"The weaknesses of our federal government...keeps us from paying our honest debts; it also throws out of our power all the profits of commerce, and this drains us of cash." -Noah Webster, complaining about the government, 1786
The 13 colonies (no, the 13 states) remembered the problems that had begun the Revolution. Too much power in the hands of only a few leaders. In their new constitutions and charters, they limited the power of their governors. Instead, they gave their power to state legislatures (law-making bodies) that were elected by the people.
The Articles of Confederation
This was the United States' first system of central government. States formed their own laws and constitutions, but the articles were meant to be plan for the whole nation. But, in an effort to prevent the national government from becoming too strong, they made it too weak instead.
Under the Articles of Confederation:
- Only 1 branch of government: Congress
- states with hardly any population had the same power as states that represented LOTS of people
- 9 states had to agree before any law could be passed
- Congress could not TAX, it had to ask states for money
- Congress could not enforce it's laws, it depended on the the states to do it
Settling Western Lands
The Land Ordinance of 1785
One of the SUCCESSES of the Articles of Confederation was that while it was the government of the United States, it passed 2 laws about dealing with new land. The Land Ordinance of 1785 created a system where new land would be divided into 6-mile squares called townships. Each township would be broken up into 1-mile squares, which could be purchased for $1.00 an acre.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Settlers were eager to move into new lands. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was created to determine how those new lands could become states:
Become a state in 3 easy steps!
- Congress would appoint a governor, secretary, and 3 judges to a newly settled area.
- When it reached 5,000 free adult males, the area could elect a legislature (law-making body).
- When it reached 60,000 free people, the area could apply to become a state.
But there were serious problems, too....
Under the Articles of Confederation, states tried to help their own farmers make money by putting high taxes on goods that came from other states. This discouraged trade between states. Each state also printed their own money, which made it harder to trade between states.
The Articles did not give the government the power to solve these problems
Since the government couldn't tax the people, there was little money to run the government. The country fell into an economic depression; a period where business activity slowed down, prices and wages dropped, and unemployment rose.
The depression hit Massachusetts farmers hard. Crop prices dropped, so they couldn't pay their taxes. Because they couldn't pay their taxes, the state government took their farms and sold them to pay for the taxes the farmer's owed. Angry farmers demanded that the farm sales stop.
Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran and farmer, led a rebellion of about 1,000 farmers. They marched to the Massachusetts state arsenal and tried to seize weapons there. They were quickly arrested. But the rebellion had proved that it was time to change the Articles of Confederation. It would require compromise between northern and southern states, states with large populations and states with small, but If the government could not prevent these types of rebellions, it was weak and needed to be revised. The Constitutional Convention would need to address these issues to move the country forward.