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The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789)

The Founding Fathers

Study Questions

Article 13 and Conclusion

Review Test

Compare and contrast the beliefs of radicals and conservatives with respect to the formation of the new government. What were the effects of these differences, as demonstrated in the Articles of Confederation and in U.S. government in general?

Radicals believed that the confederation should protect the sovereign rights of states while providing a Congress to provide for common defense. Conservatives argued for sovereignty in the hands of a strong central government. The radicals mostly got their way in the Articles of Confederation, which placed the balance of power in the state governments. Radicals did not believe the central government should have the right to tax or to regulate commerce, or have supreme authority over the states. The result was that under the Articles, Americans experienced economic chaos and political confusion that actually threatened their rights. After six years of disunity and an ineffective central government, conservatives called for change and were able to persuade the American people to adopt a more centralized form of government. The U.S. Government since 1789 mostly reflects the ideas of the conservatives, in which the balance of power rests securely in the national government.

What was the impact of Shays' Rebellion on constitutional government in the United States?

Daniel Shays' rebellion demonstrated the problems with the state and national governments under the Articles of Confederation. The Massachusetts state legislature, in an effort to quickly repay its state debts, sharply increased taxes while demanding immediate repayment of all debts. Shays followed democratic procedures to protest these measures through petition. When his pleas were ignored, he claimed that his rights were being abused and took up arms, declaring "no taxation without representation." To many, this demonstrated the corruption of democracy in a state government unwilling to bend to the will of its constituents. Furthermore, Shays' insurrection lasted for many months before a state militia suppressed it. This demonstrated the weakness of the national government to suppress rebellion from within. The overall impact of this event was to convince many of the need for a new system of government that would prevent similar incidents. Many agreed on the need for a strong national government that would have the authority to assume the debts of the states, to tax, and to be the final appeal in all cases of injustice. These items were all integrated into the U.S. Constitution.

What is significant about each state having an equal vote in Congress?

By giving each state a single vote in Congress, the Articles of Confederation implied that each state was its own sovereign government, and that the national government did not directly reflect the mass of all the people in the country. If the Articles had dictated that representation in Congress be based on the population of each state, it would imply that sovereignty lay with the national government rather than the states. The equal vote also avoided the potentially difficult and divisive issue of slavery and different size states. If votes in congress had been based on population then the states would have disagreed about the way to count slaves. Non-slave states would have insisted that they not be counted towards representation and slave states would have insisted that they do. Additionally, larger states would have had an unfair advantage over smaller states, which already worried about being economically disadvantaged. Overall, giving each state one vote in Congress was in line with the radical perspective and successfully avoided the contentious issues of slavery and state size. These would re-surface and be dealt with by the U.S. Constitution.

Describe the weaknesses of the Confederation Congress, and explain the significance of those weaknesses to that time period in American history.

What role did land play in the ratification of the Articles of Confederation?

Describe the bonds that sustained the "loose confederation" of states. Was this a successful union of states? Why or why not?

In what way(s) did Congress attempt to address the issue of slavery under the Articles of Confederation?

Pick one of the weaknesses of the Confederation Congress (for example, its inability to regulate interstate commerce) and explain how that led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Explain the way(s)in which the Articles of Confederation established precedents for the U.S. government.

How were the values of the American Revolution translated into practice with the Articles of Confederation?

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