Compare And Contrast The Articles Of Confederation And The Constitution

Compare and contrast the Articles of Confederation with the U.S. Constitution

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The United States has had two plans of government in its history. The first plan of government was called the Articles of Confederation, while the second plan is called the Constitution. There were some similarities and many differences between the two plans of government.

Both plans of government established a democratic form of government in the United States; people elected their leaders and their lawmakers. Both plans also provided a structure from which to govern, and both also had a legislative branch. However, there were differences between the two plans regarding the legislative branch. In the Articles of Confederation, there was a one-house legislature. Each state, regardless of size, had one vote in Congress. In the Constitution, there are two houses of Congress. In one house, the House of Representatives, there is unequal representation. Larger states have more voting members than smaller states. In the other house, the Senate, there is equal representation, with each state having two senators. Additionally, nine of the thirteen states had to vote to make a law under the Articles of Confederation. With the Constitution, a majority vote was needed to make a law.

The Articles of Confederation limited the power of the federal government. The reason for this was that the people were very afraid that any form of government created would act like how the British government and its King had acted. The federal government couldn’t tax or make people join the military. As a result, there were financial issues with our first plan of government. It was hard for the United States to pay its debts, and inflation was a problem. Other countries also pushed the United States around. For example, other countries, such as Great Britain and Spain, interfered with American trade. There wasn’t much the government could do about this. With the adoption of the Constitution, Congress had the power to levy taxes and could require people to join the military. Congress could also control interstate trade. Overall, the Constitution gave Congress more power than the Articles did.

There were a few other differences between the two plans of government. There was no judicial branch with the Articles of Confederation. States, for example, had no place to go to resolve their disputes. With the Constitution, a judicial branch was created. With the Constitution, there was a strong executive who had significant power. However, that executive could be impeached if laws were broken or if power were abused. While there was a president with the Articles of Confederation, that person had no real power. It was very difficult to amend the Articles of Confederation; all thirteen states had to agree to the changes. With the Constitution, two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures would need to vote for a change to the Constitution.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The differences between these two documents are, in general, more significant than the similarities.  That is why the people who wrote the Constitution felt that it was so important to have a new constitution rather than simply amending the old one.  However, there were a few similarities.

The most important similarity was that the country set up by each document was to be a democratic country.  There is no provision for a monarch in either document.  In both documents, it is forbidden to create and grant “titles of nobility.”  There was to be no monarchy or aristocracy.

There were some other relatively important commonalities.  Each document asserted that the national government should be in charge of foreign affairs.  Each one said that the states had to treat the citizens of other states as equals of their own citizens.  Each document had a Congress.

But the differences are much greater.  To begin with, the Articles did not even really set up a country, but rather a loose confederation between states that were to be sovereign and independent.  The Articles did not have a government with separation of powers and checks and balances.  The Articles only had a unicameral Congress without executive or judiciary.  The national government under the Articles had no power to impose taxes on anyone.  It could not regulate commerce.  In short, the Articles did not create a government that is in any serious way (other than being democratic) like the one that the Constitution created. 

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Overall, the differences are more striking than the similarities between the two documents. However, both documents are meant to provide the framework of a government. The Articles guided the colonists during the Revolutionary War and immediately thereafter, while the Constitution was used from 1787 to the present day. Both documents provide for a legislative body. This is, more or less, where the similarities end.

The Articles only had one house of Congress, while the Constitution provided for a bicameral legislature thanks to Roger Sherman's Great Compromise. Also, under the Constitution, Congress could regulate interstate commerce.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government could not tax; rather, they could only request money from the states. This led to George Washington's frustration as he fought to get pay and equipment to his soldiers. Also, after the Revolutionary War, the new nation could not pay its debts as each state only wanted to pay what they considered to be their fair share. This, in part, created the need for the Constitution.

The Articles of Confederation represent American thought during the Revolution and immediately afterward. Having fought against an aloof central government, the Founding Fathers had been in no hurry to create one over here. The Constitution represents a shift in thinking. The new nation needed a way to regulate commerce and pay its bills, so the states had to give up some power in order to keep the nation solvent.