THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION
While the war with Britain was still going on, America needed to form a government.
The thirteen colonies had already formed “State Governments” and wrote down the “rules” of how they would govern
in either a state “CHARTER” or “CONSTITUTION” (Written set of rules and laws that government must follow).
Never before had people actually written down the rules that would govern them.
However, a Federal government would still be needed to pull the thirteen states together on matters that affect all of
In 1776, the people decided to form a REPUBLIC (voters choose representatives to make laws for the people).
CONGRESS (The representatives from each state who make laws for the whole United States) created a plan
modeled after the “Iroquois Confederacy”. The Iroquois were a Native-American tribe who practiced democracy.
The plan was known as the ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION, which provided a central government linking all of the
states. However, the plan made the federal government deliberately weak, and the State governments had most of
the power (which is just how they liked it!).
In March, 1781, the Articles were RATIFIED (Approved). The United States now had a national government.
CONFEDERATION- (a loose association, rather than a firm union)
The Articles Of Confederation- a plan for governing the 13 states.
· Each state was equal to and independent from every other state. Larger states were permitted more
delegates, but each state had only one vote.
· Weak Federal government, with one lawmaking house (Congress). Each state had one representative in
Congress. No President, because they did not trust giving one person so much power (too king-like). No federal
In 1785, the “Northwest Territory” (what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana) joined the United
States as a territory, not yet a state. In 1787, Congress passed two ORDINANCES (government regulations or
The first divided up the territory into square chunks of land.
The second, known as the NORTHWEST ORDINANCE of 1787, was the most important.
It was the best act passed under the Articles of Confederation. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 explained how the
new territory would be governed, and the procedure for eventually becoming states. It also contained three other
Citizens would have freedom of religion, speech, and the right to a jury trial.
Native-Americans must be treated fairly.
Slavery was forever banned in the territory.
Why did the Articles fail?
· A vote of 9/13 was needed to pass a law.
· No supervision by the federal government to ensure that laws were carried out.
· No federal court system, or impartial body, to judge if a law was broken.
· Changing the Articles required a unanimous vote.
· Each state had it’s own money, not negotiable in any other state.
· Each state negotiated it’s own trade treaties.
· Each state had it’s own army.
· Congress could not force states to give tax money to the federal government, thus it was frequently broke,
especially after fighting the Revolution.
· Debts owed to former soldiers, other countries (France),U.S. merchants & suppliers; There were no directions
on how to pay them all!
v A powerless federal government.
v A Union in name only, as the states operated like 13 separate countries.
v Constant disputes over state boundaries.
v No national identity.
There is no greater example of the weakness of the Articles of Confederation than the incident known as Shays
· A sense of lawlessness, due to the lack of an army.
· No federal government to oversee financial policy.
· Worthless state money.
· No “check” on an unresponsive state government.
General Daniel Shays was a Revolutionary War hero. The state bank foreclosed on his farm because he tried to pay
his bills with Massachusetts paper money, much of which the bank had given him.
Ø Many farmers in Massachusetts were deeply in debt, and were losing their farms / homes.
Remember, each state issued it’s own money, and paper money wasn’t always accepted. People preferred coin
money made of silver. However, coin money was hard to come by.
Ø The farmers urged the state government to guarantee the paper money, and issue more of it. Farmers were
paid for their goods with paper money. Most other places wouldn’t accept it-they wanted coins. So, when the farmers
tried to pay their debts with paper money, it was rejected.
Ø In August of 1786, town meetings were held all over Massachusetts, and farmers demanded action. After
being ignored by the state government, thousands of people began to protest. The protesters called themselves the
Ø A thousand or two Regulators began showing up, armed, outside each county courthouse, refusing to allow
any court business to continue until their demands were met.
The courts were holding foreclosure hearings on their fellow farmers. Many were being sent to jail.
Ø Governor Bowdoin called for the state militia to break up the Regulators. However they all sided with the
farmers and the Regulators.
Ø The governor then took extreme action to stop the protests:
· Asked the state legislature (state congress) to raise an army.
· Pass new, strict laws against the Regulators.
Ø January 25, 1787, a group of Regulators attacked the Springfield Armory to get weapons for a march on
Boston. The new state Army defeated them.
Ø Two weeks later, the army defeated the Regulators again in Sheffield.
Ø Between the two battles, thirty-five people were killed.
HOW MUCH WAS CAUSED BY THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION?
· No federal army to put down the revolts.
· No federal courts to act impartially when the state courts were unfair.
· No uniform, federal money system.
· No federal fiscal (financial) policy.
· No federal supervision of interstate & international trade.
· Because congress was too weak to force states to pay the debts from the war, soldiers, merchants, and other
countries were owed money for a long time (many like Shays went broke).
· No President to help lead the people.