US History/New Nation
The Articles of Confederation[edit | edit source]
(The following text is taken from Wikipedia)
The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, also the Articles of Confederation, was the governing constitution of the alliance of thirteen independent and sovereign states styled "United States of America." The Article's ratification (proposed in 1777) was completed in 1782, legally uniting the states by compact into the "United States of America" as a union with a confederation government. Under the Articles (and the succeeding Constitution) the states retained sovereignty over all governmental functions not specifically deputed to the confederation.
The final draft of the Articles was written in the summer of 1777 and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777 in York, Pennsylvania after a year of debate. In practice the final draft of the Articles served as the de facto system of government used by the Congress ("the United States in Congress assembled") until it became de jure by final ratification on March 1, 1781; at which point Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. The Articles set the rules for operations of the "United States" confederation. The confederation was capable of making war, negotiating diplomatic agreements, and resolving issues regarding the western territories; it could mint coins and borrow inside and outside the United States. An important element of the Articles was that Article XIII stipulated that "their provisions shall be inviolably observed by every state" and "the Union shall be perpetual." This article was put to the test in the American Civil War.
The Articles were created by the chosen representatives of the states in the Second Continental Congress out of a perceived need to have "a plan of confederacy for securing the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of the United States." Although serving a crucial role in the attainment of nationhood for the thirteen states, a group of reformers, known as "federalists", felt that the Articles lacked the necessary provisions for a sufficiently effective government. Fundamentally, a federation was sought to replace the confederation. The key criticism by those who favored a more powerful central state (i.e. the federalists) was that the government (i.e. the Congress of the Confederation) lacked taxing authority; it had to request funds from the states. Another criticism of the Articles was that they did not strike the right balance between large and small states in the legislative decision making process. Due to its one-state, one-vote plank, the larger states were expected to contribute more but had only one vote. The Articles were replaced by the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788.
Background[edit | edit source]
The political push for the colonies to increase cooperation began in the French and Indian Wars in the mid 1750s. The opening of the American Revolutionary War in 1775 induced the various states to cooperate in seceding from the British Empire. The Second Continental Congress starting 1775 acted as the confederation organ that ran the war. Congress presented the Articles for enactment by the states in 1777, while prosecuting the American Revolutionary war against the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Ratification[edit | edit source]
Congress began to move for ratification of the Articles in 1777:
The articles can always be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining in one general system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties...
The document could not become officially effective until it was ratified by all of the thirteen colonies. The first state to ratify was Virginia on December 16, 1777.  The process dragged on for several years, stalled by the refusal of some states to rescind their claims to land in the West. Maryland was the last holdout; it refused to go along until Virginia and New York agreed to cede their claims in the Ohio River valley. A little over three years passed before Maryland's ratification on March 1, 1781.
Article summaries[edit | edit source]
Even though the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were established by many of the same people, the two documents were very different. The original five-paged Articles contained thirteen articles, a conclusion, and a signatory section. The following list contains short summaries of each of the thirteen articles.
- Establishes the name of the confederation as "The United States of America."
- Asserts the precedence of the separate states over the confederation government, i.e. "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated."
- Establishes the United States as a league of states united ". . . for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them . . . ."
- Establishes freedom of movement–anyone can pass freely between states, excluding "paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice." All people are entitled to the rights established by the state into which he travels. If a crime is committed in one state and the perpetrator flees to another state, he will be extradited to and tried in the state in which the crime was committed.
- Allocates one vote in the Congress of the Confederation (United States in Congress Assembled) to each state, which was entitled to a delegation of between two and seven members. Members of Congress were appointed by state legislatures; individuals could not serve more than three out of any six years.
- Only the central government is allowed to conduct foreign relations and to declare war. No states may have navies or standing armies, or engage in war, without permission of Congress (although the state militias are encouraged).
- When an army is raised for common defense, colonels and military ranks below colonel will be named by the state legislatures.
- Expenditures by the United States will be paid by funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on the real property values of each.
- Defines the powers of the central government: to declare war, to set weights and measures (including coins), and for Congress to serve as a final court for disputes between states.
- Defines a Committee of the States to be a government when Congress is not in session.
- Requires nine states to approve the admission of a new state into the confederacy; pre-approves Canada, if it applies for membership.
- Reaffirms that the Confederation accepts war debt incurred by Congress before the Articles.
- Declares that the Articles are perpetual, and can only be altered by approval of Congress with ratification by all the state legislatures.
Still at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the colonists were reluctant to establish another powerful national government. Jealously guarding their new independence, members of the Continental Congress created a loosely-structured unicameral legislature that protected the liberty of the individual states. While calling on Congress to regulate military and monetary affairs, for example, the Articles of Confederation provided no mechanism to force the states to comply with requests for troops or revenue. At times, this left the military in a precarious position, as George Washington wrote in a 1781 letter to the governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock.
The end of the war[edit | edit source]
The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended hostilities with Great Britain, languished in Congress for months because state representatives failed to attend sessions of the national legislature. Yet Congress had no power to enforce attendance. Writing to George Clinton in September 1783, George Washington complained:
- 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.
Function[edit | edit source]
The Articles supported the Congressional direction of the Continental Army, and allowed the 13 states to present a unified front when dealing with the European powers. As a tool to build a centralized war-making government, they were largely a failure, but since guerrilla warfare was correct strategy in a war against the British Empire's army, this "failure" succeeded in winning independence. Under the articles, Congress could make decisions, but had no power to enforce them. There was a requirement for unanimous approval before any modifications could be made to the Articles. Because the majority of lawmaking rested with the states, the central government was also kept limited.
