The Articles of Confederation and United States Constitution are two documents that shaped the U.S. government into what it is today. The Articles of Confederation (AOC) was the first Constitution of the United States. Americans soon realized that this document had to be substantially modified because the U.S. needed a stronger government. The AOC was thought of as an ineffective national government document, although there were some strong points. The AOC was ratified in 1781, and replaced by an improved document known as the United States Constitution in 1789.
An unknown person once said, “Perhaps the greatest service rendered by the Articles of Confederation was the impetus its shortcomings gave to those who favored a strong central government.” This is an analytical essay supporting this quote by comparing the strengths, weaknesses, and achievements of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
The AOC gave Congress many powers which included: the right to declare war, develop foreign policy, regulate Native American activity in the territories, coin money, run post offices, borrow money, and appoint military officers.
Although the AOC seemed to have a lot of power, there were also several underlying weaknesses and problems that were not initially addressed. As a result the United States Constitution came into action. This document essentially addressed all the underlying problems of the AOC. The AOC did not allow Congress to levy taxes on individuals which the Constitution addressed. The AOC had no federal court system so the Constitution had a dynamic court system in place which was created to deal with issues between citizens and the states.
The AOC offered no regulation of trade between states and interstate commerce. The Constitution gave Congress the right to regulate trade between states and control interstate commerce. The AOC had no executive power; the president of the United States simply presided over Congress until the ratification of the Constitution which created the Executive branch. This was designed to give the president a more powerful role in the government. The Executive branch gave the president power to choose his Cabinet members and checks on the power of the judicial and legislative branches. The AOC offered little hope if Congress or the states needed to amend any documents as it called for 100% (13/13) of participants to agree. The Constitution made it to where a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress, plus a 3/4 vote of state legislatures or national convention could amend a document. In the AOC the representation of states was flawed as it said each state were to receive 1 vote regardless of size.
The Constitution in turn fixed this by making the upper house (Senate)give each state 2 votes and the lower house (House of Representatives) is based on population. The AOC did not allow Congress to recruit military troops, but was dependent on states to contribute forces. The Constitution allows for Congress to raise an army when needed in military situations. The AOC had a complicated system of arbitration in effect and the Constitution issued federal courts the right to handle disputes. Sovereignty was an issue while the AOC were in place as it resided in the states whereas the Constitution created the supreme law of the land. When passing law the AOC required 9/13 to approve legislation and the Constitution made it majority vote in both houses plus the signature of the President. The AOC faced many challenges and did not maintain order as the United States needed. It essentially did not work for the United States which is why the ratification of it is such a historical outcome of the United States.
All these ratifications of the AOC did not come so simple to the United States. There was a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787 to solve the problems of the AOC. It was at this convention that many plans were proposed, and compromises were reached. The weaknesses of the AOC had to be addressed. The first plan introduced by Governor Edmund Randolph, was the Virginia Plan, better known as the Large State Plan, called for a strong national government with bicameral legislation apportioned by population. This plan also called for the lower house to be elected directly by the people and the upper house to be elected by the lower house. This plan as well called for a Chief Executive and a Federal Court system, and it gave Congress the power to tax and regulate interstate commerce.
The Large State Plan gave the national government the power to legislate, and gave a proposed national Council of Revision a veto power over state legislatures. The delegates loved the sound of this fundamental reform plan. The Virginia Plan struck opposition among delegates from the smaller states and thus a competing plan, presented by William Patterson, known as the New Jersey Plan, or Small State Plan, came into action. This plan kept federal powers rather limited and created no new Congress. Instead, the plan enlarged some of the supremacies then held by the Continental Congress. It also called for a plural executive branch and a federal court system like the Virginia Plan. This plan was not as highly sought out as the Virginia Plan, so in turn was rejected which caused the supporters of the Virginia Plan to make amends to the smaller states. This in turn resulted in members of the Senate being elected by the state legislatures. After the Virginia and New Jersey Plan delegates worked out a series of compromises between these competing plans.
The first was The Great Compromise, or the Connecticut Compromise, which resulted in a bicameral legislature: House of Representatives (lower house), which was representation based on population, and the Senate (upper house), which was based on equal representation where each state would have 2 senators selected by the state legislatures. Another compromise reached was The Three-fifths Compromise. This was proposed over the “counting” of slaves and it determined that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a vote for both purposes of taxation, and purposes of representation in the House of Representatives. On September 17, 1787, a majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention approved the documents over which they had labored since May. To ratify the Constitution it was determined that 9 of the 13 states had to agree to the ratification in order for the new Constitution to go into effect.
Although 9 states is all the government needed to ratify the new document, Congress knew it was important to get the support of the large states, New York and Virginia, in order for the new government to be effective. Delaware was the first state to ratify and soon after 4 more states joined in on the ratification. There were those who favored ratification, better known as the Federalists, and those who opposed the ratification, known as Anti-federalists. The Federalists fought back and convinced the states that rejection of the Constitution would result in anarchy and civil strife. The Anti-federalists argued against the ratification that the delegates in Philadelphia had exceeded their congressional authority by replacing the AOC with an illegal new document. Others protested that the delegates in Philadelphia represent only the noble few, and thus hand crafted a document that saved their special interests and set aside the franchise for the propertied classes.
The Anti-federalists also argued that the Constitution would give too much power to the central government at the expense of the states, and that a representative government could not manage a republic as large as the United States. The biggest objection by the Anti-federalists was the Constitutional Convention had failed to adopt a Bill of Rights. The Federalists believed that the Constitution was so constrained that it posed no threat to the rights of citizens. It was clear in order to get the remainder of the states on the ratification side that the government had to put a Bill of Rights in place. The Federalist assured the public that the first step of the new government would adopt a Bill of Rights.
Soon after, The Federalist Papers were written by John Jay and Alexander Hamilton of New York, and James Madison of Virginia. This document encouraged the ratification of the Constitution. These papers circulated through New York and other states and soon after ratification passed in the New York and Virginia state conventions. The last and final state to ratify the Constitution was Rhode Island. After it was faced with threatened treatment as a foreign government, it passed ratification of May 29, 1790.