In June 1776, even before the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to draw up Articles of Confederation. The Articles were sent to the states in October 1777 for ratification. The ratification process was completed in March 1781 when Maryland signed the agreement. The Congress continued to meet annually during the period between independence and the formation of the new government under the Constitution.
The Confederation acted as a government to carry out the mutual defense of the states and pursue the war for independence. When Congress was not in session, a committee of the thirteen states was charged with running the government and making decisions. According to the Articles of Confeder-ation, all power resided in “the United States in Congress Assembled”. It had the power to make war, negotiate diplomatic agreements, and resolve issues regarding the Western territories.
However, the Confederation had very little actual power since it did not have an Executive or Judicial branch to enforce its decisions. Most decisions required the concurrence of all thirteen states. Congress had no taxing powers and had to assess the states individually for funds needed for its operations and to finance the War. Article VIII stipulated that acts of Congress “shall be inviolably observed by every state", but there were no real means for enforcing its demands. As the Revolutionary War ground on, many of the states became lax in their responsibilities and were often in arrears in their payment of funds for the support of Washington’s army.
Aside from running the war, the two most important pieces of legislation passed by the Congress were the Northwest Ordinance which created the Northwest Territories and the Land Ordinance of 1785. The Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War languished for months awaiting action by the Congress. In a letter to George Clinton in September 1783, Washington complained that…
“Congress have come to no determination yet respecting the Peace Establishment nor am I able to say when they will. I have lately had a conference with a Committee on this subject, and have reiterated my former opinions, but it appears to me that there is not a sufficient representation to discuss Great National points.”
Daniel Shays was a Massachusetts farmer and militia member who answered the call of Paul Revere in 1775 and continued to serve in Washington‘s army after it took control of the siege of Boston. Shays fought in the battles at Concord, Bunker Hill and Saratoga and was wounded in the battle of Saratoga. In 1780, he resigned from the army unpaid, and returned home only to find himself in court for nonpayment of debts. Many veterans returning from the war were heavily in debt and many were thrown into debtor’s prison for non-payment. An unpaid debt of $5 could result in the debtor being ordered to jail.
Wealthy British loyalists, returning to Boston under an amnesty and resentful of their forced exile caused by the rebellion, were demanding payment of debts that had been outstanding all during the war. To add to the problems of many, Massachusetts, in an attempt to pay off its war debt instituted tight money policies and high taxes. Hundreds of claims involving debts and taxes flooded the courts, with the court at Worcester, Massachusetts receiving some 2000 filings in one term. The people held public meetings and petitioned the legislature sitting in Boston for relief. Relief was denied claiming a lack of power on the part of the Legislature. One war veteran summed up the situation at a meeting convened by the aggrieved citizens.
"I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war, been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates and all rates...been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth...The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers."
In many of the counties, the people organized into militias, marched to the courthouse and prohibited the holding of courts. Daniel Shays became the leader of the rebels in 1786 when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts arrested eleven prominent protest leaders and charged them as “disorderly, riotous, and seditious persons”. On January 25, 1787 Shays, leading some seven hundred farmers, most of them war veterans, marched on the Springfield Armory expecting to be joined by Luke Day, another rebel leader, and his militia. Day had sent a message to Shay advising him that his militia would not be ready until January 26, but the message was never received. Instead of Day’s men, Shays found a state militia of several thousand troops, under the command of General William Shepherd waiting for them when they arrived at the armory.
General Shepherd and his men had been conscripted and were serving without pay. Consequently, they were impatient and anxious to end the uprising as quickly as possible. Shepherd ordered a warning shot and two cannons were fired directly into Shays’ men killing four. The rebels fled, but a number of them were later captured and charged with treason. Several were fined, imprisoned and sentenced to death, but in 1788, a general amnesty was granted. One of Shays’ officers, Captain Henry Gale was convicted of treason and sentenced to "be taken to the Gaol of the Commonwealth from whence he came and from thence to the place of execution and there hanged by the neck until he be dead."
When the day of the execution arrived, Gale was marched to the gallows by the sheriff. The rope was adjusted around his neck, and solemn prayers were said by the clergy. When all was ready, the sheriff produced a reprieve from the Governor and read it to the gaping crowd. Gale was then released from custody and soon after, fully pardoned.
Shays’ rebellion began on August 29, 1786 and ended with the raid on the Springfield, Massachusetts armory in 1787. The uprising was a major factor in convincing many of the Federation’s leaders of the need for a stronger central government. George Washington, who had been urging in his correspondence to friends, for some time, the formation of a more energetic national government, wrote in a letter to Henry Lee …
"You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once."
Thomas Jefferson took a calmer approach. His comment to a friend was,
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
The Annapolis Convention
Massachusetts had been in a state of turmoil with riots breaking out periodically, and large numbers of protesting farmers laying siege to court houses and disrupting court proceeding since 1783. The unrest in Massachusetts was very much on the minds of the Federation’s leaders when they called for a meeting at Annapolis to discuss ways to strengthen the national government regarding issues of commerce. The committee met for three days starting September 11, 1786. It was billed as a “Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy the Defects of the Federal Government”. Only twelve Commissioners showed up, representing five states.
Since unanimous approval of all thirteen states was required to make any amendments to the Articles of Confederation there was very little work the Commissioners could actually do. They submitted a report to the Continental Congress asking that a second meeting be scheduled for the following May at Philadelphia. Since the Annapolis meeting had ostensibly been called by the states, only “to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial intercourse and regulations might be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony, and to report to the several States such an Act,” a request was made that the scope of the Philadelphia meeting be expanded and that all states be encouraged to participate by sending delegates.
“…That the express terms of the powers of your Commissioners supposing a deputation from all the States, and having for object the Trade and Commerce of the United States, Your Commissioners did not conceive it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission, under the Circumstances of so partial and defective a representation…. “…In this persuasion, your Commissioners submit an opinion, that the Idea of extending the powers of their Deputies, to other objects, than those of Commerce, …. was an improvement on the original plan, and will deserve to be incorporated into that of a future Convention; …. that the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general System of the federal government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other parts of the Federal System.” (excerpts from report of Annapolis Convention)
On February 21, 1787 the Continental Congress took up the report from the Annapolis Commission and after a short debate passed a resolution authorizing the proposed meeting at Philadelphia and empowering its delegates to revise the Articles of Confederation to make them adequate to meet the needs of the federal government.
“… whereas experience hath evinced that there are defects in the present Confederation, as a mean to remedy which several of the States … by express instructions to their delegates in Congress have suggested a convention for the purposes expressed in the following resolution and such convention appearing to be the most probable mean of establishing in these states a firm national government.” “Resolved that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union.” ~~(from Report of Proceedings in Congress, February 21, 1787)
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Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."