Point of view. Evaluate to what extent the Articles of Confederation were an effective form of government



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DBQ: The Articles of Confederation
Directions: The following question is based on the documents provided. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of the document and the author’s point of view.

Evaluate to what extent the Articles of Confederation were an effective form of government.

Be sure to:



  1. Carefully read the document-based question. Consider what you already know about this topic. How would you answer the question if you had no documents to examine? What words in the question would you have to mentally define?

  2. Based on your own knowledge, develop a thesis that directly answers the question, and draw a quick outline.

  3. Now, read each document carefully, underlining key phrases and words that address the document-based question. You may also wish to use the margin to make brief notes. Analyze how to integrate the documents into your outline (adjusting your outline as necessary).

  4. Write a well-organized essay proving your thesis. The essay should be logically presented and should include information from your own knowledge of the topic and from both the documents and other resources.

  5. This could be your thesis:

The Articles of Confederation were ______due to their ____, however they were primarily effective/ineffective (take a position) due to __________________.

Historical Context:

In the1780s, ninety percent of white Americans were farmers.  New England was a particularly close-knit rural community where members of the community were expected to be self-sufficient.  Most of the farms in New England were 30-acre plots, tiny when compared to giant southern plantations with thousands of acres.  Partly due to this subsistence level of farming, the people of rural New England were fiercely independent and “developed the knowledge and skills to provide for themselves.”

As they were so self-sufficient, they valued their freedom highly.  In the years following the Revolution, Americans were even more sensitive to any attempts to limit their freedom, especially in rural communities in New England that were independent minded and community oriented. After the American Revolution, they were very concerned with protecting the rights they had just won.

After declaring independence in 1776, the Continental Congress formed a committee to write a plan of government for the country. The result was our first national constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Between the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the new Constitution in 1787, the new nation experienced a period of weakness, internal conflict, and turmoil.  Many people feared that giving too much power to a central government would bring back the tyranny they felt they had under the British.  They also feared that if some states had too much power in the national government, they would dominate the others.

Under the Articles of Confederation, there were no executive branches to enforce the laws.  Instead, the country was run by congressional committees, which caused much confusion and gave too much power to the states.  Congress had no power to prevent unfair competition among the states, and it became almost impossible to trade among the states and sometimes with other countries as well.  States kept most of the power, and any action taken by Congress had to be with the consent and approval of the states.

Massachusetts’ legislature began to adopt strong economic policies, centralize its power and to control “the lives of its people through commercial regulation, high taxes, and an energized court system.” Farmers in western Massachusetts were furious at the state’s attempt to pay off debt and claimed that the new state taxes had put them in debt.  Farm prices were low, and they could not pay their debts.  Many lost their farms and homes.  Some were even put in debtor’s prison.  As a result, they felt that the state failed to protect their interests.  In November 1786, Daniel Shays, a thirty nine year old farmer who served at the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, organized and led several hundred angry farmers to demand the closing of the courts, a postponement of taxes, and elimination of unfair mortgages.  The national government had not been able to put down the rebellion because it had no power to put down an insurrection within one of the individual states.  It could not command enough troops to crush the growing disorder.

Shays’ Rebellion drove conservative merchants and other wealthy property owners to seek refuge in a “stronger central government, capable of providing the security and financial stability they perceived to be lacking at the state level.” Such a statement seems to suggest that Shays’ Rebellion “had direct influence leading to the calling of the federal convention and the writing of a new constitution.”

For the Federalists, Shays’ Rebellion “symbolized their worst fears about democratic element in their society…” This insurrection brought the attention of the states.  In response, Governor Hancock issued a Proclamation forgiving the rebels if they took a vow of loyalty to the Commonwealth, but they were never pardoned from their actions.

With Shays’ Rebellion of desperate farmers in 1786, clearly in mind, George Washington warned, “There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to…” This sense of potential disaster and the need for drastic changes infused the movement for a Constitutional Convention with new energy.  A convention for a new government began its deliberation on May 25, 1787.  All the delegates were convinced that an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the impotent Congress established by the Articles of Confederation.
Document 1
The ARTICLES of CONFEDERATION and PERPETUAL UNION

Between The States Of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.



ARTICLE I The Stile of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America".

II Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

  1. According to document 1, who had most of the power under the Articles of Confederation?

Document 2

From a letter by George Washington to a friend:

The consequences of a . . . [an] inefficient government are too obvious to be dwelt upon. Thirteen sovereignties pulling against each other, and all tugging at the federal head, will soon bring ruin upon the whole. . . . Let us have [government] by which our lives, liberty, and property will be secured or let us know the worst at once.”



  1. According to Washington, what would happen to the nation if it stayed a confederation?

  2. What solution does he suggest?

Document 3

  1. Based on the map in document 3, what problems did the US face during its early days?

Document 4

[General Shepard to Governor Bowdoin]

Springfield, Massachusetts January 26, 1787

The unhappy time is come in which we have been obliged to shed blood. Shays, who was at the head of about twelve hundred men, marched yesterday afternoon about four o'clock, towards the public buildings in battle array. He marched his men in an open column by platoons. I sent several times by one of my aides, and two other gentlemen, Captains Buffington and Woodbridge, to him to know what he was after, or what he wanted. His reply was, he wanted [guns]. The answer returned was he must purchase them dear, if he had them.


  1. What circumstances led to the event described in document 4?

Document 5

"The United States in Congress assembled shall never engage in a war, … nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, … nor borrow money on the credit of the United States, nor appropriate money, … nor appoint a commander in chief of the army or navy, unless nine States assent [agree]." —The Articles of Confederation

  1. Why might it be difficult for the government under the Articles of Confederation to be effective?

Document 6

The Articles of Confederation

No chief executive or national courts

Laws need approval of 9 of the 13 states



Coungres could:

Congress could NOT

Declare war and make peace

Levy taxes (incl. taxes for defense)

Raise a defense force

Regulate trade or money coinage

Make foreign treaties and alliances

Settle disputes among states

Coin and borrow money

Collect state debts owed to it

Establish a post office

Enforce any of its powers by making changes to the government without unanimous consent

Regulate Indian affairs




  1. Why did some Americans feel that the Articles of Confederation government was not sufficient for the new nation?

Document 6

  1. State at least two weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.




  1. How does this cartoon represent an argument FOR the ratification of a Constitution?




  1. What is a Confederation?


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