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The Tyranny of the Majority Previous Next
Digital History ID 3228


By the mid 1780s, many of country's most influential leaders became convinced that state legislatures had become the greatest source of tyranny in America. In the decade after independence, the state legislatures passed more acts than in the previous century. The nation's leaders were particularly distressed by the kinds of laws the legislatures adopted. These included stay laws--postponing repayment of debts--and paper money bills-- allowing debtors to repay debts with worthless paper currency--in violation of the rights of creditors.

Pennsylvania's government, run by a one-house assembly, was notorious for violating individual rights. It disfranchised and even imprisoned Quakers (who, as pacifists, had refused to fight in the Revolution). The legislature also arbitrarily removed judges.

Several states established special trading relationships with European nations and negotiated treaties with Indian nations.

Many national leaders referred to Rhode Island as "Rogues' island." Its delegates blocked nationalist measures--including a 5 percent duty on imports--in the Confederation Congress, and its legislature made it a criminal offense for merchants to refuse to accept the state's nearly worthless currency. State judges who struck down the law were removed from office. Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts described Rhode Island's legislature as "a full illustration...of the length to which a public body may carry wickedness and cabal."

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