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Digital History ID 3224


Older textbooks described the 1780s as the "critical period" of American history. The country, saddled with a wholly inadequate framework of government, was faced by grave threats to its independence:

In domestic affairs:

  • The national government was on the verge of bankruptcy and the nation's currency was virtually worthless.
  • Continental Army officers threatened military action against Congress.
  • Armed mobs in Massachusetts closed courts and threatened a state armory.
  • States imposed heavy duties on neighboring states and enacted laws violating the rights of creditors.

In foreign affairs:

  • North African pirates enslaved American sailors.
  • Britain, in violation of the peace treaty ending the Revolution, refused to evacuate its forts on American soil.
  • Spain conspired with Westerners, including the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone.

The label the "critical period" was exaggerated. The 1780s also established the foundation for future economic and geographical growth. Many farmers made a decisive shift away from subsistence farming toward commercial agriculture. One state--Massachusetts--chartered more corporations during the 1780s than existed in all of Europe.

Nevertheless, by 1787, many of the new nation's leaders were convinced that the success of the American Revolution was at risk. They were especially concerned that the tyrannical majorities in state legislatures threatened fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion and the rights of property holders.



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