America's first government
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among all thirteen original states in the United States of America that served as its first constitution. Its drafting by a committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress began on July 12, 1776, and an approved version was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777. The formal ratification by all thirteen states was completed in early 1781. Government under the Articles was superseded by a new constitution and federal form of government in 1789.
Even unratified, the Articles provided a system for the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe and deal with territorial issues and Native American relations. Nevertheless, the weakness of the government created by the Articles became a matter of concern for key nationalists. On March 4, 1789, the general government under the Articles was replaced with the federal government under the United States Constitution. The new Constitution provided for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers
End of Revolutionary War. Treaty grants all British land (which was granted to Native Americans in Proclamation of 1763) to Americans and Florida is granted to Spain. Now, only two nations remain in America: America and Spain.
The Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution established American sovereignty over the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi; the jobs of determining how that land should be governed, and how the conflicting claims to it by several of the states should be resolved, were one of the first major tasks facing the new nation.
The potential for trouble arising from these claims was twofold. One problem was obvious: in many cases more than one state laid claim to the same piece of territory, but clearly only one would be ultimately recognized as the sovereign. The other conflict also threatened the peace of the new union. Only seven of the thirteen states had western land claims, and the other, "landless" states were fearful of being overwhelmed by states that controlled vast stretches of the new frontier. Virginia in particular, which already encompassed 1 in 5 inhabitants of the new nation, laid claim to modern-day Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, and the smaller states feared that it would come to completely dominate the union.
In the end, most of the trans-Appalachian land claims were ceded to the Federal government between 1781 and 1787; New York, New Hampshire, and the hitherto unrecognized Vermont government resolved their squabbles by 1791, and Kentucky was separated from Virginia and made into a new state in 1792. The cessions were not entirely selfless—in some cases the cessions were made in exchange for federal assumption of the states' Revolutionary War debts—but the states' reasonably graceful cessions of their often-conflicting claims prevented early, perhaps catastrophic, rifts among the states of the young Republic, and assuaged the fears of the "landless" states enough to convince them to ratify the new United States Constitution. The cessions also set the stage for the settlement of the Upper Midwest and the expansion of the U.S. into the center of the North American continent, and also established the pattern by which land newly acquired by the United States would be organized into new states rather than attached to old ones.
Georgia held on to its claims over trans-Appalachian land for another decade, and this claim was complicated by the fact that much of the land was also disputed between the United States and Spain. When Georgia finally sold the land west of its current boundaries to the United States for cash in 1802, the last phase of western cessions was complete.
Shays’ Rebellion is the name given to a series of protests in 1786 and 1787 by American farmers against state and local enforcement of tax collections and judgments for debt. Although farmers took up arms in states from New Hampshire to South Carolina, the rebellion was most serious in Massachusetts, where bad harvests, economic depression, and high taxes threatened farmers with the loss of their farms. The rebellion took its name from its symbolic leader, Daniel Shays of Massachusetts, a former captain in the Continental army.
Although it never seriously threatened the stability of the United States, Shays’ Rebellion greatly alarmed politicians throughout the nation. Proponents of constitutional reform at the national level cited the rebellion as justification for revision or replacement of the Articles of Confederation, and Shays’ Rebellion figured prominently in the debates over the framing and ratification of the Constitution.
A meeting of the delegates to fix the Articles of Confederation or form a new Constitution to fix the problems that America was facing. The stated goal of the Convention — the revision of the Articles of Confederation — was quickly discarded, and attention given to more sweeping changes.
The Virginia Plan was favored by the big states. It envisioned a bicameral legislature with both houses having membership proportional to population. The Virginia Plan (also known as the Randolph Plan, after its sponsor, or the Large-State Plan) was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. The plan was drafted by James Madison.
The New Jersey plan was favored by the small states. It called for each state's representation in each house to be equal to every other state's. The New Jersey Plan was a group of proposals presented by William Paterson of New Jersey to the Constitutional Convention on June 15, 1787. Paterson's plan was made in rebuttal to the Virginia Plan, which provided for a very strong central government and representation by population.
The New Jersey Plan provided for only one house of Congress, with each state having equal representation. It also proposed that more than one person head the government, elected and removable by Congress.
The plan was voted down on June 19 as being partial to small states and a hindrance to the establishment of a workable federal government. Eventually the delegates arrived at a compromise between the rival plans.
In determining the population which, in turn, would determine the number of members each state would have in the House of Representatives, the question of slaves was considered. No one suggested that slaves should vote, and the free states argued that they should not be counted at all. The slaveholding states, on the other hand, felt that free and slave should all be counted (since it would make their population larger and add delegates to their houses in Congress). The final compromise was to make the House depend on the free population plus three fifths of the slaves.
