The 1780s A Critical Period Dbq Essays

The Articles of Confederation left the young country ill-equipped to deal with a series of problems. The period from the adoption of the Articles to the adoption of the Federal Constitution (1781-89) has been labeled the “critical period" of American history. George Washington, describing those days, lamented that the states were held together by a “rope of sand."

Foreign and domestic challenges existed:
  • Problems with Britain. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 in which American’s independence was recognized, the British had pledged to vacate all of their military posts within the boundaries of the new country. The Americans, for their part, had promised to recommend strongly to the states that they make fair settlements with the Loyalists who had lost property during the war.

    The Congress made no progress on the compensation issue and the British exhibited no haste in withdrawing from American territory.

  • Economic Chaos. Following the war's conclusion, America slipped into an era of inflation and depression. Currencies were not uniform among the states and the value of many media of exchange was plummeting. Workers previously employed in war production faced protracted unemployment. Most states experienced some degree of tension between the frontier or farming interests of the west and the wealthier shipping or manufacturing interests of the eastern cities. These feelings boiled over in Massachusetts in 1786 in Shays’ Rebellion.
The “critical period" was not a time of unmitigated disaster. Despite its shortcomings, the Articles did foster some sense of national unity by bringing together men from all parts of the country. Improvements were made to transportation and communication (improved mail delivery, for example), which also fostered the beginnings of a national identity. Most importantly, Americans were buoyed by their victory in the war and felt a common pride in their emerging place in the world.

PERIOD 3: 1754–1800 (12%) (Chapters 6-10)


British imperial attempts to reassert control over its colonies and the colonial reaction to these attempts produced a new American republic, along with struggles over the new nation’s social, political, and economic identity.

Key Concept 3.1:  Britain’s victory over France in the imperial struggle for North America led to new conflicts among the British government, the North American colonists, and American Indians, culminating in the creation of a new nation, the United States.

I.  Throughout the second half of the 18th century, various American Indian groups repeatedly evaluated and adjusted their alliances with Europeans, other tribes, and the new United States government.

II.  During and after the imperial struggles of the mid-18th century, new pressures began to unite the British colonies against perceived and real constraints on their economic activities and political rights, sparking a colonial independence movement and war with Britain.

A.  Great Britain’s massive debt from the Seven Years’ War resulted in renewed efforts to consolidate imperial control over North American markets, taxes, and political institutions — actions that were supported by some colonists but resisted by others.

B.  The resulting independence movement was fueled by established colonial elites, as well as by grassroots movements that included newly mobilized laborers, artisans, and women, and rested on arguments over the rights of British subjects, the rights of the individual, and the ideas of the Enlightenment.

III. In response to domestic and international tensions, the new United States debated and formulated foreign policy initiatives and asserted an international presence.

 B.  The French Revolution’s spread throughout Europe and beyond helped fuel Americans’ debate not only about the nature of the United States’s domestic order, but also about its proper role in the world.

 C.  Although George Washington’s Farewell Address warned about the dangers of divisive political parties and permanent foreign alliances, European conflict and tensions with Britain and France fueled increasingly bitter partisan debates throughout the 1790s.

 Key Concept 3.2:  In the late 18th century, new experiments with democratic ideas and republican forms of government, as well as other new religious, economic, and cultural ideas, challenged traditional imperial systems across the Atlantic World.

 I.  During the 18th century, new ideas about politics and society led to debates about religion and governance, and ultimately inspired experiments with new governmental structures.

 A.  Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty, while Enlightenment philosophers and ideas inspired many American political thinkers to emphasize individual talent over hereditary privilege.

 B.  The colonists’ belief in the superiority of republican self-government based on the natural rights of the people found its clearest American expression in Thomas Paine’s Common Senseand in the Declaration of Independence.

 C.  Many new state constitutions and the national Articles of Confederation, reflecting republican fears of both centralized power and excessive popular influence, placed power in the hands of the legislative branch and maintained property qualifications for voting and citizenship.

 II.  After experiencing the limitations of the Articles of Confederation, American political leaders wrote a new Constitution based on the principles of federalism and separation of powers, crafted a Bill of Rights, and continued their debates about the proper balance between liberty and order.

 D.  [C]ontinued debates about such issues as the relationship between the national government and the states, economic policy, and the conduct of foreign affairs led to the creation of political parties.

III.  While the new governments continued to limit rights to some groups, ideas promoting self-government and personal liberty reverberated around the world.

 A.  [I]ncreased awareness of the inequalities in society motivated some individuals and groups to call for the abolition of slavery and greater political democracy in the new state and national governments.

B.  he constitutional framers postponed a solution to the problems of slavery and the slave trade, setting the stage for recurring conflicts over these issues in later years.

II.  [P]olicies…that encouraged western migration and the orderly incorporation of new territories into the nation both extended republican institutions and intensified conflicts among American Indians and Europeans.

A.   As settlers moved westward during the 1780s, Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance for admitting new states and sought to promote public education, the protection of private property, and the restriction of slavery in the Northwest Territory.

 B.  The Constitution’s failure to precisely define the relationship between American Indian tribes and the national government led to problems regarding treaties and Indian legal claims relating to the seizure of Indian lands.

 III.  New voices for national identity challenged tendencies to cling to regional identities, contributing to the emergence of distinctly American cultural expressions.

 A.  [V]arying regionally based positions on economic, political, social, and foreign policy issues promoted the development of political parties.

 B. The expansion of slavery in the lower South and adjacent western lands, and its gradual disappearance elsewhere, began to create distinctive regional attitudes toward the institution.

C.  Enlightenment ideas and women’s experiences in the movement for independence promoted an ideal of “republican motherhood,” which called on white women to maintain and teach republican values within the family and granted women a new importance in American political culture.


Great Interactive Timeline on Period Three 




Ch. 6 summary:  French and Indian War  and French and Indian War PPT


The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania


Ch. 7 Summary:Road to Revolution  and   Road to Revolution PPT notes


Three Terms you need to know: 

1. Republicanismthe idea of a country and society where citizens govern themselves by subordinating their own selfish desires and looking out for the common good of the whole society; citizens must be virtuous, selfless, independent, courageous and involved


2.  Whig ideology – Whigs were a group of British political critics who believed that citizens must be vigilant and suspicious of government’s corruption, aggression and attempts to take away their civil rights


3.  Mercantilismthe economic theory that wealth is power and there is a limited amount of wealth in the world; a country’s goal, then, is to acquire as much wealth as possible and thus leave little to its competitors; countries can do this by exporting (thereby bringing in money/wealth) more than they import (thereby paying money for goods); colonies help in mercantilism because they provide products without importing them from other countries and they provide a market for exports



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