Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “Make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the seventh installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His wartime experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 7 of “American History for Truthdiggers.” / See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6.

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The Brits Are Gone: Now What?

“The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.” —Elbridge Gerry, delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787)

It has become, by now, like American scripture. We all know the prevailing myths, history as written by the winners. Virtuous American patriots, having beaten the tyrannical British, set out to frame the most durable republican government in the history of humankind. The crowning achievement came when our Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft an American gospel: the Constitution. The war had ended, officially, in 1783.

Have you ever asked yourself why popular versions of America’s founding begin with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, or with the defeat of the British at Yorktown, Va., in 1781, skipping past the black hole of the mid-1780s to the Constitutional Convention of 1787? What happened in those critical intervening years? What is it that remains hidden in plain sight? Who does the prevailing narrative serve?

Well, the discomfiting truth is that over the last 40-odd years most serious historians finally began studying marginalized peoples, such as slaves, Indians and women. It is well that this is so. However, the decision to first draft Articles of Confederation and then, later, to move toward a new constitution and a more centralized federal government—the keys events of the 1780s—was an elite action that mostly benefited the elites. A top-down structure was imposed on an only partly willing citizenry. This sort of story no longer appeals to academic historians busy drafting a “new” history from the “bottom up.”

From grade school through university survey courses, we are fed the same tale. The victorious colonists—the first generation of Americans—briefly organized under a weak governing framework: the Articles of Confederation. This unwieldy government quickly floundered in an era of stagnation and chaos, to be replaced, wisely, by our current constitution. There is, of course, some truth to this. The Articles of Confederation, the law of the land and America’s first constitution, from 1781 to 1789, did grant precious few powers to the national government. Power was dispersed to the state governments. In a sense, we should probably think of the early 13 states as separate countries, held together in a loose alliance more similar to today’s European Union than our current U.S. nation. Many states did, indeed, suffer under a period of economic stagnation, and there were several agrarian revolts of one sort or another.

However, it behooves us to consider why the revolutionary generation did this, why they chose a weak central government. When thinking about the past, we must avoid determinism and remember that no one in history woke up on a given day and planned to fail, planned to draft an incompetent governing structure. Perhaps the men of the 1780s had good reasons; maybe there was wisdom in such a loose confederation. Was, in fact, the later constitution actually a superior document? This installment in the American History for Truthdiggers series reconsiders that forgotten era, seeks to redeem aspects of the Articles of Confederation and asks inconvenient questions about just how democratic our later constitution would really be.

The Critical Period: Defending the Articles of Confederation

“Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” —Article II of the Articles of Confederation

It had been a brutal, long, destructive war—the longest war the United States fought until Vietnam, two centuries later. Tens of thousands died, infrastructure was damaged, state governments were loaded with debt, and many thousands became refugees. Given this reality, we must consider what lessons American leaders learned from the Revolution. Certainly they feared powerful executives (the Articles would have no president), distant aristocratic legislatures (there would be no House of Lords or upper house in the Continental Congress) and standing armies (the Revolutionary army was demobilized, and state militias would provide for the common defense).

The real work of government was seen as occurring at the state level, and it was the state constitutions that truly mattered. Each state varied, of course, with Maryland’s government being the most conservative and Pennsylvania’s the most democratic and egalitarian—by some measures the most democratic in the world. Most states had learned lessons from the late war: They had weak (or in some cases no) executives, powerful—sometimes unicameral—legislatures, and militias rather than professionalized armies. After all, these were post-revolutionary governments, terrified of tyranny and imbued with common conceptions of classical republicanism.

The opening text of the Articles of Confederation (1777-1789).

The foundation of republicanism was rather simple and had three pillars—liberty, virtue and independence. To have liberty, one need understand that all power corrupts and must, therefore, be checked by virtuous government. Virtue required that representatives always act according to the public interest, and not self-interest. Such virtue was possible only when representatives were independent entities not beholden, economically or otherwise, to others. All too often, this required the possession of some degree of wealth, property and leisure time to study politics.

