Setting the Stage Forming a New Nation

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Setting the Stage - Forming a New Nation

The 13 states that independence brought together to form the United States of America had very different physical and human geographic features. Most of the Southern states were larger than most of the Northern states. However, as the map on the opposite page shows, a state’s population often had little relation to its size. For example, the populations of tiny Rhode Island and the much larger Georgia were close to the same.

For the colonists, differences between the states’ geographic features raised basic questions about what form the nation’s government should take. Should a large state like Georgia have the same voice in government as a small state like Connecticut, which had a greater population? Should Connecticut have as much power as New York, which was larger and had more people, too? At first, the answer to both questions was yes. Under the nation’s first constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, each state had one vote in Congress.

In time, however, some people began to question the fairness of this system. Yet, basing a state’s political power on its population raised other questions. For example, should a state with both slaves and free people have as much power as a state with no slaves and the same total population? The populations of the Southern states contained a high percentage of slaves, as the maps on this page show. The maps also show that counting only free people would drop most of these states in the population rankings, compared to the Northern states.

Such geographic concerns arose in 1787, when representatives of 12 states met to write a new constitution for the United States. In this unit, you will learn how the delegates handled population-related disputes and other issues in framing the form of government we have today.

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