OUR BOUNDARIES. - By the treaty of 1783 our country was bounded on the north by a line (very much as at present) from the mouth of the St. Croix River in Maine to the Lake of the Woods; on the west by the Mississippi River; and on the south by the parallel of 31° north latitude from the Mississippi to the Apalachicola, and then by the present south boundary of Georgia to the sea. [1]

But our flag did not as yet wave over every part of the country within these bounds. Great Britain, claiming that certain provisions in the treaty had been violated, held the forts from Lake Champlain to Lake Michigan and would not withdraw her troops. [2] Spain, having received the Floridas back from Great Britain by a treaty of 1783, held the forts at Memphis, Baton Rouge, and Vicksburg, and much of what is now Alabama and Mississippi. [3]

A CENTRAL GOVERNMENT. - From 1775 to 1781 the states were governed, so far as they had any general government, by the Continental Congress. During these years there was no written document fixing the powers of Congress and limiting the powers of the states. While the war was going on, Congress submitted a plan for a general government, called Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union; but nearly four years passed before all the states accepted it. The delay was caused by the refusal of Maryland to approve the Articles unless the states having sea-to-sea charters would give to Congress, for the public good, the lands they claimed beyond the mountains. [4]

Congress therefore appealed to the states to cede their Western lands. If they would do this, Congress promised to sell the lands, use the money to pay the debts of the United States, and cut the region into states and admit them into the Union at the proper time. New York, Connecticut, and Virginia at last agreed to give up their lands northwest of the Ohio River, and on March 1, 1781, the Maryland delegates signed the Articles and by so doing put them in force. [5]

THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION. - In the government set up by the Articles of Confederation there was no President of the United States, no Supreme Court, no Senate. Congress consisted of a single body to which each state sent at least two delegates, and might send any number up to seven. The members were elected annually, were paid by the states they represented, could not serve more than three years in six, and might be recalled at any time. Each state cast one vote, and nine affirmative votes were necessary to carry any important measure. Congress could make war and peace, enter into treaties with foreign powers, coin money, contract debts in the name of the United States, and call upon each state for its share of the general expenses.

THE STATES CEDE LANDS. - Although three states had tendered their Western lands when Maryland signed the Articles, the conditions of cession were not at once accepted by Congress, and some time passed before the deeds were delivered. By the year 1786, however, the claims northwest of the Ohio had been ceded by New York, Virginia, [6] Massachusetts, and Connecticut. [7] South of the Ohio, what is now West Virginia and Kentucky still belonged to Virginia. North Carolina offered what is now Tennessee to Congress in 1784, [8] but the conditions were not then accepted, and that territory was not turned over to Congress till 1790. The long, narrow strip of western land owned by South Carolina was ceded to Congress in 1787. South of this was a strip owned by Georgia, and farther south lands long in dispute between Georgia and Spain and Congress. Georgia did not accept her present western limits till 1802.

MIGRATION WESTWARD. - Into the country west of the mountains the people were moving in three great streams. One from New England was pushing out along the Mohawk valley into central New York; another from Pennsylvania and Virginia was pouring its population into Kentucky; the third from North Carolina was overrunning Tennessee.

For this movement the hard times which followed the Revolution were largely the cause. Compared with our time, the means of making a livelihood were few and far less remunerative. Great mills and factories each employing thousands of persons had no existence. The imports from Great Britain far surpassed in value our exports; the difference was settled in specie (coin) taken from the country. The people were poor, and as land in the West was cheap, they left the East and went westward.

ROUTES TO THE OHIO VALLEY. - New England people bound to the Ohio valley went through Connecticut to Kingston, New York, on across New Jersey to Easton, Pennsylvania, and thence to Bedford, where they struck the road cut years before by the troops of General Forbes, and by it went to Pittsburg (p. 194). Settlers from Maryland and Virginia went generally to Fort Cumberland in Maryland, and then on by Brad dock's Road to Pittsburg, or turned off and reached the Monongahela at Redstone, or the Ohio at Wheeling (map, p. 201).

Such was the rush to the Ohio valley that each spring and summer hundreds of boats and arks left Pittsburg and Wheeling or Redstone, and floated down the Ohio to Maysville, Louisville, and other places in Kentucky. [9] The flatboat was usually twelve feet wide and forty feet long, with high sides and a flat or slightly arched top, and was steered, and when necessary was rowed, by long oars or sweeps. Some were arranged to carry cattle as well as household goods.

