The Articles of Confederation – Constitutional Convention – Extra History – #4
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The Articles of Confederation – Constitutional Convention – Extra History – #4

In far away Paris, diplomats put pen to paper and signed the treaty that would end the American Revolutionary War. A copy of this document sailed across the ocean, were it would need delegations from nine states to ratify it under the Articles of Confederation and accept their victory… Only seven states showed up. [Intro Music] One month after the Confederation’s embracing failure to bring the states together long enough to sign their own peace treaty, they reconvened with just enough people to get it done. The war had ended, peace had come. George Washinton had welcomed this with open arms. He had one the love of the nation and the respect of its statesmen. Some speculated, or even hoped, that he would use his popularity (and the army he controlled) to install himself as the new leader of this fledgling country. Instead, he resigned: he gave his power back to Congress and declared that he wanted to return home and live out the rest of his life in peace as an ordinary citizen. All he asked was that they find a way to pay his soldiers. He hoped that they would be able to do that by giving his soldiers free land in the West to build new homes. This was the same issue that, years ago, had divided the states so badly that it almost tore the Confederation apart. Back when Maryland had first raised a stink about the Western Territory, Virginia had decided to assert its control over the region by selling land to settlers so that good Virginia citizens could spread into the West. But those eager settlers had soon run into a teeny-tiny problem. There was still a war going on, and the British held military forts in the West. When those settlers had asked their home state to send troops to defend them, Virginia said ‘We’re kinda busy fighting this war back home, and we don’t have any troops we can spare for you, so… …good luck.’ Those settlers were not happy. They learned to fend for themselves, but, by the time the war ended, many considered themselves to be independent from both sides and a few had even discussed joining Spain, or France. The West, was a mess. But it also represented an opportunity for the states to finally get Congress off their backs about those debts they owed. Little old Rhode Island,whose last-minute refusal had killed the tax amendment, eagerly pointed out that selling land in the West could go a LONG way toward paying off that debt. Rhode Island banded together with the other states and pressured Virginia to give up their claims on the West. And, since that territory had turned into a giant mess for them anyway, Virginia agreed. Now that Congress controlled the West, they set up rules for how land would be divided up and sold. And even for how the towns should be built to include puplic services like schools and government buildings. Once these new territories reached a population of 20,000, they would join the confederation and become states. These laws promised security that Western settlers had never had before. and this not only helped shape new communities, but also helped convince the settlers (formerly known as Virginians) that Congress cared about them too. Yet, this victory did not reverse the confederation’s declining fortunes. Those forts that the British held in the West? Well, the British had agreed to leave them when they signed the peace treaty and, in return, Congress had agreed not to punish British citizens who had remained loyal to the crown. Unfortunately, the states repeatedly ignored this agreement by kicking British loyalists off of their land. and repeatedly ignored Congress’s requests that they stop it. The Articles of Confederation had made Congress responsible for enforcing foreign treaties but, once again, they had no power to make it happen. And the British argued that, if the Americans wouldn’t uphold their end of the treaty, then they didn’t have to go it either. The British stayed in their forts perfectly positioned to sweep in and pick up the pieces when the United States fell apart. Both Europe and America had begun to take bets on when that would be, since it seemed inevitable at this point. The Western land sales hadn’t come close to paying off the national debt, and now the states were making it even worse by printing their own money in open defiance of the confederation rules stating that they couldn’t. They had even begun to fight among themselves, literally: the states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania were at war over a border dispute. Newspapers had begun openly calling for the States to break apart and form new, regional confederations. Many early revolutionaries saw this as the natural order of things. They had built their revolution on distrust for British Parliament and they had never intended the confederation Congress to step in and take it’s place. Their states were their home countries: not some vague idea of a continental union. But the revolution that they had begun had grown out of their control and the new generation of American statesmen saw things very differently. Men like Alexander Hamilton had fought in the war alongside soldiers from all thirteen states. and the one thing that had brought them together was this idea of America: a country that belonged to all of them. Hamilton refused to let his new country fall apart. But years of serving in Congress had convinced him that this weak confederation government could not be fixed. It had too many fundamental flaws. It couldn’t fund itself, it couldn’t enforce laws, heck, it couldn’t even get it’s own delegates to show up half the time. Convincing the states to replace the Articles of Confederation with an untested new Constitution that had even more power? That would be an uphill battle, but Hamilton had won tough fights before. He just needed an opportunity. So, he decided to make one. In 1786 a small convention of states gathered