The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise reached between delegates from southern states and those from northern states during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention. The debate was over whether, and if so, how, slaves would be counted when determining a state's total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes. The issue was important, as this population number would then be used to determine the number of seats that the state would have in the United States House of Representatives for the next ten years. The effect was to give the southern states a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes than if slaves had been ignored, but fewer than if slaves and free persons had been counted equally, allowing the slaveholder interests to largely dominate the government of the United States until 1861.The compromise was proposed by delegates James Wilson and Roger Sherman.
The Great Compromise settled the debate between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. It split the difference between both plans. The upper house (Senate) would have equal representation from each state. The lower house (House of Representatives) would allocate membership in proportion to population. Also known as the "Connecticut Compromise" or "Sherman's Compromise," the Great Compromise was reached during the U.S. Constitutional Convention in the 1787. Like the previous proposals, the agreement allowed for the creation of the two houses of the U.S. Congress. The members in the lower house, the House of Representatives, were to be allotted based on population. Unlike the previous proposals, the members of the upper house, the Senate, were to be allotted not proportionally, but two to each state. The compromise was reached to address the feeling from the smaller states that their interests would be drowned out by the larger states.
There were many ideas on how to fix the government that existed under the Articles of Confederation. One thing everyone agreed on was that the current Congress did not have enough power. But they were almost all wary of giving the federal government too much power. Madison's famous line is "if men were angels, no government would be necessary." But men are not angels; they desire power, and if there is power to be had, someone will aspire to it. So power is necessary to get things done, but too much power is corrupting. Finding a way to balance the power was needed.
One thing each of the Plans had in common was a division of the government into "departments." An executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch.
When the Convention took up the question of the President, they had a few decisions to make: individual or committee? Appointed or elected? And what powers should the President, in whatever form, be able to carry out? The debate started on June 1, when Wilson almost immediately moved that the Executive be a single person. Sherman was opposed - the lines were clear. States rightists wanted a weak executive; nationalists a strong one. Wilson noted that each of the states had single executives; the idea is well-known and seemed to work. When it came to a vote, the single executive prevailed.
The mode of the selection of the president was one of the most difficult and contentious issues in the 1787 Convention. Some delegates urged that the president be selected by the legislature. Other delegates, favoring direct election, argued that selection by the legislature would mean--at least if presidents could serve more than one term--that the president would be continually trying to please the legislators and would not be truly independent. Delegates opposed to direct election expressed the concern that presidents would always come from more populous states and wondered whether the public would have the knowledge of various candidates necessary to make a wise selection. The final decision of the delegates, to have electors chosen by the various state legislatures elect the president, was the result of a compromise worked out by a committee comprised of one delegate from each of the states and presented to the Convention on September 4, 1787.
A collection of essays written under the pseudonym “Publius” by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, addressed to “The People of the State of New York,” first published in New York City newspapers between October 1787 and August 1788. The purpose of The Federalist Papers was to persuade New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution adopted in Philadelphia in September 1787.
The Federal Convention sent the proposed Constitution to the Confederation Congress, which in turn submitted it to the states for ratification at the end of September 1787. On September 27, 1787, "Cato" first appeared in the New York press criticizing the proposition; "Brutus" followed on October 18, 1787. These and other articles and public letters critical of the new Constitution would eventually become known as the "Anti-Federalist Papers". In response, Hamilton decided to launch a measured defense and extensive explanation of the proposed Constitution to the people of the state of New York. He wrote in Federalist No. 1 that the series would "endeavor to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention.
The Constitution was adopted over the course of two years by the states. The first state to ratify it was Delaware in 1787. A Bill of Rights was proposed in 1789 which helped some states feel more comfortable with the Constitution. Rhode Island was the last to ratify it in 1790 after being threatened to be treated as a foreign government if they did not sign.
The framers of the Constitution feared too much centralized power, adopting the philosophy of divide and conquer. At the national level, they created three different branches of government to administer three different types of power. The legislative branch made the laws through a Congress of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The executive branch enforced the laws through a president, vice president, and numerous executive departments such as Treasury and State. And the judicial branch interpreted the laws through a Supreme Court and other lower courts. In the words of James Madison: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
Within the separation of powers, each of the three branches of government has “checks and balances” over the other two. For instance, Congress makes the laws, but the President can veto them and the Supreme Court can declare them unconstitutional. The President enforces the law, but Congress must approve executive appointments and the Supreme Court rules whether executive action is constitutional. The Supreme Court can strike down actions by both the legislative and executive branches, but the President nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate confirms or denies their nominations. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” wrote James Madison in Federalist 51, so that each branch will seek to limit the power of the other two branches to protect its own power. Such a system makes concerted action more difficult, but it also makes tyranny less likely.
