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The Creation of the Constitution of the United States of America: 1783 to 1891
The creation of the Constitution did not take place overnight. The Constitution is the byproduct of years of political and philosophical development. The origins of the Constitution can be found within the writings of the European Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophers sought to find the meaning of the concepts of righteousness, equality, and justice. The Declaration of Independence was the first "Enlightened" document to come out of the era of the American Revolution. The Declaration stated that all men are created equal, yet as the new nation emerged out of the Revolution it became clear matters within the new United States were
not equal. The first attempt at a Union was in 1754. Benjamin Franklin drafted the Albany Plan of Union. This plan dealt with controversial topics such as regulation of commerce, relations with Native American tribes, common defense, and finance. The plan was met with significant resistance from the colonies. The colonies had not reached a point where they could set aside their invidual needs in the name of a common goal. The Revolution would provide the impetus for the next state of colonial government - the Articles of Confederation.
The Articles of Confederation were approved by the 2nd Continental Congress in 1777. The original draft of the Articles of Confederation was drafted by John Dickinson in 1776. This draft called for a significantly powerful central government. This governmeent would have the power to tax, provide a military, control the lands west of the Appalachian Mtns, and called for equal representation among the individual states. This plan was summarily rejected by the individual state legislatures. The states feared a strong powerful central government. Their experience with the British government throughout the Colonial period had soured the states to
the concept of a strong central government. As a result, the final draft of the Articles of Confederation provided for a weak central government while providing strong protections for the rights and powers of the individual states. The most significant power that was withheld from the national government was the power to collect taxes. This omission would eventually lead to the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America. Yet, the Articles of Confederation did have a few significant accomplishments. Primary amongst those accomplishments were the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance. These Ordinances effectively settled the land disputes between the states over the Western territories.....but the financial concerns lingered.
The Revolutionary War left the United States in a great deal of debt. Debts were owed to the merchants of the major European nations. The Mississippi River was closed to the merchants of the United States because the individual states could not repay their debts to the Spanish. The British had closed their ports to American merchants. The major obstacle in this situation was the inability of the United States central government to collect taxes. Each state was left to fend for themselves and find a means of repaying the European merchants and their governments. This perilious financial situation forced the states to set extremely high tax rates. The one group that was the impacted the most by this situation was the farmers. Forced to pay
high taxees, the farmers could not pay their mortgages at the same time. Thus, farms began to be foreclosed upon at an alarming rate. This state of affairs sparked "Shays Rebellion" in Western Massachusetts. Daniel Shay led a rebellion of farmers to prevent the Courts of Western Massachusetts from foreclosing on any other farms in the region. Shay and his supporters marched on Springfield, Massachusetts. They were greated by the armed forces of Massachusetts (the Articles of Confederation did not provide for a nation military force). The rebels quickly dispersed. Word spread throughout the other states of Shay's rebellion - the leaders of the states feared further rebellions in their states. As a result, the states leaders agreed to call a special convention to address the glaring weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.