The Founding Fathers
Important Terms, People, and Events
Confederacy – A confederacy is a form of government in which independent states are loosely joined, typically for common defense. Each independent state maintains power over the majority of its own affairs.
Confederation Congress – The governing body that consisted of representatives from each of the 13 states. Congress governed the affairs of the United States between the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Conservatives – Political leaders who favored the formation of a strong central government and who thought the Articles of Confederation should grant more powers to the national government than to the state governments. Conservatives tended to fear the power of the masses and to favor government by the elite.
Impost – A form of tax applied to goods that are imported into a state or country. Imposts are typically used to make money, protect a home industry, or retaliate against another state or country.
Radicals – Political leaders who favored strong state governments and thought the Articles of Confederation should remove most power from the national government, placing more power in the hands of the people. Radicals feared the formation of another strong central government, similar to the British government, which would favor the elite, strip people of their right to equal representation, and violate their freedom.
Ratify – To formally approve and accept a legal document, such as a constitution.
Sovereignty – Sovereignty means that an independent state has the power to govern its own affairs. A sovereign state maintains the power to govern its own affairs without interference from other states or other bodies of power.
Second Continental Congress – The Second Continental Congress met for the first time in Philadelphia in May of 1775, and continued to meet until the full ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. This congress produced the Declaration of Independence, drafted the Articles of Confederation, and served as an unofficial national government, managing the war effort, finances and foreign affairs, while the Articles were debated by the states. It was succeeded by the Congress of the Confederation.
Benjamin Franklin – A printer by vocation, inventor, philosopher and author by hobby, Benjamin Franklin played many vital roles in establishing both the independence of the United States and in ensuring the success of the young nation. Elected as a delegate to the Albany Congress of 1754, his Albany Plan outlined the balance of power between local independence and colonial union, and has been said to be prophetic of the U.S. Constitution. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, was chosen for the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, was sent as a diplomat to France to procure military assistance during the Revolution, and was appointed as one of three to negotiate the Treaty of Paris. Franklin also served as a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson – Known mostly as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson also served as an influential statesman of Virginia and as a diplomat to France. He contributed important legislation and ideology during the early years of the new nation. He strongly believed in the importance of legislation that limited the power of government and strengthened the rights of the people. Jefferson proposed and passed important legislation dictating the separation of church and state and was integral in both Virginia’s decision to cede its northwestern territory to Congress and in drafting the land ordinances that would serve to manage the land equitably.
John Dickinson – Serving as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Second Continental Congress, John Dickinson became part of the committee assigned to author the first draft of the Articles of Confederation. Dickinson, who had extensive writing experience, was chosen as the chairman and the primary author of this document, although he had been one of the delegates who did not sign the Declaration of Independence. Favoring a strong central government similar to that of Great Britain, much of Dickinson’s draft was changed before ratification, although his insistence on a strong central government resurfaced later in his support of the U.S. Constitution.
Richard Henry Lee – An influential planter and statesman from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee proposed the resolution that led both to the formulation of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, once serving as its president, and was one of a committee of three to review the Articles of Confederation for completeness before it was sent to the states for ratification. He later served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and received credit for drafting the 10th Amendment, which guaranteed states’ rights.
Daniel Shays – A farmer from western Massachusetts and a former captain in the Continental Army, Daniel Shays staged a protest and led a rebellion against what he perceived to be unfair taxation and debt repayment legislation.
George Washington – The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, this Virginia-born planter served a great symbolic role in early American history. He was keenly in favor of a strong national government, and exerted his influence toward that end when possible. He hosted the first successful interstate commerce meeting at his plantation home, Mount Vernon, and contributed tremendous prestige to the Constitutional Convention by agreeing to serve as one of the delegates from Virginia.
Annapolis Convention – Held in September 1786 at the request of Virginia, this meeting of the states aimed to improve the uniformity of commerce. Only twelve delegates came, and they proceeded to call a second meeting, to be held in May of 1787, for the purpose of revising the Articles.
Jay-Gardoqui talks – John Jay, as diplomat to Spain, attempted to negotiate for American access to trade along the Mississippi River. Threatened by Americans moving westward, the Spanish diplomat Diego de Gardoqui recommended instead that Spain would establish trade with eastern U.S. ports, assist in removing Great Britain from the Great Lakes and assist in combating the Barbary Pirates. Southern and Western delegates in Congress viewed with contempt this plan that seemed to sacrifice their interests to the commercial interests of the Northeast.
Maryland ratifies the Articles – Although the Articles of Confederation had been approved by 12 states by 1779, they could not go into effect until Maryland’s ratification on March 1, 1781.
Mount Vernon Conference – This name was applied to a meeting between Maryland and Virginia statesmen at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Plantation. Originally scheduled to meet at Alexandria to discuss free navigation of the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers, the delegates ended up resolving far broader issues of trade and mutual policy between the two states.
Land Ordinance of 1784 – Proposed by Thomas Jefferson just a month after Virginia officially handed over western lands to congress, this ordinance established the process by which new lands would be divided into states, the process for surveying and sale, and the qualifications of new states to enter into Congress. This ordinance set the precedent to prohibit any attempts to colonize newly ceded lands.
Northwest Ordinance – A revision of the earlier Land Ordinance of 1784, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 refined some of the earlier qualifications for statehood. It further provided that a certain amount of land had to be reserved for public education, and that slavery was to be prohibited in this territory north of the Ohio River.
Shays’ Rebellion – Daniel Shays organized farmers throughout New England to protest legislation that increased taxes and demanded immediate debt-repayment. When the state legislature refused to respond, Shays and his armed followers closed the courts in western Massachusetts in protest of foreclosed properties. The rebellion came to a head when Shays was defeated while trying to seize a federal arsenal of weapons in Springfield, Massachusetts, on January 25, 1787. This rebellion demonstrated the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and convinced many states of the need for a stronger central government.
Treaty of Paris – This treaty, negotiated on behalf of the U.S. by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and Samuel Adams, formally acknowledged the independence of the thirteen American colonies, and set the boundaries of the new nation at the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Mississippi River in the west, Florida in the south, and Canada in the north.
As the first official document that defined the United States government, the Articles of Confederation both reflected the ideals and philosophies of the American Revolution and highlighted the practical difficulties of democratic government.
The idea of a union formed for mutual defense began in 1643 with the founding of the first colonial union, called the New England Confederation. Recognizing that a union would help the colonists to defend themselves against the threat of Indian attacks and French invasion, this confederation established the idea that unified strength was an effective power on the North American continent.
As the governments of the colonies evolved and established more power, they continued to rely on unions for mutual defense. At the beginning of the French and Indian War in 1754, additional colonies attended the Albany Congress for the purpose of forming a unified defense strategy against the French and Indians. The colonists learned an important lesson from this experience, and began to instinctively rely on the power of unions any time their rights were abused during the pre-Revolutionary era.
The governing body that eventually created the Articles of Confederation was based on this tradition of defensive unions, but was formed in a time of peace—not actually preparing for war. However, the Second Continental Congress, originally formed for the purpose of mutual defense of the thirteen colonies, suddenly found itself in 1776 waging a full-scale war and governing a nation.
