The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation – The Second Continental Congress established the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, but they did not go into force until March 1, 1781, when they were eventually approved by all 13 states. There was no national executive or judiciary under the Articles; instead, there was a unicameral (one-house) legislature (commonly referred to as the Confederation Congress). State legislatures appointed delegates to Congress, and each state got one vote. Declare war, formulate foreign policy, coin money, control Native American issues in the territories, run the post office, borrow money, and appoint army and navy commanders were all powers granted to Congress. All powers not specifically assigned to Congress, on the other hand, belonged to the states.

The Articles of Confederation have flaws.

Congress lacked the authority to tax or regulate interstate and international trade. It could only ask the states for money and had no way of forcing them to pay, and the states had the right to put their own tariffs on imports, which wreaked havoc on trade. Congress lacked the ability to form an army on its own and had to rely on the states to provide troops. The assent of nine states was required for all significant policy decisions, including war and peace, treaties, and allotment of cash. The Articles represented the nation’s worry about executive power, but there was no effective leadership because there was no president. To alter the Articles, the states needed to vote unanimously through their legislatures.

Calls for the national government to be strengthened

At the Annapolis Convention, representatives from five states, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, discussed the need for a stronger national government (September 1786). The failure of Congress to respond to Shay’s Rebellion (winter 1786–1787), an insurrection of debtor farmers in western Massachusetts, exposed the Articles’ flaws. Congress resolved to gather again in February 1787, this time “for the sole and express purpose of rewriting the Articles of Confederation.”

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