Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation was the first

constitution of the United States of America. The Articles

of Confederation were first drafted by the Continental

Congress in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1777. This first

draft was prepared by a man named John Dickinson in 1776.

The Articles were then ratified in 1781. The cause for the

changes to be made was due to state jealousies and

widespread distrust of the central authority. This jealousy

then led to the emasculation of the document.

As adopted, the articles provided only for a "firm

league of friendship" in which each of the 13 states

expressly held "its sovereignty, freedom, and independence."

The People of each state were given equal privileges and

rights, freedom of movement was guaranteed, and procedures

for the trials of accused criminals were outlined. The

articles established a national legislature called the

Congress, consisting of two to seven delegates from each

state; each state had one vote, according to its size or

population. No executive or judicial branches were provided

for. Congress was charged with responsibility for

conducting foreign relations, declaring war or peace,

maintaining an army and navy, settling boundary disputes,

establishing and maintaining a postal service, and various

lesser functions. Some of these responsibilities were

shared with the states, and in one way or another Congress

was dependent upon the cooperation of the states for

carrying out any of them.

Four visible weaknesses of the articles, apart from

those of organization, made it impossible for Congress to

execute its constitutional duties. These were analyzed in

numbers 15-22 of The FEDERALIST, the political essays in

which Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay argued

the case for the U.S. CONSTITUTION of 1787. The first

weakness was that Congress could legislate only for states,

not for individuals; because of this it could not enforce

legislation. Second, Congress had no power to tax. Instead,

it was to assess its expenses and divide those among the

states on the basis of the value of land. States were then

to tax their own citizens to raise the money for these

expenses and turn the proceeds over to Congress. They could

not be forced to do so, and in practice they rarely met

their obligations. Third, Congress lacked the power to

control commerce--without its power to conduct foreign

relations was not necessary, since most treaties except

those of peace were concerned mainly with trade. The fourth

weakness ensured the demise of the Confederation by making

it too difficult to correct the first three. Amendments

could have corrected any of the weaknesses, but amendments

required approval by all 13 state legislatures. None of the

several amendments that were proposed met that requirement.

On the days from September 11, 1786 to September

14, 1786, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia

had a meeting of there delegates at the Annapolis

Convention. Too few states were represented to carry out the

original purpose of the meeting--to discuss the regulation

of interstate commerce--but there was a larger topic at

question, specifically, the weakness of the Articles of

Confederation. Alexander Hamilton successfully proposed

that the states be invited to send delegates to Philadelphia

to render the constitution of the Federal Government

adequate to the exigencies of the Union." As a result, the

Constitutional Convention was held in May 1787.

The Constitutional Convention, which wrote the

Constitution of the United States, was held in Philadelphia

on May 25, 1787. It was called by the Continental Congress

and several states in response to the expected bankruptcy of

Congress and a sense of panic arising from an armed

revolt--Shays's Rebellion--in New England. The convention's

assigned job, following proposals made at the Annapolis

Convention the previous September, was to create amendments

to the Articles of Confederation. The delegates, however,

immediately started writing a new constitution.

Fifty-five delegates representing 12 states attended

at least part of the sessions. Thirty-four of them were

lawyers; most of the others were planters or merchants.

Although George Washington, who presided, was 55, and John

Dickinson was 54, Benjamin Franklin 81, and Roger Shermen

66, most of the delegates were young men in their 20s and

30s. Noticeable absent were the revolutionary leaders of the

effort for independence in 1775-76, such as John Adams,

Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. The delegates'

knowledge concerning government, both ideal and practical,

made the convention perhaps the most intelligent such

gathering ever assembled.

On September 17 the Constitution was signed by 39 of

the 42