The Articles Of Confederation


The Articles of

Confederation was the first constitution of the United States

of America. The Articles of Confederation were first drafted

by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in

1777. This first draft was prepared by a man named John

Dickinson in 1776. The Articles were then ratified in 1781.

The cause for the changes to be made was due to state

jealousies and widespread distrust of the central authority.

This jealousy then led to the emasculation of the document.

As adopted, the articles provided only for a "firm league of

friendship" in which each of the 13 states expressly held "its

sovereignty, freedom, and independence." The People of

each state were given equal privileges and rights, freedom of

movement was guaranteed, and procedures for the trials of

accused criminals were outlined. The articles established a

national legislature called the Congress, consisting of two to

seven delegates from each state; each state had one vote,

according to its size or population. No executive or judicial

branches were provided for. Congress was charged with

responsibility for conducting foreign relations, declaring war

or peace, maintaining an army and navy, settling boundary

disputes, establishing and maintaining a postal service, and

various lesser functions. Some of these responsibilities were

shared with the states, and in one way or another Congress

was dependent upon the cooperation of the states for

carrying out any of them. Four visible weaknesses of the

articles, apart from those of organization, made it impossible

for Congress to execute its constitutional duties. These were

analyzed in numbers 15-22 of The FEDERALIST, the

political essays in which Alexander Hamilton, James

Madison, and John Jay argued the case for the U.S.

CONSTITUTION of 1787. The first weakness was that

Congress could legislate only for states, not for individuals;

because of this it could not enforce legislation. Second,

Congress had no power to tax. Instead, it was to assess its

expenses and divide those among the states on the basis of

the value of land. States were then to tax their own citizens

to raise the money for these expenses and turn the proceeds

over to Congress. They could not be forced to do so, and in

practice they rarely met their obligations. Third, Congress

lacked the power to control commerce--without its power

to conduct foreign relations was not necessary, since most

treaties except those of peace were concerned mainly with

trade. The fourth weakness ensured the demise of the

Confederation by making it too difficult to correct the first

three. Amendments could have corrected any of the

weaknesses, but amendments required approval by all 13

state legislatures. None of the several amendments that were

proposed met that requirement. On the days from

September 11, 1786 to September 14, 1786, New Jersey,

Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had a meeting of there

delegates at the Annapolis Convention. Too few states were

represented to carry out the original purpose of the

meeting--to discuss the regulation of interstate

commerce--but there was a larger topic at question,

specifically, the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.

Alexander Hamilton successfully proposed that the states be

invited to send delegates to Philadelphia to render the

constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the

exigencies of the Union." As a result, the Constitutional

Convention was held in May 1787. The Constitutional

Convention, which wrote the Constitution of the United

States, was held in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. It was

called by the Continental Congress and several states in

response to the expected bankruptcy of Congress and a

sense of panic arising from an armed revolt--Shays's

Rebellion--in New England. The convention's assigned job,

following proposals made at the Annapolis Convention the

previous September, was to create amendments to the

Articles of Confederation. The delegates, however,

immediately started writing a new constitution. Fifty-five

delegates representing 12 states attended at least part of the

sessions. Thirty-four of them were lawyers; most of the

others were planters or merchants. Although George

Washington, who presided, was 55, and John Dickinson

was 54, Benjamin Franklin 81, and Roger Shermen 66,

most of the delegates were young men in their 20s and 30s.

Noticeable absent were the revolutionary leaders of the

effort for independence in 1775-76, such as John Adams,

Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. The delegates'

knowledge concerning government, both ideal and practical,

made the convention perhaps the most intelligent such

gathering ever assembled. On September 17 the

Constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present.

A period of national argument followed, during which the

case for support of the constitution was strongly presented in

the FEDERALIST essays of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay,

and James Madison. The last of the 13 states to ratify the

Constitution was Rhode Island on May 29, 1790.

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