A watershed event in modern European history, the French Revolution began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790s with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. During this period, French citizens razed and redesigned their country’s political landscape, uprooting centuries-old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system. Like the American Revolution before it, the French Revolution was influenced by Enlightenment ideals, particularly the concepts of popular sovereignty and inalienable rights. Although it failed to achieve all of its goals and at times degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, the movement played a critical role in shaping modern nations by showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.
An uprising that afforded the new U.S. government its first opportunity to establish federal authority by military means within state boundaries, as officials moved into western Pennsylvania to quell an uprising of settlers rebelling against the liquor tax. Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the Treasury, had proposed the excise (enacted by Congress in 1791, the first national internal revenue tax) to raise money for the national debt and to assert the power of the national government. Small farmers of the backcountry distilled (and consumed) whiskey, which was easier to transport and sell than the grain that was its source. It was an informal currency, a means of livelihood, and an enlivener of a harsh existence. The distillers resisted the tax by attacking (often tarring and feathering) federal revenue officers who attempted to collect it.
Enforcement legislation touched off what appeared to be an organized rebellion, and in July of 1794 about 500 armed men attacked and burned the home of the regional tax inspector after a smaller group had been fended off the previous day. The following month Pres. George Washington issued a congressionally authorized proclamation ordering the rebels to return home and calling for militia from Pennsylvania and three neighbouring states (New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia). After fruitless negotiations with the 15-member committee representing the rebels (which included Anti-Federalist Pennsylvania legislator and later U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin), Washington ordered some 13,000 troops into the area, but the opposition melted away and no battle ensued. Troops occupied the region and some of the rebels were tried, but the two convicted of treason were later pardoned by the president.
Many Americans, particularly members of the Thomas Jefferson-led fledgling opposition Republican Party, were appalled by the overwhelming use of governmental force, which they feared might be a first step to absolute power. To Federalists, however, the most important result was that the national authority had triumphed over its first rebellious adversary and had won the support of the state governments in enforcing federal law within the states.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. Written by James Madison in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties, the Bill of Rights lists specific prohibitions on governmental power.
One of the many points of contention between Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights that would place specific limits on government power. Federalists argued that the Constitution did not need a bill of rights, because the people and the states kept any powers not given to the federal government. Anti-Federalists held that a bill of rights was necessary to safeguard individual liberty.
It might sound like something out of “Sesame Street” but the XYZ Affair was, in fact, a diplomatic incident between France and America in the late 18th century that led to an undeclared war at sea.
In 1793, France went to war with Great Britain while America remained neutral. Late the following year, the United States and Britain signed the Jay Treaty, which resolved several longstanding issues between those two nations. The French were infuriated by Jay’s Treaty, believing it violated earlier treaties between the United States and France; as a result, they went on to seize a substantial number of American merchant ships. When President George Washington sent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as the U.S. minister to France in 1796, the government there refused to receive him. After John Adams became president in March 1797, he dispatched a three-member delegation to Paris later that same year in an effort to restore peace between the two countries. Once the diplomats—Pinckney along with John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry—arrived overseas they tried to meet with France’s foreign minister, Charles de Talleyrand. Instead, he put them off and eventually had three agents inform the U.S. commissioners that in order to see him they first would have to pay him a hefty bribe and provide France with a large loan, among other conditions. Pinckney’s supposed response was: “No! No! Not a sixpence!”
When word of the French demands reached the United States, it caused an uproar and prompted calls for war. After some members of Congress asked to see the diplomats’ reports regarding what had transpired in France, Adams handed them over with the names of the French agents replaced with the letters X, Y and Z; thus the name XYZ Affair. Congress subsequently authorized various defense measures, including the creation of the Department of the Navy and the construction of warships. Then, in July 1798, it authorized American ships to attack French vessels, launching an undeclared naval war that came to be referred to as the Quasi-War. The hostilities were settled with the Convention of 1800, also known as the Treaty of Mortefontaine, which was ratified in 1801.
Also known as the "Pirate Wars," this was an undeclared war with France.
