Articles Of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first constitution, contained 13 articles, or sets of binding agreements on specific topics. Overall, the Articles of Confederation discussed the nature of the association of states, limits on the respective powers of the states and confederation government, the structure of the confederation government, and methods of changing, or amending, the agreement. Articles of Confederation did not provide the United States of America with an effective government. The Articles of Confederation lacked an executive branch, a judiciary, and a permanent home, or seat of government. Also, delegate absenteeism was widespread, and because of Articles of Confederation, Congress had difficulty raising money to pay off war debts and pay for its expenses. The Article of Confederation lacked an executive branch, a judiciary, and a permanent home, or seat of government.
The Articles of Confederation was first drafted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1777 and then ratified in 1781. There was a lot of conflict in writing these articles. As America moved towards independence with there own state constitutions they were very hesitant to unify themselves under a national constitution. Most people were very distrusting of a central government for many reasons. Mainly, because of their bad experience with the British government and their ill feelings towards it. As the Revolutionary War came to an end there was, what one might call, a phobia, a phobia regarding a strong and powerful central government. While these newly freed nation realized the need for come form of a unified government they were extremely cautious in forming this government, taking care not to grant too much power. A committee was created in order to create such a government.
The first document introduced by this committee was a plan for a strong central government. There were so many objections to this that by the time the articles were ratified they had undergone so much change that they were unrecognizable from the original ones. Because of these oppositions the central government was made so weak that it had no effect on anything and was destined for disaster from the start. One, of the many reasons, that we broke away from Britain for was to remove ourselves from their corrupt government and there lack of civil liberties. This is why the articles gave such little power, if any at all, to the central government. While they were trying to stop a tyranny from forming they had no moderation. In there crusade to preserve civil liberties they created a government with absolutely no power let alone one with a little.
There were many problems with these articles but at first glance, the main problem was that the central government couldn’t tax the people. They had to rely on the states for money. There wasn’t even a set amount of money that the states had to give. This led to many money shortages for the government. There was no way that the government could operate properly or effectively. When the states refused to pay or gave very little a second flaw came about: the government’s inability to enforce laws. Many felt that to give the central government the power to tax would destroy the sates individually because the power would now be in the hands of the central government and not that states.
There was also the problem of a national army. Men like Mason feared that once this army is established there would be no way for the people to defend themselves because they are unskilled and unarmed. Many people feared that if the central government had its own army whoever would be in power would be able to use this army to create a tyranny. Another problem with the army was that even if they allowed such an army to exist it would disintegrate because there would be no money to sustain such an army because of money shortages. This inability left the U.S. very vulnerable. An example of this was the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. This treaty wasn’t enforced and as a result, the British continued to occupy forts in the Northwest Territory which were parts of the US.
Another problem with the articles was that they weren’t economically sound. Under the Articles, the national government could not control trade between the states or with foreign nations. Each state regulated its own trade, which resulted in many disputes among the states and with other nations as well. In addition, most states issued their own money. Without a uniform national currency trading became a very difficult process. The central government could not control interstate commerce, resulting in interstate tariffs and taxes, as well as navigational rights disputes. Foreign countries were unwilling to negotiate trade agreements with the United States, since the central government had no power to enforce them. When foreign governments interfered with the United States’ freedom to trade, the Confederation government could not even issue reprisals. The weakness of the central government led to a national climate of political uncertainty. The Confederation’s inability to stabilize and revitalize the depressed economy caused many to become discontented with the Confederation government. The problem of war related debt continued to plague the economy. Even more people fell into debt through foolish speculation, which was encouraged by the easy availability of credit. The lack of reliable money in circulation made this speculation innately unstable because very few people could obtain reliable money (gold and silver) with which to pay back their loans.
Contemporaries to the articles had many different views to the articles. Some viewed it as a road to monarchy, were as others viewed it as a road to recovery. Men like Patrick Henry and George Mason believed held the earlier point of view. They believed that a strong central government would be the demise of this country. Thomas Jefferson fell somewhere into the middle of these to sides. He agreed with much of the articles but was worried by the absence of a bill of rights. Then there were those like Robert Yates and John Lansings, two delegates from New York, who didn’t sign the articles because they felt that they were sent to revise the articles not write new ones. They felt that the articles changed too much and no longer sustained their original intent. Then there were those like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton who held the latter opinion. Madison believed that a strong central government would help avoid the problems of parties, mainly on the issue of land distribution. Many felt discriminated against because they didn’t receive any land, or didn’t receive enough land. There was also a great deal of tension between creditors and debtors. Hamilton believed that a strong central government was needed for the security of the nation, internal (peace between the states) and external (foreign invaders).
Many historians of our time argue as to the true motives of the creators of this document. Charles beard claims that their decision was based on the economic benefits they would receive. There wasn’t any equal representation in creating the articles. Rather, it was made by an isolated group of people with their own agenda. A.J. Beveridge agrees with this idea of economic gain for the creators because generally speaking the debtors opposed this while the people collecting these debts were for it. Robert E. Brown gives his own view on Beard’s statement. He claims that Beard’s evidence is one sided and faulty and can hold no water in a real debate. A historian by the name of Harold U. Faulkner believed that this went against all the ideals were fought for in the revolution. He believes that they undermine everything that they believed in at the time. William Allen White believed that the democracy created isn’t what was declared with our Declaration of Independence. Rather, everyday we come one step closer to actually obtaining it with our constant reforms to our government making it more and more into the democracy that we described so many years earlier. Ralph B. Perry suggests that what White is describing is untrue. He suggests that the Declaration set the tone for how the government should be run: by free people, by majority. It was a guideline to creating a society were people had their individual rights and could attain there own happiness in creating a government that all accepted.
Although the articles had many faults they were a stepping stone to creating our constitution as we know it. Through the faults came improvements and through the improvements came amendments. These faults showed us our weaknesses and showed us how our democracy should work because of all the controversy with it. The controversy created debates were all people spoke their minds and everybody was represented in making changes.