When the American Revolutionary War ended, it did not mark the end of the American Revolution as a whole. Rather it marked the first step in a long and difficult process of forming a nation with a strong central government. Even before the Revolutionary War began, leaders of the thirteen American colonies recognized the importance and necessity of some form of centralized government. The Second Continental Congress, held in 1775 , was the first serious attempt to bring organization and unity to the thirteen individual and self- interested American colonies. At the Second Continental Congress, a committee was formed to produce the framework of a governmental system.
The result, the Articles of Confederation, were weak and ineffective because they simply reinforced the idea of state soverngty and did not supply the Congress with the necessary power to form and run a strong central government. The Articles led this country down a path towards political and economic chaos, and drove Federalist leaders to make drastic changes in the powers supplied to the central government.
John Dickinson, a famous and powerful lawyer, was appointed head of the committee formed at the Second Continental Congress to write the Articles of Confederation. John Dickinsons original version of the Articles was one that supplied a great deal of power to the central government and provided each state equal representation in Congress. Dickinsons original version also stated that state taxes would be paid to the Congress based on the states total population, including black slaves. This version greatly outraged many states who refused to ratify the Articles as they were written.
Larger states believed that their larger population entitled them to a greater representation in Congress. Southern slave states were outraged that they would be forced to pay taxes based on the black slaves that populated their states. Finally, in November of 1777, Congress accepted a very different version of the Articles of Confederation than Dickinson had originally intended upon. The Articles that were finally agreed upon overly protected the independence of states and did not supply Congress with the necessary power to run a unified country. In its existence under the Articles of Confederation, the United States were anything but united. Each state basically acted as an independent country with its own government and own set of rules. The Articles were faulty and unclearly thought out in many ways, which left the United States unorganized and on the verge of chaos for several years to come.
The most blatant and detrimental of the Articles flaws was that they did not grant the Congress the ability to levy taxes. The only way for Congress to raise money was to ask the individual states for donations, and this left Congress extremely low on funds. During the years of the Revolutionary War the United States Congress incurred a very large war debt. The Congress owed $12 million to foreign countries, $27 million to the American people plus $12.5 million in interest. The individual states owed $21 million. The Congress was over $50 million in debt. Without the ability to levy taxes, the Congress was left with virtually no possible way of repaying their huge war debts.
The American people began to get angry and uneasy with the unpaid debts. Even more dangerous was the war debt that the United States had accumulated with France. Without being able to raise tax money, the United States had no way of raising and financing an army. With the large debt to France getting larger and going unpaid, many Americans feared hostilities with France, with the United States having no way to raise an army to defend itself. Another problem that was created with Congress inability to tax was that there were no government funds to pay civil servants.
A second weakness of the Articles of Confederation was that the Articles stated the Congress did not have the power to regulate commerce, which greatly hindered the economy of the United States. Instead of having one national monetary unit, each of the thirteen colonies had their own form of money. This problem in itself created several other problems. For instance each colonys form of money had different value depending on the type of economy the colony had. This meant that colonies had to figure out exchange rates for their money from one colony to the next. The problem of exchange rates along with difficulty in transportation caused trading between colonies to become extremely limited.
Transportation of goods between colonies was a problem. Transporting goods by sea was very dangerous because, since the United States had no military troops, pirates ran rampant in the open sea. Chances of goods actually reaching the destination by way of sea were very bad. Transporting goods by land would seem to be the logical solution to this, but there were problems with that too. Colonieswould tax all goods being sent through their territory. Goods being sent from a southern colony to a northern colony would often times cost twice as much as the original price because of the taxes placed on the goods by various states. Neither the selling nor the buying colonies were willing to pick up the costs of all the taxes.
Trading between northern and southern states came to a stand still. This problem nearly wrecked the economy because the northern, manufacturing states were reliant on the raw goods being supplied by the southern, agricultural states. Had the Congress been given the power to regulate commerce, the states never would have had these problems. The inability to create economic production had the United States becoming poorer and poorer and slipping into economic ruin.
Another of the problems with the Articles of Confederation was that Congress could not raise a national army. Much of Congress inability to raise an army stemmed from not being allowed to tax. The United States only way to have defense forces was through volunteers and state militiamen. Not having an army left the states vulnerable to French and British attack. France threatened hostilities due to unpaid war debts, and British troops could come and go basically as they pleased. Citizens would demanded better defense, but they were unwilling to grant Congress the power it required to supply those defenses.
The underpowered Congress continued to endure failures in diplomatic foreign affairs as well. Since each state basically went by its own rules, it was impossible to negotiate with foreign countries and have the thirteen states all follow the rules of the negotiations. American negotiators had promised Great Britain the ability to collect on pre war debts that were accumulated by the states. The problem with this was that many states were very reluctant to repay any of their debts and several states even created laws that stated they did not have to repay pre war debts to the British.
