The Articles of Confederation adopted approximately by the end of the eighteenth century functioned as the first corpus of fundamental principles for governing the United States. This document produced by the Continental Congress was not sufficient to ensure that a state functions efficiently, as it, for instance, did not warrant the state’s ability to tax (Clark et al. 227). Consequently, a new collection of fundamental principles accounting for gaps in the Articles of Confederation was needed. Despite several similarities, the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation diverge considerably in several aspects.
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One of the principal distinction lies in the meaning of these two notions – the Constitution seemingly determines a country as democratic, whereas the Articles of Confederation functioned to consolidate decentralized autonomous state under a feeble government (Maggs 432). Another significant divergence is that the Constitution established three branches of government (legislative, executive, and juridical). Under the Articles of Confederation, only the legislative branch represented by Congress was acknowledged. Additionally, the Constitution determined the state as federalist and divided responsibilities between national and local governments, a distinction absent in the Articles of Confederation.
Furthermore, these two documents viewed the distribution of power in the voting system differently. As determined by the earlier document, each state had just one vote. On the other hand, in the Constitution, votes are distributed among representatives in the parliament. Concerning legislature, the Articles of Confederation favored unicameralism; contrarily, the following document established bicameral Congress with its further subdivision (Clark et al. 239). Trade regulation is another essential area that the documents approached from different perspectives. The Articles of Confederation did not create a foundation for the national government to control commerce (Maggs, 422). This issue was covered in the Constitution, which warranted the government power to regulate trade. Although the Articles of Confederation depart considerably from the outlined in the Constitution principles, it laid the foundation for the appearance of the document. In summary, the numerous fundamental distinctions concern the power distribution between the states and federal government, voting and taxing systems, trade control, and legislature.
In opposing the Constitution, Anti-Federalists partially relied on the argument that it would provide too much power to the centralized government, thus endangering each states’ autonomy. Moreover, Clark states they feared that “the Constitution would create a government of “the few and the great” and exclude “those of the middling class of life” whom the revolution had brought into politics” (240). These worries were, to a degree, justified by the American Revolutionary War and struggle for independence. Anti-Federalists envisioned that a president would be a new king and the states deprived of their sovereignty (Clark et al. 241). These predictions seem to be correct to a limited degree as the Constitution presented the centralized government with the ability to tax and regulate commerce. Thus, it took over certain powers that were initially under local command.
Nevertheless, the document separates powers vertically – by fixing and validating the extent of local government authority, the Constitution assures that each state possesses the necessary degree of autonomy. It also accentuates the need for subordination to the federal government to operate efficiently as a single unit (Beienburg 109). It is stated in the Consitution that powers are reserved to the States or People (Amend. X). Therefore, Tenth Amendment serves as a line of defense from anti-federalist anxiety, guaranteeing that the essential right for freedom and autonomy is preserved and that the federal government hypothetically is not able to deprive state governments of their powers.
Beienburg, Sean. Prohibition, the Constitution, and States’ Rights. University of Chicago Press, 2019.
Clark, Christopher, et al. Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s History. Vol. 1: To 1877, 3rd ed., Bedford, 2007.
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Maggs, Gregory. “A Concise Guide to the Articles of Confederation as a Source for Determining the Original Meaning of the Constitution.” SSRN Electronic Journal, vol. 85, 2017, pp. 397–450.
U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. X. Web.