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The Articles of Confederation and the Constitution Essay

Question: “From 1781 to 1789 the Articles of Confederation provided the Unites States with an effective government. Use the documents and your knowledge of the period to evaluate this statement.”

Although the Articles of Confederation provided a working government for the United States, it was not necessarily an effectively working government; an effective government would be one that not only establishes control and authority, but one under which the nation flourishes. Certainly the Articles set down a basic government with the idea of a democratic republic. However, the Articles of Confederation didn’t impose an effective government as much as it set the basis for one. It was unable to enforce many laws and many of those set were also unequal in operation, as unfair to some states as fair to others. Thus, from 1781 to 1789, the Articles of Confederation established a working, yet ineffective government, with very little control or authority over foreign relations, the economy, and western lands.

In foreign relations, the government set down by the Articles of Confederation had minimal, if any, control and authority over diplomatic efforts with Spain, France, Britain, and the foreign presences in America. One contributing factor to this was the lack of an executive branch. Congress was the chief coordinating agency of any war efforts and almost every action of meaning. During a disagreement over foreign policy, the argument could possibly have lasted for weeks with no decision or compromise set, leaving the problem standing unresolved. What authority Congress did have over commerce was shown in some unfair tariffs on foreign trade, that consequentially affected foreign relations. There was a marked decline in the estimated market of United States exports to Great Britain; in those, there was a definite per capita drop [Document B]. There was much difficulty with diplomatic efforts with other countries.

For example, while negotiating a treaty with Spain that could have given America access to the Mississippi River, the Southern states refused to go along, with the result of the treaty negotiations and the Mississippi had to be given up [Document F]. In America itself, Congress was unable to enforce the Treaty of Paris. There were British troops still occupying some parts of America [Document D]. Since Congress could not directly assemble an army, there was no way to deal¬†with the problem and the existing American troops were discontent with the government’s failure to pay their wages [Document C]. Considering the state of foreign relations under the Articles of Confederation, the Louisiana Purchase wouldn’t have been possible. The negotiations for the territory would have failed and Congress would have argued over the purchase of land long after the offer would have been voided. The difficulties in foreign relations were too much for the government set by the Articles of Confederation to be considered effective.

The economy, like foreign relations, worked virtually in complete independence from Congress and the Articles of the Confederation. Congress had little authority over and abilities of directly taxing the people and regulating commerce. Being the central institution of national authority Congress needed the power to control factors that influence the economy – which they didn’t. The foreign relations of America affected the foreign trade of America. The foreign relations were in a dystopian. As a result, the foreign trade of America was in as sorry a state of affairs.

There was a marked decline in the estimated market of United States exports to Great Britain and in those that did exist was a definite per capita drop [Document B]. When Congress did have the authority to impose a tariff, it was often unequal in operation and unfair to some states while favoring others [Document A]. The government set by the Articles of the Confederation experienced many difficulties with control and authority over an economy that did not prosper under the Articles.

The western lands of the Articles’ United States were under very little American control. First of all, Although the western lands were turned over to the national government and then sold, they weren’t well controlled. Many of these lands were already predominantly inhabited by Native Americans. Congress lacked the ability to directly assemble an army, yet a fighting force was almost necessary to opposing the British still in America after the Treaty of Paris. An army would also have quelled raiding and rebelling Indians in the West, and also raiding from over the border of Spanish Florida. In negotiations over the western border of the US, there was much arguing among Congress between northern and southern state representatives¬†[Document F]. While negotiating a treaty with Spain that could have given America access to the Mississippi River, the Southern states refused to go along, so the treaty negotiations and the Mississippi had to be given up.

The Articles of Confederation didn’t establish an effective government; they not only established little control, but the nation didn’t flourish. The failure of this government is perceptible in the state of foreign relations, the economy, and western lands from 1781 to 1789. The clear failure can also be seen in the call for revision of the Articles [Documents G, H]. Things were going wrong and they needed to change. Although the call was originally just for revision, it resulted in a new document, the Constitution. Although the Articles set down a basic government with the idea of a democratic republic, that’s all it had: the idea. The basis set for an effective democratic republic was embellished and made to succeed in the Constitution. This demonstrated that the Articles’ government wasn’t completely flawed, but it certainly wasn’t effective.


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