The US Constitution, the supreme law of the United States today, was preceded by the Articles of Confederation as the constitution of the United States. While the states were in favor of this agreement, some of its most prominent weaknesses made it a disaster for the nation.
Sadly, the historical document is restricted to history textbooks today, with most of the people not having any idea as to what it was or why it was replaced by the US Constitution.
Articles of Confederation
Simply referred to as the Articles at times, it was a written agreement which laid the guidelines for functioning of the Federal government. It was drafted by a committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress, and sent to each of the thirteen original states for ratification in 1777.
The committee that was assigned the task of drafting the Articles had delegates from all the thirteen states. The Articles of Confederation came into effect from March 1, 1781, with the state of Maryland becoming the last state to ratify it. Its ratification gave birth to the 'Congress of the Confederation' or the 'United States in Congress Assembled'.
Other than giving the nation the power of indulging in a war and negotiating diplomatic ties, it also gave it its official name, the United States of America. It was used as the first constitution of the United States from the time of its ratification to the point when the US Constitution came into effect on March 4, 1789.
With states coming out in strong support of this agreement, it was not easy to replace it. The Federalists and Anti-Federalists found themselves at loggerheads, with the former demanding the urgent need of a new constitution and latter supporting the existing arrangement.
So, the new Constitution was ratified, which resulted in scrapping of the Articles and brought about an end to all the commotion surrounding it.
Effectiveness of the Articles of Confederation
Even though this agreement had its own strengths and weaknesses, the problem was the fact that its strengths were easily overshadowed by its obvious failings. One of its most prominent strengths, was the ability to get all the thirteen original states together as a single nation.
It was important considering that most of these states were at loggerheads back then. Similarly, the stipulations of the Articles left no room for the development of a monarchical system of governance.
It also gave the Federal government the right to get into diplomatic relationships with other nations and solve issues by dialog, instead of weapons. These strengths may not seem impressive today, but they were of great importance during that period.
As per the Articles of Confederation, the right of levying taxes, which is the prime source of income for any government, was exclusively given to the state governments. This made the national government increasingly dependent on state government donation for finance.
The states had the rights to make their own laws and the national government was expected to accept these laws even if they meant loss for the nation as a whole. There was no President to lead the nation in times of crisis, and each state, irrespective of its size, had only one vote in the house.
In order to adopt a new law, it required the nod of nine out of the thirteen states, which was virtually impossible, considering that all these states had vested interests of their own. All these stipulations reduced the Federal government to a mere bystander, which could only interfere when two states got into some sort of conflict.
If you try to compare the Articles of Confederation with the US Constitution, you will notice some obvious weaknesses in it. The new US Constitution gave more power to the national government and this helped the United States do away with all the problems that had occurred as a result of loopholes in the Articles.