Americans had longed for independence from Britain. After eight long years of war, they had finally achieved it. But what happened after the peace treaty was signed in 1783? Tough times weren’t over for the American people. They still had to figure out what democracy would look like. Many people disagreed about how much power states should have versus how much power a national government should have. Could they ever become united?
The British government took two years to ratify the Treaty of Paris, a formal peace treaty. In it, Great Britain recognized the United States of America’s independence.
Originally, the nation’s boundaries stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and from the Great Lakes to Florida.
The end of the Revolutionary War didn’t mean an immediate end to conflict. Native Americans, who had fought with the British, continued to fight against the colonists until 1795. Loyalists were poorly treated and most of them fled to Canada.
Soldiers felt resentful to colonists who hadn’t made the sacrifices they’d made for freedom.
Initially, the Continental Congress had very little power. The thirteen states had more individual power than the national government. States could make their own money and levy taxes. Imagine how confusing it would be to have thirteen different types of currency.
The states created governments with three branches: a legislative branch to make laws; a judiciary branch to interpret the laws; and an executive branch to manage government and uphold the laws. This was known as “separation of powers,” and is still the basis for our state and national governments. Separation of powers was designed to ensure that no one branch of government would gain too much power. The colonists had learned, for example, that a king with absolute power could become a tyrant.
Initially, the nation had only a single branch of government, Congress, which was supposed to settle conflicts between states over trade issues, as well as determine how new land would be divided.
Democracy: a form of government in which leaders are elected by the people, or by representatives elected by the people.
Ratify: Give formal approval and sign a treaty or political document.
Tyrant: a ruler who uses power unfairly or cruelly.
Questions and Answers:
Question: Did the national government become more powerful?
Answer: Although the people were cautious about giving a national government too much power, they realized a stronger government was necessary. One incident that taught them this lesson was Shays’s Rebellion. During the war, soldiers had been promised payment for serving in the army. But after the war, the U.S. government had no wealth from which to pay them. People were poor and farmers generally traded goods and food, rather than money. They couldn’t pay their taxes. In 1787, Daniel Shays, along with about 1,000 other farmers protested. They took weapons from a government armory and shut down the courtrooms. Political leaders realized the government needed more strength.
Visit PBS to learn more about the days following the Revolutionary War.