The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789)

by: The Founding Fathers

Key Terms and Events

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.

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.