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Revolutionary Beginnings

After the United States won recognition of its independence from Great Britain in 1783, the new nation underwent significant growing pains. For several unsettled years, the thirteen original states attempted to coexist under the “Articles of Confederation” without much in the way of a centralized government to bind the states together or even to help settle the many disputes that arose between states. In 1786, a financial crisis led to Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts. The chaos that followed this armed uprising led many leaders to call for a stronger national government. The structure of the government became the subject of much debate, some of it quite bitter. Eventually, the states adopted a written constitution in 1787. The constitution gave certain powers to a federal government, reserving all others for the individual states. Each of the individual states now has its own constitution and, like the nation itself, a “republican form of government.”

The great leader of the constitutional process was George Washington, rightfully called “the father of his country.” This hero of the American Revolution had the skill to bring conflicting interests to compromise, the small states and the large states, as one example, the north and the south, as another. Washington’s most important gesture was his refusal to be crowned king. Every other nation on earth at the time had a monarch. Washington called instead for the creation of the office of a president, a leader who would preside over the government for a limited term, before giving the reins of government to the next president. Since that time, for more than two centuries, the transfer of presidential power has occurred in a peaceful manner just as Washington, the nation’s first President, envisioned it.

The formation of the republican form of government under a written constitution proved to be even more revolutionary than the eight-year war that preceded it. Since the beginning, the states and federal government had struggled with each other to assert power. They still do. The system took root, however, and grew as the nation grew.

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