Articles of Confederation: Our Nation’s 1st Constitution Study Guide



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Articles of Confederation: Our Nation’s 1st Constitution Study Guide


Early Americans feared a strong central government because they felt it could turn into a system like the one they just rebelled against. They were concerned about the central government having too much power and resembling a monarchy, the possible nullification of their state constitutions, and the possibility that the will of the central government would overpower the will of the people.

Each state created their own constitution States included the ideas of natural rights, natural law, social contract, popular sovereignty, representation, separation of power, and checks and balances. These are all ideas of John Locke, Montesquieu, and ideas found in the Declaration of Independence.

Problems / Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation



1. Congress was not given any power to tax the people

No taxes=no money to run the country






2. Congress had no power to enforce its own laws in the states

No enforcement=people in various states doing what they want






Right to vote: gives people a say in the government (limited to white, male, landowners)

Free and frequent elections: gives people a say in the government; allows the states to select the leadership in their government as opposed to someone being placed in power or through a bloodline

Freedom of speech and press: British government limited what could be said or printed; people wanted these rights as a means of expression

Freedom to petition the government: if the people felt the government was wrong, they wanted the right to protest/petition the government to correct the wrongs

No taxation with representation: this was a catalyst for the American Revolution; the people wanted representation in government and thus a say in policies that would impact the people

Rights for those accused of crimes: states wanted fair trials for all accused of crimes; these rights would protect those charged with crimes until proven innocent or guilty



3. Congress could not make states follow trade agreements with other nations

Bad trading relations with other counties = no international trade






The Founders felt creating a weak central government would protect the rights of the people and unify the states while leaving the power with the states.

The Articles only created a legislative branch

There was no executive branch (no president or cabinet).

There was no judicial branch (courts).

The Articles gave each state (regardless of size) one vote, giving the states total control of the legislature.

"Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.“

The legislature is responsible for declaring war, making laws, and serving as the final court in disputes between states.

States were responsible for sharing money spent by the United States of America, since the central government had no power to tax the states.





4. Congress could not regulate trade between the states.

High trading taxes between states = difficulty trading goods = slow business = lost jobs






5. Citizens in states thought their property rights were being violated

Violated property rights = need for national government to check the states






6. There was no national court system

No national court system = different systems by state = confusion in the justice system

Interstate issues would have no courts to go to on the federal level

No means of checking the laws of the legislature






7. There was no executive branch for the central government

This means there was no President or party responsible for enforcing laws; no authority behind the laws

There was no figure head for the government

No means of checking the policies created by the legislature (what happens when all power is in one branch of government?)






8. It required a unanimous vote to make changes to the Articles

This made it very difficult to make any changes to the Articles





Farmers in Massachusetts were beginning to lose their farms due to economic problems

The Farmers blamed high taxes imposed by the state for the economic downturn

Many farmers lost their farms and homes; some were even put in prison

As a result, local farmers, led by Daniel Shays decided to rebel by shutting down the courts using force – they even raided a federal arsenal to take weapons for their rebellion





Shays’ rebellion scared the colonists

Who was going to maintain order if the states couldn’t?

Would rebellions like this begin to spread?

Could the country survive with things like this going on?

The colonists knew that something needed to be done about all of the problems the government was having under the Articles.

At the urging of the states, Congress invited delegates from all of the states to Philadelphia

The purpose of this meeting was “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation”

Delegates (representatives of the states attending the convention) were only to revise the Articles…



…but they ended up creating a new U.S. Constitution.



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