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Revolutionary War Essay, Research Paper


In 1783 the Revolutionary war was over. Many soldiers were left without food,

shelter and money. The government had not paid these men for their services and now

many had been lowered to the level of peasant. George Washington wrote about them

as people who had “shed their blood or lost their limbs in the service of their country,

without a shelter, without a friend, and without the means of obtaining any of the

necessaries or comforts of life, compelled to beg their daily bread from door to door.”

The reason that congress had not paid these men was that congress had no

money to pay. In 1777 congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, a plan for

solving the problems that faced the new government. This document that contained 13

separate articles became the first constitution of the United States. One article gave

Congress the power to ask states for contributions to pay the wages of the soldiers and

other government expenses. This sounded fine, but because Congress had no power to

demand the contributions, many states failed to make them. There was little Congress

could do about it.

In May 1787, 55 men arrived in Philadelphia for a meeting. Some came on

horseback, some by coach and others by ship. Selected by different states as delegates,

they came to discuss how the Articles of Confederation might be changed in order to

make the government work better. The men who came to this meeting were some of the

most talented leaders in the country. Alexander Hamilton was a lawyer from New

York. He had been caught up in the revolution by his late teens. In 1776 Hamilton had

commanded a New York artillery company and had won Washington’s admiration for

coolness under fire and skill for handling both men and guns.

Benjamin Franklin, 81 years old and a resident of Philadelphia served as a

Pennsylvania delegate. Franklin had earned his reputation before the Revolution by

representing Pennsylvania and other colonies in London and serving the Continental

Congress as its commissioner to France. There he helped negotiate the 1778 French –

American alliance that brought about Britain’s defeat at Yorktown. Also from

Pennsylvania was James Wilson, a skilled debater.

On April 30, 1789, 57-year-old George Washington took the oath of office as the

first president of a new nation. After Washington took the oath on the balcony at

Federal Hall in New York City, thousands of citizens cheered and 13 cannons fired a

salute. Inside, Washington delivered his inaugural address in the Senate Chambers…….

“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the American

model of government are justly considered as deeply perhaps has finally stopped on the

experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

A pillar of strength, George Washington stands to delegates at the

constitutional convention

In Philadelphia in 1787. Through the hot summer, 55 men from all over the new

land wrangled over the new kind of government their nation should have. “I almost

despair,” wrote Washington as the bickering raged. On September 17, one by one, the

delegates drew a quill pen from an inkstand — perhaps the same one that now stands in

independence hall — and signed the United States of America into life.

Washington came to Philadelphia to represent Virginia. He brought with him a

fellow planter, James Madison, the only delegate to keep a careful record of the

discussions of that summer. A third Virginia delegate was Edmund Jennings Randolph,

had been an aide to Washington in the revolutionary war and , later the governor of


Other influential southerners at the Philadelphia meeting were Pierce Butler and

Charles C. Pinckney, both of South Carolina. Butler had been a British officer who

came to the colonies before the revolution, married an heiress and settled down to grow

cotton and rice. Pinckney had been captured by the British and later exchanged for

British prisoners.

The convention delegates assembled in the Pennsylvania State House

(Independence Hall) . They elected Washington to preside. All agreed that “nothing

spoken in this house be printed or otherwise published…without leave.” Guards stood

at the doors, and the street was covered with gravel to muffle the noise of the carriages.

Pennsylvania State House

Week after week the delegates debated in the awful summer heat. By early

September they had produced a new Constitution for the United States. Like other

delegates, Pierce Butler was worn out by the summer’s effort. But, as he wrote to a

friend, if the new constitution became the law of the land, he would feel rewarded “for

my share of the trouble, and my summer’s confinement which injured my health


The new Constitution, in its first article says that congress “shall have the power

to lay and collect taxes.” These nine words spell out the essence for the change that the

Philadelphia delegates were proposing. For the first time the federal government would

be granted a power that the American people had denied the British government itself.

