The Articles of Confederations’ Failure as an Effective Government During the American Revolution the French needed some security before they would ally themselves with the Colonists, and thus the Articles of Confederation was created. Between 1781 and 1789 the United States used the Articles of Confederation as a guide to governing the country. With that came the questioning of whether or not the Articles of Confederation was an effective form of government. An effective form of government requires the ability to rule productively, have beneficial relationships with other countries, and do what is best for the people it governs.
Although the Articles of Confederation gave states their sovereignty and had productive means of governing territory, overall it did not provide an effective form of government on account of the domestic issues and foreign policy problems. Some historians argued that the Articles of Confederation’s good qualities—such as giving states their sovereignty and handling the territorial disputes over the old west capably—outweighed the negative effects the Articles of Confederation had, and deemed it an effective form of government.
States were satisfied when the Articles of Confederation caused them that they were to turn over all western lands over to the federal government (document E). The federal government would then sell the land and pay off the debts it had. In trade for the land, the federal government would not have the rights to tax citizens because they could use the profits from the land as a source of revenue.
Since the federal government was in possession of vast amounts of land, they came up with a plan to sell the land and a way to assimilate new states into the U. S. The plans became known as the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance; both of the plans proved beneficial to the United States. Many of the states were content with the Articles of Confederation and did not wish to ratify the Constitution when it was proposed in 1789. South Carolina was a state that did not wish to dispose of the Articles of Confederation.
In a speech given by Rawlin Lowndes to the South Carolina House of Representatives while debating the adoption of the Constitution he preached “[It is] called on the house to consider whether it would not be better to add strength to the old Confederation, instead of hastily adopting another… [Where] instead of repairing the injury, [they] should pull it down, and build another” (document H). His speech endorsed the thought of rather than making a whole new Confederation with new problems, why not just strengthen the old Confederation.
Even though there were some good ideas in the Articles of Confederation; unfortunately they were few and far between. Many problems arose domestically between 1781 and 1789 because the Articles of Confederation required unanimous votes to make amendments and did not have the powers necessary to provide as an effective government such as not giving the federal government the power to tax the people. Taxation was the main way for governments to create revenue to run the country.
The Articles of Confederation did not allow federal taxes due to a single veto from one state, Rhode Island. In a letter from the Rhode Island Assembly to Congress they wrote “I enclose the unanimous resolution [to reject] the recommendation of Congress, respecting and impost on imported goods” (document A). Under the Articles of Confederation, to make amendments it required a unanimous vote from all thirteen states. This weakened the power of the federal government immensely. This also created problems because it was the reason the federal government could not tax the people.
The lack of federal taxes posed as a problem for one reason stated in a letter from Joseph Jones of Virginia to George Washington. He said “One ground of discontent in the army… [Is] the inability of Congress to pay their demands” which shows the frustration the war veterans had towards Congress because of the Articles of Confederation. Three years later there was a social upheaval known as Shay’s Rebellion. They rebels—many of them former soldiers deep in debt due to the war—were unhappy with the state government and wanted them to make laws that would benefit the people of the state.
The uprising woke up big names such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Jay. John Jay wrote to George Washington with great concern and fear saying “[We must] prepare their minds for almost any change that may promise them quiet and security” (document G). Jay knew that if the Articles of Confederation was not changed, the people of America would quickly turn and give their loyalty to any movement promising them prosperity. While domestic issues through out the country were growing, so were the foreign policy problems.
Problems with the British, Spanish, French, and Barbary pirates were caused by the Articles of Confederation failure to place control of commerce regulations and taxation in the federal government’s hand, leaving it to the discretion of individual state governments. Americas export values had decreased significantly under the Articles of Confederation, dropping from a $6,555 estimated market value before the Articles of Confederation to a $4,429 value (document B). The regulations of commerce only lying in the states power resulted in this drastic decline in market value.
Britain also was creating problems out west by not handing over the forts they had established in America as promised in the Treaty of Paris 1783. The federal government’s missing regulations with other countries forced John Jay to write to the United States Minister to Great Britain instructing “You will in a respectful but firm manner insist that the United States be put…into possession of all the posts and territories within their limits, which are now held by British garrisons” (document D).
The need to use a respectful but firm manner demonstrates the poor foreign policy we had with Britain, which could have been solved by putting power of commerce in the federal government. Problems with Spain were also occurring over control and use of the Mississippi River. During his speech on Navigations with Spain’s Minister Diego de Gardoqui, John Jay told Congress “[Spain] continues to be, one of their maxims of policy to exclude all man kind from their American shores” (document F).
Spain’s policy of keeping Americans form using the Mississippi River for trade Inspired John Jay to propose “The articles should stipulate that the United States would forbear to use the navigation of that river below their territories to the ocean. ” to make a positive stride towards better affairs with Spain (document F). This proposition is another example of how commerce regulations were limited and changes to the Articles of Confederation would be good for the U. S.
The United States was still deep in debt to France and the Barbary pirates were also causing hardships on American merchants. They were raiding American ships now that they sailed with out British flags. The pirates saw American ships as easy targets in particular since the United States was without a navy at the time. The absence of a navy and debt still owed were caused by the shortness of funds for the federal government. The funds could have been collected through tax revenue, but the Articles of Confederation step into play once again and prove it is not and effective form of government.
The domestic predicaments and foreign policy troubles caused by the Articles of Confederation substantially support that it was not an effective form of government. The positives that came along with the Articles of Confederation were not frequent enough to argue that it was affective. An effective government needs to represent the people governed and make sure that the countries workings are sound. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation failed to due these things, thus proving its ineffectiveness.