The “Articles of Confederation” denotes the agreement by 13 original states of the USA that was used as the first constitution after independence. The drafting of the “Articles of Confederation” commenced in 1776 facilitated by a special committee that was formed by the Continental Congress. In 1777, the committee came up with a draft that was forwarded to all the states for approval. At the beginning of 1781, all the states formally approved it and authorized its application. These Articles provided a mechanism that would be used by the then Congress to control the inevitable “American Revolutionary War” (Rodgers). Additionally, the Articles provided the mechanisms for conducting international relations with Europe, dealing with boundary issues and facilitation of relations of the indigenous Americans. However, the Articles had some evident weaknesses that considerably inhibited the operations of the state governments. As such, these weaknesses became the focus of the nationalists and thus the Articles were substituted with the first Constitution of the USA that conferred uncensored power to the federal governments.
We have compared constitution with the Articles of Confederation in the past.
Weaknesses of The AOC
Under these Articles, states maintained their independence and sovereignty. As Armitage asserts “Each of the 13 states had a vote in the weak national Congress (appointed by the state governments), while a vote of 9 states was required in order to pass any laws and a unanimous vote of all 13 states was required for the Articles to be amended.” The weaknesses of the Articles arose from its central call for an alliance that gave sovereign power to all the states. This is evident in Article number II that states “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled” (Rodgers). The Founding Fathers facilitated the distribution of sovereignty because colonists worried about the strength of national governments and thus did not involve themselves in the process. Also, the founding fathers were suspicious of their colonists and thus did not encourage their involvement in the process. Elliot holds that “having dealt with the British Crown for so many years, the American colonies did not want to create yet another out-of-touch, national government.” Additionally, Americans held dearly their freedom and would only strongly accept self-established colonies. As such, it seemed normal to create own government grounded on sovereign state governments.
However, these Articles lasted for a short time because of their increased inefficiency and limitation of power that curtailed the smooth operation of the government. As Williams asserts “The main cause of this ineffectiveness stemmed from a lack of a strong, central government.” This power limitation presented the national government with a litany of drawbacks that finally rendered the application of the articles impossible. These weaknesses can broadly be divided into three categories. Within these categories are sub-categories that are directly related to the respective category.
The first category of the weaknesses of these Articles is economic disorganization. According to Armitage “the first flaw of the Articles of Confederation was its economic disorganization which led to financial hardship for the emerging nation since by the late 1780’s, America was struggling to compete economically and pay off the debts it accumulated in its fight for independence.” The first sub-category of weaknesses of the Article is the fact that the Congress had no power to regulate trade. As evident from the 1786 letter by James Madison addressed to Thomas Jefferson, the direct competition among states was one of the factors that caused a huge economic disorganization. As Kesavan asserts “America in the mid-1780 was plagued by economic chaos that originated from the national government’s inability to manage trade.” In the Articles, the power of Congress in regulating trade was highly limited. Congress could only regulate trade at the American tribes’ level and this was only possible if it did not conflict with the ability of the individual state to scrutinize and regulate its own commerce activities.
Congress was inhibited from negotiating trade agreements involving foreign countries. According to Elliot “The central government could enact foreign treaties, but such treaties were specifically barred from policing imports and exports.” However, states were free to create and implement trade restrictions that they deemed necessary. States were only unable to create foreign treaties. Because of this limitation of power on the part of the central government, there were a lot of inefficiencies between the coordination of the national government and the states. Every state pursued its individual agendas with differing imports and exports policies that inhibited the economic plans of the central government as a result of the evident disparities.
The second sub-category under economic disorganization is lack of uniformity in currency system. In Article IX of the Articles it is stated that “the United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their authority, or by that of the respective State” (Rodgers). In spite of the fact that Congress had power to regulate the American currency, the Articles did not provide for a common currency in all states. As such, the central government printed money, but all states could also print on money. As a result, the currency system was different in different states, a situation that inhibited trade among states and foreign countries too.