Congress managed to successfully direct the Revolution effort and to prevent domestic anarchy by relying more on improvisation than on any codified system of laws. Consensus worked for the thirteen states when faced with the imposing task of defeating the British; however, when Congress approached the topic of drafting a constitution that would serve to direct the affairs of the nation, numerous controversies erupted over how to establish a balance of power between individual states and a national governing body. Despite all their experience in organizing unions for mutual defense, the representatives had no reliable source from which they could draft the plans for a new and democratic form of government.
The source of most of the controversies lay in that Americans held sharply contrasting interpretations of the implications of the American Revolution. Radicals believed that the purpose of the Revolution was to establish a government, unlike any other at the time, that placed power solidly in the hands of the people. Therefore, they interpreted the confederation to be like past unions, given power solely to provide for mutual defense. Sovereignty, they claimed, belonged close to the people in the hands of state governments, not in a strong central government. Conservatives, on the other hand, viewed the Revolution as an opportunity to remove control from a foreign elite and place it solidly in the hands of a centralized government in America. Like radicals, they believed in the importance of mutual defense, but wanted to extend the union’s power to be able to manage all affairs of the new nation.
The shape of the new government, as established by the Articles of Confederation was largely influenced by the radicals’ point of view. The Articles were submitted to the states for ratification in the midst of war with Great Britain. Most Americans greatly feared the possibility that their new American government would be as strong and as destructive to individual rights as the British one, and that the war would thus have been fought in vain. The government established and approved by the people in 1781, therefore, consisted of a national congress with extremely limited powers and thirteen independent state governments that held the balance of power.
The significance of the Articles of Confederation is that it provided enough of a structure for the nation to survive during those eight years, while the American people learned about the requirements to run an effective national government. The weaknesses inherent in the Articles of Confederation eventually provided the means for change.
In the midst of frustrating economic chaos and political confusion, individuals began to assert their own power against ineffective and unfair government created by the Articles. In Shays’ Rebellion, Massachusetts farmers rebelled against a state legislature that seemed no different than Parliament in its unwillingness to change tax regulations and debt- repayment laws. Respected leaders from many states met at the Annapolis Convention in 1786 to try to determine a uniform system of commerce amongst themselves in the absence of a national policy. In both cases, Americans had realized that their liberties were threatened when not protected by a strong enough central government.
When delegates of the states met to revise the Articles of Confederation at the Constitutional Convention in May of 1787, they had gathered enough experience about the intricacies of government to more clearly define what the next government of the nation should and would do. It would not abandon the ideas of the American Revolution by placing too much power in the hands of the central government, but it also would not allow numerous competing government systems to tear the union apart.
Once again, the concept of union had evolved. Having learned from the failures of the government created by the Articles of Confederation, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention created a government that not only provided mutual defense against outside threats, it also created a central government strong enough to reign in and withstand internal threats and represent unified national interests to the world.
1643: Formation of the New England Confederation Consisting of the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, New Haven and Connecticut colonies, this was the first union formed for the purpose of mutual defense against the French and Indians and as a forum for inter-colonial disputes.
June, 1754: Formation of the Albany Congress With delegates representing Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (including Delaware), Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, this congress provided for unified negotiations with the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederation.
July 10, 1754: Publication of the Albany Plan of Union Drafted by Benjamin Franklin, this was the first document to detail a proposal of inter- colonial unity and to aim for a permanent union of American colonies.
1765: The Stamp Act Congress meets in New York City This congress developed a unified colonial strategy to appeal and protest the unfair legislation of Parliament. See more…
1774: Meeting of the First Continental Congress Meeting in Philadelphia, the First Continental Congress organized a unified colonial boycott, and agreed to meet again if their terms were not met.
1774: Presentation of the Galloway Plan to Congress This proposal for union included a plan to establish an American Parliament that would provide legislative authority over the colonies and empowered with veto power over the British Parliament in regards to colonial matters.
May, 1775: The Second Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia This congress met to discuss further unified colonial appeals, to plan protests and to manage the beginnings of military action against the British. See more…
January,1776: Publication of Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Benjamin Franklin drafts a plan of union that based representation in congress and contributions to the common treasury on the number of males in each state between sixteen and sixty years of age.
June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee proposes independence in Congress Lee proposes a resolution that calls for drafting a declaration of independence and a plan of government and confederation.
June 12, 1776: Committee appointed to draft Articles of Confederation Congress appoints a committee chaired by John Dickinson to draft the plan of confederation.
July 2, 1776: Draft of the Articles submitted to Congress John Dickinson’s draft of the Articles of Confederation is submitted to Congress for debate and revision.
July 4, 1776: U.S. declares independence Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is published to the world.
November 15, 1777: Congress completes the Articles of Confederation The final version of the Articles of Confederationis adopted by Congress and submitted to the states for ratification.
July 9, 1778: Eight of the thirteen states officially ratify the Articles The delegations from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina sign and ratify the Articles of Confederation.
February 22, 1779: Delaware ratifies the Articles Delaware ratifies the Articles of Confederation, and Maryland is the only state yet to ratify. The confederation does not take effect until all states have ratified.
January 2, 1781: Virginia cession of land Virginia cedes a portion of its land west of the Appalachian Mountains to Congress.
March 1, 1781: Establishment of the U.S. Government Maryland ratifies the Articles of Confederation, formally establishing the first government of the United States.
October 17, 1781: Surrender at Yorktown British General Charles Cornwallis surrenders to the Continental Army at Yorktown, Virginia, ending the war between the United States and Great Britain.
1782: Establishment of the Bank of North America Founded by the Secretary of Finance, Robert Morris, this bank helped to stabilize the commerce of the United States.
March, 1783: Newburgh Mutiny The army stationed at Newburgh threatened mutiny because they had not received their pay and were only stopped by George Washington’s effective persuasion to remain loyal to the patriotic cause.
June, 1783: Congress forced from Philadelphia A mutinous group of Pennsylvania troops, demanding pay, forced Congress to leave Philadelphia. President John Dickinson refused the assistance of all on the state militia, as he feared they were not reliable. Congress retreated to Princeton.
September 3, 1783: Signing of Treaty of Paris The Treaty of Paris establishes the terms of peace between the United States and Great Britain.
March 1784: Acquisition of the Northwest Territory Congress officially acquires the land ceded by Virginia north and west of the Ohio River.
April 23,1784: Passage of the Land Ordinance Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and accepted by Congress, this ordinance is the first to establish the process to administer newly acquired lands.
March 25, 1785: Meeting of Mount Vernon Conference Representatives of Maryland and Virginia met at George Washington’s plantation to resolve conflicts over the navigation of the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers.
September 11, 1786: Meeting of the Annapolis Convention New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, meet to discuss uniform trade regulations, but agree to appeal to all states to meet again to discuss broader reforms.
January 25, 1787: Shays’ Rebellion Daniel Shays and other armed farmers from western Massachusetts are defeated in their attempt to conquer an arsenal of weapons in Springfield, Massachusetts.
