Articles of Confederation

* Before the Constitution, there was The Articles of Confederation-- in effect, the first constitution of the United States. Drafted in 1777 by the same Continental Congress that passed the Declaration of Independence, the articles established a "firm league of friendship" between and among the 13 states.

* Created during the throes of the Revolutionary War, the Articles reflect the wariness by the states of a strong central government. Afraid that their individual needs would be ignored by a national government with too much power, and the abuses that often result from such power, the Articles purposely established a "constitution" that vested the largest share of power to the individual states.

* Under the Articles each of the states retained their "sovereignty, freedom and independence." Instead of setting up executive and judicial branches of government, there was a committee of delegates composed of representatives from each state. These individuals comprised the Congress, a national legislature called for by the Articles.

* The Congress was responsible for conducting foreign affairs, declaring war or peace, maintaining an army and navy and a variety of other lesser functions. But the Articles denied Congress the power to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce and enforce laws.

* Eventually, these shortcomings would lead to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. But during those years in which the 13 states were struggling to achieve their independent status, the Articles of Confederation stood them in good stead.

* Adopted by Congress on November 15, 1777, the Articles became operative on March 1, 1781 when the last of the 13 states signed on to the document.

Major Components of Articles* Each state has one vote

* Delegates appointed by state legislatures

* Each state would tax itself to help contribute to common expenses

* No state was to be deprived of Western Lands

* Each state retains all powers not expressly delegated to Congress

-Powers of Congress

* Decide on war and peace

* Appoint military and naval officers

* Requisition the states for men and money

* Send and receive ambassadors

* Enter into treaties and alliances

* Establish a post office

* Coin money

* Borrow money or issue paper money on credit

* Fix weights and measures

* Settle disputes between the states


Ratification of Articles

-By 1779 all but Maryland approve, but must be unanimous

*Maryland refuses based on "western land"

* Controversy over landed and landless states

o Landless states wanted Congress to control western lands

o Virginia claimed most of west to itself

o Land speculators increase problem

o Maryland argues the tax benefit for landed states, could sell land and have lower taxes which would attract settlers

o January 2, 1781 Jefferson offers all Virginia's land north of Ohio

* Conditions of offer

* cancel speculator's claims

* required land to be divided into states that would enter the Union on equal terms with the existing states

* Articles approved in February 1781

The Articles were agreed upon by Congress in 1777, yet did not go into effect until 1781. Explain the reasons for the delay.

All the states needed to ratify the articles unanimously. Maryland, however, did not. Due to a clause which would state claim to all Western lands to each appropriate colony. Maryland, in fear of not having any land to receive and pay for taxes, declined. Other larger colonies such as New York or Virginia had much land and did not have to tax colonists to pay the allotted tax to congress. Therefore, Maryland felt that citizens would leave the state because they would be taxed.


* 1783-1789 = Critical Period

*Land Ordinance of 1785

* Western lands divided into townships

o 36 sections in each

o 1 section = a square mile or 640 acres

o the income from 1 section will be used for public education

o land was sold in 640 acre sections for no less that $1 an acre

* This established the national policy for the sale of western lands

*Northwest Ordinance of 1787

* Northwest Territory was to be split into 3 to 5 states

o At 5000 male adults a territorial legislature is elected

o Governor and judges are appointed by Congress to rule the territory

o Representative legislature

o At 60,000 inhabitants it could adopt a constitution and apply for statehood

* Slavery was prohibited in the area and education encouraged

* Established democratic policy for treatment of the territories

The Critical Period (1780s) refers to a problematic era in the US due to the
weakness of the national government under the Articles of Confederation.

The period is said to be either the years 1783 to 1789, or the years 1781 to
1787,depending on different historians.
-In one case it starts at 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, ending in 1789
with the Constitution being brought into effect
-in the other case, it starts in 1781 when the Articles of Confederation
are approved, ending in 1787 with the Constitutional Convention.