The British responded to this insult by refusing to withdraw troops from posts in the Northwest Territory. Since Congress could not raise an army, they had no way of responding to this threat by the British. The U.S also had many troubles in diplomatic matters with Spain. Spain had made claims to much of the land between Georgia and the Mississippi and planned on resisting American expansion. On July 21, 1784, Spain shocked the United States by closing the lower Mississippi River and forbidding U.S citizens from using it. Again the United States government was stuck without any sure-fire way of dealing with this situation. Without the use of the Mississippi River, western farmers were devastated and the Ohio Valley was virtually shut down. In 1786, when Congress finally decided that something must be done about this situation, they sent John Jay to negotiate with the Spanish. Jay finally reached a deal with Spain.
If the United States dealt directly with Spain, then they would open the passage for New England and the middle states. When Southern delegates heard of this, they were outraged. They claimed that the northern delegates were attempting to split up the United States. This situation demonstrated the weakness of the U.S government and further proved that they were unable to deal with important diplomatic matters. This raised tensions between the northern and southern states and people began to question the ability of the government.
Many Americans, especially the ones who had played a large role in the Revolutionary War, agreed that something must be done. Finally in 1786 a serious effort to do something about the countries situation began. James Madison convinced the Virginia Assembly to recommend to Congress a convention to possibly create a system of commercial regulations. The first attempt at this convention was very small and poorly organized. Congress authorized a much larger convention in May of 1787. fifty five men came to the Second Constitutional Convention with the initial plan of ratifying the Articles of the Confederation.
Their plans were altered when James Madison along with the assistance of Edmund Randolph presented the outline for a new federal system called the Virginia plan. The Virginia plan immediately received large support from many of the 55 delegates attending the meeting. The few opposing delegates were those from the smaller states such as New York and Connecticut. William Paterson presented a different and much more conservative plan on June 15th. This plan known as the New Jersey plan was promptly rejected four days later. After many days of intense negotiations, a compromise of a new plan was reached. The name of this new plan was called the Connecticut compromise.
The Connecticut compromise contained many points of the Virginia plan, but also reserved some voice in government to the smaller states. One issue that concerned many delegates was the absence of the bill of rights. This rather large absence caused problems for the federalists during the time of ratification. Obtaining ratification of the new constitution was a very difficult process, but in the end the new constitution was passed in a very close decision. Although the structure of the new constitution was much more intricate and thorough, the most important changes were the ones that gave sufficient power to the central government to run an organized nation. The most crucial power granted to the federal government under the constitution was that which gave the government the power to levy taxes.
With this important capability, the federal government could raise necessary funds and also had means of producing a much-needed federal army. Another extremely important power was the one that allowed the government to regulate commerce. The government now had the means necessary to deal with foreign affairs without the inevitable failures that occured under the Articles of Confederation. This further unified the states, because they now were forced to obtain consent of the Congress on all state regulations.
Under the Articles of Confederation the United States was coming dangerously close to a national crisis. Under the articles of Confederation, the U.S had been driven into a position of economic and political chaos. With the strictly limited powers granted to the congress by the Articles, the government was unable levy taxes, regulate foreign and domestic commerce, raise a national army and deal with diplomatic matters. The crisis that faced the United States was extremely real militarily, economically and politically. The U.S would have been able to survive for months, years possibly even decades past the point that they reached before adopting the constitution. But merely surviving was not what won the country its independence from the British .
The early leaders of the nation had something different in mind than simply being a nation that survived and struggled through every moment of its existence. The 55 founding fathers recognized the opportunity to pull the nation out of the struggle it was facing and they seized it. For this they are truly heroes. This is the workof the founding fathers we have been taught to believe and trust since first grade. What isnt taught is that these 55 men were not flawless beings or demi-gods as Thomas Jefferson once stated.
What isnt taught is that some of these men were racist and sexist men who saw a chance to keep the rich getting richer and the poor helping the rich get richer. What is often neglected is that our 55 founding fathers were strictly rich, white males. They were the elite and they built the constitution with little intension of sharing the wealth or giving everyone a fair shot. There was no diversity in the second Continental Congress.
Black slaves and women who played a tremendous role in building the nation during its early years were not granted a say in the making of our constitution. The 55 founding fathers cared so little for the blacks in this country that they considered them as merely 3/5 of a person. The founding fathers picked this country up off a path of crisis and almost certain demise and placed it on a path of prosperity and greatness. What is important to understand is that they did so with great ulterior motives: money and power.