The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during 1776-1790.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 9.
The American Revolution was hardly a revolution. While the fighting was happening, many people were unaffected and went on screwing around. With some 80,000 loyalists shipped off to Britain, a new patriot elite emerged and egalitarian ideas, the crazy thought that people are equal, became common.
Everywhere egalitarianism was taking over: property-holding requirements for voting were lessened, employers were called ‘boss’, not ‘master’, first-borns no longer inherited everything, and in 1784, a ship full of indentured servants were released into the wild in New York. The struggle for separation of church and state began with Jefferson and the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. First led by the Quakers in Penn, northern states hurried to abolish slavery, while south of Philly, things were still shitty for blacks and no one dare compel the South to abolish, for fear it may destroy the fragile unity.
Women were constrained to housework, though the concept of ‘civil virtue’ made them feel more important, as each person must work for the common good. ‘Republican motherhood’ gave rise and more women were educated.
In 1776, Continental Congress insisted that every colony form a constitution and become a state. Most wanted to reflect the republican spirit of the age. Massachusetts added a special convention to their constitution that could be called to change or amend it, later mirrored by the US Constitution. Unlike British constitutions, which were nothing more than a collection of laws and acts, state constitutions represented the fundamental law and included bills of rights and guarantees of liberty. The judicial and executive branches were kept weak for fear of tyranny. The legislature could pretty much do whatever. State capitols were also relocated to the rural interior of states, instead of wealthy ports.
All the old loyalist properties were quickly cut up into small farms or given to the state. With Britain no longer a trading partner, the Yankees would have to figure out how to get goods manufactured and sold. Trade missions to China were successful (this was before the era of endless cheap plastic shit), but nothing could stop the rising inflation and debts that state governments had owed. Many still disregarded taxes and authority, so getting things done was going to be difficult.
In creating a new government, our great leaders recalled John Locke’s natural rights and that authority was always up to something. Soon after the US declared independence, they drew up the Articles of Confederation in 1777. It wasn’t ratified by all thirteen states until 1781. But even then, states without holdings in the west were angry. It wasn’t fair that New York could pay off debts by selling land, but Maryland could not. Congress agreed to give the untamed western lands to themselves and later readmit them into the union as republican states.
The government control of the western lands kept many states in the union, hoping to eventually get a piece of the action. Anyone looking to buy land in the West looked to the feds, not the states, whose powers were weakening.
The Articles of Confederations created a loose union of thirteen independence states, who would only come together for large scale matters like foreign policy. There was no executive branch and no single leader. Congress was the supreme power, but it was uneven– small states got the same number of votes as large states. Nine states would have to agree to pass a bill. Congress also couldn’t regulate commerce or collect taxes. It sucked.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 demanded that the old northwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) should be sold to pay for debts. A township would then be given six square miles with 36 sections of one square mile, one being left for a public school, a great gift for education. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 affirmed that if a government-controlled territory got 60,000 inhabitants, they might be admitted into the union and given all the pleasures of the other thirteen states.
Britain refused to end the Navigation Laws, though many like Lord Sheffield insisted the Brits would win back the Americans’ trade somehow. With help from the Allen brothers, Vermont was almost annexed to GB, who still held trading posts all over the country. In 1784, Spain joined in on the hate-fest and closed the Mississippi River. They also re-claimed Florida (again) in 1783. Both countries also continued to incite the Indians against us. Even France demanded we repay our loans! In the Meditteranean, American traders were ravaged by African pirates. Congress was too weak to do anything. Many, like John Jay, hoped this would lead people to want a stronger government.
Economic turmoil lingered into the 1780s. Many states refused to pay taxes to ‘King Congress’ and the national debt was out of control. The feds still couldn’t regulate commerce, so states would impose tariffs on other states’ goods. In 1786, Daniel Shays led fellow farmers to attack tax collectors and demand that Massachusetts issue paper money, lower taxes, and stop foreclosing on properties. Some doubted republicanism and thought that the Articles created a mobocracy. Others insisted the Articles should be strengthened, which would allow Congress to regulate commerce and provide for a stable shipping industry.
Interstate commerce had become such a big issue that a convention was called in Annapolis, MD in 1786 to settle it. Only nine states showed up and they agreed to meet again in Philly next year to reorganize the Articles. Each state legislature, save for Rhode Island, picked candidates to attend. There were 55 in all. The meetings would be held in secrecy and many delegates feared that one heated difference could ruin all. Missing were Jefferson, Thomas Paine, the Adams, and John Hancock.
The delegates were pretty young and mostly lawyers. Almost half owned slaves and most of all, they wanted to preserve democracy. They also sought to preserve the union of states, get rid of anarchy, and ensure the natural rights.
The Virginia delegates wanted to instate a wholly new constitution with states having reps in Congress based on their population. New Jersey had a similar plan with the most emphasis on equal representation among the states. If the heated arguments over the plans continued, there would be no revision at all. To stop this from happening, the Great Compromise created the House of Representatives to appease the large states. They also agreed that every tax bill would start in the House and that an independent executive branch would operate with a commander-in-chief, who could wage but not start wars.
This commander-in-chief would be elected through the electoral college, which depended on the number of total representatives in the House and Senate of a state. Sectional jealousy again occurred in the South and was put to rest with slaves counting as 3/5 of a person in representative elections. With this agreement, slavery would also continue until at least 1807. They kept to their word as the international slave trade and the importation of slaves was outlawed in 1808.
A three-branch system of checks and balances would protect against mob rule and ensure fairness. Federal judges would be appointed for life and, in the end, people would be the ultimate protectors of liberty and justice, as they held the power. Only 42 of the 55 delegates would stay to sign the Constitution.
The Constitution directly said that Congress was supreme over the state legislatures. To get around a definite veto, copies were sent to conventions, where people saw the Constitution itself. Keep in mind that the Constitutional Convention was kept very secret– most expected a newer version of the Articles. Antifederalists opposed the Constitution from the start; most were farmers and poor men. They decried efforts to instate a national army and capitol. The federalists wanted a strong government and were among the most respected people in the communities. The latter group controlled the press as well.
Elections were held to order to designate people for the ratification convention in each state. Many states ratified the Constitution right away, though large states weren’t so quick to give it the a-okay. Pennsylvania was the first big state to ratify. Massachusetts didn’t ratify until the creation of bill of rights was guaranteed. If they didn’t ratify, the entire thing would have lost its grounding. Virginia wanted to exist as an independent state, though it would have been impossible. With New Hampshire, the ninth state, about to seal the deal, Virginia finally ratified.
The Federalist Papers, written by John Jay, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, swayed New York to jump onto the ratification bandwagon. Federalist #10 insisted that liberty could be best preserved in an extended republic. After intense pressure from the government, North Carolina and Rhode Island also ratified.
America as we know it was under way. The minority was successful once more. However, only about 1/4 of all eligible males voted in the convention delegate elections. But so what. Mob-rule would never flourish and unlike the antifederalists wanted, the government was split into three parts, each efficient and powerful in their own ways. Those who had revolted against Britain had been one-up’d by those who rallied against the Articles in something called a counterrevolution. In the end, both the conservatives and the radicals came together for the republic.
A great quote comes to mind:
“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”