The third sub-category under economic disorganization is the fact that the central government had no authority to carry out taxation. The Articles gave states the power to determine taxes and impose regulations on raising revenue, but denied central government the power to collect taxes. As such, the central government was obliged to request finances from the 13 states thus significantly curtailing its operations. As provided in Article VIII of the Articles the collected funds “shall be supplied by the several States in proportion to the value of all land within each State” (Rodgers). The responsibility of raising the required funds in respective states was bestowed on the legislature of each state. In some cases, the states failed to raise the required funds, others raised the amount and failed to submit it, and others delayed to submit the funds. With such inefficiencies “Congress struggled to pay off America’s foreign debts and was incapable of fulfilling its other tasks, such as managing foreign affairs” (Armitage). Amidst these inefficiencies, the national government was unable to create a predictable budget. It was just impossible because the central government did not know when the states would submit the funds and how much they would submit.
The second category of the weaknesses of these Articles is the absence of central power. As Kesavan asserts, “the Articles placed sovereign power in the hands of the state, which led to leadership deficit.” The first sub-category under deficit in central leadership is absence of independent judiciary. There was no provision supporting the courts system at the central government jurisdiction. As such, the judiciary arm fully depended on the 13 states. As presented in Article IV of Articles “Full faith and credit shall be given in each of these States to the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other State.” Based on this provision, states could nullify the actions taken by the central government at will to suit their interests.
The second sub-category under deficit in central leadership is lack of head of foreign affairs. There lacked a president and a representative who could oversee foreign affairs. According to Williams, “Britain actually complained of such difficulties, protesting that they did not know who to contact in order to initiate diplomacy.” The third sub-category under deficit in central leadership is lack of capacity to avert internal as well as external threats. It was counterproductive that the central government was given the mandate to declare war whereas on the other hand it was not permitted to fund the armed forces. The Articles stated “The United States in Congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war” (Rodgers). As such, the central government relied on the states for provision of military. Because of reliance on the states for provision of troops, the central government was incapable of instituting quick response to internal as well as external threats.
The third category of the weaknesses of these Articles is legislative inefficiencies. The Articles had many loopholes that made legislation ineffective. The first sub-category under legislative inefficiencies is the provision that one state one vote. This provision gave small and huge states equal voting power in Congress. According to Armitage “the large discrepancy in state populations made states with larger populations quite unhappy with the set-up.” The second sub-category under legislative inefficiencies is the inherent difficulty in passing laws. Since every state had one vote, the approval of any legislation required nine votes out of thirteen votes. As such, the blocking of a bill required just five votes. In most cases, states were objected to the legislations by the central government creating difficulty in approving laws. The third sub-category under legislative inefficiencies is unrealistic amendment process. As stated in Article XIII of these Articles “any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State” (Rodgers). This provision made the amendment of tyrannical laws impossible.
In conclusion, the “Articles of Confederation” was monumental in the history of the United States of America because it acted as the first ever constitution of the 13 original states after independence. The Articles shed light on what need rectification and what was to remain the same in the Constitution of the United States of America. However, these articles had some salient weaknesses. The first weakness was the fact that the Congress had no power to regulate trade, second was lack of uniformity in currency system, and third was that central government had no authority to carry out taxation. The fourth weakness was absence of independent judiciary, fifth was lack of head of foreign affairs, and sixth was lack of capacity to avert internal as well as external threats. The seventh was the provision of one state one vote, the eighth was inherent difficulty in passing laws, and ninth was unrealistic amendment process. All these ar as discussed in details in above essay.
Armitage, D. “The Declaration Of Independence In World Context”. 2004, https://academic.oup.com/maghis/article-abstract/18/3/61/1034944/The-Declaration-of-Independence-in-World-Context?redirectedFrom=fulltext.
Elliot, Jonathan. “The Debates In The Several State Conventions On The Adoption Of The Federal Constitution, As Recommended By The General Convention At Philadelphia In 1787”. Google Books, 2010, https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=pTAMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA98&redir_esc=y&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Kesavan, Vasan. “”When Did The Articles Of Confederation Cease To Be Law””. Scholarship.Law.Nd.Edu, 2002, http://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndlr/vol78/iss1/3/.
Rodgers, Paul. “United States Constitutional Law: An Introduction”. Google Books, 2011, https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=WUOXmAEACAAJ&pg=PA109&redir_esc=y&hl=en.
Williams, Frederick D. “The Northwest Ordinance: Essays On Its Formulation, Provisions, And Legacy”. Google Books, 2011, https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=2VkZCpH201EC&pg=RA1-PA1782&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false.