Under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress only had power over colonial governments, not the citizens themselves. After the war ended, this system grew problematic, especially since any change to the Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote by all of the colonies. This was nearly impossible since they each acted independently and there was much refusal to participate for the common good. The country could not pay the debts it accrued over the war, while each colony was busy issuing independent and conflicting laws and rules. In 1787, delegates of the 13 colonies held the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia  and immediately voted to drop the Articles of Confederation. They spent many months debating the form that their new government should take, until they finally found a brilliant compromise, and adopted the U.S. Constitution.
This seminal document unified and guided the laws and principles of the new country’s government, as it does to this day. Philadelphia was the U.S. capital from 1790 to 1800 and George Washington served as the nation’s first president. The northern colonies petitioned Congress to keep the capital in Philadelphia or New York, but—after a debate that Thomas Jefferson called the “most bitter and angry contest ever known in Congress, before or since the Union of the States”—the northerners were forgiven some heavy debts in return for agreeing to move the capital city to a site along the banks of the Potomac River, in what is now Washington, D.C. The Pennsylvania state government left in 1799 and the U.S. government the following year.