What is the significance of the Articles of Confederation?

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The Articles of Confederation are significant for being the first system of government designed for the United States, going into effect during the Revolutionary War. However, it envisioned a system of government by which federal power was too weak to effectively meet the challenges of the post-Revolutionary era. In this, it influenced the creation of the US Constitution, the system of government still in place today.

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The Articles of Confederation represented the first plan of government for the United States, originating from the time of the Revolutionary War. In this original system, federal power was far weaker than it would be under the US Constitution (which would ultimately replace it). Far greater power was wielded by the states. For example, the national government could not raise taxes, nor was it allowed to control foreign or interstate trade. Additionally, it had no executive branch: the branch of government which is, under the Constitution, headed by the president. In the years following the Revolutionary War, this original system of government was deemed insufficient. The US Constitution was adopted to replace it.

That being said, even if it could be deemed a misstep, this plan of government remains highly important within US history. It was under the Articles of Confederation that the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War and granting official recognition of US independence. In addition, it established the procedure by which new states would be formed from the territories, eventually joining the United States. This created a precedence that would prove critical in shaping US history. Even in its shortcomings, it provided critical lessons that would inform the later design of the US Constitution. The later document would strengthen federal power while maintaining a system of checks and balances to protect against potential abuses of power. In all these respects, the Articles of Confederation should be viewed as highly important in US political history.

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