The United States Government's Early Beginnings

Freshman (College 1st year) ・History ・APA ・5 Sources

 The fight for independence began when the thirteen states launched a hostile and armed revolution against the British colonizers in 1775. The thirteen states were fighting for their freedom and declared themselves free from the colonial rule on July 1776. The Revolutionary War started in 1775 and lasted until 1783 when the British colonizers accepted to grant the thirteen states their full independence through a signed treaty. What followed after attaining independence was a period of crisis and chaos. The thirteen states were trying to coexist together under the Articles of Confederation. At the time, the country did not have a powerful and operational centralized national government. The then confederation government lacked powers to collect taxes, and this factor influenced its inability to operate effectively, especially in matters relating to foreign policy and military. After a long period of controversies and disputes, the various states agreed to adopt a written constitution in 1787 (Isaacs, 2009). The confirmation of the constitution led to the establishment of a more powerful and robust federal government. In the modern world, the constitution creates the structure for the American political, government and legal system. The paper will examine the Articles of Confederation, and the various debates and controversies that necessitated the adoption of a written constitution.

Articles of Confederation

 The Congress affirmed the Articles of Confederation in 1777 after much debate and various alterations. The document would serve as the first constitution of the United States and was in force between 1781 and 1789 (Isaacs, 2009). The articles of confederation had a preamble at the introduction followed by thirteen articles. The document created a federal government that brought together all the thirteen sovereign states. The document only reflected the states need of have having a federal government, but one which was not supposed to interfere in the business of the individual states. At the adoption time, the thirteen states were in conflict with Britain which controlled all matters relating to trade and the different international affairs. Additionally, the British colonizers continually denied the Americans certain freedoms which were available to the British citizens.  As a result, many states were scared that a powerful central government would almost be similar to the British government which they were rebelling against at the time.  Consequently, the amount of power assigned to the federal government was the main reason contributing to the disputes associated with the Articles of Confederation (Isaacs, 2009).

 The document led to the creation of a federal government that mainly limited the states from engaging in foreign policy and diplomacy. Nonetheless, the government appeared ineffective as it was unable to stop Georgia from implementing its autonomous policies regarding the Spanish Florida. The state of Georgia attempted to inhabit the disputed lands and threatened to start a war if the Spanish officials were not committed to stopping the Indian attacks and ended the sheltering of escaping slaves (Callahan, 2003). 

 Additionally, the Confederation government was in no position to stop the British Government from the massive exportation of convicts to the foreign colonies. The federal government lacked sufficient powers to enforce the provisions set by the Paris Treaty of 1783 that permitted the British creditors to take action against debtors.  The treaty allowed creditors to seek their pre-revolutionary debts and this was a clause that many states decided to disregard. The inability of the federal government to raise money through taxation and organize a strong military saw the British forces continue occupying various strongholds, especially in the Great Lakes area (Callahan, 2003).  Theoretically, the Confederation Congress would declare war on the foreign invaders but was in no position to demand money from the states to sponsor the war. The Congress also did not have the power to enforce laws or compel the states to follow the laws. At the time, each state also operated different paper money, and with the high inflation, the money had very little value. The tough economic conditions triggered political unrests, especially in Massachusetts (Callahan, 2003).

Shay’s Rebellion

 From the above discussion, it is clear that the Articles of Confederation had various weaknesses, especially because the federal government was not in a position to defend the country against rebellion and attacks. Also, the federal government was on the verge of bankruptcy, the inflation rate was very high, and the currency was almost valueless. There was massive inflation after the war, and the returning soldiers were rewarded with the worthless currency which could have elicited disappointment (Condon, 2015). In Massachusetts, the weakness of the federal government was exposed by Shay’s rebellion which denoted to a string of protests that took place between 1786 and 1787 (Condon, 2015). Daniel Shay was a captain in the Revolutionary War, and he led a group of farmers and the disappointed war veterans against the judgment for debts and the state implementation of tax collections. Also, the farmers and war veterans were protesting the excessive court costs, the assembly’s rejection to distribute paper money and the governor’s high salary. The refusal to issue paper money was seen as an inflationary strategy sponsored by the debtor class.

 During the revolutionary war, the food products were in high demand, and therefore the farmers secured loans to invest in farming. However, when the war ended, the demand for food products declined, and the farmers faced an uphill in servicing their loans. Unable to service the loans, the farmers had very few options including ending up in debtor’s prison, having their land traded at auction or their land, crops, and livestock seized (Condon, 2015).  Also, to qualify as a voter, one was required to own land. Notably, many people had lost their land to the creditors leading to the loss of their status as voters.

 Although other states like South Carolina and New Hampshire experienced protests from farmers, the protests were more aggravated in Massachusetts. In the beginning, Shays protests were limited to appeals and meetings with the Massachusetts government. The protests increased when the supreme court of Massachusetts convicted eleven leaders of the movement on counts of being rebellious, riotous and disorderly (Edling, 2008).  The intensified tensions in Massachusetts were due to the bad harvests experienced, the high-interest rates which exposed the farmers to the loss of their lands and the economic depression.The protests started in the summer of 1786 and Shay’s followers attempted to seize the federal arsenal at Springfield. Also, the leading merchants, government supporters and lawyers were severely harassed.  Nonetheless, the state militia under the command of Benjamin Lincoln crushed the protesters in the various demonstrations that took place in the winter of 1787. Shay fled to the Rhode Island and later found a haven in Vermont together with other principal figures of the -rebellion. Nonetheless, not all the protesters were lucky as over one-hundred were captured and some even sentenced to a death sentence (Condon, 2015).

