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Articles of Confederation Improved in Constitution


The Articles of Confederation was drafted and adopted in 1777 by the Second Continental Congress, bringing to an end the strife for a new government system. In the following three years, it was the de facto constitution. It was not until 1781 when the Articles were officially ratified. The Articles allowed the creation of a national Congress that was comprised of thirteen elected delegates from each state.

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The constitution passed in 1787 was bicameral, that is, it facilitated the establishment of a Congress consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate (Kazin, Edwards & Rothman, 2013).

Under the Articles of Confederation, all members were appointed by the state legislatures in accordance with directions by each legislature. After the adoption of the new constitution, representatives were elected by vote while the Senators were appointed by the state legislatures.

The Articles granted the Committee of the States full power when the Congress was not in session. The Constitution, however, allowed the sitting President to call for Congress to reassemble (Kazin et al., 2013).

The Articles further allowed the Congress to build a navy which was armed by the states with the aim of fighting piracy. Congress was also supposed to decide the size of the army force and recruit troops from all states on the basis of their population. The Constitution authorized Congress to establish a navy, but this time, the states were not allowed to arm it or to keep navy ships. It only allowed the Congress to raise and offer support to the army.

Other powers granted to the Congress were the role of solving interstate disputes, the printing of money, establishment and maintenance of an army as well as governing of the Western colonies until they attained statehood.

Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

The Articles granted Congress no power to print money, allowing states to make their own currencies. Congress was also unable to impose taxes and regulate interstate and foreign trade. Some states went forth to default payment of imported goods from foreign countries. Moreover, there was no national court system to offer justice to all US citizens, a factor that undermined personal rights.

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The Articles were further blamed for the weakening of the Congress. Most people at the time believed that creation of a strong federal government would lead to anarchy. That is why the Articles provided a Congress to govern the different independent states.

Western land disputes

Before the Revolutionary war, most of the original states had claims to the western territories. This led to conflict between the thirteen states. Maryland for example, boycotted ratification of the Articles until 1781 when Virginia handed its claim to the Congress. Other states followed after, allowing the government to control the disputed territories.

Shay’s rebellion

Most people were dissatisfied with the Articles of Confederation. During the Economic depression many people were unable to pay their debts due to the reduced value of the dollar. Worse still, the Congress refused to help farmers. This triggered demonstrations by the farmers across different state capitals calling for address of their grievances. In Massachusetts, Daniel Shays led a notorious revolt which was later named the Shay’s rebellion. That was the turning point for the Congress who agreed to make a change in the government system.

Drafting of the Constitution

There were many factors that resulted to the need of a new governing document. One key issue was the stagnation of American manufacturers because the Congress had no powers to protect local industry from foreign competition. Merchants also put forward the need to have a government that could strike conducive international trading treaties to favor their trade while western settlers wanted more strict land policies to protect them from attacks.

In May 1787, five delegates led by George Washington met in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation but later put forward the need to develop a new constitution (Harcourt, 2016). Under the proposed constitution, population to determine the number of sits in the House of Representatives included all free people plus three-fifth of the slaves.

The Great Compromise

The Great Compromise solved the conflict between the larger and smaller states. The large states demanded a proportional representation while the small states wanted equal representation. The Roger Sherman plan brought forward proportional representation through which the number of elected representatives for each state in the House of Representatives would be proportional to its population. Each state would also have two independent senators in the senate.

Ratification of the Constitution

The ratification of the Constitution needed a minimum of nine states. The debate over ratification began after the Convection and was covered in newspapers, pamphlets and in the state legislatures. In order to increase public education on voting, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay published the Federalists Papers which consisted of a collection of articles.

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The persons who favored ratification of the new constitution were called the Federalists while those who opposed were called the Antifederalists. The Antifederalists believed that the new constitution would give more powers to the central government than the states and criticized the new constitution for omitting the Bill of Rights. They were however relieved by addition of the tenth amendment that gave states powers that were not granted to the Congress.

Debate over the Bill of Rights

In September 10, 1787, Edmund Randolf called for another convection, an idea that was supported by Antifederalists from New York and Virginia who insisted the return of the Articles of Confederation. In September 12, 1787, George Mason argued that the Constitution would be easily prepared with inclusion of the Bill of Rights which was already present in most state declarations (Lloyd, 2017). Although he was supported by Elbridge Gerry, his idea was thrown out.

Madison issued the Federalist no. 10 on November 22, 1787 arguing that protection of personal rights would be achieved through promotion of a diverse system of various interests and ideas. On December 18, 1787, twenty three Antifederalists from Pennsylvania issued a report calling for re-introduction of the Articles of Confederation and exclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution (Lloyd, 2017).

Success of the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights put restrictions on the right of control of the national government on rights and liberties. The liberties were the freedom of speech, press, religion and association (US history, 2017). The Bill of Rights further provided protection to the convicts of crime. These were included in the second and the third amendment which consisted of the right to bear arms and the right not to have soldiers at ones house.


Harcourt, H.M. (2016). Drafting the constitution. Web.

Kazin, M., Edwards, R & Rothman, A. (2013). American Political History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lloyd, G. (2017). Bill or Rights: Federalists and antifederalists debate a Bill of Rights. Web.

US history. (2017). The Bill of rights: American Government. Web.

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