- In 1776 the thirteen colonies in America became free, independent states and formed a nation
- All states had to ratify the Articles of Confederation unanimously for the Union to be formed.
- The Articles of Confederation placed much emphasis on the independence of the states with little powers to the national government.
After the Declaration
In 1776 the thirteen colonies in America became free, sovereign states and were now faced with the enormous challenge of forming a nation. Before and during the revolution, with the help of public political commentators such as Thomas Paine, the colonies took time to reflect on the form of government that would be suitable for the colonies. The values of the nation at the time were reflected in the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Paine notably advanced a form of republicanism whose legitimacy emerged from the electorate, and many bought into the philosophy of founding a republic that enabled the agency of the individual by respecting individual liberties. The Continental Congress in 1776, mandated the colonies to draft new state constitutions, and the colonies used the colonial charters as the basis for developing the constitutions.
Connecticut and Rhode Island, for instance, amended their colonial charters to remove references to the Crown and adopted the sections that remained as their constitution. Other states were careful to make adequate provisions for the separation of power between the state governments and legislatures and a balance of power between the states and the national government. Because of their relationship with the Crown, the states were averse to creating a national government with too much power
The assembly of Massachusetts Bay held a special convention to develop their constitution. After that, the document was submitted to the people during town meetings, providing that two-thirds of the people were required to ratify the document. The process was adopted in the ratification of the federal constitution. The Constitutions of the new states, borrowed from the British respect for status, fairness and due process with the American philosophy for the esteem of individual and checks to curtail an excess executive branch.
Individual rights were spelt out in the bill of rights which protected the people from the three branches of governments. Virginia bill of rights was adopted as a model for the other states, as it outlined a declaration of values such as popular sovereignty, rotation in office, freedom of election and fundamental rights such as humane punishment, rapid trial by jury, freedom of press and conscience and the right of the majority to alter the form of government. Other states in addition to the preceding also included the freedom of speech, assembly and the right to petition the government. Right to bear arms, writ of habeas corpus and the right of equal protection by the law were added by among the states with time.
Forming a Confederation
However, the constitutions failed to secure equality for women in politics and the rights of slaves in the southern colonies were not considered inalienable and no state permitted universal male suffrage. At this point also, there was no government and the Continental Congress, a convention of delegates from the colonies recognised they were a legislative organ functioning as an executive without a constitutional mandate. A committee headed by John Dickson prepared a draft national constitution called “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” that was debated by the Continental Congress for one year before submitted to the 13 states for ratification and the constitution would come into effect upon the consensus of all the states.
States and Land Claims
However, some states raised land issues that wanted to be settled before the ratification of the Constitution. Massachusetts, Virginia. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia raised claimed that their charter provided for land “from sea to sea” between the mountains and the Mississippi River. New York claimed that they had obtained the land title of the Ohio Valley from the Native Indians. Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland had no claims to western lands as their charters were not from “sea to sea.”
New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland objected to the state land claims stating that the claims were invalid and they would ratify the articles until the states abandoned their land claims. The objections raised were rooted in the history of the western hemisphere which was discovered, explored and owned by the French until 1763 when France ceded the territory to the Crown after the French Indian Wars. Through the peace Treaty of 1763, the land belonged to the Crown who drew the proclamation line through the Royal Proclamation and reserved for the Native Indians. In the following three years, the states with claims refused to concede to the objections raised. New Jersey and Delaware ratified the constitution, but Maryland did not ratify until 1 March 1781 when the other states vacated their claims.
The ratification process transformed America into the United States, and on 13 July 1787, Congress approved the Northwest Ordinance which provided for the swift and systematic expansion of the United States. However, the Continental Congress lacked the mandate to levy taxes, no courts, no ability to regulate trade and its resolutions were not binding to the states individually or collectively. The states were also fairly independent; a set of laws in one law did not apply in another. Each state, having one vote regardless of size, was to vote on issues concerning wars, treaties, currency, finances and military and a minimum of nine states were required to give their approval for matters to pass in the Continental Congress. Constitutional amendments were subject to the unanimous support of all the states.