The Articles Of Confederation Essay

The Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States of

America. The Articles of Confederation were first drafted by the Continental Congress in

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Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1777. This first draft was prepared by a man named John

Dickinson in 1776. The Articles were then ratified in 1781. The cause for the changes

to be made was due to state jealousies and widespread distrust of the central

authority. This jealousy then led to the emasculation of the document.

As adopted, the articles provided only for a “firm league of friendship” in which each of

the 13 states expressly held “its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The People

of each state were given equal privileges and rights, freedom of movement was

guaranteed, and procedures for the trials of accused criminals were outlined. The

articles established a national legislature called the Congress, consisting of two to

seven delegates from each state; each state had one vote, according to its size or

population. No executive or judicial branches were provided for. Congress was charged

with responsibility for conducting foreign relations, declaring war or peace, maintaining

an army and navy, settling boundary disputes, establishing and maintaining a postal

service, and various lesser functions. Some of these responsibilities were shared with

the states, and in one way or another Congress was dependent upon the cooperation

of the states for carrying out any of them.

Four visible weaknesses of the articles, apart from those of organization, made it

impossible for Congress to execute its constitutional duties. These were analyzed in

numbers 15-22 of The FEDERALIST, the political essays in which Alexander Hamilton,

James Madison, and John Jay argued the case for the U.S. CONSTITUTION of 1787.

The first weakness was that Congress could legislate only for states, not for

individuals; because of this it could not enforce legislation. Second, Congress had no

power to tax. Instead, it was to assess its expenses and divide those among the states

on the basis of the value of land. States were then to tax their own citizens to raise

the money for these expenses and turn the proceeds over to Congress. They could not

be forced to do so, and in practice they rarely met their obligations. Third, Congress

lacked the power to control commerce–without its power to conduct foreign relations

was not necessary, since most treaties except those of peace were concerned mainly

with trade. The fourth weakness ensured the demise of the Confederation by making it

too difficult to correct the first three. Amendments could have corrected any of the

weaknesses, but amendments required approval by all 13 state legislatures. None of the

several amendments that were proposed met that requirement.

On the days from September 11, 1786 to September 14, 1786, New Jersey, Delaware,

Pennsylvania, and Virginia had a meeting of there delegates at the Annapolis

Convention. Too few states were represented to carry out the original purpose of the

meeting–to discuss the regulation of interstate commerce–but there was a larger

topic at question, specifically, the weakness of the Articles of Confederation. Alexander

Hamilton successfully proposed that the states be invited to send delegates to

Philadelphia to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the

exigencies of the Union.” As a result, the Constitutional Convention was held in May

The Constitutional Convention, which wrote the Constitution of the United States, was

held in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. It was called by the Continental Congress and

several states in response to the expected bankruptcy of Congress and a sense of

panic arising from an armed revolt–Shays’s Rebellion–in New England. The

convention’s assigned job, following proposals made at the Annapolis Convention the

previous September, was to create amendments to the Articles of Confederation. The

delegates, however, immediately started writing a new constitution.

Fifty-five delegates representing 12 states attended at least part of the sessions.

Thirty-four of them were lawyers; most of the others were planters or merchants.

Although George Washington, who presided, was 55, and John Dickinson was 54,

Benjamin Franklin 81, and Roger Shermen 66, most of the delegates were young men in

their 20s and 30s. Noticeable absent were the revolutionary leaders of the effort for

independence in 1775-76, such as John Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson.

The delegates’ knowledge concerning government, both ideal and practical, made the

convention perhaps the most intelligent such gathering ever assembled.

On September 17 the Constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present. A

period of national argument followed, during which the case for support of the

constitution was strongly presented in the FEDERALIST essays of Alexander Hamilton,

John Jay, and James Madison. The last of the 13 states to ratify the Constitution was

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