Foreign problems
-Britain wants her debts paid to merchants and refused to send a minister
to the US for diplomacy
-Britain still maintained Northwest trading posts--was not abiding by
treaties that compelled them to get out of the territory
-US then says it will not pay debts until the trading posts are deserted
-Spain plots against the US and refuses the "right of deposit" in New Orleans
(causes the John Jay and Don Diego Gardoqui negotiations). Spain also
uses US military personnel against the government--James Wilkinson
-France, almost bankrupt, is upset with a Congress which was not paying
debts; also, the country's merchant sales are stagnant
-US unable to oppose the Barbary Pirates due to lack of a navy

Domestic problems
-states lacked respect for the national government
-US military almost at the point of mutiny--not being paid by the government
-British goods being dumped at low prices
-no standard currency
-Britain prohibits trade with the West Indies
-Bankholders and creditors losing faith in the government because it
could not even pay interest payments, let alone pay its loan principal
-creditors hurt by state laws which force acceptance of paper money for debts
-Shay's Rebellion
-caused by tax increases and loss of homes due to people's inability
to pay taxes in Western Massachusetts
-demonstrates that many people are realizing that state governments are undermining property rights
-many people (including Madison) feel now that the principles of the
Revolution are being threatened more by state governments than they
could be by a stronger central government, if it was to be created
-people realize that a stronger national government is required to
answer to the needs of the union and to stop the states from threatening their
peoples' lives (essentially showing the weakness of the articles)
-leads to the call for stronger national government--every state
except Rhode Island sends delegates to Philly to revise the Articles
-quarrels between states themselves
-tariff wars: the states tax each others' goods, ban each others' trade
-states print their own money, then do not accept other states' currency

Dissatisfied groups
-merchants want a government that can regulate commerce and secure their
favorable treatment overseas
-manufacturers want tariff barriers against foreign goods
-land speculators want a government strong enough to keep Indians away
and the frontier open for their profit
-holders of government bonds want the government to pay off its debt
-creditors and financiers want a stable currency and a less severe inflation rate


Mount Vernon meeting - March 1785

* Held between Maryland and Virginia

* Held to deal with trade issues between states

* Because of its success they called for a joint meeting of the states

- so named because the meeting is scheduled at Washington's Mt. Vernon home

- the meeting was not to address government

- states were specifically upset over the taxes and tariffs between states

- try to reach an agreement to stop blockades, etc.


Annapolis Convention - Sept. 1786

* Held to deal with trade issues

* Only 5 of 13 colonies sent delegates so they could not accomplish purpose

* They asked Congress to call for a national meeting in Philadelphia to revise articles

- most states were not ready to go, realized the need to deal with larger issues than trade

- leads to the idea that the AOC should be revised, though Congress did not give permission to write a new document

(following information from Library of Congress Archives)

-11 Sept. 1786-14th Sept. 1786 states represented: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia

- agreed to make a draft of the report establishing a new meeting for the revision of the document

Philadelphia Meeting / Constitutional Convention

* 74 delegates chosen to attend / 55 did attend

* Framers met in Independence Hall

* Two major decisions made immediately

o - Everything would be kept secret

o - Would not revise but instead write a new document

-took two months, May-July, to "revise" the AOC

- delegates decide to a) meet in secret b) write a whole new document

Virginia/New Jersey Plans:

a) Legislative Branch

Virginia Plan:

- bicameral

- rep. by population based on amount of money to support national gov.

- lower house-> elected popularly in each state

- upper house--> chosen by lower house from lists of persons nominated by state legislatures

- powers:

a) all powers under AOC

b) power to legislate in all cases where state is incompetent

c) veto any state law in conflict w/ national law

d) use force, if necessary, to make state obey national law

New Jersey Plan:

- unicameral

- representation would be equal for all states

- powers:

a) all powers held under AOC

b) limited powers to tax/regulate interstate commerce

b) Executive Branch

Virginia Plan:

- chosen by legislative

- single executive

- have general authority to execute national laws

New Jersey Plan:

- chosen by legislative

- plural executive

- could be removed at request of a majority of the state governors

c) Judicial Branch

Virginia Plan:

- chosen by legislative

- one or more supreme tribunals/inferior tribunals

- Council of Revision (to balance): executive/judiciary form this group, can veto legislative acts, veto overridden by 2 houses of legislature

New Jersey Plan:

- appointed by executive branch

- single supreme tribunal

Explain the differences between the Virginia and New Jersey plans.

