The Making of the Constitution

More of this Feature

• Part 2: The Constitutional Convention
Part 3: The Great Compromise
Part 4: The Presidency
Part 5: The New National Government
Part 6: The Bill of Rights

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Part 1: Problems With the Articles

The 13 American colonies had declared themselves independent from Great Britain in 1776, made for themselves a new national government in 1781, and signed a peace treaty with Great Britain in 1783. Now that America was its own nation, its government, the Confederation Congress, inherited the good and the bad of an independent nation.

First of all, the Revolutionary War had left many of the colonies very much in debt. Money had been borrowed to pay for troops and weapons. When states tried to pay back these debts, they used Continentals (paper money printed by the Confederation Congress during the Revolutionary War), but not too many people wanted these Continentals anymore. People trusted gold and silver because they had value in other countries. Also, since each state was printing its own money, disputes arose over whether Pennsylvania bills were equal to North Carolina bills.

The Confederation Congress, as restricted by the Articles of Confederation, could not raise taxes and could not use a court system to force states to trade with each other. In very real terms, the nation's first national government was not enough of a government for the current world situation.

A more frightening reminder of how powerless the national government was Shays's Rebellion, in which farmers refused to pay taxes and took up arms to protect their right not to pay those taxes. The national government called out the federal militia and stopped the rebellion, but the entire episode made very clear the fact that a stronger national government was needed.

Next page > The Constitutional Convention > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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