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The most important positive aspect of the Articles of Confederation is that they kept the new United States together through the Revolutionary War and the early years of the country. This is no small achievement, even if the Articles were severely flawed.
The Articles left the vast majority of power with the states. In the long run, this was a very bad thing. However, in the short run, it was probably necessary. If the new United States had tried to form a strong central government (as with the Constitution in 1787), the states would probably have split apart from one another. They would not have trusted each other enough to stick together under a strong central government. But the Articles were confederal enough to keep the country together. I think that this is their biggest achievement -- they kept the country together as it started out.
The Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777 and were ratified by all the states by March 1, 1781. There were several notable achievements under the Articles of Confederation. First, it was under the Articles of Confederation that the U.S. successfully prosecuted the Revolutionary War and concluded the Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain formally acknowledged U.S. independence and gave the U.S. all land north of Florida, south of the Great Lakes, and west of the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. The other notable achievements were the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Land Ordinance of 1785 set up a system of surveying and selling land in the Northwest Territory. Land would be divided into townships and sections, with one section in each township dedicated to public schools. This law laid the foundation for the public education system in the U.S. today. The Northwest Ordinance set guidelines for how the Northwest Territory would be governed and how new states could enter the Union as equals to the original 13 states. This is important because it established the idea that the U.S. would grow as a republic, and not as an empire with new colonies.
The Articles of Confederation were also important because they set many precedents for the US Constitution.
It called the United States of America, the United States of America. And though it was clearly unbalanced in favor the states it opened the idea of Federalism (the balance of power between the central government and the states). It established itself as the supreme law of the land: an important idea included in the Constitution.
I think it is important also that the Articles allowed the framers of the Constitution some frame of reference for what worked and what didn't. It was a dress rehearsal in some ways. No production can be successful if you don't try it out first. As said in earlier comments, it held the nation together throughout the war and the peace process, then allowed us as a nation to learn how to better establish a lasting and flexible constitution.
The Articles of Confederation represented an early attempt to define the new reality and limits of the United States. I agree with #4 in that it is possible to view them as a "trial run" of later developments, such as a more fully-fledged realisation of Federalism and the Constitution. Of course it wasn't perfect, but then what is perfect? Thinking pragmatically, it achieved in doing what was needed at the time.
The above posts indicate many important positive aspects of the Articles government. One that has not been noted thus far (unless I failed to see it) is that the Northwest Ordinances prohibited slavery in any of the territories which comprised the Northwest. This was the first serious attempt to limit slavery and inherently limited it to the South. This was the first step in a very long process which would bring slavery to an end.
The Articles of Confederation were an important step in the founding of our new country. Although they were not perfect, they gave the constitutional convention a starting point. Since there was something to argue about, states were more willing to come to get their say. It also gave the writers of the constitution something to edit, adapt and improve. That makes it a significant document in our history.
The drafting and adoption of Articles of Confederation by the Congress (1777) was in and of itself positive because the Articles served as the first written form government of the new United States of America. (The first time the United States of America was called so was in the Declaration of Independence ) In addition, the new nation needed money from France to fund its revolution. Since colonial governments were no longer valid obtaining financial credit would be impossible. The Articles of Confederation legitimized the United States as a nation which allowed Franklin to obtain a loan from France to fund the American Revolution.
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