The Articles of Confederation
Our First Constitution: An Attempt to Unify America
Let's Not Appear Too British
What to Do?
The Final Form
- Congress became the single branch of national government (unicameral), but it would have limited powers in order to protect the liberties of the people.
- Each state had one vote in the Congress.
- Congress could settle conflicts among the states, make coins (money), borrow money, and make treaties with other countries and with Native Americans.
- Congress could also ask the states for money and soldiers, but the states had the right to refuse these requests.
- The national government did NOT have a president or a national court system.
The Articles of Confederation were finally ratified by the last of the 13 American states, Maryland, in 1781, and it became the ruling document or first constitution in the new nation.
Watch the video below and pay close attention to the parts about the Articles of Confederation.
Let's Look At This Again....
A confederation is a group of individuals who unite together for a purpose -- in this case, the 13 states that had previously been under British rule.
The Articles of Confederation explained how the 13 states would be governed as one nation. Here are the basics:
- each state was independent, and had its own government
- each state would send representatives to the "Congress of the Confederation," a law-making body
- Congress was the only branch of government -- no president and no courts
- in Congress, each state got one vote
Pros & Cons and Lots of Differences
On one hand, the Articles of Confederation had qualities that citizens appreciated. Because the Articles did not set up a very strong government, STATES got to keep their power and independence. There was NO powerful government telling them what to do. Citizens did want protection though and the Articles gave Congress the power to create a military to protect all the states.
There were problems though. The Articles did not give Congress the power to enforce its laws. Congress had no power to collect taxes to pay for the military. And, if anything needed to be changed or amended in the Articles, EVERY single state had to agree to the changes. All of these "cons" led people to realize AND believe that the government system wasn't really working.
Lots of Differences:
With 13 different states, there was no easy solution to fix the problems, and here's why:
- States had different needs. For example, some states depended on fishing while others depended on agriculture.
- States had different size populations. Some states had a large population while others had a small population. Think how big Virginia is compared to Rhode Island!
- People had different opinions. Some people feared a central government while others believed that a central government was necessary.
- Many people feared that they would lose their freedom if a central government had too much power. And, others were tired of the WEAK government created under the Articles of Confederation, and felt like nothing would ever get done if no one was in charge.
In the words of George Washington, the government created by the Articles of Confederation was "little more than the shadow without substance." As the need for a stronger federal government began to be realized leaders from throughout the states got together to decide how to create it. The delegates from the 13 states gathered in Philadelphia in May, 1787. They intended to amend or make changes to the Articles of Confederation, but realized that so much more needed to be done so they instead drafted our current Constitution of the United States, which created a stronger central government. And, that's a lesson for another day!
Five Major Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation
- A weak national or central government.
- Congress could not tax or regulate trade.
- One vote per state no matter the size of the population or land size.
- The national government did not have an executive or judicial branch.
- No common currency among the states.