Congress was denied the power of taxation: it could only request money from the states. The states did not generally comply with the requests in full, leaving the confederation chronically short of funds. Congress was also denied the power to regulate commerce, and as a result, the states fought over trade as well. The states and the national congress had both incurred debts during the war, and how to pay the debts became a major issue. Some states paid off their debts; however, the centralizers favored federal assumption of states' debts.
Nevertheless, the Congress of the Confederation did take two actions with lasting impact. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the general land survey and ownership provisions used throughout later American expansion. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 noted the agreement of the original states to give up western land claims and cleared the way for the entry of new states.
Once the war was won, the Continental Army was largely disbanded. A very small national force was maintained to man frontier forts and protect against Indian attacks. Meanwhile, each of the states had an army (or militia), and 11 of them had navies. The wartime promises of bounties and land grants to be paid for service were not being met. In 1783, Washington defused the Newburgh conspiracy, but riots by unpaid Pennsylvania veterans forced the Congress to leave Philadelphia temporarily.
Signatures[edit | edit source]
The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles for distribution to the states on November 15 1777. A copy was made for each state and one was kept by the Congress. The copies sent to the states for ratification were unsigned, and a cover letter had only the signatures of Henry Laurens and Charles Thomson, who were the President and Secretary to the Congress.
But, the Articles at that time were unsigned, and the date was blank. Congress began the signing process by examining their copy of the Articles on June 27 1778. They ordered a final copy prepared (the one in the National Archives), and that delegates should inform the secretary of their authority for ratification.
On July 9, 1778, the prepared copy was ready. They dated it, and began to sign. They also requested each of the remaining states to notify its delegation when ratification was completed. On that date, delegates present from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina signed the Articles to indicate that their states had ratified. New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland could not, since their states had not ratified. North Carolina and Georgia also didn't sign that day, since their delegations were absent.
After the first signing, some delegates signed at the next meeting they attended. For example, John Wentworth of New Hampshire added his name on August 8. John Penn was the first of North Carolina's delegates to arrive (on July 10), and the delegation signed the Articles on July 21 1778.
The other states had to wait until they ratified the Articles and notified their Congressional delegation. Georgia signed on July 24, New Jersey on November 26, and Delaware on February 12 1779. Maryland refused to ratify the Articles until every state had ceded its western land claims.
On February 2, 1781, the much-awaited decision was taken by the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. As the last piece of business during the afternoon Session, "among engrossed Bills" was "signed and sealed by Governor Thomas Sim Lee in the Senate Chamber, in the presence of the members of both Houses… an Act to empower the delegates of this state in Congress to subscribe and ratify the articles of confederation" and perpetual union among the states. The Senate then adjourned "to the first Monday in August next." The decision of Maryland to ratify the Articles was reported to the Continental Congress on February 12. The formal signing of the Articles by the Maryland delegates took place in Philadelphia at noon time on March 1, 1781 and was celebrated in the afternoon. With these events, the Articles entered into force and the United States came into being as a united, sovereign and national state.
Congress had debated the Articles for over a year and a half, and the ratification process had taken nearly three and a half years. Many participants in the original debates were no longer delegates, and some of the signers had only recently arrived. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were signed by a group of men who were never present in the Congress at the same time.
The signers and the states they represented were:
- New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett and John Wentworth Jr.
- Massachusetts Bay: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Francis Dana, James Lovell, and Samuel Holten
- Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: William Ellery, Henry Marchant, and John Collins
- Connecticut: Roger Sherman¹, Samuel Huntington, Oliver Wolcott, Titus Hosmer, and Andrew Adams
- New York: James Duane, Francis Lewis, William Duer, and Gouverneur Morris
- New Jersey: John Witherspoon and Nathaniel Scudder
- Pennsylvania:Robert Morris², Daniel Roberdeau, Jonathan Bayard Smith, William Clingan, and Joseph Reed
- Delaware: Thomas McKean, John Dickinson³, and Nicholas Van Dyke
- Maryland: John Hanson and Daniel Carroll³
- Virginia: Richard Henry Lee, John Banister, Thomas Adams, John Harvie, and Francis Lightfoot Lee
- North Carolina: John Penn, Cornelius Harnett, and John Williams
- South Carolina: Henry Laurens, William Henry Drayton, John Mathews, Richard Hutson, and Thomas Heyward Jr.
- Georgia: John Walton, Edward Telfair, and Edward Langworthy
- ¹ The only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States: the Articles of Association, the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
- ² One of only 2 people to sign three of the great state papers of the United States: the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
- ³ One of only 4 people to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
Presidents of the Congress[edit | edit source]
The following list is of those who led the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation as the Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled. Under the Articles, the president was the presiding officer of Congress, chaired the Cabinet (the Committee of the States) when Congress was in recess, and performed other administrative functions. He was not, however, a chief executive in the way the successor President of the United States is a chief executive, but all of the functions he executed were under the auspices and in service of the Congress.
