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Phi Alpha Theta Speaks

The Precarious Balance of State Versus Federal Power in the Early Republic

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By Sarah J. Hyde l North Georgia College & State University

The “unresolvable issue of the founding era” that presented itself repeatedly “was federal versus state sovereignty. Any effort to enforce an unambiguous answer to that [issue] would probably have killed the infant American republic in the cradle. By avoiding that decision and allowing competing answers to coexist, the very purpose of government was subtly transformed from an ultimate arbiter to a framework for ongoing argument.”  And this argument was indeed ongoing. The vagueness of the Constitution’s definition of state and federal powers created discord between the two levels of government. This dissension manifested itself many times throughout the early republic, particularly with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799, the Federalists’ Hartford Convention during the War of 1812, and the South Carolina Nullification Crisis of the early 1830s. As one historian noted, “America reenacts over and over the disagreement between Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians,” between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  While this statement oversimplified the various conflicts, it did illustrate that on the most basic level, these issues were more alike than they were different. Tensions continually arose, and each time the clash centered on what powers the different levels of government retained.


Two States of Bondage: African Americans in New Hampshire and Massachusetts During the American Revolution

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By Chris Tucker l Wakefield, NH

As the American Revolution seemed imminent, the state legislature of New Hampshire was met with questions regarding the enlistment of black soldiers. New Hampshire blacks-- both slave and free-- took it upon themselves to seek increased freedom. The dawn of the Revolutionary period and the pressing matter of forming state militias brought treatment of blacks to the forefront of colonial society. As early as the Battle of Bunker Hill in July of 1775 there were examples of soldiers of color joining colonial regiments, including several from New Hampshire. In September, three New Hampshire blacks joined the regiment of Colonel John Nixon at Winter Hill, Massachusetts, joined later in the year by another regiment, which included two blacks.

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