The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
REVOLUTIONS AND CONSTITUTIONS, 1776-1790

IN 1790, PENNSYLVANIA produced a Constitution that terminated more than fourteen years of struggle between the State's liberal and conservative elements. Destined to last for almost half a century, this Constitution put a documentary period to years of bitter strife and experiment. It concluded a political era and defined the total of the democratic processes that characterized the State in its most critical and formative years. But in its solemn and precise phraseology there is little indication of the turmoil and experimentation that preceded the convention which brought it into existence. In its almost complacent definition of what was considered proper and just government there is no hint of the wrangles and broils which made such a calm exposition possible. For during this formative period, from the Declaration of Independence to 1790, the democratic elements, after proclaiming the remarkably advanced Constitution of 1776 and an ultrademocratic conception of representative government, had seen their power and influence gradually whittled away by the conservative interests. Yet the Constitution of 1790, whose very existence was a result of a conservative victory, was not, in the light of historical evaluation or contemporary judgment, regarded as a seriously retrogressive or reactionary document.

In view of these considerations it is obvious that an understanding of the Constitution of 1790 -- and more important still, a knowledge of the political atmosphere it expressed -- must be dependent on a general review of the circumstances which produced it. These were an outgrowth of the organic instrument which it replaced, the Constitution of 1776.


THE CONSTITUTION OF 1776

That revolutionary document was born of numerous quarrels and conflicting opinions, and their sources can be traced back to the charter under which Pennsylvania operated when under the control of William Penn. In the early assemblies many bitter controversies arose over the question of just representation for all parts of the colony.

When the population expanded beyond Philadelphia and its immediate environs, many of the inhabitants of that area evinced a strong

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