From 1781 to 1789, the Articles of Confederation failed to provide the United States with an effective government.

Amongst its many weaknesses was the single branch government, unicamel, and the inability of Congress to tax the states or declare war. During the 1780s, the United States witnessed several acquisitive, individual states expand their borders. According to a map of western lands ceded by the states, each state claimed new lands on their own, but with little regard to the boundaries of other states. Under the unicamel government provided by the Articles of Confederation, there was simply Congress, the legislative branch which had very limited powers which were insufficient to control a nation. The controversial expansions resulted in massive disputes over boundaries between the states, and these arguments were not easily resolved due to the lack of judicial or executive branch. Without a central court to work out national quarrels and determine the boundaries of a state, the central government that consisted of solely Congress could only plead for the states to make compromises about their western claims. Unsurprisingly, the suggestions of Congress did little to persuade the states to give up their important lands. John Jay summed up the inefficiency of this system of begging provided by the Articles of Confederation in a letter to George Washington in 1786 where he stated, “Our affairs seem to lead to some crisis, some revolution. . .” Frustrated about the lack of productivity in the new country, along with others, Jay foresaw a rebellion of some kind that would drastically alter the execution of America. Considering that unfair taxation played a large role in separating the colonies from Britain, it was expected that Congress had not been granted the power to tax. The money that could be used to benefit the entire nation came from voluntary donations. Naturally, this method did little to profit the National Treasury which desperately needed to pay back all war debts. After a recommendation from Congress the states donate money, the Rhode Island Assembly wrote a letter informative of the views of many antifederalist states to Congress. The assembly was convinced that by giving Congress money to fund their country, “they would become independent of their constituents.” As a result of the similar attitudes of Rhode Island and other states towards donating money, the funds available to pay off the debts of the war were not close to sufficient. These

debts included the wages owed to all professional soldiers and loans from wealthy Americans and foreign nations. In an angry letter from Delegate Joseph Jones of Virginia to George Washington in 1783, Jones voiced his disappointment in Congress’ inability to pay the soldiers and commanders. In the fall of 1786, one of these soldiers desperate for his pay, Daniel Shays of Massachusetts, led an uprising of his fellow farmers to demand payment for their service in the war. Shays’ Rebellion lasted two years and took on state militia while taking full advantage of the lack of Continental Army to shut down courts in Massachusetts. Among the various attributes the new nation lacked was a standing army, something Congress was prohibited to raise under the Articles of Confederation. As a result, the British felt no need to vacate the United States territory from which they had been expelled in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. John Jay sent instructions to the United States Minister to Great Britain to compel the unwanted to leave, but his demands to the British accomplished little. While the British caused trouble in the Ohio River Valley, the Mississippi area was under complete control of the Spanish—a dispute that was discussed by John Jay in a speech to Congress on negotiations with Diego de Gardoqui in 1786. This prevented the states from using one of the most vital trade routes of their nation. With no army to expel the invasive British or the controlling Spanish, this conflict could not be resolved by force, but by feeble political tactics and persuasion. In the following year, the Constitutional Convention was held to rewrite the Articles of Confederation, but instead wound up solving this problem by creating a new system of government that allowed a national army to be raised. From 1781 to 1789, the Articles of Confederation did not provide the United States with an effective government. The single branch government composed of only the legislative branch, Congress, could not tax the states or declare war—two things vital to the success of a new nation. It was these major flaws that instigated Shays’ Rebellion and lead to the termination of the Articles and the establishment of the Constitution in 1787.

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