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This publication is created to be a source of information and inspiration for teachers as they incorporate Library of Congress digitized primary sources and resources into instruction by Teaching with Primary Sources at Eastern Illinois University.
The first Continental Congress convened on September 5, 1774 in Philadelphia. Delegates from every colony except Georgia attended. This Congress created the first Constitution of the United States known as the Articles of Confederation. The Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777.1 The Articles lacked a strong federal government which lead to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
When the Constitutional Convention began, delegates chose to replace rather than revise the Articles of Confederation.2 The delegates held their session in secret and no visitors or reporters were permitted.3 This convention had a great deal to evaluate including taxes, representation, procedures to elect a president and slavery. Arguments, debates and compromise dominated the sessions for the next four months.4
Many state delegates came up with their own plans on how a new government should work. Governor of Virginia Edmund Randolph began the debate with the Virginia Plan. In this plan, the government had three branches with each branch structured to check the others.3 The government had veto power of laws enacted by state legislators.3 For days the delegates discussed the Virginia Plan with the main conflict being the distinction between federal and state government.3
Delegates opposing the Virginia Plan rallied around a plan proposed by William Paterson, a New Jersey delegate. The New Jersey resolutions called for only revisions of the articles to allow Congress the ability to raise revenue and regulate commerce.3 It provided that acts of Congress and ratified treaties be "the supreme law of the states."3 The New Jersey plan was debated briefly and brought to a vote where it was defeated.
Alexander Hamilton proposed a plan that many believed went too far. Hamilton call the British Government "the best in the world."3 His plan resembled a monarch, with a president who served for live and had veto power over all laws. Members of the Senate served for as long as they maintained good behavior and the legislature had the power to pass "all laws whatsoever."3
After months of debate, a first draft of the Constitution was accepted on August 6, 1787.3 With this first draft debates continued between delegates who were exhausted and ready to return home, so compromises came more quickly.3 After a final vote on the Constitution, it was sent to the states, nine states were needed for success and Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution. New Hampshire became the ninth state on June 21, 1788, nine months after the process began.4 The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 establishing the government we know today.4 The United States Constitution is the world's oldest written Constitution.4
Connecting to Illinois
Illinois' first Constitution was adopted in 1818 in Kaskaska.5 This constitution was written quickly so Illinois could obtain statehood. It soon became inadequate for a rapidly growing state and a new constitution was needed.6 On June 7, 1847, delegates assembled to change the Illinois States Constitution.7 They adjourned on August 31, 1847 with a constitution ready to be submitted to voters. in 1848, a special election was held and the Constitution was ratified by a majority of almost four to one. This constitution expanded the powers of the executive branch and broadened the states ability to amend the Constitution.7 The judicial branch was formally organized recognizing the system of courts created by the General Assembly.7 The process of voting was changed from a voice vote to a ballot vote, restricted to white males over 21 who resided in Illinois for a minimum of one year.7
Not every Constitutional Convention produced a constitution that would be ratified. In 1861, the convention tried to make corrections to the 1848 Constitution concerning elected state officer's salaries and a need for the General Assembly to spend more time on public laws than private or special laws.7 Voters believed that delegates were not supportive of the Union and the proposed constitution became known as the "Copperhead Constitution."7 Voters rejected the proposed constitution by a margin of 24,515.7
November 1868, Illinois voters called for another Constitutional Convention. The problems from the 1861 convention were addressed. This new constitution was submitted in a special election to avoid negative votes by those uninterested in the Constitution.7 Few participated, but the Constitution was approved in two parts to voters.7 The first part included sections with unanimous approval by the delegates, the second held issues that were controversial.
The issue of property tax assessment, rates and classifications prompted a call for a Constitutional Convention. Additional issues included woman suffrage, citizen's initiative to amend the Constitution and elimination of cumulative voting for members of the Illinois House.7 A new constitution was submitted to voters in December 1922 but the proposal failed miserably with only 185,298 votes for and 921,398 against.7
The State of Illinois operated on a constitution nearly 100 years old by the time the 1968 convention convened. The 1870 Constitution was outdated and didn't fit the needs of 20th Century Illinois. In the new proposal, municipalities with populations over 25,000 were granted expanded power to self-govern.7 Revenue and finance articles authorized the state to impose an income tax.7 The governor was granted broader powers and the Education Articles were re-written.7 This Constitution was ratified in 1970, and is the Constitution the State of Illinois follows today.
