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The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789)

The Founding Fathers

Important Terms, People, and Events

Table of Contents

Context

Terms

Confederacy  -  A confederacy is a form of government in which independent states are loosely joined, typically for common defense. Each independent state maintains power over the majority of its own affairs.
Confederation Congress  -  The governing body that consisted of representatives from each of the 13 states. Congress governed the affairs of the United States between the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Conservatives  -  Political leaders who favored the formation of a strong central government and who thought the Articles of Confederation should grant more powers to the national government than to the state governments. Conservatives tended to fear the power of the masses and to favor government by the elite.
Impost  -  A form of tax applied to goods that are imported into a state or country. Imposts are typically used to make money, protect a home industry, or retaliate against another state or country.
Radicals  -  Political leaders who favored strong state governments and thought the Articles of Confederation should remove most power from the national government, placing more power in the hands of the people. Radicals feared the formation of another strong central government, similar to the British government, which would favor the elite, strip people of their right to equal representation, and violate their freedom.
Ratify  -  To formally approve and accept a legal document, such as a constitution.
Sovereignty  -  Sovereignty means that an independent state has the power to govern its own affairs. A sovereign state maintains the power to govern its own affairs without interference from other states or other bodies of power.
Second Continental Congress  -  The Second Continental Congress met for the first time in Philadelphia in May of 1775, and continued to meet until the full ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. This congress produced the Declaration of Independence, drafted the Articles of Confederation, and served as an unofficial national government, managing the war effort, finances and foreign affairs, while the Articles were debated by the states. It was succeeded by the Congress of the Confederation.

People

Benjamin Franklin  -  A printer by vocation, inventor, philosopher and author by hobby, Benjamin Franklin played many vital roles in establishing both the independence of the United States and in ensuring the success of the young nation. Elected as a delegate to the Albany Congress of 1754, his Albany Plan outlined the balance of power between local independence and colonial union, and has been said to be prophetic of the U.S. Constitution. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, was chosen for the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, was sent as a diplomat to France to procure military assistance during the Revolution, and was appointed as one of three to negotiate the Treaty of Paris. Franklin also served as a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson  -  Known mostly as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson also served as an influential statesman of Virginia and as a diplomat to France. He contributed important legislation and ideology during the early years of the new nation. He strongly believed in the importance of legislation that limited the power of government and strengthened the rights of the people. Jefferson proposed and passed important legislation dictating the separation of church and state and was integral in both Virginia's decision to cede its northwestern territory to Congress and in drafting the land ordinances that would serve to manage the land equitably.
John Dickinson  -  Serving as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Second Continental Congress, John Dickinson became part of the committee assigned to author the first draft of the Articles of Confederation. Dickinson, who had extensive writing experience, was chosen as the chairman and the primary author of this document, although he had been one of the delegates who did not sign the Declaration of Independence. Favoring a strong central government similar to that of Great Britain, much of Dickinson's draft was changed before ratification, although his insistence on a strong central government resurfaced later in his support of the U.S. Constitution.
Richard Henry Lee  -  An influential planter and statesman from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee proposed the resolution that led both to the formulation of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, once serving as its president, and was one of a committee of three to review the Articles of Confederation for completeness before it was sent to the states for ratification. He later served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and received credit for drafting the 10th Amendment, which guaranteed states' rights.
Daniel Shays  -  A farmer from western Massachusetts and a former captain in the Continental Army, Daniel Shays staged a protest and led a rebellion against what he perceived to be unfair taxation and debt repayment legislation.
George Washington  -  The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, this Virginia-born planter served a great symbolic role in early American history. He was keenly in favor of a strong national government, and exerted his influence toward that end when possible. He hosted the first successful interstate commerce meeting at his plantation home, Mount Vernon, and contributed tremendous prestige to the Constitutional Convention by agreeing to serve as one of the delegates from Virginia.

Events

Annapolis Convention  -  Held in September 1786 at the request of Virginia, this meeting of the states aimed to improve the uniformity of commerce. Only twelve delegates came, and they proceeded to call a second meeting, to be held in May of 1787, for the purpose of revising the Articles.
Jay-Gardoqui talks  -  John Jay, as diplomat to Spain, attempted to negotiate for American access to trade along the Mississippi River. Threatened by Americans moving westward, the Spanish diplomat Diego de Gardoqui recommended instead that Spain would establish trade with eastern U.S. ports, assist in removing Great Britain from the Great Lakes and assist in combating the Barbary Pirates. Southern and Western delegates in Congress viewed with contempt this plan that seemed to sacrifice their interests to the commercial interests of the Northeast.
Maryland ratifies the Articles  -  Although the Articles of Confederation had been approved by 12 states by 1779, they could not go into effect until Maryland's ratification on March 1, 1781.
Mount Vernon Conference  -  This name was applied to a meeting between Maryland and Virginia statesmen at George Washington's Mount Vernon Plantation. Originally scheduled to meet at Alexandria to discuss free navigation of the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers, the delegates ended up resolving far broader issues of trade and mutual policy between the two states.
Land Ordinance of 1784  -  Proposed by Thomas Jefferson just a month after Virginia officially handed over western lands to congress, this ordinance established the process by which new lands would be divided into states, the process for surveying and sale, and the qualifications of new states to enter into Congress. This ordinance set the precedent to prohibit any attempts to colonize newly ceded lands.
Northwest Ordinance  -  A revision of the earlier Land Ordinance of 1784, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 refined some of the earlier qualifications for statehood. It further provided that a certain amount of land had to be reserved for public education, and that slavery was to be prohibited in this territory north of the Ohio River.
Shays' Rebellion  -  Daniel Shays organized farmers throughout New England to protest legislation that increased taxes and demanded immediate debt-repayment. When the state legislature refused to respond, Shays and his armed followers closed the courts in western Massachusetts in protest of foreclosed properties. The rebellion came to a head when Shays was defeated while trying to seize a federal arsenal of weapons in Springfield, Massachusetts, on January 25, 1787. This rebellion demonstrated the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and convinced many states of the need for a stronger central government.
Treaty of Paris  -  This treaty, negotiated on behalf of the U.S. by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and Samuel Adams, formally acknowledged the independence of the thirteen American colonies, and set the boundaries of the new nation at the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Mississippi River in the west, Florida in the south, and Canada in the north.

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