Confederation Period

Last updated

The Confederation Period was the era of United States history in the 1780s after the American Revolution and prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1781, the United States ratified the Articles of Confederation and prevailed in the Battle of Yorktown, the last major land battle between British and American forces in the American Revolutionary War. American independence was confirmed with the 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris. The fledgling United States faced several challenges, many of which stemmed from the lack of a strong national government and unified political culture. The period ended in 1789 following the ratification of the United States Constitution, which established a new, more powerful, national government.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

American Revolution Revolt in which the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain

The American Revolution was a colonial revolt which occurred between 1765 and 1783. The American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) with the assistance of France, winning independence from Great Britain and establishing the United States of America.

Articles of Confederation first constitution of the United States

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was an agreement among the 13 original states of the United States of America that served as its first constitution. It was approved, after much debate, by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles of Confederation came into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all 13 states. A guiding principle of the Articles was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles received only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.


The Articles of Confederation established a loose confederation of states with a weak federal government. An assembly of delegates acted on behalf of the states they represented. This unicameral body, officially referred to as the United States in Congress Assembled, had little authority, and could not accomplish anything independent of the states. It had no chief executive, and no court system. Congress lacked the power to levy taxes, regulate foreign or interstate commerce, or effectively negotiate with foreign powers. The weakness of Congress proved self-reinforcing, as the leading political figures of the day served in state governments or foreign posts. The failure of the national government to handle the challenges facing the United States led to calls for reform and frequent talk of secession.

A confederation is a union of sovereign states, united for purposes of common action often in relation to other states. Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issues, such as defense, foreign relations, internal trade or currency, with the general government being required to provide support for all its members. Confederalism represents a main form of inter-governmentalism, this being defined as any form of interaction between states which takes place on the basis of sovereign independence or government.

State (polity) Organised community living under a system of government; either a sovereign state, constituent state, or federated state

A state is a polity that is typically established as a centralized organisation. There is no undisputed definition of a state. Max Weber's definition of a state as a polity that maintains a monopoly on the use of violence is widely used, as are many others.

Federalism political concept

Federalism were the mixture or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

The Treaty of Paris left the United States with a vast territory spanning from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Settlement of the trans-Appalachian territories proved difficult, in part due to the resistance of Native Americans and the neighboring foreign powers of Great Britain and Spain. The British refused to evacuate American territory, while the Spanish used their control of the Mississippi River to stymie Western settlement. In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, which set an important precedent by establishing the first organized territory under the control of the national government.

Atlantic Ocean Ocean between Europe, Africa and the Americas

The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest of the world's oceans, with an area of about 106,460,000 square kilometers. It covers approximately 20 percent of Earth's surface and about 29 percent of its water surface area. It separates the "Old World" from the "New World".

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The area west of the Appalachian Mountains is a region known as trans-Appalachia.

After Congressional efforts to amend the Articles failed, numerous national leaders met in Philadelphia in 1787 to establish a new constitution. The new constitution was ratified in 1788, and the new federal government began meeting in 1789, marking the end of the Confederation Period. Some historians believe that the 1780s were a bleak, terrible time for Americans, while others have argued that the period was actually stable and relatively prosperous.

Federal government of the United States National government of the United States

The federal government of the United States is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories and several island possessions. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president and the federal courts, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of Congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court.


Independence and self-government

The Articles of Confederation served as the first constitution of the United States Articles page1.jpg
The Articles of Confederation served as the first constitution of the United States

The American Revolutionary War broke out against British rule in April 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. [1] The Second Continental Congress met in May 1775, and established an army funded by Congress and under the leadership of George Washington, a Virginian who had fought in the French and Indian War. [2] On July 4, 1776, as the war continued, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. [3] At exactly the same time that Congress declared independence, it also created a committee to craft a constitution for the new nation. Though some in Congress hoped for a strong centralized state, most Americans wanted legislative power to rest primarily with the states and saw the central government as a mere wartime necessity. The resulting constitution, which came to be known as the Articles of Confederation, provided for a weak national government with little power to coerce the state governments. [4] The first article of the new constitution established a name for the new confederacy the United States of America. [5]

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Battles of Lexington and Concord first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. The battles were fought on April 19, 1775 in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy, and Cambridge. They marked the outbreak of armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its thirteen colonies in America.

The first draft of the Articles of Confederation, written by John Dickinson, was presented to Congress on July 12, 1776, but Congress did not send the proposed constitution to the states until November 1777. Three major constitutional issues divided Congress: state borders, including claims to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, state representation in the new Congress, and whether tax levies on states should take slaves into account. Ultimately, Congress decided that each state would have one vote in Congress and that slaves would not affect state levies. [6] By 1780, as the war continued, every state but Maryland had ratified the Articles; Maryland refused to ratify the constitution until all of the other states relinquished their western land claims to Congress. The success of Britain's Southern strategy, along with pressure from America's French allies, convinced Virginia to cede its claims north of the Ohio River, and Maryland finally ratified the Articles in January 1781. The new constitution took effect in March 1781 and the Congress of the Confederation technically replaced the Second Continental Congress as the national government, but in practice the structure and personnel of the new Congress was quite similar to that of the old Congress. [7]

John Dickinson Founding Father of the United States

John Dickinson, a Founding Father of the United States, was a solicitor and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware known as the "Penman of the Revolution" for his twelve Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, published individually in 1767 and 1768. As a member of the First Continental Congress, where he was a signee to the Continental Association, Dickinson drafted most of the 1774 Petition to the King, and then, as a member of the Second Continental Congress, wrote the 1775 Olive Branch Petition. When these two attempts to negotiate with King George III of Great Britain failed, Dickinson reworked Thomas Jefferson's language and wrote the final draft of the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. When Congress then decided to seek independence from Great Britain, Dickinson served on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty, and then wrote the first draft of the 1776–1777 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

Appalachian Mountains mountain range in the eastern United States and Canada, and France

The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. They once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before experiencing natural erosion. The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east–west travel, as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to most highways and railroads running east–west.

Slavery in the United States Form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution from the early years of the United States

Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel enslavement, primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Slavery had been practiced in British America from early colonial days, and was legal in all Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It lasted in about half the states until 1865, when it was prohibited nationally by the Thirteenth Amendment. As an economic system, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing.

End of the American Revolution

The United States following the signing of the Treaty of Paris United States Central map 1784-03-01 to 1784-05-12.png
The United States following the signing of the Treaty of Paris

After the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown in September 1781 and the collapse of British Prime Minister North's ministry in March 1782, both sides sought a peace agreement. [8] The American Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The treaty granted the United States independence, as well as control of a vast region south of the Great Lakes and extending from the Appalachian Mountains west to the Mississippi River. Although the British Parliament had attached this trans-Appalachian region to Quebec in 1774 as part of the Quebec Act, several states had land claims in region based on royal charters and proclamations that defined their boundaries as stretching "from sea to sea." [9] Some Americans had hoped the treaty would provide for the acquisition of Florida, but that territory was restored to Spain, which had joined the U.S. and France in the war against Britain and demanded its spoils. [10] The British fought hard and successfully to keep Canada, so the treaty acknowledged that. [11]

Observers at the time and historians ever since emphasize the generosity of British territorial concessions. Historians such as Alvord, Harlow, and Ritcheson have emphasized that Britain's generous territorial terms were based on a statesmanlike vision of close economic ties between Britain and the United States. The treaty was designed to facilitate the growth of the American population and create lucrative markets for British merchants, without any military or administrative costs to Britain. [9] As the French foreign minister Vergennes later put it, "The English buy peace rather than make it". [12]