THE OHIO COMPANY OF ASSOCIATES. - Meanwhile, some old soldiers of New England and New Jersey who had claims for bounty lands, [10] organized the Ohio Company of Associates, and in 1787 sent an agent (Manasseh Cutler) to New York, where Congress was sitting, and bade him buy a great tract of land northwest of the Ohio, on which they might settle.

THE ORDINANCE OF 1787. - When Cutler reached New York, he found Congress debating a measure of great importance. This was an ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory, including the whole region from the Lakes to the Ohio, and from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi. When passed, this famous Ordinance of 1787 provided -

1. That until five thousand free white males lived in the territory, the governing body should be a governor and three judges appointed by Congress.

2. That when there were five thousand free white men in the territory, they might elect a legislature and send a delegate to Congress.

3. That slavery should not be permitted in the territory, but that fugitive slaves should be returned.

4. That the territory should in time be cut up into not more than five, or less than three, states.

5. That when the population of each division numbered sixty thousand, it should be admitted into the Union on the same footing as the original states.

OHIO SETTLED. - After the ordinance was passed, Cutler bought five million acres of land north of the Ohio River, and in the winter of 1787-88 a party of young men sent out by the Ohio Company made their way from New England to a branch of the Monongahela River. There they built a great boat, and when the ice broke up, floated down the Ohio to the lands of the Ohio Company, where they erected a few log huts and a fort of hewn timber which they called Campus Martius. The little settlement was called Marietta. [11]

Farther down the Ohio, on land owned by John Cleve Symmes and associates, Columbia and Losantiville, afterward called Cincinnati, were founded in 1788.

STATE BOUNDARIES. - The old charters which led to the conflicting claims to land in the West, caused like disputes in the East. Massachusetts claimed a strip of country embracing western New York, and did not settle the dispute till 1786. [12] A similar dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania was settled in 1782. [13] New York claimed all Vermont as having once been part of New Netherland; but Vermont was really an independent republic. [14] In Kentucky the people were insisting that their country be separated from Virginia and made a state.

TROUBLE WITH SPAIN. - Congress had trouble in trying to secure from foreign nations fair treatment for our commerce, and was involved in a dispute over the navigation of the Mississippi. Spain owned both banks at the mouth of the river, and denied the right of Americans to go in or out without her consent. The Spanish minister who came over in 1785 was ready to make a commercial treaty if the river was closed to navigation for twenty-five years, and the Eastern states were quite ready to agree to it. But the people of Kentucky and Tennessee threatened to leave the Union if cut off from the sea, and no treaty was made with Spain till 1795.

THE WEAKNESS OF THE CONFEDERATION. - The question of trade and commerce with foreign powers and between the states was very serious, and the weakness of Congress in this and other matters soon wrecked the Confederation.

1. In the first place, the Articles of Confederation gave Congress no power to levy taxes of any kind. Money, therefore, could not be obtained to pay the debts of the United States, or the annual cost of government. [15]

2. Congress had no power to regulate the foreign trade. As there were few articles manufactured in the country, china, glass, cutlery, edged tools, hardware, woolen, linen, and many other articles of daily use were imported from Great Britain. As Great Britain took little from us, these goods were largely paid for in specie, which grew scarcer and scarcer each year. Great Britain, moreover, hurt our trade by shutting our vessels out of her West Indies, and by heavy duties on American goods coming to her ports in American ships. [16] Congress, having no power to regulate trade, could not retaliate by treating British ships in the same way.

3. Congress had no power to regulate trade between the states. As a consequence, some of the states laid heavy duties on goods imported from other states. Retaliation followed, and the safety of the Union was endangered.

4. Congress did not have sole power to coin money and regulate the value thereof. There were, therefore, nearly as many kinds of paper money as there were states, and the money issued by each state passed in others at all sorts of value, or not at all. This hindered interstate trade.

5. Congress could not enforce treaties. It could make treaties with other countries, but only the states could compel the people to observe them, and the states did not choose to do so.

