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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