This was a covenant or social contract that the Pilgrims agreed to follow. It established a body to make laws and appoint officers. What makes it so important is that it was the first one to do so in the New World, and it broke from English tradition in doing so.
The Revolutionary War began because of things Britain did to the colonies. Some minor irritants included such things as new trade restrictions and taxes but the major problem was in the way that Britain challenged the colonists' belief in representative government and natural rights. The phrase "no taxation without representation" connects these ideas together. Soon enough, such groups as the Sons of Liberty were rebelling against the new acts. These included the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act of 1765, the Tea Act of 1773, and the Intolerable Acts. The Boston Tea Party which immediately followed the Tea Act did much to to heighten tensions between Britain and the colonies. The First Continental Congress met in 1774 to address these problems. Civilian militia consisting of Minutemen were formed. On April 19, 1775, the "shot heard round the world" was fired at Lexington and Concord. The fighting ensued for over one year before the Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. It directly challenged Britain's sovereignty and renounced the monarchy itself. It appealed to the natural rights of all people and identified soveriegnty with the people.
The Articles of Confederation was the first honest attempt by the leaders of the colonists to create a new government. It was important in that it roughly organized a government of the "nation." However, it had numerous intrinsic faults that made it a very weak document, soon replaced by the Constitution. It created a weak national government because the colonists feared a strong one. This government did not have the power to tax the states or the people and had to "ask" for money. It had no power over the states, could not enforce trade agreements, could not regulate trade amongst the states, and did not protect the citizen's property rights. One good part about it was that it did give each state one vote in Congress, which was used later on in the new constitution.
In 1786, a group of several hundred angry farmers, under the leadership of Daniel Shays, gathered in Massachusetts. They had very serious economic problems. Many had huge debts they could not pay. In response, they intended to attack the state government. They needed weapons to do this so they tried to capture the arsenal that was stored at Springfield, Massachusetts. Although they were defeated, their act of defiance worried many property owners who became afraid that similar rebellions might rise up. The fears raised by Shays' Rebellion woke a number of people up to the need of a strong, central government. George Washington wrote to James Madison: "We are either a united people or we are not. If the former, let us act as a nation. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it."
Copyright © 1997 Jonathan Chin & Alan Stern