The Articles of Confederation

The years 1776 to 1787 are often considered to be the most important and fateful when compared to all other epochs of American History: the now self-proclaimed Americans, having rebelled against royal authority, needed to develop a new system of government in order to survive. To accomplish such a feat, they needed a basis on which to establish this new authority. Established in autumn of 1777 and fully ratified in 1781, the Articles of Confederation was Just this. These documents, at best a primitive constitution, were formed to be the basis of the federal government.

While erectly serving as such, the Articles of Confederation subjected the united States to a series of problems In both domestic and foreign respects. Increasing In adversity with each aching year, these documents only brought about one good effect: they showed the Americans that a weak and disorganized government like the one during the Articles’ reign could never work. Regarding structure, the Articles of Confederation, or simply Articles, were relatively ‘bare-bones’ when compared to the complex constitutions and declarations of government other countries had.

It laid out simple and ultimately primitive government: the power of the government was to Ill solely In Congress, a group of delegates from all states. It was to be Congress and only Congress to create laws and run most of the government. This concept did not work well in practice: Congress, the only branch of the government, was weak and unable to bring about policy change for the country. First, all amendments to the Articles required a unanimous vote of all thirteen states – something that was quite rare – and even the simplest of national laws required a two-thirds majority to be established.

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This became a major issue. As a new country, a lot of issues were going to come forth to Congress, and due to the bureaucratic rules that were In place, It was difficult for a treaty or policy to be approved. Furthermore, the Articles did not allow for a national judicial system or an executive branch of government to be established. These policies, reflecting the lack of trust and respect for the British courts and monarchs from American politicians, allowed for perpetual and incessant bickering to persist, and also did not give the nation a single, strong leader to trust in.

It made the united States a weaker and less Just nation, something that was very much needed In Its Infancy. For these reasons, the Articles, while In effect, made It very difficult for Congress to make any laws or utilize even the slightest of powers. During the eight year period in which the articles dictated American government, many injustices, misdeeds, and problems came to face them on their home land. The Articles damaged the frail union of states, created economic depression, and establish a period of instability for the infant united States.

The major problem with he Articles In this respect Is that It gave far too much power to the Individual states. Again reflecting a mistrust of central government – the British Empire – the states were given special abilities and powers that allowed them to control the face of politics. Eventually, this devolved into state of corruption, wherein the states disrespected the federal government and pursued their own, sole interests. Instead acting as one body of peoples and ideals, they chose to act as if they were still colonies, something that the Articles allowed for.

A major issue this brought about deader tax, states such as Rhode Island, as seen in this letter to Congress, decried, “it would be unequal in its operation, bearing hardest on the most commercial states…. ” (Document A). Rhode Island, like many other states, believed that that “by granting to Congress a power to collect moneys from the commerce of these states, indefinitely as to time and quantity, and for the expenditure of which they are not to be accountable to the states, they would become independent of their constituents; and so the proposed impost is repugnant to the liberty of the United States. Document A). Essentially, it was believed that by establishing a tax to be utilized by the Continental Congress, they would be acting too much like the British, and by doing this they surrender the liberty they had fought so valiantly to grasp. The issue in this is that the states did not have to submit this tax, and in a nod of disrespect to the government, they chose not to; Congress could only acquire funds by asking the states for it. By doing this, the states condemned Congress to criticism and debt, thus causing further chaos for the blossoming country.

This lack of funds is indicated in a letter to George Washington, sent from a delegate from Virginia: “Every class of public creditors must know the inability of Congress to pay their demands, unless furnished with the means by the several States, and the exertions of that body have not been lacking heretofore to obtain the means…. ” (Document C). This not only shows the negative and weak connotation many Americans had for Congress, but also how much power the states truly had. Essentially, the federal government was not to be trusted unless a state was supporting its ambitions financially.

As also shown in the letter sent from Joseph Jones to George Washington, another major problem was resulting from the lack of funding: “One ground of discontent in the army, and on which they found the opinion that Justice is not intended to be done to them is the delay in complying with their requests for bonuses and back pay’ (Document C). The soldiers were becoming restless at Congress’ inability to compensate them for their valorous deeds. This discontent eventually sprouted into something far worse: a complete lack to properly maintain a standing army and navy.

In a time where military strength means life or death, this policy was incredibly dangerous. They were only months out of a bloody war with military behemoth Britain, they had perpetual land disputes with mighty Spain, and were under constant threat of attack and annihilation from anyone and from anywhere. And yet, the states did not bother much with this lack of Army, again showing their disregard for the federal government. In fact, they set up and maintained their own militias, which they often utilized for their own self-interests and protection.

Adding insult to injury, the Articles gave Congress no authority to interfere with these misdeeds, conflicts which they helped catalyst. Another major issue with the Articles of Confederation was that it did not allow for national intervention in commerce and economy. Being the young and capitalist nation that it was, the United States had issues keeping its trade in order; States would often fight for control of small trades, often going to extremes for a quick buck. Since Congress had no power over national trade, they could not stop this.

Thus, trade, the primary source of income of all states, as stifled by these conflicts. States began to draft and establish their own trade policies, placing tariffs and restrictions at their own will. Gradually, commerce began fight tooth and nail for trade, shattering the sense of unwavering union the country had Just months before the Articles of Confederation were ratified. Inflation spread as part of this economic decay, since the value of state printed money, something that was legal under the Articles, decreased, and the federal note was not in use.

