The Articles of Confederation arose out of the American colonists' struggle for independence, and this is the historical and political background against which they must be evaluated and understood. The American colonists believed that they were fighting for their inalienable rights against a tyrannical British government that burdened them with...
The Articles of Confederation arose out of the American colonists' struggle for independence, and this is the historical and political background against which they must be evaluated and understood. The American colonists believed that they were fighting for their inalienable rights against a tyrannical British government that burdened them with ever-increasing taxation without giving them the freedom to run their own affairs. Their negative experiences of dealing with the British inculcated Americans with a profound distrust towards any kind of strong, centralized government.
When it came to establishing a government of their own, it's not surprising that the American colonists deliberately sought to disperse power as much as possible. To that end, the Articles of Confederation ensured that ultimate sovereignty resided with the individual states rather than with a central Federal government. A confederation, by its very nature, is a loose alliance of separate powers voluntarily coming together to pursue common goals. And this seemed like the perfect arrangement for a people tired of being told what to do by a centralized government abroad.
As the framers of the Articles wanted to avoid the re-establishment of tyranny on American soil, they deliberately left the central government weak. Acts of Congress needed the votes of nine out of the thirteen states to pass; members of Congress were prevented from serving for more than three years. It was hoped that these measures would avoid a concentration of power as well as the generation of a self-serving political elite.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress itself was to be elected by the states, with each state sending two delegates, irrespective of size or population. This was to make sure that the larger states would not dominate the smaller ones. Just as the United States was to be independent from Great Britain, so too would each individual state be independent from all the others.
What appeared to the framers of the Articles as the main strengths of the document turned out to be fatal weaknesses: without a central bank, the United States was unable to pay off the enormous debts it had accrued during the Revolutionary War; although the Articles placed restrictions on the states in the conduct of foreign policy, in actual fact, there was no enforcement mechanism in place to stop them from acting independently in relation to foreign states. As domestic disturbances could only be dealt with at the state-wide level, it was impossible for Congress to prevent them from spreading beyond state borders and potentially leading to widespread violent disorder throughout the new nation.