The Articles of Confederation, the Path to the Constitution
After the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers had to create a framework of government that would serve as the new enforceable law in the land - The Articles of Confederation, the Path to the Constitution introduction. The Articles of Confederation, or formerly known as the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement made between the thirteen sovereign states that established the newly formed United States of America. The Articles served, and are regarded as the first “constitution”. However, this first attempt at creating a system of government did not work as intended for it revealed many weaknesses.
But why did the Articles fail, and how did the Constitution make up for its shortcomings? The Articles were not sufficient to rule such large nation as the United States of America. The lack of power given to the central government, among other features, proved that a large nation needed a well-balanced system of government that would fit the needs of the states, the people, and also, create a strong national government whose job was to oversee the well being of the nation.
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Therefore, the Articles of Confederation served as bridge between the initial government by the Continental Congress of the Revolutionary period and the Federal Government provided by the Constitution for the United States. Even though the intention to create a strong central government was preconceived, it did not happen this way. The states main concern to not be controlled delayed the acquiescence and compliance to the suggested Continental Congress mandate. The Articles of Confederation were written during the Second Continental congress taken place in Maryland and began the ratification in November 1977 Wikipedia. The head of the committee, Johnson Dickinson, who did not participate in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, nevertheless adhering to the will of the majority, presented a report to the Continental Congress on July of 1976, just eight days after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Dickinson’s initial proposal included a strong central government, with control over the western lands, equal representations for the states, and the power to levy taxes, etc. ”(Barefootsworld. et) However, the previous and still latent experience with the British rule made the “United Colonies” cautious to confer an excess of power to the national government. The Continental Congress had been careful to deliberately give each state independence and sovereignty, meticulously defining and specifying the limited and deficient role of the central government. Thus, the Articles were modified before they were sent to the states for ratification. Discord reigned between the states, thus delaying the acceptance and enforcement of the Articles.
The founders were avid for the states approval and final ratification: “Permit us, then, earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states. Let them be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining in one system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties… (Journals of the Continental Congress). Disagreements resulted over boundary lines, trade between states, tariff regulations, etc. The small states, compared to the larger states were afraid of inequality in Congress representation. The larger states were preoccupied with paying unrestrained amounts of money to support the national government. The thirteen states were unable to come to an agreement regarding the western territories, prior to yielding power to the Congress to regulate the sale of these territories as long as profits were equal.
Under the provisions given by the Articles, the central government had the power to make war and peace, power to set up a postal department to estimate the costs of the government, to declare war or raise armed forces, and control development of the states. Nonetheless, they would request donations, approval, and permission from the states in order to attempt any progress or action. The Articles created a loose confederation of states that limited the power given to the central government.
This national government would consist of a single house of Congress, where each state would have one vote. “Even when not yet ratified, the Articles provided domestic and international legitimacy for the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe and deal with territorial issues and Indian relations”(Wikipedia). The aforementioned elements are the main provisions granted to the national government, though in theory it was supposed to work, the restrained authority bestowed upon Congress evinced, later on, the fragility to the Articles.
Attempting to regulate and limit the power of the national government, the states and Continental Congress ended up creating an ineffective structure of government that brought about national and international problems. The central government could not do anything about the trading and taxation issues, which are the main problems and weaknesses that unveiled. Most of the time, states refused to give money to the central government, making difficult to carry out any efforts by it; this caused tariff wars between states hurting the commerce and thus the economy.
The Articles ignored the need of an army; there were no courts, no executive or power given to an individual due to the fear of falling into tyranny once again. Congress faced a lot of shortcomings, it was unable to pay the soldiers for their service and the debt was such that they started foreclosing on those who had taken loans from the banks. These were the problems with the Articles of Confederation, there was no financial stability because the states had the choice to willingly give money if they wanted to, and Congress could not deal with other governments or nations.
It is important to remember that after the American Revolution, a lot of British soldiers were in American soil still. Unfortunately, there was nothing Congress could do for it did not have the power, or the money to implement any laws. During 1786 and 1787, an armed rebellion raised. Since the government had started foreclosing on properties and farms, people were not happy about this situation, so they decided to take care of the affairs. “Shays’ Rebellion and armed uprising took place in central and western Massachusetts.
The rebellion was named after Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War and one of the rebel leaders” (Wikipedia). The rebels decided to take control of the state courts and they did so, proving or revealing the need for a strong national government. The deficiency of the Articles of Confederation revealed the necessity of a new structure of government, therefore, a convention was appointed with the purpose of revising the Articles. The Framers were not supposed to create a new document, but there was a need to follow new rules.
The new constitution was born, this created a three-system government: executive, judicial, and legislative. The constitution substituted with great success the Articles; it gave organization and well balanced separation of powers that prevented tyranny. The concept of federalism was born, the power divided between the Central (Federal) and State Government. The Supremacy Clause, which stated that the Federal Government is supreme, and their job is to regulate commerce and currency, create a national army that would defend the country when needed.
Furthermore, it had the ability to collect taxes to fund all it has to do. The Articles of Confederation allowed the nation to practice an era of self-government, which definitely gave experience in this new independent nature. The new Constitution retained some of the features included in the Articles of Confederation, but considerably gave more power to the central government. Thus the deficiency found on the Articles paved the way for a new system of government, the Constitution the made up for the imperfections of the former framework of government.