The Articles of Confederation

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The 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.

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