The power to tax citizens is crucial to government. With this power the federal

government could supply an army, build a navy, hire public servants and set up courts

and jails to make sure its laws were obeyed.

Perhaps the most difficult problem for the delegates was deciding what the

makeup of a permanent congress should be. After much debate they divide congress

into two lawmaking groups. The first, the House of Representatives, would be elected

by popular vote. Each state would be given a number of representatives in proportion

to its population. States with more population would have more representatives and

therefore more votes.

The delegates had a hard time working out the details of this plan. Should

representatives be placed to a state in proportion to its total population or to its non-

slave population. If representatives were placed in proportion to total population then

states like Virginia and South Carolina, with many slaves would have more votes.

Obviously the slaves themselves would not be able to vote and would not have any say

in choosing representatives. In the end the delegates included three fifths of the slaves in

the total population of that state. This agreement came to be known as the “three-fifths


A poster advertising an auction for slaves.

The delegates also set up a second lawmaking group in congress called the senate.

Each state, whether large or small, could elect two senators. The purpose of the senate

said Edmund Randolph ,”is to control the democratic branch” of Congress. “If it not

be a firm body, the other branch being more numerous…will overwhelm it.” No

proposal could become law until it had been passed by both the House of

Representatives and the Senate.

The Articles of Confederation was the compact made by the 13 original colonies

that set up a permanent central government for the United States. The document,

consisting of a preamble and 13 articles, was the basic law of the country from its

adoption in 1781 until 1789, when it was replaced by the Constitution.

The Articles were proposed by the Second Continental Congress in 1776 and

were written by a committee leaded by the American statesman John Dickinson. The

first copy provided for a strong central government, but this was not good enough for a

Congress concerned with states’ rights. The second copy, adopted by the Continental

Congress on November 15, 1777, called for a government that possessed many powers

but was actually lower to the states. The major debates involved in the drafting and

passage of the document concerned states’ rights, representation, funding of the

government, and control of the western lands beyond the borders of the new nation.

The articles were finally approved by all 13 states and took effect on March 1, 1781.

Under the articles, the nation was a league of sovereign states, each with a single

vote. Measures passed by Congress, however, required the approval of 9 of the 13

states. The Congress was severely limited in its powers. It could pass laws but could not

force the states to comply with them. Thus, the government was dependent on the

willingness of the various states to carry out its measures, and often the states refused to

cooperate. In addition, the articles were virtually impossible to fix, so problems could

not be corrected. This defect provided an impassable barrier to effective constitutional

government. The nation’s leaders realized that a stronger central administration was

needed if the United States was to survive. In 1787 the Constitutional Convention met

in Philadelphia to draw up a constitution, which was adopted in 1789.

Under the Constitution, Congress would make the laws. A President, chosen by

the special electors and holding office for four years , would see that they were carried

out. He would also be commander in chief of the armed forces and would make

treaties with the Indians and the foreign countries. He would appoint judges, an

ambassador and a Cabinet — a group of people who would advise him and head the

departments of government.


Article seven declared that the new Constitution would become the law of the

land if and when the people in 9 of the 13 states approved it. From December 1787 until

June 1788 special meetings also called constitutional conventions were held in all states

to discuss the proposed the Constitution. Those who favored it were called Federalists

and those who opposed it were called Antifederalists.

During these month’s three leading Federalists, Alexander Hamilton, James

Madison and John Ray, wrote a series of essays known as the Federalist papers. Here

they presented all of their arguments for ratifying the constitution. Without a strong

government, they asked, how would it be possible to stop the states from fighting over

land, trade and control of key ports? How would it be possible to build an effective

national defense against foreign enemies?

Alexander Hamilton James Madison

At that time few Americans wanted a strong national government. The memory

of British rule was recent and painful. Such a government could tax citizens without

their permission and send troops against them. Had Americans fought the revolution

only to replace one strong government with another?

