“From 1781 to 1789, the Articles of Confederation provided the United States with an effective government;” a bold statement considering the fact that the Articles lasted only 8 years. Although, I suppose the case could be made that the Articles of Confederation provided the means for a temporary government, only acting as a first-time attempt for the colonies in creating a more perfect representation for the colonies as a whole. This is true in some ways and in some ways it’s not; for instance, just the fact that the Articles lacked the necessary provisions for a sufficiently effective government.
There was no president or executive agencies or judiciary, nor was there a tax base or even a way to pay off state and national debts from the war years. However, there is also evidence that the Articles did, for a time, provide the newly formed American colonies with the means to govern themselves in the manner that they wished to be governed, and set the rules for operations of the United States government. Based on this, the Articles were largely ineffective because of their limited scope and the inability of Congress to enforce any of the decisions that it made.
What this statement is merely saying is that the Articles of Confederation provided us, as a newly formed nation, with a temporary government with which to govern ourselves, even though it only lasted for about 8 years. You see, after the Revolutionary War, the United States signed the Treaty of Paris which ended all hostilities with Great Britain. The treaty left the U. S. independent and at peace, but with an unsettled governmental structure. The Articles of Confederation were weak and did not give a strong political or economic base for the newly formed nation.
Another way in which the Articles were weak was the fact that the colonies weren’t, in a sense, even united or even considered a nation as evidenced by the following excerpt: “Does not call the United States a ‘nation’, but instead says: ‘The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever. ”(Article III) Yet another way the Articles of Confederation were weak was the fact that there was only one representative body for the colonies called the Congress of Confederation. Under the Articles, Congress was given the powers to do that which the executive and judiciary branches of government of today can do, except the power of taxation and the power to enforce the decisions that it made. This was mainly due to the fact that the majority of law-making authority rested with the states, and, as a result, the central government was kept quite limited.
By 1783, with the end of the British blockade, the new nation was regaining its prosperity. However, trade opportunities were restricted by the mercantilism of the British and French empires. Political unrest in several states and efforts by debtors to use popular government to erase their debts increased the anxiety of the political and economic elites which had led the Revolution. The apparent inability of the Congress to redeem the public obligations incurred during the war, or to become a forum for productive cooperation among the states to encourage commerce and economic development, only aggravated a gloomy situation.
In 1786-87, the Shay’s Rebellion, an uprising of farmers in western Massachusetts against the state court system, threatened the stability of state government. Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as an ambassador to France at the time, refused to be alarmed by Shays’ Rebellion. In a letter to a friend, he argued that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing stating that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. In contrast to Jefferson’s sentiments, George Washington, who at the time was urging many through letters about forming a better, more energetic national government through the union of the states, wrote a letter to Henry Lee in regards to the rebellion, stating that “You talk…of…influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or…that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know he worst at once. ” This conflict would become the turning point in the Articles of Confederation’s legacy, and would lead to the eventual reevaluation of the document itself in 1787. Ultimately, the uprising was the climax of a series of events of the 1780s that convinced a powerful group of Americans that the national government needed to be stronger so that it could create uniform economic policies and protect property owners from infringements on their rights by local majorities.
The limited scope of the Articles of Confederation and the inability of Congress to enforce any decisions that it made were two of the most prominent reasons as to why the document itself was deemed ineffective. Although, in theory, the Articles were groundbreaking and a good idea at the time; in reality, the events that were brought about in the 1780s throughout the duration of the document’s legacy showed its authors that it fell short of their expectations.