The plan in Virginia written by James Madison was designed to overcome the fears of the people and the state stated that the representation of each state should reflect its population. In this plan- larger states would get more votes instead of the one allotted vote for each state. Madison also proposed to divide the branches of government for the sake of checks and balances. However, on 15th June William Paterson of New Jersey proposed a plan for a unicameral Congress with increased powers, but left an equal amount of votes for each state. Patterson's plan did not wish for elected representatives like Madison's did. Patterson lost although smaller states rallied for him.

Articles of Confederation Notes

Ý*Treaty of Paris in 1783- ended revolutionary war

- basically said:

a) American independence was recognized

b) Named territories

1) North- Great Lakes

2) West- Mississippi

3) South- 31st parallel

c) Americans gained fishing rights off Newfoundland

d) promised recommendation of return of confiscated loyalist property

e) Britain would recover debt owed to creditors


Articles of Confederation- Nov. 17, 1777, Congress agrees on constitution

- Major Components:

a) each state has on vote

b) delegates appointed by state legislatures

c) each state would tax itself to help to contribute to common expenses

d) no state was to be deprived of western lands

e) each state retains all powers not expressly delegated to Congress

Articles of Confederation Historiography

R.B. Bernstein - "The Articles of Confederation and the Constitution"

I. Historical Conditions leading to the A of C

-Alexander Hamilton - Americans unwilling to admit that they were "a nation without a national government"

-Developed state constitutions b/c still distrusted centralized national government:

1. Associated with failure of British colonial empire

2. Republicanism

-Wanted people to be the ultimate source of power & political authority

-Framers still "caught up in the fervor" of the Revolution and placed faith in the good will of people

II. Problems

-Central conflict never resolved - union vs. state sovereignty

-Had to depend on willingness of states to comply with decisions

III. Misc. Analysis

-Under A of C, established independent executive departments (ex. War, Finance, etc.) that were technically unconstitutional but unchallenged

Merrill Jensen - The Articles of Confederation

Analysis of Weaknesses/Strengths of Confederation under A of C

1. Achievements

a. Foreign

i. Established place in community of nations

1. Formed diplomatic relations w/ foreign nations (ex. Netherlands, France, Spain, Russia)

2. Borrowed money from international lenders

3. Fielded a Continental Army and won war

4. Negotiated Treaty of Pari

b. Domestic

i. Resolution of landed vs. landless states

ii. Establishment of a system of territorial governance under federal authority

2. Weaknesses

-Created political and economic problems that the A of C were too weak to handle

a. Foreign

i. States refused to pay off foreign debts - A of C couldn't enforce

ii. Trade limits imposed by Britain, France, Spain - A of C too weak to contest

iii Spain controlled lower Mississippi and American settlements in the area - A of C couldn't protect

b. National - Individual state issues

i. States refused to pay taxes on time, or at all (GA) - A of C could neither force the states to pay or pay off the debt from a nat'l gov't

ii. States violated treaties w/ Indian nations - A of C couldn't punish or prevent

iii States wouldn't send delegates to Congress - Congress couldn't hold session

c. States

i. Arguments among selves over boundaries, fishing rights, trading, etc.

ii. Secessionist movement - wanted to set up independent states

iii Political turmoil esp. w/ debtors and creditors - each state had different currency

iv Rebellions to defend selves individually - ex. Shay's Rebellion



- in order for the articles to be ratified, all states must approve of it

- by 1779 all but Maryland had approved it; refused b/c of "western land" section

