Early Challenges in the Constitutional Republic
The ink was barely dry on the Constitution when the first challenges to its protections arose. These early challenges to the new constitutional republic often involved the meaning of the Constitution itself. What did its words actually mean, and who would get to decide?
The first test of the Constitution came in the late 1790s. As often happens, the threat of war brought claims that restrictions on civil liberties were needed. France was in the midst of a revolution that was growing more radical by the day. It was also at war with England. Support for joining this war was split among political party lines in the U.S. Disagreement arose within Washington’s cabinet, and political parties were born, despite the hopes of the Founders. Many Republicans were urging that the U.S. join the war in support of the French, who had been their ally in the American War for Independence. But many others, including the Federalists, were urging neutrality. They were concerned the U.S. was not ready to fight in another war, and were disgusted at the idea of supporting violent mob-rule in France.