The Articles ofConfederation was the first constitution of the United Statesof America.
The Articles of Confederation were first draftedby the Continental Congress in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in1777. This first draft was prepared by a man named JohnDickinson in 1776. The Articles were then ratified in 1781.The cause for the changes to be made was due to statejealousies and widespread distrust of the central authority.This jealousy then led to the emasculation of the document.
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As adopted, the articles provided only for a “firm league offriendship” in which each of the 13 states expressly held “itssovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The People ofeach state were given equal privileges and rights, freedom ofmovement was guaranteed, and procedures for the trials ofaccused criminals were outlined. The articles established anational legislature called the Congress, consisting of two toseven delegates from each state; each state had one vote,according to its size or population. No executive or judicialbranches were provided for.
Congress was charged withresponsibility for conducting foreign relations, declaring waror peace, maintaining an army and navy, settling boundarydisputes, establishing and maintaining a postal service, andvarious lesser functions. Some of these responsibilities wereshared with the states, and in one way or another Congresswas dependent upon the cooperation of the states forcarrying out any of them. Four visible weaknesses of thearticles, apart from those of organization, made it impossiblefor Congress to execute its constitutional duties. These wereanalyzed in numbers 15-22 of The FEDERALIST, thepolitical essays in which Alexander Hamilton, JamesMadison, and John Jay argued the case for the U.S.CONSTITUTION of 1787. The first weakness was thatCongress 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 itsexpenses and divide those among the states on the basis ofthe value of land. States were then to tax their own citizensto raise the money for these expenses and turn the proceedsover to Congress. They could not be forced to do so, and inpractice they rarely met their obligations. Third, Congresslacked the power to control commerce–without its powerto conduct foreign relations was not necessary, since mosttreaties except those of peace were concerned mainly withtrade. The fourth weakness ensured the demise of theConfederation by making it too difficult to correct the firstthree.
Amendments could have corrected any of theweaknesses, but amendments required approval by all 13state legislatures. None of the several amendments that wereproposed met that requirement. On the days fromSeptember 11, 1786 to September 14, 1786, New Jersey,Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had a meeting of theredelegates at the Annapolis Convention. Too few states wererepresented to carry out the original purpose of themeeting–to discuss the regulation of interstatecommerce–but there was a larger topic at question,specifically, the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.Alexander Hamilton successfully proposed that the states beinvited to send delegates to Philadelphia to render theconstitution of the Federal Government adequate to theexigencies of the Union.” As a result, the ConstitutionalConvention was held in May 1787. The ConstitutionalConvention, which wrote the Constitution of the UnitedStates, was held in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787.
It wascalled by the Continental Congress and several states inresponse to the expected bankruptcy of Congress and asense of panic arising from an armed revolt–Shays’sRebellion–in New England. The convention’s assigned job,following proposals made at the Annapolis Convention theprevious September, was to create amendments to theArticles of Confederation. The delegates, however,immediately started writing a new constitution. Fifty-fivedelegates representing 12 states attended at least part of thesessions. Thirty-four of them were lawyers; most of theothers were planters or merchants. Although GeorgeWashington, who presided, was 55, and John Dickinsonwas 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 theeffort 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 suchgathering ever assembled. On September 17 theConstitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present.A period of national argument followed, during which thecase for support of the constitution was strongly presented inthe FEDERALIST essays of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay,and James Madison.
The last of the 13 states to ratify theConstitution was Rhode Island on May 29, 1790.BIBLIOGRAPHYCategory: History