The treaty also addressed several additional issues. The United States agreed to honor debts incurred prior to 1775, while the British agreed to remove their soldiers from American soil. [13] Privileges that the Americans had received because of their membership in the British Empire no longer applied, most notably protection from pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Neither the Americans nor the British would consistently honor these additional clauses. Individual states ignored treaty obligations by refusing to restore confiscated Loyalist property, and many continued to confiscate Loyalist property for "unpaid debts". Some states, notably Virginia, maintained laws against payment of debts to British creditors. The British often ignored the provision of Article 7 regarding removal of slaves. [14]

National leadership

Article II of the Articles of Confederation
"Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled." [15]

The Articles of Confederation created a loose union of states. The confederation's central government consisted of a unicameral Congress with legislative and executive function, and was composed of delegates from each state in the union. Congress received only those powers which the states had previously recognized as belonging to king and parliament. [16] Each state had one vote in Congress, regardless of its size or population, and any act of Congress required the votes of nine of the 13 states to pass; [17] any decision to amend the Articles required the unanimous consent of the states. Each state's legislature appointed multiple members to its delegation, allowing delegates to return their homes without leaving their state unrepresented. [18] Under the Articles, states were forbidden from negotiating with other nations or maintaining a military without Congress's consent, but almost all other powers were reserved for the states. [19] Congress lacked the power to raise revenue, and was incapable of enforcing its own legislation and instructions. As such, Congress was heavily reliant on the compliance and support of the states. [20]

James Madison emerged as an important national leader while serving in the Congress of the Confederation James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783.png
James Madison emerged as an important national leader while serving in the Congress of the Confederation

Following the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, which had provided the original impetus for the Articles, Congress's ability to accomplish anything of material consequence declined significantly. Rarely did more than half of the roughly sixty delegates attend a session of Congress at any given time, causing difficulties in raising a quorum. Many of the most prominent national leaders, such as Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin, retired from public life, served as foreign delegates, or held office in state governments. [21] One national leader who did emerge during this period was James Madison, who became convinced of the need for a stronger national government after serving in the Congress of the Confederation from 1781 to 1783. He would continue to call for a stronger government for the remainder of the 1780s. [22] Congress met in Philadelphia from 1778 until June 1783, when it moved to Princeton, New Jersey due to the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783. Congress would also convene in Annapolis, Maryland and Trenton, New Jersey before settling in New York City in 1785. [23] The lack of strong leaders in Congress, as well as the body's impotence and itinerant nature, embarrassed and frustrated many American nationalists, including Washington. [24] The weakness of Congress also led to frequent talk of secession, and many believed that the United States would break into four confederacies, consisting of New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, the Southern states, and the trans-Appalachian region, respectively. [25]

The Congress of the Confederation was the sole federal governmental body created by the Articles of Confederation, but Congress established other bodies to undertake executive and judicial functions. In 1780, Congress created the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture, which acted as the lone federal court during the Confederation Period. In early 1781, Congress created executive departments to handle Foreign Affairs, War, and Finance. A fourth department, the Post Office Department, had existed since 1775 and continued to function under the Articles. Congress also authorized the creation of a Marine Department, but chose to place the naval forces under the Finance Department after Alexander McDougall declined to lead the Marine Department. The four departments were charged with administering the federal civil service, but they had little power independent of Congress. [26] Pennsylvania merchant Robert Morris served as the Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784. Though Morris had become somewhat unpopular during the war due to his successful business ventures, Congress hoped that he would be able to ameliorate the country's ruinous financial state. [27] After his proposals were blocked, Morris resigned in frustration in 1784, and was succeeded by a three-person Treasury Board. [28] Benjamin Lincoln served as Secretary of War from 1781 until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. He was eventually succeeded by Henry Knox, who held the position from 1785 to 1789. Robert Livingston served as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1781 to 1783, and he was followed in office by John Jay, who served from 1784 to 1789. Jay proved to be an able administrator, and he took control of the nation's diplomacy during his time in office. [29] Ebenezer Hazard served as the United States Postmaster General from 1782 to 1789. [30]

State governments

Population by state in the 1790 Census [31]
StateTot. pop.Enslaved pop.Free pop.
Connecticut 237,9462,764235,182
Delaware 59,0968,88750,209
Georgia 82,54829,26453,284
Maryland 319,728103,036216,692
Massachusetts 378,7870378,787
New Hampshire 141,885158141,727
New Jersey 184,13911,423172,716
New York 340,12021,324318,796
North Carolina 393,751100,572293,179
Pennsylvania 434,3733,737430,636
Rhode Island 68,82594867,877
South Carolina 249,073107,094141,979
Virginia 691,737287,959403,778
Total [32] 3,929,214697,6813,231,533

After the thirteen colonies declared their independence and sovereignty in 1776, each was faced with the task of replacing royal authority with institutions based on popular rule. To varying degrees, the states embraced egalitarianism during and after the war. Each state wrote a new constitution, all of which established an elected executive, and many of which greatly expanded the franchise. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 was perhaps the most democratic of these constitutions, as it granted suffrage to all taxpaying male citizens. Many of the new constitutions included a bill of rights that guaranteed freedom of the press, freedom of speech, trial by jury, and other freedoms. [33] Conservative patriots such as Oliver Wolcott, who had fought for independence from Britain but did not favor major changes to the social order, looked with alarm on the new influence of the lower classes and the rise of politicians independent from the upper class. [34]

Following the end of the Revolutionary War, the states embarked on various reforms. Several states enshrined freedom of religion in their constitutions, and every Southern state ended the Anglican Church's status as the state religion. Several states established state universities, while private universities also flourished. Numerous states reformed their criminal codes to reduce the number of capital crimes. Northern states invested in infrastructure projects, including roads and canals that provided access to Western settlements. [35] The states also took action regarding slavery, which appeared increasingly hypocritical to a generation that had fought against what they saw as tyranny. During and after the Revolution, every Northern state passed laws providing for gradual emancipation or the immediate abolition of slavery. Though no Southern states provided for emancipation, they did pass laws restricting the slave trade. [36]

The states continued to carry the burden of heavy debt loads acquired during the Revolutionary War. With the partial exceptions of New York and Pennsylvania, which received revenue from import duties, most states relied on individual and property taxes for revenue. To cope with the war-time debts, several states were forced to raise taxes to a level several times higher than it had been prior to the war. These taxes sparked anger among the populace, particularly in rural areas, and in Massachusetts led to an armed uprising known as Shays' Rebellion. As both Congress and the government of Massachusetts proved unable to suppress the rebellion, former Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln raised a private army which put an end to the insurgency. [37]

Britain relinquished its claim to Vermont in the Treaty of Paris, but Vermont did not join the United States. Though most in Vermont wanted to become the fourteenth state, New York and New Hampshire, which both claimed parts of Vermont, blocked this ambition. Throughout the 1780s, Vermont acted as an independent state, known as the Vermont Republic. [38]

National fiscal policies

Robert Morris served as Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784 Robert Morris.jpg
Robert Morris served as Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784

The United States had acquired huge debts during the Revolutionary War, in part due to Congress's lack of taxation powers; under the Articles, only the states could levy taxes or regulate commerce. [39] In 1779, Congress had relinquished most of it economic power to the states, as it stopped printing currency and requested that the states directly pay the soldiers, but the states also suffered from fiscal instability. [40] Robert Morris, appointed as superintendent of finance in 1781, won passage of major centralizing reforms such as the partial assumption of state debt, the suspension of payments to military personnel, and the creation of the Bank of North America. Morris emerged as perhaps the most powerful individual in the national government, with some referring to him as "The Financier," or even "The Dictator." [41] In 1783, Morris, with the support of congressmen such as Madison and Alexander Hamilton, won congressional approval of a five percent levy on imports, which would grant the national government a consistent and independent source of revenue. However, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the states became more resistant to granting power to Congress. Though all but two states approved the levy, it never won the unanimous backing of the states and thus Congress struggled to find revenue throughout the 1780s. [42]