- Samuel Huntington (March 1, 1781 – July 9, 1781)
- Thomas McKean (July 10, 1781 – November 4, 1781)
- John Hanson (November 5, 1781 – November 3, 1782)
- Elias Boudinot (November 4, 1782 – November 2, 1783)
- Thomas Mifflin (November 3, 1783 – October 31, 1784)
- Richard Henry Lee (November 30, 1784 – November 6, 1785)
- John Hancock (November 23, 1785 – May 29, 1786)
- Nathaniel Gorham (June 6, 1786 – November 5, 1786)
- Arthur St. Clair (February 2, 1787 – November 4, 1787)
- Cyrus Griffin (January 22, 1788 – November 2, 1788)
For a full list of Presidents of the Congress Assembled and Presidents under the two Continental Congresses before the Articles, see President of the Continental Congress.
Revision and replacement[edit | edit source]
In May 1786, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed that Congress revise the Articles of Confederation. Recommended changes included granting Congress power over foreign and domestic commerce, and providing means for Congress to collect money from state treasuries. Unanimous approval was necessary to make the alterations, however, and Congress failed to reach a consensus.
In September, five states assembled in the Annapolis Convention to discuss adjustments that would improve commerce. Under their chairman, Alexander Hamilton, they invited state representatives to convene in Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the federal government. Although the states' representatives to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were only authorized to amend the Articles, the representatives held secret, closed-door sessions and wrote a new constitution. The new Constitution gave much more power to the central government, but characterization of the result is disputed. Historian Forrest McDonald, using the ideas of James Madison from Federalist 39, describes the change this way:
The constitutional reallocation of powers created a new form of government, unprecedented under the sun. Every previous national authority either had been centralized or else had been a confederation of sovereign states. The new American system was neither one nor the other; it was a mixture of both.
Historian Ralph Ketcham comments on the opinions of Patrick Henry, George Mason, and other antifederalists who were not so eager to give up the local autonomy won by the revolution:
Antifederalists feared what Patrick Henry termed the "consolidated government" proposed by the new Constitution. They saw in Federalist hopes for commercial growth and international prestige only the lust of ambitious men for a "splendid empire" that, in the time-honored way of empires, would oppress the people with taxes, conscription, and military campaigns. Uncertain that any government over so vast a domain as the United States could be controlled by the people, Antifederalists saw in the enlarged powers of the general government only the familiar threats to the rights and liberties of the people.
According to their own terms for modification (Article XIII), the Articles would still have been in effect until 1790, the year in which the last of the 13 states ratified the new Constitution. The Congress under the Articles continued to sit until November 1788, overseeing the adoption of the new Constitution by the states, and setting elections.
Historians have given many reasons for the perceived need to replace the articles in 1787. Jillson and Wilson (1994) point to the financial weakness as well as the norms, rules and institutional structures of the Congress, and the propensity to divide along sectional lines.
Rakove (1988) identifies several factors that explain the collapse of the Confederation. The lack of compulsory direct taxation power was objectionable to those wanting a strong centralized state or expecting to benefit from such power. It could not collect customs after the war because tariffs were vetoed by Rhode Island. Rakove concludes that their failure to implement national measures "stemmed not from a heady sense of independence but rather from the enormous difficulties that all the states encountered in collecting taxes, mustering men, and gathering supplies from a war-weary populace." The second group of factors Rakove identified derived from the substantive nature of the problems the Continental Congress confronted after 1783, especially the inability to create a strong foreign policy. Finally, the Confederation's lack of coercive power reduced the likelihood for profit to be made by political means, thus potential rulers were uninspired to seek power.
When the war ended in 1783, certain special interests had incentives to create a new "merchant state," much like the British state people had rebelled against. In particular, holders of war scrip and land speculators wanted a central government to pay off scrip at face value and to legalize western land holdings with disputed claims. Also, manufacturers wanted a high tariff as a barrier to foreign goods, but competition among states made this impossible without a central government.
Historical importance[edit | edit source]
The Articles are historically important for two major reasons: i) they were the first constitution or governing document for the United States of America and ii) they legally established a union of the thirteen founding states; a Perpetual Union. Early on, tensions developed surrounding the Union, not least because of the fact that with the US Constitution the basis of government was changed from that of confederation to federation. Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun were in their time leading proponents of guaranteeing the constitutional rights of states in federal legislation. Over time, a legal view developed that if the union violated the constitutional rights of states they might rightfully seceed. A significant tension in the 19th century surrounded the expansion of slavery (which was generally supported in agricultural Southern states and opposed in industrial Northern states). As the secessionist view gained support in the South, the opposing view in the North was that since the U.S. Constitution declared itself to be "a more perfect union" than the Articles, it too must be perpetual, and also could not be broken without the consent of the other states. This view was promoted by Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln. In 1861, these constitutional contracts were cited by President Lincoln against any claims by the seceding states that unilaterally withdrawing from the Union and taking federal property within those states was legal.
The Northwest Ordinance[edit | edit source]
The Congress established the Northwest Territory around the Great Lakes between 1784 and 1787. In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance banning slavery in the new Territory. Congressional legislation divided the Territory into townships of six square miles each and provided for the sale of land to settlers. The Northwest Territory would eventually become the states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
Problems with the Confederation[edit | edit source]
The Confederation faced several difficulties in its early years. Firstly, Congress became extremely dependent on the states for income. Also, states refused to require its citizens to pay debts to British merchants, straining relations with Great Britain. France prohibited Americans from using the important port of New Orleans, crippling American trade down the Mississippi river.
