What were the features of the Articles of Confederation?
The Articles of Confederation served as the colonial government during the American Revolution. In their attempt to avoid creating a centralized state that did not care about the needs of individuals, the Articles were quite weak. This left most of the power of governance up to the states. The Articles did not have the power to tax, though they could ask the states for contributions. The Articles allowed the federal government to conduct diplomacy and regulate coinage. Other than serious resupply problems with the Continental Army, the Articles of Confederation worked during the Revolutionary War. However, after the war the government ran into some problems. States did not want to pay more than what they regarded as their fair share of the war debt. The colonies gained new territory after the war, but the states had conflicting claims on it. One positive of the Articles of Confederation was that they created the Northwest Ordinance—this allowed for new states to be admitted as equals with the old ones. However, without the power to tax or regulate commerce, the Articles were unworkable. After a series of financial crises, the Founding Fathers adopted the Constitution. Congress still had two of the powers granted by the Articles of Confederation—the power to make treaties and the power to regulate coinage. Congress could now tax and regulate interstate commerce.
The Articles of Confederation, which really went into effect in 1781, was described at the time as a "firm league of friendship." It's most important characteristic was that it reserved most powers to the states, granting very few to the central government. The central government itself was composed of a unicameral legislature in which each state got one vote. This Congress was unable to levy taxes on the states and unable to force states (though it could ask) to send troops in case of military crisis. It also lacked the power to regulate interstate commerce. The major powers it did have were to make war and peace, to coin money, and to conduct diplomacy. There was also no federal executive (though there was a President of Congress) to enforce the laws the Congress could make, and no federal judiciary. The Articles are often derided, but it should be understood that the state leaders, fighting to secure independence from Great Britain, were not terribly enthusiastic about establishing a strong central government. Another paralyzing aspect of the Articles, however, was the stipulation that a unanimous vote was needed to amend the Articles. The Articles were discarded as a form of government after the ratification of the Constitution in 1789.