Almost from the time they were finally approved, the Articles of Confederation had critics. Many people worried that the national government was not strong enough to handle the problems facing the young nation. Historians have long debated over how bad the 1780s actually were. John Fiske called the decade the “critical period” in American history and asserted that the United States would have faced certain decline and destruction had the government structure not been changed. 1 Merrill Jensen disagreed, stating that the 1780s were a prosperous time and that there was no real need to change the national government. 2
It is not clear what the majority of Americans thought about the condition of the United States during the 1780s, but several prominent Americans concluded quite early that the Articles government was not strong enough. By 1783, James Madison believed that something must be done if the United States was going to survive. He and others began to express their concerns in the pages of the newspapers. The result was an ongoing debate throughout the mid-1780s over the strength and success of the Articles government.
Throughout the 1780s, newspaper printers discussed the successes and failures of the Articles government. Most agreed with James Madison, believing that the government structure created by the Articles of Confederation could not succeed. Many newspaper printers actively supported the move toward a new government, which grew throughout the decade. American newspapers of the 1780s reflected the growing anxieties of the printers for the security and efficacy of the national government, and the continual discussion of such issues encouraged readers to be concerned as well. Such worries, whether based on actual fact or not, helped set the stage for the adoption of the new form of government in 1787–1788.