The Articles of Confederation

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What errors did the American leaders make in creating the federal government under Articles of Confederation?      

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The Ariticles of Confederation created a federal government that was too weak to be effective.  The government was made of a legislative body that was unicameral, that is a single house legislature.  The Articles of Confederation also made another important mistake by not allowing the government to collect taxes. In short, the states held all the power and would not allow the federal government to have any real power.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was originally called to revise the Aritices of Confederation.  The debate however was focused on the effectiveness of the existing government.  The consensus was that the government was not working and was not truely uniting the 13 states like it was originally designed to do.

The United States constitution was designed to create a strong federal government capable of doing six things.  These goals are spelled out in the Preamble. 

The first test of the strength of the new government came at the Whiskey Rebellion.  Under the Aritcles this would have never happened, because the trouble centered around a federal tax on whiskey.  The people of western Pennsylvania didn't think they should have to pay a federal tax because they just basically disagreed with the tax.  The state government refused to enforce the federal government's tax.  The newly created office of President was forced into a position to enforce a law that the Congress had created.  The ultimate test of the strength of the constitution. The actions of the president did prove successful in putting down the rebellion.


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As the previous post mentioned, the weakening of the federal government was a critical error in the conception of the Articles. I would also propose that a major error the Framers made in the Articles was to conceive of a government out of fear.  The experience with King George and the abuse of centralized power made the Framers conceive of a central government with little significant power.  The experience with Parliamentary taxes and its abuse at the hand of British Parliament created a government that was unable to collect any tax revenue.  Finally, the challenges with the abuse of military power created a governing body with no significant national army, causing the inability to effectively deal with Shays' Rebellion.  In each of these situations, the fears fo the Framers caused challenges in the Articles, and in the process proved that one cannot govern effectively if it is steeped in fear.

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The major error of the Articles of Confederation is that they made the national government too weak.  It lacked, among other things, a way to tax and a way to regulate trade between the states or between the states and foreign countries.  It also lacked a strong executive such as a president.

The delegates at the Constitutional Convention rectified this by making a much stronger federal government.  This government had the power to tax and regulate commerce.  Its laws were to have supremacy over state laws.  It was to have a president like we now have.  This and other provisions made the federal government much stronger than it had been and allowed it to hold the country together.

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