Continental Army

As the war came to an end, the officers and enlisted men of the Continental Army became increasingly disgruntled over their lack of pay, as Congress had suspended payment due to the poor financial state of the national government. Congress had promised the officers a lifetime pension in 1780, but few of the officers believed that they would receive this benefit. In December 1782, several officers, led by Alexander McDougall, petitioned Congress for their benefits. The officers hoped to use their influence to force the states to allow the federal government to levy a tariff, which in turn would provide revenue to pay the soldiers. [43] Historians such as Robert Middlekauff have argued that some members of the national government, including Congressman Alexander Hamilton and Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris, attempted to use this growing dissatisfaction to increase the power of Congress. [44] An anonymous letter circulated among the officers; the document called for the payment of soldiers and threatened mutiny against General Washington and Congress. In a gathering of army officers in March 1783, Washington denounced the letter, but promised to lobby Congress for payment. Washington's speech defused the brewing Newburgh Conspiracy, named for the New York town in which the army was encamped, but dissatisfaction among the soldiers remained high. In May 1783, fearing a mutiny, Washington furloughed most of his army. [45]

General George Washington Resigning His Commission in Annapolis, Maryland on December 23, 1783, painting by John Trumbull (1824) General George Washington Resigning his Commission.jpg
General George Washington Resigning His Commission in Annapolis, Maryland on December 23, 1783, painting by John Trumbull (1824)

After Congress failed to pass an amendment granting the national government the power to levy an impost on imports, Morris paid the army with certificates that the soldiers labeled "Morris notes." The notes promised to pay the soldiers in six months, but few of the soldiers believed that they would ever actually receive payment, and most Morris notes were sold to speculators. [46] Many of the impoverished enlisted men were forced to beg for help on their journeys home. In June, the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 broke out among angry soldiers who demanded payment, causing Congress to relocate the capital to Princeton. Upon re-convening, Congress reduced the size of the army from 11,000 to 2,000. [47] Though national security was a top priority of American leaders, [48] in the short term a smaller Continental Army would suffice because Americans had confidence that the Atlantic Ocean would provide protection from European powers. [49] On December 23, 1783, Washington resigned from the army, earning the admiration of many for his willingness to relinquish power. [50] Following Washington's resignation, the army shrank to a mere 625 soldiers, while Congress effectively disbanded the Continental Navy in 1785 with the sale of the USS Alliance. The small, poorly equipped army would prove powerless to prevent squatters from moving onto Native American lands, further inflaming a tense situation on the American frontier. [51]

Western settlement

Partly due to the restrictions imposed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, only a handful of Americans had settled west of the Appalachian Mountains prior to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The start of that war lifted the barrier to settlement, and by 1782 approximately 25,000 Americans had settled in Transappalachia. [52] After the war, American settlement in the region continued. Though life in these new lands proved hard for many, western settlement offered the prize of property, an unrealistic aspiration for some in the East. [53] Westward expansion stirred enthusiasm even in those who did not move west, and many leading Americans, including Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, purchased lands in the west. [54] Land speculators founded groups like the Ohio Company, which acquired title to vast tracts of land in the west and often came into conflict with settlers. [55] Washington and others co-founded the Potomac Company to build a canal linking the Potomac River with Ohio River. Washington hoped that this canal would provide a cultural and economic link between the east and west, thus ensuring that the West would not ultimately secede. [56]

George Caleb Bingham's Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap depicts the early settlement of Kentucky George Caleb Bingham - Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap.jpg
George Caleb Bingham's Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap depicts the early settlement of Kentucky

In 1784, Virginia formally ceded its claims north of the Ohio River, and Congress created a government for the region now known as the Old Northwest with the Land Ordinance of 1784 and the Land Ordinance of 1785. These laws established the principle that Old Northwest would be governed by a territorial government, under the aegis of Congress, until it reached a certain level of political and economic development. At that point, the former territories would enter the union as states, with rights equal to that of any other state. [57] The federal territory stretched across most of the area west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River, though Connecticut retained a small part of its claim in the West in the form of the Connecticut Western Reserve, a strip of land south of Lake Erie. [58] In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, which granted Congress greater control of the region by establishing the Northwest Territory. Under the new arrangement, many of the formerly elected officials of the territory were instead appointed by Congress. [59] In order to attract Northern settlers, Congress outlawed slavery in the Northwest Territory, though it also passed a fugitive slave law to appease the Southern states. [60]

While the Old Northwest fell under the control of the federal government, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia retained control of the Old Southwest; each state claimed to extend west to the Mississippi River. [61] In 1784, settlers in western North Carolina sought statehood as the State of Franklin, but their efforts were denied by Congress, which did not want to set a precedent regarding the secession of states. [62] By the 1790 Census, the populations of Tennessee and Kentucky had grown dramatically to 73,000 and 35,000, respectively. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vermont would all gain statehood between 1791 and 1795. [63]

With the aid of Britain and Spain, Native Americans resisted western settlement. Though Southern leaders and many nationalists lent their political support to the settlers, most Northern leaders were more concerned with trade than with western settlement, and the weak national government lacked the power to compel concessions from foreign governments. The 1784 closure of the Mississippi River by Spain denied access to the sea for the exports of Western farmers, greatly impeding efforts to settle the West, and they provided arms to Native Americans. [64] The British had restricted settlement of the trans-Appalachian lands prior to 1776, and they continued to supply arms to Native Americans after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Between 1783 and 1787, hundreds of settlers died in low-level conflicts with Native Americans, and these conflicts discouraged further settlement. [65] As Congress provided little military support against the Native Americans, most of the fighting was done by the settlers. [66] By the end of the decade, the frontier was engulfed in the Northwest Indian War against a confederation of Native American tribes. [67] These Native Americans sought the creation of an independent Indian barrier state with the support of the British, posing a major foreign policy challenge to the United States. [68]

Economy and trade

A brief economic recession followed the war, but prosperity returned by 1786. [69] About 80,000 Loyalists left the U.S. for elsewhere in the British Empire, leaving the lands and properties behind. [70] [71] Some returned after the war, especially to more welcoming states like New York [72] and South Carolina. [73] Economically mid-Atlantic states recovered particularly quickly and began manufacturing and processing goods, while New England and the South experienced more uneven recoveries. [74] Trade with Britain resumed, and the volume of British imports after the war matched the volume from before the war, but exports fell precipitously. [75] Adams, serving as the ambassador to Britain, called for a retaliatory tariff in order to force the British to negotiate a commercial treaty, particularly regarding access to Caribbean markets. However, Congress lacked the power to regulate foreign commerce or compel the states to follow a unified trade policy, and Britain proved unwilling to negotiate. [76] While trade with the British did not fully recover, the U.S. expanded trade with France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other European countries. Despite these good economic conditions, many traders complained of the high duties imposed by each state, which served to restrain interstate trade. Many creditors also suffered from the failure of domestic governments to repay debts incurred during the war. [77] Though the 1780s saw moderate economic growth, many experienced economic anxiety, and Congress received much of the blame for failing to foster a stronger economy. [78]

Foreign affairs

North America after the Treaty of Paris. The United States (blue) was bordered by the United Kingdom (yellow) to the north and Spain (brown) to the south and west. Non-Native Nations Claim over NAFTA countries 1783.png
North America after the Treaty of Paris. The United States (blue) was bordered by the United Kingdom (yellow) to the north and Spain (brown) to the south and west.