The problem is that so much of this classical republicanism stood in tension with the democratizing tendencies of all revolutions. In elections for the state legislatures, more men could vote than ever before. Some states, like Pennsylvania, had universal male suffrage and dropped all property requirements for political participation. Common farmers and artisans in the 1780s had increasingly democratic, progressive impulses. They still hated taxation—which had exponentially been increased after 1783 in order to pay off state war debts—and weren’t afraid to use the tried and true tactics of the Revolution to express their dismay. Farmers and laborers of the 1780s were reform-minded and employed methods consistent with the “spirit of ’76”—petitions, boycotts, even armed insurrection—to pressure their new state governments.

The 1780s were a period in which common folk called for the extension of the franchise (voting rights), the abolition of property requirements, and more-equal representation for distant western frontier districts. Indeed, one could argue that this critical period saw a veritable flowering of democratization, at least among white males. This stood in stark contrast to the sometimes overstated image of depression and stagnation commonly depicted by popular historians.

The Articles are so often derided that we forget that there were real accomplishments in this era. After all, the Articles of Confederation was a wartime document and, so governed, the Americans managed to achieve victory over the most powerful empire in the world. This, in itself, was a miraculous accomplishment.

Though there were many problems for the new American republic—which is perhaps best compared to a post-colonial 20th-century African or Asian state—we must dismiss the chaos theory for why the Articles were eventually replaced by the Constitution. Consider, for a moment, all the things that didn’t happen to the new republic in the 1780s. There were no interstate wars, no external invasions, no general rebellion. In fact, in many respects, according to the historian Merrill Jensen, there was a spirit of optimism and a sense of an improving humanity within the new country.

Confederation or Empire: The Northwest Ordinance and the Fate of Native Peoples

Northwest Land Ordinance diagram (1785).

Another often-forgotten accomplishment of U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation was the passing of the Northwest Ordinance, the plan for the occupation and subdivision of the territories ceded by Britain north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. Have you ever noticed how when traversing Midwest “flyover country” on a modern airliner the farmland below appears divided into neatly square plots of similar size? For that we have the Northwest Land Ordinance of 1785, passed into law under the Articles, to thank. The new law divided and subdivided the acres of unsettled (at least by Anglo farmers) land into neat squares for future sale and development.

The British had signed over ownership of this territory to the new United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the War of Independence. They did so, of course, without the permission of or, often, even notifying the land’s actual inhabitants, numerous native peoples. This, as we’ve seen in past installments of this series, was a recipe for trouble. The Indians had no intention of ceding their land simply because certain white men across a vast ocean had signed a few papers.

The land granted to the new United States in the Ohio Country was extraordinarily important to the new government under the Articles. Lacking the power of direct taxation of the people, the Congress expected the sale of these lands to private citizens to earn the government ample income to pay down the national war debt and fund wartime bonds issued during the Revolution. It might have worked, too, if those lands were empty. Unfortunately for the land speculators and would-be pioneers, the various tribes of the region had formed a massive coalition and would fight, hard, for their territory. In fact, in the 1780s and early 1790s, two separate U.S. Army forces were devastatingly defeated by the Ohio Country native confederation. These defeats, and the inability to sell and settle the new lands, helped fuel the depression and fiscal crisis facing the Articles of Confederation-era republic. It was all connected, east with west, domestic with foreign policy.

As a future charter, though, the Northwest Ordinance was profound and shaped the settlement and organization of the ever-expanding United States. The new lands, once settled by a requisite number of farmers, would become federal territories and, eventually, states. This, of course, upset many of the original 13 states, which had long claimed vast tracts to their west. The Ordinance also did something else rather consequential: It outlawed the institution of slavery north of the Ohio River. This reflected growing post-revolutionary sentiment in the Northern states, which would see nearly all their governments gradually outlaw the “peculiar institution” over the two proceeding decades. What the Ordinance now set up, however, was a growing north-south societal divide over the institution of slavery that would eventually play out in the American Civil War.