May 25, 1787: First meeting of the Constitutional Convention Delegates from all states except Rhode Island meet in Philadelphia for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.
July 13, 1787: Passage of the Northwest Ordinance This serves as a revision of the earlier ordinance and establishes, amongst other things, that slavery is prohibited from the new region.
September 17, 1787: Draft of constitution submitted to the states The Constitutional Convention sends its draft of the U.S. Constitution to the states for ratification.
The representatives of the thirteen states agree to create a confederacy called the United States of America, in which each state maintains its own sovereignty and all rights to govern, except those rights specifically granted to Congress.
As these thirteen states enter into a firm “league of friendship” for the purpose of defending each other, there are standards that the states should follow to help maintain good relationships. Each state must recognize the legal proceedings and official records of every other state, and that the citizens of one state have the rights of citizenship in any state. Additionally, a state must help return runaway criminals to the state in which the crime was committed.
States have the right to select and send two to seven delegates to Congress each year. Each state has one vote in congress, and delegates can only serve for a period of three years in any interval of six years. Delegates have certain privileges while serving in Congress. They are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech and are immune from arrest for most petty crimes.
States are not allowed to conduct relationships with foreign nations without the permission of congress. They cannot wage war, negotiate peace, raise an army or navy, conduct diplomacy, or make an alliance with another state. However, they can make imposts on goods, as long as they do not interfere with foreign treaties. States must keep a local militia, and they may wage war if they need to quickly defend themselves.
During war, states have the right to appoint officers of colonel rank and below. Congress pays for war from a treasury that states contribute to relative to the value of land in their state.
Congress has the sole power to deal with foreign nations, including making war and peace, and to deal with Indian (Native American) affairs. Congress must maintain uniform standards of coins and measures, make the rules for the army and navy, and run the post office. Congress will help resolve interstate disputes only as a last resort, and has the sole right to hold trials for crimes committed at sea.
Congress can appoint a provisional Committee of the States to serve when Congress is not in session. Congress can appoint other committees made up of civilians to help run the nation, and a president who can serve for one year every interval of three years.
Congress determines the budget and will publish it regularly, along with the proceedings of its meetings. When Congress must request troops, it will do so relative to the number of white inhabitants in each state, and the states must provide those troops on the date indicated.
On the most important issues of foreign affairs, nine of thirteen delegates must agree.
If Canada chooses to join the United States, it will be admitted as an equal state.
Congress takes full responsibility for all debts from the American Revolution.
All states agree to follow the rules of the Articles and the decisions of Congress and to never violate the union.
Any changes to the Articles of Confederation must be agreed to in congress and approved by every state.
By signing the document, the delegates of each state agree to the form of government described in the Articles of Confederation and therefore commit their state to the permanent union of states that will be called the United States.
The form of government created by this document is called a confederacy, or a loose organization of independent states. Each state will maintain sovereignty, which means that the state maintains the power to run its own affairs. Any rights, privileges and powers that are not specifically given to the Congress by the Articles of Confederation are maintained by the state.
Where the balance of power would rest in the newly formed union—whether it would rest in the state governments or in a centralized national government—proved to be one of the most challenging and divisive issues that the Second Continental Congress faced. The debate between state power and central or national power continued to occupy politicians throughout the nation’s early history, and vestiges of it are found in today’s big government versus small government debate.
When Richard Henry Lee proposed independence and the establishment of a new government to replace the King and Parliament, the debate was largely theoretical. Did the central authority that previously rested in the hands of the King and Parliament get passed down directly to the Second Continental Congress? Or did the power to govern rest directly with the people protected by the authority in each independent state? Those who favored the argument for a strong central government were called conservatives, and feared that the absence of a strong central government would lead to anarchy in the states. Those who favored states’ rights were called radicals, and felt that simply replacing one strong central government with another defeated the purposes of the American Revolution.
The original draft of the Articles of Confederation was written by the conservative John Dickinson and described a confederation that placed a significant amount of power in the hands of the central government, or Congress. In this first draft, states were allowed to keep as many of their laws, rights and customs as they choose, and to have the sole authority to regulate their internal police, as long as this power did not interfere with the Articles. Congress would represent the supreme authority on any issue. This was quickly criticized by radicals in Congress for providing no distinct authority to the states separate from that of Congress and for giving states no protection against an all-powerful central government. By the time the articles were distributed for review by state legislatures, the radicals had insisted that the balance of power be shifted to favor the states over the central government. This shift was reflected in the wording of Article II.
The Second Continental Congress operated mostly as a strong central government without any legal authority before the Articles of Confederation, but radicals were unwilling to put that strength into written law. Not only had the Congress raised a military, appointed military leaders, requisitioned supplies and administered all war efforts, it had also tended to foreign diplomacy, establishing currency and a post office, and had even begun to establish administrative departments to manage certain areas of national government. The power of Congress to do these things during wartime was never questioned. But when it came time to write a constitution that would govern during times of peace, radicals could not see the necessity of having so much power concentrated in the hands of the central government.
This dislike of a centralized government was rooted in the radicals’ belief that the union of states was formed solely for the purpose of common defense against Great Britain. Radicals argued that the purpose of the Revolution was to form more democratic governments, by definition requiring a close relationship between the people and their government. They argued that a strong centralized government exerting its power over many thousands of people would simple cease to be democratic, because the authority would lie too far from the people. Let the states govern their own affairs, they said, and the liberties of the people are most likely to be protected. To radicals, the only purpose of the confederation was to provide a foundation for mutual defense and foreign policy should they be threatened by an outside power again. They interpreted the Articles of Confederation as a pact between thirteen separate states that agreed to delegate certain powers for specific purposes, not one that granted general powers to a central government.
After the American Revolution, many people feared the prospect of another strong central government that would simply replace the British government. This fear was reflected in the final draft of the articles, which not only strongly claimed that sovereignty rested with the state (in Article II), but also effectively stripped the congress of any effective powers whatsoever in the remaining articles of the document.
The ineffective and disunited governance that resulted between 1781 and 1789 proved to the people that they could effectively disempower the national government by placing many checks and controls on its power. However, it also demonstrated to most people that their rights and liberties would be threatened in the absence of a national government that could serve as a supreme authority over all of the states.
By successfully removing all significant powers from congress, the radicals won the first round of the nation versus state debate. However, a few years of experience in self-government convinced many that, in practice, the theory of basing power in the hands of the people did not work. By 1786, many who had been radicals would clamor for giving more effective power to the central government and to place sovereignty with the nation. As such, the spirit expressed by Dickinson’s original draft of the Articles of Confederation, which he could not persuade others to accept on purely theoretical terms, was later expressed in the U.S. Constitution.
Each of the thirteen states that make up the United States commit to a firm “friendship” with each of the other states. They are united for the purposes of defending themselves against military threats, protecting their independence, and ensuring the general well being of all of the states and good relationships between them. Each state commits to help any other state to defend itself against any attack on the basis of their religion, their right to self-government, their freedom to trade, or for any other reason.
