Problems with the Articles of Confederation


Motivated by the Iroquois Confederation, the Articles of Confederation were ratified by every colony in America on March 1, 1781. It became the first written constitution of the United States of America and was signed by John Dickenson, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin and others responsible for the future United States Constitution.

Unresolved Issues within the Articles of Confederation

Even though there were some issues inside the Articles of Confederation addressed, there were other issues which needed to be addressed. In 1785 at the Mount Vernon Conference, George Washington summoned the leading statesmen who served during the American Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton, George Mason, James Madison and a few others participated in discussions on how to repair errors within the Articles. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina voiced his opinion suggesting that Congress amend the Articles of Confederation granting Congress power over foreign and domestic commerce and to present Congressional ability to collect capital from state treasuries. In 1786, at an Annapolis Conference, only five delegates came from five states. The next year, state delegates would meet in Philadelphia.

Trouble with the U.S Central Government

One of the problems of the United States central government under the Articles of Confederation is that it had no power to raise money needed to repay the foreign and domestic debt acquired during the American Revolutionary War. The single source of revenue to fund the federal government were requisitions to state governments soliciting them to forward state collected tax revenues to the federal government. The Articles of Confederation did not include any mechanism for any enforcement to ensure that the state government would send in the whole amount of funds which were requested. And as a result, the funds were never sent. Second, each of the states had a single vote in the federal Congress and all states were obligated to enact federal taxes by consent. This left the door open for a federal tax legislation blockage if a state did not cooperate. Each state possessed de facto power which created significant decision making costs for the United States Congress and prevented federal proposed import duties from being enacted under the Articles of Federation.

Lack of Good Trade Legislation

At home and abroad, the central government also fell short of having the legal power to put into effect standardized commercial regulations which could have been favorable to the development of a good trading area.
Weak War Making Powers of Articles of Confederation

The Articles supported the course of the Continental Army and permitted former colonies to form a united front when dealing with the European powers. However, governmental central war making powers were tremendously weak and were mainly a disappointing failure. Congress could make rules, but could not enforce those rules made.

Lawless Frontier and Debts Plague Federal Law

The federal government also possessed tentative authority to do business with foreign powers. But, the viability of the federal government was in compromise because it had problems raising money and repaying the existing debts. And even though state and local government interference in trade was not really a problem, a lot of commercial interests apparently were terrified over the idea that one or all of the state governments could become an economic wall in the future under the Articles of Confederation. The western landowners were also aggravated and impatient with the federal government because of its inability to create order on the frontiers. This would cause rebellions in the future.

U.S Constitution Replaces Articles of Confederation

On June 21, 1788, the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the United States Constitution. Among the improvements located within the United States Constitution which lacked in the Articles of Confederation was more central power given to the central government. State governments could make their own constitutions, but they could not supersede the American Constitution when doing so. And only U.S Congress could declare war. That rule did not apply to any of the states.