What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that since the Articles of Confederation were replaced, any potential strength would be overshadowed by its weaknesses.  However, the Articles featured some distinct strengths that have to be acknowledged.  The first would be that it was the first.  The Articles of Confederation represented the first step towards a new government for the new nation.  Emerging from the shadow of Colonial rule, the Colonists, now Americans, had never formed their own government or written their own codified approach to institutional practices. The Articles of Confederation represented a first attempt at government. Along these lines, given how the Americans emerged from Revolution with a deep disdain of centralized rule that was seen in King George's actions, the Articles were strong in their defense of decentralized liberty.  Freedom was the guiding principle of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles went very far in ensuring that centralized tyranny would be avoided in granting states rights that could serve as a type of check on national government.  The Articles respected states to a degree that their veto power could literally stop taxation or the use of national forces.  This makes the Articles definitive in its assertion of freedom and decentralized notions of the good.  Given how the Articles had to be revised, it was clear that these advantages were not enough to save the document from being revised and completely changed at the Constitutional Convention.

The Articles created a "loose confederation of states."  This would be one of its weaknesses.  There was not a national or coherent vision of effective centralized authority.  The Articles created state veto power to such a level that effective governance was near impossible.  The nation could not collect taxes to pay off the debt incurred from the Revolutionary War and it could not effectively defend itself from foreign threats without consent from the states.  Jefferson noted this condition:  "It will be said there is no money in the treasury. There never will be money in the treasury till the Confederacy shows its teeth. The states must see the rod."  The Articles of Confederation were designed in such a way that states' rights trumped national government.  Another weakness in the Articles of Confederation reflected this penchant to support state autonomy over a national vision.  There was a lack of a national currency as states had taken to printing their own currency, thereby reducing the strength of the American economy.  This hampered attempts to broker trade agreements with foreign nations.  Finally, the inability of the Articles of Confederation to stop an event like Shays' Rebellion became the clarion call for revision.  Even those who were the most vociferous in their defense of state governments and states rights could not subordinate the bloodshed caused by and lack of coherent response to Shays' Rebellion.  As a result, the call to revise the Articles of Confederation became louder, setting the stage for the drafting of the United States Constitution.

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CaitlynnReeves's profile pic

CaitlynnReeves | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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Strengths: On the one hand, the Articles of Confederation were writtten documents that legally bound the colonies together. This had the advantage of unifying trade and currency while setting up the precursors for federal law. The document gave the colonies a generous amount of autonomy, which may be why so many colonies signed them without much resistance. 

weakness: Perhaps the single bigest weakness was the lack of power given to congress in the Artlicles of Confederation. Congress could neither raise militias nor pass taxes, which made the federal government essentially powerless.

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parama9000 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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To put it in the simplest terms, the Articles of Confederation were ideals that were goals to be achieved, but there was no measure to ensure that such ideals will become reality, thus making the articles very weak. As mentioned above, it was Shay's rebellion, started because it was unsustainable for the farmers, who were part of an economy of subsistence agriculture, to continue paying taxes.

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rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The Articles of Confederation was our first form of government so it did have weaknesses. However, there were some strengths that came along with it. The biggest thing is that the articles allowed us to become our own free country after winning the Revolution. It gave people freedom in their states and eventually allowed us admission into Canada. It also brought the Northwest Ordinance allowing Northwest territories to have their own governments, bringing the country new states and banning slavery from those region. The Departments of Foreign Affairs, War, Marine, and Treasury were also added.

The weaknesses of the articles truly outweighed the pros. Under this form of government, there was no set currency meaning each state could have a different money system. Congress couldn't control the interstate and foreign trade and some states wouldn't pay for their goods. There were also no taxes meaning there was no way the government could borrow money. There was no court to protect peoples rights, no branch to enforce laws, amendments were only added with approval by all states, to pass a law 9 out of 13 states had to approve, and only one vote per state was allowed even if there was a higher population. So as you can see, the government would not have had enough control over the country if they stayed under the Articles of Confederation. Luckily, Shay's rebellion proved the articles were weak and we created a new government which we still use today.

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eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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When it comes to The Articles of Confederation there were a lot more weaknesses than there were strengths.

The strengths of The Articles of Confederation were the ability,"

  • To declare war and make peace
  • To coin and borrow money
  • To detail with foreign countries and sign treaties
  • To operate post offices. " 

The weaknesses of The Articles of Confederation were,

             "1. The national government could not force the states to obey its laws.

              2. It did not have the power to tax

              3. It did not have the power to enforce laws

              4. Congress lacked strong and steady leadership

              5. There was no national army or navy

              6. There was no system of national courts

              7. Each state could issue its own paper money

              8. Each state could put tariffs on trade between states. 

(http://www.powayusd.com/teachers/award/chart_of_strengths_and_weaknesse.htm)."

The main problem with The Articles of Confederation was the inability to really enforce laws. Congress could pass a law but had no power to follow through with them. States that didn't like federal laws didn't have to follow them if they didn't want to. There was no federal court system to carry out laws as well. 

Another big issue was that all the states had to agree together in order to amend The Articles of Confederation.

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