 Although Shays rebellion did not extremely threaten the stability of the federal government, it severely distressed the political leaders across the country. The supporters of the constitutional change across the various states alluded to Shay’s rebellion as an account for the replacement or revision of the Articles of Confederation. The protests triggered the preparation of the 1787 Philadelphia Convention which elected George Washington as its president and later established the new constitution. The constitutional supporters yearned for the establishment of a more robust government armed with powers to address the persistent political and economic demands (Edling, 2008).

Comparison of the Articles of Confederation and the New Constitution

 The inherent weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation made it tough for the national government to operate effectively. Each of the states was governed by the elected representatives. The state-elected representatives, in turn, elected the feeble confederation government. The Confederation government lacked the authority to impose taxes on the individuals to meet national costs (Feinberg, 2002).  All the thirteen states had to ratify the various amendments unanimously, and therefore the refusal of one state acted as a barrier to structural reforms.  Also, for the different important legislations demanded the approval of at least nine states, which meant that five states could hold hostage the approval of major proposals. Therefore, although the Congress had the powers in negotiating pacts with foreign governments, the various agreements had to be ratified by the states. Further, the system of Confederation lacked a system of federal courts, had a complicated system of arbitration, lacked control of inter-state trade, and each state had one vote irrespective of the population size (Feinberg, 2002). Finally, sovereignty resided in the states, and the Congress could not organize a military, but banked on the states to fund military operations.

 On the other hand, the new constitution promised a Congress that had rights to levy taxes on all the individuals. A new court system would be established to handle all issues and conflicts between states and the citizens. The new Congress would control the inter-state trade.  Importantly, the amending of important articles would only require a two-thirds majority from the two chambers of Congress and seventy-five percent of the state legislatures (Edling, 2008).  The Senate would have two votes while the lower house would vote primarily grounded on the population represented.  Further, the new constitution would lead to the establishment of a federal court system that would handle all the disputes, a Congress with the powers to raise an army, and it would be the highest law governing the country. Finally, the passing of laws only required the president’s signature and fifty percent plus one support of both chambers (Condon, 2015).

Founding of the New Constitution and Government

 The shortcomings in the Articles of Confederation were more recognizable between 1781 and 1787. In 1783, when the fighting was coming to an end, it was evident that the system established by the Articles of Confederation could not deal with the challenges faced by the country. With the mounting outcry, a meeting that lasted for three and half months was organized in Philadelphia (Edling, 2008). The convention was attended by some leaders who were in the fight for independence like John Dickinson and Roger Sherman. Also, there were leading thinkers like Morris, Hamilton, Madison and legendary figures like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington (Edling, 2008). All the states sent representatives besides Rhode Island which was afraid that a strong national government would interfere with its lucrative trade. As a result, there were no delegates from the Island as it was opposed to the revision of the Articles of Confederation.

 As the president of the convention, Washington chaired the gatherings to establish the change suggestions to be presented at the beginning of the convention. The proceedings of the convention were kept a high secret, and the debate shifted from full sessions and meetings of the Committee to encourage open discussion.  The delegates differed in the way popular opinion and states should be reflected in the legislature but agreed on the powers to be lodged in the legislature. Under the Virginia Plan which was heavily influenced by Madison, the population would play a vital role in shaping representation in both houses (Edling, 2008). On the other hand, the delegates from the states with small population sponsored the plan to revise the Articles of Confederation. The amendment would see all states having equal votes in the Congress. Finally, a compromise was arrived at where the lower house would be split founded on numbers, and the states would have equivalent votes in Senate. The delegates continued reviewing the last draft until September 17th (Constitutional Day) when they all signed it, and was forwarded to the Congress (Edling, 2008). Later the Congress forwarded the draft to the states for confirmation with Delaware as the first state to endorse it on December 7th, 1787, and Rhode Island as the last on May 29th, 1790. The slow ratification process was due to the absence of a bill of rights in the constitution which was later added in the first session of Congress.


 To sum up, the journey a few years before the United States established the current constitution was marked by turmoil, confusion, and chaos. During the American Revolutionary War, the thirteen states saw the need to establish some friendly collaboration guided by the Articles of Confederation.  The Document approved by the Continental Congress in 1777 established a Confederation government that had very minimal powers towards the citizens. Notably, the Confederation government lacked even the basic power of taxing the citizens to sustain its operations. The thirteen states were afraid of forming a powerful government which would adopt a similar structure like the British government, which they were fighting at the time. Nonetheless, the different protests witnessed after the Revolutionary war in the various states, and especially those led by Shay, triggered the need for a more powerful federal government. Also, the British government had continually failed to honor some of its promises made during the Paris treaty by occupying the American lands and was also exporting hundreds of convicts to the American soil. The different weaknesses associated with the Articles of Confederation saw many political leaders across most states push for the change of the document with the aim of establishing a powerful federal government.  The urge of having reforms saw delegates from different states assemble in Philadelphia for a convention that lasted for three and half months, under the leadership of President George Washington. On the final day of the convention, the final draft was ready, and all the delegates present embedded their names and signatures to the final document.


Callahan, K. P. (2003). The Articles of Confederation: A primary source investigation into the document that preceded the U.S. Constitution. New York, NY: Rosen Primary Source.

Condon, S. (2015). Shays's Rebellion: Authority and Distress in Post-Revolutionary America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Edling, M. M. (2008). A revolution in favor of government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the making of the American state. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Feinberg, B. S. (2002). The Articles of Confederation: The first constitution of the United States. Brookfield, Conn: Twenty-First Century Books.

Isaacs, S. S. (2009). Understanding the Articles of Confederation. New York, NY: Crabtree Pub. Co.

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