After the Revolutionary War, the thirteen colonies needed a government to replace the British system they fought so hard to overthrow. The first attempt of governance was formed around the articles of confederation. In 1777 the Articles of Confederation were proposed to the Second Continental Congress. In 1781 they were fully ratified and put into effect. The reign of the Articles of Confederation was short-lived.
During its short lifespan, the Articles of Confederation became increasingly ineffective at governing the continually growing American states. The main cause stemmed from the lack of strong, central government. The absence of a powerful, national government emerged a series of limitations that rendered the Articles futile.
Due to the lack of a strong national government in the Articles of Confederation, it led to three broad limitations: Economic disorganization, Lack of central leadership, and legislative inefficiencies.
The first struggle faced by the framers in their attempt at building the American Government was the Articles of Confederation and its economic disorganization which led to financial hardship. By the late 1780’s, America was struggling economically and struggling to pay off the debts accumulated in the fight for independence. The problems only persisted due to the economic limitations present in the articles of confederation.
America in the mid-1780’s was plagued with economic chaos that originated from congress’s inability to manage trade. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had limited power to regulate trade. Congress was only able to control take with Native American tribes and, even then, only if it did not impair an individual state’s ability to monitor its own trade, and had no ability to negotiate trade agreements. States, on the other hand, could make and enforce any trade restriction they saw fit. The only power the states lacked was the ability to make foreign treaties. However, since the central government had so little trade power, there was very little economic coordination among the states.
While congress had the right to regulate all forms of American currency, The Articles of Confederation never specified a singular form of currency. This meant that national government could print money, but each state could as well. Therefore, America had no uniform system of currency which made trade between states, and with foreign entities, much more difficult and less efficient.
Moving forward, the second series of limitations that the Articles of Confederation had to contend with was the absence of central leadership it provided. The Articles placed the power in the hands of the states, ultimately leading to economic troubles and leadership deficit.
The Articles of Confederation provided no system of courts in the jurisdiction of the national government. Since congress had no means to enforce its laws, the states could simply ignore national laws without fear of retribution. Also, since there was no national courts system, citizens or states could no file complaints against national government. The states could simply ignore anything they disagreed with, even if a citizen had a grievance with national government there was no system in place to hear the lawsuit.
One of the most notable differences between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States was its lack of a chief executive. In other words, the lack of a presidential figure or body left America without a representative to conduct foreign affairs.
According to the Articles of Confederation, Congress had the sole power to make peace and war, but did not have the authority to raise an army of its own. Since it was dependent on state troops, Congress was severely limited in the aspect of quickly and effectively responding to internal and external threats. As a result, Congress failed to defend America from the continual threat of Britain following the Revolutionary War. Shortly after signing the treaty of paris in 1783, Britain even began breaking the agreement.
Lastly, the Articles of Confederation proved ineffective due to the set of rules that made legislating under the Articles framework inefficient.
Small and large states had the same voting weight in Congress and there was no proportionality in voting matters. Considering the considerable discrepancies in state populations, states with larger populations were unhappy with the set-up.
While many might think “one state, one vote” would make it easier to pass laws, it didn’t. Instead it had quite the opposite effect. Blocking a bill took only five of the 13 states. In 1780, the five least populated states -Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Georgia, and New Jersey – had a total population of less than 400,000. Virginia, however, had a population of over 500,000. Thus, a unified population smaller than a single state, like Virginia, could block any piece of legislation presented in Congress.
The most paradoxical of the Articles’ legislative inefficiencies was the difficult amendment process. Any amendment had to have the consent of national Congress and all the states. This meant a unanimous vote was required to make changes, which was proved to be incredibly difficult. Ultimately, the articles were scrapped all together in favor of an entirely new governing document.
The main difference between the articles of Confederation and the Constitution is the articles called for a confederate style of government, whereas the constitution outlined a federal form of governance. In a Confederate government, the ultimate power resides in regional and local government’s. Central government only has as much power as regional government is willing to give it. In a federal government, sovereign power is given to both regional and central governments. Another form of government, neither the articles nor the constitution proposed, is unitary government. In unitary government, all power is in the central government. Acting the opposite of a confederacy, regional governments only have the power that is given to them by the national government
In conclusion, the Articles were a disaster. Due to the Economic Disorganization, Lack of central leadership, and its legislative inefficiencies, the Articles of Confederation never stood a chance. However, without the failures and guidance that the Articles of Confederation provided, the framers may have never learned what would and wouldn’t work.
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