chapter 6 the american constitution

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the political situation 1781-7

weak national government

  • usa had only a semblance of a national government
  • congress had some of the qualities of a national government
  • in session only intermittently 
  • had no fixed abode
  • 1783- withdrew from Philadelphia to escape angry soldiers demanding back pay
  • moved to princeton, annapolis and trenton
  • 1785- settled in New York
  • attendance at sessions was light
  • 1781- articles came into full effect
  • executive departments foreign affairs, finance and war set up
  • functioned with varying degrees of success
  • confederation government had no coercive power over states or individuals
  • states attached less importance to unity and became absorbed in their own affairs
  • exercised rights they had specifically relinquished
  • responded belatedly or not at all to congressional requisitions
  • most ambitious politicans preferred to serve within their states
  • most decisions affecting the lives of americans were made at state level

the west

  • treaty of paris gave america control over a huge area south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi
  • 1780s- flood of pioneers into the trans-appalachian region
  • 1790- kentucky population = 73,677 , Tennessee population = 35,691
  • coherent policy on western land distribution and territorial government was essential
  • american politicians realised the need for systems that would bind the western communities to the old seaboard states
  • congress resolved that the west would eventually be organised into new states, admitted to the union as equals

the 1785 land ordinance

  • outlined a surveying system for the sale of northwest land
  • government surveyors would divide land into 6 square mile townships
  • each township divided into sections of 1 square mile
  • 4 set aside as bounty land for ex soldiers
  • 1 for the maintenance of schools
  • rest sold at auction in 640 acre lots at no less than a dollar an acre
  • relatively quick and certain means of setting out lines
  • reduced the potential for disputes among land purchasers

the 1787 land ordinance

  • prescribed a set of procedures for organising and admitting to statehood new territories
  • provided that during the initial phase of settlement a territory would not be self governing- would have a governor and judges appointed by congress
  • when the territory had 5000 adult male inhabitants it could elect a legislature with limited powers and non voting representatives to congress
  • when its population reached 60000 it could form a constitutional convention and apply to congress for admission as a state on equal terms with existing states

foreign policy

relations with britain

  • britain still clung to a number of frontier posts south of the great lakes in order to safeguard the fur trade and maintain contact with the northwest NAs
  • to justify this britain cited the american failure to observe the clauses of the peace treaty concerning the repayment of pre war debts and the restoration of loyalist property
  • congress had urged the states to place no obstacle in the way of british merchants recovering pre war debts
  • states ignored the advice
  • turned a deaf ear when congress recommended the return of confiscated loyalist property
  • government so weak at…


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