Essay, Research Paper: Articles Of Confederation


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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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