In the decade after the end of the Revolutionary War, the United States benefited from a long period of peace in Europe, as no country posed a direct threat and immediate threat to the United States. Nevertheless, the weakness of the central government, and the desire of localists to keep the national government from assuming powers held by the state governments, greatly hindered diplomacy. [79] In 1776, the Continental Congress had drafted the Model Treaty, which served as a guide for U.S. foreign policy during the 1780s. The treaty sought to abolish trade barriers such as tariffs, while avoiding political or military entanglements. [80] In this, it reflected the foreign policy priorities of many Americans, who sought to play a large role in the global trading community while avoiding war. Lacking a strong military, and divided by differing sectional priorities, the U.S. was often forced to accept unfavorable terms of trade during the 1780s. [81]


William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, served as Prime Minister during the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris. Shelburne favored peaceful relations and increased trade with the U.S., but his government fell in 1783, and his successors were less intent on amicable relations with the United States. [82] Many British leaders hoped that the U.S. would ultimately collapse due to its lack of cohesion, at which point Britain could re-establish hegemony over North America. [83] In western territories--chiefly in present-day Wisconsin and Michigan--the British retained control of several forts and continued to cultivate alliances with Native Americans. [84] These policies impeded U.S. settlement and allowed Britain to extract profits from the lucrative fur trade. [85] The British justified their continued occupation of the forts on the basis that the American had blocked the collection of pre-war debts owed to British citizens, which a subsequent investigation by Jay confirmed. As there was little the powerless Congress could do to coerce the states into action, the British retained their justification for the occupation of the forts until the matter was settled by the Jay Treaty in 1795. [86]

Jay emphasized the need for expanded international trade, specifically with Great Britain, which conducted by far the most international trade. [87] However, Britain continued to pursue mercantilist economic policies, excluded the U.S. from trading with its Caribbean colonies, and flooded the U.S. with manufactured goods. [88] U.S. merchants responded by opening up an entirely new market in China. Americans eagerly purchased tea, silks, spices, and chinaware, while the Chinese were eager for American ginseng and furs. [89]


John Jay served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784 to 1789 John Jay at National Portrait Gallery IMG 4446.JPG
John Jay served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784 to 1789

Spain fought the British as an ally of France during the Revolutionary War, but it distrusted the ideology of republicanism and was not officially an ally of the United States. [90] Spain controlled the territories of Florida and Louisiana, positioned to the south and west of the United States. Americans had long recognized the importance of navigation rights on the Mississippi River, as it was the only realistic outlet for many settlers in the trans-Appalachian lands to ship their products to other markets, including the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. [91]

Despite having fought a common enemy in the Revolutionary War, Spain saw U.S. expansionism as a threat to its empire. Seeking to stop the American settlement of the Old Southwest, Spain denied the U.S. navigation rights on the Mississippi River, provided arms to Native Americans, and recruited friendly American settlers to the sparsely populated territories of Florida and Louisiana. [92] Working with Alexander McGillivray, Spain signed treaties with Creeks, the Chickasaws, and the Choctaws to make peace among themselves and ally with Spain, but the pan-Indian coalition proved unstable. [93] [94] [95] Spain also bribed American General James Wilkinson in a plot to make much of the southwestern United States secede, but nothing came of it. [96]

Despite geopolitical tensions, Spanish merchants welcomed trade with the United States and encouraged the U.S. to set up consulates in Spain's New World colonies. [97] A new line of commerce emerged in which American merchants imported goods from Britain and then resold them to the Spanish colonies. [98] The U.S. and Spain reached the Jay–Gardoqui Treaty, which would have required the U.S. to renounce any right to access the Mississippi River for twenty-five years in return for a commercial treaty and the mutual recognition of borders. In 1786, Jay submitted the treaty to Congress, precipitating a divisive debate. [99] Southerners, led by James Monroe of Virginia, opposed the provision regarding the Mississippi and accused Jay of favoring Northeastern commercial interests over western growth. Ratification of treaties required nine votes under the Articles of Confederation, and all five Southern states voted against ratification, dooming the treaty. [100]


Under the leadership of Foreign Minister Vergennes, France had entered the Revolutionary War, in large part to damage the British. The French were an indispensable ally during the war, providing supplies, finances, and a powerful navy. [101] In 1778, France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance, establishing a "perpetual" military alliance, as well as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which established commercial ties. [102] In the Treaty of Paris, Britain consented to relatively favorable terms to the United States partly out of a desire to weaken U.S. dependency on France. After the war, the U.S. sought increased trade with France, but commerce between the two countries remained limited. [103] The U.S. also requested French aid in pressuring the British to evacuate their forts in U.S. territory, but the French were not willing to intervene in Anglo-American relations again. [104]

Other issues

John Adams, as ambassador to the Netherlands, managed to convince the small country to break its alliance with Britain, join the war alongside France, and provide funding and formal recognition to the United States in 1782. The Netherlands, along with France, became the major American ally in Europe. [105]

The Barbary pirates, who operated out of the North African states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, posed a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean Sea during the late 18th century. The major European powers paid the Barbary pirates tribute to avoid their raids, but the U.S. was not willing to meet the terms sought by the pirates, in part due to the national government's lack of money. As such, the pirates preyed on U.S. shipping during the 1780s. [106] [107]

Creation of a new constitution

Reform efforts

The end of the war in 1783 temporarily ended any possibility of the states giving up power to a central government, but many in and out of Congress continued to favor a stronger national government. Soldiers and former soldiers formed a powerful bloc calling for a stronger national government, which they believed would have allowed for better war-time leadership. They were joined by merchants, who wanted a strong national government to provide order and sound economic policies, and many expansionists, who believed the national government could best protect American lands in the West. [108] Additionally, John Jay, Henry Knox, and others called for an independent executive who could govern more decisively than a large, legislative body like Congress. [109] Despite growing feelings of nationalism, particularly among younger Americans, the efforts of nationalists to grant Congress greater powers were defeated by those who preferred the continued supremacy of the states. [110] Most Americans saw the Revolutionary War as a struggle against a strong government, and few state leaders were willing to surrender their own state's sovereignty. [111] In 1786, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina led the creation of a grand congressional committee to consider constitutional amendments. The committee proposed seven amendments, and its proposals would have granted the central government the power to regulate commerce and fine states that failed to supply adequate funding to Congress. Congress failed to act on these proposals, and reformers began to take action outside of Congress. [112]

Calling the Philadelphia Convention

In 1785, Washington hosted the Mount Vernon Conference, which established an agreement between Maryland and Virginia regarding several commercial issues. Encouraged by this example of interstate cooperation, Madison convinced the Virginia assembly to host another conference, the Annapolis Convention, with the goal of promoting interstate trade. [113] Only five state delegations attended the convention, but the delegates that did attend largely agreed on the need to reform the federal government. The delegates called for a second convention to take place in 1787 in Philadelphia to consider constitutional reform. In the months after the Annapolis Convention, reformers took steps to ensure better turnout at the next convention. They secured the blessing of Congress to consider constitutional reform and made sure to invite Washington, the most prominent national leader. The nationalist call for a constitutional convention was bolstered by the outbreak of Shays' Rebellion, which convinced many of the need for a national government powerful enough to help suppress uprisings. [114]

Though there was not a widespread feeling in the population that the Articles of Confederation needed major reform, the leaders of each state recognized the problems posed by the weak national government. When the Philadelphia Convention opened in May 1787, every state but Rhode Island sent a delegation. Three quarters of the delegates had served in Congress, and all recognized the difficulty, and importance, of amending the Articles. Though each delegate feared the loss of their own state's power, there was wide agreement among the delegates that the United States required a stronger federal government capable of effectively managing foreign relations and ensuring national security. Many also hoped to establish a uniform currency and national copyright and immigration laws. With the attendance of powerful and respected leaders like Washington and Franklin, who helped provide some measure of legitimacy to the convocation, the delegates agreed to pursue sweeping changes to the national government. [115]

Writing a new constitution

The 1787 Constitutional Convention by Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856. Washington Constitutional Convention 1787.jpg
The 1787 Constitutional Convention by Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856.

