The Crisis of Confederation
Defects of the Articles • A Government Without Energy •
Western Land Policy • Northwest Ordinance • Shays's
Rebellion • Madison and the Annapolis Convention •
Toward the Philadelphia Convention • For Further Reading
THE ARTICLES OF Confederation provided a government that was able to develop an alliance with France, successfully wage war with Great Britain, and ultimately conclude a peace treaty that secured the independence of the former colonies. These were significant accomplishments.
Despite these successes, the government created by the Articles was deeply flawed. Under different circumstances and with some major revisions, the Articles of Confederation might have served as the fundamental law of the new republic for decades to come. But, these revisions were next to impossible to achieve because the Articles could not be amended without the unanimous consent of all the states.
With the end of the Revolution's economic difficulties, tensions in foreign affairs, social disorder, and the stubbornness of some states revealed the fundamental weakness of the Articles. This in turn led to demands for a new constitution that would empower the central government to run the nation's affairs, and to do so more effectively.
The result, the Constitution of 1787, has been called the greatest scheme of government ever devised. At some levels it has certainly served the United States well for 200 years. The political structure created in 1787 remains intact. From election to election, the transition from one Congress to another, or one president to another, has been remarkably smooth. With the addition of the Bill of Rights in 1791, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments between 1865 and 1870, the Constitution has been critical in developing and protecting enormous personal liberty. The stability of government produced by the Constitution has also led to unparalleled economic prosperity for most Americans.
However, the document created in 1787 and immediately amended by the Bill of Rights in 1791, was not perfect. Most obviously, the Constitution created a governmental system that was unable to cope with slavery. This defect nearly destroyed the