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Unit Three: 1783-1800
Articles of Confederation

Drafted in 1796 by John Dickinson, the Articles of Confederation established a single-chamber national Congress elected by state legislatures, in which each state held only one vote. These Articles notably left out both and executive and judicial branch, and provided Congress no power to tax or regulate commerce. However, the Articles established states’ rights and also provided for American independence, uniting all the colonies during the war.

Maryland, cession of western land claims: Maryland waited to agree to the new government until lands north of the Ohio River were turned over to the United States in 1779. Maryland did not want big states (NY, VA) to grow and dominate the new nation, instead equalizing the power of the states and opening the union up for expansion.

STRENGTHS OF THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION: The thirteen states established a permanent government in 1781 in the form of a confederation which included a congress that represented the states and had the power to conduct Indian and foreign affairs, mediate disputes between states, and establish a standard for weights and measures. The Articles protected against an oppressive central government, such as a monarchy or oligarchy, by placing power within the fragmented states.

WEAKNESSES OF THE ARTCILES OF CONFEDERATION: The government established in 1781, was a confederation; each state was its own powerful entity and had its own tariffs and currencies, making it harder for interstate commerce to occur. The federal government lacked the power to tax and form a militia without the approval of all the states. Amending the Articles was a difficult and tedious process, because the amendment would have to be accepted by each state in order to be passed.

Pennsylvania militia routs Congress, 1783: Eighty soldiers marched from Lancaster to Philadelphia to obtain justice from the state government and Congress on June 17, 1783. Protesting in front of Independence Hall, which housed Congress and the state government, the rebels were successful in moving the government away from Philadelphia.

Northwest Posts: After the Revolutionary war, the British did not leave their posts in an effort to preserve both the flourishing fur trade and the improving relations with the Native Americans. This showed Britain’s unwillingness to give up and the weakness of the American government, problems which culminated in the War of 1812.



Land Ordinance of 1785: Congress enacted this law to set a uniform procedure for surveying land in 1785. It established that the settlement of a town would be six square miles and would contain land set aside for schools, setting a precedent for the public education system in the United States.

Northwest Ordinance, 1787: Congress passed this law to define the steps for the formation and admission of states into the Union in 1787. It applied to the lands north of the Ohio River which had been established as the Northwest Territory. The existence of slavery could be determined by popular sovereignty in these territories.

Proposed Jay-Gardoqui Treaty, 1785: John Jay tried to negotiate with Spain for trading rights in New Orleans in 1785, but returned with a treaty that renounced Spanish claims to southwestern lands and opened Spanish markets to eastern merchants. In exchange, the U.S. gave up Mississippi trading rights, thus fueling the North-South conflict.



Shays’ Rebellion: A group of Massachusetts farmers led by Daniel Shays protested after taxes were raised to pay for Revolutionary debts in 1786. The high taxes, combined with the depression that hit after British markets were lost, forced the farmers to revolt. The result was an increase in tension between the North and South.

Annapolis Convention, 1786: A group of delegates from five states met in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786, in an effort to solve the problems of interstate commerce. Because there was little representation, the delegates decided that a convention of all states should be held the year after in order to amend the Articles of Confederation.

1780’s depression: The first major depression of the American states occurred after the Revolutionary War in New England. The causes included high taxes imposed to finance the war debt, the tightening of credit, and a short growing season that kept crop yields low. Shays’ rebellion occurred ultimately because of this depression

The Constitution

After the Revolutionary War, the problems with the Articles of Confederation became increasingly obvious, resulting in the Philadelphia Convention, whose purpose was to rewrite the Articles. However, instead of submitting the Articles for revision, the delegates decided to begin again, resulting in the drafting of a new frame of government outlined in the Constitution, a document that compromised conflicting interests, unifying all the states under a powerful federal government.

PHILADELPHIA CONVENTION: A congressional convention met in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation in 1788. The delegates, which included Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin, believed that there should be checks and balances in the government to give each branch equal amounts of power. The convention ultimately scrapped the Articles and came up with the much more effective Constitution, in which various compromises were made to pacify sectional differences.

Delegates: Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin: At the Philadelphia Convention in 1788, George Washington presided over the convention while he and Franklin helped in mediating heated debates. Hamilton wrote the "Federalist Papers," along with John Jay, in defense of the Constitution.

Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws: Montesquieu was a French writer whose writings helped bring about the French Revolution. His book "The Spirit of the Laws," written in 1748, examines types of government and how each evolves through factors such as location and climate. He believed in separate and balanced branches of government.

Hobbes: Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan in 1651, as a commentary on his doctrine of sovereignty. His philosophies represented a reaction against the chaotic Reformation of the seventeenth century. These ideas generally stated that all men should submit to absolute supremacy, influencing the idea of sovereignty in the United States.

James Madison, "Father of the Constitution": Madison drafted the Virginia Plan of national government that became the basis for its bicameral structure in 1788. He also assisted in the writing of the "Federalist Papers" in order to persuade delegates who were fearful of centralized power.

GREAT COMPROMISE: Also called the Connecticut compromise, this compromise was introduced by the Connecticut delegation in 1788, and contained both the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. It provided for a presidency, a senate with states represented with two senators each, and a House of Representatives with representation according to population. The plan resolved the dilemma of using only one of the two self serving documents in the Constitution.

VA Plan, NJ Plan: The Virginia Plan called for an executive branch with two houses of Congress which were both based on population. The New Jersey Plan, introduced by William Patterson, called for a legislature with equal representation and increased powers for the national government.

Checks and balances—examples: Examples of checks and balances in the Constitution are the congressional power to impeach the president and the presidential power to appoint his cabinet. This system helps to keep all three branches of the government in check and maintain equal amounts of power.

North-South Compromises: There are two main North-South compromises in the Constitution. One dealt with the structure of Congress, the Great Compromise; the other dealt with slavery and the three-fifths clause. Both aided in easing the problems that arose because of the imbalance of power between states in the Articles of Confederation.

Slavery and the constitution: slave trade, three-fifths clause, Fugitive Slave law: Although the word "slavery" was not used in the Constitution, the idea surfaces in three places in the Constitution: the three-fifths clause, which lessened the power of the voting south by making the votes of three slaves equal that of five white votes; the Fugitive Slave Law, which captured and returned runaway slaves who fled into free territories, and lastly Congress’ option to ban the slave trade in Washington D. C. after 1808.

procedures for amendments: To amend the Constitution, a bill must first be proposed by either two-thirds of both houses or each state conventions. For the amendment to be ratified, three-fourths have to approve the bill. In order to protect the United States and its citizens, this process made it difficult to alter the Constitution without valid reason.



Beard thesis, his critics: Beard criticized the Constitution in his "Economic Interpretation of the Constitution" in 1913. Unlike his opponents, who believed in the Constitution’s democratic purpose, Beard argues that it was written to give them economic advantages that would stem from the stability of the economy.

Fiske, The Critical Period of American History: John Fiske, an American historian and philosopher, wrote The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789 in 1788. In the book, Fiske argues that the Constitution had saved the nation from imminent interstate conflict.

Antifederalists: Antifederalists were opponents of the Constitution who thought that it failed to balance power between the national and state governments. Believing that a balance was impossible to reach, the opponents thought that the new government would ultimately ruin the states.

supporters of the Constitution: The supporters of the Constitution, including Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, who called themselves the Federalists. These men became important in the ratification process of the Constitution; they persuaded many of its opponents to ratify it through their speeches, the Federalist Papers, and other propaganda.

opponents of the Constitution: The opponents of the Constitution were called the Antifederalists; they opposed it because it failed to balance power between the national and state governments. They thought that a balance would be impossible to reach and that the new government would ultimately ruin the states.

George Mason, Bill of Rights: Mason was a delegate at the Constitutional Convention and helped draft the Constitution. Troubled by its power and its failure to limit slavery or contain a bill of rights, he would not sign it. Some states refused to ratify the Constitution until 1791, when a bill of rights was added to the Constitution.

The ratification fights: Critics, such as Sam Adams, were successfully won over by the Federalists in Massachusetts. The fight in Virginia ended after the addition of the Bill of Rights, defeating Mason and Henry, and affected the decision in New York, where Hamilton won the fight using the "Federalist Papers."

The Federalist Papers, Jay, Hamilton, Madison: The Federalist papers were written by Jay, Hamilton, and Madison in 1788, during the Philadelphia Convention as a response to Antifederalist objections to the Constitution. The eighty-five newspaper essays offered a glimpse of the framers’ intentions in designing the Constitution, and shaped the American philosophy of the government. They explained that the Constitution would protect the minority’s rights but would not make them too powerful.





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