CONGRESS ASKS FOR MORE POWER. - Of the defects in the Articles of Confederation Congress was fully aware, and it asked the states to amend the Articles and give it more authority. [17] To do this required the assent of all the states, and as the consent of thirteen states could not be obtained, the additional powers were not given to Congress.

This soon brought matters to a crisis. With no regulation of trade, the purchase of more and more goods from British merchants made money so scarce that the states were forced to print and issue large amounts of paper bills. In Massachusetts, when the legislature refused to issue such currency, the debtors rose and, led by a Revolutionary officer named Daniel Shays, prevented the courts from trying suits for the recovery of debts. The governor called out troops, and several encounters took place before a bitter winter dispersed the insurgents. [18]

THE ANNAPOLIS TRADE CONVENTION. - In this condition of affairs, Virginia invited her sister states to send delegates to a convention at Annapolis in 1786. They were to "take into consideration the trade and commerce of the United States." Five states sent delegates, but the convention could do nothing, because less than half the states were present, and because the powers of the delegates were too limited. A request was therefore made by it that Congress call a convention of the states to meet at Philadelphia and "take into consideration the situation of the United States."

THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. - Congress issued the call early in 1787, and delegates from twelve states [19] met at Philadelphia and framed the Constitution of the United States. Washington was made president of the convention, and among the members were many of the ablest men of the time. [20]

THE COMPROMISES. - In the course of the debates in the convention great difference of opinion arose on several matters.

The small states wanted a Congress of one house, and equality of state representation. The great states wanted Historical a Congress of two houses, with representation in proportion to population. This difference of opinion was so serious that a compromise was necessary, and it was agreed that in one branch (House of Representatives) the people should be represented, and in the other (Senate) the states.

The question then arose whether slaves should be counted as population. The Southern delegates said yes; the Northern, no. It was finally agreed that direct taxes and representatives should be apportioned according to population, and that three fifths of the slaves should be counted as population. This was the second compromise.

The convention agreed that Congress should regulate foreign commerce. But the Southern members objected that by means of this power Congress might pass navigation acts limiting trade to American ships, which might raise freights on exports from the South. Many Northern members, on the other hand, wanted the slave trade stopped. These two matters were therefore made the basis of another compromise, by which Congress could pass navigation acts, but could not prohibit the slave trade before 1808.

THE CONSTITUTION RATIFIED. - When the convention had finished its work (September 17, 1787), the Constitution [21] was sent to the old (Continental) Congress, which referred it to the states, and the states, one by one, called on the people to elect; delegates to conventions to ratify or reject the new plan of government. In a few states it was accepted without any demand for changes. In others it was vigorously opposed as likely to set up too strong a government. In Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia adoption was long in doubt. [22]

By July, 1788, eleven states had ratified, and the Constitution was in force as to these States. [23]

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT. - The Continental Congress then appointed the first Wednesday in January, 1789, as the day on which electors of President should be chosen in the eleven states; the first Wednesday in February as the day on which the electors should meet and vote for President; and the first Wednesday in March (which happened to be the 4th of March) as the day when the new Congress should assemble at New York and canvass the vote for President.

WASHINGTON THE FIRST PRESIDENT. - When March 4 came, neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives had a quorum, and a month went by before the electoral votes were counted, and Washington and John Adams declared President and Vice President of the United States. [24]

Some time now elapsed before Washington could be notified of his election. More time was consumed by the long journey from Mount Vernon to New York, where, on April 30, 1789, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall, he took the oath of office in the presence of a crowd of his fellow-citizens.


1. The treaty of peace defined the boundaries of our country; but Great Britain continued to hold the forts along the north, and Spain to occupy the country in the southwest.

2. Seven of the thirteen states claimed the country west of the mountains.

3. The other six, especially Maryland, denied these claims, and this dispute delayed the adoption of the Articles of Confederation till 1781.

4. By the year 1786 the lands northwest of the Ohio had been ceded to Congress.

5. In 1787, therefore, Congress formed the Northwest Territory.

6. Certain states, meantime, were settling disputes as to their boundaries in the east.

7. We had trouble with Spain over the right to use the lower Mississippi River, and with Great Britain over matters of trade.

