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The Origins of the Federal Republic

Jurisdictional Controversies in the United States, 1775-1787

By Peter S. Onuf

Publication Year: 1983

Historians have emphasized the founding fathers' statesmanship and vision in the development of a more powerful union under the federal constitution. In The Origins of the Federal Republic, Peter S. Onuf clarifies the founders' achievement by demonstrating with case studies of New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia that territorial confrontations among the former colonies played a crucial role in shaping early concepts of statehood and union and provided the true basis of the American federalist system.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Maps

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p. ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvii

The drafting and ratification of the Federal Constitution function as the founding myth of the American nation. Contemporaries called the Constitution a "miracle": only God's influence could explain the resolution of bitter conflicts of interest and ideology at the Philadelphia Convention. Subsequent generations have relied less on God and more on the godlike founding fathers to explain the convention's success. The myth survives. ...


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1. Congress and the States: Conflict Resolution in the New Nation

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pp. 3-20

The early constitutional history of the United States was shaped by jurisdictional struggles within and among the states. Territorial controversies continually threatened to undermine the war effort. Large states—and some small ones too—were beleaguered by separatists who jeopardized their contributions to the common cause. The Articles of Confederation were not adopted until 1781 because of seemingly intractable differences...

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2. From Colony to Territory: Changing Concepts of Statehood

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pp. 21-46

Early American concepts of statehood were drawn from several sources. States as territorial communities were inherited from the colonial period; states as governments were created by the revolutionaries; and states in a community of states existed by virtue of the recognition of other states. Each definition carried limitations with it that inhibited the exercise of state power. These limitations became manifest when one idea of statehood...


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3. State and Citizen: Settlers Against the Pennsylvania Charter

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pp. 49-73

Pennsylvania's charter claims were better defined and more defensible than those of any other large colony. The charter granted to William Penn in 1681 provided that his new colony should occupy the territory between forty and forty-three degrees north to a line drawn five degrees west of the Delaware River. Purchases from the Duke of York added further territory...

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4. Virginia and the West

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pp. 75-102

On March 1, 1784, Virginia ceded its vast charter claims north of the Ohio River to the Continental Congress. This epochal transaction resolved the protracted dispute over western claims between the landed states and Congress. It secured the first strong congressional claim to a national domain and set in motion a liberal territorial policy that led to the...

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5. An Unbounded State: New York, Vermont, and the Western Lands

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pp. 103-125

Virginia's western land cession finally gave the United States an uncontested and usable claim to a national domain in the trans-Ohio region. In return, Congress agreed to carry out Virginia's main policy goals in the West. Congress would not extend an explicit guarantee of Virginia's remaining claims, but there were no outstanding state claims to western Virginia...

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6. The New State of Vermont: Revolution Within a Revolution

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pp. 127-145

Vermont was created in July 1777 when representatives of approximately twenty-eight towns in the New Hampshire Grants adopted their own constitution and declared their independence from the state of New York. New York and New Hampshire had contested for jurisdiction in the area until 1764, when the British Privy Council set New York's eastern boundary...


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7. New States and the New Nation: American Territorial Policy in the "Critical Period"

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pp. 149-172

The revolutionary war effort gave the American states a "common cause" and helped contain claims controversies and conflicts of interest. With the end of the war, however, the weaknesses of the American state system became all too apparent. States openly looked to their own advantage, in and out of Congress. Increasing demands on Congress to protect or promote...

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8. Constitutional Crisis

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pp. 173-185

The Federal Constitution embodied conceptions of statehood and the union that had emerged in the decade after independence and were implicit in provisions for territorial government. The struggle between friends and opponents of the new union did not betray fundamental differences in the definitions of these key terms. Federalists and Antifederalists drew on...

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9. Making a "Miracle": The Reconstitution of American Politics

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pp. 186-209

The "duty" of the union was "to protect and secure the states."1 Proponents and opponents of the new Constitution began with this identical premise. But what did it imply? What state claims or rights should the other states be obliged to defend? What powers had to be vested in the central government so that it could perform its "duty"? ...


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pp. 211-274


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pp. 275-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200386
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812211672

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 1983

OCLC Number: 759158270
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Origins of the Federal Republic

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Subject Headings

  • Federal government -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Political science -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
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