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Articles of Confederation and Hard Times to Shay's Rebellion

The colony that created the first rebel constitution was Massachusetts, in 1775. It was soon followed by other constitutions, and these were groundwork for the first Articles of Confederation and later for the United States Constitution.

The Continental Congress drafted its Articles of Confederation in 1776 and 1777. These articles proposed a federation of states, each state to be independent with its own constitution and its own guarantees of liberty. The Articles of Confederation granted each state one vote in the Continental Congress and apportioned federal taxes. The Articles declared that the Continental Congress could wage war and could borrow and issue money. The Articles of Confederation needed ratification by each of the colonies, and all thirteen states ratified the articles by the end of the war, in February 1781.

The peace treaty with Britain signed in Paris in 1783 inspired cheer and hope, but these were dashed by the economic hard times that followed. In these years, the Continental Congress often had too few delegates to make a quorum, and occasionally it moved – in June 1783 to Princeton, in November 1783 to Annapolis, in early 1784 to Trenton, and in late 1784 to New York City. The Continental Congress was short of funds, and for cash the congress was happy to sell lands on the frontier to land speculators.

The economic hard times was accompanied by more unrest. And in 1785, seeing the benefit that would accrue from a greater unity and a rule of law, Alexander Hamilton and others launched an effort to restore property and political rights to former loyalists. They argued against vengeance. The skills of loyalist merchants were useful, and by 1787 the states were repealing their anti-loyalist legislation.

Lenders from the mother country and former colonial loyalists had been calling in their debts – as happens in economic downturns. And in 1785 and 1786, debtors were demanding state laws for protection. Massachusetts had no laws to cushion debtors against lenders and people were frustrated with their state government's lack of action. At the end of 1786, frustration resulted in armed rebellion – Shays' Rebellion – which spread to the whole of New England. Daniel Shays had at least a couple thousand followers, most of them farmers. The governor of Massachusetts assembled militiamen to defend the courts and government property and to pursue the new rebels. The rebellion was crushed in six months. The rebels scattered and took advantage of a general amnesty. Two leaders of the rebellion, John Bly and Charles Rose, were hanged for treason.


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