8. Six years' trial proved that the government of the United States was too weak under the Articles of Confederation.

9. In 1787, therefore, the Constitution was framed, and within a year was ratified by eleven states.

10. In 1789 Washington and Adams became President and Vice President, and government under the Constitution began.


[1] Both France and Spain had tried to shut us out of the Mississippi valley. Read Fiske's Critical Period of American History, pp. 17-25.

[2] By the treaty of 1783 Congress provided that all debts due British subjects might be recovered by law, and that the states should be asked to pay for confiscated property of the Loyalists. But the states would not permit the recovery of the debts nor pay for the property taken from the Loyalists. Great Britain, by holding the forts along our northern frontier, controlled the fur trade and the Indians, and ruled the country about the forts. These were Dutchman's Point, Point au Fer, Oswegatchie, Oswego, Niagara, Erie, Detroit, Mackinaw.

[3] To understand her conduct we must remember that in 1764, shortly after the French and Indian War, Great Britain made 32° 28' north latitude (through the mouth of the Yazoo, p. 143) the north boundary of West Florida; and although Great Britain in her treaty with us made 31° the boundary between us and West Florida, Spain insisted that it should be 32° 28'. Spain's claim to the Northwest, founded on her occupation of Fort St. Joseph (p. 183), had not been allowed; she was therefore the more determined to expand her claims in the South.

[4] The states claiming such lands by virtue of their colonial charters were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. New York had acquired the Iroquois title to lands in the West. Her claim conflicted with those of Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The claims of Connecticut and Massachusetts covered lands included in the Virginia claim - Maryland denied the validity of all these claims, for these reasons: (1) the Mississippi valley belonged to France till 1763; (2) when France gave the valley east of the Mississippi to Great Britain in 1763, it became crown land; (3) in 1763 the king drew the line around the sources of the rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, and forbade the colonists to settle beyond that line (p. 143).

[5] The Articles were not to go into effect till every state signed. Maryland was the thirteenth state to sign.

[6] Virginia reserved ownership of a large tract called the Virginia Military Lands. It lay in what is now Ohio between the Scioto and Little Miami rivers (map, p. 201), and was used to pay bounties to her soldiers of the Revolution.

[7] Connecticut reserved the ownership (and till 1800 the government) of a tract 120 miles long, west of Pennsylvania. Of this "Western Reserve of Connecticut," some 500,000 acres were set apart in 1792 for the relief of persons whose houses and farms had been burned and plundered by the British. The rest was sold and the money used as a school fund.

[8] When the settlers on the Watauga (pp. 181, 182) heard of this, they became alarmed lest Congress should not accept the cession, and forming a new state which they called Franklin, applied to Congress for admission into the Union. No attention was given to the application. North Carolina repealed the act of cession, arranged matters with the settlers, and in 1787 the Franklin government dissolved.

[9] The favorite time for the river trip was from February to May, when there was high water in the Ohio and its tributaries the Allegheny and Monongahela. Then the voyage from Pittsburg to Louisville could be made in eight or ten days. An observer at Pittsburg in 1787 saw 50 flatboats depart in six weeks. Another man at Fort Finney counted 177 passing boats with 2700 people in eight months.

[10] In order to encourage enlistment in the army, Congress had offered to give a tract of land to each officer and man who served through the war. The premium in land, or gift, over and above pay, was known as land bounty.

[11] Read McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. I, pp. 505- 519. All the land bought by the Ohio Company was not for its use. A large part was for another, known as the Scioto Company, which sent an agent to Paris and sold the land to a French company. This, in turn, sold in small pieces to Frenchmen eager to leave a country then in a state of revolution. In 1790, accordingly, several hundred emigrants reached Alexandria, Virginia, and came on to the little square of log huts, with a blockhouse at each corner, which the company had built for them and named Gallipolis. Most of them were city-bred artisans, unfit for frontier life, who suffered greatly in the wilderness.

[12] The land was included in the limits laid down in the charter of Massachusetts; but that charter was granted after the Dutch were in actual possession of the upper Hudson. In 1786 a north and south line was drawn 82 miles west of the Delaware. Ownership of the land west of that line went to Massachusetts; but jurisdiction over the land, the right to govern, was given to New York.

