Reluctant Nation The Articles of Confederation: America’s first Constitution
Writing the Articles of Confederation • Most Americans gave all of their allegiance to the state they lived in. • In 1775 Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane both submitted constitutions to the 1st Continental Congress…and were ignored. • Finally in 1776 The committee for the first constitution was led by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania • Dickinson presented his first draft to congress in June of 1776, he called them the “Articles of Confederation” • After many revisions, debates they began to be used in 1777 and a long holdout from Maryland the Articles were ratified March 1, 1781 (the Battle of Yorktown was over October 19th).
Why the Articles were written • Dickinson’s plan was concerned with establishing a workable government for mutual defense of the states during the war. • He wrote a constitution that allowed the states to keep their autonomy, he called it a firm “League of Friendship”. • It had virtually no power over the states • George Washington and Alexander Hamilton felt that the Articles did not have enough power to govern the states and believed it would be ineffective.
Provisions (Weaknesses) of the Articles • Each state had one vote, nine votes were needed to pass legislation • All 13 states were required to amend (change) the Articles • No executive branch • No Judicial Branch • One house legislature • The government could not force the states to pay taxes • The government could request soldiers from each state but could not draft them • Printed money that ended up being worthless • Ultimately, congress could make decisions, but had no power to enforce them
Accomplishments of the Articles • Successfully waged a war for independence against Great Britain • Negotiated the Treaty of Paris • Land Ordinance of 1785 - Northwest Ordinance of 1787 • Set up a process for territories to become states. • When the population reached 5,000 males the territory could have a legislature • When the population of a territory reached 60,000 it could apply for statehood. • Made strides in Abolition: Outlawed slavery in the Northwest territory
Problems caused by the Articles • Congress had no money and no power to get it • Congress owed money to American soldiers who fought in the revolution • War Debt- states argued about what was their fare share and refused to pay • States put tariffs on each others goods and interstate commerce came to a halt • Foreign countries began to refuse to do business with any state • Unfair taxes led to people losing jobs and their property being confiscated • The money congress printed continued to be worthless
The Tipping Point: Shays Rebellion • Farmers in Massachusetts (many who fought in the Revolution and had not been paid) were having their property repossessed due to unpaid taxes • A group of angry farmers and veterans began showing up (with guns) at courts in MA and demanding that the judges and tax collectors go home so they could no longer send farmers to debtors prison or repossess their property • They called themselves the “Regulators” or “Shay’s Men” after Daniel Shay’s, a former captain in the Continental Army who was one the regulators.
Shays Rebellion Cont’d • The Regulators decided to supplement their supply of weapons by raiding the Arsenal in Springfield • They were soundly defeated (4 dead, 20 wounded)by a militia led by General William Shepard and retreated • As they were retreating an Army of 4,400 from Boston led by Benjamin Lincoln caught up with them and put an end to the rebellion…Daniel Shays escaped to Vermont (technically a foreign country) • An armed rebellion of Massachusetts farmers who were having their farms confiscated over unpaid taxes
A Call to Action • Henry Knox, one of Washington’s General’s during the revolution, sent Washington a letter explaining what was happening in MA with the rebellion…he stretched the truth a bit • He said the rebellion was incited by the British, that there were thousands of rebels and that they wanted to make the U.S. a communist government (Goldstone, 37). • As this news was passed onto Congress and to the South, everyone feared rebellion and realized there was a drastic need for a stronger central government…a convention was called to revise the Articles…this later became known as the Constitutional Convention.