To ensure friendly relationships and good business between people living in different states, any free person living in one state, not counting slaves, has the same rights as a free person living in any other state.
If a person charged as a criminal or traitor in one state runs away to another state, the government of the first state has the authority to bring the criminal back to the state in which the crime was committed.
Any official records, documents, trials and decisions made by the court system in one state will be recognized by each of the other states.
Delegates to congress expressed a lofty idealism when they talked about the “friendship” of the thirteen states and of the states’ willingness to work together for their mutual benefit and towards the common good. The reality of the situation was that each state jealously guarded its own power, had no qualms about usurping power from or abusing the power of less powerful states, and ruthlessly supported its own cause at the expense of the common good. The bonds of friendship, rather than being enforced by a structured and centralized government, faltered because of the unwillingness of states to focus on their role as part of a bigger nation.
The Articles of Confederation were worthless in enforcing good interstate relations because they did not endow Congress with the authority to regulate interstate trade or to intervene in questions of interstate disputes, except as a last resort. The Articles also made it too difficult for Congress to easily pass legislation beneficial to the common good. Furthermore, Congress itself was so plagued by poor interstate relations and low morale that it was often unable to address areas that did fall under its direct control.
The failure of a supreme authority to regulate interstate commerce became a problem because, although Congress was endowed with the sole authority to negotiate foreign treaties, it did not have the power to control trade between individual states and foreign countries. States were solely granted the right to levy imposts on foreign goods, and they freely interpreted this to mean goods from other countries as well as other states in the United States. States insisted on printing their own paper money and requiring it in kind for payment of tariffs of purchase of goods. Bordering states that shared the same rivers struggled to exert control by imposing competing tolls. In addition to a variety of different customs regulations and currencies, state governments sought commercial advantage over other states, and based their policies on what would bring their state the biggest rewards, not what was best for the common economic good.
These interstate trade wars developed because states with clear commercial advantages abused their power. The disadvantaged states without ports could not import goods directly into their state and had to rely on neighboring states with ports. These neighboring states often charged to transport goods either into or out of the state. The only recourse for the states without ports was to retaliate by enacting their own tariffs on imported goods. Therefore, the consumer was caught up in a confusing and costly interstate battle resulting from interstate jealousies and a system of commerce that lacked uniformity. Consumers, farmers, and merchants bore the brunt of these policies, but appeals for change accomplished nothing.
Committees of merchants organized to appeal for a more regulated system of commerce. Nationalist politicians did what they could to make improvements to the system. Alexander Hamilton tried in 1781, and again in 1783, to draft an amendment that granted Congress the right to levy and collect an impost. This would not only provide some regulation to the world of trade, but would also provide Congress with a much-needed source of revenue. Many states were surprisingly eager to relinquish their control of commerce in order to relieve some of the confusion, but it required unanimous approval before it could become law. Unfortunately, Rhode Island opposed both measures, insisting that this infringed upon the sovereignty of the states. The inability of Congress to make much needed change without a unanimous decision, not to mention their inability to regulate commerce, fueled interstate tension further. Rhode Island especially irked the majority of states for not graciously succumbing to the desires of the other twelve states.
Rhode Island again became the source of interstate frustration when it passed debt-repayment laws that required all creditors to accept the highly inflated and worthless Rhode Island currency. This attempt to quickly pay off its debt demonstrated a naïveté about the fine points of finance, and appalled commercial men in other states. It would have been better for Rhode Island’s line of credit had the state tried to pay off the actual value it owed over a longer period of time. Instead, creditors from other nations and other states were forced either to take full payment in paper currency, of a greatly diminished value, or give up their repayment altogether. Rhode Island established criminal penalties for refusing to accept its currency and removed the right to trial-by-jury in cases related to debt-collection. Acting solely in its own interest, Rhode Island jeopardized not only the United States’ line of credit with foreign creditors but also threatened to remove civil liberties. Without a strong central government to control the behavior of individual states, there was no recourse when an individual state acted against the general welfare of the United States.
The same lack of “friendship” between states existed between delegates to Congress as well. Sometimes openly hostile to delegates from other states, openly criticizing others in letters and other public forums, the delegates did not behave like friends, or even like polite acquaintances. A general lack of camaraderie plagued Congress in the form of low attendance and states refusing to compromise their own best interest. Congress was often unable to exert the few powers it did have to sooth interstate rivalries simply because of lack of a quorum. In other cases, Congress was unable to act objectively because it was so easily manipulated by powerful states. When appealed to by one state, Congress had to carefully weigh that state’s influence (especially financial) when deciding whether to intervene. For example, when Vermont, which had been formed by land taken from New York, appealed to Congress to be accepted as a new state, New York withheld its requisitioned funds to pressure Congress into deciding on its behalf. The “perpetual union of firm friendship” lacked both the friendship and the coercive power necessary to regulate interstate relations. Relying on the pure motives of states, motives that were in fact driven by self-interest and jealousy, destroyed the possibility of a firm league of friendship.
Ironically, one of the only attempts of self- regulation between two states actually succeeded in becoming a uniform policy and became the first step towards a revision of the Articles of Confederation. This self-regulation was also deemed technically illegal by the Articles, which did not allow states to contract treaties outside of the forum of Congress. Nevertheless, leaders from Maryland and Virginia agreed to meet in Alexandria to discuss a mutually agreed upon regulation of commerce on the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers. As was typical of the time, the Virginia delegation did not get the message and failed to attend. When the Maryland delegates arrived with no reception, they contacted two of the Virginia delegates and persuaded them to go ahead with the meeting anyway, which they did at Mount Vernon. The results of the meeting went far beyond the original goals; not only did the delegates resolve the dispute relating to the two rivers, they also established a uniform policy of commerce and trade regulations in all areas of exchange between the two states. Additionally, their success inspired them to call a convention of all states interested in discussing issues of common commerce in Annapolis. This Annapolis Convention is what eventually led to the call for a Constitutional Convention in May 1787. Ironically, it seems that the states were eager to befriend each other in order to work towards their mutual interests, but somehow the Articles reinforced jealousies rather than effectively encouraging the friendship necessary to enact uniform policies towards the common good.
Summary—Representation in Congress
Each state can decide how it wants to select its delegates, but it must do so once a year, prior to the annual meeting of Congress on the first Monday of November.
States can send between two and seven delegates to Congress. A delegate cannot serve for more than three years in every six-year period. A delegate cannot hold another position in the United States government for which he receives any kind of payment or benefit, either directly or indirectly.
Each state has one vote in Congress, irrespective of how many delegates are sent.
Delegates’ freedom of speech is protected while they are serving in Congress. Delegates may not be arrested or put in prison while they are in Congress, or traveling to and from, unless they have committed treason, a felony, or have been guilty of breach of the peace.
Article 5 strongly supports the sovereignty of states clause of Article 2. Instead of outlining a national system of elections to Congress, which would be more reflective of the overall population of the United States, the Articles of Confederation APATHY IS THE REAL VILLAIN OF HISTORY!
require that each state provide at least two delegates, regardless of the amount of land, population size, or wealth of that state.
