The articles of confederation



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THE ARTICLES of CONFEDERATION



Articles of Confederation

Once the war against Great Britain had started, each of the 13 states was like a separate nation. Each state had its own constitution and government. To the people, their state was their country.


The Founders believed that a national government was needed to unify the states and conduct the war. A national government could also control trade and manage conflicts among the states. The states also needed to be united in how they relates to the rest of the world.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced two proposals to the Second Continental Congress. In one, Lee proposed independence from Great Britain. In the other, Lee proposed a national government to unify the states. Both resolutions were adopted.
Our nation’s first constitution was the Articles of Confederation. The Articles created our first national government. Congress adopted the Articles in 1777. Final approval by the states occurred in 1781 and then the Articles came into effect.

Problems faced by the Founders

It was not easy to write and agree upon a constitution for the United States. The Founders had to deal with a number of difficult questions. What type of national government should they create? How much power should they give it?


The first problem the Founders faced was the people’s fear of a strong national government. Americans believed that the British government had deprived people of their rights. They thought this was likely to happen with any national government that was both powerful and far away from the people. Citizens were convinced that government should be close to the people. That way the people could control their government and make certain that it did not violate their rights.
The second problem the Founders faced was the fear that some states would have more power in the national government than other states. The leaders in each state wanted to make sure that a national government would not threaten their state’s interests. As a result, the most important issue was how states would vote in Congress. Would each state have one vote? Would states with greater population or wealth have more votes than other states? Decisions in the Congress would be made by majority vote. Some leaders were afraid that the majority would use its power for its own interest at the expense of those who were in the minority.


How did the Articles Organize the National Government?

The Founders all agreed that the states needed a central government. Their solution to the fears of a strong national government was to create a weak one. The national government under the Articles of Confederation was simply a legislature, Congress; there were no executive or judicial branches.


The states were afraid that Congress might be able to control them. So they made sure that Congress was weak and its powers limited. The Articles left most of the powers of government with the states. The national government had little power over the states and their citizens. Every action taken by Congress had to be with the consent, approval and cooperation of the states.
To solve the problem of representation, the Articles gave each state one vote in Congress. The more populous states did not have more than one vote. The Articles also provided that on important matters, such as declaring war, nine of the states would have to agree. This way, the seven less populated states could not outvote the six larger states.

Strengths of the Articles of Confederation

Despite a weak central government under the Articles of Confederation, the national government was responsible for a number of important achievements.




  • It successfully waged the war for independence against Great Britain.




  • It negotiated the Treaty of Paris which ended the war.




  • It provided that each state recognize the laws of other states. For example, a marriage in one state would be valid in all other states. A citizen could travel freely from one state to another. Criminals who had crossed state borders could be extradited, or sent back to the state in which they committed their crime.




  • It passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This was the most important law passed by Congress under the Articles. It gave people in the northwestern lands the right to organize their own governments. Once they had done this, they could be asked to be admitted as new states with the same rights as the original thirteen states.

These were major accomplishments. There were, however, serious problems with the national government and these problems led to the decision to develop a new constitution.


Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

Governing the nation under the Articles of Confederation was difficult. Although the thirteen states realized it was important to work together as a nation, they were reluctant to give too much power to a central government. After all, they had fought a war to rid themselves of one. As a result, the states went too far in the opposite direction. They did not grant the central government enough power to run the country effectively.


The Power to Tax. One of the grievances the colonists had against Great Britain was that they were taxed by Parliament, a representative body in which they had no elected representatives. As the states formed the new nation, this concern was not forgotten. Congress was not given the power to tax people directly. When Congress needed money to run the government, it had to ask the states for it. The states would then either contribute money or refuse to give the central government anything at all. As a result, the central government could not pay its debts and was often close to bankruptcy.
The Power to Regulate Commerce. Another power lacked by Congress was the power to regulate or control interstate commerce, or trade between the states. As a result, there were many economic quarrels between the states. New York taxed ships that entered its harbor from other states. Products from one state were heavily taxed when transported to another state. Such quarrels made it nearly impossible for Americans to do business within their own country. Congress was just as ineffective in regulating foreign commerce.
Weaknesses Consequences

Congress did not have the power to tax directly

Congress had to ask states for money. States often refused, making it hard for the government to pay its debts.

Congress could regulate interstate or foreign commerce.

Economic quarrels between the states occurred. Foreign trade was restricted.

Each state was allowed to print its own money. Congress could not regulate the value of this money.

Money from one state was not always accepted in another. Money was becoming worthless.

There was no federal court system provided for.

Congress could not settle disputes between states unless both sides submitted the dispute to Congress.

Congress could ask, but not force, states to send troops for national use.

States often refused this request. Congress did not have the power to force England live up to the terms of the Treaty of Paris.

Nine out of thirteen states had to agree to an important bill before it could become law.

Congress had a difficult time passing legislation for the country.

All thirteen states had to agree to any amendments to the Articles.

Amendments to the Articles never passed.




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THE ARTICLES of CONFEDERATION

(Response Sheet)



1-Why did the Founders believe a national government was needed?
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2-Who proposed a national government to the Continental Congress?

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3-List and explain 2 problems the Founders had to deal with when contemplating a national government?

*Problem: ___________________________________________________________________________________
Explanation: _______________________________________________________________________________
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*Problem: ___________________________________________________________________________________

Explanation: _______________________________________________________________________________
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4-Summarize the section “How did the Articles Organize the National Government?”
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5-List and explain the strengths of the Articles of Confederation.
*Strength: __________________________________________________________________________________
Explanation: _______________________________________________________________________________
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*Strength: __________________________________________________________________________________
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*Strength: __________________________________________________________________________________
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6-Define: “extradited.” _____________________________________________________________
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7-Explain why the “power to tax” and the “power to regulate commerce” proved so difficult under the Articles of Confederation.
*Power to Tax______________________________________________________________________________
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*Power to regulate commerce__________________________________________________________
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8-Define “interstate commerce” __________________________________________________
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9-What do you think “intrastate commerce” means? ______________________
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10-List and explain the consequences of five weaknesses (in addition to taxing and commerce) of the Articles of Confederation.
*Weakness______________________________________________________________

Consequence _______________________________________________________________________________
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*Weakness______________________________________________________________

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