AP US: The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789)

Articles of Confederation

  • just before the end of the war, the Articles were approved, and a new government was formed
  • time span: end of Revolutionary War until the Constitution
  • life is tough under the Articles
    • central government doesn't have much power
    • confederal form of government
      • independent states have all the power
      • central government has very limited power
  • Weaknesses of Articles
    • unicameral Congress
      • every state has one vote (9 out of 13 votes are needed to pass a law, which is not a simple majority)
      • often, didn't have 9 states present, so nothing could be done
      • to amend the Articles, all 13 must agree
    • could not tax or raise armies
      • government has two functions: protect and serve
        • without an army, it can't protect
        • without money, it can't serve
    • no executive or judicial branches
      • no national power - rely on states' executives to enforce laws
      • no national judiciary - rely on states to interpret laws

State Constitutions

  • Republicanism - a representative democracy
  • all had governors; most were very strong and could veto
  • most had bicameral legislatures
  • property generally required for voting
    • but, some had universal white male suffrage
    • they are beginning to move away from religious, property, and other restrictions on suffrage - so long as the voters are white males
  • most had bills of rights - but there's no bill of rights in the Articles
  • Many continued state-established religions
    • but slowly begin to de-establish religion
    • move towards religious toleration
  • want to maintain what they had prior to the Revolution
  • many good ideas, but fear a national-level government that is too strong
    • they had just fought a war to get away from overly-powerful government
    • they give the states authority instead

Troubles with the Articles

  • the US is now a nation, so they must have a foreign policy
    • must deal with Britain, France, Spain, pirates, etc.
  • Territorial conflicts
    • Northwest Territory
      • Michigan, Ohio, and the midwest
      • states have claims in these areas, but they will need to give up these claims for the Articles to work
      • this also applies to contested land in the far South, and west of the Appalachians
    • Spain
      • wants the Mississippi Territory (future state of Mississippi)
      • owns New Orleans
        • all trade on the Mississippi River has to go through New Orleans
        • won't give right of deposit, so goods must be unloaded, taxed, and then reloaded to be shipped out
  • Terrible Economy
    • situation becomes bad enough that some states threaten secession
    • traders want federal government to fix the economy, but they have no power and are thus unable to do so
    • Spain restricts trade through New Orleans and the Mississippi River
    • Barbary Coast Pirates, Tripoli
      • try to do trade in the Mediterranean, but are attacked by pirates
      • don't have a navy to be able to do anything
      • so, the merchants have to pay the requested tribute
      • thus, a "sovereign nation" is held hostage, for tribute, by pirates
  • Foreign Policy
    • France
      • an ally, therefore friendly
      • loaned $8 million to the US, and they want it back
      • however, the US doesn't have this money, and they can't tax to get it
      • France becomes less friendly
    • Britain
      • said that the US could have land west of the Appalachian Mountains
      • but, they wouldn't leave - troops remain in their forts
      • stops US trade with their Caribbean islands
      • supply weapons to the Indians in the Northwest Territory to harass the colonists
      • claim that the US didn't fulfil the Treaty of Paris
        • they say that they didn't give taken land back to the Loyalists, and they haven't paid debts to British merchants
        • however, the letter of the treaty only specified that the government would try, not actually do it

Accomplishments under the Articles

  • Land Ordinance of 1785
    • divides land in Northwest Territory, now the Articles government can sell it to make money
      • PLSS (Public Land Survey System) divides land into 6 square mile townships, which are measured from base lines; each township is divided into 36 Sectors
      • income from Section 16 is reserved for educational funding
  • Northwest Ordinance of 1787
    • one of the major accomplishments of the Confederation Congress
    • lays out a permanent path to statehood
    • intent is to develop way of dealing with the Northwest Territory
    • plan for 5, end up creating 6, new states
      • Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota
    • precedent for statehood process
      • first, you're a territory, with an appointed governor and 4 judges to govern the territory
      • when the population reaches 5000 adult male landowners, a territorial legislature is elected
      • when there are 60,000 citizens, delegates are elected to a state constitutional convention; if Congress approves, you become a state on equal footing with all other states
    • banned slavery

The Economy under the Articles

  • the US emerges from the war as a free, independent nation, with severe economic problems
  • Manufacturing
    • need a manufacturing sector to be able to grow
    • but, would have to compete with Britain and others
    • will be hard to start, and will take a long time
    • Britain floods open US market with cheaper goods
    • so, manufacturing is down
  • Infrastructure
    • highways, bridges, roads, etc.
    • there is, effectively, none - what little there is, is inadequate for commerce and trade
    • needs to be improved, but there's no money
  • Inflation
    • no uniform currency in the US (gives rise to phrase "not worth a continental")
    • arbitrary values are placed on money by local, state, and private banks
    • prices rise
  • Interstate Trade
    • state trade regulations and value of money hinder trade
    • no central control of the trade - government can do nothing
  • nations enters massive depression
  • nothing can be done by central government, so individual states try to solve their own problems
    • heavy taxes on citizens (ex. Massachusetts has a 30% tax on farmers
      • many farmers lose jobs, or go to debtors' prison
      • farmers in Massachusetts organise a petition
        • "Stay Laws" - maintain status quo and keep them out of prison
        • issue more money
        • the petition is rejected
          • legislature actually takes money out of circulation to lower inflation and enhance public's confidence, but deflation occurs instead
  • Shay's Rebellion (1786-1787)
    • led by Daniel Shays
    • decide to shut down the courts - then the state can't issue orders to tax, foreclose, etc.
    • Western Massachusetts
    • met by large militia, but they still manage to shut down the courts
    • stopped and arrested near Springfield
    • sends a chilling message to the nation - other states have financial difficulties, too
    • central government could do nothing - this lack of power is now a serious problem: nation is in danger of collapse

Annapolis Convention (1786)

  • in 1785, there had been the Alexandria Conference
    • Virginia and Maryland delegates had met to discuss ways to improve navigation and commerce on the Potomac River
    • decide it's a national problem, and call the Annapolis Convention
  • 12 representatives from 5 states (NY, NJ, PA, DE, VA)
  • their goal is to address barriers that limited trade and commerce between states
  • not enough states were represented to make any real progress
  • Hamilton and Madison decide to invite other states to a national congress to revise the Articles to create a stronger nation
  • so, they call for a meeting in Philadelphia, which will create the Constitution.
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