American Historical Documents


In the eyes of the Framers, the Articles of Confederation left the nation far too weak. Upon winning our independence from Britain the newly formed confederation needed to maintain a protective state and be capable of fending off any would-be invaders. As John Jay stated in Federalist No. 3,

“At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquility, as well as against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes.”


These men, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison understood that the Articles of Confederation placed the country in a loosely knit confederation, and that would not be a situation that could be maintained. The need to have stronger relationships between the colonies in the formation of a country was a strong understanding shared by all three men. Contrasting the sentiment of the Federalists was the notion of liberty and democracy. With newly found independence came the very popular feelings that this new nation would need to address each of the arguments put forth by the Declaration of Independence. These arguments focused in on the grievances created by the tyranny of the English Crown prior to the war. The need for representation was apparat, however the fear of tyranny was always a primary concern.

During the arguments of the Constitutional Convention, members would argue through each Article clause by clause in order to articulate what would become the US Constitution. Arguments proposed by men such as Luther Martin from Maryland, which he argued the “logic of the Constitution’s treason clause” and this clause would cause men to beholden to the country over their own states. This argument, as with many similar arguments, would form the cornerstone of what would become the debates between states’ rights, the rights of man, and federal rights. The majority of the Framers would fall into either of these two camps, the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists (those that argued the rights and sovereignty of the states outweighed those of the federal. These “camps” would argue through each Article of the Constitution and compromise on the exact language of the clauses in order to provide a constitution that would be both palpable to the people and protect the rights of the state and federal government, in the end this was no easy task.

Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution A Biography. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006.


The readings this week, most specifically Common Sense, made me question Paine’s motives. As an Englishman only recently arrived in the colonies I had to question why he bore such an animosity towards England and such a presumed attachment to the colonies. Paine presents his argument as the only logical solution for unhappy people. A king, he argues goes against all ideas of liberty in that the populace would not only tolerate the extreme possibility of tyranny, but also revere the person responsible. Nor, is it logical to allow the unknown offspring of such a ruler to inherit the position as they may be incapable of the responsibility.[1] Paine further argues that America has grown, in the metaphor of a child to an adult and now no longer needs the guidance and control of a parent. He claims that colonial resources are such that it may sustain and protect itself, further acceptance of parental control will only diminish those resources with the profits going to fuel wars not of their making. [2] While the persuasive logic behind his arguments are difficult to refute, he does not clearly address the extreme consequence of such an action. Warfare, loss of life and trade, do not seem to be an issue for one who professes to be a Quaker and as such, a pacifist. I tried to find a solid biography on Mr. Paine, but was left lacking. It appears that he was quite secretive for a man so ready to openly insist that the Colonials challenge what was considered the strongest empire in the western hemisphere. What I did discover was that Thomas Paine was not what could be defined by anyone as successful. He was fired from a number of positions including the office of Excise for falsifying his work records, and his wife died in clouded circumstances as they fled to another city to escape debt. [3] This is ironic as Paine remarks in Common Sense that America “Debts, we have none”, only those incurred by England due to her various ventures. [4] Perhaps Paine held some long pent up anger towards England and its government due to his own flaws. Unfortunately, we may never know. However, his work did inflame smoldering fires in the American people enough to start a fight for independence.

The Articles of Confederation, in contrast to my rant on Paine, is a much simpler issue to understand as to why they encountered such difficulties. The states were simply acting like individual countries with needs particular to their region and culture. The articles were simply too vague in their verbiage. While this may sound agreeable to allow for independent sovereignty of each state as per Article II, there is nothing specific as to how transgressions will be handled. Such as in the case of warfare. Article VIII states that “all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare, ad allowed…shall be defrayed out of a common treasury” supplied by the states in proportion to land assessment.[5] It does not say who is to do the assessment or how it is to be done. Smaller states may deem land to be non-arable to escape higher taxation. The new United States will require specific parameters to ensure hard fought liberty will be preserved in laws that are consistent between the states and not subject to individual interpretations.


[1] Scott Liell, 46 Pages (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003), 164-5.

[2] Ibid. 171-73.

[3] Hazel Burges Ed. Thomas Paine: A collection of Unknown Writings. Introduction, 4.

[4] Scott Liell, 46 Pages (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003) 187.191.

[5] Articles of ConfederationAmerican Historical Documents, (New York, P.F. Collier and Son, 1936)160.


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