HGov: Articles of Confederation


articles_of_confederationThe Articles of Confederation was only one of many new plans of government drafted during the Revolutionary War. Each of the 13 states also needed a constitution. As leaders in each state set about this task, they found few models to guide them. England did not have a written constitution. Its system of government was based on an assortment of laws, policies, and customs developed over the centuries. When it came to writing formal constitutions, the Americans were on their own. The national government created under the Articles of Confederation was much weaker than the governments established in the states. Although some members of Congress wanted a strong central government, the majority preferred a loose confederation, with most powers remaining at the state level. The Articles of Confederation created a league of friendship among the 13 states rather than a strong central government. Each state thought of itself as sovereign. Although the Articles gave Congress powers, these powers were mainly lawmaking and usually unenforceable.

shays-rebellionThe Articles created an ineffective national government, which was highlighted after Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts. After the war, states began setting up trade barriers and quarreling among themselves. Matters came to a head when farmers, led by Daniel Shays, attacked a federal arsenal in Springfield, Massachusetts. Although Shays’ Rebellion was finally put down by state troops, it revealed how little Congress could do to hold together the increasingly unstable country. Without money or the ability to impose taxes, the Confederation Congress could not maintain an army for the defense of the states. The weaknesses in the Articles led to widespread financial issues that eventually forced amendments to the Articles in order to provide economic stability. A growing number of Americans were ready to agree to a strong national government.

In May 1787, delegates at the Constitutional Convention began the task of revising the Articles of Confederation. They eventually agreed to abandon the former government and start fresh.

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