Orientation and Getting Started
The Creation of the Constitution
The Road to Philadelphia
Slavery and the Constitution
The Presidency
The Federal Judiciary
Some Other Important Details
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Scrapping the Confederation

A Government to “operate on individuals”

George Mason suggested another feature that made a national constitution preferable to federal forms. The Articles of Confederation had not provided any way of punishing “delinquent states,” and it was in the nature of federal forms that coercion was meted out to states as political bodies rather than the individuals composing them. That was their problem. The new Constitution, the national one, would have to empower the central government to “operate on individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it.” Mason’s distinction was another point of contention that would persist between those advocating for a more federal form of government and those who wanted a strong national one. But on this day, the nationalists were victorious. When they voted on the question of establishing a national government that would have a supreme legislative, executive, and judiciary, the proposition was passed overwhelmingly. Out of eight states, only Connecticut voted no, and New York was divided.  

Federal Retrenchment 

But over the course of the ensuing months of debate, some delegates would have lingering or renewed doubts about this question. A few days after this vote, John Dickinson of Delaware (who was generally a moderate on this issue) declared that he “had no idea of abolishing the state governments, as some gentlemen seemed inclined to do. The happiness of this country, in his opinion, required considerable powers to be left in the hands of the states.” On June 9, James Paterson of New Jersey (who was among those who remained very protective of states’ rights, especially the prerogatives of the small states) once again accused the Convention of exceeding its authority. Congress and the states had authorized “the amendment of the Confederacy,” not its total abolition. He was sure that “the idea of a national government, as contradistinguished from a federal one, never entered into the mind of any of them.” He warned the rest of the delegates that if they pursued the course outlined in the Virginia Plan, he “would not only oppose the plan here but on his return home do every thing in his power to defeat it there.” Yet in spite of these recurring protestations, the arguments and the votes during these first three weeks of the Convention generally seemed to favor the more “nationalist” point of view.