While carrying out a comparative analysis of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of 1787, it is critical to take into account the fact that the latter appeared in response to the overall dissatisfaction with the Articles. Hence, the ratification of the Constitution signifies that this legislation was considered to be stronger than the one established by the Articles of Confederation. Additionally, it is essential to note that the new Constitution was composed under an intensive social pressure – the mass rebellions and protests that emerged in the 1780s appealed for strengthening the central government that had little political power according to the Articles of Confederation (Boyer, Clark, Halttunen, Kett, & Salisbury, 2010).
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According to Callahan, the major weakness of the Articles was that “they did not allow for a strong central government” (p. 77). Otherwise stated, the national government did not have enough power to enforce the states to obey the assigned laws. From the economic perspective, the Articles implied negative outcomes as the Congress was not empowered to coin money. Instead, every state was allowed to develop its own currency. Additionally, the Congress was not empowered to impose taxes – the only alternative it was enabled to use was borrowings. Therefore, the Articles did not allow for a strong and consistent economic system. The Constitution of 1787 would, in its turn, address the economic problems more effectively. Hence, it empowered the Congress to both collect taxes and to regulate domestic and foreign commerce (Boyer et al., 2010).
From the legislative standpoint, the Articles were likewise weak as they did not suggest establishing a national court system or executive branches that would ensure law enforcement. Opposite to them, the new Constitution provided for the establishment of a separate federal court system and independent executives that were supposed to be elected by Electoral College (Boyer et al., 2010).
It is also critical to note that the amendments to the Articles could only be accepted upon the approval of all the states. In other words, the prospects for the change of the document content were minimal. The Constitution, in its turn, offered better chances for a change admitting amendments upon the approval of the three-fourths of the states (Barden, 2011).
Despite the fact that the Articles’ weaknesses are evidently prevailing, the legislation implied some strengths that should likewise be discussed. Thus, in the context of foreign affairs, the Articles empowered the Congress with all the essential authorities: declaring war and peace, signing treaties, and forming alliances. Additionally, the Articles of Confederation initiated the establishment of such significant bodies as the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Treasury, and Postal Service (Barden, 2011).
The new Constitution was drafted by national leaders in 1787. On the whole, there were fifty-five delegates appointed from all the states except for Rhode Island. The initial aim of their meeting was the revision of the Articles of Confederation, although the delegates would soon switch to restructuring the document into an entirely new format. The admission of the final framework of the Constitution required finding a compromise that would suit the interests of all the states (Maier, 2011).
The major contradiction emerged between the two plans, proposed by James Madison from Virginia and William Paterson from New Jersey, that were referred to as a large-state plan and a small-state plan respectively. The former plan would suggest establishing bicameral legislature, the latter proposed one-house legislature. The most critical contradictions were associated with president elections and slavery. According to Madison, the president was supposed to be elected by the national legislature for one term only, while in accordance with Paterson, the president was supposed to be elected by the Congress. The presidential dilemma was resolved through the invention of the so-called Electoral College that allowed state legislatures to appoint their representatives to vote for the appropriate candidate.
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Another critical contradiction that had to be resolved was the extent and the pattern of states’ representation in the Congress. The Virginian plan suggested that voters chose lower house members and the latter, in their turn, elected upper house members. On the contrary, New Jersey plan proposed that the members of the one-house legislature were elected by the state legislature (Maier, 2011).
The problem was resolved with the implementation of the Great Compromise proposed by Roger Sherman, the delegate from Connecticut. The plan suggested that the states’ representation in the Congress was equal to the state population. The only obstacle was the slavery part of the population that required a special approach to be counted. The problem of slavery was resolved through the implementation of the Three-Fifths Compromise. The Compromise allowed calculating the number of delegates in the “House of Representatives” proportional to the relevant state suggesting that the latter comprised “the number of free persons in their population and three-fifths of all other Persons” (Maier, 2011, p. 30). The “other persons” signified slaves so that the role of this population group was outlined by the Compromise in such a manner.
Ratification Debates: Federalists VS Anti-Federalists
The Constitution adoption was preceded by intensive debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalist that emerged in the course of the ratification process. The major point of their debates was the distribution of power. Thus, anti-federalists supported the idea of states’ independence registered in the Articles of Confederation, while Federalists advocated for a national unity stating that the subdivision suggested by their opponents was “too extravagant and too replete with danger to have many advocates” (Hamilton, Madison, & Jay, 2007, p. 99).
The major concern of Anti-Federalists was the lack of a guarantee of human right protection in the new Constitution. Thus, their essays put a particular focus on the need for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution content. Their refusal to approve the Constitution without the Bill of Rights illustrates the major difference between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists – the former promoted the idea of a powerful governmental control, the latter advocated for the idea of freedom (Ball, 2004). When the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, it helped to establish the appropriate equilibrium. Hence, the power assigned to the Congress was counterbalanced by the rights guaranteed to the population. The rights were both personal and political and their scope comprised such liberties as free speech, free press, free religious conscience, and free political activity. Many experts believe that the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution allowed for a better balance between national and state interests (Barden, 2011). In other words, the Constitution would initially ensure powerful central government, while the added Bill of Rights guaranteed that the government would not overstep its authority.
Ball, L. (2004). The Federalist–Anti-Federalist Debate over states’ rights: A primary source investigation. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.
Barden, C. (2011). Exploration, Revolution, and Constitution. New York, NY: Carson-Dellosa Publishing.
Boyer, P. S., Clark, C. E., Halttunen, K., Kett, J. F., & Salisbury, N. (2010). The enduring vision, Volume I: To 1877. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning.
Callahan, K. P. (2003). The Articles of Confederation: A primary source investigation into the document that preceded the U.S. Constitution. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.
Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (2007). The Federalist Papers. New York, NY: Filiquarian Publishing.
Maier, P. (2011). Ratification: The people debate to the Constitution, 1787-1788. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.