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The Articles of Confederation

1781

The Articles of Confederation attempted to create national coordination while avoiding an overbearing national government. Drafted in 1777, it was not approved by the states until 1781. By creating a weak national government, states generally remained very independent. Its flaws would plague the United States until the end of the Critical Period.

The Critical Period

1781 - 1789

These nine years were critical for the United States. As a new nation, it was in great danger of collapsing. The United States began with extreme financial problems and a government unable to properly control its people.

Strengths of the Articles of Confederation

1781 - 1788

Despite their many failures, the Articles of Confederation did celebrate some significant successes. It was able to keep the 13 states united through the Revolutionary War and until the creation of the Constitution. It also pioneered the American policies of westward expansion.

Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

1781 - 1788

Only one branch of government, the legislative branch, was created. Congress lacked many necessary powers including the ability to tax or regulate trade. Each state had only one vote in Congress, 9 of thirteen states needed to support a measure before it was passed, and unanimous agreement among states was required to amend the Articles of Confederation.

Thomas Jefferson's Role

1781 - 1789

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most influential political figures of the Articles of Confederation. He suggested the use of the decimal system in 1784 and led the government’s policy towards western land. He planned the Ordinance of 1784 and attempted to prevent the expansion of slavery. Jefferson also served as the United State’s Minister to France from 1784 until 1789.

Movement of Settlers Westward

1783

Large numbers of settlers rapidly moved to new stretches of land available in the West following the Revolutionary War. The legal problems resulting from this expansion were immense. Settlers demanded cheap land that they often had no legal right to. They also caused a great deal of conflict with Native Americans which triggered fears over a prolonged armed conflict.

The Ordinance of 1784

1784

The Ordinance of 1784 established stages for self-government in the West. Land would initially be divided into districts under the control of Congress. Over time, these districts would join the Union as member states. Created by Thomas Jefferson, the Ordinance of 1784 which would have prohibited slavery in the West was rejected in Congress by one vote.

The Ordinance of 1785

1785

The Ordinance of 1785 dictated that land be surveyed and divided into townships. Each township, being six miles, would again be divided into 36 sections. The remaining one mile squares would be sold at a minimum of $1.00 per acre while one of the 36 squares would be set aside for public schools. It only regulated land north of the Ohio River, known as the Old Northwest, and was violated by settlers rapidly moving westward ahead of the surveys.

Shay's Rebellion

1786

Shay’s Rebellion involved a group of debt-ridden Massachusetts farmers under the leadership of Daniel Shays. Because they did not pay their taxes or debts, their land was being seized. The group closed courts in order to prevent this. Governor Bowdoin reacted by sending an army which resulted in the arrest of 1,000 people.

The Constitutional Convention

1787

55 delegates from the different states met with each other in order to create an alternative to the Articles of Confederation. They would agree to a series of compromises on the issues of representation based on population, representation based on slavery, and economic interests of the North versus economic of the South. The Constitution would also outline the separation of powers and checks and balances. Powers of the government were specified as well as powers of the states.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787

1787

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 required the establishment of three to five states north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River. This allowed for the US to admit the Western population as equal members of the political system instead of ruling over them. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 falsely promised Native Americans good faith and that they could keep their land. Its exclusion of slavery in the Old Northwest was also violated.