Vital Signs

Secession and the New American Constitution

The nine states that ratified the Constitution on June 21, 1788, created an entirely new government. This government was not patterned after the one established under the Articles of Confederation, which was created by the 13 states just seven years before. The Articles actually transferred very little power to the agent they called the "central," or "general," government and readily recognized that the attempt by 13 sovereign nations to act in unison was an untried experiment. For example, it was well understood that if these states were to defeat Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, it would take a unified effort of all 13 acting as one, as well as "a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence."

The Revolutionary War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The states' newly won independence was acknowledged when Great Britain, in the first paragraph of the Treaty, conceded that the former colonies were now not only what they claimed to be in the Declaration of Independence, "Free and Independent States," but were now "Free, Sovereign and Independent States."

When the war ended, relations between the states soon deteriorated. They exercised their sovereignty as individual nations by, for example, raising tariff barriers against each other's imported goods. By 1786 relations between the states were so chaotic that...

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