Shortly after the convention began in September 1787, delegates elected Washington preside over the convention and agreed that the meetings would not be open to the public. The latter decision allowed for the consideration of an entirely new constitution, as open consideration of a new constitution would likely have inspired great public outcry. Led by James Madison, Virginia's delegates introduced a set of reforms known as the Virginia Plan, which called for a stronger national government with three independent branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The plan envisioned a strong federal government with the power to nullify state laws. Madison's plan was well-received and served as the basis for the convention's discussion, though several of its provisions were altered over the course of the convention. [116] During the convention, Madison and James Wilson of Pennsylvania emerged as two of the most important advocates of a new constitution based on the Virginia Plan, while prominent opponents to the final document would include Edmund Randolph, George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry. [117]

The balance of power between the federal government and the state governments emerged as the most debated topic of the convention, and the convention ultimately agreed to a framework in which the federal and state governments shared power. The federal government would regulate interstate and foreign commerce, coin money, and oversee foreign relations, but states would continue to exercise power in other areas. A second major issue was the allocation of congressional representatives. Delegates from large states wanted representation in Congress to be proportional to population, while delegates from smaller states preferred that each state receive equal representation. In the Connecticut Compromise, the delegates agreed to create a bicameral Congress in which each state received equal representation in the upper house (the Senate), while representation in the lower house (the House of Representatives) was apportioned by population. The issue of slavery also threatened to derail the convention, though national abolition was not a priority for Northern delegates. The delegates agreed to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted three-fifths of the slave population for the purposes of taxation and representation. Southerners also won inclusion of the Fugitive Slave Clause, which allowed owners to recover their escaped slaves from free states, as well as a clause that forbid Congress from banning the Atlantic slave trade until 1808. The delegates of the convention also sought to limit the democratic nature of the new constitution, with indirect elections established for the Senate and the office of the President of the United States, who would lead the executive branch. [118]

The proposed constitution contained several other important differences from the Articles of Confederation. States saw their economic power severely curtailed, and notably were barred from impairing contracts. While members of the Congress of the Confederation and most state legislators served one-year terms, members of the House would serve for two-year terms and members of the Senate would serve for six-year terms. Neither house of Congress would be subject to term limits. Though the states would elect members of the Senate, the House of Representatives would be elected directly by the people. The president would be elected independent of the legislature, and hold broad powers over foreign affairs, military policy, and appointments. The president also received the power to veto legislation. The judicial power of the United States would be vested in the Supreme Court of the United States and any inferior courts established by Congress, and these courts would have jurisdiction over federal issues. The amendment process would no longer require unanimous consent of the states, although it still required the approval of Congress and a majority of states. [119]

Struggle for ratification

Constitutional ratification by state [120]
1December 7, 1787 Delaware 300
2December 11, 1787 Pennsylvania 4623
3December 18, 1787 New Jersey 380
4January 2, 1788 Georgia 260
5January 9, 1788 Connecticut 12840
6February 6, 1788 Massachusetts 187168
7April 26, 1788 Maryland 6311
8May 23, 1788 South Carolina 14973
9June 21, 1788 New Hampshire 5747
10June 25, 1788 Virginia 8979
11July 26, 1788 New York 3027
12November 21, 1789 North Carolina 19477
13May 29, 1790 Rhode Island 3432

Ratification of the Constitution written at the Philadelphia Convention was not assured, as opponents of a stronger federal government mobilized against ratification. Even by the end of the convention, sixteen of the fifty-five delegates had either left the convention or refused to sign the document. [121] Article Seven of the Constitution provided for submission of the document to state conventions, rather than Congress or the state legislatures, for ratification. Though Congress had not authorized consideration of a new Constitution, most members of Congress respected the stature of the leaders who had assembled in Philadelphia. [122] Roughly one-third of the members of Congress had been delegates at the Philadelphia Convention, and these former delegates proved to be powerful advocates for the new constitution. After debating for several days, Congress transmitted the Constitution to the states without recommendation, letting each state decide for itself whether or not to ratify the document. [123]

Ratification of the Constitution required the approval of nine states. The ratification debates in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were of particular importance, as they were the four largest and most powerful states in the nation. [124] Those who advocated ratification took the name Federalists. To sway the closely divided New York legislature, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay anonymously published The Federalist Papers , which became seminal documents that affected the debate in New York and other states. [125] Opponents of the new constitution became known as Anti-Federalists. Though most Anti-Federalists acknowledged the need for changes to the Articles of Confederation, they feared the establishment of a powerful, and potentially tyrannical, central government. Members of both camps held wide ranges of views; for example, some Anti-Federalists like Luther Martin wanted only minor changes to the Articles of Confederation, while others such as George Mason favored a less powerful version of the federal government proposed by the Constitution. [126] Federalists were strongest in eastern, urban counties, while Anti-Federalists tended to be stronger in rural areas. [127] Each faction engaged in a spirited public campaign to shape the ratification debate, though the Federalists tended to be better financed and organized. Over time, the Federalists were able to convince many in the skeptical public of the merits of the new Constitution. [128]

The Federalists won their first ratification victories in December 1787, when Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey all ratified the Constitution. [129] By the end of February 1788, six states, including Massachusetts, had ratified the Constitution. In Massachusetts, the Federalists won over skeptical delegates by promising that the first Congress of the new Constitution would consider amendments limiting the federal government's power. This promise to amend the Constitution after its ratification proved to be extremely important in other ratification debates, as it helped Federalists win the votes of those who saw the need for the Constitution but opposed some of its provisions. [130] In the following months, Maryland and South Carolina ratified the Constitution, but North Carolina voted against ratification, leaving the document just one state short of taking effect. In June 1788, New Hampshire and Virginia both ratified the document. In Virginia, as in Massachusetts, Federalists won support for the Constitution by promising ratification of several amendments. Though Anti-Federalism was strong in New York, its constitutional convention nonetheless ratified the document in July 1788 since failure to do so would leave the state outside of the union. Rhode Island, the lone state which had not sent a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, was viewed as a lost cause by the Federalists due to its strong opposition to the proposed constitution, and it would not ratify the Constitution until 1790. [131]

Inauguration of a new government

1789 electoral vote totals
NameVotes [132]
George Washington 69
John Adams 34
John Jay 9
Robert H. Harrison 6
John Rutledge 6
John Hancock 4
George Clinton 3
Samuel Huntington 2
John Milton 2
James Armstrong 1
Benjamin Lincoln 1
Edward Telfair 1

In September 1788, the Congress of the Confederation formally certified that the Constitution had been ratified. It also set the date for the presidential election and the first meeting of the new federal government. Additionally, Congress engaged in debate regarding where the incoming government would meet, with Baltimore briefly emerging as the favorite. To the displeasure of Southern and Western interests, Congress ultimately chose to retain New York City as the seat of government. [133] [134]