Shays' Rebellion[edit | edit source]
Due to the post-revolution economic woes, agitated by inflation, many worried of social instability. This was especially true for those in Massachusetts. The legislature's response to the shaky economy was to put emphasis on maintaining a sound currency by paying off the state debt through levying massive taxes. The tax burden hit those with moderate incomes dramatically. The average farmer paid a third of their annual income to these taxes from 1780 to 1786. Those who couldn't pay had their property foreclosed and were thrown into crowded prisons filled with other debtors.
But in the summer of 1786, a revolutionary war veteran named Daniel Shays began to organize western communities in Massachusetts to stop foreclosures, with force, by prohibiting the courts from holding their proceedings. Later that fall, Shays marched the newly formed "rebellion" into Springfield to stop the state supreme court from gathering. The state responded with troops sent to suppress the rebellion. After a failed attempt by the rebels to attack the Springfield arsenal, and other small skirmishes, the rebels retreated and then uprising collapsed. Shays retreated to Vermont by 1787.
While Daniel Shays was in hiding, the government condemned him to death on the charge of treason. Shays pleaded for his life in a petition which was finally granted by John Hancock on June 17, 1788. With the threat of treason behind him, Shays moved to New York and died September 25, 1825
US Presidents before George Washington[edit | edit source]
Who was the first president of the United States? Ask any school child and they will readily tell you "George Washington." And of course, they would be correct—at least technically. Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, and yet, the United States continually had functioning governments from as early as September 5, 1774, and operated as a confederated nation from as early as July 4, 1776. During that nearly fifteen-year interval, Congress—first the Continental Congress and then later the Confederation Congress—was always moderated by a duly elected president. This officer was known as the "President of the Continental Congress", and later as the "President of the United States, in Congress Assembled".
However, the office of President of the Continental Congress had very little relationship to the office of President of the United States beyond the name. The President of the United States is the head of the executive branch of government, while the President of the Continental Congress was merely the chair of a body that most resembled a legislature, although it possessed legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The following brief biographies profile these "forgotten presidents."
Peyton Randolph of Virginia (1723–1775)
When delegates gathered in Philadelphia for the first Continental Congress, they promptly elected the former King's Attorney of Virginia as the moderator and president of their convocation. He was a propitious choice. He was a legal prodigy—having studied at the Inner Temple in London, served as his native colony's Attorney General, and tutored many of the most able men of the South at William and Mary College—including the young Patrick Henry. His home in Williamsburg was the gathering place for Virginia's legal and political gentry—and it remains a popular attraction in the restored colonial capital. He had served as a delegate in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and had been a commander under William Byrd in the colonial militia. He was a scholar of some renown—having begun a self-guided reading of the classics when he was thirteen. Despite suffering poor health served the Continental Congress as president twice, in 1774 from September 5 to October 21, and then again for a few days in 1775 from May 10 to May 23. He never lived to see independence, yet was numbered among the nation's most revered founders.
Henry Middleton (1717–1784) America's second elected president was one of the wealthiest planters in the South, the patriarch of the most powerful families anywhere in the nation. His public spirit was evident from an early age. He was a member of his state's Common House from 1744 to 1747. During the last two years he served as the Speaker. During 1755 he was the King's Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was a member of the South Carolina Council from 1755 to 1770. His valor in the War with the Cherokees during 1760–1761 earned him wide recognition throughout the colonies—and demonstrated his leadership abilities while under pressure. He was elected as a delegate to the first session of the Continental Congress and when Peyton Randolph was forced to resign the presidency, his peers immediately turned to Middleton to complete the term. He served as the fledgling coalition's president from October 22, 1774, until Randolph was able to resume his duties briefly beginning on May 10, 1775. Afterward, he was a member of the Congressional Council of Safety and helped to establish the young nation's policy toward the encouragement and support of education. In February 1776 he resigned his political involvements in order to prepare his family and lands for what he believed was inevitable war—but he was replaced by his son Arthur who eventually became a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, served time as an English prisoner of war, and was twice elected Governor of his state.
John Hancock (1737–1793)
The third president was a patriot, rebel leader, merchant who signed his name into immortality in giant strokes on the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The boldness of his signature has made it live in American minds as a perfect expression of the strength and freedom—and defiance—of the individual in the face of British tyranny. As President of the Continental Congress during two widely spaced terms—the first from May 24 1775 to October 30 1777 and the second from November 23, 1785, to June 5, 1786—Hancock was the presiding officer when the members approved the Declaration of Independence. Because of his position, it was his official duty to sign the document first—but not necessarily as dramatically as he did. Hancock figured prominently in another historic event—the battle at Lexington: British troops who fought there April 10, 1775, had known Hancock and Samuel Adams were in Lexington and had come there to capture these rebel leaders. And the two would have been captured, if they had not been warned by Paul Revere. As early as 1768, Hancock defied the British by refusing to pay customs charges on the cargo of one of his ships. One of Boston's wealthiest merchants, he was recognized by the citizens, as well as by the British, as a rebel leader—and was elected President of the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress. After he was chosen President of the Continental Congress in 1775, Hancock became known beyond the borders of Massachusetts, and, having served as colonel of the Massachusetts Governor's Guards he hoped to be named commander of the American forces—until John Adams nominated George Washington. In 1778 Hancock was commissioned Major General and took part in an unsuccessful campaign in Rhode Island. But it was as a political leader that his real distinction was earned—as the first Governor of Massachusetts, as President of Congress, and as President of the Massachusetts constitutional ratification convention. He helped win ratification in Massachusetts, gaining enough popular recognition to make him a contender for the newly created Presidency of the United States, but again he saw Washington gain the prize. Like his rival, George Washington, Hancock was a wealthy man who risked much for the cause of independence. He was the wealthiest New Englander supporting the patriotic cause, and, although he lacked the brilliance of John Adams or the capacity to inspire of Samuel Adams, he became one of the foremost leaders of the new nation—perhaps, in part, because he was willing to commit so much at such risk to the cause of freedom.
