when he wanted a divorce, and the Vatican refused to grant it to him. He established the Church of England, and proclaimed himself supreme head of the new church. While the king controlled the church, Catholics demanded a return to the Catholic Church, and many other English people demanded a true Reformation in England. These reformers came to be called Puritans.

During the early 1600s, King James I enforced conformity to the Church of England, and punished anyone who dissented, under the authority of the 1559 Act of Uniformity. In 1629 King Charles I initiated aggressive anti-Puritan policies. To escape the persecution in England, many of the Puritans came to the New World, setting up settlements in Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, after a time in Holland, also came to the New World. Since the Pilgrims were separatists, they desired to be separate from the other colonies, and allegedly changed course on purpose so that they could settle to the north of the other colonies. Like the Puritans, the Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom.

Those early northern colonies were theocracies, but the strong hold by the Church splintered as more and more colonists moved into the frontier. New strains of Protestantism emerged in the frontier lands to the west of the colonies, and the Puritan Church’s influence lessened with each new settlement to the west. In the colonies the Puritan churches divided and subdivided as well. The Christian founding of these settlements is undeniable, but neither is the diversity of the religious beliefs of the early colonists.

Quakers flocked to Pennsylvania where William Penn was determined to live in peace with the Indians, and all other religious denominations. Penn’s first principle of government was that every settler “enjoy the free expression of his or her faith and exercise of worship towards God.” Pennsylvania tolerated all Protestant sects, as well as Roman Catholics. Though all voters and officials had to be Christians, the government did not compel settlers to attend church services (as in Massachusetts), or pay taxes to maintain a state-supported church (as in Virginia). Pennsylvania was the first of the northern colonies to practice true religious freedom, aside from Rhode Island which had begun to advocate freedom of religion when Roger Williams, the founder of the colony, had been banished by the Puritans in the early 1630s.


1559 Act of Uniformity: In Britain it was illegal not to attend Church of England services, with a fine imposed for each missed Sunday and holy day. Penalties for having unofficial services included arrest and larger fines.

Protestant Reformation: Movement of Church Reform begun in 1517 that was influenced by Martin Luther’s critiques of the Roman Catholic Church. The movement led to the formation of the Protestant Christian groups.

Separatists: Pilgrims were a group not in communion with the Church of England. The Puritans kept their membership in the Church of England, while the Separatists thought their differences with the Church of England were so severe that their worship should be organized independently.

Theocracy: Form of government in which a state is governed by religion, or by clergy who believes they are under immediate divine guidance.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why did the Pilgrims wish to remain separate from all other groups?

2. How did the Puritan Reformation in England contribute to the influx of new colonists to the New World?

3. What do you think about the Puritans seeking religious freedom in the New World, yet establishing a theocracy in New England?

4. Could Pennsylvania’s rapid growth in population have something to do with their policy on religious freedom?


James L. Roark, Michael P. Johnson, Patricia Cline Cohen, Sarah Stage, Alan Lawson, and Susan M. Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States; Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s (2009).

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States; New York: Sentinel (2004).

Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn, eds., The World of William Penn; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1986).

Individual Colonies

The colonies, from the beginning, were separate, self-sufficient, independent entities. Each colony had its own unique culture, its own religion, and even its own political system. The individual colonies were like siblings that fought against each other constantly, while coming to each other’s aid when they felt it was necessary. The American Revolution taught the newly independent states that if they were to survive, they would need to continue to function as a union. It took uniting as a single force to defeat the British, and it would take being united as a country to survive as a nation.

More than 200 years have passed since the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  The Founding Fathers of the fledgling United States of America provided the framework for the creation of the U.S. Government, and debated for four months over what authorities the federal government should be granted. The central government was designed to protect, preserve, and promote the new union of sovereign states, while being limited in its authorities in order to preserve the basic rights of the individual states, and the American people. The previous constitution, The Articles of Confederation, was too weak, granting the United States Government with virtually no powers, and was unable to field an armed force to put down Shays’ Rebellion in 1786.  The confederate government was much like the European Union; holding little power, and existing for the purpose of holding together the member states in a loose-knit union. The new federal government needed to be a stronger system than the old confederation, while restrained by limiting principles, in order to protect We The People from the potential of tyranny.

With the monarchy gone, the form of government that would respect state sovereignty, while protecting the union, became a matter of debate. Many forms of government were examined, and ultimately the framers decided upon a Republic. They had already tried a Confederation, and the United States Government under the Articles of Confederation proved to be too weak. A Unitary government was out of the question, for the “Top down from a single ruling point” style of government was too much like the monarchy the United States had just won their independence from. A pure democracy was a dangerous thing as well. A democracy was not stable enough, and it was believed that if the people were left to their own devices, the democracy would deteriorate into “mob rule,” and would ultimately become so unstable that an oligarchy would take over the government.  History had proven time and time again that democracies destroy themselves, and become tyrannies after the system breaks down.

