The Northwest Ordinance also sparked debate about the future of slavery in the West. A growing number of Americans during these years began to question the moral implications of slavery in a land where “all men were created equal.” The ban on slavery in the Northwest Territories would prove to be the first of many restraints on the slaveholding South in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Despite these successes in the West, many Americans were dissatisfied with life under the Articles of Confederation. Economic depression hit soon after the American Revolution ended, as many people, especially farmers, could not pay off their debts with the worthless state and Continental dollars. Most state legislatures refused to assist these impoverished farmers.
Increasingly angry, some of these farmers grabbed their muskets and marched their state capitals to redress grievances. The most notorious of these miniature revolts was Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, named after its Revolutionary War hero leader, Daniel Shays. Although officials in Boston quickly mustered a militia and quashed the rebellion, legislators nationwide agreed that change to the government was necessary if the United States were to survive.
A Landmark Failure
Despite its failures, the Articles of Confederation and the national Congress it created were landmarks in world history. The Articles were one of the first written constitutions in the world in which rights, duties, and powers of government and the people were expressly delineated for everyone to read.
Even though Congress, too, proved to be a failure, it was the first attempt in history to create a republican, representative government in a large country. Of course, the United States was not a true democracy at this time—every state still had voting restrictions that included women, blacks, Native Americans, and men without property—but the Articles were a bold first step.