Articles of Confederation

October 23, 2013
The Articles of Confederation were an important step down America’s road to an effective central government. In the aftermath of the American Revolution, its framers recognized and responded to Americans’ greatest fear—a tyrannical central government. The Articles of Confederation created a weak federal authority consisting of a unicameral legislature, with no executive or judicial branch, whose powers were essentially limited to declaring war, conducting foreign affairs, and making treaties. Though the government could coin money, it did not have the power to impose or collect taxes to support its other powers. The federal government under the Articles of Confederation lived on the largesse of the state government, and could not enforce its financial requests to them. The federal government could regulate neither international nor domestic trade; thus, while the population grew steadily, the market value of exports to Britain (America’s chief trading partner) remained relatively flat and eventually began to decline. The inability to regulate trade made a coherent foreign policy impossible, and the federal government lacked the authority to deal with encroachment on Native American lands. There was no uniform currency, so money from different states had different values and circulated without a standard, further impeding commerce. Amending the Articles of Confederation was virtually impossible, as a unanimous vote of the states was required for an amendment to pass; in fact, because nine votes were needed to pass anything, it was extremely difficult to pass anything at all. The Articles of Confederation led to political crises, economic insecurity, and a lack of confidence in government. Many feared that this would lead the wealthy to seek security at the expense of liberty. Some did; but for the majority, the Articles of Confederation served as an object lesson in the critical role of a strong central government in an independent…