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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