- controversy was that landless states wanted Congress to control western lands, while Virginia claimed most of the western lands for themselves

- Jefferson offers all of Virginia's land north of Ohio based on the following conditions:

a) cancel speculator's claims

b) required that the land be divided into states that would enter the union on equal terms with existing states

- Articles approved in February 1781

In their final form, the Articles retained the vote by states, but based the apportionment of taxes on the value of buildings and land, and specified that no state should be deprived of territory for the benefit of the United States. By 1779 all the states had ratified the Articles except Maryland, which refused its assent until states claiming territory NW of the Ohio River relinquished their claims, thus guaranteeing the equal right of all states to the Western lands. When New York, followed by Virginia and Connecticut, offered to cede to Congress its claims to Western territory, Maryland ratified the articles. On March 1, 1781 with this 13th state ratification the Continental Congress ceased to exist and "The United States in Congress Assembled" was placed at the head of each page of the Official Journal of Congress. The New United States in Congress Assembled Journal reported on March 2, 1781:

The ratification of the Articles of Confederation being yesterday completed by the accession of the State of Maryland: The United States met in Congress, when the following members appeared:

His excellency Samuel Huntington, delegate for Connecticut, President


Strengths and Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

- Congress wanted a strong central government appropriate to its republican character, but the widely shared political theory was that a republic couldn't effectively serve the large U.S. In addition, the people feared a strong central govt. that would be reminiscent of Great Britain.

- Altogether six drafts of the Articles were prepared before Congress settled on a final version in 1777.

Congressional Powers:

- Jurisdiction over foreign relations with the authority to make treaties and alliances

- - Make war and peace

- - Maintain an army and navy

- - Coin money

- - Establish a postal service

- - Manage Indian affairs

- - Establish admiralty courts

- - It would serve as the last resort on appeal of disputes between the states

- - Each state retains all powers not expressly delegated to Congress

Government Weaknesses under the Articles:

- One vote per state regardless of size

- No national court system

- No power to regulate trade

- - Congress could not levy taxes, nor could it regulate commerce. Its revenue would come from the states, each contributing according to the value of privately owned land within its borders.

- - The United States had no independent power of taxation. In several instances, notices for taxation were ignored, and since the national government had no power of enforcement, there was little that could be done about the defaults.

- - The new nation was unable to repel the encroachments of the British on the borders set by the Treaty of Paris, because the states would not pay the requested taxes. The Spanish similarly encroached unfettered on the southern borders of the United States.

- - The United States also had no power to regulate commerce between and among the states, leading to bitter tariff wars between them. This type of in-fighting did not help alleviate the economic depression that set in after the war ended.

- Nine as a minimum required to agree to things like the declaration of war or the admission of new states was an inherent problem. As soon as one new state were added, that "nine" would no longer be the two-thirds it was intended to be, and to correct each instance would require the assent of all 13, 14, or however number of states.

- Another problem was the requirement that all changes to the Articles must be unanimous. Several attempts to change the Articles prior to the adoption of the Constitution had been held up by one state's refusal to ratify.

Formal name of the nation
Articles: The United States of America
Constitution: (not specified, but referred to in the Preamble as "the United States of America")

Articles: Unicameral, called Congress
Constitution: Bicameral, called Congress, divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate

Members of Congress
Articles: Between two and seven members per state
Constitution: Two Senators per state, Representatives apportioned according to population of each state

Voting in Congress
Articles: One vote per state
Constitution: One vote per Representative or Senator

Appointment of members
Articles: All appointed by state legislatures, in the manner each legislature directed
Constitution: Representatives elected by popular vote, Senators appointed by state legislatures

Term of legislative office
Articles: One year
Constitution: Two years for Representatives, six for Senators

Term limit for legislative office
Articles: No more than three out of every six years
Constitution: None

Congressional Pay
Articles: Paid by states
Constitution: Paid by the federal government

When Congress is not in session...
Articles: A Committee of States had the full powers of Congress
Constitution: The President can call for Congress to assemble

