Exam preparation materials

The Constitution and the Federalists, 1787-1800

Things to Know

1. The Constitution: major compromises of the Constitutional Convention — representation, slavery, election of the President; principles embodied in the Constitution — separation of power and checks and balances; ratification — Federalists vs. Antifederalists; amendments to the Constitution.

2. Washington as President: development of the Cabinet; economic problems facing the early Republic and Hamilton’s response; relations with Great Britain and France.

3. Rise of political parties: election of John Adams; issues that led to Republican opposition; relations with France and the Alien and Sedition Acts and Republican response; Jefferson and the “Revolution of 1800.”

The Structure of Government under the Constitution

Article I: Legislative Branch (Congress)

House of Representatives: Members elected for two-year terms; number of representatives for each state based on population; all revenue bills originate in the House.

Senate: Two senators from each state, chosen by state legislatures; serve six-year term; Vice President is President of the Senate and votes only in the event of tie; tries all impeachment cases; ratifies treaties and confirms appointments.

The President’s veto of a law passed by Congress can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Principal powers of Congress (enumerated powers): Collect taxes; regulate foreign and interstate commerce; coin money; establish post offices and post roads; declare war; raise and support army and navy; make all laws necessary to carry out above (“necessary and proper” clause).

Limitations on Congress: Cannot prohibit importation of slaves prior to 1808; cannot suspend the writ of habeas corpus; cannot enact bill of attainder or ex post facto law.

Article II: Executive Branch (President and Vice President)

President: Elected for four-year term: elected by electors from each state; the candidate who receives second highest total votes becomes Vice President.

Powers of the President: Commander-in-chief of army, navy, and state militia; make treaties and appointments of ambassadors, executive departments, and Supreme Court with “advice and consent of the Senate.”

Article III: Judicial Branch (Supreme Court)

Supreme Court established; Congress given authority to create inferior courts; Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in cases involving ambassadors and the states; in all other cases, the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction; trial by jury is provided for, and treason is defined.

Article IV: Relations with States

Position of states and territories; each state will give “full faith and credit” to acts and court actions of the states; privileges and immunities of citizens in the states; fugitive slave provision: Congress shall control territories and admit new states; government to protect states from foreign invasion or domestic violence.

Article V: Amendment Process

Amendments proposed by two-thirds vote of Congress or application by two-thirds of state legislatures; amendments ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Article VI: Supremacy Clause

The Constitution, laws passed by Congress, and treaties entered into by the United States supreme law of land; no religious test for holding office.

Article VII: Ratification of Constitution

Ratification of Constitution requires nine of the thirteen states.

Amendments to the Constitution

Amendment I (1791): Freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; right of petition.

Amendment II (1791): Right to bear arms (militia).

Amendment III (1791): Limit on quartering of troops.

Amendment IV (1791): Protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Amendment V (1791): Due process; double jeopardy; self-incrimination.

Amendment VI (1791): Right to speedy trial.

Amendment VII (1791): Trial by jury in civil cases.

Amendment VIII (1791): No excessive bail or fine; no cruel or unusual punishment.

Amendment IX (1791): People retain rights.

Amendment X (1791): Powers not delegated to United States to states or people.

Amendment XI (1798): States cannot be sued by individuals.

Amendment XII (1804): Electoral College.

Amendment XIII (1865): Abolition of slavery.

Amendment XIV (1868): Equal protection under the law.

Amendment XV (1870): Right to vote guaranteed irrespective of race, color, or former condition of slavery.

Amendment XVI (1913): Income tax.

Amendment XVII (1913): Direct election of senators.

Amendment XVIII (1919): Prohibition.

Amendment XIX (1920): Women gain right to vote.

Amendment XX (1933): End to lame-duck session of Congress; change in when President and Congress take office.

Amendment XXI (1933): Repeal of prohibition.

Amendment XXII (1951): Two-term limit for President.

Amendment XXIII (1961): Voting for President in District of Columbia.

Amendment XXIV (1964): Abolition of poll tax in national elections.

Amendment XXV (1967): Presidential succession.

Amendment XXVI (1971): Lower voting age to eighteen.

Amendment XXVII (1992): Congressional salaries.

Key Terms and Concepts

Virginia Plan

New Jersey Plan

Connecticut Compromise

3/5 Compromise




Federalist Papers

Alexander Hamilton

John Jay

James Madison

Bill of Rights

Judiciary Act of 1789

Executive departments — State, Treasury, War, Attorney General

Bank of the United States

strict/loose construction

protective tariff

Whiskey Rebellion


Citizen Genêt

Jay’s Treaty

Pinckney’s Treaty

XYZ Affair

John Adams


Alien and Sedition Acts

Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

Aaron Burr

election of 1800

Important Definitions

Antifederalists: Opposed to a strong central government; saw undemocratic tendencies in the Constitution and insisted on the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. Included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry.

checks and balances: System embodied in the Constitution through which the power of each branch of government is limited by the other; the President’s authority to veto legislation and Congress's power to override that veto are examples.

Compact theory of government: The idea that the Constitution was a compact of sovereign states, and when the government exceeded its limited powers, the states had the right to take action. This idea is reflected in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.

enumerated powers: Powers specifically given to Congress in the Constitution; including the power to collect taxes, coin money, regulate foreign and interstate commerce, and declare war.

Federalists: Supporters of a strong central government; stressed the importance of maintaining the social order and the rights of property. Included George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

loose construction: Constitution is broadly interpreted, recognizing that it could not possibly anticipate all future developments; relies on idea of implied powers and the “necessary and proper” clause. Both views on how to interpret the Constitution came up during the debate on chartering the Bank of the United States.

protective tariff: A tax on goods imported into the country that is intended to protect manufacturing and industry from foreign competition.

separation of powers: The structure of the government provided for in the Constitution where authority is divided between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches; idea comes from Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws.

strict construction: Constitution is narrowly interpreted to give the federal government only those powers specifically delegated to it.

supremacy clause: The Constitution, treaties entered into by the United States, and laws passed by Congress are superior to state laws.

Readings on the Constitution and the Federalists

Appleby, Joyce. Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (1984).

Beard. Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913).

Collier, Christopher and James Collier. Decision in Philadelphia (1986).

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Nation Takes Shape, 1789-1837 (1959).

Main, Jackson T. The Anti-Federalists (1961).

Miller, John C. The Federalist Era, 1789-1800 (1960).

Morris, Richard. Witnesses at the Creation: Hamilton, Madison, Jay and the Constitution (1985).

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