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Articles of Confederation


  • Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States

  • Britain, by contrast, didn't have a constitution

  • Only the Magna Carta 1215 and English Bill of Rights 1688.

  • Created the "United States" but did NOT create a nation.

  • Each of the thirteen states were independent.

  • Articles created a "league of friendship" among states

  • Each state was equal

  • State constitutions were more important than the Articles

  • Drafted (written) 1776-77, Ratified in 1781

  • Replaced by the U.S. Constitution in 1789.

  • No chief executive (like a president) -- Congress alone was the government

  • No judiciary

  • Confederation Congress was deliberately weak

  • because of fear and hatred of powerful government (like Britain)

  • Articles stipulate freedom of speech and debate in Congress

  • Congress

  • Members of Congress (delegates) were chosen by states and represented states

  • Delegates (2-7 from each state) elected annually.

  • Delegates could only serve maximum 3 years in 6-year period

  • Each state had one vote (no matter how many delegates they had in Congress)

  • Approval of 9 states required for Congress to

  • engage in war

  • enter treaties

  • coin or borrow money

  • and pay for defense

  • Approval of all 13 states needed

  • To make changes to the Articles of Confederation



What the Confederate Congress could do

  • Power to declare war and make peace (with approval of 9 states)

  • Power to make coins, issue paper money and borrow money (with approval of 9 states)

  • Power to make deals with foreign countries and Indians and sign treaties (with approval)

  • Power to establish and regulate post offices.

  • Could establish uniform weights and measures.

  • Decide controversies over disputed grants of land.

What it couldn't do

  • Could not force the states to obey its laws

  • No power to tax (revenue came from state contributions)

  • No power to regulate commerce.

  • No strong, central power (no chief executive)

  • No power to raise a national army or navy

  • No national courts

Power given to the states.

  • Power to issue their own paper money

  • Power to levy tariffs (taxes on imports) on trade between states.

  • Power to tax the people in their states.

  • Power to make treaties and declare war with foreign countries (with consent of the Congress)

  • Each state was required to maintain a ready, well-regulated and disciplined militia

  • States could ignore national standards of measurement'



  • State constitutions were written by constitutional conventions elected for that purpose

  • State assemblies made laws that upheld the state constitutions

  • Ultimate power rested with "the people" (white men with property in most cases)

  • To stop elites from dominating

  • State officials stood for election every year.

  • And executive officers had little power.

  • Rhode Island and Connecticut

  • Simply retouched their colonial charters (documents that defined the relationship between colonies and Britain)

  • Britain, by contrast, didn't have a written constitution.

  • But referred to accumulated laws, customs and precedents.

  • Loyalists (most in N.Y. and S.C.)

  • Many states required citizens to take an oath of allegiance to the new nation.

  • More than 100,000 Loyalists were banished from the US or left on their own.

  • Money

  • Came from selling confiscated loyalist holding

  • Printed money

  • And taxes


  • Still belief that religion necessary as foundation for public morality

  • But drive to separate church and state (RI was first)

  • Seven state constitutions declared free exercise of religion.

  • Encouragement of "civic virtue" and self-sacrifice for public good.

  • Thomas Jefferson

  • "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" separated church and state.

  • Church of England (aka Episcopal Church)

  • Disestablished in states where it was the official church (signalling break from England)

  • No more state taxes collected to support it exclusively.

  • Congregationalist Church (Puritans)

  • New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts Congregationalist Church still the official church.

  • Roman Catholics

  • Not permitted to vote in North Carolina.

  • But generally more accepted because of help of Catholic France in Revolution.

  • Could worship without persecution in all states.

  • Jews could only vote in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New York

Franchise (vote)

  • Vote associated with idea of freedom.

  • Every state expanded franchise to more people than under colonial law (except S.C.)

  • But most required voters to own property (not much, though)

  • Pennsylvania's 1776 constitution: allowed all tax-payers (even those without property) to vote

  • Southern states least democratic (landed gentry kept poltical power)

  • Women with property could vote in New Jersey until 1797.

  • Free blacks with property could vote in New Jersey, Massachusetts and New Hampshire


  • By 1800, indentured servitude had virtually disappeared.

  • Distinction between slavery and freedom grew.


  • None of the southern states abolished slavery

  • But most southern states forbade ore importation of slaves from Africa and West Indies

  • Several states made manumission (voluntary freeing of slaves) easier.

  • Maryland - 1/5 of slaves freed

  • Delaware -- more than 80% of blacks were free.

  • North Carolina - Quakers freed slaves


  • Slavery abolished in North

  • Vermont - forbade slavery beginning in 1777

  • Massachusetts -- slavery abolished 1783

  • Pennsylvania (Quakers) -- gradual emancipation beginning 1780

  • All people born after 1780 were free, slaves born before 1780 were free at age 28

  • Ban on buying and selling slaves.

