The Federalist Papers Reader and Historical Documents of Our American Heritage

By Frederick Quinn | Go to book overview

Introduction

The long coastline was fair prey for foreign invaders. Roads were few, muddy when it rained, dusty otherwise. Transportation was slow and irregular, most dependable by water. The potentially prosperous, primarily agrarian economy was stagnant, owing to the recent eight-year war, and entrepreneurial people were not sure how it would improve. Scattered insurrections flared, and the prospect of angry mobs or unschooled peasants taking the law into their hands threatened whatever form of government the newly independent states selected. The central government was powerless, lacking authority to raise funds or an army, or to administer justice. Politicians debated at length whether the existing government should be patched up, or if there should be a strong president, a president and council with shared powers, or a legislature with most powers vested in it; but the discussions went nowhere.

The confederation's thirteen isolated states were in infrequent contact with one another, except for commerce along the main maritime arteries. Spanish, French, English, and other metallic coins still circulated long after the war; the Continental Congress's money was valueless. "Not worth a continental" was a popular expression. The wartime military leader, George Washington, wrote state governors in 1783 that he feared "the union cannot be of long duration, and everything must very rapidly tend to anarchy and confusion." Thomas Jefferson, then Minister to France, said, "We are the lowest and most obscure of the whole diplomatic tribe." A British cleric said Americans were "a disunited people till the end of time, suspicious and distrustful to each other, they will be divided and subdivided into little commonwealths, or principalities."

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