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Establishing a New Nation: 1783-1792



After declaring independence from British rule in 1776, the Founding Fathers quickly set about forming a government for their new nation. Wary of a powerful central government like Britain's, which imposed a tyrannical rule on the colonies, the Second Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation. A weak federal government would loosely connect the 13 sovereign states. However, the federal government under the articles was ineffective. Therefore, delegates once again met in Philadelphia to discuss the best form of government for the nation. Rather than revise the Articles of Confederation, they started over and wrote the Constitution of the United States. The first political split in the new government showed itself as Federalists and Anti-Federalists debated ratification. Nevertheless, by 1788 the Constitution was the supreme law of the land.

At A Glance

  • The Articles of Confederation were written by Founding Fathers who were leery of a strong central government. The articles established a loose confederation of states that held power over a weak federal government.
  • The Articles of Confederation failed because of the weaknesses inherent in a central government with no power.
  • Disagreements between the framers of the Constitution led to debates and compromises regarding fair representation for each state in the federal government.
  • Delegates disagreed about how—or whether—to count enslaved persons in calculating Congressional representation.
  • The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution at the urging of Anti-Federalists, who feared a strong federal government would take away rights from individuals and states.
  • The Constitution establishes the separation of powers between three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—and outlines checks and balances that prevent any one branch of government from exercising too much power.
  • The Constitution establishes the federal government as the supreme authority in the United States, as well as outlining federal, state, and concurrent powers.
  • Popular sovereignty, republicanism, and limited government were guiding principles for the framers of the Constitution.
  • Following ratification of the Constitution, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist political parties emerged with radically differing ideas about the role of the federal government.