The period in American History from 1781 to 1789, when the United States was organized under the Articles of Confederation, was not characterized by a strong and effective government, but instead provided the framework upon which a more effective government could be built. The Articles of Confederation, since they prevented a strong central government from having power over states' rights, tended to create problems for a government that wished to rule with any amount of authority.
This was particularly evident in the areas of foreign relations, internal discontent over tariffs, and political party struggles. While the United States was attempting to establish itself in diplomatic affairs, this became increasingly difficult to do since the federal government had little power when it came to tariffs and import duties, and also because it had no way of enforcing any agreement which it made with other countries. John Jay's Treaty with Great Britain proposed measures which would improve relations between Great Britain and the U.
S. , but because the U. S. was not a strong military power, it lacked the means to enforce the agreements of Jay's Treaty. A similar type of situation occurred when the U. S. tried to negotiate with Spain over the right to navigate on the Mississippi River. Because of the weakness of the government under the Articles of Confederation, the United States did not reach a peaceful settlement concerning the Mississippi River until the Pinckney Treaty of the 1790's.
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Political party struggles (or struggles between the beginnings of political parties) also tended to bring about disunity in the early government, thereby weakening its effectiveness. Rawlin Lowndes reflected the attitudes of the pre-Constitutional era in his speech to the South Carolina House of Representatives, when he stated that, rather than tear down the existing government and adopt a constitution, attempts should be made to improve the existing structure.
Further conflicts over the nature of the Constitution occurred between federalists, who supported a Constitution with provisions for a strong central government, and anti-federalists, who favored supremacy of states' rights. These conflicts added to the existing troubles of the government under the Articles of Confederation, thus making it even more difficult to rule effectively. Internal problems also existed in the area of land distribution, although these were solved fairly effectively by the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
The manner in which new lands acquired from Great Britain had been redistributed also caused an increase in the faith of the government between 1781 and 1789. However, internal struggles continued to exist. Tariffs that were passed between states caused internal friction for the new country and the lack of a unified monetary system brought additional problems. Since the government under the Articles was not given power to set up a sound currency system, or to establish a national bank, even greater disorganization prevailed.
The founding fathers realized this need for a stronger central government and eventually organized at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to discuss the problem. Although they recognized the present government's weaknesses, they also saw that the basic structure of it was based on a sound principle and should not be done away with completely. Although problems continued to exist over questions like whether to have a national bank, the Founding Fathers eventually agreed that a Constitution and a strong central government would be needed if the government of the U. S. was to rule effectively.
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