Though Washington desired to resume his retirement following the Constitutional Convention, the American public at large anticipated that he would be the nation's first president. Federalists such as Hamilton eventually coaxed him to accept the office. On February 4, 1789, the Electoral College, the mechanism established by the Constitution to conduct the indirect presidential elections, met for the first time, with each state's presidential electors gathering in their state's capital. Under the rules then in place, each elector could vote for two persons (but the two people chosen by the elector could not both inhabit the same state as that elector), with the candidate who won the most votes becoming president and the candidate with the second-most becoming vice president. Each elector cast one vote for Washington, while John Adams won the most votes of all other candidates, and thus won election as vice president. Electors from 10 of the 13 states cast votes. There were no votes from New York, because the New York legislature failed to appoint its allotted electors in time; North Carolina and Rhode Island did not participate as they had not yet ratified the Constitution. [135] [136]

The Federalists performed well in the concurrent House and Senate elections, ensuring that the both chambers of United States Congress would be dominated by proponents of the federal government established by the Constitution. [137] This in turn ensured that there would not be a constitutional convention to propose amendments, which many Federalists had feared would critically weaken the national government. [138]

The new federal government commenced operations with the seating of the 1st Congress in March 1789 and the inauguration of Washington the following month. In September 1789, Congress approved the United States Bill of Rights, a group of Constitutional amendments designed to protect individual liberties against federal interference, and the states ratified these amendments in 1791. After Congress voted for the Bill of Rights, North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified the Constitution in 1790 and 1791, respectively. [139] [140]


The period of American history between the end of the American Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution has also been referred to as the "critical period" of American history. During the 1780s, many thought that the country was experiencing a crisis of leadership, as reflected by John Quincy Adams's statement in 1787 that the country was in the midst of a "critical period". [141] In his 1857 book, The Diplomatic History of the Administrations of Washington and Adams, William Henry Trescot became the first historians to apply the phrase "America's Critical Period" to the era in American history between 1783 and 1789. The phrase was popularized by John Fiske's 1888 book, The Critical Period of American History. Fiske's use of the term "critical period" refers to the importance of the era in determining whether the United States would establish a stronger national government or break up into multiple sovereign states. The term "critical period" thus implicitly accepts the Federalist critique of the Articles of Confederation. Other historians have used an alternative term, the "Confederation Period", to describe U.S. history between 1781 and 1789. [142]

Historians such as Forrest McDonald have argued that the 1780s were a time of economic and political chaos. However, other historians, including Merrill Jensen, have argued that the 1780s were actually a relatively stable, prosperous time. [143] Gordon Wood suggests that it was the idea of the Revolution and the thought that it would bring a utopian society to the new country that made it possible for people to believe they had fallen instead into a time of crisis. [144] Historian John Ferling argues that, in 1787, only the nationalists, a relatively small share of the population, viewed the era as a "Critical Period". [145] Michael Klarman argues that the decade marked a high point of democracy and egalitarianism, and views the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 as a conservative counter-revolution. [146]

See also

Related Research Articles

James Madison Fourth President of the United States

James Madison Jr. was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat, philosopher and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is hailed as the "Father of the Constitution" for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the Constitution of the United States and the United States Bill of Rights. He co-wrote The Federalist Papers, co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, and served as the fifth United States secretary of State 1801 to 1809.

Continental Congress convention of delegates that became the governing body of the United States

The Continental Congress was initially a convention of delegates from a number of British American colonies at the height of the American Revolution, who spoke and acted collectively for the people of the Thirteen Colonies that ultimately became the United States of America. After declaring the colonies independent from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776, it acted as the provisional governing structure for the collective United States, while most government functions remained in the individual states. The term most specifically refers to the First Continental Congress of 1774 and the Second Continental Congress of 1775–1781. More broadly, it also refers to the Congress of the Confederation of 1781–1789, thus covering the three congressional bodies of the Thirteen Colonies and the United States that met between 1774 and the inauguration of a new government in 1789 under the United States Constitution.

The Tariff Act of 1789 was the first major piece of legislation passed in the United States after the ratification of the United States Constitution and it had two purposes. It was to protect manufacturing industries developing in the nation and was to raise revenue for the federal government. It was sponsored by Congressman James Madison, passed by the 1st United States Congress, and signed into law by President George Washington. The act levied a 50¢ per ton duty on goods imported by foreign ships; American-owned vessels were charged 6¢ per ton.

History of the United States (1776–1789) aspect of history

Between 1776 and 1789, the United States of America emerged as an independent country, creating and ratifying its new constitution and establishing its national government. In order to assert their traditional rights, American Patriots seized control of the colonies and launched a war for independence. The Americans declared independence on July 4, 1776, proclaiming "all men are created equal". Congress raised the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington, forged a military alliance with France and defeated the two main British invasion armies. Nationalists replaced the governing Articles of Confederation to strengthen the federal government's powers of defense and taxation with the Constitution of the United States of America in 1789, still in effect today.

Article Seven of the United States Constitution

Article Seven of the United States Constitution sets the number of state ratifications necessary in order for the Constitution to take effect and prescribes the method through which the states may ratify it. Under the terms of Article VII, constitutional ratification conventions were held in each of the thirteen states, with the ratification of nine states required for the Constitution to take effect. Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution, doing so on December 7, 1787. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, ensuring that the Constitution would take effect. Rhode Island was the last state to ratify the Constitution under Article VII, doing so on May 29, 1790.

Second Continental Congress convention of delegates from the American Colonies

The Second Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies in America which united in the American Revolutionary War. It convened on May 10, 1775 with representatives from 12 of the colonies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, succeeding the First Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774. The Second Congress functioned as a de facto national government at the outset of the Revolutionary War by raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and writing treatises such as the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms and the Olive Branch Petition. All thirteen colonies were represented by the time that the congress adopted the Lee Resolution which declared independence from Britain on July 2, 1776, and the congress agreed to the Declaration of Independence two days later.

History of the United States Constitution aspect of history

The United States Constitution was written from May through September 1787, at the Philadelphia Convention. Two alternative plans were developed in Convention. The nationalist majority, soon to be called "Federalists," put forth the Virginia Plan, a consolidated government based on proportional representation among the states by population. The "old patriots," later called "Anti-Federalists," advocated the New Jersey Plan, a purely federal proposal, based on providing each state with equal representation. The Connecticut Compromise allowed for both plans to work together. Other controversies developed regarding slavery and a Bill of Rights in the original document.

Constitutional Convention (United States) Event taking place from May 25 to September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that led to the creation of the United States Constitution

The Constitutional Convention took place from May 25 to September 17, 1787, in the old Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. Although the Convention was intended to revise the league of states and first system of government under the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington of Virginia, former commanding general of the Continental Army in the late American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and proponent of a stronger national government, to become President of the Convention. The result of the Convention was the creation of the Constitution of the United States, placing the Convention among the most significant events in American history.

Federalism in the United States Division of powers between national, state, tribal and local governments

Federalism in the United States, also referred to as the doctrine of shared sovereignty, is the constitutional division of power between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States. Since the founding of the country, and particularly with the end of the American Civil War, power shifted away from the states and toward the national government. The progression of federalism includes dual, state-centered, and new federalism.

Congress of the Confederation governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789

The Congress of the Confederation, or the Confederation Congress, formally referred to as the United States in Congress Assembled, was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. A unicameral body with legislative and executive function, it was composed of delegates appointed by the legislatures of the several states. Each state delegation had one vote. It was preceded by the Second Continental Congress (1775–1781) and was created by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in 1781. The Congress continued to refer itself as the Continental Congress throughout its eight-year history, although modern historians separate it from the two earlier congresses, which operated under slightly different rules and procedures until the later part of American Revolutionary War. The membership of the Second Continental Congress automatically carried over to the Congress of the Confederation when the latter was created by the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. It had the same secretary as the Second Continental Congress, namely Charles Thomson. The Congress of the Confederation was succeeded by the Congress of the United States as provided for in the new Constitution of the United States, proposed September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia and ratified by the states through 1787 to 1788 and even into 1789 and 1790.

