The First American National Government
America’s first national government was based on the Articles of Confederation. This
document was very different from the Constitution. It reflected very different attitudes and
America was born out of a revolt against the control imposed by Great Britain. The American
colonies rebelled against British taxes and regulations. Each one wanted to govern itself. They
did not want a far-off power-like Britain’s Parliament-placing taxes on them, regulating their
trade, or vetoing their laws. When the Americans began talking about what kind of government
they would have, these were their main concerns.
The discussion started during the Revolution. In June of 1776, the idea of a loose confederation
was proposed in the Continental Congress. The idea was accepted. The Congress wrote the
Articles by November of 1777. The states began voting on the Articles during the Revolutionary
War. They were ratified on March 1, 1781.
The America that the Articles of Confederation produced was not the United States. Indeed, the
states were so far from united they could hardly be called a nation. Before the British-imposed
tight control, the colonies had been very independent. Now they wanted t be independent states.
To please them, the Articles gave each state its own sovereignty.
Flaws of the Articles of Confederation
The Articles did establish a central government. But it was very weak. It was made up of a
unicameral legislature called the United States Congress Assembled. It was allowed to make
foreign policy and run a military. It could issue currency and borrow money. But each state
could raise its own militia and issue its own currency, too.
More important was what the central government could NOT do. It could not impose taxes. Nor
could it regulate trade among the states. It had no executive or judicial branches. So it could not
settle disputes of enforce any national laws. Each state had an equal vote in Congress, so little
could get done. And a unanimous vote of 13 was needed to amend the Articles.
This arrangement had worked during the war. Now the states wanted to keep their power. They
did not want to give control of their own affairs to a central government that could be hundreds
of miles away. But the Articles of Confederation caused problems.
States taxed one another’s goods. Some issued their own currency. They even fought over their
borders. The national government could not raise money to pay its debts. And an uprisingShay’s Rebellion-broke out in Massachusetts. The state militia ended it, but it convinced
Americans they needed a stronger central government.
Tid-bit: Weak Governments and Rebellion: Shays’ Rebellion was named for its leader,
Daniel Shay. He was a farmer from western Massachusetts- far from Boston, the seat of state
government. Many Massachusetts farmers could not afford the state’s taxes. With no strong
government to stop them, Shay’s led a group of farmers in protests and then armed rebellion.
1. Below is a list of provisions of the Articles of Confederation. Briefly explain why each
provision caused problems.
A. Central government has no executive branch…..
B. Central government has no judicial branch….
C. Central government cannot set taxes on states….
D. Unanimous vote required to amend the Articles….
Forming a United States: The Constitutional Convention
America’s first national government was based on the Articles of Confederation. But this
government was too weak to get anything done. Many Americans realized they needed a
stronger government- and new rules. In May of 1787, the states sent delegates to a constitutional
Agreements and Disagreements
The delegates wanted a central government strong enough to rein in the states and deal with the
rest of the world. But they did not agree on everything. One state- Rhode Island- wanted a weak
central government and sent no delegates. In South Carolina, the Low Country merchants and
plantation owners wanted a strong government to ensure a stable economy. The poor white
farmers of the Up Country opposed it but had little voting power.
A majority of the other delegates wanted a strong government, too. The convention decided the
central government would have authority in several areas. In foreign policy, national defense,
and trade among the states, the central government- not the states- had the last word. This was
the federal system.
The convention also agreed that the central or federal government would have three branches:
legislative, executive, and judicial. Separation of powers would keep the government from being
On some issues, there were disagreements. First, there were arguments about slavery. Some
northern states wanted to bam slavery. But southern states, including South Carolina, fought to
keep slavery. Also, they wanted their slaves counted as population. That way, the South would
have more representation in the government. The delegates reached compromises on these
The Great Compromise
The biggest disagreement was about representation in the legislature. The large states supported
the Virginia Plan- a bicameral legislature with the number of each state’s representatives based
on population. The small states wanted a unicameral legislature with the same number of
representatives for each state- the New Jersey Plan.
