Evaluating the Congress

The main failure of the Congress was its limited monetary power. It could not collect taxes from the states, so the national government's authority and effectiveness was limited. Yet Congress did have some major accomplishments. It created the Continental Army and paid for the war effort.

Diplomatic efforts helped the war effort too. Military and financial support from France greatly helped the Americans. The successful treaty of alliance with France in 1778 was a major turning point in the war. Similarly, the success of Congress' diplomatic messengers to the peace treaty ending the war also helped get major rights from the British in 1783. For example, Britain gave all its western lands south of the Great Lakes to the new United States.

However, there were many issues regarding actual ownership of this land and how to settle it. Many Americans ignored legal restrictions on western settlement and struck out for new land that they claimed as their own. How could a national Congress with limited money and no real power deal with this complex problem?

The Congressional solution was a remarkable act of statesmanship that dealt fairly with several problems. Congress maintained ownership of the western lands and used the profits from their sale to pay for construction of roads, military protection, etc. Second, the Congress established a process for future states in this new area to join the Confederation on terms fully equal to the original thirteen members. The new states would not suffer secondary colonial status.

Congress established a policy regarding the settlement of this northwest territory based on population, organized the settlement of the territory on a rectangular grid pattern that helped make legal title more secure, and stopped the expansion of slavery to the region.

The resolution of the western land policy was an outstanding accomplishment of the first national government. A political process for adding new states as equals was created. A partial solution to the national financial crisis was found. Together these policies helped the United States become a dynamic and expanding society. Even though they outlawed slavery in the Northwest, some people were badly affected by this policy. The control of land settlement by the central government favored wealthy large-scale land developers over small-scale family farmers. Native Americans' claim to a western region still largely unsettled by whites was largely ignored.

Source: Evaluating the Congress
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