The Articles of Confederation was a peace agreement between thirteenstates. It is these states that legally founded the “United States of America,” making it a confederation of “sovereign states.” In addition, it was the confederation’s first constitution. The Articles gave total legitimacy specifically for Continental Congress, so that the Congress could give direction to the “American Revolutionary War.” Furthermore, it would guide the confederation on her diplomatic issues, especially with India and Europe.1 This agreement had brought to America a sense of peace and independence, though her government structures were still wanting. Though the articles anticipated a perpetual confederation, it gave the Congress very little powers that would help it fund it as well as enforce its resolutions. America had neither a president nor a national court. The articles helped in solving some western issues, since lands owned by different states were given up to be under the government.2 The confederation was regaining its prosperity when the British called off its blockade in 1783. However, there still a lot of problems since most states were still heavily indebted, and there were also a lot of political unrest in a number of states. The Congress, however, was hardly able to redeem the debts which had come as a result of the war. It also had too little power to enforce cooperation among the states, thereby slowing down economic development. In fact, the state government’s stability was shaken by the 1786-87 Shay’s Rebellion that occurred in western Massachusetts.3 The nation was in total mess, especially financially, and it seriously needed a body that could control its navigation laws. However, each state acted as a lone ranger when dealing with the British government. In addition, the Congress was still unable to control manufacturing and shipping, and state legislatures had little or no interest to protect private contracts, by 1787. When he was Washington’s executive aide, Alexander Hamilton saw the need for a stronger government, especially if foreign intervention was something to be avoided. This is just one of the indications that the articles were facing an inevitable revision. The need for a quick remedy saw Hamilton calling a convention, with like-minded people, in Philadelphia in 1786.4 The Articles contained a lot of problems. This central government was simply unstable: It could not control its taxes, since every state was still sovereign and independent. This led to its primary problem, which was that it was too weak, and as such could not regulate the behavior of any of the member states. In addition, their commerce interests lacked alignment, making it harder for the central government to solve their disputes. Even though the congress could not force member states to raise funds for the federal government, it entirely depended on their support, which they not only gave voluntarily but also occasionally. Moreover, the Articles gave the Congress the powers to declare war but did not provide it with the powers to establish an army, and again it had to depend on the uncommitted state governments. According to Warren Burger, a former Supreme Court Justice, these Articles were simply multinational treaties between states which were not only independent but also sovereign, a factor that made it almost impossible for a stable government5
In 1787, a constitutional convention was held in Philadelphia by 55 men, to draft the first Constitution of the US. Before a year could elapse after the convention, New Hampshire joined the states that had ratified the draft Constitution, in 1788, making them nine. Following this, the Confederation Congress declared the Constitution operational as from March 1789, since it was a requirement that the Constitution be ratified by at least nine states. Therefore, the Articles had been eventually replaced by the new Constitution. Under the Constitution, there emerged a political system characterized by a strong central government, as states lost ultimate sovereignty to it. The Constitution gave a lot of powers to the central government. For instance, it could now not only tax but it could also settle the existing federal debts. It also made the government’s financial future certain and strengthened the capital markets. It also put an end to uninformed unanimous voting system, since it gave room to simple majority vote. In addition, it gave rise to a national judiciary, as well as gave the central government powers to make treaties with other nations 6
The Constitution making process saw long hours of not only debate but also compromise, and its completion left still some people unsatisfied. Delegates were divided into two distinct groups namely Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Anti-Federalists argued that it offered the central government too many powers, but the expense of federal states. It also did not have bill of rights. The Congress and the executive branch had also been given too much power. Bill of rights stood out as the most pressing concern, since Americans had just concluded a war to protect their rights and would not welcome any government that would infringe on them. The bill of rights would help them protect their hard-earned rights. Therefore, this group used the bill of rights its main weapon for opposing ratification. Federalists, on the other hand, tried to provide answers for these problems. They argued that separating powers “into three independent branches” would protect the people’s rights. They also argued against listing of rights to be protected, since this would make people to violate the unlisted rights7
Hudson, David L. The Handy Answer Book. Visible Ink Press, 2010.
Vile, John R. The Constitution Convention of 1887: a comprehensive encyclopedia of America’s founding, volume 2. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Wilson, James Q. American Government: Brief Version. Cengage Learning, 2011.