The Articles of Confederation: Strengths and Weaknesses
The Articles of Confederation (further referred to as the Articles) were developed due to wartime necessity and are now considered the first Constitution of America. In June 1776, when Thomas Jefferson was authorized by the delegates to the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence, it had been concluded that there had to replace British rule with some kind of national government (History.com Editors, 2020).
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Such a declaration was necessary because the states’ continuous arguments over territory claiming, war pensions, taxation, and trade increased the risks of tearing the country apart. Therefore, a committee was created to develop the framework document and included John Dickinson, Benjamin Frankin, Josian Bartlett, and others (Kiger, 2019). In contrast, Dickinson and Bartlett were the ones who wrote the Articles. The text entailed envisioning the United States as a loose group of sovereign states. These states were expected to have “a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare” (“Articles of Confederation: March 1, 1781,” 2008.). This was the core strength of the structure of the Articles.
The weakness lay in the fact that the Confederation implemented a weak setup even though it initially served its purpose of creating an alliance between rebellious colonies, still viewing themselves as separate powers. Besides, it was unclear whether the nation’s founders even intended to make the Confederation permanent. The Articles allowed several freedoms to the Confederation, such as minting coins, setting up a national postal system, building and equipping the national navy, and conducting diplomacy. Thus, it was up to states to supply troops at times of war. However, there was no separation between the executive and judicial branches despite the fact that Congress did have a president that was appointed by a committee, and served a three-year term.
The Articles of Confederation Paving the Way for the Constitution
Therefore, the disadvantages of the Articles pushed the government of that time to facilitate a reformation, which led to the drafting and later the ratification of the Constitution. Once peace removed the rationale of the necessity of wartime, the weaknesses of the Articles became increasingly apparent, facilitating increased discussions on what changes had to be implemented. On the one side, there were political players such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton who considered the Articles as not sustainable because of the lack of the government’s sovereign powers (Kiger, 2019).
According to them, taxation and military authority was the key sovereign powers alongside the power to enforce decisions implemented by the national government, and the Confederation structure lacked them. On the other side of the argument, there were people such as Richard Henry Lee and Samuel Adams who believed that the Articles-based loose union was perfect to set up a republic and said that it could be fixed with a few adjustments, thus providing the Confederation with the limited authority of taxation. Therefore, the debates over creating the Constitution of the United States essentially represented an opposition between the two schools of thought.
The Articles of Confederation and its disadvantages led to the future ratification of the United States Constitution. Those arguing for the presence of a solid central government won the argument, with the new Constitution being completed in 1787 and ratified in 1788 (History.com Editors, 2020). Notably, on March 4, 1789, the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation (History.com Editors, 2020). Even though the new document was instrumental in creating a much stronger and more powerful federal government, it did include at least one remainder of the Articles. It entailed giving each state, regardless of its population, the same number of votes in the Senate (two).
The provision resulted from the stubborn ‘Connecticut compromise’ that emerged between James Wilson of Pennsylvania and James Madison of Virginia (Kiger, 2019). The compromise entailed the agreement that in a government of a republic, all states should be given equal political representation in the national government, proportional to their relative wealth or population size. However, there were also delegates from small states who believed that states should be equally represented, as written in the Articles.
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Contribution to the Structure of the Government After the Revolution
Both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States contributed significantly to the structure of the American government after the Revolution. The core importance of the Articles was their capacity to offer a viable enough structure so that the nation could survive the period between 1781 and 1789 (Center for Civic Education, 2019). This allowed the population and the government to learn about the requirements to run an effective national government. As the Articles started to reveal more limitations than benefits, core political players and regular people asserted their own governmental power that the Articles created. For example, during Shay’s Rebellion, the farmers of Massachusetts revolted against the state legislature that did nothing to modify tax regulations and laws regarding debt repayment (Center for Civic Education, 2019). Because of this, many state leaders met at the Annapolis Convention to establish a uniform commerce system among themselves in the lack of a national policy. Therefore, the realization that the liberties of Americans were threatened dawned upon the population.
Once it was time for state leaders to meet to revise the Articles at the Constitutional Convention, their experience about the minutia of government allowed them to clearly define what the next government of the nation should be and do. While the ideas of the American Revolution would not be abandoned, such as placing most of the power in the hands of the central government, the Convention would not allow numerous competing government systems to separate the union. Therefore, the idea and the underpinnings of the union of states evolved in accordance with a new environment (History.com Editors, 2020). Having learned from the mistakes made during the Articles, it became possible not only to create a centralized government that is strong enough to reign, stand against the arising threats, and represent unified national interests in the global arena.
The creation of the Constitution was instrumental in establishing America’s national government and fundamental laws and gave guarantees to the certain basic rights of citizens. In contrast to the Articles, the new national government became stronger, with states not being able to operate as independent countries anymore but rather as parts of one system. Learning from mistakes was the necessary step for further development and the definition of fundamental principles that characterize the American nation to this day.
Articles of Confederation: March 1, 1781. (2008). Web.
Center for Civic Education. (2019). We the people: The citizen and the Constitution high school (4th ed.). Center for Civic Education.
History.com Editors. (2020). U.S. Constitution ratified. Web.
Kiger, P. J. (2019). How the Articles of Confederation paved the way for the U.S. Constitution. Web.