The Northwest Ordinance, even if it was premature in signing away and organizing highly contested territory, did achieve two things. First, it increased the probability that land speculators and other factions would call for a more centralized government than the Articles could provide. Only a strong federal government, they would argue, could raise, fund and field an army capable of defeating the formidable native confederation in the Ohio Country. Second, the Ordinance ultimately doomed the native peoples inhabiting this fertile land to either conquest and subservience or expulsion. Before the first waves of settlers crossed the Appalachian Mountains, this outcome was nearly inevitable. The new republic’s government had made plans for, divided up and begun to sell off the Indian land without the consent of the native tribes.

Let us remember that when the British and Spanish agreed to cede everything east of the Mississippi River to the new United States they were transferring a vast empire to the American republic. One could argue, then, that the American tension between republic and empire was already in full swing when the Ordinance passed. Furthermore, one of the reasons the stronger future federal constitution appealed to so many Eastern elites was that they knew that a centralized government was now necessary to manage what Thomas Jefferson famously called “an Empire of Liberty.”

Perhaps the truth is a confederation of small republics could never manage an empire unless it had a stronger constitution. As we will see in the next installment, it was under our current Constitution, not the Articles, that we grew into a full empire, one that we retain to this day.

Excesses of Democracy: Elite Responses and Criticisms of the Articles

“I dread more from the licentiousness of the people, than from the bad government of rulers.” —Virginia Congressman Henry Lee Jr. (1787)

Continental dollars, paper currency issued by the wartime Congress (1779).

Not all Americans saw the 1780s as a time of hope, experimentation and increased egalitarianism. For many, especially wealthy, elite citizens, the entire decade, along with the Articles of Confederation that presided over the new republic, was a nightmare. The chief complaints of those who wished to strengthen the federal government were that chaos reigned, the commoners had gained too much confidence and power, and the state legislatures were too beholden to their constituents. The result, as these men—who would become the Framers of the Constitution—saw it, was bad governance.

Finances played a major role. On this subject neither side of the great debate was happy.

Poor and middling sorts were upset that heavily indebted state legislatures were levying taxes many times higher than this class of Americans had had to pay under imperial rule. Most taxes were collected in gold and silver, which few backcountry farmers had access too. These citizens were also aghast at the potential for increased federal taxing power, which, indeed, many elites later proposed.

Creditors, financiers, large landholders and even some genuinely principled republicans saw things differently. In their minds, the Revolution had unleashed a popular torrent of excessive democracy, egalitarianism and a new spirit of “leveling,” or what would today be called premodern socialism. Farmers, artisans and laborers had forgotten their proper place in society and gained too much confidence with respect to their social betters. To the better-off, the Revolution had unintended, not altogether positive, second- and third-order effects. As one New Englander declared in the fall of 1786, “men of sense and property have lost much of their influence by the popular spirit of the law.”

As the eminent historian Gordon Wood has pointed out, we must understand that a majority of the Articles’ most famous critics—and the later constitutional Framers—were basically aristocrats in the pre-industrial, pre-capitalist sense of the word. They feared inflation, paper money and debt relief measures because they modeled their social and economic world on the systems and tendencies of the English gentry. Their entire societal and agrarian order was at risk during the 1780s and, in fact, would later collapse in the increasingly commercial Northern states, only to live on in the plantation life of the antebellum South. Much of their complaint about “excessive democracy” in the new American state governments may ring hollow to modern ears, but they believed in their position most emphatically.

Let us forget what we know about popular government in the 21st century and remember that in the 1780s, especially among the elites, the term “democracy” was still generally used as a pejorative. And, to the Founding elites, it was high time to stuff the democratic genie—unleashed by the spirit of ’76—back in the bottle. By excess democracy, the elites, who would become Federalists in later political parlance, referred specifically to the ability of commoners to pressure popularly elected state legislatures to print paper money and pass debt relief bills. If creditors couldn’t expect prompt repayment in full, they surmised, the social order itself would break down. Many of these elites were themselves creditors or speculators and often were wealthy.

