Transition to Self Rule
While still in the midst of the Revolutionary War, it became obvious that--even with General Washington leading the young nation's military forces--a national government was needed to coordinate the war effort. The Continental Congress which had declared the nation's independence and propelled it into war against Britain did not have the ability to unify and lead the nation. Acting to create a government which allowed the thirteen states to work together well enough to win the war, the Congress passed the Articles of Confederation in 1777. It was not until 1781, however, that it was adopted by all 13 colonies.
The Declaration of Independence and the severing of ties with the British crown pushed the new nation perilously close to a return to the "state of nature." While there were established governments in the several states, there was no governmental entity capable of uniting the states. While liberty was the aim of the Revolution, some semblance of order was needed to win the war. While the Articles were sufficient to guide the new nation through its war for independence, as soon as the war was concluded, indications that it would not serve the new nation in peacetime appeared almost immediately. After the fighting had ceased, General Washington had to convince several high ranking officers not to rebel against the Confederal Congress because of its failures to keep promises to the Revolutionary Army. While Washington's intervention probably saved the new nation from plummeting into chaos, it only postponed the larger question of how the nation would govern itself after the war.
With the end of the war, however, came a sense of relief and perhaps even complacency. For a time, the Articles were considered sufficient to unite the independent states enough to meet their collective needs.
In 1785 and 1786, however, a series of events transpired which exposed the underlying weaknesses of the Articles (see the list on the right). As the nation struggled to get back on its feet economically after the war, it faced growing difficulties in dealing with Britain as it delayed its withdrawal from forts and harbors in America and imposed high tariffs on goods exported from America to England. These problems were made worse by the absence of a single spokesman to represent the nation's trade interests abroad. While John Adams had been dispatched as an Ambassador to Britain, in practice, each state acted on its own, entering into agreements with Britain and other nations and undermining the nation's unity.
On the home front, a large number of Revolutionary War veterans, many of whom had returned to their farms after the war, were falling behind in their payments on their homes and land. Sporadic conflicts arose between bankers and land owners as homes were foreclosed and debtors were sent to jail for failure to pay their debts. Violence over such actions erupted in at least six states with armed bands of farmers breaking up bankruptcy proceedings and letting people out of debtors prisons. This was a troubling turn of events for the young nation, all the more so because many of the people behind the violence were the same people who had fought the Revolutionary War!\