Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation

What Were the Articles of Confederation?

What Were the Articles of Confederation?

In the wake of the Revolutionary War and the subsequent declaration of sovereignty on the part of the newly-formed United States of America from the British Monarchy under King George III, the establishment of a centralized governing body was of the utmost priority. Yet, many of the citizens and politicos of the newly-formed nation were blinded by their refusal to allow any acting centralized government the same power that the British monarchy had possessed.

Under the British Monarchy, the residents of the American Colonies – the moniker was given to the thirteen states of the Union prior to the establishment of the Declaration of Independence – felt as though they had been exploited and neglected due in part to various incidents that took place. The perceived catalyst for the War of Independence was the act of British taxation of the colonists without allowing them any legislative representation.

Following the colonists’ declaration of sovereignty from England, the Continental Congress – the first acting governmental body of the United States of America – commissioned legislative documentation establishing the role of government in the scope of the newly-formed nation.

In its text, the authors of the Articles of Confederation stated that although the central Government would be entitled to legislative power, it would be marginal. Each individual state would be allowed its individual sovereignty over all events and legislation that occurred within its borders. As a result, the Articles of Confederation manifested itself as extremist legislation by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison – the authors of the Federalist Papers and advocates of the Constitution.

The Federalists, alongside other political figureheads of the time, considered the Articles of Confederation to be an unstable schematic devoid of governmental structure. Hamilton was adamant in his concern that the Articles of Confederation lacked a substantial gubernatorial presence, and therefore, paradoxically lacked the means to enforce the laws set forth in the doctrine itself.

The Articles of Confederation allowed the central Government the ability to create laws, statutes, and legislation. However, the final ratification process of the laws in question was contingent on each individual State’s approval. The refusal of a single State to uphold any proposed legality would result in the overturning of any given legislation. Furthermore, in what was perceived to be a direct response to the taxation of the colonies on the part of the British, the central Government established in the text of the Articles of Confederation could merely request State funding or suggest taxation. It was unable to enforce any means of State taxation.

In addition, legislation could only be imparted onto the individual states in the form of suggestions. Furthermore, each individual State was given the opportunity to establish taxes and tariffs applicable within their State borders. As a result, this allowed for a commercial and legislative policy that was devoid of uniformity or consistency on a national level. In order to maintain commercial relations with the states of the Union, one would be required to learn and uphold thirteen separate tax policies and commercial legislative processes. Furthermore, individual State taxes and tariffs could be adjusted at the will of the State, which prompted an unwillingness on the part of foreign countries, as well as neighboring states, to engage in trade.

Understanding Central Government

Understanding Central Government

The Articles of Confederation allowed for each of the 13 states to exist as independent, sovereign entities. As a result, the central government was unable to implement a single, national policy of any kind.

In order to pass a new law, the Articles of Confederation called for at least 9 out of the 13 states to agree to adopt the law’s proposal. Furthermore, in order to amend an existing law, the Articles of Confederation required a unanimous decision by all 13 states. However, because each state retained the ability to determine the validity of individual laws – both new, as well as those pre-existing – the central Government could only suggest that laws be followed. The central Government retained no jurisdiction over the individual states.

As a result, certain laws were upheld in certain states, while other states refused to abide by those same laws. Thus, a visitor to each of the 13 states would be subject to 13 different legislative systems. Furthermore, the Articles of Confederation allowed each individual State to establish its own tariffs, both international and domestic. The central government had no authority to regulate the trade of any kind. Finally, the central Government was forbidden to regulate the states’ spending of funds.

The Articles of Confederation allowed each of the 13 states full autonomy to spend however they wished. As a result, certain states had fully-functional roadways, while other states had dirt paths. Some states boasted impressive buildings and comfortable housing, while others settled for dilapidated shacks. Prior to the ratification of the Constitution, the presence of nationality in the United States had all but vanished.

