1776 brought a declaration of and a war for independence to Britain’s
North American colonies. While they had all acted in concert to reach this
decision, their memories of colonial life under the centralized British monarchyOrder now
had lasting effect upon their views of what the federal government of their new
republic would have the power to do. In the years following the Declaration of
Independence, Congress came up with the Articles of Confederation to loosely
govern the new republic at the federal level. 1781 found all 13 states ratifying the
Articles of the Confederation as well as the conclusion of the War for
Independence, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Already, the
weaknesses of the Articles of the Confederation were beginning to show.
Every one of the 13 colonies suffered economic setbacks as a result of the
War for Independence. Devalued American currency as a result of the Congress’
habit of printing new paper money to cover the new republic’s war debt and the
British blockade created high prices for goods. The end of the war hardly helped
the situation as Congress found itself powerless to levy taxes to pay off the war
debt, powerless to regulate trade with other nations, and powerless to regulate
workers wages and the price of goods.
This unregulated economic climate provoked citizens who were
shouldering much of the debt as a result. Farmers of western Massachusetts
who saw banks moving to foreclose on the mortgages of their farms demanded
that the government do something to protect them in their time of financial need.
They saw the lower legislative house of Massachusetts draft and approve a
measure, which included relief measures for them.
Under the influence of the
farmers’ creditors, the upper house blocked the actions of the lower house, which
further enraged these local farmers. In 1786, a captain of the old Continental
army Daniel Shays, led 2000 armed farmers against the state government. They
shut down county courts to prevent foreclosure proceedings on their farms, and
marched on the Federal Arsenal at Springfield, evidently to properly arm
Eventually in 1787, the Massachusetts state militia put down the rebellion.
Both sides in the mess were unhappy with the new republic’s role (or lack
thereof) in the crisis. Farmers were unhappy that the government wasn’t taking
steps to protect their property from creditors, and creditors were unhappy that the
government wasn’t taking steps to protect what was now their property due to
The whole situation served to further emphasize the
federal governments lack of capability to help either side.
With 13 states, and 13 differing opinions, diplomacy that was acceptable
to all between the Confederation and neighboring nations was difficult to
negotiate. Southwestern states had an independent streak of their own, and in
order to placate them and draw them closer to the other states of the
Confederacy, Congress dispatched their secretary of foreign affairs, John Jay to
negotiate a treaty with Spain regarding American rights in navigating the
Mississippi river. The Spanish emissary, Don Diego de Gardoqui managed to
convince Jay to sign an agreement for the new republic to give up all its rights to
the Mississippi river for 25 years, in return for trading privileges for American
trading houses based in Jay’s home state of New York. When the southwestern
states got wind of this proposed treaty, it further deepened the rifts between them
and the other states, as the trading privileges did not benefit them directly, and
the treaty did the exact opposite of what they wanted regarding navigation of the
Mississippi river. Needless to say, the treaty was never ratified, and only served
to foreshadow the hostility the South was capable of when sufficiently antagonize
as would be further illustrated by the events preceding the Civil War.
This situation was just one more that the framers of the Constitution had in
mind as they convened in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of the
Confederation. These 55 delegates from all over the new republic were aware of
the lack of support for an Army or Navy for the national defense, and lack of
power to tax and manage trade enough to pull itself out of .