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The Articles of Confederation

An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781

Merrill Jensen

Publication Year: 1940

“An admirable analysis. It presents, in succinct form, the results of a generation of study of this chapter of our history and summarizes fairly the conclusions of that study.”—Henry Steele Commager, New York Times Book Review

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. vii-7

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Author’s Foreword

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pp. ix-x

THE PREFACE I wrote ten years ago for the third printing of this book had two purposes. One was to suggest changes I original edition. The other was to evaluate and answer some of the interpretations offered during the 1950S by a group of historians and political scientists to whom the labels "consensus school" or "new conservatives" were rather loosely and inaccurately applied. Other ...

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pp. xi-29

THIS BOOK is in no sense a history of the American Revolution, and for that reason much that is familiar and traditional has been omitted. It is an account of the writing and ratification of the first constitution of the United States in terms of the ideas and interests of the men who wrote and ratified it, men who by word and...


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pp. 1-31

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I The Problem of Interpretation

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pp. 3-15

THE ARTICLES of Confederation have been assigned one of the most inglorious roles in American history. They have been treated as the product of ignorance and inexperience and the parent of chaos; hence the necessity for a new constitution in 1787 to save the country from ruin. In so interpreting the first constitution of the United States and the history of the country during its existence, historians...

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II The Internal Revolution

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pp. 16-53

THE ARTICLES of Confederation were written by men many of whom rose to leadership as a result of the tempestuous local political battles fought in the years before the Revolution. Most of these new leaders gained power because they voiced the animosities and thus won the support of the discontented - the masses in the towns and the farmers of the backcountry -, who in most of...

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III Independence and Internal Revolution, 1774–1776

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pp. 54-104

THE IDEA of a continental congress was not a new one, for the Albany and the Stamp Act congresses had been convened to consider problems common to all the colonies. And ever since the Stamp Act Congress the radical parties had grown steadily in the realization that an intercolonial union was necessary to the achievement...


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pp. 105-135

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IV The Problem of Union

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pp. 107-125

THE IDEA of union had long been part of colonial political thought and activity. The New England Confederation and the Dominion of New England had been unions of part of the colonies, though impermanent ones. From the beginning of the eighteenth century plans for a union of all the colonies had been proposed fairly frequently, and they make a rather imposing list, but to suppose...

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V The Dickinson Draft of the Confederation

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pp. 126-139

FEW SOURCES remain for study of the work of the committee appointed on June 12, 1776, to draft articles of confederation. Much must be inferred from the political views of the thirteen committeemen and from the document they presented to Congress on July 12. The weight of influence as well as of numbers lay with the conservative party, which up to May, 1776, had spent its efforts...

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VI The Solution of the Major Issues

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pp. 140-160

THE DISPUTE over the basis of "representation," as it was called at the time, was a controversy between the large and the small states. Should the vote of the states in Congress be in proportion to their population, or should all, whatever their size, have an equal voice in deciding matters of common concern? 1 Tied up with this problem was the far more subtle and more important question...

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VII The Problem of Sovereignty

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pp. 161-176

THE FUNDAMENTAL issue in the writing of the Articles of Confederation was the location of ultimate political authority, the problem of sovereignty. Should it reside in Congress or in the states? Many conservatives in 1776-77, as in 1787, believed that Congress should have a "superintending" power over both the...

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VIII The Completion of the Articles

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pp. 177-184

LITTLE time was needed to finish the task of writing the first constitution of the United States once the major issues had been settled. Further changes were relatively minor, but on the whole they tended to shear from Congress powers granted to it in the Dickinson draft. This was especially marked in the provision dealing with the...

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IX Early Reaction and Ratification

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pp. 185-197

THE NATURE of the immediate reaction to the Articles of Confederation must be garnered largely from the official acts of the various legislatures empowering their delegates to ratify the document, or criticizing it and making further demands. Individual expressions of opinion are few, but these few are indicative of a continued...

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X Virginia and the Western Problem, 1778–1770

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pp. 198-210

IN THE autumn of 1778 the Virginia Assembly continued the policy toward the West which had been inaugurated by the Convention in the summer of 1776. Since that time counties had been set up west of the Alleghenies,1 a commission had been at work gathering evidence against those claiming land under grants from Indian nations,2 and...

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XI Congress and the Western Problem: Land Speculation and the Spanish Alliance

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pp. 211-224

THE RELATIONSHIP between the land companies and the conservative politicians of the Middle states was a very close one, and it throws much light on the attitude of those states toward the Articles of Confederation and on their demand for congressional control of the West. The Illinois and Wabash companies formally joined...

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XII The Completion of the Confederation

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pp. 225-238

PROBABLY the first expression of the idea of creating independent states in the West was contained in Jefferson's proposed constitution for Virginia in· 1776. The idea remained alive among that group of Virginia politicians of which Jefferson eventually became the recognized leader. In November, 1778, before Maryland finally...

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XIII Conclusions

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pp. 239-246

THE ARTICLES of Confederation were the constitution of the United States from 178 I to 1789, when the Confederation Congress held its last session and turned over the government of the thirteen states to the new national government. The fact that the Articles of Confederation were supplanted by another constitution is no proof either of their success or of their failure. Any valid opinion as to the...


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pp. 247-270


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pp. 271-284

Back Cover

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p. 314-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780299002039
E-ISBN-10: 0299002039
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299002008
Print-ISBN-10: 0299002004

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 1940