In the wake of the American Revolution and the Constitutional crisis, two different ideas of America came about. Two competing groups looked to form and establish the kind of America they wanted. Democracy played a major role in the ideation for both sides. They were looking for the sort of government where the people could have the power, and even though early America was not as inclusive as some might want to believe, there was an attempt to limit the power of the ruling class by giving voting power to the masses.
One idea of America emerged that would concentrate significant power in the hands of the central government. This was built on the assumption that the more powerful ruling classes should retain the bulk of political power in society. At the heart of this was a difficult contradiction. America had fought for freedom from the British crown, and in doing so, it had fought for the power to define itself by something other than the political aristocracy. However, over time, the Constitutional crisis brought to bear the truth that America might have been trading in one system of upper-class oppression for another. There were arguments about giving the full vested democratic power only to those who owned property, and thus, providing for a system that could be just as abusive as the one the colonists fought to get out from under. Many questions came about as the new Americans attempted to put together a fair government. Questions of representation, of apportionment, and even of how many people would represent the executive branch were all critical in the debate over the power elite property owners would have in the new nation.
Another idea of America was fearful of centralized power. Those who opposed the nationalists were fearful that the country would turn into another version of what they had just fought against. These people argued for more state power, including the power of the states to dictate on matters of the judiciary. There was a basic fearfulness of many of the institutions of centralized power, including the upper house of congress and a large military. The assumption behind this idea of America was that the country did not have to be one, but rather, it could be many small states doing as they chose while also having some nationalistic principles that protected it from harm. This was a less practical means of looking at government, but it was also one designed to actually hand more of the power to the people. In the end, though, it did not include the fundamental elements needed to sustain government over the long run.
There were many consequences to viewing America in these stark terms and different ideals. In some ways, the debate over the function of government still rages, and it drove a wedge between the states, leading to a national lifetime of conflict. Some still see the federal government as being too powerful and even oppressive. By creating these two poles, it was possible the crisis de-legitimized government in the first place, leaving people questioning the power of government and just what authority it actually had to regulate elements of their lives. This has continued into the modern era, as even the political parties are still quite split on the question of just how much the federal government should intervene in the affairs of the states. In real life terms, this has simply created a less workable and functioning government, since a major faction of American politics believes that the government should have a very limited role while another wants the government to have a broader role.
- Dellinger, Walter E. “The Recurring Question of the” Limited” Constitutional Convention.” The Yale Law Journal 88.8 (1979): 1623-1640.
- Ketcham, Ralph. The Anti-federalist papers and the constitutional convention debates. Penguin, 2003.