WI: The Constitutional Convention Failed?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by federalist, Dec 1, 2010.

  1. federalist Well-Known Member

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    Ok, I had an idea for my first thread on AH.com, and I just wanted to get some input.

    POD: Roger Sherman dies earlier than OTL, in 1786; after he signs the Articles of Confederation, but prior to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.



    Roger Sherman contracts cholera during January of 1786 while working in New Haven as that city’s mayor, and dies on February 17. The people of Connecticut mourn the death of an important figure; Sherman had signed the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation as a representative of his home state. Thomas Jefferson said of him “That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life." The United States had lost perhaps one of the coolest heads among its founding fathers. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of the United States’ government was being called into question.


    The Articles of Confederation had given Congress the ability to make laws and print money, but little power to raise funds or to enforce its laws. Essentially, the Articles relied on the individual states to donate funds requested by Congress and needless to say, many states simply didn’t fulfill these requests or enforce all of the laws passed by the Congress. Money printed by the Congress began to become extremely devalued as it was unable to pay its debts incurred during the war. In 1785, John Adams was sent to London to negotiate a treaty of unrestricted trade and commerce between Great Britain and the United States. Adams was unable to secure a treaty with London because it was unclear whether the individual states would all sign such a treaty; when the British refused a free trade agreement, Adams called on each state to issue retaliatory legislation against Great Britain, closing their ports to British shipping. However, if individual states did honor Adams’ request, their neighbors were quick to open their ports to the British, undermining the punitive aspect of this action and making a killing while other states suffered economic hardship.


    Tensions regarding overtaxation of farmers rose to a head in August of 1786, when Daniel Shays organized many veterans of the Revolutionary War and farmers into a militia opposing the government of the state of Massachusetts. Many veterans of the war with Great Britain returned home unpaid by the Continental government and faced charges of unpaid taxes incurred during the time that they fought in the Revolution. This injustice caused many farmers and common people in Massachusetts to join the so-called Shays’ Rebellion. Eventually, the governor of Massachusetts raised the militia to put down the rebellion and over 1,000 arrests of rebellious commoners were made. This incident called into question the power of the Articles of Confederation further, and the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was called by Congress.

    Basically, I'm looking to butterfly away the OTL Connecticut Compromise by killing off its architect and main proponent. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.
     
  2. IchBinDieKaiser Casual Historian

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    Well, you could have two possible outcomes. You could have a continued loose confederation of states, alot like the HRE. Or you could have the union break apart. I have a timeline involving a failed Constitutional convention that explores the later of the two possible outcomes. It's called America the Fallen. You can find a link to it in my signature.
     
  3. federalist Well-Known Member

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    Started looking at your thread, and it seems the tipping point was a war over Virginia's secession from the Confederation, but I honestly find that unlikely. I was more thinking that Virginia would secede and cause a domino effect, seceding most other states except for Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, RI, NH, and the Carolinas. The remaining would call another constitutional convention, which would also fail causing the Carolinas to secede. Then New England would form a strong federal republic based on Hamilton's ideas while the southern states stayed in a loose confederation with NY, NJ, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland caught in the middle. What do you think?
     
  4. Shackel Banned

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    With ol' Ben in charge of Pennsylvania, maybe we'll see a rump USA based off of one of the ideas with Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware(working on New Jersey, maybe)

    It's funny, I'm making my own timeline off of a successful Shay's Rebellion putting too much pressure on the Union and breaking it at the Constitutional Convention.
     
  5. federalist Well-Known Member

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    Honestly there hasn't been very many threads like this in a while, and I felt like it was due to happen. Not surprised a bunch of us have developed the idea separately. If you and Kaiser are both putting up a thread, I might hold off on mine so as not to clog the forum with extremely similar competing TLs.
     
  6. Shackel Banned

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    Ohohoho, trust me, I won't be posting mine up any time soon. This being my first TL, I'm probably going to post the barebones 'prototype' up here first before I even get started.
     
  7. IchBinDieKaiser Casual Historian

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    I already have a thread that I updated recently. Check my signature, America the Fallen. I'm up to 11 chapters right now and I'm hoping the 12th will be out soon.
     
  8. Jello_Biafra In ur means of production...

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    I doubt the people in charge would have allowed the nation to fail. If there isn't a new constitution ratified, then the Articles will change either by convention or amendment. It could result in an America with an uncodified constitution, sort of like Britain.
     
  9. federalist Well-Known Member

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    US nationalism at this time was nonexistent, in fact, the US was more often referred to as these United States than the United States until well after the Civil War established the primacy of the federal government over state's rights. I think it'd be perfectly plausible for a breakup that early in US history.
     
  10. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    AAAAAAAAH.

    Anyway, I think something would give. For one thing, Americans were very, very worried that the US would end up as the next Poland for the despots of Europe. And we had just fought a Revolution.

    It's not like the antifederalists were all sitting around demanding the US remain weak and impotent. Most sensible Americans thought some reform was needed.
     
  11. federalist Well-Known Member

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    Agreed, but without a viable replacement to AoC, I think it'd only be a matter of time before the states split. A system of alliances or a sort of Monroe Doctrine for North America could be employed by the states after they split. I really do think it likely that we'd split up if the Constitutional Convention failed, especially due to the diverging opinions of many of the founding fathers.
     
  12. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    Which major founding fathers were opposed, by 1789, to a closer union?
     
  13. Shackel Banned

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    You know, there WAS an Anti-Federalist thing going on. It was actually pretty close in some states.
     
