[Institution of Affiliation]
One day after selecting a committee aimed at writing the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress selected a different committee intended to formulate the Articles of Confederation. The identified committee members began their task in June 1776 and completed in November 1777. They forwarded a draft to the states to allow them an opportunity to ratify the document. Virginia was the pioneer state to perform a ratification of the Articles of Confederation on 16th December 1777. The last state to ratify the document was Maryland in 1st March 1781. The Articles of Confederation seemed to be a treaty between the states rather than a constitution (Dougherty, 2006). The document did not alter the sovereignty of the initial thirteen states. All the states continued to enjoy their sovereignty, independence, freedom, all the powers, jurisdiction, and rights that are not expressly provided to the respective states.
Since the Congress constituted the main arm of the newly formed national government, it held the authority to pronounce war, recruit the military men, append signatures on treaties, form alliances, the appointment of ambassadors, and the management of relationship with the American-Indians. All the states were fairly represented in the Congress and a bill relied on the approval of nine out of the thirteen states to become law. However, several matters including amendments relied on all the states for approval (Johnson, 2003). The Articles of Confederation acted as an intention to balance the states’ sovereignty with a national government which is effective. The Article allowed the states the authority to conduct taxation.
The Congress was able to acquire money by requesting funds from the states, foreign borrowing as well as selling the land found on the Western side. Besides, the Congress had no authority to recruit soldiers or control trade. The articles did not provide for a national court or chief executive. The articles also lacked to create a genuine republican government (Strauss, 2001). The authority was bestowed on one assembly rather than having a division of power among the state governments, independent houses, and branches. Moreover, the Confederation Congress had members who were appointed by the state government, but not the public. The Articles were used as the plan of government for the United States until the ratification of the US Constitution in 1788.
The Articles of Confederation is presumed to have served as the first written framework of laws in the United States. It resulted in an urgent requirement during wartime. Its process of adoption was slow due to the fear of a central power and the many land claims by the states over before its ratification (Dougherty, 2006). Since the articles upheld the sovereignty and independence of the member states, it allowed the Congress to serve as the last resort on matters of appeal. However, since the ability of the Congress was limited in various ways including that it could not levy taxes or control trade, such matters necessitated a Constitutional Convention in 1787 aimed at formulating new federal laws.
Since the start of the American Revolution, the Congress desired for a more stable union and a government that would have the ability to win a war against Great Britain. It was thus necessary for the newly established nation to have a constitution that would appropriately guide them according to the republican character. The dread of a central power slowed down the formation of a central government by maintaining that a single republic was not in a position to properly serve a wide region such as America (Johnson, 2003). Their perception was that the legislators in a large republic may not adequately get in touch with the citizens they represent, and thus, the republic may turn into a tyranny. Most Americans viewed their union as a league of confederated polities, and the Congress as a diplomatic assemblage which represented thirteen independent states.
The need for an effective central federation resulted from the wartime urgency, the desire for an international recognition and help, and the development of a national feeling. Prior to the final draft in 1777, six drafts had been prepared. The first draft was done by Benjamin Franklin who availed it to the Congress on July 1775. The draft did not earn a formal consideration. Silas Deane, who was a delegate emanating from Connecticut, provided another draft later in the same year. His draft was followed by another draft from the Connecticut delegation, which was deemed to be a revision of Deane’s draft. The fourth version was drafted by John Dickinson who hailed from Pennsylvania which underwent a lot of revisions to create a basis for the article which later gained the approval of the Congress (Strauss, 2001). The preparation of the draft by Dickinson took place in June 1776 while the versions underwent a revision by a committee of Congress and were discussed later in July and August. This resulted in a printing of the third version done by Dickinson to allow a further consideration by the Congress. The final version of the articles was approved in November 1777 to be submitted to the United States. The version was only possibly obtained after going through detailed deliberative procedures.
The articles had gained approval in all the states except Maryland by 1779. This was as a result of the claims made on the Western lands by the other states. The claims caused Maryland to oppose the articles. The speculators in Maryland and other states emphasized that the West was owned by the United States and requested the Congress to approve their claims over the land. Maryland had no other option but to support the claims since neighboring Virginia will dominate its neighbors once the claims were approved. Finally, Thomas Jefferson was able to persuade his state to drop its claims on the West (Dougherty, 2006). The claims of the speculators had also been rejected and the Western area was subdivided to form new states which would be allowed into the Union based on the equality with the old state. The step taken by Virginia was a relief to Maryland which approved the articles on 1st March 1781. However, the ratification by all states had not addressed all the issues of concern regarding the Articles. There was a dispute over taxation which forecasted the slavery division in the Constitutional Convention.
The draft created by Dickinson demanded that the states fund the Congress according to the number of the inhabitants, black and white with the exception of the Indians who didn’t pay taxes. Since the southern states had the greatest number of slaves, they rejected the requirement stating that the amount of tax should be on the basis of white inhabitants. The policy failed but the Southerners were heard since the Congress finally stated that the contribution of the states will be based on the value its land resource and improvements. As the war ensued, Congress had a low intention and lacked sufficient time to address issues like slave trade and fugitive slaves. Such matters were addressed in the Constitutional Convention (Johnson, 2003). Article III stated that the Confederation was “a firm league of friendship” of the states to ensure a common defense, guard their liberty as well as their welfare. The league had a unicameral Congress which would act as the central government institution where every state had a single vote and the election of the delegates was done by the state legislatures. The nine states in the Congress had the power to decide on specific matters including starting wars, the signing of treaties, and regulation of the coinage.
The thirteen states had to be in a consensus regarding any amendment of the Articles of Confederation. The provision was similar to many other contained in the Articles which maintained that there would be a persistence of powerful provincial allegiance and suspicion of the central power. In the 1780s, the Critical Period–state actions greatly influenced the economic and political life. Prosperity in business and growth of the economy was experienced. There was expansion towards the West and an increase in population. There was the persistence of national issues since the American merchants were prevented from reaching the West Indies which were under the British rule. The army of the British side continued to secure the Old Northwest which according to the Treaty of Paris was an American territory. Such challenges necessitated a revision of the constitution (Strauss, 2001). There was also a national feeling that developed in the 1780s even though the attempts to allow Congress the power to tax were unfruitful in 1781 to 1786. In 1787, the Constitutional Convention held a meeting in Philadelphia and closed the chapter of the Articles of Confederation.
Dougherty, K. L. (2006). Collective action under the Articles of Confederation. Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, C. H. (2003). Homage to Clio: The Historical Continuity from the Articles of Confederation into the Constitution. Const. Comment., 20, 463.
Strauss, D. A. (2001). The irrelevance of constitutional amendments. Harvard Law Review, 1457-1505.