Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation were the first attempt of the newly independent colonies now known as the United States of America to establish the basics of independent government. The United States of America were independent now. They were free from Britain. They were recognized as an independent nation, but they had to find some way to rule themselves. They had to find some form of law.
They had to write something down that said how they were going to govern themselves now that they were an independent nation. The Articles of Confederation were their first attempt at this. The Continental Congress, the same group that drafted the Declaration of Independence, now joined together again with delegates from all 13 states, and they passed the Articles of Confederation on November 15th, 1777.
They went into effect on March 1st, 1778. It took a while, because this was following ratification, approval by all 13 states. They waited for all 13 states to ratify the Articles of Confederation, approving them, before they went into effect on March 1st the following year. The articles prevented a strong central government, which meant that they prevented a central government from gaining too much power.
The Americans were worried. They were scared. They had just gotten their independence from Britain, who had that strong central government, who demanded so much from the individual citizens and individual colonies, so they were really worried about giving a central government too much power. They wrote the Articles of Confederation, giving very little power to the central government.
A congressional body made up of delegates from all 13 states form the central government. Every state got to send delegates, they met together, they would decide on things, however, individual states retained final authority. If this congressional body of all the delegates decided that everyone should pay so much in taxes to help pay for this new country they now have, the individual states could say, “I don’t think I want to do that to my citizens.
They’re still struggling because we just finished this war. They’re still working on rebuilding their farms, rebuilding their homes, getting their crops back in order. I don’t want to tax my people, so I’m not going to do it.” Since the individual states have that authority, they didn’t have to do what the central government said. This didn’t work out very well, because every state was just doing what they wanted to do and this was supposed to be the United States of America, where all the states form a union and followed some of the same basic rules.
This weak alliance between the 13 states proved ineffective in settling disputes or enforcing laws. If they tried to say, “This is what happens as a result of this dispute,” the states could just say, “No, I don’t think so,” and do whatever they wanted. If they tried to enforce laws like taxation, even fair taxation, the states could say, “Oh, no. I’m not going to make my citizens pay that.”
Eventually, recognition of these weaknesses led the Americans to draft a new document: the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation were the first attempt of the Americans to write something that described what kind of government they were going to have. It didn’t work out very well, because it gave power to the individual states, but very little power to a central government that could unite them all. In the end, they had to write something new: the Constitution.