As the dust settled on the American victory in the Revolutionary War, the thirteen colonial states were free from the rule of Great Britain but had yet to establish their own form of government. The colonists now had to create and enforce laws, establish trade practices, and encourage peace among citizens that had spent years in turmoil and rebellion.
The Continental Congress was the first governing body of the new nation. The delegates, among them George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, created the Continental Army, voted unanimously on the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and soon after, began drafting the Articles of Confederation.
How Much Power to the People?
The challenge in the beginning was the relationship between a strong central government verses the rights of the individual states. The recent memory of the occupation of the colonies by British soldiers caused the states to be reluctant to create a national government that could again infringe on their property. As a result, the central government that was outlined by the Articles of Confederation was too weak to govern a unified nation.
The most critical downfall was the inability to establish a form of currency and to collect taxes. The colonies couldn’t trade with Europe or pay its debts from the war, and they were unable to fund a militia that could effectively defend the nation’s western boundaries.
Drafting the US Constitution
Instead of revising the Articles of Confederation, delegates convened in Pennsylvania from May to September of 1787 and created the U.S. Constitution. The men were in agreement that the new document should establish a strong national government whose powers were appropriately limited so the states could retain their independence. The wording needed to be specific enough to provide a framework, yet vague enough to prevent unnecessary disputes.
The heated debate during those weeks and months focused on electing a president, structuring a Legislature and a Judiciary, and determining how each of the states should be represented in the new government, by population or with equal influence?