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QUESTION: 1. What political concerns shaped the first constitutions?

2. What challenges did the West pose for the new republic?

3. How did the Revolution alter American society?

4. What short-term crises precipitated the Constitutional Convention, and what were the main points of debate at that meeting?

ANSWER: 1. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "first constitutions."  In the US context, there is only one federal Constitution.  Perhaps you are referring to the State Constitutions which were implemented shortly after the States declared independence.  These constitutions varied greatly, but they tended to focus on power for an elected legislature and the protection of what were deemed as inalienable rights.

2. The West was an issue because various States had conflicting land claims in these areas.  It was unclear who would get to settle them.  There were also land claims by Spain, France and Britain on many of these lands. There were also Native Americans living in these lands who were potentially hostile to US expansion.

3. The Revolution's most obvious impact was in freeing Americans from British control, allowing Americans to set their own destiny.  The principles of the revolution tended to promote republican ideal and the protection of basic rights for all.

3. The main crisis that prompted the Constitutional Convention was Shays Rebellion, where farmers in Massachusetts used violence to prevent the collection of taxes nad debts.  National leaders came to the opinion that a strong federal government was needed to prevent the country from descending into anarchy.  There were many points debated at the Convention, but some of the main issues where whether States would receive proportional representation, whether an executive should be given power, and exactly what powers should be given to the federal government vs. the States.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: 1. What were Lincoln's and Andrew Johnson's approaches to Reconstruction, and why did Congress reject Johnson's approach?

2. What was Congress's approach to Reconstruction, and why did it not include a provision for giving land to former slaves?

3. What roles did African Americans, southern whites, and northern whites play in the Reconstruction governments of the South?

4. In what ways were the church and the school central to African American hopes after the Civil War?

5. What factors in the North and the South led the federal government to abandon Reconstruction in the South?

Answer
1. Lincoln and Johnson were both generally of the opinion that once hostilities had ended the north should treat the defeated south as fairly as possible so that the southern States could return to become a full part of the Union once again.  Doing otherwise, it was feared, would make the north a military dictatorship over the south and perhaps eventually lead to a second rebellion.

Congress, dominated by radical Republicans, rejected this approach.  They viewed the south as at fault for starting the war, which caused so much death and destruction.  Many also thought they should be punished for the immorality of slavery that had led to the war.  President Johnson, who was a southern Democrat from Tennessee was seen as a man of suspect loyalties to the northern cause.

2. Congress generally wanted to use Reconstruction to punish the southern Whites, and to keep them weak and impoverished so that they could not rise up again against the north.  Many also wanted to empower the former slaves of the south so that they could become full citizens, and also support the Republican cause.  Former slaves received financial assistance and education.  There were discussions about providing land to the slaves.  But that would have meant mass confiscation of land from the current land owners.  Doing so would violate the Constitutions protection of property rights.

3. Southern States were originally governed by military dictatorship.  But there was an attempt to install elected governments.  Most white southerners had lost the right to vote because of their role in the rebellion.  Some white northerners came down south to run for office.  There were also a number of former slaves elected to office as well.

4. Schools were especially important to African Americans to help them learn what they needed to know to live as free and independent citizens.  Churches served as organizational centers for them (in addition to providing religious needs).  Whites were hostile to political organization by blacks, but generally could not object to religious meetings.

5. For national healing to continue, the south needed to regain its full political power.  It could not be suppressed indefinitely.  The immediate reason was that a Democrat had appeared to win the Presidency in 1876.  The Republican cut a deal with southern Democrats to end Reconstruction if they would allow the Republican candidate to take the Presidency.  

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Michael Troy

Expertise

I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.

Experience

I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.

Publications
http://unlearnedhistory.blogspot.com

Education/Credentials
J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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