What Were the Articles of Confederation?

What Were the Articles of Confederation? Video

Welcome to this video on the Articles of Confederation. In this review, we’ll discuss how the Articles were created, what challenges they faced, and how they led to the creation of the current US Constitution. Let’s get started!

Creation and Purpose

The Articles of Confederation were created by the original 13 colonies in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. It was the first attempt at a structured government for the 13 colonies, which ultimately became the United States of America. The purpose of the Articles of Confederation was to provide a framework for cooperation among the 13 colonies, but it resulted in a weak government that could not maintain order in the country once independence was achieved. In the end, the deficiencies highlighted major needs for a new government and led to the creation of the US Constitution.

This document of governance reflected the circumstances and sentiments of the time by only establishing a loose confederation among the colonies and not a strong centralized government. The aim of the Articles was to better facilitate the colonies in their fight against Great Britain by creating a governing body that could direct communication between them and provide overall direction for the fight.

A central tenet of the Articles was the independence of each state. Colonists were fearful of a strong centralized government due to their recent experiences with British rule. Tyranny was on the minds of all colonists in the fight against Great Britain, and the idea of states’ rights appealed to them because it provided a certain amount of independence from a centralized authority. Specifically, the colonists feared the rule of a singular despotic figure, such as King George III in England.

Each state in the Articles of Confederation had significant autonomy over its laws, taxes, and governance. The limited powers that were given to the central government were largely limited to foreign affairs, including declarations of war, with some authority granted to the body to settle disputes between states.

Taxation and Economic Challenges

Because the Articles of Confederation allocated the power to each state to levy and collect its taxes, the taxation system across the country was a patchwork of different policies applied by each state differently. This resulted in a complex taxation system of various tariffs and duties placed on some items in some states but not in others. This directly impeded the flow of commerce within the states of the young country, which directly resulted in economic discord among neighboring states.

Furthermore, the lack of a national judiciary system left conflicting state laws concerning taxes unresolved. This legal ambiguity left disputes in limbo and inhibited the development of a cohesive national legal framework that included any consistent enforcement of tax policy. Since the Articles of Confederation did not allow Congress to levy taxes on US citizens directly, they had to request funds from states.

All of this was further complicated by the fact that there was not a national currency, only state currencies. The government was in a dire financial situation after the war since it had incurred war debt totaling $40 million, which is somewhere around 50 billion dollars today. Congress’s inability to collect taxes resulted in economic stagnation that significantly impeded the nation’s ability to recover and thrive in the post-war era.

Trade Regulations and Policy

In addition to a patchwork of tax policies across the states, the Articles of Confederation faced immense hurdles in implementing uniform trade regulations and policy. The national government did not have any authority to create or facilitate a centralized trade policy nor enter into treaties with foreign powers. Consequently, states were almost always in conflict with each other over interstate commerce. States placed tariffs, or import duties, on goods from other states, which hurt American consumers and the free-market principles that would eventually turn the country into an industrial powerhouse during the Gilded Age.

Tensions among states would increase to levels where war seemed inevitable. The states of New York and New Jersey almost went to war over interstate commerce disputes on the Hudson River and access to the Port of New York. Due to its prime geographic location, New York placed tariffs on goods that passed through its ports headed to other states. New Jersey, with its proximity to New York, faced the brunt of these duties, and their merchants relied heavily on the Hudson River for their own commercial interests. New Jersey merchants argued that the tariffs from New York were unfair and hindered their ability to conduct profitable trade.

Eventually, both states mobilized militias and war seemed imminent, as the Articles of Confederation could not resolve the trade disputes. War was averted only because the two states resolved the dispute diplomatically at the urging of other states, not because of any action from the Articles of Confederation. Both states agreed to create a trade commission to address interstate commerce and navigation rights on the Hudson River.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787

There was one piece of legislation that the Congress of the Confederation of the United States was able to pass while it existed: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This legislation established a system of governing the Northwest Territory, which ran from north of the Ohio River and west of Pennsylvania to the Mississippi River. It specifically outlined how territories could become states by establishing a territorial government based on self-governance.

The conditions outlined in the legislation for territories to become states were later adopted by the US Constitution. However, there were two landmark decisions within the Northwest Ordinance that would have everlasting effects. First, the legislation made it a requirement for each new territory to set aside land in each township for the support of public education. This placed importance on public education for the first time from a federal level. Second, the legislation forbade slavery to exist within the territories created. Consequently, the first division between “free” states and “slave” states was created. This was the first effort on a federal level to address these issues and would directly influence the approach of the US Constitution and early government actions.

Amending the Articles of Confederation

Economic issues are ultimately what brought states to the table to discuss amending the Articles of Confederation. Prior to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a smaller gathering known as the Annapolis Convention took place in Maryland, organized by Alexander Hamilton. Although the convention was not well attended, representatives from several states did come to the convention to specifically discuss commercial issues and interstate trade regulations. There wasn’t much the convention could do since attendance was sparse, but it did serve as a catalyst that created the Constitutional Convention.

Specifically, the convention had delegates present from the largest and richest states: Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania. The presence of delegates from these states helped to secure momentum and recognition of the deeper-rooted problems that led to the subsequent convening of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia the following year, which led to the creation of the US Constitution. Overall, the Constitution aimed to address the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation by creating a more effective and centralized government while still preserving a balance between federal and state powers.

Federalists and Anti-Federalists

The US Constitution’s approval faced debates between two groups: Federalists, who wanted a strong national government, and Anti-Federalists, who feared it might be too powerful without guaranteed individual rights. This debate led to the promise of a Bill of Rights. Eventually, the Constitution was ratified, and George Washington was elected the first president in 1789, marking the end of the government under the Articles of Confederation.

We’ve covered how the Articles were created, the challenges they faced, and how they led to the creation of the US Constitution, so that’s all for this review. Thanks for watching, and happy studying!




by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: December 28, 2023