Chair of legislature
Articles: President of Congress
Constitution: Speaker of the House of Representatives, Vice President is President of the Senate

Articles: None
Constitution: President

National Judiciary
Articles: Maritime judiciary established
Constitution: Federal judiciary established, including Supreme Court

Adjudicator of disputes between states
Articles: Congress
Constitution: Supreme Court

New States
Articles: Admitted upon agreement of nine states (special exemption provided for Canada)
Constitution: Admitted upon agreement of Congress

Articles: When agreed upon by all states
Constitution: When agreed upon by three-fourths of all states

Articles: Congress authorized to build a navy; states authorized to equip warships to counter piracy
Constitution: Congress authorized to build a navy; states not allowed to keep ships of war

Articles: Congress to decide on size of force and to requisition troops from each state according to population
Constitution: Congress authorized to raise and support armies

Power to coin money
Articles: United States and the states
Constitution: United States only

Ex post facto laws
Articles: Not forbidden
Constitution: Forbidden of both the states and the Congress

Bills of attainder
Articles: Not forbidden
Constitution: Forbidden of both the states and the Congress

Articles: Apportioned by Congress, collected by the states
Constitution: Laid and collected by Congress

Articles: Unanimous consent required
Constitution: Consent of nine states required

Articles of Confederation

Article 1 formally named the confederation.

Article 2 ensures that each state is a free and sovereign state, and establishes that any power not granted the federal government is reserved for the States.

Article 3 establishes a common defense pact, much like present-day NATO.

Article 4 ensures that the citizens of each state are to be treated as a citizen of any state they are visiting; there is to be free travel between states; that no special taxes be levied on the sales of goods to a citizen of another state; established extradition between the states; and established that the decisions of each states' courts would be recognized by all other states.

Article 5 established a Congress. Each state would send between two and seven delegates, and established a three-year term limit for delegates. The delegates from each state had to vote as a block (i.e., one vote per state, regardless of the number of delegates).

Article 6 sets out those powers not available to the states. For example, states shall not have embassies or receive ambassadors; no treaties between states; no standing navies may be leapt (except as needed for defense or to protect shipping); and no standing armies, with the same exception; militias are to be kept up, including sufficient stores of materiel; no state may go to war unless attacked.

Article 7 ensures that all officers in the militia placed in national service, at or above the rank of colonel will be appointed by the state.

Article 8 stipulates that a common treasury will be maintained for the upkeep of a military. Said treasury is to be stocked by payments made by the states, the amount of which will be in proportion to the value of all land and property in the state. Said taxes may be raised by the states in any way they so choose.

Article 9 details the powers of Congress. To make and wage war; to appoint ambassadors; to enter into treaties; to establish maritime courts. The Congress had final authority to settle border disputes between states, or any other inter-state dispute. A complicated method for selecting a panel of judges to hear such disputes is laid forth. The Congress could set the value of coin, but was not able to strike it. It could regulate trade with Indian tribes, and could set post offices and charge postage. It could appoint officers to the army and navy, and set the rules for those forces.

A committee, called the Committee of the States, was built to sit whenever the full Congress was in recess, with one delegate from each state. A President of the Congress was to be chosen, to run the debates (with a one-year term). It could borrow and raise money, with a full accounting of all such monies sent to the states every half-year. Affirmative votes of nine states were required for most Congressional action, including the borrowing of money, the start of war, raise taxes, etc.

Article 10 is a bit complicated - grants the Committee of States the same power as the full Congress to decide those issues Congress has said the Committee could decide; no power not delegated to the Committee can be decided by the Committee, but that no decision requiring the affirmation of nine states may be decided by the Committee.

Article 11 invites Canada to join the United States and provides for other states to be admitted.

Article 12 commits the United States to pay all debts incurred by the colonies prior to the establishment of the Articles.

Article 13 establishes the Articles as the supreme law of the land, and provides for amendment upon ratification of changes by all member states.