  14. federalist Well-Known Member

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    Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Samuel Adams were just a few noteworthy anti-federalists, who opposed a strong central government.

    EDIT: I'm not here for an argument about the merits of federalism vs. anti-federalism (despite my handle), I am simply stating it's plausible for the US to split apart at this crucial moment in history. There are literally thousands of possibilities that can occur from one POD, and I think this one is a likely one.
     
  15. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    I'm aware of this, but being opposed to the Constitution as it was written doesn't mean that they were against a closer union.

    Let's recall that one of the things we got because of the Anti-Federalists was the Bill of Rights, much as some dislike it nowadays.
     
  16. DuQuense Commisioned Officer CSN

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    I don't see the United States flying apart.
    The Politicos of the time were aware of the problems, while whe call it the Constitutional Convention, The Convention was called to Modify and Expand the proposed Amendments to the Articles.
    Articles -- http://www.barefootsworld.net/aoc1777.html
    Amendments -- http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1587
    Others -- http://www.infoplease.com/t/hist/antifederalist/candidus.html
    They were not unpaid --They were paid in State backed Continentals, which Massachusetts had refused to redeem, forcing the holders to sell to speculators at 3~5% on the Dollar.
    They could look across the Border at Rhode Island that had redeemed [90% of] it's continentals at 100%. Or Marysland, Delaware, & New Jersey that were in the process of the same.
    [When Hamilton pulled off the Feds redeeming the outstanding Continentals at full face, He made a lot of speculators [and his Patrons] very Rich.]
    While apologists for the Constitution, talk a lot about the economic problems in the pre Constitution years, The Apologists for the Articles talk to the Economic problems pre war, those inherent in recovering from 8 years of war, and point to how well the US had recovered in only 5~6 years.

    Roger Sherman was not the only proposer of the Compromise. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connecticut_Compromise

    I believe that even if the Convention was not to reach a final document, many of the proposals would have been adopted piecemeal over the next several years.
     
  17. MRig They say in Harlan County...

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    Breakup is certainly possible, but I think after a failed constitution you could get some satisfactorily modified articles. A bill of rights and some stronger taxation laws and there could be a functioning union.

    There are some fun little details to work out from here. Does it become a parliamentary system, or does the executive council remain strong? Do they have amendments like the OTL constitution or simply add more articles? Do the thirteen states start adding territory to themselves as they head west, or are the articles amended to allow new states? On that last one, the latter seems more likely considering the NW ordinance, but I would expect a smaller number of larger states.) And even if the bulk of the states remain united, a few might break off, perhaps those in New England. In the latter case, perhaps they would unofficially fix the number of thirteen to keep the math clean, add some replacements for the lost New English, and then have future settlers establish satellites.

    Also interesting to note is how they would regard our constitution. Without New England adopting something like it, I think they would have thought they'd dodged a bullet. This is especially the case if the Bill of Rights never appears. If New England had seceded, I guess it depends on your opinion of New England. The two nations would remain friends, I expect.

    I know this is a grass-is-greener syndrome, but I sometimes wish we'd gone with amended articles rather than the OTL Constitution, fond as I am of it. I have come to dislike my country's political system, with its overpowered Senate and Presidency, its political culture that requires civility and ideological plurality within both of the only two parties just to function. It's like a classic old car that you love but wish you could afford to replace with something that runs better and doesn't burn so much gas.

    Under the Articles, they'd have a fascinating political system, future rebels would be more likely to have executive councils (this would be so much better for postcolonial revolutionary states than a single president) Also, Philadelphia would be a cooler capital. And they would probably continue to call it the Continental Congress. There really is an aesthetic appeal to these confederal United States.

    Geopolitically I'd expect a less effective westward expansion, which is fine by me. I wish we'd failed the dream of Manifest Destiny, honestly. Would the interior have been left alone? Unlikely, but a more pluralistic North America will be less bad for the Indians. Indian Removal is less likely, and the Cherokee more likely to get their own state. (With slaves and everything, how civilized!)

    Slavery is still the big issue but with less federal power at stake I don't think it's as big a deal. The Northern states can't force the issue in the South and except for the abolitionist minority don't want to. The Southerners would like to be able to take their slaves up North but will be prevented. The fight could as OTL be over expansion, but a Confederal U.S. might be less likely to fight and win a war with Mexico--are the States even able to purchase Louisiana?

    There is a third scenario: in practice it remains not much different from the United States. These peculiar people were going to head west in a great swath, claiming a third of the continent for itself and crushing anyone in the way, and whatever constitution the young republic gave itself would be ignored or amended to do what is in the interests of the States.
     
  18. Johnrankins Well-Known Member

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    Confederacies are inherently unstable. The most likely scenario is that all the states become completely independent. More likely than not there will be one or more aggressive states that will eventually invade the other states and you have a smaller number of unitary governments.
     
  19. elder.wyrm Banned

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    The US really wasn't to break up at this point. No one wanted it, everybody understood how important the Union was to the maintenance of their independence. As long as Britain survives as a superpower, the US will survive in some form to oppose her in America.

    I mean, even if they don't get everything they want like IOTL, the Federalists don't just disappear in a no-Constitution TL. They'll still be a force in state politics, pursuing a nationalist agenda within the framework of the Confederacy as best they can.
     
  20. Johnrankins Well-Known Member

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    I wouldn't happen overnight but it would almost certainly happen eventually. By nature the central government is so weak people start wondering why they are even sending tax money to support it. Why pay taxes to a government that can do virtually nothing?