The Trials of the Confederation

Terry Bouton

in The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199746705
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Trials of the Confederation

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)
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When delegates met at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1787, they all agreed that democracy was ruining America, and believed that the nation needed a new federal government with the power to override the states and form “a stronger barrier against democracy.” For two centuries, those arguments have formed the dominant interpretation of the Confederation period. Historians argued that democracy in the states had produced the era's problems and viewed the Constitution as the only real solution. This chapter examines just what America's founders perceived democracy to be. It shows that many of the period's problems had little to do with the democratic form of government, claiming instead that the real culprit was fighting a long and expensive war with few financial resources. Unlike Britain or any of the other great powers, the United States had little hard currency reserves because the British had designed trade and taxation to insure the flow of specie into the empire and away from the colonies.

Keywords: democracy; America; Britain; Confederation; Constitution; federal government; taxation; Constitutional Convention

Article.  8898 words. 

Subjects: History ; United States History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700) ; World History

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