Still, it would be too simple and cynical to ascribe their political beliefs simply to personal, pecuniary interests. Rather, their critique of democracy and the state governments’ policies under the Articles was generally consistent with their particular brand of republican worldview. Liberty and order must be balanced in the American republic, or republics, and, they believed, strict libertarianism had gone too far since the outbreak of revolution. But, were they right? The centralizing elites’ favorite example of unbridled democratic chaos has been passed down in American history under the title Shays’ Rebellion.

The Last Act of the American Revolution: Shays’ Rebellion

“The late rebellion in Massachusetts has given more alarm than I think it should have done. … I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing … as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. … It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. …” —Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 30, 1787, writing from Paris in a letter to James Madison, regarding Shays’ Rebellion

Every History 101 textbook presents the same narrative about the fall of the Articles of Confederation and the rise of the infallible Constitution. The “people” got out of hand with all that revolutionary fervor, and in Massachusetts’ Shays’ Rebellion, matters boiled over. In response to the chaos unleashed by these rebels, “respectable” patriots—such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton—decided to find a remedy that balanced liberty and order. The result, of course, was the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

But what if our common understanding of Shays’ Rebellion is incomplete, perhaps even wrong? What if Shays and his Regulators—they did not call themselves rebels—had a point, genuine grievances and a coherent worldview? Since this singular event is given so much weight as the supposed catalyst for the American Constitution, it deserves a closer look.

For starters, we have to review the grievances of many American farmers in the 1780s. Remember that the wartime Continental Congress and individual colonies had to raise money and take on debt in order to fund an eight-year war. Soldiers, when they were paid at all, received paper notes, and merchants, who all too often found their goods requisitioned by the patriots, also received paper currency, essentially IOUs from a broke, fledgling revolutionary government.

After the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1783, the confederation Congress asked (the Articles of Confederation provided no mechanism for direct federal taxation) the 13 states to raise money to pay off federal war bonds and, furthermore, the individual states had to raise enough gold and silver to redeem their own state currencies. The result was state-level taxation that was on average two or three times higher than in the colonial era. This is ironic, given our common understanding of the American Revolution as a revolt against excessive taxes!

The problem is that the mass printing of paper currency, combined with low confidence in Congress’ future ability to pay its debts, led to massive inflation and devaluation of the credit notes. Most creditors and merchants stopped honoring the face value of continental dollars and some would accept only gold or silver specie (of which there was an exceeding shortage in the Revolutionary era). By war’s end, 100 continental dollars often had a market value of less than $1 in hard specie. If a returning veteran wanted to feed or clothe himself, he needed to exchange his paper pay slips for gold or silver. Indeed, in one of the great crimes against American military veterans in this country’s history, poor, desperate discharged soldiers had little choice but to sell off their nearly worthless currency for a pittance in gold or silver.

Such was the case in rural western Massachusetts in 1786. The state government in Boston imposed a high property and poll tax on the farmers and insisted it be paid in hard currency (gold or silver). As noted earlier, most farmers did not have access to such specie. What they did have was land, animals, tools and, perhaps, if they were war veterans, continental paper dollars. If they couldn’t pay in gold, well, then, the local sheriff could seize their land. And, if the sheriff was sympathetic to the farmers and did not enforce the evictions, laws passed by the state government in Boston allowed authorities to seize his property.

What, asked many western Massachusetts farmers—a great number of them war veterans—did we just fight a revolution for? To suffer unreasonable taxation and lose our land to our own state government? The sense of injustice was palpable and, in hindsight, understandable. One such smallholder, named Daniel Shays, became a leader of the disgruntled western farmers and would head what eventually became an armed revolt intent on closing the courts and saving their property.

Shays was a former Continental Army officer, a wounded veteran of the battles of Bunker Hill and Saratoga, who left the Army a pauper. Later taken to court over debts stemming from his time away from his farm, Shays was forced to sell his sword, a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, to come up with the money. By 1786, he, like many of his compatriots, had nothing left to give when the taxman again came calling.

