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