Henry Laurens (1724–1792)
The only American president ever to be held as a prisoner of war by a foreign power, Laurens was heralded after he was released as "the father of our country," by no less a personage than George Washington. He was of Huguenot extraction, his ancestors having come to America from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes made the Reformed faith illegal. Raised and educated for a life of mercantilism at his home in Charleston, he also had the opportunity to spend more than a year in continental travel. It was while in Europe that he began to write revolutionary pamphlets—gaining him renown as a patriot. He served as vice-president of South Carolina in 1776. He was then elected to the Continental Congress. He succeeded John Hancock as President of the newly independent but war beleaguered United States on November 1, 1777. He served until December 9, 1778, at which time he was appointed Ambassador to the Netherlands. Unfortunately for the cause of the young nation, he was captured by an English warship during his cross-Atlantic voyage and was confined to the Tower of London until the end of the war. After the Battle of Yorktown, the American government regained his freedom in a dramatic prisoner exchange—President Laurens for Lord Cornwallis. Ever the patriot, Laurens continued to serve his nation as one of the three representatives selected to negotiate terms at the Paris Peace Conference in 1782.
John Jay (1745–1829)
America's first Secretary of State, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one of its first ambassadors, and author of some of the celebrated Federalist Papers, Jay was a Founding Father who, by a quirk of fate, missed signing the Declaration of Independence—at the time of the vote for independence and the signing, he had temporarily left the Continental Congress to serve in New York's revolutionary legislature. Nevertheless, he was chosen by his peers to succeed Henry Laurens as President of the United States—serving a term from December 10, 1778, to September 27, 1779. A conservative New York lawyer who was at first against the idea of independence for the colonies, the aristocratic Jay in 1776 turned into a patriot who was willing to give the next twenty-five years of his life to help establish the new nation. During those years, he won the regard of his peers as a dedicated and accomplished statesman and a man of unwavering principle. In the Continental Congress Jay prepared addresses to the people of Canada and Great Britain. In New York he drafted the State constitution and served as Chief Justice during the war. He was President of the Continental Congress before he undertook the difficult assignment, as ambassador, of trying to gain support and funds from Spain. After helping Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Laurens complete peace negotiations in Paris in 1783, Jay returned to become the first Secretary of State, called "Secretary of Foreign Affairs" under the Articles of Confederation. He negotiated valuable commercial treaties with Russia and Morocco, and dealt with the continuing controversy with Britain and Spain over the southern and western boundaries of the United States. He proposed that America and Britain establish a joint commission to arbitrate disputes that remained after the war—a proposal which, though not adopted, influenced the government's use of arbitration and diplomacy in settling later international problems. In this post Jay felt keenly the weakness of the Articles of Confederation and was one of the first to advocate a new governmental compact. He wrote five Federalist Papers supporting the Constitution, and he was a leader in the New York ratification convention. As first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Jay made the historic decision that a State could be sued by a citizen from another State, which led to the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution. On a special mission to London he concluded the "Jay Treaty," which helped avert a renewal of hostilities with Britain but won little popular favor at home—and it is probably for this treaty that this Founding Father is best remembered.
Samuel Huntington (1732–1796) An industrious youth who mastered his studies of the law without the advantage of a school, a tutor, or a master—borrowing books and snatching opportunities to read and research between odd jobs—he was one of the greatest self-made men among the Founders. He was also one of the greatest legal minds of the age—all the more remarkable for his lack of advantage as a youth. In 1764, in recognition of his obvious abilities and initiative, he was elected to the General Assembly of Connecticut. The next year he was chosen to serve on the Executive Council. In 1774 he was appointed Associate Judge of the Superior Court and, as a delegate to the Continental Congress, was acknowledged to be a legal scholar of some respect. He served in Congress for five consecutive terms, during the last of which he was elected President. He served in that office from September 28, 1779 until ill health forced him to resign on July 9, 1781. He returned to his home in Connecticut—and as he recuperated, he accepted more Councilor and Bench duties. He again took his seat in Congress in 1783, but left it to become Chief Justice of his state's Superior Court. He was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1785 and Governor in 1786. According to John Jay, he was "the most precisely trained Christian jurists ever to serve his country."