Although John Dickinson’s original draft of the Articles of Confederation included equal representation in Congress regardless of state size, other conservatives were deeply troubled by the implications of this form of representation. This issue became another debate between the radicals on one side and the conservatives on the other. The radicals argued that since the government of the United States was a loose confederation of equal and sovereign states, they must be equally represented in that confederation. Furthermore, radicals insisted that Congress did not have the authority to determine how elections were to be carried out in the individual states, each of which had its own constitution and means for holding elections.
Conservatives, on the other hand, hoped for a strong centralized government and felt that only a system of “national” representation would effectively represent the people. In this form of representation, elections would be administered by Congress and would be the same in each state: the people would be represented by a number of delegates proportionate to the population in their state. This method of representation places sovereignty more firmly in the nation than the state, and was deeply opposed by radicals.
The evolution of Benjamin Franklin’s thinking on the topic of representation is interesting because it reflects the transition between a colonial mindset and a young national mindset. When Franklin drafted the Albany Plan of Union in 1754, he called for equal representation from each colony to that congress (two per colony). However, when he drafted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in early 1776, he called for a system of representation in which delegates were chosen annually in proportion to their population of males between the age of sixteen and sixty (one delegate to every five thousand). Franklin clearly distinguished between the union created during the colonial period, which didn’t have much overall authority to begin with and could be a loose confederation, and the necessity for the young nation to place more authority in the hands of a central government.
Article 5 also established some precedents for our current national government. The years a delegate could serve were restricted (term limits), they had limited immunity from legal proceedings while Congress was in session, and their freedom of speech was guaranteed while in Congress.
Summary—Powers denied to states
States are denied certain powers under the Articles of Confederation. States may not send ambassadors to foreign countries, receive foreign ambassadors, or make any kind of arrangement, meeting or treaty with any king, prince or state. No person or state may accept any gift, including titles of nobility, from a foreign state. Neither Congress nor any state can give people noble titles.
A state may not enter into any treaties or alliances with another state without the approval of Congress.
A state may not make imposts on trade that will interfere with the terms of foreign treaties made by Congress.
A state cannot maintain any warships, or other military forces (troops) during peacetime unless Congress has determined it necessary to defend that state, its trade or forts in that state. Each state must maintain a “well-regulated and disciplined” militia, and a sufficient amount of supplies for that militia.
While the focus of Article 6 is on the limitations of state power, it also reflects certain historical realities that faced the young nation, and addresses the threats, both internal and external, that the nation was vulnerable to in its early years.
One of the most important and agreed upon ideas in the Articles of Confederation was its anti- nobility sentiment. Colonists, even the most conservative, understood how a system of hereditary nobility would serve to sharpen class distinctions, limit economic and political freedom, and corrupt a democratic government. They wanted to break from the tradition of the British parliament, where the House of Lords, made up only of nobles, had clear advantages over the House of Commons, comprised of people elected from each region. Although many colonists still favored an “elite” group holding greater power than the masses, they preferred that the elite group be defined by actual property holdings and wealth, rather than by a title of nobility.
Another strongly held belief by most colonists was the importance of protecting the state, and therefore the people, through the establishment of a well-regulated militia. Based on the tradition of the minutemen, the militia clause recognizes the constant need of a state to be on guard against military threats and invasion. Although states could not raise armies and navies, they were required to have a group of soldiers prepared in case of threats from within or without. This would also protect the state governments against a strong national military.
During the time of the Articles of Confederation, the states faced many sources of potential invasion. The nations that had fought in the American Revolution and still occupied parts of North America were the most threatening. Great Britain, although agreeing to abandon the forts in the Great Lakes region, refused to leave. They therefore posed a military threat from the north (Canada) and the west. Not only were they able to amass troops on the northern and western borders of the United States if they chose, but they also maintained their trade posts in the Great Lakes Region and could provide Native American tribes with weapons to be used against the states.
Great Britain could also serve as an outside alliance for disgruntled states. When Ethan Allen formally declared Vermont independent from New York, Great Britain promised to recognize its independence if it would become an ally. Vermont tried to use this proposed alliance to force Congress to accept its independence at this time, but Great Britain lost interest in Vermont once the war ended. However, the potential for powerful outside alliances was there, and threatened the internal stability of the United States.
Spain, holding territory to the south and west of the United States also posed a threat. Although Spain had been an ally of the United States during the American Revolution, it feared the expansion of the United States west beyond the Mississippi. Spain tried to woo those westerners into Spanish citizenship in order to strengthen its hold on the Mississippi River region. In the Jay-Gardoqui talks, Spain attempted to block all American trade from the Mississippi River, in hopes of coercing American farmers living in the western regions of the United States to become Spanish citizens in order to sustain their livelihood.
Furthermore, most Native American tribes were allies of the British, and felt threatened by the American tendency to grab great amounts of western land for their ever-increasing population. Border states, especially to the South (Georgia, North Carolina), constantly feared the threat of a Native American attack or invasion. The qualification that states are not empowered to wage war, unless under imminent attack, refers to the very distinct possibility that a state would find itself under attack without a formal declaration of war, or enough time to ask for permission of Congress to defend itself.
A more remote fear of internal division is alluded to in the clause about states entering into alliances with each other. Those who drafted the Articles were well aware of the power of unity in opposing a governing force. They anticipated that states might become unhappy with the central government. In this light, the writers of the Articles attempted to eliminate the possibility that states could join in unity against the government. However, the wording is weak and emphasizes the inability of Congress to enforce its rulings. This clause implies that as long as states inform congress of their alliance, the alliance is okay. Even if Congress prohibited the alliance, how could it force the alliance to end?
The trade meeting between Maryland and Virginia that took place at Mount Vernon in 1786 is a perfect example of what was disallowed by the Articles of Confederation. Congress did nothing at all to stop this meeting or alliance, and when an additional meeting was scheduled at Annapolis, inviting all of the states into a commercial alliance, Congress still did nothing. Congress had good reason to perceive this alliance as a threat, since it served to undermine its authority by re-making the articles of Confederation. However, in its powerless position, Congress did nothing.
Article 6 is also significant in the way in which it expresses the relationship between Congress and the states with regard to commerce. States are not allowed to partake in any sort of foreign diplomacy or treaty making—that power is reserved for Congress. However, Congress is not granted the power to make imposts on foreign trade. Therefore, each state is allowed to determine its own imposts, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the terms of foreign treaties made by Congress.
The phrasing of the clause on imposts leaves a huge flexibility of interpretation, allowing states to determine their imposts. The allowance of such flexibility demonstrates the powerlessness of Congress when it came to taxes of any kind. All of the other clauses in this Article assert that a state may not do something (such as make war), without the approval of Congress. In the impost clause the necessary approval of Congress is noticeably missing because Congress does not possess any authority over imposts. Therefore, the judgment is left to the states, not to Congress, about the permissibility of each impost.