Until now the Constitution was mostly a list of “do’s.” The Antifederalists

proposed adding a list of “don’ts.” The government, said, “the Antifederalists, cannot

punish people who speak or write against it. It cannot stop them from meeting in the

halls or in the streets merely because it does not like what they have to say. It cannot tell

people what to think or stop them from worshipping god in any way they please. It

cannot declare people guilty of crimes and send them to jail without first giving them a

fair trial.”

The Federalist saw the sense of the Antifederalist position. They agreed to add

their list of “don’ts,” or a bill of rights to the Constitution, once it was ratified. With

this promise 11 states had voted to ratify by the summer 1788, and so the constitution

was declared ratified. Soon after Congress added to it a list of ten amendments — the

Bill of Rights.

In the spring of 1789 the United States held its first elections under the new

Constitution. George Washington was chosen as president and a Federalist majority

was elected to Congress. At noon on April 30, 1789 the new President arrived at Federal

Hall in New York City, the nations first capitol. Washington took an oath to defend the

Constitution. A huge crowd yelled, “Long live George Washington, President of the

United States!”

In the early 1790’s the Federalist party was at the height of its popularity. With

men like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams at its head, it

organized the first government to hold powerunder the Constitution. Secretary of the

Treasury Hamilton’s far-reaching financial program included the first National Bank, a

tax on imports, and a plan to repay the country’s debts. But in spite of all their

achievements, the Federalists soon lost public support because they started to pass

unpopular laws. One was a tax on whiskey to pay the federal war debt. In

Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina whiskey was their main cash supplier,

which they sold to buy things that they couldn’t make such as guns, bullets, axes, and

cooking pots.

When Congress passed Hamilton’s tax, frontier farmers were furious. They felt

that it was the stamp act all over again. The farmers organized into groups of “Whiskey

Boys ” who seized the collectors, tarred and feathered them, and drove them out of


In 1794 Washington, at Hamilton’s urging, decided that it was time to stop this

“insurrection” against the federal government. He pointed to the Constitution, which

gave Congress the power to call up the militia. In August 1794, the government

gathered 15,000 militiamen in Philadelphia, the country’s new capital. President

Washington and Secretary Hamilton led them out of town.

The troops marched to the frontier town of Pittsburgh and back again in two

months. They arrested many people and brought back 22 prisoners to Philadelphia for

trial. The Whiskey Rebellion cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars. It cost the

Federalists too, because it earned them the hatred of many people.

In 1796 George Washington’s second term as president came to an end. After a

farewell address in which he urged his country to steer clear of “entangling alliances

with foreign governments,” Washington waited in Philadelphia to see John Adams take

the oath of office as President. In March 1797 he climbed into his coach and headed

back to Mount Vernon, he died there on December 14, 1799.

Thomas Jefferson, Adams’s Vice President, was the leader of the group that

opposed Hamilton’s economic policies. Farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and frontier

people loved Jefferson because they thought he stood for the rights of common people

rather than a strong central government. In the 1800 presidential election this group —

who called themselves republicans – supported Jefferson against Adams, again the

federalist candidate, and Jefferson became President. Thus the nation’s first political

parties rose out of disagreements over Hamilton’s policies.

Thomas Jefferson


When Thomas Jeffferson took office in 1801, he faced a crisis in the west.

Napoleon Bonaparte, a French general who would soon make himself emperor of

France, had forced Spain to give back the western part of the Louisiana territory,

which France had lost in 1763. It included all the land from the Mississippi River to the

Rocky Mountains and the port of New Orleans. Westerners could no longer float their

produce down the Mississippi to New Orleans in order to ship it to the eastern states

and to Europe. The people of America urged Jefferson to do something.

Jefferson at once sent a special agent, James Monroe, to Paris. He told Monroe

and the American Ambassador to France, Robert Livingston to try to buy New Orleans

from Napoleon. In April 1803 the two men were surprised when Napoleon offered all

of the western Louisiana Territory as well as New Orleans for $15 million.

