When the Revolutionary War was over and the Americans had won their independence, the revolutionists and republicans leading the new country were quite convinced that their government should differ from that of Britain and have a limited amount of power. Clearly, these men took these ideals more seriously than they should have. They created a constitution for the 13 states known as the Articles of Confederation, which put the majority of power in the hands of these individual states. They were adopted in 1777 after the war and enacted in 1781. The Articles of Confederation were quite a success pertaining to western lands, but proved unbeneficial for the economy of our new country.
Once the war was over, many Americans hoped to expand in the west, and they could successfully do so under the Articles of Confederation through the Northwest Ordinances and the Treaty of Paris, which tripled the size of the new country. For example, the Ordinance of 1784 divided the Western territory into self-governing districts that could each make a constitution and petition Congress for statehood after certain requirements were completed. The Ordinance of 1785 that followed created a system that allowed the land to be surveyed and sold to the public.
The greatest accomplishment pertaining to western lands and the Articles of Confederation was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, as it created one Northwest Territory and solved the problem caused by the ordinance of 1785, land speculation. This ordinance also brought stability and organization to the process of western settlement and built the framework for settlement in the Northwest Territory. These enactments also proved beneficial to the ideal citizen of the time, the yeomen farmer. In the area of western lands and settlement, the Articles of Confederation were quite successful.
When politicians gathered to create the Articles, it is quite evident how afraid both they and the American people were of the government having too much power like that which they suffered under Great Britain. So, they made sure this wouldn’t happen by giving the government very little power over the citizens, also giving the states the power to create their own constitutions, have their own forms of executive and legislature, and coin their own money. This proved terrible for the economy of the new country, for it was already in an enormous post-war debt. Congress could not enforce laws, regulate interstate trade (resulting in various tariffs between the states), or tax people directly, and the only way to change any of these rules was if all states approved of such a change.
Each state had its own currency, causing havoc for trade in a country that was already forced to borrow money from others. Some states such as Massachusetts issued very high taxes, trying to collect specie even from the war veterans and farmers who could not be paid due to Congress’s inability to tax people directly, ending up in tragedy such as Shays’ Rebellion. This led to fears of anarchy and a “mobocracy.” The state governments and Congress were forced to print a huge amount of paper money, leading to the worst inflation in U.S. history between 1778 and 1783. America’s trade deficit was also astoundingly high during this period of time. It is very evident that the U.S. economy suffered under the Articles of Confederation.
It is also safe to say that the Articles had both their successes and failures in each of their aspects. For example, the Ordinance of 1785 resulted in the problem known as land speculation, which occurred when the land of people such as yeomen farmers was foreclosed, benefitting merchants and the rest of the gentry as they bought the land to make their own profits. Although this problem was eliminated through the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, this newer enactment caused a big problem with the Native Americans living in the Western lands, even though the law specified that their land would not be taken from them and they would be treated with “the upmost, good faith.”
And, throughout all of this the British were still residing in the Ohio River Valley, causing more havoc. Although there were no shorthand benefits in the economic status of the country under the Articles of Confederation, the only benefit overall was the tragedy itself! The repeated economic failures under the Articles heavily impacted the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the need for a new Constitution.
Though the Articles of Confederation can be called a failure, they were very commendable. The Americans were a new people who fought for their freedom and created a new government from scratch with both its successes and failures, just like any other country. Throughout their creation of the Articles and even the later modified version, the U.S. Constitution, the Americans stuck with their belief that the majority of power belonged to the people even though they learned that the government needs power as well in order to regulate and ensure the success of America. The Articles led to what would be the Northwest part of the nation, and can be forgiven for their failure on the economic conditions as they enticed people such as James Madison to gather and improve the constitution.