Prologue: A Fragile Nation
The Treaty of Paris was signed in September 1783 by the Americans and British, officially bringing the American Revolutionary War to an end. Based on a previously negotiated preliminary treaty from the previous year, the agreement recognized the independence of the Thirteen Colonies from Britain and granted them all the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River that was to the South of the Great Lakes. The 1783 Treaty was one of several treaties signed at Paris in 1783 establishing peace between not only Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies but the anti-British coalition of France, Spain, and the Netherlands. The U.S. Confederation Congress ratified the treaty on January 14, 1784, but it still left several border regions in dispute, and certain provisions within the treaty could not be readily enforced. British global power continued to increase thanks to its economic growth fled by the early industrial evolution in spite of their loss. This meant that if the former colonies did not say together, then the British could put them back under their economic sphere of influence. At the same time, the victory in the American Revolution came at a major expense for the French. France accrued an enormous financial cost from fighting alongside the Americans, over a billion livres, and raised their debt to over three billion livres. Attempts to solve this would later trigger a Revolution that would forever change the fate of France.
Meanwhile, America was facing several issues of its own. During the American Revolution, the Thirteen Colonies replaced their royal colonial governments with republican ones, generally divided into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Most state constitutions endorsed the legislative branch as the most powerful of the three as it was viewed as the most representative of the people. While power traditionally belonged to the executive and judicial branches, state governors here lacked significant authority, and state courts and judges were controlled by the legislative branch. On an interstate level, the thirteen states created a permanent alliance, the United States, which was to be governed by the Articles of Confederation, which operated more like an international treaty than a constitution. The Second Continental Congress adopted them in 1777 before they were later ratified nationwide. The nation was governed by the Congress of the Confederation, a unicameral legislature with representatives (one per state) elected via state legislatures. It could not levy tariffs or taxes, and it could not force states to pay delinquent funds. A supermajority (nine of the thirteen states) was required to pass major legislation like borrowing money, declaring war, and making treaties, with every state having effective veto power. Perhaps most stunningly of all, there was no executive nor judicial branches in the Confederation.
It soon became obvious the Confederation government was inadequate for resolving the numerous problems confronting the United States. Since states generally began to look out for their own interests rather than those of the alliance as a whole after the war, states started to refuse to provide funding for Congress. Hence, the government could not pay the interest on foreign debt, soldiers stationed in the Northwest Territory, or defend American navigation rights on the Mississippi River against European powers. In the early-mid 1780s, Rhode Island and New York vetoed an amendment that would have allowed Congress to levy taxes on imports in order to pay off the federal debt. Because the Confederation Congress also lack the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce. Britain, France, and Spain imposed restrictions on American ships and goods as the US was could not legally retaliate against them. Simultaneously, when bigger states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania placed reciprocal duties on British goods, their smaller neighbors established free ports to gain an economic advantage over them. Some states even began applying duties on other states. In 1784, Congress proposed an amendment to give it the power to regulate and conduct foreign trade but did not receive unanimous approval from state delegates. If the national government had limited economic power compared to the states, then what hope did the Confederational government have in general?
During the 1780s, state legislatures responded to calls for economic and debt relief by high proposing and collecting new taxes. The problem was that many people were unable to pay taxes and debts due to a struggling economic period brought on by the post-war panic. This was exacerbated by a scarcity of gold and silver coins that were previously quite common under British rule. The Massachusetts state government was notorious for failing to provide economic relief, particularly for hard-hit rural farmers. As a result, farmers led by Daniel Shays in the central and western parts of the state resorted to attempting to close down state courthouses near the city of Springfield before attempting to capture the military arsenal at the Springfield Armory. The rebellion lasted for six months from August 1786 to February 1787, and because of this, some Americans desired a national army that could put down similar insurrections. All of this worried the Founding Fathers that the United States was in danger of collapsing and splitting up. In September 1786, delegates from five states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) met in Annapolis, Maryland at the Annapolis Convention to invite the other states to Philadelphia in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation at a bigger convention. Not every state that was invited would send delegates to Philadelphia though, influencing the outcome of the Convention.