SS8H4 The student will describe the impact of events that led to the ratification of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. While Georgia played a relatively minor role during the American Revolution, it can be argued that Georgians were instrumental during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In fact, their involvement shaped both the Constitution and the nation’s history. The Delegates’ ardent support of the institution of slavery led to the Three-Fifths’ Compromise which set the stage for future conflict between the Northern and Southern states. In turn, the vote of one Georgian, Abraham Baldwin, led to the Great Compromise which brought the large states and small states together concerning legislative representation. This agreement paved the way for the bicameral legislative branch of our government. Finally, the writings of one Georgia delegate, William Pierce, have offered historians a contemporary and candid view of the “Founding Fathers.” Though Pierce did not sign the U.S. Constitution, his contributions to our knowledge about those who did is invaluable.
a. Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both the Georgia Constitution of 1777 and the Articles of Confederation and explain how weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation led to a need to revise the Articles.
Articles of Confederation
America’s first written constitution was not the Constitution that we have today but another document called the Articles of Confederation (AOC). The AOC, which was America’s constitution from 1776-1789, provided Americans with an extremely weak central government. This was based on the Americans’ experience with Britain’s monarchy and their goal to give as much power as they could to the “people” through the autonomy of the states. Nevertheless, the AOC had too many limitations that hindered the smooth functioning of the government.
Some of the powers the national government had under the AOC:
Strengths included setting up a republican form of Government where citizens elect people to represent them, and establishing self-government under a written document.
Other powers included declaring war, Coin money, Establish post offices, Send and recall Ambassadors.
Some of the powers the national government did not have under the AOC:
- Congress could not Levy (impose) taxes to fund the government (had to ask states for support). Left country unable to pay debts or soldiers.
- Could not regulate the trade of goods between the states (states could put tariffs on each other). Created tariff squabbles to paralyze interstate commerce
- Congress could make laws, but not force states to comply with them. All 13 states had to agree to a law.
- A strong legislative branch and no executive or judicial branches. Each state had its own currency,
- One vote per state no matter the size of the state’s population.
- Congress could not raise an army without the states' permission, leaving nation defenseless.
Georgia Constitution of 1777
The Georgia Constitution of 1777 was a document similar to the Articles of Confederation. It was based on the idealistic principals of the Declaration of Independence and was not a constitution capable of meeting the realistic needs of governing a state. Though this constitution had three branches of government, most of the power was held by the unicameral legislative branch. One of the legislative branch’s powers was the ability to appoint members of both the judicial and executive branch; including the state governor. The governor, in turn, had very little power and a term limit of only one year. Though this constitution offered the citizens of Georgia many freedoms such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and trial by jury, Georgians were not given the opportunity to ratify it. Nonetheless, with all of these weaknesses, the Georgia Constitution of 1777 was the state’s constitution for 12 years. Georgia’s second constitution, the Constitution of 1789, was changed to model the U.S. Constitution.
- Separation of government branches
- protection of basic rights
- too much power in the hands of the legislature (elected governor, his council, all state officials)
- one house legislature (no check on its power)
- one-year term of governor (limited effectiveness)
- constitution not ratified by a vote of the people so it doesn't fully represent their interest
b. Describe the role of Georgia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787; include the role of Abraham Baldwin and William Few, and reasons why Georgia ratified the new constitution.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787
In 1787, the founders realized that the Articles of Confederation were far too weak to effectively govern the country, especially with the continual threat of attack from the European powers and the Native American tribes. In addition, states were constantly bickering about land and sea rights and in some cases almost coming to blows due to their disagreements. Since the national government could not raise revenue to support itself, it could not maintain an Army and Navy or build roads and canals. Due to the fact that all 13 states had to agree on any legislation, the United States government had a difficult time passing laws. Finally, there was no “separation of powers,” as the government under the AOC did not have an executive or judicial branch. Due these weaknesses, many of the nation’s most important leaders, including Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, knew that they had to change or even completely discard the AOC and create a new constitution. In May 1787, representatives from all 13 states meet in Philadelphia to do just that. While most went into the proceedings hoping to revamp the AOC, when they departed, they had created a new constitution that has been the law of the land for over 200 years. Though there were several important people, events, and compromises that occurred during the Constitutional Convention the most important were the Three-fifths Compromise, a compromise agreed upon by the North and the South which allowed for slaves to count toward a state’s overall population by counting slaves as “3/5 of a person,” and the Great Compromise which created a bicameral legislature where each state had two members in the Senate but representation in the House of Representatives was based on the state’s population.
Georgia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787
Georgians played two important roles during the Constitutional Convention. The first was due to their unrelenting support of slavery. Based on the united stance of the southern delegates, including the delegates from Georgia, in favor of allowing states to include slaves in their population count, the members of the Constitutional Convention agreed upon the Three-fifths Compromise. While this provided a temporary resolution to a slavery issue, it was the beginning of a great and lasting divide between the North and the South that would later lead to war. The second important contribution was from Abraham Baldwin. He is given credit for changing his vote to side with the “small states” in the Congressional representation debate. This decision evened the numbers for and against the Virginia Plan and allowed for the Great Compromise. Baldwin claimed that this act was one of his greatest accomplishments.
Why Georgia ratified the New Constitution.
Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on January 2, 1788. Georgians desired a strong government to protect them for the Native Americans and the Spanish who had regained control of Florida in 1783. People of Georgia hoped and stronger centralized government would improve trade regulations.
Abraham Baldwin (1754-1807) was a native of Connecticut. A graduate of Theology from Yale University, Baldwin served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army during the American Revolution. After the war, he became a lawyer. Baldwin moved to Georgia in 1784 where he became a successful politician. In 1787, he was one of four Georgians sent to the Constitutional Convention and one of two who signed the document. Starting in 1789, Baldwin served 5 terms as a U.S. Congressman and later two terms as a U.S. Senator. He died in office in 1807. However, Baldwin is probably most famous for his role in the creation of the University of Georgia and his position as the University’s first president (1786-1801). Due to Baldwin’s influence, it has been said that many of the early building on the campus of the University of Georgia were modeled after buildings found at his alma mater Yale.
William Few, Jr. (1748-1828) was a soldier, signer of the U.S. Constitution, judge, and legislator for two states.Born in North Carolina, Few’s family moved to Georgia in the mid-1770’s. Few fought in the American Revolution, served as a state legislator, and was appointed as one of Georgia’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention. Though he did not make much of an impression during the proceedings, following the Convention, he had a successful political and private career in two states. When he lived in Georgia, he served as one of the state’s senators, a state representative, and as a judge. In 1799, due to the urging of his wife who was a native New Yorker, he moved to New York City where he became a member of the New York legislature for four years as well as a bank president. Few lived the remainder of his life in New York. Interestingly, in 1976, to honor the nation’s bicentennial, Few’s remains were moved back to Georgia.