The Articles of Confederation

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What was the major weakness of the Articles of Confederation?

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One of the fundamental questions of American politics has involved the balance between State and Federal authority. As previous educators have already said, under the Articles of Confederation, the Federal government was much weaker than it is today, and in fact, the governmental structures envisioned by the Articles of Confederation...

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One of the fundamental questions of American politics has involved the balance between State and Federal authority. As previous educators have already said, under the Articles of Confederation, the Federal government was much weaker than it is today, and in fact, the governmental structures envisioned by the Articles of Confederation proved unable to solve many of the challenges the country faced after the Revolutionary War.

The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation were far reaching. There was no executive branch, nor was there the power of taxation, but the weaknesses ran deeper than that. We can also discuss the Federal government's inability to dictate a trading policy, or even the general lack of prestige faced by the US Congress, and the practical implications that resulted from this disregard (for example, one could discuss the end of the Revolutionary War, which stretched longer than it needed to because the United States could not supply enough Representatives to put the Treaty to a vote).

However, with this in mind, perhaps the Articles' most glaring weakness lay in how they envisioned the amendment process. Consider the following question: to what degree does a founding document need to be able to adapt to changing times (and think about how much the United States has changed across the last fifty years, let alone the last two hundred). Then keep in mind, that in order for the Articles of Confederation to be amended, it required complete unanimity among the States. If we were to look at a hypothetical alternate future, in the long term (across decades and centuries), this inflexibility would have by itself very likely proved fatal.

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The major weakness of the plan of government created by the Articles of Confederation was that the federal government did not have enough power. The people were very afraid of having a strong federal government since we had just fought to be free from an oppressive government in the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. Unfortunately, the new federal government was too weak, which led to many problems.

The federal government was not able to levy taxes. As a result, it was very difficult for the new government to pay its debts. Too much paper money was printed, causing inflation.

The federal government could not make people join the military. Thus, when Spain and Great Britain began to interfere with our trade—and when Great Britain would not leave forts in the West—there was not much we could do about these issues from a military standpoint. Additionally, the military was poorly supplied because there was not much money to provide equipment.

Finally, there were no courts. As a result, there was no place where states could go to resolve disputes they had with each other.

The plan of government created by the Articles of Confederation did not give the federal government enough power.

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Generally (though it's a bit of a circular answer to say so) the biggest weakness of the government under the Articles of Confederation was that it was too weak. The Articles simply didn't grant the national government enough power to govern the thirteen states as a nation. More specifically, I would argue that under the circumstances the most glaring weakness was that the government under the Articles lacked the power to levy taxes. The United States emerged from the Revolution as an independent nation, but one with a  great deal of war debt. This threatened the credit of the nation abroad, making it difficult to secure new loans. Congress under the Articles could request funding, but could not force the states to contribute tax revenue. This made it almost impossible to fund the federal debt. So perhaps the most urgent shortcoming of the government under the Articles had to do with its inability to raise revenue. This issue was just one of several that led to calls for a new constitution in 1787.

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