The struggle with England had done much to change colonial
attitudes. Local assemblies had rejected the Albany Plan of Union in
1754, refusing to surrender even the smallest part of their autonomy
to any other body, even one they themselves had elected. But in the
course of the Revolution, mutual aid had proved effective, and the fear
of relinquishing individual authority had lessened to a large degree.
John Dickinson produced the "Articles of Confederation
and Perpetual Union" in 1776. The Continental Congress adopted them
in November 1777, and they went into effect in 1781, having been ratified
by all the states. The governmental framework established by the Articles
had many weaknesses. The national government lacked the authority to
set up tariffs when necessary, to regulate commerce and to levy taxes.
It lacked sole control of international relations: a number of states
had begun their own negotiations with foreign countries. Nine states
had organized their own armies, and several had their own navies. There
was a curious hodgepodge of coins and a bewildering variety of state
and national paper bills, all fast depreciating in value.
Economic difficulties after the war prompted calls for
change. The end of the war had a severe effect on merchants who supplied
the armies of both sides and who had lost the advantages deriving from
participation in the British mercantile system. The states gave preference
to American goods in their tariff policies, but these tariffs were inconsistent,
leading to the demand for a stronger central government to implement
a uniform policy.
Farmers probably suffered the most from economic difficulties
following the Revolution. The supply of farm produce exceeded demand,
and unrest centered chiefly among farmer-debtors who wanted strong remedies
to avoid foreclosure on their property and imprisonment for debt. Courts
were clogged with suits for debt. All through the summer of 1786, popular
conventions and informal gatherings in several states demanded reform
in the state administrations.
In the autumn of 1786, mobs of farmers in Massachusetts
under the leadership of a former army captain, Daniel Shays, began forcibly
to prevent the county courts from sitting and passing further judgments
for debt, pending the next state election. In January 1787 a ragtag
army of 1,200 farmers moved toward the federal arsenal at Springfield.
The rebels, armed chiefly with staves and pitchforks, were repulsed
by a small state militia force; General Benjamin Lincoln then arrived
with reinforcements from Boston and routed the remaining Shaysites,
whose leader escaped to Vermont. The government captured 14 rebels and
sentenced them to death, but ultimately pardoned some and let the others
off with short prison terms. After the defeat of the rebellion, a newly
elected legislature, whose majority sympathized with the rebels, met
some of their demands for debt relief.