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Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution

Introduction

The Constitution and the Articles of Confederation both marked the path towards the beginning of the democratic tradition in the United States. These documents and the process of their creation laid the foundation for this nation, and it is critical to analyze them. The comparison of the main provisions, drafting process, and debate will give an insight into what the intellectuals faced and what compromises each side had to make to reach one of the biggest agreements in the history of our nation.

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Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution

In comparison with the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation had a number of issues that would undermine normal government operation. For instance, one of such issues was the fact that for having a bill approved consent of all states was required, whereas, in the Constitution, only 9 votes out of 13 were required to do it. Due to the requirement of unanimity, under the Articles, it was hard to pass any law as some states would be definitely against something and it would take unconventional measures to gather everybody’s consent. One of the examples of practical issues of unanimity was the debate over taxation where members of Congress could not decide on the fair scheme for a long period of time (Freedman, 1992). Another example is the Western problem where Congress could not decide on the status of Western lands, and where boundaries should be drawn.

In addition, the Articles of Confederation offered the states overly extensive freedoms in terms of monetary policy. As a result of such policy, there were the United States dollar and the dollars printed by states. Additionally, there was no sound regulation over issuing new currency which quickly created economic chaos, and reforms were made. Under the Constitution, only the currency coined by the United States was acknowledged. It was also burdensome to exercise a representative function as the Articles of Confederation had no presidential post. International negotiations were also partly undermined by that fact and the previously mentioned requirement of unanimity practically paralyzed the newly-created national government (Freedman, 1992).

The Articles of Confederation also had certain strengths such as management of the Native Indian issue. The consensus was achieved after a long debate but, nonetheless, it was decided that the Congress itself would have an exclusive right to regulate trade and other issues provided there were no incidents that involved a particular state. Such agreement did not set any quotas or boundaries as it was initially proposed as each state valued its sovereignty and used its ‘veto’ in case the Congress decision was considered not in their favor. The final arrangement of the issue proved to be positively influencing the relationships with Native Indian tribes. For instance, in the Northwestern territories, Congress made a lot of effort to peacefully resolve issues between new settlers and natives, which resulted in several treaties. Additionally, a treaty was signed with the Cherokee and many other tribes that managed the exchange of prisoners and established alliances that protected the tribes.

Another strength of the Articles of Confederation was the fact that it was the first written agreement that managed to bind together the nation represented by 13 states. The Congress, despite the fact that it had significant issues reaching consensus on a variety of issues such as taxation, Western territories, and so on, remains the first attempt to unite the country and bring the representatives of the states to the table.

Drafting of the Constitution

During the drafting stage, the main disputes were held over the inclusion of slaves into the population, the proportional representation, and the range of other issues where each state had to compromise in order to reach a consensus. James Maddison proposed the Virginia Plan that is represented in the final variant of the Constitution almost in full. It included the division of the parliament into the upper and lower chamber. The formation of the latter became one of the major issues. The representatives of the poorer public wanted the chambers to be equal in weight and influence, while the wealthier delegates advocated for the upper chamber to have major powers. The minority had to compromise on this issue. The rich also wanted to include the property they possessed as a factor that would influence the proportion of vote weight (Yazawa, 2016). However, under serious consideration, the claim was also denied due to the complexity of the necessary calculations.

Roger Sherman proposed that the lower house would have the votes distributed to states according to the number of residents in each of them while in the upper chamber each state would have only one. It was seen as a compromise between Virginia and New Jersey plans, and Sherman’s proposal was agreed upon (Jillson, 2009). It was a major success because the constitutional convention was already on the verge of its downfall as five states were in favor of the Virginia Plan, five for the New Jersey plan, and one undecided. Sherman’s plan was still ill-favored by the large states, but Franklin offered to aid in redrafting the proposal so it would look more acceptable to them, which was also successful.

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Federalists and Anti-Federalists

Federalists were a party who supported the adoption of the Constitution while Anti-Federalists were against it. The battle between them was a major barrier to the consensus. Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay together wrote about 85 papers concerning major issues of the debate and supporting the U.S. Constitution. One of the examples of their apology was the 6th Federalist paper where Hamilton argued that the states should never be at war but instead encourage trade as Britain, saying, “commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country” (Hamilton, 1787, para. 14).

The opposition was quite divided with many people voicing multiple reasons for not joining the states such as the limitation of liberty of each state and person. John Hancock argued that the Constitution would excessively centralize the power and take away freedoms of the states, together with betraying the principles of the American Revolution. In the end, he rationalized and accepted it but insisted on amending it afterward.

The debate over the Bill of Rights illustrated the struggle between the two parties and indicated strong pro-state interests of anti-federalists who proclaimed that freedom is what this nation should be built upon. Hence, the bill contains a list of freedoms that the people under the constitution must be granted. Since federalists were often represented by wealthy landowners, they fiercely opposed the over-empowerment of the lower chamber. Anti-federalists consisted of working people who often believed that wealthy people in the government should not be trusted with excessive power. Therefore the tenth amendment states that all that the United States is not authorized to do is granted as a power to the states and their people. This was a success that achieved a balance of interests as it successfully sets the boundaries of the centralized power of the two chambers.

Conclusion

The two documents reviewed had a tremendous effect on the emergence of democracy and authority in the U.S. Their history shows that it is through the debate and struggle a consensus is reached. It is only needed that the opposing parties have the strength to hear the voice of reason and the courage to compromise.

References

Freedman, E. M. (1992). Why constitutional lawyers and historians should take a fresh look at the emergence of the constitution from the confederation period: The case of the drafting of the articles of confederation. Tennessee Law Review, 60(783), 784-826.

Hamilton, A. (1787). Concerning dangers from dissensions between the states. Web.

Jillson, C. C. (2009). American government: Political development and institutional change (5th ed.). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

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Yazawa, M. (2016). Contested conventions: The struggle to establish the constitution and save the union, 1787–1789. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 3). Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/articles-of-confederation-vs-constitution/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 3). Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution. https://studycorgi.com/articles-of-confederation-vs-constitution/

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StudyCorgi. "Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/articles-of-confederation-vs-constitution/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/articles-of-confederation-vs-constitution/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Articles of Confederation vs. Constitution'. 3 January.

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