The Critical Period of America

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Scott Pollack 11/23/97 11/23/97 Independence, now what? This phrase best describes what many of the first Americans thought following their independence from Briton. They had spent all of their time and energy trying to win the war, and they had not thought ahead to what was to come of them afterwards. Fearing a strong central government, they drafted the Articles of Confederation. This weak constitution and lack of unity in the new states would plunge these former colonies into the critical period. A period when conflicts and troubles threatened the very union that had been so dearly fought for. A time when it looked like it all just might fall apart. One of the foremost reasons this period was so critical and trying to the states was the inability of the different states to cooperate with each other. Without any sort of binding powers from the federal government, and lack of power for regulating interstate relations, state squabbles drastically limited the effectiveness of an already ineffective government. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the states were extremely weary of any sovereign national government. The thought of strong central government impeding their rights always lingered in the back of their heads. Even bodies that should have supposedly had power over the individual states, such as the national judiciary had their rulings seldom listened to. Another problem with governing these newly independent states was process of making laws. The Confederate States of America was based on a unicameral legislature. Each state had one vote, regardless of how big or populous it was. Any kind of legislation required a 2/3's majority. These meetings were often plagued by the legislatures trading votes. Most representatives did not take these meeting very seriously. The states were also very greedy. They states were looking out only for themselves and didn't really care about the good of the union. Some of the states, whose borders had not been determined in their royal charters, started claiming some of the newly acquired land west of the Appalachian Mountains. States such as Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York claimed large amounts of land. Small states with unchanging borders such as Rhode Island and Connecticut were very fearful that these states would become super powerful and dominate the continent. This conflict greatly threatened the Confederacy. This, luckily was one of the few major problems that did get solved by this weak legislature. The North West Ordinance solved the problem. All states that had claimed land that they had not had previously to independence had to give it up to the federal government. Then, new states would be carved out the existing territory according to the following stipulations: a population of 60,000 peoples, a written constitution, and free public education. America did not want to become a colonial power. Problems of the purse also plagued this new nation. During the war, the continental congress had printed large amounts of paper money, nearly a quarter billion dollars. This currency became practically worthless, as there was no gold or silver backing it up. Veterans who had served in the war demanded to get the back pay that they were entitled to, but the government having no money, just left them grumbling. Farmers who had loaned huge quantities of foodstuffs to the army (under the stipulation that when the war ended they would be paid back) wanted to get the money that was owed to them. The Government could not help them. The 13 states were strapped with massive amounts of inflation and massive monetary shortages (among other things). To counteract this, the states started printing more and more of their own money. This was counterproductive to union because the federal government was at the same printing its own money. Having fourteen different kinds of money all in circulation at the same time made it extremely difficult for making purchases. With so many different exchange rates in place, what cost one Massachusetts dollar In New York, cost 3 Virginia dollars at the same port. This made interstate trade extremely difficult and costly. To make the problems even worse, the weak confederate government could not even pass any sort of legislation to help this economic crisis. All it could do was advise the states, and they often turned a deaf ear. Foreign relations were also a problem during this critical period in American history. Most European monarchs saw America as a way to greatly increase their own power. With such a large land mass and abundant natural resources, America would make a great conquest, or ally which ever was easier. Major European players had their eye on America. Spain, who was especially close, could gain a lot of prestige and power by taking some of America. With forces already an arms length form the southern states. This constant unspoken threat always loomed over the new country's head. The inability to deal with domestic problems at home also strained this new republic. When ex-soldiers demanding back pay marched on Philadelphia (then the capital) the government was forced to move to Princeton College to safeguard its self. The congress asked the states for help, but no state sent support. Even with the meager powers the Central government did have, it had a very difficult time enforcing its will and getting things done. Shay's rebellion also demonstrated another inability of the confederate government. When more disgruntled ex-soldiers marched on Massachusetts in 1786 demanding a suspension to mortgage foreclosures and lighter taxes, the confederate government was completely unable to stop this semi-rebellion. The central government had no standing army to put it down. Even though the rebellion was crushed, it left a bitter reminder of the vast ineffectiveness and weakness under the articles of confederation. This was the straw that finally broke the camel's back, and a convention was called to amend the Articles of Confederation. Given the whole slew of adversary and lack of any real power, it is a miracle that the United States of America is around today. The odds were against the new nation and most Europeans were betting on "the experiment in democracy" to fail miserably. Although the Union was pushed to the breaking point on numerous occasions, the Articles of Confederation were a big first step towards self-democratic rule. The lessons learned, and the acknowledgment that to survive, you need a strong government were instrumental in creating the constitution, the document that took the US out of the rough seas of the critical period into calm waters.

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