The new government needed to recognize state sovereignty, placing the powers of the state governments over the national government, except when regarding the authorities granted to the federal government.  The new United States Government had to be strong enough to protect, preserve and promote the union, while limited enough not to intrude upon the rights of the individual States. Some voices, like Alexander Hamilton, called for a strong national government, but many of his colleagues saw nationalism as dangerous, and prone to tyranny.

The U.S. Constitution was a product of heavy debate, compromise, and serious research of past republican forms of government.  Anticipating the intensity of the debates, and the constant changes of mind by the participants, the convention was held in secret, with the doors and windows closed, so as not to concern the people about their quarreling leaders.

What emerged from the intense debates during the Constitutional Convention was a republic that uses democratic processes to elect the members of the representative government. The new federal government was a far more complex form of government than had been provided by the Articles of Confederation. To protect against the excess of democracy a system of limits, checks, and balances was devised. Three branches of government were established, and even the power of the vote was divided as to diminish power in any one location. The House of Representatives were voted in by the voting public. The Senators of the U.S. Senate were appointed by the state legislatures. An electoral college was devised so that the President would be indirectly voted into office. The members of the judiciary were to be appointed.

The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, and all laws made in pursuance of the U.S. Constitution by the federal government are the supreme laws of the land. The U.S. Constitution is the starting point from which all of our government institutions come. The founding document is the wisdom of the ages, crafted purposely to serve as the foundational base of our system of governance in order to form a more perfect union, while protecting the basic ideals of individual liberty, individual freedom, our unalienable individual rights (from the federal government), or any tyranny that may rise against us, foreign or domestic. This new government was to be based on republicanism, rather than a monarchy, while using some processes of a democracy in order to elect the representatives that would serve in the system.

A woman allegedly questioned Benjamin Franklin regarding the Constitutional Convention. She asked, “Sir, what have you given us?”

“A Republic,” Franklin replied. “If you can keep it.”

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to suggest that to keep the new federal government under control, a new revolution may need to be fought about every twenty years.

As a contract between the States and the newly formed federal government, in the Constitution the States are the granters of powers to the federal government.  The authorities granted by the States are limited in number, reserving the remaining powers to themselves. The limiting principles set forth by the U.S. Constitution were designed to protect the States’ sovereignty while giving the federal government enough authority to properly protect and preserve the union of individual states. As a result, the United States of America was not designed to be a nationalistic entity, but rather a federation of sovereign states that have granted the authority to maintain the union to a federal governmental system. To understand that the Founding Fathers looked upon the new country as a federation of states, and not a nationalistic entity, one must only look to the language they used.

In early America the residents of this country rarely referred to themselves as “Americans.”  They saw themselves as citizens of their States, so they were Virginians, or Pennsylvanians, or New Yorkers before they were Americans.  The States acted as individual sovereign entities, each unique in its culture.  Though the States were united under the Constitution, they viewed themselves as separate and sovereign.  In the following quotes by two of our founders, through the understanding of language, one can recognize how the Founding Fathers viewed the new nation of united states:

"Governments, in general, have been the result of force, of fraud, and accident. After a period of six thousand years has elapsed since the creation, the United States exhibit to the world the first instance, as far as we can learn, of a nation, unattacked by external force, unconvulsed by domestic insurrections, assembling voluntarily, deliberating fully, and deciding calmly concerning that system of government under which they would wish that they and their prosperity should live." -- James Wilson, November 26, 1787 in remarks in Pennsylvania ratifying convention.

“The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for.” George Washington in a letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham, July 19, 1791.

In both quotes, if you locate the words “United States,” you will notice that in both cases the word following “United States” does not end with an “s”. This is a significant clue to understanding how the founders viewed the new country. They saw the United States not as a single nationalistic entity, but in the plural, or as a collection of sovereign states united for the purpose of the protection, and the preservation, of the American way of life.

To further illustrate what I mean, let’s use the word “schools” in the place of “United States.” If you were to say “the schools exhibit to the world,” it makes sense that there is more than one school. If you say “the school exhibit to the world,” your first realization is that the phrase uses bad grammar. The proper way to say it would be “the school exhibits to the world.” School is singular in this example, therefore the word following it must contain an “s” at the end of the word in order to be proper grammar.

