Disputes Between States

An Unfriendly "League of Friendship"

The Articles of Confederation created a loose coalition of strong state governments connected by a weak central government. Although the document encouraged the states to act for the common good of the entire nation, as seen in Article IIIArticle III: The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever., each state interpreted this as encouragement to focus primarily on its own economic survival and prosperity. These practices often came at a great cost to other states. Subsequently, disputes among individual states were not only common, but also destructive. The federal government fumbled to solve boundary quarrels between states with the little oversight given to it by the Articles of Confederation and also watched powerlessly as states devised destructive trade and economic sanctions, which subsequently hurt one another.


Boundary and Territory Disputes

Many questions arose about land and territory ownership in the early years of the nation. For instance, Pennsylvania fought Connecticut for possession of the Wyoming Valley lands (a portion of which, the area encompassed by the Forks of Susquehanna, is pictured right), while New York and New Hampshire quarreled over the region that would soon become Vermont.1 Article IX of the Articles of Confederation gave the federal government the power to oversee these boundary disputes, but the process involved was both ineffective and cumbersome.

Under Article XI, Congress would respond to a boundary dispute by electing three individuals from each state (thirty-nine in total) to a committee that would then be narrowed down until thirteen remained. Of those thirteen seven or nine would be randomly selected and those individuals would settle the dispute.2 Of the potential cases noted in the congressional logs, only one was actually resolved, another nearly adjudicatedverb to make a formal judgment or decision about a problem or disputed matter, and the rest were dropped or settled by the states without involving Congress.3 Additionally, the actual process of adjudicating these disputes itself took a tremendous amount of time and resources to complete.

Trade Barriers and Tariffs

In terms of state commerce, Article VIArticle VI: …No State shall lay any imposts or duties, which may interfere with any stipulations in treaties, entered into by the United States in Congress assembled, with any King, Prince or State, in pursuance of any treaties already proposed by Congress, to the courts of France and Spain… of the Articles prohibited states from setting impostsnoun a tax or similar compulsory payment or dutiesnoun a payment levied on the import, export, manufacture, or sale of goods that would interfere with treaty stipulations on products from foreign countries, such as France or Spain. Besides this, the federal government did not intervene in interstate commercenoun commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another and the states were left to regulate themselves. However, the states consistently ignored treaties, especially provisions within the one with Great Britain, and constructed trade barriers against other states.4

The commercial relationship between Delaware and Pennsylvania exemplified this pattern. Because Delaware received most of its goods from the port of Philadelphia, the levies, which Pennsylvania placed the goods it exported to other states in order to pay its war debts, severely crippled Delaware's economy. In fact, this was the driving force behind Delaware's incredibly quick and unanimous ratification of the Constitution.5

As one historian explains it, "the commerce of the country was under the control of the state legislatures. It was the commerce of thirteen states and not of a single nation."6 All the states acted both independently and selfishly. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison (pictured below) explains the economically devastating process of states placing high tariffsnoun a tax on imports or exports on other states in order to protect the value of their own products; this in turn caused other states to do the same and create multiple trade barriers.noun a government-imposed restraint on the flow of international goods or services



The problems between states emphasized each state's allegiance to itself, rather than to the confederation as a whole. In Federalist No. 22, Alexander Hamilton explained that these interstate disputes might have seemed like petty problems, but they invariably showed a pattern of disunity and uneasiness in the states' relationships under the Articles of Confederation. One of the driving forces behind this problem was a lack of federal enforcement and power; as Hamilton and other Federalists would explain, the central government must be able to implement and execute the laws and statutes for which it is responsible.

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