to discuss trade policies. The Articles of Confederation left each state free to decide how to manage trade across their borders And the result had been a compecated mess of competing state laws. Everyone expected to hash out some new specific policies at this convention, but Hamilton insisted that they all look at the bigger picture. Did they REALLY want to meet like this again and again, over every river and every trade route they shared with their neighbors? Wouldn’t it be easier if they had some central authority whose job it was to decide these matters? Someone like… I dunno, Congress? By the end of the week, the states had made Hamilton their spokesperson, and authorized him to call for another convention to reform the Articles of Confederation. But only five of the thirteen states had even bothered to attend this first meeting. If Hamilton wanted to change the government, he needed to convince them ALL to attend the next one. He needed to make it a show! To prove to the states that the one American they all respected, took this convention seriously. He needed Star Power. He needed George Washington. Washington had wanted to replace the Articles of Confederation since watching his soldiers nearly starve to death at Valley Forge. But he had since retired home to Virginia and sworn off public life. He didn’t want to use his fame as ‘America’s first General’ to become a dictator. But if he attended, Hamilton knew that important people from every state would wanna be there. Even Benjamin Franklin might take a break from his new hobby of inventing bifocals to pick up his old hobby of writing Constitutions. Hamilton turned to his friend and fellow Congressman, James Madison, for help. Madison came from the same state as George Washington, but he had always been the odd-man-out in Virginia politics Where other statesmen loved to showboat and brag about their accomplishments, Madison worked quietly to get things done and let others take the credit. He had pushed for the tax amendment, he had helped convince Virginia to give up its Western land claims, and he had organized the small convention that Hamilton had used to call for the reform of the Confederation. Now, the time had come at last, for him to step into the public eye and earn a place in history. He started telling everybody that George Washington had agreed to attend this new convention as one of the delegates from Virginia. Now, Washington had agreed to no such thing, but Madison had met with him privately and said: ‘Hey, be cool, I’m not expecting you to actually be there you just TELL everybody that you’ll be there, so they show up, because, we both agree, this meeting NEEDS to happen, right? And after they have already committed to showing up, you can just cancel and, I’ll look like an idiot, but that’s okay, because we can still get what we want.’ Washington agreed to go along with this. But Madison’s plans extended even farther. While pretending that he was merely keeping Washington updated about the convention, Madison started to send him information about everyone who would attend He sought Washington’s advice on what to do about the Articles of Confederation, gradually allowing Washington to feel like replacing the Article with an entirely new Constitution was HIS idea. Little by little, he persuaded Washington that, not only would the convention be a success, but that it would actually look really bad if the ‘hero of the revolution’ decided to not attend this historic Constitutional convention. And so, Washington, ever mindful of his legacy, decided ‘alright, you know what? I’m actually going to go to this thing.’ Now that he and Hamilton had their star guest, Madison left nothing to chance. He read philosophies and histories that helped him to build an exhaustive counter-argument to every possible objection about the evils of central governement He compiled a list of every failure under the Articles of Confederation: a scathing thirteen-page record of starving troops, broken treaties, and failed legislation. When the convention met, he sat down with his fellow delegates from Virginia (including Washington) and convinced them all to adopt his so-called ‘Virginia Plan.’ A plan that called for the Articles of Confederation to be abolished, and replaced with a new Constitution. Some hesitated to accept this bold idea, but as soon as they realized that Washington endorsed it none of them wanted to oppose him. Finally, on May twenty-fifth, 1787, delegates from all thirteen states met and chose George Washington to lead the Constitutional convention Immediately, the Virginia delegation laid out their plan to replace the Articles of Confederation Over the next few months, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison lead debates that picked apart the article’s flaws and recast them into a centralized government with powers specifically granted to deal with all of the issues the Confederation Congress has struggled to resolve Together, they created the United States Constitution. But, that’s a story for another time! *click* ???: But what if that story never happened? What if the Articles of Confederation never got replaced? And the U.S. never got a new Constitution? Dan: Ah… hello… Who’re you? ???: I’m Cody, from the Alternate History Hub. Cody: Someone on YouTube told me that you guys like to leave your studio open so guests like me can drop by the show! Dan: *sigh* Okay, that… not… quite true… Cody: It COULD be true! That’s kinda what I do. I talk about what might’ve happened if things went little bit differently: the ‘what if’s of the world. Like: What if the Articles of Confederation stuck around? What might have happened to the United States? Dan: That… actually does sound really interesting. Cody: Then come by my channel, the Alternate History Hub, and I’ll tell you all about it! Dan: You know what? I will do that. Thanks for dropping by. And thanks to all of you for watching, we will see you next time! (Lil, would you PLEASE lock the door.) ♫ Music ♫


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