THE NEED FOR THE CONSTITUTION
|Right, George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, was elected first President of the United States. Above left, examples of Revolutionary War currency, which often had little value. The new Constitution gave the power to coin and regulate money to the federal government.|
(The American Revolution: A Picture Source Book, Dover Publications, 1975)
The government established by the Articles of Confederation was not strong enough to govern the new nation. For example, it lacked an executive branch and a system of national courts. It could not regulate trade between the states or tax the states or their citizens. It was little more than an assembly of the representatives of 13 independent states.
In 1783, after the Revolutionary War, the nation entered a period of unstable commercial and political conditions. Alexander Hamilton and his supporters would have had little success in their campaign for a new constitution if conditions had been better. Some historians perhaps have painted the troubles of the new republic in much too gloomy colors. But little doubt remains that the situation became steadily worse after 1783. Each state acted almost like an independent country. Each ran its own affairs exactly as it saw fit, with little concern for the needs of the republic. The states circulated a dozen different currencies, most of which had little value. Neighboring states taxed each other's imports. Great Britain refused to reopen the channels of trade that the colonies had depended on for their economic well-being. The state legislatures refused to pay the debts they had assumed during the Revolutionary War. Many states passed laws that enabled debtors to escape paying their obligations.
|Daniel Shays, left, and Job Shattuck, shown in this engraving from Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack for 1787, led debt-ridden farmers against the Massachusetts state government. The rebellion dramatized the need for stronger central government. |
(National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/Art Resource, NY)
Worst of all, some people began to think once again of taking up arms in order to solve their problems. In western Massachusetts in 1786, hundreds of farmers under Captain Daniel Shays rebelled against the state government. State troops finally put down Shays's Rebellion. George Washington and other leaders wondered whether the colonies had rebelled against Great Britain in vain. They felt it was time to end these troubles and bring peace and order by forming a new national government. This new government would have to be strong enough to gain obedience at home and respect abroad.
Representatives from five states met in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786. They proposed that the states appoint commissioners to meet in Philadelphia and consider revising the Articles of Confederation. Congress agreed to the proposal and suggested that each state select delegates to a constitutional convention.
The Constitutional Convention >>>>