Relations with France had cooled since the end of American Revolution. When France and Britain went to war in 1793, it strained Franco-American relations. Citizen Edmond Charles Genet, the French minister to America, interfered with American neutrality when he outfitted American privateers to capture British ships and wanted American help to take Spanish Louisiana, all activities that ended with his recall in 1793. Britain and the U.S. signed the Jay Treaty (1794) that France saw as unfair to French trade. Since the war with France, the British depended more on neutral American shipping. By 1796, France started seizing American ships and the French government refused to receive the American minister, Charles C. Pinckney, who ended up escaping to the Netherlands for fear of arrest in February 1797. President John Adams called a special session of Congress in May, and on May 16, 1797, Adams sent a message to Congress supporting the build up of defenses.
A two-year undeclared war followed. French ships harassed and captured American vessels and tried to hinder American trade with Britain. The United States engaged in a military buildup, with George Washington brought out of retirement to serve again as Commander-in-Chief.
The Quasi War pushed the United States into a serious debate about the nature and extent of neutrality, the limits of presidential power, and the role of the military in America. In 1800, Napoleon gained control of France and ushered in a more hospitable diplomatic atmosphere between the two countries. The British and the Americans, while not explicitly working together, had reduced the actions of the French Navy. With the Convention of 1800, the United States and France officially ended hostilities.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by Congress in 1798 in preparation for an anticipated war with France. The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, required aliens to declare their intent to acquire citizenship five years before it could be granted, and rendered people from enemy nations ineligible for naturalization. The subsequent Sedition Act banned the publishing of scandalous or malicious writings against the government.
The acts were designed by Federalists to limit the power of the opposition Republican Party, but enforcement ended after Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by Congress in 1798 in preparation for an anticipated war with France. Interpreting the prominent participation of immigrants in the Republican opposition party as evidence of a relationship between foreigners and disloyalty, Federalists championed tighter restrictions for foreigners and critics of their policies.
The Naturalization Act of 1798 increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, required aliens to declare their intent to acquire citizenship five years before it could be granted, and made persons from ‘enemy’ nations ineligible for naturalization. The act consequently deprived Republicans of an important source of political support. Aliens were specifically affected by two other acts, which authorized their deportation if they were deemed ‘dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States’ and their wholesale incarceration or expulsion by presidential executive order during wartime.
Under the Sedition Act, even the rights of American citizens were curtailed by prohibiting assembly ‘with intent to oppose any measure … of the government’ and made it illegal for any person to ‘print, utter, or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious writing’ against the government.
Armed with these statutes, Federalists attempted to suppress Republican opposition on the basis of ideological differences-most successfully prosecuting newspaperman Thomas Cooper and Republican congressman Matthew Lyon. These controversies provoked the first probing of the constitutional limits on free speech, the press, and the rights of an organized political opposition. When Thomas Jefferson became president, enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts ended. The sedition and incarceration provisions of the acts, however, were resurrected during later wars.
France traded Tuscany's kingship to Spain in exchange for Louisiana. Since Spain never found the riches in America that it had been seeking for centuries, they considered the deal fair, although most historians at the time and today say the deal was favorable to France.
The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso was a treaty between France and Spain in which Spain returned the colonial territory of Louisiana to France. The treaty was negotiated under some duress, as Spain was under pressure from Napoleon, although Spain did gain the Tuscany area.
Historians are generally of the opinion that the treaty clearly favored France. The territory of Spanish Louisiana, then inhabited by approximately 50,000 European settlers, extended from the Gulf of Mexico—the present day state of Louisiana—up to the Canada–US border, an area 100 times that of Tuscany.
However the king of Spain at the time considered it favorable to Spain as he wrote, "(about Louisiana) ...because of our lack of means to provide it (Louisiana) with an increase at the same level as the other Spanish dominions of both Americas, not yielding much to our treasury, nor to our trade, and generating sizable expenses in money and soldiers without profit, and receiving other states in exchange for it, the return of the colony can be deemed as a gain, instead of a sacrifice.(...) Almost all is yet to be done, just a sprout of life on those unpopulated regions. In Tuscany all is done, cultivation perfect, industry flourishing, trade expanded, benign ways, civilization at high level, country rich in monuments and prodigies of art, in precious antiques, in magnificent libraries and renowned academies; a million and a half inhabitants; state revenues of about three million pesos fuertes, no debts; an extent of six thousand five hundred square miles."
Under the original procedure for the Electoral College, each elector could vote for TWO persons. This enabled each voter to vote for their favorite candidate as well as cast a vote for whom they thought could actually win. The person receiving the greatest number of votes, provided that number equaled a majority of the electors, was elected President. The one who received the second greatest number of votes was elected Vice President.