Places to Go Primary Sources to See
The Vandalia Statehouse The Fourth Illinois Statehouse, served as the capitol form 1836 until 1839 and is the oldest surviving capitol building in the state. The first (1818-1820) was at Kaskaskia, the state's first capitol. The second (1820-1823, third (1824-1836, and fourth (1836-1839) were at Vandalia. The fifth (1839-1876) is in Springfield and is preserved as the Old State Capitol State Historic Site. The sixth is the current capitol (1876-present) in Springfield. Located in the center of a city block in downtown Vandalia, the State House is a two-story structure of painted brick. Visitors are offered guided tours through the building or can view the historically furnished rooms on their own. Informational signs describing each room are located in the hall. A small exhibit in the first floor hall outlines Abraham Lincoln's connection with the State House. From May through September, interpreters are in 1830s period dress Thursday through Sunday.
Toeing the Mark
Considered the highest law in the United States, the Constitution played an important role in the Civil War. Secession, slavery, state's rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus were all held up to interpretation of the Constitution. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, South Carolina seceded from the Union followed by 10 other states but was secession legal? This argument exists even today. The answer could depend on whether the United States is a sovereign nation or a group of sovereign states.8 Lincoln warned the South in his Inaugural Address, "In your hands my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."9 These words show Lincoln's belief that secession was illegal. The southern states interpreted the Constitution as a contract between sovereign states and if a state was unhappy their people could vote to succeed.10
Slavery was an issue that evoked heated debates in the creation of the United States Constitution and beyond. The Constitution proposed by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention included provisions to protect slavery.11 Without these provisions the southern states wouldn't support the Constitution and there would be no chance of ratification.11 The South's view was that the Constitution had nothing to do with the institution of slavery which they believed to be a property issue. On December 18, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery was ratified by the states and the amendment adopted.11
The question of who is to have more power the state or federal government was hotly debated. The job of the Constitutional Convention was to expand powers of the federal government. Southerners felt this expansion stripped states of rights and could cripple their economy. The power to administer tariffs on imported goods would hurt the south who heavily relied on imported materials. The compromise was the 10th Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.: The Confederacy felt so strongly about state rights that they put it in the Preamble to the Confederate Constitution.
Article One, Section nine, Cause Two of the U.S. Constitution states "The privilege of Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it."13 On September 24, 1862, President Lincoln issued a proclamation suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus. He suspended this writ to apprehend Confederate spies and sympathizers who performed acts of disloyalty against the government.12 Acts could include interfering with the military enlistment, resisting the draft and speaking against the war or government.12 The proclamation meant that suspects could be arrested, held without being charged and tried and punished by military courts rather than by a jury.12 Many people claim the Constitution doesn't give the power to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus to the president but instead gives the right to Congress. Congress didn't act on President Lincoln's proclamations until March 3, 1863, allowing Lincoln's suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus to stand.14
When the South Seceded, the Confederate states created their own constitution very similar to the United States Constitution. The major difference is the right to own slaves, including four different clauses on the legality of owning slaves that made future anti-slave laws unconstitutional.15 Confederate states did gain small rights in their constitution, the right for states to enter into treaties with other states, to regulate waterways, the power to tax foreign and domestic ships that used their waterways, the power to impeach federally appointed state officials and power to distribute "bills of credit". Surprisingly the Confederate Constitution upheld the federal government's right to suspend Habeas Corpus.15
Primary Sources in the Classroom
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The Constitution: Counter Revolution or National Salvation? The Federal Convention has recently concluded its closed door meetings in Philadelphia and presented the nation with a new model for the government. It is now up to each special state convention to decide whether to replace the Articles of Confederation with this new constitution. The debate is
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The Constitution: Drafting a More Perfect Union This lesson focuses on the drafting of the United States Constitution during the Federal Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. Students will analyze an unidentified historical document and draw conclusions about what this document was for, who created it, and why. After the document is identified as George
Washington's annotated copy of the committee of Style's draft constitution, students will
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The U.S. Constitution: Continuity and Change in the Governing of the United States This unit includes four lessons using primary sources to examine continuity and change in the governing of the United States. Lessons one and two are focused on a study of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and provide access to primary source documents from the
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four features broadsides from the Continental Congress calling for special days of thanksgiving
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Faces Behind the Constitution We are providing a look at the delegates responsible for bringing the Constitution to life. Did you know not all the delegates signed the Constitution? To find out which men did, be sure to visit "Faces Behind the Constitution".