In 1779, none other than aristocrat George Washington wrote to acting Congressional President John Jay stating that, “that a wagon load of money will scarcely purchase a wagon load of provisions. ” (Wisped). Since Congress essentially had no power to tax, Mr.. Jay and Congress responded to these crises by begging nearly fifty million dollars in funds from the States. In this response, Mr.. Jay appealed that the funds were “the price of liberty, the peace, and the safety of yourselves and posterity. (Wisped). The ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation become blatantly apparent upon examining domestic American history during its use. It proved to be both harmful and restricting to the Americans who desperately craved wealth, comfort of living, security, and land. The total lack of unity in addition to the weakness of the Army and Navy kept the American government under the Confederation from achieving much in respect to foreign policy.

If anything, the United States was set back in attempts to attain respect and instill fear in other countries’ eyes. It became apparent to Congress soon after the revolution that the Government needed to conduct proper, effective, and authoritative foreign policy. As Thomas Jefferson puts it, “There never will be money in the treasury till the Confederacy shows its teeth. The states must see the rod. ” (Wisped). However, even under this spirit of change and expansion, few positive changes in foreign relations occurred.

The issue of most importance in foreign policy was the control of the Mississippi River and relations with colonial rivals Spain and Britain, who posed the biggest threat to American expansion and prosperity in the Midwest and beyond. However, the Articles of Confederation stifled these aspirations. A poorly supplied and practically non-existent Army and Navy, brought about by another weakness of the Articles, made it impossible to flaunt or use power as a means of forcing treaties or making others surrender.

The lack of a properly unified country, also caused by other weaknesses of the Articles, made it hard for Americans to act together for one goal. Foreigners would have no reasons to respect them, and thus their wishes. For example, in 1785, the US Minister to the British Empire was ordered by John Jay to, “insist that the United States be put, thou further delay, into possession of all the posts and territories within their limits, which are now held by British Garrisons. ” (Document D).

However, the British had no incentive to bow down to theirs wishes: the Americans could not behave them militarily from the frontier posts on US soil, since they had neither the troops nor the funds to do so. John Jay understood this, and further instructed the Minister, Mimi will represent in strong terms the losses which many of our and also of their merchants will sustain if the former be unseasonably and immoderately pressed for he payment of debts contracted before the war. ” (Document D). Even still, the British did not leave the land they occupied.

They did not respect American ideals and boundaries and also realized that Congress really has no way to make them leave whatsoever. Another major defeat in American foreign relations occurred in 1786 that access to the Mississippi River for Americans be denied, and that they should also give up some of its western territories. The Mississippi River was crucial as both a supply route of goods, money, and people to the Western Territories, but also a humbly of American progress, accomplishment, and hope.

Although the treaty was never ratified due to its immense unpopularity, its introduction represented something more significant. It showed, as did the incident with the British forts, that the young nation that its carries with its name no respect, and that it needs to improve itself in order to be more effective as a nation in the colonial world it resides in. As time progressed and the weaknesses of the Articles became increasingly apparent, many American citizens were beginning to develop animosity for the infamous documents and rules that dictated how their Government was run.

These ideas eventually morphed into actions, and citizens started to actively rebel against their government leaders and protest the misdeeds they believed their rulers were committing. In one particular case, populist and veteran of the Revolutionary War Daniel Shays led a powerful rebellion against the Massachusetts government, which he believed has highly unreasonable tax policies, reasons that ironically parallel those of the American Revolution. His rebellion, while largely effective at conveying is anger, was eventually suppressed, but only by a militia force of three-thousand men.

However, it wasn’t Just the poorer citizens who were distraught by the Articles of Confederation: John Jay, the Congressional President himself, was unhappy with the Articles. He expressed these emotions to his friend and colleague George Washington, where he revealed, ” I am uneasy and apprehensive; more so than during the war… Yet I did firmly believe we should succeed, because I was convinced that Justice was with us. The case is now altered; we are going and doing wrong, and Hereford I look forward to evils and calamities….. What I fear most is, that the better kind of people….. Ill be lead by the insecurity of property, the loss of confidence in their rulers, and the want of public faith and rectitude, to consider the charms of liberty as imaginary and delusive. A state of fluctuation and uncertainty must disgust and alarm such men, and prepare their minds for almost any change they may promise them quiet and security’ (Document G). Suggesting its ineffectiveness, many Americans grew to protest and despise the Articles of Confederation, the sole item hat was holding them back as a nation. While the Articles were only in use for a short period of time, its effects were felt for years thereafter.

It, while in effect, destroyed the loose union that Americans held, ravished the economy and the military, brought about protests which could have caused another revolution, and generally caused the US to lose respect in the eyes of the world. It was not only entirely ineffective, it was counter-intuitive. The founding fathers based the new country on principles of liberty, prosperity, and security, and yet, they created and deified a document that did Just the opposite of that; the Articles of Confederation provided Americans with a weak and ineffective government, the lack of both an army and a navy, and economic troubles as well.

In essence, the Articles proved to be the exact opposite of the kind of government the people of the Revolution dreamed of. However, it was not until the 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, ten years after attempts were made to learn from the mistakes of the past, in turn rectifying them and starting the country over, anew and free from its troubled past.

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The Articles of Confederation. (2017, Nov 19). Retrieved from

The Articles of Confederation
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