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PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History

3. 7 Articles of Confederation

The First Constitution

During the eight year long war with Britain, the administration of the colonies fell into the hands of the Continental Congress. Though the Congress worked efficiently during this critical period, it was a provisional government. The members of the Congress felt the need for a permanent governing body to manage the affairs of the new nation.

Therefore, in July 1776, a committee was instituted to formulate a plan and submit a proposal for a new government. The chairman of the committee, John Dickinson, placed before the Congress - a plan that caused a lot of controversy. The new government was to have broad and sweeping powers like the right to establish state boundaries, the right dispose off unoccupied land in the West of North America. Besides these rights, each state (not withstanding their size / population) was to have one vote in the Congress.

A Fragment of the American Constitution
Exhibit 3.5

A heated debate over the proposal, raged for almost one and a half year while the war was on. Finally after dropping the provision that gave governments the right to control lands in the West, the Congress accepted the proposals. These modified proposals, called the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Congress in November 1777 before it was sent to the individual states for ratification.

Consequently, in 1781, the United States was given her first constitution. The constitution stated that all states were bound together in "a firm league of friendship" and would give mutual support to each other, against any foreign aggression. The Congress had the sole power over foreign affairs. It had the right to take decisions on issues concerning war and peace. There was great rejoicing and celebrations everywhere on the ratification of the Articles. But there were a few short comings in the new constitution. The new government did not have the right to tax for revenues. Moreover, it could not regulate trade and commerce both inside the country and abroad.


These shortcomings later affected the smooth functioning of the new government. This was evident in the sphere of foreign relations. Apart from the unstable currency, on which the Congress had no control, it had no assured income. Also, it did not have a standing army or a navy to command respect from the foreign powers especially, from the Spanish and the English who had a fleet of naval ships to protect their interests. While, relations with Britain were strained, the government faced problems with Spain on the other hand. In the southwest there was controversy over the Spanish boundary and the use of the Mississippi river by the Americans for trade. Due to the controversy over the boundary, Spain had closed the lower part of the river to Americans traders. The American traders wanted to use the river for mercantile activities. They wanted the right to deposit their goods in New Orleans so that they could be shipped by big vessels going abroad. Access to the river would help the traders to sell their goods in the Louisiana market. John Jay tried to reach an agreement with the Spanish on the boundary. But his attempt failed in 1786, when the Congress refused to accept, the agreement. This was because Jay agreed to closing the main river of the United States. Such problems and other internal conflicts - like the Shays Rebellion made several prominent members like Alexander Hamilton to reconsider the Articles of Confederation. Thus, in 1787, the Congress invited all the states to make amendments to the articles. ( Shays Rebellion: War debts made many states like Massachusetts tax its people heavily. But when farm prices fell, it caused great distress to the farmers. They were forced to sell the lands because of debts. In 1786, fifteen hundred farmers of Hampshire country marched to the court of common pleas and prevented it from meeting. After a few days later, 100 armed men at Worcester prevented the Judge from entering the court. This Rebellion was popularly called Shays Rebellion after Daniel Shay, the leader of the rebels.)

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Table of Contents

3.0 - Chronology of Major Events in this Period
3.1 - Causes
3.2 - The Events Leading tothe war of Independence
3.3 - The First Continental Congress
3.4 - The declaration of Independence
3.5 - The Course of the War
3.6 - War and Peace
3.7 - Articles ofConfederation
3.8 - The Formation and Ratification of the Constitution
3.9 - Points to Remember

Chapter 4

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