The Articles of Confederation and the New Constitution: Comparison and Contrast
Prior to the ratification of the US Constitution that was created in 1787, the state-operated under another document known as the Articles of Confederation, which became effective in 1781 (“Comparing the Articles and the Constitution,” 2010). Even though the overall functions of the two documents were very similar, the Articles and the Constitution differed significantly from each other. In particular, according to the Articles, the US legislature, recognized as Congress, was unicameral, whereas, in the new Constitution, Congress was mad bicameral and divided into two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate.
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The numbers of Senators and Representatives assigned per state different in the two documents as well. The Articles permitted states to have between two and seven Congress members per state, whereas the Constitution allowed two Senators per state and assigned the number of Representatives in accordance with the population sizes of the states (“Comparing the Articles and the Constitution,” 2010). The term of legislative office differed as well being one year in the Articles and two years in the Constitution. Also, in the Articles, the Chair of legislation was President of Congress while in the Constitution, the House of Representatives had the Speaker, and the Senate was headed by Vice President (“Comparing the Articles and the Constitution,” 2010).
The main strength of the Articles was their objective to unite the states under common legislation, thus enforcing order and providing lawful clarity. However, in addition to the aforementioned differences, the Articles had the following weaknesses vis-à-vis the Constitution – despite the sizes of the states and their populations, each state had only one vote in Congress which limited its sensitivity and representability; no executive branch or national court system was assigned; to amend the Articles, a unanimous vote was required, the majority of nine out of 13 was required to pass laws in Congress; finally, Congress was unable to enforce taxation or regulate the commerce of interstate and international levels (“The great debate,” n.d.).
Moreover, the ratification of the Articles was delayed by four years due to the inability of the document to provide specific regulations as to the division of the Western lands – the territories located to the west of the Appalachian Mountains. In particular, all the original states claimed portions of these lands and had contradicting views as to who should have them and why (“The Articles of Confederation – Confederation and Constitution,” 2017). This disagreement resulted in a long-lasting conflict – the Western Problem.
The Drafting of the Constitution
It took a lot of effort and a lengthy discussion to draft and outline the new Constitution of the United States. In particular, it is possible to name several major compromises that had to be reached for the purpose of the new Constitution to appear.
The first of such compromises is known as the Great Compromise proposed by Roger Sherman; its focus was on the representation of the states in Congress. The debate occurred between the supporters of two plans – the New Jersey Plan that promoted equal numbers of representatives for each state and the Virginia Plan that proposed the numbers of representatives to correlate with the sizes of the states’ populations (Kelly, 2017). To reach a compromise on this issue, the debaters decided to create a bicameral structure for Congress with Senate containing two members per state and the House of Representatives with the numbers of members respective to the states’ populations (Kelly, 2017).
The second major compromise was reached regarding the population of slaves. In particular, the debaters had to decide how to count slaves. The large slave populations residing in the South gave the Southern states advantage in terms of the number of representatives in Congress; as a result, the Southern states supported the idea that slaves should be included fully in the overall population sizes of states. This idea was opposed by the Northern states whose economy did not rely on slave labor.
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The three-fifths compromise was reached, stating that every five slaves should be counted as three members of the general population (Kelly, 2017). In that way, the Great Compromise had a significant impact on the further issues in the US Constitution and served as a vital aspect of its future development.
The third compromise focused on commerce. As the ones with industrialized economies producing a variety of finished goods, Northern states supported the idea that Congress should be able to control import tariffs; however, the Southern agricultural states that bought many finished goods from Britain opposed this idea since it could hurt their businesses (Kelly, 2017). The final compromise maintained that only import tariffs should be controlled by Congress but not export ones.
The Ratification Debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists
The step that followed the creation of the Constitution was its ratification. This process was complicated by the formal process outlined in the Articles of Confederation, according to which, nine out of thirteen states had to adopt the document for it to become effective (“Ratifying the Constitution,” 2015). As a result, there appeared two sides – the Federalists who supported the ratification and the Anti-Federalists who opposed it.
The Federalists argued that a stronger federal government was a necessity to grant the survival of the nation and the enforcement of law and order at which the Articles had failed (“Ratifying the Constitution,” 2015). At the same time, the Anti-Federalists were convinced that the new Constitution provided the government with too much power and also would fail at responding to the interests and concerns of the large population due to being too distant from the average citizens (“Ratifying the Constitution,” 2015). In response, the Federalists wrote Federalist Papers communicating their positions.
In particular, in Paper 4, Jay (1787, n.p.) wrote the following in regard to how the nation guided by the new Constitution could be viewed by foreign states: “If they see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized … our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship”.
Also, in Paper 16, Hamilton (1787, n.p.) noted that “The majesty of the national authority must be manifested through the medium of the courts of justice. The government of the Union, like that of each State, must be able to address itself immediately to the hopes and fears of individuals”. This way, the author noted that the power of the government would be limited and monitored by the courts in regard to the reflection of people’s interests.
Another concern of the Anti-Federalists was that a bill of rights was not included in the Constitution (Lloyd, 2017). The debate over the Bill of Rights was complicated by the emergence of the opposing sides – the ones who proposed adding the bill to the Constitution, those who promoted the creation of amendments to the constitution that could eventually transform the Constitution back into the Articles, and the party that believed that the Constitution reflected all the necessary rights and freedoms and required no changes. The addition of the Bill of Rights helped achieve an effective balance between national and states interests; however, some of the Amendments allow shifting the balance away from the state and in favor of the federal government.
The Articles of Confederation – Confederation and Constitution. (2017). Web.
Comparing the Articles and the Constitution. (2010). Web.
The great debate. (n.d.). Web.
Hamilton, A. (1787). Paper 16. Web.
Jay, J. (1787). Paper 4. Web.
Kelly, M. (2017). 5 key compromises of the Constitutional Convention. Web.
Lloyd, G. (2017). Federalists and Antifederalists debate a Bill of Rights. Web.
Ratifying the Constitution. (2015). Web.
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