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Kevin Moffatt
10/16/13 E
Articles of Confederation Guiding Questions
1. What were the sources of the Confederation's postwar economic problems? How did the
government attempt to solve them? What were the results?
One of the sources of the Confederation’s postwar economic problems was the war debt
itself; the Confederation had to pay tens of thousands of soldiers, and repay many of the war
bonds bought during the war, in addition to repaying debts to other nations with money that
they did not have. In addition, the Confederation had no power to tax, so it could not make
money to pay off its debts. One way the Confederation tried to solve this was to print paper
money, but this failed miserable because it just caused inflation in the economy, and paid off
few debts.
2. Why was paper money seen as a solution to the economic problems of one element in
American society? Who opposed this and why?
Paper money was seen as a solution to economic problems for the poorer, but self sufficient,
farmers whose debts were paid off and could use the money to buy more goods. Merchants,
people who were owed money, and the rich opposed this to because it depreciated the value
of money and created something that was not worth anything in reality – because the
government couldn’t back the paper up with any national resources (such as gold), it was
worth nothing if the government fell apart, so for merchants and the rich, and especially the
people who were owed money, it was worthless (or at least worth less than what they had
loaned out) compared to coins which had value because of their composition. {I was a little
confused on this, I searched for it in the book but this topic wasn’t mentioned}
3. How did the action of Daniel Shays and his followers relate to the economic problems of the
Confederation period? What was the significance of the movement he led?
Shays rebellion related to the economic problem of war debts and personal debt for people
too. In essence, both the government and the people were in debt, so when the government
tried to impose more taxes on the already indebted, poor farmers, they rioted and under
Shays, issued a set of demand for paper money, tax relief, a moratorium on debts, and the
abolition of imprisonment for debt. This shows that not only was the Confederation as a
government in debt, but the American society as a whole was largely in debt, so a cycle of
poverty was started. The significance of the revolution was that it added urgency to the
movement of creating a strong, centralized government.
4. Who were the advocated of centralization? Why did they want to alter or abolish the Articles
of Confederation?
The wealthy and powerful started the avocation of centralization, but it was (in bits and
pieces) advocated by almost all of the US, for manufacturers wanted to replace different state
taxes with a uniform national one; the merchants and shippers wanted the different state
commercial policies to be replaced with a single, national policy; the land speculators wanted
the Indians to be removed from Western land (this would require a strong national army);
people who were owed money wanted to stop paper money from being issued (because it
lowered the value of what they received for the loans); investors in bonds wanted to get their
money back form the government; and the wealthy wanted protection from mobs (such as
Shays’ rebellion). All these people advocated for the need for a powerful government, and
one of the most best political reformers was Alexander Hamilton.
5. What did those who favored centralization see as the most serious problem of the Articles?
How would they have changed them? What had prevented any changes?
Those who favored centralization saw a weak central government as the most serious
problem of the Articles, and more specifically, the Articles weakest point: its inability to levy
taxes (even its defenders admitted this was a problem). They would have given the Articles
the ability to tax, but these changes were prevented because it required a unanimous vote to
pass in the Articles, and a tax law would not have passed unanimously. {I looked in the
centralization part of the book and also in the part about the Articles of Confederation part
but it didn’t give a concrete answer}
6. What were the characteristics of the men who met at the Constitutional Convention in
Philadelphia? What were their socio-economic backgrounds?
The men who met at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were mostly young (their
average age was 44 – with Benjamin Franklin the only “old guy” at 81) and well educated for
the time. Most represented the interests of the people, and many feared the “turbulence and
follies” of democracy. In addition, all these men had lived through the Revolution and still
retained the Revolution thinking that opposed too strong of a central government.
7. What were the main positions of the Virginia and New Jersey Plans?
The Virginia plan stated that “a national government ought to be established, consisting of a
supreme Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary”, and it called for legislature of two houses.
The lower house would be represented in proportion of population, and the upper house
would be elected by the lower house (the problem was that as a result many small states
might not have representatives in the upper house). The New Jersey plan proposed for a
“federal” government that had one-house legislature, where each state had equal
representation, but it gave Congress the ability to tax and regulate commerce.
8. How did the Great Compromise draw from those Plans?
The Great Compromise was a result of small states versus large states, and ended with a mix
of the two plans, but mostly consisting of the Virginia plan. The result was that states would
be represented by population in the lower house (a slave counted for 3/5 of a person – in both
population statistics and taxation) and the upper house was represented equally with two
members form each state. Here the government also had the ability to levy taxes and control
trade.
9. How did sectionalism and the issue of slavery influence the Constitution?
Sectionalism influenced the Constitution, because many people wanted state to still be more
powerful than the national government, and this restricted the power, which the Constitution
could give the government. In addition the difference in sectionalism and views between big
states and small states and Northern states and Southern states created big differences
(especially slavery and representation) that had to be accounted for and compromised for in
the Constitution. Slavery influenced the Constitution because states with large slave
populations wanted that slaves be counted for population for representation, but not for tax
(they wanted it both ways – very hypocritical). This argument between slave states and non
slave states influenced the Constitution very much, and as a result, slaves were considered
3/5 a person in both taxation and representation.
10. List the provisions and the underlying principles of the U. S. Constitution.
The government has the power to levy taxes and regulate trade. There are three branches:
Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary. The Legislative branch is made of two houses: the
lower house (representation is based on population) and the upper house (equally represented
– each state has two representatives). All power, at all levels of government, came from the
people – the new government derived its power from the people, not the states. Power is
distributed between the national and state governments. The sates couldn’t deny the law of
the Constitution and the government. There is a Separation of powers and “checks and
balances” in all three branches. Also, Congress has two chambers, the Senate and the House
of Representatives, which are both needed to pass a law.
11. Explain the ongoing debate between historians over the motives of the men who framed the
American Constitution.
Even today, historians still debate over the motives of the men who created the Constitution.
Some say the nation created the Constitution out of necessity, others say that certain men
created the strong central government to save their fragile financial situations that were so
fragile because of the weak, decentralized political structure of the time. In the second
opinion, it is basically said that the economic interests of a small group of wealthy men
created the Constitution. Furthermore, others began to argue that the Constitution was not an
effort to preserve property, but an effort to create and keep stability and order in the US.
Later, people argued Federalists versus Anitfederalists, where the Federalists were merchants
and wealthy people who wanted to advance the economic development of the country. Most
recently, people have decided that the motivation was that Founding Fathers wanted both a
central, strong government and a decentralized system concentrated on individual rights, so it
is seen as a combination of both.
12. How has the debate over the origins of the Constitution mirrored the debate over the causes
of the American Revolution?
The debate over the Constitution mirrors the one over the causes of the American Revolution
because in both cases, there were probably many different motivations, and no one wrote
down exactly why they decided to do what they did (and if they did, those decisive records
are gone). In both cases, social and political motivations are brought up, and in both cases,
historians have most recently decided that it was a combination of things that caused the two
major evens. In addition, economics were a big factor in both events.
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