Evaluating the Congress

The central failure of the Congress was related to its limited fiscal power. Because it could not impose taxes on the states, the national government's authority and effectiveness was severely limited. Even so, the Congress raised the Continental Arm and managed to finance the war effort.

In the treaty ending the Revolutionary War Britain granted all its western lands south of the Great Lakes to the new United States. Actual ownership of this land and how to best settle it was controversial. Many Americans ignored legal restrictions on western settlement and simply settled on new land and claimed it as their own.

The Congress succeeded in asserting its ownership of the western lands and used the profits from their sale to pay the expenses associated with settlement (construction of roads, military protection, etc.). It also established a process for future states in this new area to join the Confederation on terms equal to the original thirteen states.

The process by which Congress took control of the western lands north of the Ohio River indicated some of its most impressive actions. Three laws regarding the settlement of this Northwest Territory established an Admission Policy to the United States based on population, organized the settlement of the territory on an orderly rectangular grid pattern that helped make Legal Title secure, and prohibited the expansion of slavery to this region.

The resolution of a western land policy was perhaps the most outstanding accomplishment of the first national government. A political process for adding new states as equals was created. A partial solution to the national economic crisis was found. Together these policies helped the United States become a dynamic and expanding society.

By forbidding slavery in the Northwest, the Congress' achievements should be considered quite honorable. However, there were people whose rights were infringed upon by this same western policy. The control of land settlement by the central government favored wealthy large-scale land developers over small-scale family farmers. Also, Native Americans' claim to a western region still largely unsettled by whites was largely ignored.

Source: Evaluating the Congress
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