Article 6, in attempting to define the limitations of state powers, actually does more to indicate the threats facing the young nation and the powerless nature of Congress. Even the powers given exclusively to Congress, such as making war and peace, are transferable to a state when Congress approves. A weak Congress lacking the power of enforcement could have been powerless to stop a state that usurped the congressional power of making war. Fortunately, the only usurpation of power that it was unable to stop, the Mount Vernon Conference, ultimately resulted in a strengthening of national power.
When raising an army to defend the United States, each state legislature has the authority to name all colonels and lesser officers in any way they choose to lead the troops recruited from that state.
The common treasury will supply any money needed to pay for war or to defend the country, when allowed by Congress. Each state has the responsibility of contributing to the common treasury based on the relative value of all the land within that state. Congress will determine the method of surveying land and estimating the total value per state. The taxes to support the common treasury will be made and collected by each state legislature by a date decided by Congress.
Probably the most taboo topic throughout the duration of thAmerican Revolution was taxation. Because it served as the impetus that brought the colonists to declare their independence from Great Britain, “taxation without representation” was a rallying cry that few forgot when visualizing their ideal government.
Most agreed that taxation was necessary to support a stable government. However, they also believed that the power to tax should be in the hands of the government that represents the people. Since the radicals had successfully placed sovereignty solidly in the state governments, people accepted, in theory, the right of the state legislature to levy taxes. However, they outright rejected the possibility of a central government levying any sort of taxes whatsoever.
Since one of the primary purposes of the Confederation Congress was to provide for mutual defense, it also had to establish a financial means to support its purpose. Hamstrung without the power to tax, Congress relied on requisitions of money from each state. Powerless to enforce its requisitions, Congress and the administrators of finance often resorted to begging states to pay. While this served to substantially weaken the ability of Congress to carry out its few responsibilities, it also reflected the unresolved debate of how states should be taxed.
One of the most divisive debates that occurred in the ratification process of the Articles of Confederation was the means by which the amount of a state’s tax contribution would be determined. This issue was also closely linked to representation in congress and the requisitioning of troops. At issue was the means by which political and economic power would be measured. For the purposes of taxation, Congress had to decide whether labor or land was the best indicator of economic strength. This debate between land and labor faced head-on the issue of sectionalism and slavery.
Northern states had well-cultivated and productive land, but southern states had tremendous labor resources in the form of slavery. Southern states also held immense tracts of land, but they did not have the same productivity value of northern states because they were not as densely populated or cultivated. In order to protect its own best interests, states supported the means of taxation that required them to pay the least taxes.
Northern states argued that taxation should be based on the number of laborers in each state, including slaves, because only through labor is land turned into economic value. Southern states countered this argument by stating slaves were property, and unless Northern states agreed to count their horses and cows for the taxation purposes, slaves could not be fairly counted. Aside from this obviously derogatory statement about the nature of slavery, the southern point of view clearly demonstrates that they would count slaves if it was to their advantage for representation purposes, but not when it would take a large chunk out of their profit from slavery.
Southern states strongly argued that it was the value of property that determined the potential wealth of a state, because property was more permanent than laborers. The land argument put the burden of taxation on the Northerners, who obviously resented that they would have to shoulder the burden of debt while the lucrative southern industry of cash crops would continuously prosper. Congress retained the power to determine the value of land, and therefore determine the relative contribution of taxes from each state. However, without the power to enforce the collection of taxes, which was a sole power of the state, Congressional finances became a large and problematic issue under the Articles of Confederation.
Summary—Powers of Congress
Only Congress has the right to make peace and make war (except in those cases described in Article 6), to send and receive ambassadors, and to make treaties and alliances with foreign nations. Congress also has the exclusive right to give permission to private ships to attack enemy ships, and to oversee trials related to crimes on the sea.
Congress will help resolve conflicts between states relating to boundaries, jurisdiction and other issues, but only as a last resort.
Other powers of Congress include the right to determine how much precious metal is in each coin, and the value of coins made by them or any state. Congress determines the standard of weights and measures. Congress has authority over trade and other affairs involving Indians, as long as the Indians are not residents of any of the states and that Congress does not infringe on the states’ rights by getting involved. Congress establishes the post offices in each state, and can charge postage on items handled by the post office to help pay expenses. Congress appoints all officers of the army except regimental officers appointed by states, commissions all officers that serve in the army or navy, makes the rules to regulate the army and navy, and has the sole power to direct the army and navy.
The Congress has the authority to create a committee called the Committee of the States that serves in place of Congress when Congress is not in session. The Committee is made up of one delegate from each state. The Congress can also appoint other committees and civil officers as needed to manage the affairs of the United States. Congress can appoint a president, but he may only serve for one year every interval of three years. Congress has the authority to determine how much money is needed to run the United States, to spend the necessary amounts, and to borrow money on the credit of the United States. Every six months, a finance report will be published for all the states. The Congress has the right to build the army and navy, deciding how many forces are needed and requesting the amount from each state, proportional to the number of white inhabitants in that state. Once the request for troops is made, the state has the responsibility to appoint the regimental officers, organize and equip the soldiers, and march to the designated place at the time requested by Congress.
In order for Congress to act on the specifically listed powers above, nine of the thirteen states must agree. Issues of any other type, except for the request to adjourn from day to day, must be decided by the majority of states.
Congress has the power to stop a session of Congress or move it to any other place in the United States, but Congress cannot be out of session for more than six months at a time. Each month, Congress will publish their proceedings, unless a matter of security requires secrecy. These proceedings will include the voting patterns of each delegate if it is recorded by request of a delegate, and each delegate may get a copy of the proceedings to present to the state legislature.
What seems at first glance to be a lengthy list of powers granted to Congress under the Articles of Confederation was in actuality little more than a grant of limited powers necessary for the mutual defense of the United States. The Articles did not grant Congress the powers necessary for the effective governance of the United States.
In Article 9, the debate over the strength of the state versus the nation is articulated in a detailed list of precisely which powers Congress does and does not have. Although granted with the sole power to act in affairs of an international nature, Congress holds little authority over the day-to-day management of a nation. The radicals wanted it that way, inserting as many checks against strong governmental power as they could.
The most glaring deficiency of power is that the Congress served only a legislative role, and only in a narrowly defined area. Evolving out of a congress that united solely for the purpose of winning a war, the final draft of the Articles of Confederation did not recognize the need for a more expansive central government.
The only power of taxation belonging to Congress came in the form of postage, the revenue of which could solely be used to support the post office. Congress only possessed judicial power in cases involving felonies and piracy on the high seas and in cases related to the regulations it established for the army and the navy. The Articles imply that Congress had the authority to judge matters related to the boundaries of states or their jurisdiction, but only as a last resort. And, Congress lacked the executive power to enforce such decisions. Even if Congress were to rule in matters of interstate conflict, it would be up to the states to abide by that ruling.
Closely related to boundary disputes, but conspicuously absent from the Articles of Confederation, is whether Congress had the authority to acquire and administer land claimed by multiple parties. As the single most divisive issue facing the Congress when they drafted the Articles, it also served to delay Maryland’s ratification, thereby delaying the Articles being put into effect, by four years.
