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Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation were established during the Revolutionary War by the Continental Congress. Due to fears of concentrated power, the Articles intentionally established a weak central government.


What two key provisions were part of the Land Ordinance of 1785, passed under the Articles of Confederation?

The Land Ordinance of 1785 (a) set a method for surveying and settling western territory, and (b) provided a section of land in each township be set aside for public education.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 were the two key pieces of legislation passed under the Articles of Confederation.


In addition to the Land Ordinance of 1785, the Articles of Confederation Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. What three key provisions did this Act contain?

One of two major pieces of legislation passed under the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance:

  1. Set rules for creating new states;
  2. Banned slavery in the new states of the Northwest;
  3. Provided for limited self-government in territories not yet made states


In Shays' Rebellion, a group of farmers led by Daniel Shays in Western Massachusetts shut down county courts. Why?

Shays and his followers shut down the county courts to prevent land seizures and imprisonment for debt. Debts were required to be repaid in hard currency, which was scarce.

Shays' Rebellion was a response to the economic depression and high taxes resulting from Revolutionary War debt, and highlighted the weakness of the government established by the Articles of Confederation.



Unicameral is a legislature with one chamber. The Articles of Confederation established a unicameral legislature. 



A bicameral legislature is a legislature with two chambers. The legislative branch, as established by the Constitution, is bicameral.


What is a tariff?

A tariff is a tax imposed upon goods when they are either imported or exported. As an example, a country may charge a tax of 10% of the value of a table when that table is exported to a foreign country.


What was the Annapolis Convention?

The Annapolis Convention was held in 1786. Twelve delegates from five states met to discuss barriers to trade and commerce that existed due to the Articles of Confederation. The Convention concluded with a call for an additional convention to be held in Philadelphia to discuss revising the Articles.


The Constitutional Convention was called in response to the Annapolis Convention. What was the Constitutional Convention's initial purpose?

The Constitutional Convention's initial purpose was to revise the Articles of Confederation. A group of strong nationalists, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, convinced the Convention to draft an entirely new governing document.


The first act of the Constitutional Convention was to name George Washington to preside over their activities. Why?

Washington was universally respected throughout the 13 colonies. As the presiding officer, Washington would hold the Constitutional Convention together, and provide legitimacy to the Convention's activities.


To whom did the Constitutional Convention assign the task of drafting the Constitution?

James Madison

In preparing the section detailing the legislative branch, Madison suggested the Virginia Plan.


What was the Virginia Plan?

The Virginia Plan, drafted by James Madison, called for a bicameral legislature with two branches. Each state would send legislators to each branch based upon the size of their population.


Describe the New Jersey Plan. 

The New Jersey Plan called for a unicameral legislature where each state, regardless of population, had the same number of legislators.

William Paterson proposed the New Jersey Plan as a means of protecting small-population states from being overwhelmed by states with large populations.


How did the Constitutional Convention resolve the differences between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan?

The Convention adopted the Connecticut Plan, otherwise known as the Great Compromise. The Connecticut Plan established a bicameral legislature, in which the number of legislators in the House of Representatives was determined by population, while each state had an equal number of legislators in the Senate.


Slavery proved a divisive issue during the Convention, with the South wanting slaves counted for purposes of population, and the North insisting that they not be counted. How was the issue resolved?

The Convention passed the Three Fifths Compromise. For purposes of representation in the House of Representatives, each slave counted as 3/5 of a person.

In addition, the Constitution banned the importation of slaves after 1808.


Many different proposals were put forth regarding the office of the President. What powers did the Convention eventually provide the President?

The Convention gave the President the power to:

  • Engage in foreign policy as the nation's representative
  • Have a four-year term limit (but could be re-elected to multiple terms)
  • Veto legislation passed by Congress


As established in the Constitution, how did the Electoral College work?

  1. The President would be elected by an Electoral College
  2. Each state was given the same number of votes as they had Representatives and Senators
  3. The person with the most votes in the Electoral College would be elected President
  4. The person with the second most votes in the Electoral College would be elected Vice President


What political development did the Electoral College system not anticipate?

The Electoral College system originally provided that the President would be the person who won the most votes in the College, and the person who won the second most votes would be Vice President. 

The Electoral College system did not anticipate the development of political parties, which for a short time led to a President and Vice President being from different parties. The problem was resolved by having separate elections for President and Vice President.


Between the President and Congress, the Constitution created three essential checks and balances, to prevent each from gaining too much power. What were they?

The three key checks and balances were:

  1. The President can exercise a veto over acts of Congress
  2. Congress can override a Presidential veto only with a 2/3 vote in each house
  3. Treaties negotiated by the President must be ratified by the Senate


When would the newly drafted Constitution take effect?

The Constitution would only take effect when it was ratified by nine states. Each state called a separate convention to decide whether to accept the Constitution.


Those in favor of the new Constitution were known as _____.


The Federalists, led by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, thought that a strong central government was essential to the survival of the United States. 


What did the Anti-Federalists believe?

The Anti-Federalists believed that a strong federal government would impinge upon the rights of the states and the people. 

The Anti-Federalists, led by George Mason and John Hancock, appealed to the fear of a strong government stemming from the colonial period.


To induce the state constitutional committees to ratify the Constitution, the Federalists guaranteed they would pass what legislation?

The Federalists promised the passage of a Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights, suggested by Thomas Jefferson, established limits to the power of the federal government, and guaranteed unto the people certain rights. By 1790, all 13 states had ratified the Constitution.


John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton wrote a series of 85 newspaper articles advocating for the Constitution. Collectively, what are these documents known as?

The Federalist Papers


The First Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789. What did the Act accomplish?

The only court mentioned in the Constitution was the Supreme Court. The Judiciary Act of 1789 (a) placed five associate justices and one Chief Justice on the Court's bench, (b) established 13 District Courts -- one for each state, and (c) organized three Courts of Appeals as a layer between the District and Supreme Courts.


What was Alexander Hamilton's proposal to put the new nation on a firm financial footing?

As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton made three proposals:

  1. The federal government would assume the individual states' Revolutionary War debt, and the debt would be paid off at face value
  2. A high tariff on imported goods, to protect domestic manufacturers
  3. A national bank, to protect the nation's credit at home and abroad


Hamilton's economic plan received strong support in the Northern states. Why?

Most Revolutionary War debts had been bought by Northern merchants at a discount, and they stood to make a substantial profit when the government repaid them at face value.

In addition, the Northern states had a growing manufacturing base, which would be protected from foreign competition by Hamilton's tariff, and benefit from a strong, stable currency.


Alexander Hamilton supported high tariffs on imported goods. Why?

Hamilton believed that high tariffs would help protect nascent American industry, allowing the United States to establish a firm manufacturing base. Further, high tariffs would provide income for the new national government.

Although Congress passed a tariff, it was not as high as Hamilton wished. The revenue shortfall was made up through increased taxes on items such as whiskey.


Many Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson, opposed Hamilton's plan to create a strong central government. Why?

Jefferson and his supporters had two main objections to Hamilton's plan. First, they viewed Hamilton's plan with suspicion, because they were concerned that as the federal government gained power, the states would lose it. They also felt that it would benefit the rich and hurt poor farmers.


What was Hamilton's view of Congress' power under the Constitution?

Hamilton, who favored a strong central government, felt that the Constitution's "necessary and proper" clause endowed Congress with the power to do whatever was necessary to carry out its enumerated powers.