Critical Period and Constitutional Convention (Unit 1)

Forming a National Government

Unit 1 Presentation Critical Period and Constitutional Convention

In 1783, the 13 colonies became the United States. Before the war ended, the colonies had developed the Articles of Confederation, a plan to work together as one nation, but the connections among the 13 states were loose.

Each state had its own money, army, and navy. Each state traded and worked directly with other countries. Each state collected taxes in its own way. Each state believed its way was the right way.

It was a nation of 13 countries.

Alexander Hamilton from New York believed that the 13 states needed to rethink the Confederation. He and others suggested a large meeting to do this.

In May 1787, 55 delegates met in Philadelphia. They knew about history, law, and political theory. They understood colonial and state government. Most did not think the Articles of Confederation worked very well. They proposed a constitution describing a new form of government based on separate legislative, executive, and judicial authorities.

The delegates did not agree on all the details. Many delegates wanted a strong national government that would limit a state’s rights. Others believed that a weak national government was better. They wanted the states to have more power.

Some delegates wanted fewer people to have the right to vote; they believed that most peoplelacked the education to make good decisions. Delegates from small states wanted each state to have equal representation in the new Congress. Delegates from big states demanded that their states have more influence.

Some delegates from states where slavery was illegal or not widely used wanted slavery to beunlawful throughout the nation. Delegates from states where slave labor was important refused. Some delegates wanted the newly settled lands to the West to be states. Others disagreed. The delegates debated four months before reaching a compromise.

The Constitution provided the framework for the new government. The national government could create money, impose taxes, deal with for- eign countries, keep an army, create a postal system, and wage war. To keep the government from becoming too strong, the U.S. Constitution divided it into three equal parts—a legislature (Congress), an executive (president), and a judi- cial system (Supreme Court). Each part worked to make sure the other parts did not take power that belonged to the others.

On September 17, 1787, most of the delegates signed the new Constitution. They agreed the Constitution would become the law of the United States when nine of the 13 states ratified, or accepted, it.

It took about a year to ratify the Constitution. The country was divided into two groups. The Federalists wanted a strong central government. They supported the Constitution. The anti-Federalists wanted a loose group of states. They feared that a strong central government would become tyrannical. They were against the Constitution.

After it was accepted, some Americans said the Constitution did not list the rights of individuals. When the first U.S. Congress met in New York City in September 1789, the delegates proposed a number of amendments to the Constitution to list these rights. They added 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment promises freedom of speech, press, and religion, and the right to protest, meet peacefully, and demand changes. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and arrest. The Fifth Amendment promises due process of law in criminal cases. Since the Bill of Rights, only 17 amendments have been added to the Constitution in more than 200 years.


1. Where did the delegates meet to discuss the new national government?

A. New York
B. Philadelphia
C. Boston

2. What is the document that contains the system of government of the United States?

A. Declaration of Independence
B. Common Sense
C. The Constitution

3. What are the three branches of government?

A. Congress, president, and a court system
B. Military, a court system, and president
C. Tax office, Congress, and president

U.S.A. History in Brief, U.S. Department of State, 2010

Outline of US Government, U.S. Department of State, 2013

Unit 1 Kahoot (Teacher Link)