Thomas McKean (1734–1817) During his astonishingly varied fifty-year career in public life he held almost every possible position—from deputy county attorney to President of the United States under the Confederation. Besides signing the Declaration of Independence, he contributed significantly to the development and establishment of constitutional government in both his home state of Delaware and the nation. At the Stamp Act Congress he proposed the voting procedure that Congress adopted: that each colony, regardless of size or population, has one vote—the practice adopted by the Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation, and the principle of state equality manifest in the composition of the Senate. And as county judge in 1765, he defied the British by ordering his court to work only with documents that did not bear the hated stamps. In June 1776, at the Continental Congress, McKean joined with Caesar Rodney to register Delaware's approval of the Declaration of Independence, over the negative vote of the third Delaware delegate, George Read—permitting it to be "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States." And at a special Delaware convention, he drafted the constitution for that State. McKean also helped draft—and signed—the Articles of Confederation. It was during his tenure of service as President—from July 10, 1781 to November 4, 1782—when news arrived from General Washington in October 1781 that the British had surrendered following the Battle of Yorktown. As Chief Justice of the supreme court of Pennsylvania, he contributed to the establishment of the legal system in that State, and, in 1787, he strongly supported the Constitution at the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention, declaring it "the best the world has yet seen." At sixty-five, after over forty years of public service, McKean resigned from his post as Chief Justice. A candidate on the Democratic-Republican ticket in 1799, McKean was elected Governor of Pennsylvania. As Governor, he followed such a strict policy of appointing only fellow Republicans to office that he became the father of the spoils system in America. He served three tempestuous terms as Governor, completing one of the longest continuous careers of public service of any of the Founding Fathers.
John Hanson (1715–1783) He was the heir of one of the greatest family traditions in the colonies and became the patriarch of a long line of American patriots—his great grandfather died at Lutzen beside the great King Gustavus Aldophus of Sweden; his grandfather was one of the founders of New Sweden along the Delaware River in Maryland; one of his nephews was the military secretary to George Washington; another was a signer of the Declaration; still another was a signer of the Constitution; yet another was Governor of Maryland during the Revolution; and still another was a member of the first Congress; two sons were killed in action with the Continental Army; a grandson served as a member of Congress under the new Constitution; and another grandson was a Maryland Senator. Thus, even if Hanson had not served as President himself, he would have greatly contributed to the life of the nation through his ancestry and progeny. As a youngster he began a self-guided reading of classics and rather quickly became an acknowledged expert in the juridicalism of Anselm and the practical philosophy of Seneca—both of which were influential in the development of the political philosophy of the great leaders of the Reformation. It was based upon these legal and theological studies that the young planter—his farm, Mulberry Grove was just across the Potomac from Mount Vernon—began to espouse the cause of the patriots. In 1775 he was elected to the Provincial Legislature of Maryland. Then in 1777, he became a member of Congress where he distinguished himself as a brilliant administrator. Thus, he was elected President in 1781. He served in that office from November 5, 1781 until November 3, 1782. He was the first president to serve a full term after the full ratification of the Articles of Confederation—and like so many of the Southern and New England Founders, he was strongly opposed to the Constitution when it was first discussed. He remained a confirmed anti-federalist until his untimely death.
Elias Boudinot (1741–1802) He did not sign the Declaration, the Articles, or the Constitution. He did not serve in the Continental Army with distinction. He was not renowned for his legal mind or his political skills. He was instead a man who spent his entire career in foreign diplomacy. He earned the respect of his fellow patriots during the dangerous days following the traitorous action of Benedict Arnold. His deft handling of relations with Canada also earned him great praise. After being elected to the Congress from his home state of New Jersey, he served as the new nation's Secretary for Foreign Affairs—managing the influx of aid from France, Spain, and Holland. The in 1783 he was elected to the Presidency. He served in that office from November 4, 1782 until November 2, 1783. Like so many of the other early presidents, he was a classically trained scholar, of the Reformed faith, and an anti-federalist in political matters. He was the father and grandfather of frontiersmen—and one of his grandchildren and namesakes eventually became a leader of the Cherokee nation in its bid for independence from the sprawling expansion of the United States.
Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800) By an ironic sort of providence, Thomas Mifflin served as George Washington's first aide-de-camp at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and, when the war was over, he was the man, as President of the United States, who accepted Washington's resignation of his commission. In the years between, Mifflin greatly served the cause of freedom—and, apparently, his own cause—while serving as the first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. He obtained desperately needed supplies for the new army—and was suspected of making excessive profit himself. Although experienced in business and successful in obtaining supplies for the war, Mifflin preferred the front lines, and he distinguished himself in military actions on Long Island and near Philadelphia. Born and reared a Quaker, he was excluded from their meetings for his military activities. A controversial figure, Mifflin lost favor with Washington and was part of the Conway Cabal—a rather notorious plan to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates. And Mifflin narrowly missed court-martial action over his handling of funds by resigning his commission in 1778. In spite of these problems—and of repeated charges that he was a drunkard—Mifflin continued to be elected to positions of responsibility—as President and Governor of Pennsylvania, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as well as the highest office in the land—where he served from November 3, 1783, to November 29, 1784. Most of Mifflin's significant contributions occurred in his earlier years—in the First and Second Continental Congresses he was firm in his stand for independence and for fighting for it, and he helped obtain both men and supplies for Washington's army in the early critical period. In 1784, as president, he signed the treaty with Great Britain which ended the war. Although a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he did not make a significant contribution—beyond signing the document. As Governor of Pennsylvania, although he was accused of negligence, he supported improvements of roads, and reformed the State penal and judicial systems. He had gradually become sympathetic to Jefferson's principles regarding states' rights; even so, he directed the Pennsylvania militia to support the Federal tax collectors in the Whiskey Rebellion. In spite of charges of corruption, the affable Mifflin remained a popular figure. A magnetic personality and an effective speaker, he managed to hold a variety of elective offices for almost thirty years of the critical Revolutionary period.
Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794) His resolution "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States", approved by the Continental Congress July 2, 1776, was the first official act of the United Colonies that set them irrevocably on the road to independence. It was not surprising that it came from Lee's pen—as early as 1768 he proposed the idea of committees of correspondence among the colonies, and in 1774 he proposed that the colonies meet in what became the Continental Congress. From the first, his eye was on independence. A wealthy Virginia planter whose ancestors had been granted extensive lands by King Charles II, Lee disdained the traditional aristocratic role and the aristocratic view. In the House of Burgesses he flatly denounced the practice of slavery. He saw independent America as "an asylum where the unhappy may find solace, and the persecuted repose." In 1764, when news of the proposed Stamp Act reached Virginia, Lee was a member of the committee of the House of Burgesses that drew up an address to the King, an official protest against such a tax. After the tax was established, Lee organized the citizens of his county into the Westmoreland Association, a group pledged to buy no British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. At the First Continental Congress, Lee persuaded representatives from all the colonies to adopt this non-importation idea, leading to the formation of the Continental Association, which was one of the first steps toward union of the colonies. Lee also proposed to the First Continental Congress that a militia be organized and armed—the year before the first shots were fired at Lexington; but this and other proposals of his were considered too radical—at the time. Three days after Lee introduced his resolution, in June of 1776, he was appointed by Congress to the committee responsible for drafting a declaration of independence, but he was called home when his wife fell ill, and his place was taken by his young protégé, Thomas Jefferson. Thus Lee missed the chance to draft the document—though his influence greatly shaped it and he was able to return in time to sign it. He was elected President—serving from November 30, 1784 to November 22, 1785 when he was succeeded by the second administration of John Hancock. Elected to the Constitutional Convention, Lee refused to attend, but as a member of the Congress of the Confederation, he contributed to another great document, the Northwest Ordinance, which provided for the formation of new States from the Northwest Territory. When the completed Constitution was sent to the States for ratification, Lee opposed it as anti-democratic and anti-Christian. However, as one of Virginia's first Senators, he helped assure passage of the amendments that, he felt, corrected many of the document's gravest faults—the Bill of Rights. He was the great uncle of Robert E. Lee and the scion of a great family tradition.
Nathaniel Gorham (1738–1796) Another self-made man, Gorham was one of the many successful Boston merchants who risked all he had for the cause of freedom. He was first elected to the Massachusetts General Court in 1771. His honesty and integrity won his acclaim and was thus among the first delegates chose to serve in the Continental Congress. He remained in public service throughout the war and into the Constitutional period, though his greatest contribution was his call for a stronger central government. But even though he was an avid federalist, he did not believe that the union could—or even should—be maintained peaceably for more than a hundred years. He was convinced that eventually, in order to avoid civil or cultural war, smaller regional interests should pursue an independent course. His support of a new constitution was rooted more in pragmatism than ideology. When John Hancock was unable to complete his second term as President, Gorham was elected to succeed him—serving from June 6, 1786 to February 1, 1787. It was during this time that the Congress actually entertained the idea of asking Prince Henry—the brother of Frederick II of Prussia—and Bonnie Prince Charlie—the leader of the ill-fated Scottish Jacobite Rising and heir of the Stuart royal line—to consider the possibility of establishing a constitutional monarch in America. It was a plan that had much to recommend it but eventually the advocates of republicanism held the day. During the final years of his life, Gorham was concerned with several speculative land deals which nearly cost him his entire fortune.
Arthur St. Clair (1734–1818) Born and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the tumultuous days of the final Jacobite Rising and the Tartan Suppression, St. Clair was the only president of the United States born and bred on foreign soil. Though most of his family and friends abandoned their devastated homeland in the years following the Battle of Culloden—after which nearly a third of the land was depopulated through emigration to America—he stayed behind to learn the ways of the hated Hanoverian English in the Royal Navy. His plan was to learn of the enemy's military might in order to fight another day. During the global conflict of the Seven Years' War—generally known as the French and Indian War—he was stationed in the American theater. Afterward, he decided to settle in Pennsylvania where many of his kin had established themselves. His civic-mindedness quickly became apparent: he helped to organize both the New Jersey and the Pennsylvania militias, led the Continental Army's Canadian expedition, and was elected Congress. His long years of training in the enemy camp was finally paying off. He was elected President in 1787—and he served from February 2 of that year until January 21 of the next. Following his term of duty in the highest office in the land, he became the first Governor of the Northwest Territory. Though he briefly supported the idea of creating a constitutional monarchy under the Stuart's Bonnie Prince Charlie, he was a strident Anti-Federalist—believing that the proposed federal constitution would eventually allow for the intrusion of government into virtually every sphere and aspect of life. He even predicted that under the vastly expanded centralized power of the state the taxing powers of bureaucrats and other unelected officials would eventually confiscate as much as a quarter of the income of the citizens—a notion that seemed laughable at the time but that has proven to be ominously modest in light of our current governmental leviathan. St. Clair lived to see the hated English tyrants who destroyed his homeland defeated. But he despaired that his adopted home might actually create similar tyrannies and impose them upon themselves.
