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Articles of Confederation: Strengths, Weaknesses & Quiz

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Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

We pay federal taxes, and give more power to the federal government than we do the state, because the Articles of Confederation failed miserably as the first constitution. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation here.

We also recommend watching Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and Shays Rebellion and The Articles of Confederation and the Northwest Ordinance

History

The Articles of Confederation, the United States' first constitution, was written during a time when the American people feared strong national governments. The new nation needed some kind of organization to hold states together, which would help them fend off future attacks and would hopefully make a stronger economy, and the Articles of Confederation seemed like the best answer to build unity at the time.

The English government had been especially abusive to the Colonists, who were very reluctant to install a new government that could potentially function similar to the monarchy under King George. The loyalty of the people seemed to align more with the individual states than with the nation. After the American Revolution, states were still printing their own money, which was worthless in other states and further hindered cooperation. The 13 new states needed to find common ground and a way to cooperate.

During the American Revolution, many states wrote their own state constitutions. These constitutions consisted of political ideas that provided equality and freedom. States particularly relished the three branches of government and the idea of a republic, where citizens elect political officials. However, when the states came together to complete the first constitution, the nation was formed as a confederation - where states were sovereign, while trying to work together.

Betsy Ross and the flag with 13 stars
Betsy Ross

Articles

The Articles of Confederation only set up the Continental Congress at the federal level. There were no executive or judicial branches except within the states. The states were allowed to keep every right that was not specifically given to Congress. The bonding of the states was through a 'firm league of friendship' that best served as a defense agreement against invasion. States were not allowed to use taxes as a way to discourage treaties, and states were extremely limited in their dealings with foreign nations.

Strengths

Not many historians today talk about the strengths of the Articles of Confederation, likely because of how unpopular the document quickly became. The Articles did set the legislative body, Congress, as the highest power in the nation because of the fear of a monarchy. Congress had the sole power to declare war, assign treaties, entertain foreign relations, and operate post offices. Disputes between states and territorial issues were to be brought to Congress. The document also stipulated that Canada was allowed to enter the Union if they desired.

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