The Articles of Confederation

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What challenges did the early federal government face in establishing a strong central government from 1789-1820?

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The United States faced an uncertain future with the establishment of a Federal Government in 1789.  After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, much was riding on the experimental Constitution, which was designed to limit Federal power. Part of the difficulty was that everyone was fearful of what a strong central government would do -- dictating to the states, and to the people, from one central authority, and the establishment of taxes. In fact, the first two opposing political parties in the country (Federalist and Anti-Federalist) became established at this time. The former was made up of businessmen and merchants; the latter made up of farmers. This was the beginning of some of the secular issues that were to plague the nation later, as most business was done in the North and agriculture was done in the South. In the developing West, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1793 created a situation where the Federal government was taxing the people, and it created an army to suppress the rebellion.  Jefferson himself saw this as an excuse by the Federalists to establish their power and undermine the Anti-Federalists.  George Washington himself led the troops to put it down; he commanded more troops then than he did during the Revolution. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolves from 1798 also stated that the States could nullify Federal Law; although not put into practice, the idea of the "sovereign state" persisted up to and after the Civil War a half century later. Much of the internal struggle within the developing US was put aside as the Napoleonic Wars embroiled Europe; the US finally joined the conflict from 1812 to 1815 to secure the functioning of its merchant marine.

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