First Party System

The First Party System is a model of American politics used in history and political science to periodize the political party system that existed in the United States between roughly 1792 and 1824. It featured two national parties competing for control of the presidency, Congress, and the states: the Federalist Party, created largely by Alexander Hamilton, and the rival Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party, formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, usually called at the time the Republican Party. The Federalists were dominant until 1800, while the Republicans were dominant after 1800.

Virginia Ratifying Convention Convention ratifying the U.S. Constitution

The Virginia Ratifying Convention was a convention of 168 delegates from Virginia who met in 1788 to ratify or reject the United States Constitution, which had been drafted at the Philadelphia Convention the previous year.

United States Bill of Rights The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution

The United States Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the often bitter 1787–88 debate over the ratification of the Constitution, and written to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments add to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically granted to the U.S. Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The concepts codified in these amendments are built upon those found in earlier documents, especially the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), as well as the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the Magna Carta (1215).

Timeline of drafting and ratification of the United States Constitution

The drafting of the Constitution of the United States began on May 25, 1787, when the Constitutional Convention met for the first time with a quorum at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to revise the Articles of Confederation, and ended on September 17, 1787, the day the Constitution drafted by the convention's delegates to replace the Articles was adopted and signed. The ratification process for the Constitution began that day, and ended when the final state, Rhode Island, ratified it on May 29, 1790. In addition to key events during the Constitutional Convention and afterward while the Constitution was before the states for their ratification, this timeline includes important events that occurred during the run-up to the convention and during the nation's transition from government under the Articles of Confederation to government under the Constitution, and concludes with the unique ratification vote of Vermont, which at the time was a sovereign state outside the Union. The time span covered is 5 years, 9 months, from March 25, 1785 to January 10, 1791.

The Federalist Era in American history ran from 1788–1800, a time when the Federalist Party and its predecessors were dominant in American politics. During this period, Federalists generally controlled Congress and enjoyed the support of President George Washington and President John Adams. The era saw the creation of a new, stronger federal government under the United States Constitution, a deepening of support for nationalism, and diminished fears of tyranny by a central government. The era began with the ratification of the United States Constitution and ended with the Democratic-Republican Party's victory in the 1800 elections.

Ratification Day (United States) Anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris

Ratification Day in the United States is the anniversary of the congressional proclamation of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784, at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland by the Confederation Congress. This act officially ended the American Revolutionary War.

The Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between the United States and Sweden, was a treaty signed on April 3, 1783 in Paris, France between the United States and the Kingdom of Sweden. The treaty established a commercial alliance between these two nations and was signed during the American Revolutionary War.

1788–89 United States elections Election in the United States on 1789

The United States elections of 1788–89 were the first federal elections in the United States following the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788. In the elections, George Washington was elected as the first president and the members of the 1st United States Congress were selected.

History of U.S. foreign policy, 1776–1801

The history of U.S. foreign policy from 1776 to 1801 concerns the foreign policy of the United States during the twenty five years after the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). For the first half of this period, the U.S. foreign policy was directed by the Second Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation. After the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788, U.S. foreign policy was conducted by the presidential administrations of George Washington and John Adams. The inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801 marked the start of the next era of U.S. foreign policy.


