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.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Category: History