Not many people know this, but the Articles of Confederation was used as the first constitution of the United States of America. It was used as the supreme law for a brief period in the American history between March 1, 1781, and March 4, 1789. Even though it was written by the same people who wrote the Constitution, you can see a great deal of difference between the two.
Summary of the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation was a five-page written agreement, which laid the guidelines of how the national government of America would function. The preamble of the Articles stated that all the signatories "agree to certain Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union" between the thirteen original states. It had a total of thirteen articles which formed the guidelines for the functioning of then Federal government along with a conclusion and a signatory section for the states to sign. Given below is the summary of these thirteen articles which will put forth brief information on each of them with special emphasis on what they imply.
- Article I: It gave the new confederacy a name―the 'United States of America', which is followed even today.
- Article II: It gave all the states sovereignty, freedom, and independence, alongside all those powers which were not specifically given to the national government.
- Article III: It implied that the different states should come together to facilitate common defense, secure each other's liberties, and work for each other's welfare.
- Article IV: It granted the freedom of movement to all the citizens of the nation as a whole which allowed people to move freely between the states and also entitled them to get the rights established by the particular state. It also spoke about the need of respecting each other's laws and a clause to extradite criminals.
- Article V: It spoke about the national interests of the United States and asked each state to send delegates to discuss the same in the Congress. It gave each state one vote in Congress and restricted the period for which a person would serve as a delegate. It also gave the members of Congress the power of free speech and ruled out their arrests, unless the crime was something serious, such as treason or felony.
- Article VI: It put some restrictions on the states and disallowed them from getting into any sort of treaty or alliance with each other or waging a war without the consent of the Congress. It also disallowed the states from keeping a standing army, but did give them permission to maintain the state militia.
- Article VII: It gave the state legislature the power of appointing all officers ranked colonel and above, whenever the states were to raise an army for the purpose of self defense.
- Article VIII: It stated that each state was to pay a particular sum of money―in proportion to the total land area of that state―to the national treasury and added that all the national expenses including war costs were to be deducted from this common treasury.
- Article IX: It highlighted all the powers given to the Congress of the Confederation, including the right to wage wars and make peace, govern army and navy, enter into treaties and alliances, settle dispute between states, regulate the value of coins, etc.
- Article X: It laid the guidelines for the formation of an executive committee which would work when the Congress was not in session.
- Article XI: It stated that the approval of nine of the thirteen original states was mandatory to include a new state in the Union.
- Article XII: It declared that America takes full responsibility for all debts which were incurred before the Articles came into existence.
- Article XIII: It declared that it would be mandatory for all the states to abide by the decisions made by the Congress of the Confederation. It also declared that the Union would be perpetual. Most important of all, it put forth the stipulation that if any changes were to be made to the Articles of the Confederation it would require the approval of Congress and ratification by the states.
If the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation are weighed against each other, you notice that its weaknesses outweighed its strengths; that explains why it was eventually replaced by the U.S. Constitution―the supreme law in the United States as of today.