Federalism | CONSTITUTION USA with Peter Sagal | PBS

Posted: November 28, 2021 at 10:07 pm

E Pluribus Unum: out of many states, one nation. In 1776, the newly independent states acted like 13 quarreling brothers and sisters. These united states had vast differences in history, geography, population, economy, and politics. Each state wanted all the powers of sovereign nations: to make treaties, receive ambassadors, coin money, regulate commerce. But they had to give up some of those powers in order to survive on the world stage. To that end, they agreed to the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States. It created a firm league of friendship among the states, along with a legislature of very limited powers. Congress was very weak: it could wage war and negotiate peace, but not raise taxes to pay for either. Each state had one vote in Congress, and any changes to the Articles required unanimous consent.

After the war ended in 1783, strains in the union reemerged, and the country was in danger of falling apart. The states could not agree on how to pay Revolutionary War soldiers, and many veterans returned home to farms saddled with debt and taxes. In 1786-87, as part of an uprising known as Shays' Rebellion, farmers in western Massachusetts closed the courts to prevent foreclosure on their farms. Also, the states themselves were not inclined to obey the peace treaty they had just signed with Great Britain. As George Washington noted in 1786: If you tell the Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. He added: What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves.

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Federalism | CONSTITUTION USA with Peter Sagal | PBS

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