The dispute grew bitter. When a vote was called on July 2, the small states threatened to walk out
if they lost. The vote was very close when it came around to the last delegates, those from
Georgia. Their interests were with the large states. But no one wanted the small states to leave.
With only Abraham Baldwin left to vote, the large states led by one. But he broke ranks to vote
with the small states. The result was a tie.
A compromise had to be reached. The Great Compromise established a bicameral legislature:
the United States Congress. Representation in the lower house- the House of Representativeswould be based on population. But each state would have two seats in the upper house, the
Senate. The constitution could move forward.
Tid-bit: The Bill of Rights: One of the reasons some people opposed adoption of the
Constitution was that it did not include a Bill of Rights. South Carolina’s ratifying convention
directed its delegates to the new Congress to support amendments to the Constitution. The state
ratifying convention proposed 210 such amendments. The First Federal Congress considered
them and drafted a list of 12 amendments to the Constitution for the states to approve. Only 10
were approved by the states. Those amendments became what is now n=known as the Bill of
2. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention faced many issues before the Great
Compromise. Which of the following did they agree on?
a. All power in the federal government should be kept under one branch
b. Slavery should remain legal throughout the United States
c. A stronger federal government with authority over the states was needed
d. Slaves should be counted as members of the population
3. A: Why did the large states want a legislature where the number of representatives was
based on population?
B: Why did the small states want a legislature where each state had the same number of
C: How did the Great Compromise give something to each side?
Statehood in South Carolina
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War. In 1787, delegates from the former
colonies met at a convention in Philadelphia to draw up a constitution to replace the Article of
Confederation. The new constitution would not become the law of the land until it had been
ratified by nine states.
The delegates agued for more than a year about the kind of national government the country
should have. The Federalist supported a federal plan that would create a stronger national
government. They struggled to win the support of the Anti-federalists, who favored strong
state’s rights and a weaker national government. The Federalists argued that the Confederation
government had faced major difficulties because it did not have the power to raise revenues or
regulate commerce. Anti-federalist argued that the federal plan would give too much power to
the president and Congress.
In South Carolina, the Federalists were mostly Low Country merchants and plantation owners
who wanted a strong government to ensure a stable economy. The Anti-Federalists were the poor
whit farmers of the Up Country. The state’s voting districts were apportioned to favor the
wealthy property owners of the Low Country. The Up Country farmers had little representation
in the South Carolina legislature. When South Carolina held a convention in May 1788 to vote
on the new United States Constitution, the Federalists easily pushed through the ratification. As
soon as South Carolina announced the ratification on May 23, it official became the eighth state
of the Union.
Statehood brought a lot of changes to South Carolina. In addition to rebuilding the wartime
destruction, the state began addressing the issues of the Up Country farmers. The new state
constitution that was adopted in 1790 provided more equality to the Up Country districts. In
1808, additional amendments gave Up country residents total equality. It was in the self-interests
of Low Country plantation owners to agree to this. The introduction of the cotton gin to South
Carolina in 1796 allowed the spread iof ctton cultivation to the Up Country. Plantation owners
were now interested in buying Up Country land, which would make them voting, Up Country
South Carolina was also building new bonds within the national government. Henry Laurens
was one of the signers of the Treaty of Paris. Thomas Pinckney became the state’s first
governor. Many South Carolinians, including several from the Pinckney family, took key roles in
the national government. Congressmen from South Carolina would also become some of the
most vocal legislators to push for the War of 1812.
The state capital was moved from Charleston (the name Charles Towne was officially changed in
1783) to Columbia in the center of the state in 1786.
Tid-Bit: Compromising on Slavery: How did the delegates resolve the slavery issue? In the
end, slavery remained legal. The new government would leave the slave trade alone until 1808,
but then could regulate foreign trade of slaves. And for population, every five slaves would count
as three people. These compromises remained in the constitution until after the Civil War.
