Articles of Confederation

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Creating a New Nation

1781 - 1796

Articles of Confederation

  • Continental Congress created a plan for a weak national government that left power to the states.

  • Accepted in 1781

  • Congress COULD: declare war, make peace treaties, print and borrow money

  • Congress could NOT: set up an army, control trade, or create taxes.

The Northwest Territory

  • Land that was won in the Revolution

  • A TERRITORY is land ruled by a national government but which has no representatives in the government.

  • When settlers moved to the NW Territory, Congress made treaties with the Native Americans for the land.

  • Congress passed two ORDANANCES (a law) to organize it.

    • Land Ordinance of 1785 – Explained how the new land would be measured, divided, and sold.

    • NW Ordinance of 1787 – Explained the government, described how it could become a state, and made slavery against the law.


  • Articles of Confederation did not make the states work together.

    • States printed their own money and decided their own rules for trade so they could not trade with each other and that hurt the nation’s economy.

  • Congress could not pay its debts from the Revolutionary War.

    • Owed millions of dollars to banks and other countries

    • Could not raise money because it was not allowed to tax.

Shay’s Rebellion

  • Western Massachusetts – farmers had to pay high taxes, owed money to merchants, and they did not have the money for this. Those who did not pay could lose their farm or go to jail.

  • Daniel Shays – 1786 – led 1,100 farmers in a protest

    • Wanted the government to stop taking their farms and to give them time to pay their debts

    • Tried to capture government weapons

    • Congress could not stop them because it did not have an army

    • State militia defeated the rebellion

  • 1787 – Congress invited the states to send delegates to a meeting to discuss how to change the Articles of Confederation.

Constitutional Convention

1781 – 1796

  • Spring 1787 – 55 delegates traveled to Philadelphia (everywhere EXCEPT Rhode Island)

    • Met to discuss how to change Articles of Confederation

    • Landowners, business people, and lawyers

    • Well educated and wealthy

    • 20 slave owners

    • 30 who had fought against Britain

    • 8 signed the Declaration of Independence

    • Many served in Congress or state government

    • Only white men who owned land were included.

  • Articles of Confederation did not give government enough power.

  • Some delegates wanted a FEDERAL system (in a federal system, the states share power with the central government, but the central government has more power than the states)

    • James Madison (Virginia) – called the ‘Father’ of the Constitution

      • Believed that a REPUBLIC (a government in which the citizens elect leaders to represent them) was the only type that could keep order and protect rights

  • May 25 – the Constitutional Convention began

  • Virginia Plan VS New Jersey Plan

  • The Great Compromise

    • Roger Sherman suggested dividing Congress into two parts (or houses).

      • Senate – Equal number of representatives from each state

      • House of Representatives – Number of representatives based on state population

  • Slavery

    • Southern delegates wanted slaves to count as part of the population.

    • Other states said that is not fair because slaves were property, not citizens

    • Three-fifths Rules – This rule counted five slaves as three free people.

  • RATIFYING (accepting) the Constitution

    • September 17, 1787 – Constitution of the United States of American was signed.

    • Based on Madison’s Virginia Plan

    • 9 States needed to ratify it

      • Federalists (supporters of the Constitution) had a big challenge

        • Had to teach the public about the Constitution

        • Series of essays written to explain

      • Antifederalists (opponents of the Constitution) believed that a strong central government was a threat to liberty

        • Thought the Constitution was dangerous because there was no Bill of Rights

        • Madison and other Federalists promised to add a Bill of Rights

      • All 13 states ratified the Constitution

The Constitution

1781 – 1796

  • The Preamble

    • “We the People of the United States…”

      • Means that the people have the power to rule

  • DEMOCRACY (government in which the people have the power to make political decisions)

    • Citizens take part in making the laws through representatives

  • Constitution divides the national government into 3 parts (or branches)

    • Legislative (makes the laws)

      • Senate – 2 from each states

      • House of Representatives – Based on population

    • Executive (Enforces the laws)

      • Divided into different departments

    • Judicial (settles conflicts)

      • Supreme Court

Limits on Government

  • Madison and other authors of the Constitution created a government with three branches to make sure that the government’s powers were limited. No single person has the power to run the US government alone.

  • Delegates worried that one branch may become more powerful

    • CHECKS AND BALANCES – a system that lets each branch limit the power of the other two.

      • The President makes treaties and chooses judges. He can also VETO (reject) laws.

      • Congress may reject judges and treaties. Only Congress can declare war.

      • The Supreme Court decides if laws are unconstitutional.

Changing the Constitution

  • Authors of the Constitution knew the nation would change so they included a way to add AMENDMENTS (a change to the Constitution)

    • Proposed by 2/3 of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    • 3/4s of the states must ratify the amendment

  • Bill of Rights

    • First 10 amendments

  1. Freedom of speech

  2. Right to bear arms.

  3. No quartering.

  4. Protected from unreasonable searches.

  5. May not force US citizen to testify against themselves in court.

  6. Right to a fair and speedy trial.

  7. Right to a trial by jury

  8. Protected from cruel and unusual punishment

  9. May have rights not listed

  10. Powers not given to the federal system belong to the state or the people.

President Washington

1781 – 1796

First President

  • 1789 – George Washington elected

    • Constitution set up for elections

    • States chose representatives for Electoral College

      • Their job to vote for the President

    • Everyone in the first Electoral College voted for Washington

    • Promised to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” in his INAUGURATION (official ceremony to make someone President) speech.

      • Every President since then has promised this.

    • 8 years in office

  • Congress created departments to help the President run the Executive Branch (called the CABINET)

    • Secretary of State – decides how the United States acts toward other countries

    • Secretary of the Treasury – takes care of the nation’s finances

    • Secretary of War – in charge of protecting the nation

    • Attorney General – sees that federal laws are obeyed.

Arguments in the Cabinet

  • Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of War) and Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State) often disagreed.

    • Often would give the President opposite advice

    • Hamilton – Wanted a strong national government that supported trade

    • Jefferson – wanted a limited government that did not take away from states’ rights.

  • Followers of each formed POLITICAL PARTIES (a group of people who share similar ideas about government)

    • Jefferson supporters formed Democratic-Republican Party

    • Hamilton supporters formed Federalist Party

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