If there were more than one individual who received the same number of votes, and such number equaled a majority of the electors, the House of Representatives would choose one of them to be President. If no individual had a majority, then the House of Representatives would choose from the five individuals with the greatest number of electoral votes. In either case, a majority of state delegations in the House was necessary for a candidate to be chosen to be President.
Problems started with the 1796 election. In that election, John Adams, the Federalist Party presidential candidate, received a majority of the electoral votes. However, the Federalist electors scattered their second votes, resulting in the Democratic-Republican Party presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, receiving the second highest number of electoral votes and thus being elected Vice President. Since they were from two different parties, they quickly found that this was a flaw in the Constitution. It's hard to work together if you don't share the same ideas and values.
The 1800 election exposed an additional defect in the original formula in that if each member of the Electoral College followed party tickets, there could be a tie between the two candidates from the most popular ticket.
In 1800, Republican Jefferson and Republican Burr ran against Fedralist Adams and Federalist Pinckney. Jefferson and Burr both won the majority of votes, but since each elector cast two votes, the election was a tie (73 to 73). To break the tie, each House would cast a single vote. The Repulbican--controlled states favored Jefferson over Burr (there were 8). Six states were considereed Federalists and they favored Burr (he was formerly a Federalist and his ideas swung back and forth). That left two swing states to decide the race since the majority would consist of 9/16 votes. If both swing states went to Burr it would be another tie. One of them had to swing to Jefferson. Congress voted twice and in both votes, Maryland and Vermont abstained from voting--they just couldn't make up their minds. On the third vote, Delaware also abstained--they didn't want to vote for Jefferson, but they also wanted the election to end and felt that Jefferson would work with the Federalists after all (rumors of back door conferences between Delaware and Jefferson might have had some effect on this). With the vote now at 13 out of 16 states casting a ballot, Jefferson won his majority of 8 for Jefferson and 5 for Burr with 3 states abstaining from the vote.
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States purchased approximately 828,000,000 square miles of territory from France, thereby doubling the size of the young republic.
France lost Louisiana after the French and Indian War. It was given to Spain after the war in the treaty of Paris 1763. In 1800, France made a deal with Spain to get it back. Spain would gain Tuscany in exchange for the American territory and Spain's king's favored son-in-law would be king of a new French territory in Tuscany. Jefferson liked the deal for obvious reasons but also because relations with France had cooled since the Revolutionary war and France was constantly fighting with England. If France is right on our doorstep, tensions might rise and a war could ensue. Napoleon brokered the deal with Jefferson in 1803--Jefferson originally only wanted access to ocean trade ports near New Orleans, but Napoleon thought it would be better if France just got rid of all of the territory in one deal. And so it was done.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition consisted of a select group of military men, called the Corps of Discovery and civilians, led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark to explore the US lands obtained in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Northwest.
All the foregoing structural elements of the electoral college system remain in effect currently. The original method of electing the President and Vice President, however, proved unworkable, and was replaced by the 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804. Under the original system, each elector cast two votes for President (for different candidates), and no vote for Vice President. The votes were counted; the candidate receiving the most, provided it was a majority of the number of electors, was elected President, and the runner-up became Vice President. The 12th Amendment replaced this system with separate ballots for President and Vice President, with electors casting a single vote for each office.
The Burr–Hamilton duel was a duel between two prominent American politicians: the former secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, on July 11, 1804. At Weehawken, in New Jersey, Burr shot and mortally wounded Hamilton. Hamilton was carried to the home of William Bayard on the Manhattan shore, where he died the next day.
Although James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, he is most defined by the War of 1812.
In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country’s future. Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American seamen and America’s desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a “second war of independence,” beginning an era of partisan agreement and national pride.
What caused the war? Our ships sailing in seas controlled by France and England were caught in the crosshairs of their European war. Although America tried to stay neutral, both countries captured American ships and took American sailors as prisoner, forcing them to serve in the British Royal Navy. On top of that, England had never withdrawn from the forts that it held long ago that were in the Ohio River Valley. And they were still protecting the Indians there and trying to keep American colonists from moving West. It had only been 30 years since the Revolutionary War, but Americans seemed eager to show Great Britain AGAIN that they needed to get out of our business once and for all.
A treaty was signed to end the war and territories were settled--America would stay out of Canada and England would stay out of America. However, the news of the treaty didn't reach America and the troops that were fighting the war for 2 months and in that time thousands more would die fighting a war that was already over.
The Star Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812.