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One Nation’s Attempt to Avoid Devolution. The Articles of Confederations. In the Beginning.

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in the beginning
In the Beginning

The Article's ratification (proposed in 1777) was completed in 1781, legally uniting the states by compact into the "United States of America" as a union with a confederation government. Under the Articles (and the succeeding Constitution) the states retained sovereignty over all governmental functions not specifically designated to the central government.

the rough draft
The Rough Draft

The Articles were created by the chosen representatives of the states in the Second Continental Congress out of a perceived need to have "a plan of confederacy for securing the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of the United States." Although serving a crucial role in the victory in the American Revolutionary War, a group of reformers, known as "federalists", felt that the Articles lacked the necessary provisions for a sufficiently effective government. Fundamentally, a federation was sought to replace the confederation.

problems from the beginning
Problems from the Beginning
  • The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended hostilities with Great Britain, languished in Congress for months because state representatives failed to attend sessions of the national legislature. Yet Congress had no power to enforce attendance. Writing to George Clinton in September 1783, George Washington complained:
  • Congress have come to no determination yet respecting the Peace Establishment nor am I able to say when they will. I have lately had a conference with a Committee on this subject, and have reiterated my former opinions, but it appears to me that there is not a sufficient representation to discuss Great National points.
no chief executive
No Chief Executive
  • Under the Articles, the president was the presiding officer of Congress, chaired the Cabinet (the Committee of the States) when Congress was in recess, and performed other administrative functions. He was not, however, a chiefexecutive in the way the successor President of the United States is a chief executive, but all of the functions he executed were under the auspices and in service of the Congress.
why no chief executive
Why no Chief Executive
  • The authors of the Articles of Confederation despised the King of England and were wary of any office that might resemble that of the king’s
laws needed approval by nine of the 13 states
Laws needed Approval by nine of the 13 states

Requires nine states to approve the admission of a new state into the confederacy; pre-approves Canada, if it applies for membership.

problem with the need for 9 of 13 states needed to pass laws
Problem with the need for 9 of 13 states needed to pass laws.
  • Because Congress met so infrequently and needed a supermajority to pass laws it became nearly impossible to pass national legislation
inability to tax citizens
Inability to tax citizens
  • Under the Articles of Confederation the national government could not tax citizens, instead it relied on the states to replenish the treasury at a time when there was significant debt due to the revolution
  • Expenditures by the United States will be paid by funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on the real property values of each.
why did articles of confederation deny the national government from taxing citizens
Why did Articles of Confederation deny the national government from taxing citizens?
  • It was taxes in the first place like the Stamp Act that caused the revolution. The new leaders of the United States were not about to go backwards.
congress did not have the power to draft an army
Congress did not have the power to draft an army.

Only the central government is allowed to conduct foreign relations and to declare war. No states may have navies or standing armies, or engage in war, without permission of Congress (although the state militias are encouraged).

possible problem congress did not have the power to draft an army
Possible Problem: Congress did not have the power to draft an army.

States refused to submit troops to the national military. Incidents like Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts showed the nation that the states were vulnerable to foreign invasion

no national court system
No National Court System
  • There was no national court system.
  • The Articles of Confederation established freedom of movement–anyone can pass freely between states, excluding "paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice." All people are entitled to the rights established by the state into which he travels. If a crime is committed in one state and the perpetrator flees to another state, he will be extradited to and tried in the state in which the crime was committed.
  • Defines the powers of the central government: to declare war, to set weights and measures (including coins), and for Congress to serve as a final court for disputes between states.
  • Criminals needed to be formally extradited to another state before they could be tried.
no national court system possible problem
No National Court System Possible Problem

Justice was extremely difficult achieve due to the extradition process and the difference in legal systems throughout the states. Indeed, even the money each state used was different which made collecting debts from individuals and civil law suits very complicated matters that stifled the expansion of commerce and business.

any amendment needed to be approved by all 13 states
Any Amendment Needed to be Approved by all 13 States
  • The Articles of Confederation declared that the Articles are perpetual, and can only be altered by approval of Congress with ratification by all the state legislatures.
  • “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated."
  • “Established the United States as a league of states united ". . . for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them . . . ."
any amendment needed to be approved by all 13 states1
Any Amendment Needed to be Approved by all 13 States
  • This unanimity ensured states rights, but made the Articles unchangeable, essentially destroying their future viability since they could never change with the times.
congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government
Congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government.

Expenditures by the United States will be paid by funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on the real property values of each.

congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government1
Congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government.

Expenditures by the United States will be paid by funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on the real property values of each.

congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government2
Congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government.
  • The inability to collect debts led to a nation unable to pay the significant debts it incurred during the revolutionary war particularly to France.
  • This resulted in part due to the lack of a national military and national court system. The national government had no ability to collect its debts.
congress did not have the power to settle disputes among the states
Congress did not have the power to settle disputes among the states.
  • Why?
  • The Articles of Confederation was developed by people who were extremely suspicious of centralized government and took every measure possible to limit its scope.
links about the articles of confederation
Links About the Articles of Confederation
  • Articles of Confederation- Actual Text
  • Furhter Commentary on the Articles