4. What is the best way to describe the Federalists in South Carolina?
a. Up Country farmers who wanted a strong national government to deal with their
b. Low Country plantation owners and merchants who wanted a strong, stable
government that would protect trade
c. Low Country plantation owners and merchants who were against a strong
government because it would interfere with trade
d. Voters who favored a Bill of Rights
5. Why did Low Country plantation owners change their minds about granting full equality
to farmers living in the Up Country?
a. They began buying up land in the Up Country to plant cotton
b. Their consciences were stirred by the Bill of Rights
c. The new federal government passed an amendment forcing them to
d. The believed farmers should not be taxed without representation
South Carolina’s Development
Tension continued to grow between people living in the Up Country and the Low Country after
the Revolutionary War. Up Country farmers were afraid that the wealthy Low Country planters
and merchants would take control of the new state legislature. To help ease their fears, legislators
agreed to move the state capital from the Low Country city of Charleston to a completely new
location in the center of the state. The city of Columbia was carefully planned and built. It
became the state capital in 1790.
Cotton Becomes King
Eli Whitney’s new cotton gin completely revolutionized both Up Country and Low Country
agriculture in South Carolina. By 1810, cotton was the number-one cash crop in the state and
more profitable for Low Country plantation owners than rice or indigo had ever been. Cotton
growers and traders made incredible fortunes. There was even a variety of cotton that grew well
in the Up Country. Plantation owners quickly started buying up Piedmont land to expand their
Expansion of Slavery
One reason plantation owners could make such profits from cotton was their source of cheap
labor- slavery. South Carolina depended on black slaves to plant and harvest crops. When cotton
became king, that dependence deepened. Even people who did not own slaves in South Carolina
defended the slave system. There was a growing abolition movement in the North where people
demanded the end or abolition of slavery. This movement worried white South Carolinians.
More slaves were brought from Africa until the constitutionally set limit of 1808.
In 1822, a free black man from Charleston named Denmark Vesey began organizing an uprising
among the city’s slaves. When the conspiracy was discovered, Vesey and 34 others were hanged.
The thought that other uprisings were being planned filled plantation owners throughout the state
Tariffs and Nullification
The issue if tariffs greatly strained South Carolina’s ties to the federal government. In 1828,
Congress passed a bill imposing a high tax on imported manufactured goods, mainly to protect
the U.S. manufactures. The South had little manufacturing and depended on foreign trade for
many of the goods it needed. It was afraid Europeans would retaliate by buying less American
South Carolina was outraged by what it called the “Tariff of Abominations.” The state legislature
passed a resolution nullifying the tariff because it violated the Constitution of the United States
by giving Congress too much power. When another tariff law was passed in 1832, South
Carolina threatened to secede.
The vice president of the country at the time was john C. Calhoun, a native South Carolinian.
Calhoun not only sympathized with other South Carolinians over the issue; he passionately
believed in state’s rights-the idea that states should be able to conduct business without federal
interference. The president was another South Carolinian, Andrew Jackson. Jackson sympathized
too and believed in state’s rights. But he believed in the unity of the nation more strongly and
ordered that the tariffs be enforced-with military force, if necessary. The crisis was averted when
a compromise was reached. Congress repealed some of the tariffs, and South Carolina backed
down from its threat.
Tid-Bit: Roads and Waterways: Cotton plantations depended on effective means of
transportation to get their cotton to ports on the coast. In 1818, the South Carolina state assembly
appropriated $1 million to be spent on roads and waterways. Another $1.5 million was spent
between 1819 and 1828. Turnpikes were built to connect all the major cities, including
Charleston, Georgetown, Camden, Columbia, and Beaufort. The most money was spent on a
canal system that connected the states’ major rivers. The canals were used to bypass falls, rapids,
and other obstructions and were especially important for transporting cotton out of the Up
Country. By 1860, three railroad lines had also been built to connect Charleston to the state’s
other main cities and to Up Country cotton plantations.
6. How did the cotton gin change the economy of South Carolina?
7. Why did the attitudes of northerners increasingly worry South Carolina plantation owners
between 1800 and 1850?