The Establishment of New Political Systems (1787–1800) for AP US History

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Updated on Mar 4, 2011

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The Establishment of New Political Systems (1787–1800) Review Questions AP US History

Summary: In 1787 the Articles of Confederation were discarded and the Constitution of the United States was created, establishing a stronger federal government. The Constitution established a bicameral legislature, three branches of government, and the division of power between the states and the federal government. The Bill of Rights also established many basic freedoms central to the identity of the United States. During the presidency of George Washington, different visions of America were expressed by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.


Virginia Plan: during debate over the Constitution, the plan proposing a bicameral legislature with representatives determined by proportional representation.

New Jersey Plan: during debate over the Constitution, the plan proposing one legislative body for the country, with each state having one vote.

Great Compromise: Connecticut plan that stated that one house of the Congress would be based on population (the House of Representatives) while in the other house all states would have equal representation (the Senate).

Electoral College: procedure for electing the president and vice-president of the United States as outlined in the Constitution; electors from each state, and not the popular vote, ultimately elect the president.

Three-Fifths Compromise: as the Constitution was being created, the plan that stated that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a free person; this was used to determine eventual membership in the House of Representatives.

Federalists: party in the first years of the republic that favored a larger national government; was supported by commercial interests. Federalists were opposed by Jeffersonians, who wanted a smaller national government.

Alien and Sedition Acts: proposed by President John Adams, gave the president power to expel "dangerous" aliens and outlawed "scandalous" publications against the government.

Desire for a Stronger Central Government

Many Americans viewed the flaws of the national government established by the Articles of Confederation with dismay. As Alexander Hamilton stated, the American Revolution had taught those living in the former colonies to think "continentally"; yet the government in existence did not foster continental thought or action. To many, a stronger national government was a necessity.

In 1787, delegates from the 13 states went to Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. Many of the great men of the age were present at this meeting, including Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were both in Europe during this convention.) Debates quickly turned away from reforming the Articles of Confederation to creating a new national government. Most delegates believed that the central government had to be much stronger, with the ability to raise an army, collect taxes, and regulate commerce.

However, some delegates at the convention had doubts about how strong a new central government should actually be. They feared that too much power might fall into the hands of a small group, who would use it to their own advantage. In addition, small states and large states had very different ideas about how representation in a new national legislature should be determined. Smaller states favored the model provided by the Articles of Confederation with one vote per state; larger states proposed that population determine representation. In addition, Southern and Northern states began to view each other suspiciously. Debates also took place over the future relationship of the national government to the various state governments.

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