In this crucial period of American history, the United States transitioned from a loose confederation of states as set out in the Articles of Confederation to a more unified nation with a strong central government.
As Tindall and Shi describe in a later edition of America: A Narrative History, the new nation was strengthened by the replacement of the Articles of Confederation by the US Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation was a deliberately loose political arrangement in which ultimate sovereignty resided in the states. Having just successfully defeated what they saw as the tyranny of British rule, the last thing the Americans wanted was to have a strong, centralized system of government that could potentially represent a threat to their hard-fought liberties.
So the Americans established a form of government, in the shape of the Articles of Confederation, that ensured the maximum degree of autonomy for each state. This "loose alliance of states" as Tindall and Shi call it proved itself to be inadequate for the many challenges that the United States faced after the Revolutionary War.
What George Washington called "a half-starved, limping government" was simply unequal to the task of allowing the United States to take its place among the nations of the world. For one thing, the lack of a strong central government meant that the country would not be able to pay back the enormous debts it had accrued during the Revolutionary War. In addition, without a central government, the United States couldn't develop a unified foreign policy, which would make it virtually impossible to settle territorial disputes with other countries such as Spain.
Most seriously of all, though, the Articles of Confederation made it impossible to halt the spread of internal disorder between states. As there was no central authority to deal with law and order, disorder from one state could easily spread from one state to another.
It soon became clear to many that the Articles of Confederation would have to be replaced by a new Constitution. It was with this in mind that delegates came together in Philadelphia in 1787 to devise a new governmental arrangement, one that would allow the United States to become a truly unified nation without compromising Americans' cherished rights and liberties.
The Convention at Philadelphia duly put together a new Constitution. This was a victory for the Federalists, those who favored the establishment of a powerful federal government. However, their opponents, Anti-Federalists, secured a victory with the incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights, the name given to the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, was designed to protect the rights of American citizens against a potentially over-mighty central government. It was expressly designed to allay the fears of those who felt that the federal government would have too much power under the original draft.
The compromise in Philadelphia worked. It ensured that, in due course, the US Constitution would be ratified by all thirteen states, thus ushering in a new period of American history that Tindall and Shi call "The Federalist Era."