Almost all the Continental Army veterans had by 1786 sold off their paper currency and war bonds to rich speculators for a fraction of the face value. Now the states, and the federal Congress, imposed taxes to pay either the interest on, or the face value of, the very war bonds the veterans had desperately sold off. It all seemed utterly unjust.

Few of the speculators were veterans. Most possessed fortunes, and a willingness to play the futures market. One of the reasons Shays’ Rebellion occurred in Massachusetts was that the state government in Boston had begun taxing land with the intent to pay off the face value of all state bank notes no later than 1790. Worse still, by 1786, just 35 men—nearly all of whom lived in the state capital, Boston—owned 40 percent of all the bank notes. They stood to make a killing when the tax windfall came in.

After Shays and his Regulators refused to pay the tax, armed themselves, closed several county courts and marched on the federal weapons arsenal at Springfield, the eastern elites panicked. Without a standing federal army, and with the state militia unreliable or sympathetic to Shays’ cause, the Massachusetts governor—himself a large bondholder—enlisted other wealthy creditors to hire a private army to put down the growing rebellion.

There was a remarkable overlap between large holders of bank notes and those who contributed to hiring the mercenary force. One wealthy donor, who contributed $500 in gold for the mercenaries, held as much as $30,000 in unredeemed bank notes. When the private militia eventually was successful in suppressing Shays’ Rebellion, contributions of this kind turned out to be money well spent.

The dividing lines in Shays’ Rebellion were as much regional as class-based. This was a battle between the western hinterland and the hub city of Boston, a political tension that exists in Massachusetts to this day. In many colonies, the farmers had successfully lobbied to move the capitols out of the commercial hub cities—for example, from New York City to Albany and from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pa. Massachusetts was the anomaly in that Boston remained both the commercial and political capital of the state.

Shays and his compatriots wanted the capital moved westward, the aristocratic state Senate abolished, and the stipulated $1,000 in assets of prospective gubernatorial candidates to be lowered or eliminated. So, as we can see, this fight was as much about class and region as anything else, and this certainly complicates the narrative.

Shays’ Regulators saw themselves as patriots waging perhaps the final act of the American Revolution. When they were defeated, many “rebels”—including Shays—fled across the border to safe haven in what was then the independent republic of Vermont. This should be unsurprising, since Vermont was itself founded by agrarian “rebels” like Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, who had clashed with New York state landowners and seceded to form their own country.

Although Shays’ Rebellion was put down, we must take a harder look to determine the local winners and losers. Gov. James Bowdoin and many anti-Shays legislators were soon voted out of office, and debt relief was passed in the next session of the Massachusetts legislature. Shays was pardoned and eventually even received a pension for his Continental Army service. It was the perceived success of the rebels—along with the military impotence that forced creditors to hire a private army—that would have a profound effect on Massachusetts, the elites and the young republic itself.

Shays’ movement was only one of many rebellions or threats of rebellion in the 1780s. Thus, one motive of the Framers of the Constitution was to create a new federal government with the power, funds and professional army capable of suppressing unrest. This was ironic, since the American Revolution had been fought, in part, in opposition to the presence of a standing British army.

The true importance and legacy of Shays’ Rebellion was the fear it struck in the hearts of American elites. Shays’ most prominent critic was one George Washington. Before he read of Shays’ agrarian revolt, Gen. Washington was happily retired at his estate in Virginia. It was his fear of further rebellions—which, according to a favorite analogy, were like snowballs, gathering weight as they rolled along—that convinced Washington to take part in the Philadelphia convention to reform the Articles of Confederation.

In a letter to Henry Lee, Washington expressed his horror regarding the revolt in Massachusetts and, furthermore, revealed his pessimism about the ability of the common man to practice self-government. He wrote:

The accounts which are published of the commotions … exhibit a melancholy proof of what our trans-Atlantic foe has predicted; and of another thing perhaps, which is still more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind when left to themselves are unfit for their own Government. I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon any Country. …

No doubt Washington believed this, and truly feared for the fate of the new republic. But was he right?

