Creating the Bill of Rights
Amending the federal Constitution to include a bill of rights was the essential political compromise in the creation of the United States government. Even though Federalists believed that individual rights were fully protected by state and common law, they knew that Anti-Federalists would never embrace the new Constitution until amendments protecting specific rights were adopted.
Therefore, in 1789 Congress passed proposed amendments to the Constitution as one of its first orders of business. Viewed as unnecessary by many and a mere diversion by others, the first ten amendments, which are known as the “Bill of Rights,” became the bedrock of individual rights and liberties.
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Forging a Federal Government
The new federal Congress that assembled in New York in the spring of 1789 and the newly inaugurated president, George Washington, faced enormous tasks. An entire government had to be created in the aftermath of a bitter national battle for ratification of the new federal Constitution. All administrative offices and the military forces had to be created and organized. All federal officers had to be appointed. A federal judiciary had to be created and staffed. Opposition to the new federal Constitution had to be defused. Inventiveness, cooperation, and compromise were the governing principles in these Herculean endeavors.
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In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.
James Madison, Federalist No. 10, November 23, 1787
Demand for a Bill of Rights
Almost immediately after beginning to meet in 1789, the first Congress, led by James Madison, began to consider amendments to the Constitution proposed by the state ratifying conventions. George Washington and Madison had personally pledged to consider amendments because they realized that some amendments would be necessary to reduce pressure for a second constitutional convention that might drastically alter and weaken the new federal government. Fastening on Anti-Federalist criticisms that the Constitution lacked a clear articulation of guaranteed rights, Madison proposed amendments that emphasized the rights of individuals rather than the rights of states， an ingenious move that led to cries that these amendments—now known as the “Bill of Rights”—were a mere diversion.
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I will now add what I do not like. First the omission of a bill of rights. . . .
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787
Formation of Political Parties
Political factions or parties began to form during the struggle over ratification of the federal Constitution of 1787. Friction between them increased as attention shifted from the creation of a new federal government to the question of how powerful that federal government would be. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, advocated states’ rights instead of centralized power. Federalists coalesced around the commercial sector of the country while their opponents drew their strength from those favoring an agrarian society. The ensuing partisan battles led George Washington to warn of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address as president of United States.
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Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
Election of 1800
In the election of 1800, the Federalist incumbent John Adams ran against the rising Republican Thomas Jefferson. The extremely partisan and outright nasty campaign failed to provide a clear winner because of a constitutional quirk. Presidential electors were required to vote for two people for the offices of president and vice-president. The individual receiving the highest number of votes would become president. Unfortunately， Jefferson and his vice-presidential running mate Aaron Burr both received the identical number of electoral votes, and the House of Representatives voted to break the tie. When Adams’s Federalists attempted to keep Jefferson from the presidency, the stage was set for the first critical constitutional crisis of the new American federal republic.
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The storm is over, and we are in port.
Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Adams, March 29, 1801
Amidst threats of violence and fears of national dissolution, Congress met in February 1801 to resolve the fiercely contested election of 1800. Federalists and Republicans argued over how best to implement the new federal Constitution, but both parties accepted the Constitution as the framework in which to settle the dispute. With Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson tied, the decision rested with the House of Representatives. The political parties, which had just brought the nation to the verge of disaster, now served as the instruments to mediate a political solution that ultimately elected Jefferson as president. In his inaugural address Jefferson sought to alleviate national fears by making his now-famous unifying declaration: “We are all republicans. We are all federalists.”
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But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans. We are all federalists.
Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
Bill of Rights Legacy
The strength of these rights and freedoms depends on how firmly they stand in the hearts of our citizens.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2008