Articles of Confederation and Articles of Constitution

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Articles of Confederation and Articles of Constitution

After the Declaration of Independence, there was a sense among Congressman that they wanted a written document creating a government justifying the existence of the United States. The delegates of the Second Continental Congress were attempting to codify arrangements that had never before put into legal terminology. As a result, in late 1777, the Articles of Confederation, creating a loose “league of friendship” between the thirteen sovereign or independent colonies, were passed by the Congress and presented to the states for ratification.

The Articles created a type of government where the national government derives its powers directly from the states. The Articles was finally ratified by all the thirteen states in March 1781. Although it had its flaws, the government under the Articles of confederation saw the nation through the Revolutionary War. However, once the British surrendered in 1781, and the new nation found itself no longer united by the war effort, the government quickly fell into chaos.

The Articles of Confederation was written during the War for Independence and at a time when a strong national government was regarded with suspicion. The Articles created a confederacy where most of the power was vested in the states. The confederation’s most important accomplishment was its resolution of some of the controversies involving the western lands. The Articles provided a national government with a Congress empowered to declare war, make peace, coin money, appoint officers for an army, control the post office, and negotiate treaties with Indian tribes. States were independent and sovereign to govern within its territories.

The Congress was unicameral and each state had one vote in the Continental congress, regardless of its size. The vote of nine states out of thirteen was considered a unanimous vote for any amendment. Tariffs were regarded as amendments and therefore almost impossible to pass depriving the national government of needed revenue. Congress functioned as a legislative body to pass laws and executive body to enforce them if needed.

Americans had great loyalties to their states and often did not even think of themselves as Americans. This lack of national identity or loyalty in the absence of a war to unite the citizenry fostered a reluctance to give any power to the national government. Congress had no specific power to tax. Articles of Confederation did not allow Congress to regulate commerce among the states or with foreign nations.

The Articles of Confederation had no provision for judicial system to handle the growing number of economic conflicts and boundary disputes among the individual states. The failure of the Congress to muster an army to put down the Shays’s Rebellion provided a dramatic example of the weakness inherent in the Articles of Confederation and shocked the nation’s leaders into recognizing the new national government’s inadequacies. And, it finally prompted several state delegates to meet in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786 to call for a convention in Philadelphia in may of 1787 for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.

On the first day of convention , Edmund Randolph and James Madison of Virginia proposed the Virginia Plan. Many delegates, including William Patterson of New Jersey, considered these resolution’s to be in violation of the convention’s charter, and proposed the New Jersey Plan, which took greater steps to preserve the Articles. These proposals met the heated debate on the convention’s floor.

Eventually the Virginia Plan triumphed following a declaration from Randolph that, “When the salvation of the Republic is at stake, it would be treason not to propose what we found necessary.” Though the basic structure of the new government was established, the work was not complete. These differences were resolved through a series of compromises.

The Great Compromise, proposed by Roger Sherman of Connecticut made a way for the Bicameral legislature in the constitution. Lower House or the House of Representatives consisted representation based on population, which would have the power to originate all bills for raising and spending money. Whereas the Upper House or Senate had equal representation, two senators from each state.

The national government would have the supreme power. The
Three-fifths Compromise determined that slaves would be counted as 3/5s on 1 for the purposes of taxation and representation in the House of Representatives. Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise decided that the slave trade would be abolished in 20 years.(i.e. January 1808). It also gave Congress, the power to regulate commerce including interstate commerce or trade between states and also to enact tariffs by a simple majority.

The first three articles established three branches of government. The legislative branch; Article I vests all legislative powers in the congress and establishes a bicameral legislature, consisting of Senate and the House of Representatives. The Executive Branch; Article II vests the authority to execute the laws of the nation, in a president of the United States. The Judicial Branch; Article III establishes a Supreme Court and defines its jurisdiction.

The four remaining articles define the relationship among the states, declare national law to be supreme and set out methods of amending constitution. Three-fourths of the state vote would be required for any amendment. Only the national government would have power to coin money. Taxes were laid and collected by congress instead of the states in Confederation.

Once the Constitution was approved by the convention, the next step was ratification by the states. The framers required the states to call special ratifying conventions for the purpose of ratifying or rejecting the proposed constitution. Those who favored new strong government chose to call themselves Federalists. On the other hand, Anti-Federalists argued that they simply wanted to protect state governments from the tyranny of a too powerful national government. Between October 1787 and May 1788, a series of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay appeared in newspapers in New York, a state where ratification was in doubt. These essays written in support of ratification of the U.S.

Constitution became known as “The Federalist Papers”. Aside from diminishing the power of the states, the main objection from the Anti-Federalists appeared to be the lack of written protection of individual rights and liberties. Once, the constitution was ratified, the elected congress immediately sent a set of ten amendments, known as “Bill of Rights” to states for their ratification. They offered a numerous specific limitations on the national government’s ability to interfere with a wide variety of personal liberties, some of which were already guaranteed by many state constitutions. These include freedom of expression, speech, press, religion, and assembly guaranteed by the first amendment.

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