Daniel Shays is living proof that one man can make a difference, provided that man is a veteran of warfare, has easy access to weaponry, and lives in a decentralized state.
Shays’ Rebellion in 1786-87 Massachusetts is by now little more than a sidebar in the formation of America. After all, the rebellion failed, and as we all know, history is written by the winners. But Shays’ influence extends far beyond the Berkshire Hills where his rebellion began. The brief backstory: Shays was a war vet and a farmer. Like most men with that twin designation, he had very little money, and the newly established government had little pity for his situation.
Look, we all know the basics here: Articles of Confederation bad, Constitution awesome. No one’s denying this. But there is one thing that the Articles of Confederation provide that the Constitution never could: perspective.
Without the Articles of Confederation, would we have any idea how great the Constitution is? Or would we just assume that founding governments was pretty simple? The Articles, then, act as the ugly friend that makes a girl look better, the draft bust that makes you appreciate when your team gets it right, the bad trailer that lowers expectations for the good movie.
I mean, the Constitution’s “We the people…” preamble is okay. It’s nice; not thrilling, but nice. Compared to the Articles’ “To all to whom…” opening, it’s practically prosaic. Have you read the start of this thing? The opening paragraph is a really long and confusing way of saying, “Hello.” To go from “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” to “To all to whom…” is embarrassing. “We the people…” at least has some dignity to it.
Furthermore, the Articles located some potential missteps—like “one state, one vote”—that the Constitution was able to avoid. In essence, it was a rough draft—a very rough draft—for one of the great documents of all-time. And if the principles it espoused were later resurrected during the Civil War, who cares? That’s the price of perspective.