Because the Articles of Confederation disallowed the central Government to regulate taxes and tariffs, there existed no uniform commercial regulations. As a result, excessive and unpredictable tariffs could be enforced between state borders. Certain states could not only extort other states, but they retained the ability to refuse trade altogether. This resulted in poor interstate relations.

The Articles of Confederation allowed each State to implement individual foreign policy. Without the existence of national foreign policy, foreign nations who wished to engage in trade with the United States of America were subject to 13 different foreign policies, as well as 13 different trade regulations. As a result, the central Government was neither able to regulate diplomacy, nor was it able to prevent the dissolution of foreign relations due to erratic, and sometimes unjust, foreign trade policy.

The expansion of the United States of America’s borders suffered as well. Because no national expansion policy existed, the states whose borders were located on the uncharted west were in control of their own expansion, while the coastal and landlocked states were not afforded the same opportunity.

While the Articles of Confederation placed the central Government in charge of westward expansion, each State retained the ability to choose whether or not to embrace the central Government’s policy. As a result, landlocked states demanded that the bounty of the west be evenly dispersed amongst all 13 individual states, while many of the states bordering on the west did not wish to share their prosperity.

Though the initial dissolution of a powerful centralized Government seemed to be a welcomed change, the 13 newly sovereign states soon discovered the ineffectiveness of the absence of nationalized policy. The Articles of Confederation’s removal of the central Government’s power seemed to have traded one bad situation for another.

The Government’s Right of Taxation

The Government's Right of Taxation

The goal of the Articles of Confederation was not an ambiguous one; the appointed authors of the Articles of Confederation were determined to prevent even the slightest chance of a monarchical presence. As a result, they opted to strip the centralized Government of any power and leverage over any of the individual, sovereign states.

Though the newly-appointed centralized government retained the ability to create and maintain a military and postal service, manage foreign affairs, declare war, establish peace treaties, and coin money, their power was halted in any and all issues involving the 13 states, respectively. Though the Articles of Confederation allowed the central Government to request taxes and payments from the states, these requests could only be proposed in the form of a donation – there no longer existed a right of taxation. As a result, the few aspects of control and power that the central Government did retain, like the formation of a military and postal service, were contingent on donations from the individual states. Should any State refuse payment, the central Government had no legal authority to penalize them for withholding funding.

In addition, the little power that the central Government did have was stifled by its inability to enforce the upholding of laws due to the lack of any acting judicial body. For instance, there existed neither an appointed President to maintain the law nor a judicial body to uphold the integrity of the law. As a result of the Articles of Confederation, the only branch of Government that existed was the legislative branch, but even its power was flawed. Though the legislative branch of the central Government could institute laws, it was powerless to enforce them should a state (or states) refuse to embrace a law passed by the central Government.

Because the Articles of Confederation disallowed the central Government to enforce the collection of taxes, it found itself in a financial crisis. The central Government had soon discovered that it was unable to not only manage the few allowances of power that it was granted by the Articles of Confederation but also unable to maintain them without proper funding. Without the right to taxation, the central Government became destitute. Both the postal service, as well as the military, were on the brink of dissolution.

Though the central Government still retained the ability to coin money, the paper notes that they were printing were not backed by any hard currency. Because the nation needed both a postal service as well as a military, the Central Government was forced to fund both organizations with worthless money and, as a result, creating the devaluation of all currency in circulation.

The Articles of Confederation stated that a law would only be passed in the event that 9 out of the 13 states agreed upon its validity. As a result, the creation of new laws became difficult. In addition, due to the sovereignty of the respective states, the establishment of national foreign policy was an impossibility. Foreign countries that wished to trade with the United States of America were subject to 13 individual trade regulations.

Although the authors of the Articles of Confederation sought out to spare the collective citizens of any possibility of the return of a totalitarian rule, the elimination of any control that the central Government could exercise in its dealing with the individual states proved to be antithetical to the establishment of any national policy.