School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 1. Examine and explain the role of religious, social and political institutions in America at the end of the American Revolution

Objective b. Describe the evolution of the American system of government from a confederal to a federal system of government


In the years during and following the American Revolution, Americans struggled to establish a political system for their new republic. Fearful of a strong central government, the new United States first tried a confederate system of government under the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, the states relinquished little power and were bound together only very loosely. The national government consisted only of a unicameral Congress, which had the power to conduct foreign affairs, settle disputes between the states, maintain a military, control maritime affairs, and issue currency. But it did not possess the authority to tax or regulate foreign trade in an effective manner. Congress’ ability to function was further hampered by the fact that laws could be passed only with the approval of 9 of the 13 states, and all 13 states had to agree to any amendments to the Articles themselves. Finally, in the absence of a separate and powerful executive branch, Congress was not able to enforce its rulings or to compel the states to sacrifice their individual interests for the good of the country.

Problems arose quickly from the U.S. government’s complete subordination to the states. For example, opposition from the states prevented Congress from levying a tax on imported goods to help pay the national debt. Lack of cooperation from the states also foiled attempts to resolve international disputes with Spain and Great Britain over the use of the Mississippi River, the presence of British troops in the Great Lakes, and Britain’s establishment of restrictions on American trade in the West Indies. The final straw was Shays’ Rebellion, which raised fears about the central government’s inability to preserve law and order.

When a handful of states met in Annapolis in 1786 to discuss trade concerns, unease over broader issues led to a call for a convention to address the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation. When that convention met in Philadelphia in May of 1787, the delegates quickly agreed on the need to write a new constitution rather than just revise the Articles. After a series of significant compromises over such issues as representation in Congress and the slave trade, a new Constitution emerged that established a federal system of government that divided power between the national government and the states. The Constitution dramatically increased the powers of the federal government while reserving to the states any powers not specifically given to the central government and providing a system of checks and balances to prevent the tyranny of any one of the three branches of the federal government. The United States political system as we know it today had been formed.

Resources for Objective 5.C.1.b:
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