Cyrus Griffin (1736–1796) Like Peyton Randolph, he was trained in London's Inner Temple to be a lawyer—and thus was counted among his nation's legal elite. Like so many other Virginians, he was an anti-federalist, though he eventually accepted the new Constitution with the promise of the Bill of Rights as a hedge against the establishment of an American monarchy—which still had a good deal of currency. The Articles of Confederation afforded such freedoms that he had become convinced that even with the incumbent loss of liberty, some new form of government would be required. A protégé of George Washington—having worked with him on several speculative land deals in the West—he was a reluctant supporter of the constitutional ratifying process. It was during his term in the office of the presidency—the last before the new national compact went into effect–that ratification was formalized and finalized. He served as the nation's chief executive from January 22, 1788 until George Washington's inauguration on April 30, 1789.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Monday, November 17 1777, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. A Century of Lawmaking, 1774-1873
- "Articles of Confederation, 1777-1781". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2007-09-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20070915075849/http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/ar/91719.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- Letter George Washington to George Clinton, September 11 1783. The George Washington Papers, 1741-1799
- "While Washington and Steuben were taking the army in an ever more European direction, Lee in captivity was moving the other way — pursuing his insights into a fullfledged and elaborated proposal for guerrilla warfare. He presented his plan to Congress, as a "Plan for the Formation of the American Army." Bitterly attacking Steuben's training of the army according to the "European Plan," Lee charged that fighting British regulars on their own terms was madness and courted crushing defeat: "If the Americans are servilely kept to the European Plan, they will … be laugh'd at as a bad army by their enemy, and defeated in every [encounter]… . [The idea] that a decisive action in fair ground may be risqued is talking nonsense." Instead, he declared that "a plan of defense, harassing and impeding can alone succeed," particularly if based on the rough terrain west of the Susquehannah River in Pennsylvania. He also urged the use of cavalry and of light infantry (in the manner of Dan Morgan), both forces highly mobile and eminently suitable for the guerrilla strategy. This strategic plan was ignored both by Congress and by Washington, all eagerly attuned to the new fashion of Prussianizing and to the attractions of a "real" army." - Murray N. Rothbard, Generalissimo Washington: How He Crushed the Spirit of Liberty excerpted from Conceived in Liberty, Volume IV, chapters 8 and 41.Template:Relevance
- Henry Cabot Lodge. George Washington, Vol. I. I. http://www.fullbooks.com/George-Washington-Vol-I4.html.
- Friday, February 2 1781, Laws of Maryland, 1781. An ACT to empower the delegates
- McDonald pg. 276
- Ralph Ketcham, Roots of the Republic: American Founding Documents Interpreted, pg. 383
- Emory, Bobby (1993). "The Articles of Confederation". Libertarian Nation Foundation. http://libertariannation.org/a/f11e1.html#3. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- "Religion and the Congress of the Confederation, 1774-89 (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition)". Library of Congress. 2003-10-27. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel04.html.
- "Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/360.html#360.2.
- Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 - To Form a More Perfect Union: The Work of the Continental Congress & the Constitutional Convention (American Memory from the Library of Congress)
- Rakove 1988 p. 230
- In his book Life of Webster Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge writes, "It is safe to say that there was not a man in the country, from Washington and Hamilton to Clinton and Mason, who did not regard the new system as an experiment from which each and every State had a right to peaceably withdraw." A textbook used at West Point before the Civil War, A View of the Constitution, written by Judge William Rawle, states, "The secession of a State depends on the will of the people of such a State."
- "First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln, Monday, March 4, 1861". http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/inaug/lincoln1.htm. "...no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances."
References[edit | edit source]
- R. B. Bernstein, "Parliamentary Principles, American Realities: The Continental and Confederation Congresses, 1774-1789," in Inventing Congress: Origins & Establishment Of First Federal Congress ed by Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon (1999) pp 76-108
- Burnett, Edmund Cody. The Continental Congress: A Definitive History of the Continental Congress From Its Inception in 1774 to March, 1789 (1941)
- Barbara Feinberg, The Articles Of Confederation (2002). [for middle school children.]
- Robert W. Hoffert, A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas (1992).
- Lucille E. Horgan. Forged in War: The Continental Congress and the Origin of Military Supply and Acquisition Policy (2002)
- Merrill Jensen, The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781 (1959).
- Merrill Jensen: "The Idea of a National Government During the American Revolution", Political Science Quarterly, 58 (1943), 356-79. online at JSTOR
- Calvin Jillson and Rick K. Wilson. Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774-1789. (1994)
- Forest McDonald.Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution. (1985)
- Andrew C. Mclaughlin, A Constitutional History of the United States (1935) online version
- Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1998).
- Jackson T. Main, Political Parties before the Constitution. University of North Carolina Press, 1974
- Jack N. Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (1982).
- Jack N. Rakove, “The Collapse of the Articles of Confederation,” in The American Founding: Essays on the Formation of the Constitution. Ed by J. Jackson Barlow, Leonard W. Levy and Ken Masugi. Greenwood Press. 1988. Pp 225-45 ISBN 0313256101
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Klos, Stanley L. (2004). President Who? Forgotten Founders. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Evisum, Inc.. pp. 261. ISBN 0-9752627-5-0.
[edit | edit source]
- Text Version of the Articles of Confederation
- Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union
- Articles of Confederation and related resources, Library of Congress
- Today in History: November 15, Library of Congress
- United States Constitution Online - The Articles of Confederation
- Free Download of Articles of Confederation Audio
- Audio narration (mp3) of the Articles of Confederation at Americana Phonic
- The Articles of Confederation, Chapter 45 (see page 253) of Volume 4 of Conceived in Liberty by Murray Rothbard, in PDF format.