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November 15, 1777: The Articles of Confederation were Adopted How does a country become a country? When the Colonies declared their independence from Britain, they had a flag and an army. What they lacked was a government.
November 8, 1879: Louisiana Ratified a New State Constitution In an effort to respond to the demands of diversity as well as to the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Louisianans revised and passed new constitutions 10 times between 1812 and 1921.
December 18, 1787: New Jersey Approved the Constitution Approving the Constitution on December 18, 1787, New Jersey became the third state to join the Union, following Delaware and Pennsylvania.
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an essay To Form a More Perfect Union.
The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799 George Washington's election as delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses and his command of the American Army during the Revolutionary War are well documented as well as his two presidential administrations from 1789 through 1797. Students can view Washington's letters and diary entries concerning the Constitution.
The James Madison Papers This collection include extensive notes of the debates during his three-year term in the Continental Congress. Notes and a memoranda document Madison's pivotal role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the Virginia ratification convention of 1788. A special presentation essay James Madison and the Federal Constitutional
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May 2004: Making of the Constitution Each May 1, Law Day is celebrated in honor of the laws that are the guiding principles of the nation. What might be called the original law is the U.S. Constitution.
May 2005: Who is the Father of the Constitution? He believed that individual rights were fully protected by the Constitution as it was ratified and recognized that drafting a Bill of Rights was politically imperative. Can you guess who he is?
October 2005: You say you want a Revolution? These Guys Stated it all. Between 1774 and 1789, 13 colonies became a nation - the United States of America. By 1789, these colonies had become independent states, joined by a new federal constitution into a single nation.
Thomas THOMAS was launched in January 1995, at the inception of the 104th Congress. The Congress directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public.
Constitution Day Resources In celebration of Constitution Day, the Library of Congress has compiled a variety of materials from across its collections. Explore these rich resources and features to learn more about one of America's most important documents.
1. Library of Congress, Web Guides, Primary Documents in American History, Articles of the Confederation,
2. Library of Congress, My LOC, Creating the United States, accessed 12.14.11
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4. Library of Congress, Teacher's Page, Classroom Materials, Teacher's Guide: The Constitution, accessed
5. Crossroads Area Home School Association, Illinois Constitution Study, accessed 12.16.11
6. Illinois Periodicals Online, Illinois History Teacher, Vol. 9:1 2002, Illinois, Constitution Making, in the Spirit
of the Sixties, 1969-1970, Janet Cornelius, accessed 12.16.11
7. Illinois General Assembly, Illinois' Proposed Constitutional Convention A Context for the 2008 Constitutional
Convention Call by Illinois Business Roundtable, accessed 12.16.11
8. History Vortex.org, A Brief Examination fo the Legality of Secession in the United States, Kenneth S.
Imbriale, accessed 12.21.11
9. The White House, Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, accessed 12.21.11
10. History Net.com, Was Secession Legal, Johnathan Turley, accessed 12.21.11
11. University of Missouri Kansas City, School of Law, Exploring Constitutional Conflict, The Thirteenth
Amendment: The Abolition of Slavery, accessed 12.21.11
12. Library of Congress, Teacher's Page, Classroom Materials, Collection Connections, Abraham Lincoln Papers
at the Library of Congress, accessed 12.21.11
13. United States House of Representatives, The United States Constitution, accessed 11.7.12
14. University of Michigan, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association Vol.29, issue 2, Summer 2008, Lincoln's
Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus: An historical and Constitutional Analysis, James A. Dueholm,
15. Filibuster Cartoons, The Constitution of the Confederate States of America, accessed 12.22.11