Article of Confederation and the New Constitution


Even though the conservatives in historic America believed in the culture of a centralized system of governance, federalists and their associated allies believed in a system of effective citizen representation in all decision-making levels of governance. After a series of debates, arguments, and counter-arguments, the United States of America adopted the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777 (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell, 2010).

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Even though the Articles of Confederation came into force four years after adoption, it acted as the country’s supreme law until 1789 when the new constitution based on the Bill of Rights came into force. This paper explores the similarities and differences between the two sets of supreme laws. Similarly, the paper elucidates the campaigns, debates, and arguments among the federalists and the anti-federalists in the preparation and adoption of the current United States’ Constitution.

Articles of Confederation

Dickinson draft of the Articles of Confederation reaffirmed the unification of the federal states of America with the representation of each state based on population. However, it is important to note that this draft gave all powers to a centralized national governance structures. The inability of nations to maintain their power led to intense debate on the applicability of the Articles of Confederation.

This led to the alteration of the provision of the articles that led to the adoption of the final document; it ensured that each state retained all the powers with each state having one vote in the Congress (Keene et al., 2010). Aimed at maintaining sovereignty of the member states other than developing a centralized system of governance, this final document instituted a firm league of friendship among the states that formed the basis for economic and socio-political empowerment (Mendes-Flohr & Reinharz, 2011).

Demerits of the Articles of Confederation

Inability of the Congress to regulate trade

In the 1780s, America’s economy went into depression due to inadequacy of the national governance structure in controlling trade. As stipulated in the Articles of Confederation, the Congress had limited power on regulating and managing trade among the member states (Keene et al., 2010). The Congress came into trade management within member states upon the satisfaction that states lacked the ability to regulate their trade systems.

Likewise, the Congress lacked negotiating capacities in the international trade. With individual states’ abilities to bar and restrict imports and exports, there existed a disorganized system of trade among the member states and international partners, leading to unregulated trade systems (Bardes, Shelley, & Schmidt, 2008).

Disparity in state voting at the Congress

In article 5, each state had one vote in the Congress. Due to this, all states irrespective of the size and population structures had the same voting power. Taking into account the population structures of each member state, their existed a great inequality in voting at the Congress. For example, in 1780, Virginia State had at least twice the population of all states except Pennsylvania but received equal voting power to the other states (Keene et al., 2010).

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Difficulty in passing law and impracticable amendment process

Even though giving equal voting powers to the states seemed simple and direct in passing law, developing a law through the Articles of Confederation provided a huge task for representative of large states.

Since any bill required a minimum of nine states for approval, it followed that a unified five states of small populations had a chance of rejecting every law presented for debate in the Congress (Keene et al., 2010). In the event of a legislation coming from Virginia, a unified front of Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Georgia, and New Jersey with a population of 400,000 to Virginia’s 500,000 stood a high chance of blocking such legislation.

The American Constitution

With the Articles of Confederation failing to deliver the vital governance needs of the American nation due to a series of inefficacies, the need for a new set of supreme law became necessary. The strongest arguments of the proponents of a new constitution based their arguments on the need for a centralized system of governance due to the need to control the social, economic, and political demands of a new nation rising from a revolution. Existence of governance lacunas in the Articles of Confederation led to the need a new set of laws.

Drafting of the Constitution

In Roger Sherman’s plan, there was a strong defense for the unicameral legislature as he argued that based on the provision of equal voting, big states had not suffered at the expense of the small states. States delegates were to act as free agents, not engage in block voting.

In the Great Compromise, representation of both small and large states had to be either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives to ensure proportionality (Keene et al., 2010). Sherman, later, supported the passing of a legislation that abolished slavery. On the free versus the slave states, the three-fifth compromise was adopted to settle the argument of a cross-section of delegates.

Federalists’ on the need for a Constitution

James Madison letter’s George Washington

Dated April 16, 1787, James Madison, in recognizing the inability of the states to detach from their individual sovereignty, wrote to George Washington with a series of his probable amendment measures that would take into account the sovereignty of the individual states while ensuring the institutionalization of a centralized system for adequate checks and balances.

In his proposal, James proposed a centralize Congress system that took into account the desires of populous states such as Virginia and Massachusetts while ensuring equitable representation of less populated states like Rhodes Island and Delaware (Meyerson, 2008).

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In order to counter the argument of anti-federalists on the demerits of a unified republic, James argued that a large and unified nation with proper centralized system of governance presented the highest chances of regulating the vices of majority faction has presented in the populous states such as Virginia (Keene et al., 2010).

Anti-federalist view on the Constitutions

Anti-federalists’ school of thought gained limelight through the eloquence of Federal Farmer, Centinel, John Hancock, and Brutus. This group of people argued that the strengthening of a centralized system would run down the sovereignty of the independent states and eventually dissolve the state. According to Brutus, uniting the thirteen states into one republic under unchecked system of centralized governance will lead to the loss of self-governance structures in the states (Levy, Karst, & Winkler, 2004).

He further argued that nothing short of “absolutism” could unite the independent states of America. On the other hand, to Anti-federalist group, federal courts presented a difficulty in presenting justice and rule of laws due to the expansive nature of America’s geography. The general arguments of the Anti-federalists revolved on the fear that a United States of America presented a nation too large for a centralized system of governance (Levy et al., 2004).

Conclusion and adoption

Delegates in the Constitutional Convention ailed from different backgrounds holding a wide variety of political views. Congressional representation presented one of the leading and most contested provisions in the constitution.

According to the Virginia plan, in support of the constitution, each state required representative in the Congress based on their populations. On the contrary, less populated states likes Delaware and New Jersey support the New Jersey Plan that suggested that each state should have equal representation on the Congress.


Bardes, B. A., Shelley, M. C., & Schmidt, S. W. (2008). American government and politics today: The essentials. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.

Keene, J. D., Cornell, S. T., & O’Donnell, E. T. (2010). Visions of America: A History of the United States. New York: Pearson.

Levy, L. W., Karst, K. L., & Winkler, A. (2004). Encyclopedia of the American Constitution: Vol. 2. (T Gale Virtual Reference Library.) Farmington Hills: Macmillan Reference USA.

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Mendes-Flohr, P. R., & Reinharz, J. (2011). The Jew in the modern world: A documentary history. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meyerson, M. (2008). Liberty’s blueprint: How Madison and Hamilton wrote the Federalist papers, defined the constitution, and made democracy safe for the world. New York: Basic Books.

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