Napoleon had good reasons for this decision. He needed money for a new war

against England, their old time enemy. He hoped that selling Louisiana to the

Americans would make Britain and the United States fight over it. He thought the

Americans might even enter the war against England on his side.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Jefferson of course signed and double the size of his country by paying a mere

four cents per acre.

Mariwether LewisWilliam Clark

It was the expedition that mapped the new territory west of the Mississippi River

acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. paid for by President

Thomas Jefferson, the expedition also studied plant and animal life, established

relations with Indian inhabitants, and collected information about their culture.

The leaders of the expedition were Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, two

Virginians who shared a similar military background but were very dissimilar in

personality and temperament. Lewis was a solitary, moody, somewhat morose

individual, whereas Clark was gregarious, steady, and optimistic. In action, they were a

remarkably complementary pair.

Planning and recruitment of personnel took place in 1803, but the expedition did not

actually set out until May 1804. Its composition ranged from 30 to 45 soldiers and

frontiersmen, including one black, and it eventually included one woman. The last, a

Shoshone Indian named Sacagawea, joined the company in April 1805 and earned her

subsequent share of fame as an interpreter and peacemaker.

The expedition started at St. Louis and headed north along the Missouri River. In

the summer and fall of 1804 its members proved themselves equal to all

challenges-finding food, managing equipment, navigating unknown rivers, passing

natural obstacles, pushing through wilderness, preserving specimens, making peaceful

contact with the native inhabitants, and, above all, maintaining physical and mental

health. The first winter was spent among the Mandan Indians of the Dakotas. In the

spring of 1805 the expedition again toiled up the Missouri to its headwaters, then across

the eastern slopes of the Rockies, over the Continental Divide, and in November 1805 it

reached the Pacific.

The winter of 1805-6 was spent on the banks of the Columbia River. The return

journey presented difficulties of its own-prolonged winter weather, occasional

conflicts with Indians, growing physical and mental exhaust. Despite everything, the

expedition, representative of American culture in its successful blend of self-reliance

and agreement, of rank authority and democratic equality, rose to every occasion. Once

having reached the Missouri, they made rapid progress downstream. On September 23,

1806, Lewis and Clark, two years and four months and more than 8000 miles after

starting out, returned to St. Louis.

In 1809 Jefferson second term as president ended and it began for a man named

James Madison.

James Madison

Madison was elected president in 1809 with 122 electoral votes to 47 for the

Federalist candidate Charles Pinckney. Madison approved the repeal of the penalty by

which Jefferson had tried to avoid war through a ban on trade with the warring

European powers. Tensions between the United States and Britain continued, however,

and Madison’s behavior towards foreign policy was increasingly criticized both by the

Federalists and by members of his own party. In 1812 Madison asked Congress for a

declaration of war against Great Britain. On the day that war was declared (June 12,

1812), the British repealed their trade restrictions. Because they would not abandon

impressment, however, Madison refused to conclude a compromise pending formal

peace negotiations.

The War of 1812 was badly managed by Secretary of War John Armstrong, who

failed to take seriously the threat of a British invasion. When a British invasion force

captured Washington in 1814, Armstrong was replaced by James Monroe. Peace

negotiations at Ghent in Belgium resulted in a treaty that settled none of the

outstanding issues. Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British at New Orleans, although

it occurred after the signing of the peace, was widely regarded as a clearance of

American arms in a war many considered a second American revolution.

In domestic affairs Madison yielded to the rising tide of nationalist sentiment.

Before leaving office he signed a bill for a protective tariff and agreed to the chartering

of a national bank (the Second Bank of the United States), a measure he had

vehemently opposed in 1791. In foreign affairs his most important action after the war

was to negotiate an agreement (the Rush-Bagot Agreement) for permanent

demilitarization of the frontier between the United States. and Canada. The Rush-

Bagot Agreement was ratified after Madison left office.

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