Once again, if you were to say “The schools enjoy a scene of prosperity,” apparently there are more than one school. If “school” in the singular had been used instead, an “s” would be added to the word “enjoy” to make the phrase grammatically correct. Therefore, it would read, “The school enjoys a scene of prosperity.”

Going back to our quotes, the first quote reads, “. . . the United States exhibit to the world the first instance, as far as we can learn, of a nation. . .” The United States is a nation, the quote says so. However, the fact that “exhibit” has no “s” reveals that Mr. Wilson did not see the United States in the singular, or as a nationalistic entity, but as a nation of states - a federation of states. The United States, in this quote, is in the plural. The United States, then, in this quote, could very well have read “these states that are united,” and it would have meant the same thing.

Mr. Washington’s letter reads, “The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for.” Once again, there is no “s” at the end of the word after “United States,” meaning that Washington was not referring to a single nationalistic entity, but to a collection of sovereign states. As with Mr. Wilson’s quote, George Washington could have written “The States that are united enjoy a scene of prosperity,” and the sentence would have meant the very same thing.

Understanding how the founders viewed the union is important because it reveals much about why, and how, they wrote the United States Constitution. The founding document was not written to create a national government, but to create a federal government with the power to protect the union of individual states. In other words, the Constitution enables a governing body to protect and preserve the union of the States that are united.

After the American Civil War people stopped referring to the United States in the plural.  After the War Between The States it became “The United States Is.”  Those who support a nationalistic United States suggest that it was then that the United States finally became one nation.  The original intent of the Founding Fathers was not for this country to be ruled by a national government  controlling the States.  The individuality of the States creates a condition much like a free market, where the States learn from each others successes and mistakes.  In that way, innovation is given the opportunity to take place, and when the States innovate, they prosper.


Confederation: An association of sovereign member states that, by treaty or other agreement, have delegated some of their powers to a common institution in order to coordinate policies, without constituting a new state on top of the member states.

Democracy: A form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Such a system includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law.

National Government: Any political organization that is put in place to maintain control of a nation

Nationalism: Political ideology which involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms. There are various strands of nationalism. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural or identity group. It can also include the belief that the state is of primary importance, which becomes the unhealthy love of one’s government, accompanied by the aggressive desire to build that governmental system to a point that it is above all else, and becomes the ultimate provider for the public good.

Oligarchy: Government by a few powerful persons, over the many. A state governed by a few persons.

Republicanism: Rule by law through a government system led by representatives and officials voted in by a democratic process. The United States enjoys a Constitutional Republic.

United States are: These States that are united; a group of sovereign member States in America voluntarily united into a republic.

United States is: Nation of the United States containing a number of States similar to provinces ruled over by a centralized federal government.

Questions for Discussion:

1.  The States acted as their own separate entities prior to the Constitution, with no requirements regarding participating in a union.  A group of people called “anti-federalists” feared the new government.  What do you think their fears regarding the new central government were?

2.  What caused the Founding Fathers to realize that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak?

3.  The framers decided against making the United States a democracy because they feared the system deteriorating into an oligarchy.  Why do you think they felt that way?

4.  The participants in the Constitutional Convention held the debates in secret for fear of the public not understanding what was going on.  What do you think they feared the public would believe?

5.  After dividing the power as much as possible, the founders put into place limits, checks and balances.  What were they trying to ensure?

6.  Why do you think Thomas Jefferson believed a revolution would be needed every twenty years?

7.  When considering Jefferson’s comment about the need for a revolution every twenty years, what right would you think he held among his most dear?

8.  The States created the federal government, and granted to the federal government the few powers it has.  Today, many believe that the federal government’s actions trump the States in all cases.  How do you think the Founding Fathers would feel about that?

9.  Why do you think it was so important to the early Americans that the United States was referred to in the plural?

10.  Why was it important to some Americans that after the Civil War the United States be referred to in the singular?

11.  By the United States becoming “is,” how did that open up opportunities for the expansion of the federal government?

12.  How was State sovereignty affected by the change of attitude from “The United States are” to “The United States is?”


Lance Banning, The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic; New York: Cornell University Press (1995).

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States; New York: Sentinel (2004).

The Debates in the Convention of the State of Pennsylvania, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Philadelphia, Tuesday, November 20, 1787, P.M.:

It Took 180 Years, American Christian Heritage, July 22, 2010:,

Ronald Reagan once so wisely said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Or in John Wayne's words to the little boy, Ham-Chunk, at the end of the 1968 movie, The Green Berets, "You are what this is all about."

Copyright: Douglas V. Gibbs, 2014

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