At issue was a conflict between “landed” states, whose original charters granted them land west of the Appalachian Mountains (and in some cases to the Pacific Ocean), and the “landless” states, whose boundaries were clearly defined and finite. The situation was made even more complicated by the Proclamation of 1763, in which King George III dictated that land west of the Appalachian Mountains was off-limits to American settlers even if it was included in their colonial charters. Private speculators and corporations took advantage of this no-man’s land to purchase property directly from Native Americans, banking on the fact that when the area was opened up, they would already own huge stakes of it.
The declaration of war complicated things further. Did the declaration of war return land to each state as originally chartered? Did the declaration of war automatically endow Congress, as the successor to the British king, with authority over the land referred to in the Proclamation of 1763? The “landless” states believed that the land belonged to Congress, and further bolstered their argument by claiming that disputed land should be shared by all the states. The “landed” states, which also happened to favor state sovereignty, argued that the declaration of war meant that each state returned to the sovereignty, rights, and privileges as granted in its original colonial charter. In other words, the “landed” states claimed the land as legally theirs.
The “landless” states had a variety of concerns regarding this situation. Primarily, they were concerned that influential speculators living within their states would lose the land they had purchased from Native Americans before the war. Additionally, Congress decided to allow soldiers to be compensated with land instead of cash, and “landless” states did not have the excessive land to give that states like Virginia and North Carolina did. This unfair economic advantage threatened the economic future of the “landless” states as well.
Fiercely jealous of the income potential of the “landed” states, “landless” states frequently argued that they would be swallowed up by their more powerful neighbors. “Landed” states could not only gain an economic advantage from the land, but with a broader base of income to draw revenue from, they could also use lower taxes to entice residents away from the “landless” states. The “landless” states would be left in an unfair position of being economically disadvantaged, and would be forced into a perpetual cycle of levying higher taxes on a increasingly smaller population until they went broke.
States like Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey claimed that Congress had to resolve the competing claims over western lands as part of the Articles of Confederation. Congress strongly resisted doing so, and individual “landed” states proceeded to deal with the land as though it belonged to them. Virginia even went so far as to hold trials to determine if the claims of speculation companies were legal. In all cases, Virginia determined that the land was unlawfully sold and purchased, and that any claims but those authorized by Virginia were worthless.
Finding no remedy in the Articles, Maryland withheld its signature in protest. Although this concerned the other states, the “landed states” still refused to give up their land to Congress. Instead, the solution was born out of military necessity. When the southern states began to feel the power of the British invasion late in the war, a French diplomat threatened to remove the protection of the French navy from Maryland’s seas if Maryland did not sign the Articles. Meanwhile, some Virginians began to see that it would be more of a burden, and potentially bad for democracy, to have to govern over too much land. Around the same time as Maryland signed the Articles, Virginia ceded its land north of the Ohio River to Congress.
The Virginia cession of land is significant in that it allowed Congress to pass the Land Ordinance of 1784 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, both providing a process for the fair and equal entry of new states to the union. The cession also partially increased congressional authority in the acquisition of new lands. In conjunction with the clause relating to congressional jurisdiction over Native American tribes (who did not live in one of the states), Congress gained almost sole authority over land and issues west of the Appalachian Mountains.
However advantageous this authority was to new American settlers on this western land, it severely limited the rights of Native Americans. Native American tribes, although many lived within the boundaries of the United States, were defined and classified as “foreign nations.” This precedent continued throughout U.S. history, as Native Americans were continually denied citizenship and inclusion in the U.S. Government. Having the authority to deal with “Indian Affairs,” it is a shame that Congress did not make better use of it.
Other precedents were established in Article 9 as well. The Articles provide for a president to be elected from amongst the delegates in Congress. Although this president is not endowed with any executive authority, he is limited in the number of terms he may serve. Furthermore, the practice of publicly communicating both the proceedings of Congress (including voting records), and the financial state of the union were good democratic policies and precedents because they made Congress accountable to the people who elected them.
Although the western land issue was one of the most controversial issues relating to the Articles of Confederation, Article 9 also included the outcome of the controversy relating to the requisitioning of troops. The Articles dictate that troops will be requisitioned in proportion to the total number of white inhabitants of each state. Non-slave states opposed this as unfair because while white males in slave states went off to war, their slaves could continue to work on the plantations. In contrast, when white males in non- slave states went off to war, the productivity of their farms would suffer due to the loss of the chief laborer. This issue was related to issues of representation in Congress and the requisition of funds as discussed in other articles.
Within Article 9 is perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks that Congress experienced in trying to run the daily affairs of the government. The Articles dictate that in most matters over which Congress has authority, nine of the thirteen states must agree to any particular action. This extremely high percentage made it difficult for Congress to act or pass legislation; the problem was further complicated by the Congress’ frequent inability to reach a quorum (mandatory minimum attendance) because of low attendance.
Despite the lengthy description of powers in Article 9, Congress was actually quite weak. It was a political body crippled by an inability to execute its laws, hemmed in by a limited range of authority, impeded by the absence of delegates, and trapped without the necessary unanimity to extend its legislative reach to matters beyond providing for the mutual defense.
Summary—The Committee of the States
When Congress is not in session, a committee called the Committee of the States has the full authority to act in its place, and take on additional powers as necessary if nine of the states agree. However, the Committee of the States can never adopt any powers that specifically require the consent of nine states while Congress is in session.
Under John Dickinson’s draft of the Articles of Confederation, this body as called the Council of State, and was endowed with permanent bureaucratic and executive control over a variety of matters. It was changed to the Committee of the States and vested with minimal powers to sufficient only to simply manage the affairs under the authority of Congress when Congress was not in session.
Dickinson’s Council would have been in charge of any matter agreed upon by nine of thirteen states, and was probably inspired by the bureaucratic committees that had existed during the war to help with administrative duties. Dickinson’s Council could have been empowered to administer matters of commerce, trade, education, or any other area that Congress deemed appropriate. However, radicals viewed this vague extension of congressional authority as threatening to the state’s sovereignty.
Therefore, the Committee of the States, as described in the final draft of the Articles, had even stricter restrictions placed on it than Congress. The Committee could never make war or peace, could never coin or regulate money, and could never appoint the military commanders. In their zeal to protect themselves from centralized power falling into the hands of a body not directly controlled by the states, the radicals also stripped the national government of the only semblance of executive authority it had.
Under the guise of managing matters that fell under the authority of Congress, bureaucratic committees operated both during and after the war. Originally, delegates to Congress were required to sit on committees. Over time, this policy evolved toward bureaucracy, first to the establishment of committees or boards that included appointed outsiders, and then to the appointment of a non-delegate as single head of each department. This secretary system outlasted the Continental Congress, and the Confederation Congress appointed a Secretary of War and Foreign Affairs, a Secretary of the Post Office, and a Secretary of Finance.
The Committee of the States met only once during the summer of 1784 and suffered the same low attendance as Congress. It never reached its required quorum to accomplish any of the administrative tasks assigned to it.