  • Slaves brought into Penn. would be freed after 6 months.




  • After Revolution, colonists no longer restricted to the land east of Appalachians (see 1763 Proclamation Line)

  • Seven colonies claimed western lands because of royal charters (inc. NY and VA see above)

  • Which granted them territory to the "South Sea" (Pacific Ocean)

  • Meant they could sell the land to pay off their debts.

  • Six states didn't have any holdings (incl. Pennsylvania, Maryland)

  • Meant they'd have to pay debts by heavily taxing people.

  • Non-land-holding states refused to ratify the Articles of Confederation unless Western lands pledged to the Congress for the "common benefit" of all states.

  • In interest of national unity, VA and NY gave up their claims, others followed.

  • VA territory in south became Kentucky in 1792

  • NC territory became Tennessee in 1790.

  • Northwest Territory managed by Congress.

  • With peace came large settlement west of Appalachians (see Proclamation Line of 1763)

  • Caused fear of conflict with Indians

  • Land was occupied by Indians but since they supported Britain (not all did), Congress claimed they gave up their rights to the land.

  • Selling the land would provide the Confederate Congress with badly needed income.

Land Ordinance of 1784

  • Established stages of self-government for the western regions

  • Would be divided into districts initially governed by Congress

  • Would eventually be admitted to Union as member states

  • No slavery after year 1800 (superseded by 1787 Ordinance = no slavery)

Ordinance of 1785

  • Regulated land sales north of Ohio River ("Old Northwest")

  • Established the township system

  • Land would be surveyed by the government

  • Then sold in "sections" of square miles (640 acres) at $1 per acre.

  • In each township, one section would be set aside to provide funds for public education.

  • Minimum purchase price of $640 made it too expensive for most settlers

  • Settlers bought smaller parcels of land from speculators.

  • 1787 Congress decided to sell off large tracts of land to private groups

  • Incl. 1.5 million acres to the Ohio Company

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

  • Called for the eventual establishment of 3 to 4 states north of Ohio River, east of Mississippi.

  • Territories would become states

  • When the population of the territory equaled the population of the smallest existing state (Delaware in 1787)

  • No new states were created during the Confederation period

  • But the same principles were adopted by the new Constitution in 1787

  • Pledged that "the utmost good faith" would be observed toward local Indians and that their land would not be taken without consent.

  • Prohibited slavery in Northwest.

  • ​So that land would be reserved for independent farmers who didn't have to compete with slave owners.




  • In vengeance, Britain closed their profitable West Indies to trade with the U.S.

  • Began negotiating with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys to take over Vermont (Vermont chose to join U.S. as 14th state in 1791).


  • Closed access to the mouth of the Mississippi River to American commerce in 1784.

  • Claimed Florida (granted to U.S. by Br.) and area north of the Gulf of Mexico


  • Demanded repayment of money loaned to the U.S. during the war

  • Restricted U.S. trade with French West Indies

Barbary Pirates of north Africa

  • They had been paid off by the British - but now colonists were independent and couldn't afford protection money to conduct trade in Mediterranean.


SHAYS'S REBELLION 1786 (Massachusetts)

  • Background

  • U.S. suffering from debt crisis after American Revolution

  • Continental Army and state militias veterans struggling because of decreased value of Contitental dollar (their pay) and high taxes levied to paid state debts.

  • Grievances

  • Farmers angry because:

  • Mass. laws favored trade at expense of agriculture

  • Farmers in debt were losing their farms

  • Without property, farmers also losing right to participate in govt.

  • High taxes

  • Elite policymakers in urban Boston (eastern Mass.) ignoring grievances of farmers in rural, western part of the state.

  • Actions

  • 1786 100s of farmers held meetings

  • Demanded reduction of property taxes

  • And end to domination of Boston government by privileged elite.

  • Crowds in several towns surrounded courthouses and harassed lawyers and judge

  • As long as the courts were closed, farms couldn't be taken away.

  • Uprising grew to 9,000

  • Led by Daniel Shays

  • Former Continental Army Captain and farmer who lost his farm.

  • Sam Adams (now serving as state senator) passed laws to punish rebels

  • Death sentence for rising against republic

  • Suspended writ of habeas corpus: could imprison anybody for any reason.

  • Riot Act: if more than 12 people gathered, government could jail them, take properties and try for treason

  • Massachusetts asked federal government for help.

  • Congress too weak

  • And because it was a state matter, didn't have power to help.

  • Boston government created a militia to target rebels.

  • Rebellion collapsed Dec. 1786

  • Consequences

  • Realization that social instability and disorder were inevitable because of weak government

  • Prompted meeting to revisit Articles of Confederation

  • Articles of Confederation scrapped for a new constitution in 1787

  • Constitutional Convention.

  • Click here to see a video about Shays's Rebellion

#NorthwestOrdinance #ShaysRebellion #ArticlesofConfederation

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