Can we in good conscience say that Shays and his ilk were nefarious rebels or chaotic brigands? Could it not be said that, in a sense, Shays was correct and, in a way, a patriot? If Shays and his men were indeed patriots, then what does that say about the motivations of the wealthy men of substance—including Washington—who later gathered in Philadelphia to rein in what they called “the excesses of democracy”? At least this: that these Framers were rather dissimilar from Daniel Shays and his fellow men at arms; that they did not represent the constituency of farmers and veterans who fought for what Shays certainly believed was their own lives, liberty and happiness.

This is not to say the Articles were not flawed, or to smear the motives of each and every Founder. Rather, a fresh look at Shays’ Rebellion and the elite reactions to it ought to complicate our understanding of who the Framers were and were not, whom they did and did not represent, and what they hoped to achieve in Philadelphia. True histories can omit neither the George Washingtons nor the Daniel Shays of our shared past. The republican experiments of the 1780s and the new constitutional order after 1787 both reflected, to varying degrees, the hopes, dreams and perspectives of Shays’ Regulators and Boston creditors alike. One might even say that America’s ongoing experiment, here in the second decade of this 21st century, still reflects this tension.

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The Road to Philadelphia: From the Spirit of ’76 to a New Constitution

What, then, should we make of the turbulent and critical 1780s? Certainly it was a time of transition, of political and constitutional experimentation in the fledgling republic and within each of the still very independent states.

Maybe this too: While imperfect, life under the Articles was not as tumultuous as most students have been led to believe. Thus, at least to some extent, we must see the establishment of a more centralized system under the 1787 Constitution as the fulfillment of the dreams of more conservative delegates, increasingly tepid revolutionaries—men of wealth, men of “good standing”—not, necessarily, as consistent with the hopes of an American majority.

A new look at the transition from the Articles to the Constitution, which we will take on in the next installment, presents a very different backdrop to the Philadelphia convention. A more thorough understanding of the inspirational, if messy, 1780s helps explain what some historians have argued the Constitutional Convention really was: the counterrevolution of 1787, a repudiation of the “Spirit of ’76.”

As the historian Woody Holton noted, the 1780s deserve attention and remain relevant because “the range of political possibilities was, in numerous ways, greater than it is today.” We must be cautious in how we remember this period, careful not to read history backward from a post-1787 constitutional world, and avoid writing off the Articles of Confederation as somehow doomed to failure.

Political leaders and common folk alike spent the decade after the revolution asking and answering many seminal questions: What sort of nation would the United States be? Would it even be a nation in the modern sense of the word, or instead would be it a collection of states? Should the national government be centralized, federal or essentially nonexistent? An empire or a confederation? Progressive and egalitarian or socially and fiscally conservative?

Elites and commoners, top-down agendas and grass-roots movements—all of these played roles in the 1780s to help define the contours of post-revolutionary America. They, the then living, could hardly know they were deciding, at that moment, which founding myth later generations would revere as American gospel.

As 1786 turned to 1787, the levelers and progressives, it seemed, would lose out, at least for a time. The 1780s and the Articles of Confederation may have represented their high tide of hope, but the pendulum was about to reverse course, moved backward by patriot elites who were intent, in a sense, on a counterrevolution. The Framers, men you know and revere as “democrats”—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin—would soon craft a document that would curtail what these men actually saw as the “excesses” of democracy in America. This document would soon become their, and our, republican scripture: the U.S. Constitution.

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To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:

● James West Davidson, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle and Michael B. Stoff, “Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past,” Chapter 8: “Crisis and Constitution, 1776-1789” (2011).

● Alfred Young and Gregory Nobles, “Whose American Revolution Was It? Historians Interpret the Founding” (2011).

● Edward Countryman, “The American Revolution” (1985).

● Gary B. Nash, “The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America” (2005).

● Joseph Ellis, “The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789” (2015).

● Merrill Jensen, “The Articles of Confederation” (1940).

● Woody Holton, “Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution” (2007).

Maj. Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast, “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.

[The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

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