The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

18
Foundations for the Future

The Creation of the National Domain

THE FACT of expansion into new land loomed even larger in American thought and economy in the 1780's than it had in the colonial period. The dispute over the control of the West contributed to the tensions leading to the war for independence, but independence did not end the dispute, for Americans fought with one another as to whether the central government or the individual states should control the lands claimed by them on the basis of their ancient charters. The reason for the conflict was primer-simple although its ramifications were endless and clouded by constitutional and legal theories that have led later generations to lose sight of the realities upon which eighteenth century men kept a steady eye.

In the conflict over westward expansion before the Revolution, various colonial land speculators had laid out overlapping claims to the region beyond the Alleghenies. As we have seen, the conflict held up the ratification of the Articles of Confederation until March of 1781. At that time Congress had before it several cessions, including the most important one of all, that of Virginia. But Congress did not accept the Virginia cession until 1784. The reason for it was obvious: Virginia, in ceding the Old Northwest, insisted that before the cession became final Congress must declare void all land company purchases in the region, something that Virginia had done several years before. Furthermore, Congress must guarantee Virginia's remaining territory to her: that is, Kentucky. These requirements were aimed directly at the land

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