  1. Ferling (2003), pp. 128–129
  2. Ferling (2003), pp. 135, 141–144
  3. Ferling (2003), pp. 175–176
  4. Ferling (2003), pp. 177–179
  5. Chandler (1990), p. 434
  6. Ferling (2003), pp. 179–182
  7. Ferling (2003), pp. 230–232
  8. Ferling (2003), pp. 241–242
  9. 1 2 Charles R. Ritcheson, "The Earl of Shelbourne and Peace with America, 1782–1783: Vision and Reality." International History Review (1983) 5#3 pp: 322–345. online
  10. Ferling (2003), pp. 253–254
  11. Nugent (2008), pp. 23–24
  12. Quote from Thomas Paterson, J. Garry Clifford and Shane J. Maddock, American foreign relations: A history, to 1920 (2009) vol 1 p. 20
  13. Ferling (2003), pp. 253–254
  14. James W. Ely Jr. (2007). The Guardian of Every Other Right: A Constitutional History of Property Rights. Oxford UP. p. 35. ISBN   9780199724529.
  15. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 624–625
  16. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1965). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Oxford University Press. p. 279. LCCN   65-12468.
  17. "Policies and Problems of the Confederation Government". American Memory Timeline. Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  18. Ferling (2003), pp. 267–268
  19. Herring (2008), pp. 25–26
  20. Chandler (1990), pp. 434–435
  21. Ferling (2003), pp. 255–256
  22. Ferling (2003), pp. 266–267
  23. Ferling (2003), pp. 254–255
  24. Ferling (2003), p. 259
  25. Ferling (2003), pp. 273–274
  26. Chandler (1990), pp. 443–445
  27. Ferling (2003), pp. 235–236
  28. Chandler (1990), p. 445
  29. Herring (2008), pp. 35–36
  30. Chandler (1990), p. 448
  31. "Race and Hispanic Origin: 1790 to 1990 by State" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2014-11-21. Retrieved 2011-11-01.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  32. "United States – Race and Hispanic Origin: 1790 to 1990" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2014-11-14. Retrieved 2011-11-01.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  33. Ferling (2003), pp. 195–196
  34. Ferling (2003), pp. 260–262
  35. Ferling (2003), pp. 257–258
  36. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 571–572
  37. Maier (2010), pp. 15–17
  38. "In 1790, the Deal for Vermont Statehood Finally Emerged". New England Historical Society. 2014-10-28.
  39. Ferling (2003), pp. 220–221
  40. Ferling (2003), pp. 224–225
  41. Ferling (2003), pp. 235–242
  42. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 606–607
  43. Ferling (2003), pp. 248–252
  44. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 603–604
  45. Ferling (2003), pp. 248–252
  46. Ferling (2009), pp. 235–237
  47. Ferling (2003), pp. 254–255
  48. Richard H. Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783-1802 (1975) pp 62-65.
  49. Lawrence D. Cress, "Republican Liberty and National Security: American Military Policy as an Ideological Problem, 1783 to 1789," William and Mary Quarterly 38#1 (January 1981) pp. 73-96
  50. Ferling (2003), pp. 254–255
  51. Maier (2010), pp. 12–13
  52. Nugent (2008), pp. 13–15
  53. Ferling (2003), pp. 257–258
  54. Nugent (2008), pp. 22–23
  55. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 610–611
  56. Maier (2010), pp. 9–11
  57. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 609–611
  58. Middlekauff (2005), p. 647
  59. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 609–611
  60. Alan Taylor, American Revolutions A Continental History, 1750–1804 (2016), pp. 341–342
  61. Taylor (2016), p. 340
  62. Taylor (2016), p. 344
  63. David P. Currie (1997). The Constitution in Congress: The Federalist Period, 1789-1801. p. 221.
  64. Ferling (2003), pp. 264–265
  65. Ferling (2003), pp. 264–265
  66. Taylor (2016), p. 343
  67. Herring (2008), pp. 43–44
  68. Herring (2008), pp. 61–62
  69. Nettels, Emergence of a national economy pp 45-64
  70. Ferling (2003), pp. 257–258
  71. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 563–564
  72. Oscar Zeichner, "The Loyalist Problem in New York after the Revolution." New York History 21.3 (1940): 284-302. online
  73. Rebecca Brannon, From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists (2016).
  74. Middlekauff (2005), p. 612
  75. Ferling (2003), pp. 257–258
  76. Ferling (2003), p. 263
  77. Ferling (2003), pp. 257–258
  78. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 613–614
  79. Lawrence S. Kaplan, Colonies into Nation: American Diplomacy 1763-1801 (1972) 145-81.
  80. Herring (2008), pp. 16–17
  81. Herring (2008), pp. 36–38
  82. Herring (2008), pp. 33–34
  83. Taylor (2016), p. 347
  84. Taylor (2016), p. 347
  85. Herring (2008), pp. 41–45
  86. Maier (2010), p. 13
  87. Boyd, "Two Diplomats between Revolutions John Jay and Thomas Jefferson." ]
  88. Herring (2008), pp. 37–38
  89. Curtis P. Nettels (1962). The Emergence of a National Economy, 1775-1815. pp. 205–9.
  90. Bemis, The Diplomacy Of The American Revolution (1935, 1957) pp 95-102. online
  91. Ferling (2003), pp. 211–212
  92. Taylor (2016), pp. 345–346
  93. Kaplan, Colonies into Nation: American Diplomacy 1763-1801 (1972) pp 168-71.
  94. Jane M. Berry, "The Indian Policy of Spain in the Southwest 1783-1795." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 3.4 (1917): 462-477. online
  95. Arthur P. Whitaker, "Spain and the Cherokee Indians, 1783-98." North Carolina Historical Review 4.3 (1927): 252-269. online
  96. Herring (2008), pp. 46–47
  97. Roy F. Nichols, "Trade Relations and the Establishment of the United States Consulates in Spanish America, 1779-1809." The Hispanic American Historical Review 13.3 (1933): 289-313.
  98. Javier Cuenca-Esteban, "British 'Ghost' Exports, American Middlemen, and the Trade to Spanish America, 1790–1819: A Speculative Reconstruction." William & Mary Quarterly 71.1 (2014): 63-98. online
  99. Herring (2008), pp. 46–47
  100. Middlekauff (2005), pp. 607–609
  101. Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy Of The American Revolution (1935, 1957) pp 81-93. online
  102. Herring (2008), pp. 17–21
  103. Herring (2008), pp. 29–30
  104. Herring (2008), pp. 45–46
  105. Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt, "John Adams Is Still with Us." New England Quarterly (1993): 269-274. online
  106. Herring (2008), pp. 39–40
  107. Lawrence A. Peskin, "The Lessons of Independence: How the Algerian Crisis Shaped Early American Identity." Diplomatic History 28.3 (2004): 297-319.
  108. Ferling (2003), pp. 233–237
  109. Meier, pp. 18–19
  110. Ferling (2003), pp. 233–237
  111. Ferling (2009), pp. 261–262
  112. Ferling (2003), pp. 274–275
  113. Ferling (2009), pp. 265–266
  114. Ferling (2003), pp. 275–278
  115. Ferling (2003), pp. 278–284
  116. Ferling (2003), pp. 284–286
  117. Middlekauff (2005), p. 645, 668
  118. Ferling (2003), pp. 284–293
  119. Meier, pp. 31–35
  120. "Ratification Dates and Votes – The U.S. Constitution Online". Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  121. Maier (2010), pp. 35–36
  122. Ferling (2003), pp. 294–295
  123. Maier (2010), pp. 52–58
  124. Ferling (2003), pp. 294–295
  125. Maier (2010), p. 84
  126. Maier (2010), pp. 91–95
  127. Ferling (2003), pp. 294–296
  128. Ferling (2003), pp. 303–307
  129. Maier (2010), pp. 120–124
  130. Maier (2010), pp. 196–213, 431
  131. Ferling (2003), pp. 295–303
  132. "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". College Park, Maryland: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  133. Maier (2010), pp. 429–430
  134. Elliot, Jonathan (1836). Elliot's Debates. Volume One (2nd ed.). Washington D.C.: Published under the sanction of Congress. LCCN   17007172.
  135. "Presidential Election of 1789". Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, George Washington's Mount Vernon. Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  136. Maier (2010), p. 438
  137. Ferling (2003), pp. 308–313
  138. Maier (2010), pp. 432–434
  139. Ferling (2003), pp. 308–313
  140. Maier (2010), pp. 432–434
  141. Wood (1997), pp. 393–395
  142. Vile (2005), pp. 199–200
  143. Lienesch (1983), p. 94
  144. Wood (1997).
  145. Ferling (2003), p. 293
  146. Caplan, Lincoln (February 2017). "A Conservative Counterrevolution". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved 29 July 2017.

Works cited

  • Chandler, Ralph Clark (Winter 1990). "Public Administration Under the Articles of Confederation". Public Administration Quarterly. 13 (4): 433–450. JSTOR   40862257.
  • Ferling, John (2003). A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. Oxford University Press.
  • Ferling, John (2009). The Ascent of George Washington. Bloomsbury Press.
  • Herring, George (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford University Press.
  • Lienesch, Michael (January 1983). "Historical Theory and Political Reform: Two Perspectives on Confederation Politics". The Review of Politics. 45 (1): 94–115. doi:10.1017/S0034670500040730. JSTOR   1407276.
  • Maier, Pauline (2010). Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. Simon & Schuster.
  • Middlekauff, Robert (2005). The Glorious Cause: the American Revolution, 1763–1789. Oxford University Press.
  • Nettels, Curtis P. (1962). The Emergence of a National Economy, 1775-1815. pp. 45–88.
  • Nugent, Walter (2008). Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion. Knopf. ISBN   978-1400042920.
  • Taylor, Alan (2016). American Revolutions A Continental History, 1750–1804. W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Vile, John (2005). The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America's Founding, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO.
  • Wood, Gordon S. (1997). The Creation of the American Republic. University of North Carolina Press.
  • Wood, Gordon S. (2002). The American Revolution. Modern Library.

Further reading

Foreign affairs

  • Graebner, Norman A., Richard Dean Burns, and Joseph M. Siracusa. Foreign Affairs and the Founding Fathers: From Confederation to Constitution, 1776–1787 (Praeger, 2011)
  • Herring, George (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (2008)
  • Horsman, Reginald. The diplomacy of the new republic, 1776-1815 (1985), a brief survey..
  • Marks, Frederick W. Independence on Trial: Foreign Affairs and the Making of the Constitution (2d ed. 1986)
  • Marshall, Jonathan. "Empire or Liberty: The Antifederalists and Foreign Policy, 1787-1788," Journal of Libertarian Studies 4#3 (Summer 1980). 233-54 online
  • Nordholt, Jan Willem Schulte. "John Adams Is Still with Us." New England Quarterly (1993): 269-274. online Adams as the minister in the Netherlands succeeded in securing diplomatic recognition.
  • Perkins, Bradford, et al. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: Volume 1, The Creation of a Republican Empire, 1776-1865. Vol. 1. (1995).
  • Varg Paul. Foreign Polices of the Founding Fathers (1970)
  • Weeks, William Earl. "New Directions in the Study of Early American Foreign Relations." Diplomatic History 17.1 (1993): 73-96, historiography

Primary sources

  • Mary A. Giunta et al. eds. Documents of the : US Foreign Relations, 1775-1789 (1998), a selection from a multi-volume edition, The Emerging Nation: A Documentary History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Under the Articles of Confederation, 1780-1789 (3 vol 1998)