[13] Connecticut, under her sea-to-sea grant from the crown, claimed a strip across northern Pennsylvania, bought some land there from the Indians (1754), and some of her people settled on the Susquehanna in what was known as the Wyoming Valley (1762 and 1769). The dispute which followed, first with the Penns and then with the state of Pennsylvania, dragged on till a court of arbitration appointed by the Continental Congress decided in favor of Pennsylvania.

[14] Because of Champlain's discovery of the lake which now bears his name (p. 115), the French claimed most of Vermont; on their early maps it appears as part of New France, and as late as 1739 they made settlements in it. About 1750 the governor of New Hampshire granted land in Vermont to settlers, and the country began to be known as "New Hampshire Grants"; but in 1763 New York claimed it as part of the region given to the Duke of York in 1664. This brought on a bitter dispute which was still raging when, in 1777, the settlers declared New Hampshire Grants "a free and independent state to be called New Connecticut." Later the name was changed to Vermont. But the Continental Congress, for fear of displeasing New York, never recognized Vermont as a state.

[15] Each state was bound to pay its share of the annual expenses; but they failed or were unable to do so.

[16] Why would not Great Britain make a trade treaty with us? Read Fiske's Critical Period, pp. 136-142; also pp. 142-147, about difficulties between the states.

[17] Congress asked for authority to do three things: (1) to levy taxes on imported goods, and use the money so obtained to discharge the debts due to France, Holland, and Spain; (2) to lay and collect a special tax, and use the money to meet the annual expenses of government; and (3) to regulate trade with foreign countries.

[18] The story of Shays's Rebellion is told in fiction in Bellamy's Duke of Stockbridge. Read McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. I, pp. 313-326.

[19] All the states except Rhode Island.

[20] One had written the Albany Plan of Union; some had been members of the Stamp Act Congress; some had signed the Declaration of Independence, or the Articles of Confederation; two had been presidents and twenty-eight had been members of Congress; seven had been or were then governors of states. In after times two (Washington and Madison) became Presidents, one (Elbridge Gerry) Vice President, four members of the Cabinet, two Chief Justices and two justices of the Supreme Court, five ministers at foreign courts, and many others senators and members of the House of Representatives. One, Franklin, has the distinction of having signed the Declaration of Independence, the treaty of alliance with France (1778), the treaty of peace with Great Britain (1783), and the Constitution of the United States, the four great documents in our early history.

[21] Every student should read the Constitution, as printed near the end of this book or elsewhere, and should know about the three branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial; the powers of Congress (Art. I, Sec. 8), of the President (Art. I, Sec. 7; Art. II, Secs. 2 and 3), and of the United States; courts (Art. III); the principal powers forbidden to Congress (Art. I, Sec. 9) and to the states (Art. I, Sec. 10); the methods of amending the Constitution (Art. V); the supremacy of the Constitution (Art. VI).

[22] To remove the many objections made to the new plan, and enable the people the better to understand it, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote a series of little essays for the press, in which they defended the Constitution, explained and discussed its provisions, and showed how closely it resembled the state constitutions. These essays were called The Federalist, and, gathered into book form (in 1788), have become famous as a treatise on the Constitution and on government. Those who opposed the Constitution were called Anti-Federalists, and they wrote pamphlets and elaborate series of letters in the newspapers, signed by such names as Cato, Agrippa, A Countryman. They declared that Congress would overpower the states, that the President would become a despot, that the Courts would destroy liberty; and they insisted that amendments should be made, guaranteeing liberty of speech, freedom of the press, trial by jury, no quartering of troops in time of peace, liberty of conscience. Read McMaster'sHistory of the People of the U. S., Vol. I, pp. 490-491; 478-479.

[23] Because the Constitution provided that it should go into force as soon as nine states ratified it. North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify till some months later, and, till they did, were not members of the new Union.

[24] In three of the eleven states then in the Union (Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia) the presidential electors were chosen by vote of the people. In Massachusetts the voters in each congressional district voted for two candidates, and the legislature chose one of the two, and also two electors at large. In New Hampshire also the people voted for electors, but none receiving a majority vote, the legislature made the choice. Elsewhere the legislatures appointed electors; but in New York the two branches of the legislature fell into a dispute and failed to choose any. Washington received the first vote of all the 69 electors, and Adams received 34 votes, the next highest number.