If Canada chooses to declare its independence and agrees to the terms of the Articles of Confederation, it can join the union and become a fully sovereign state like the other thirteen states. This offer does not include any other colony but Canada, unless nine states agree to extend this offer to another colony.
Establishing both the means by which a new state could enter the “union” on equal footing, and an attempt for military security, Article 11 specifically targets one issue in a way that no other article does.
Annexing Canada and formally absorbing it into the folds of the United States would have increased the power of the U.S. tremendously. The inclusion of Canada in the union would significantly increase the U.S. resources of land, people, types of industry, and available ports. It would increase the tax base of Congress as well as contribute its valuable resources to the overall economic good of the U.S. Furthermore, the annexation of Canada would help to significantly eliminate the biggest threat to American Independence: the presence of Great Britain on the North American continent.
If Canada had overthrown British rule in the 1780s and joined the United States as a sovereign state, the British would have had no further holdings of land in North America. However, after the war, the British continued to violate the Treaty of Paris by maintaining forts in the western territory of the United States. The British controlled the Great Lakes, which bordered the U.S. and Canada and the St. Lawrence River, thereby giving them powerful control over trade in the interior of North America. The United States aimed to eliminate the presence of as many of its competitors as possible. Unfortunately, Canada had no interest in joining the United States and remained a British colony. The British presence north and west of the United States continued to be a problem, and eventually led to the War of 1812.
What this Article did accomplish, however, was to establish the precedent by which new states would be absorbed into the union. With this precedent, rather than representing a governing body with fixed limits, the United States would be able to expand and absorb sovereign states on an equal basis, instead of as colonies. This idea was later put into practice in Thomas Jefferson’s Land Ordinance of 1784, which provided new states with the same right to self-governance and representation in congress as those enjoyed by older states.
Summary—Debts of Congress
The United States takes full financial responsibility for all the debts accrued and money borrowed under the authority of the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolution. The United States solemnly pledges to repay all these debts.
In an attempt to maintain the good credit of the United States in the eyes of foreign nations and creditors, the Confederation Congress guaranteed that all debts contracted by the Continental Congress would be repaid. However, this commitment to repay debts is not matched in the Articles by any articulated means of repayment.
Other than the taxes that the states were supposed to supply, Congress had no independent source of revenue with which to repay its creditors. Because many individual states had their own debts from the war, they were typically more inclined to pay those first before contributing to repayment of the national debt. These issues were compounded by the fact that each state printed its own paper money and established its own set of commerce regulations. Furthermore, inflation raged out of control in both the national and state currencies.
Given the limited range of authority in matters of finance, it is amazing that the U.S. Congress managed to stay financially afloat at all. Much of this could be contributed to the abilities of the first Secretary of Finance, Robert Morris, who tried to work within the confines of the system as much as possible. In 1782, he established the Bank of North America. Although this was suspected by some to be an illegal extension of the authority of Congress, it passed Congress and greatly assisted in financial stability. However, his attempts, along with Alexander Hamilton, to pass an amendment empowering Congress to collect a 5% impost failed in both 1781 and 1783.
Without an established source of revenue, Congress also could not pay the soldiers in the Continental Army. This moved troops close to mutiny on two separate occasions. At Newburgh in March of 1783, troops protesting their lack of pay came close to mutiny until George Washington intervened. In Philadelphia in June 1783, another group of mutinous troops demanding pay forced Congress to retreat to Princeton. During this year, Robert Morris resigned from the position, haunted by accusations of corrupt politics and inability to perform his job due to the limitations of Congress.
The issue of debt repayment deeply worried individual states as well. Massachusetts levied high taxes and imposed strict regulations about debt repayment after the war. In 1787, these taxation methods resulted in an armed protest of Massachusetts farmers, led by Daniel Shays, a former captain in the Continental Army. The Massachusetts legislature’s unyielding attempts to immediately repay its debts abused the rights of citizens in much the same way as the British Parliament had a decade earlier: the Massachusetts farmers rallied under the same cry as the American Revolutionaries, “no taxation without representation,” and relied on similar military tactics.
When the legislature failed to respond to their petitions for change, Shays and his followers closed the courts and attempted to capture a federal arsenal of weapons in Springfield, MA. Referred to as Shays’ Rebellion, this group of farmers, although defeated by the local militia, proved to many that issues of taxation would continue to stir up internal conflict unless managed by a strong national government. Reactions to Shays’ Rebellion largely propelled politicians to favor a strengthening of the national government and encouraged their participation in the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Article 13 and Conclusion
Summary—Pledge of Perpetual Union
Each state must accept and agree to follow the decisions of the United States in Congress assembled. The states must follow all of the rules as stated in the Articles of Confederation. The union of states is meant to last forever. No alterations can be made to the Articles without the agreement of Congress and the confirmation by each of the state legislatures.
Each of the delegates that sign this document has the power to commit the state that they represent to all of the Articles and their specific contents. The people of each state will agree to follow the rulings of Congress on all matters they discuss, and each of the states agrees to never violate the union. We have signed this as members of Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 9, 1778, the third year of American Independence.
Article 13 and the conclusion provide the means by which the Articles will be enforced and establishes the process for amendment to the Articles of Confederation.
The authority of the government established by the Articles rests in the pledge of all of the delegates to respect the union of thirteen states forever. This forces each individual state to rely on the honor of each of the other states to fulfill their mutual commitments. This reflects a notion similar to the “friendship” promise of Article 2, which had already been demonstrated to be ineffective.
The farther removed the states felt from the threat of war, the less they cared about honoring their pledge to abide by the Articles. In the absence of a strong and coercive power to force states into compliance, states failed to send delegates to Congress, were delinquent on contributions to the general treasury, negligent regarding the matters of foreign commerce, and eager to take power into their own hands. When the need for mutual defense was removed, there seemed to be little need for a central government whose authorization solely covered things related to the common defense.
The significance of this portion of the Articles of Confederation lies notonly in demonstrating the weakness of the government from 1781-1789, but also because it provided the means through which the Articles could be revised and the U.S. Constitution could be formed.
Although this Article states that the union cannot be violated by any state, it does allow for amendment to the Articles through agreement in Congress and approval by each of the state legislatures. The convention of all states, except for Rhode Island, in Philadelphia in May 1787, met under this guise to “amend” the Articles, not replace them. When the new and radically different document was adopted by this convention, it had to be ratified by all of the states before it took effect.
It is questionable whether this transition between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution was legal at all. The Articles stated that Congress had to agree to amendments, and the convention was not Congress. However, given the weakness of the Congress and the strength of the states, it would have been futile to try to stop it. Plus, Congress, more than any other group, probably understood the difficulties inherent in a powerless central government, and therefore welcomed the chance for increased powers after being so long held captive by the supreme sovereignty of the states.
The transition from Articles to constitution was somewhat in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which stated that a people have a right to overthrow a government that does not protect its fundamental rights. This time, however, the people did not demand a more democratic government that put sovereignty solely in the state, but clamored for a stronger central government that had a better chance of protecting their property from the chaos of too many competing state governments.
For the answers to the above problems of our government can be found on the link below
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