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The Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States. It was ratified in 1781. The Articles marked a victory for the people who were in favor the sovereignty of the states (Ginsberg, Benjamin et al. p. 50). It was stated in Article 2 that each of the states will retain its sovereignty, freedom and independence, as well as any power that was not delegated expressly to the United States. Its amendment would require the states to consent unanimously (Ginsberg, Benjamin et al., p. A5-A10). This paper seeks to highlight the restrictions that the Articles of Association implied on the National government, the factors that prompted the creation of a national constitution and the Federalism under the new constitutions, inclusive of its amendments (“The Roots Of Government: Power, Coercion, And Voice”).
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Division of Power under the Articles of Confederation
Through the articles, a national government was created. It comprised of a Congress that had the power to declare war; appoint officers of the military; sign treaties; make alliances; appoint foreign ambassadors; as well as manage the relationships with the Native Indians. The Articles did not give congress the power to tax as a means of revenue collection. The states would be asked for money as the only other way by which the Congress would raise funds besides borrowing from the foreign governments and/ or the selling of the western lands. Also, the Articles did not give Congress the power to draft soldiers or regulate trade. Nation courts were also not provided in the Articles. A weak central government was also created, based on the fears from the colonial experience under the centralized government of Great Britain. Therefore, the states were given much power through independence by the committee, thereby limiting the functional power of the federal government.
Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation
Bankruptcy and other economic woes
The army was near a point of mutiny by 1783 owing to the failure of congress to pay them. This led to demonstrations by the former revolutionary war soldiers, who threatened to hold members present at the Congress meeting at the Philadelphia statehouse hostage until they were paid their dues. Severe economic depression followed the Revolution in the period 1784-1785. In bids to raise revenues, many states imposed charges on the goods from the other states. The national government was also on the verge of bankruptcy, coupled with failed attempts to secure loans from the Dutch and French owing to exorbitant interest rates. Commercial transactions were further impeded by the shortage of hard currency, with the inflated paper money that the states issued being virtually worthless.
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At the time, Britain had refused to evacuate from its military posts in Detroit, New York and Oswego among other areas in the Northwest due to the refusal of the states to restore confiscated loyalist property during the Revolution. Furthermore, Spain did not recognize the America’s territorial claims to the region between the Ohio River and Florida, resulting in the closure of the Mississippi River to American Trade in 1784.
The Tyranny of Numbers of the State Governments
Most of the influential leaders were becoming more convinced by the mid-1780s that the legislatures of the states were becoming a source of tyranny in the U.S. Many of the legislatures passed by the states such as the postponement of debts and the adoption of paper money bills that allowed debtors to pay back their debts with paper currency that was worthless drew the attention of national leaders, citing violations to the creditors’ rights. Other individual rights could also be seen to be violated, such as the imprisonment of Quakers as well as the removal of judges by the Government of Pennsylvania. Rhode Island was also seen to go against the nationalist measures through the imposing laws that forbade the refusal of merchants to accept its currency that was near worthless.
By the spring of 1787, it was the general belief by a majority of the national leaders the survival and prosperity of the new United States was at peril. The threat of national bankruptcy, interstate commercial conflicts, and intrigues of the Spanish on the Western Frontier highlighted the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, prompting calls to resolve the issue through the creation of a central government.
Federalism under the American Constitution
Federalism can be described as the division of powers and functions between the national government and the governments of the various states (Ginsberg, Benjamin et al. p. 64). The framers of the U.S. Constitution indicated that the purpose of the government is to promote justice, maintenance of peace at home, defense of the nation from foreign adversaries and the provision of welfare for the citizens (Ginsberg, Benjamin et al. p A11-A21). The constitution therefore laid foundations for the plans that the government will use to achieve these objectives through the provisions of legislative, executive, judicial powers as well as the division of powers to be exercised. This was to be done through the branches of the federal government and also between the national government and the states (“Debating The Roles Of Government In U.S. Society”).
The Constitution and its amendments overtime give an outline of the distinct powers and tasks designated to both the national government and the state governments. Some of the provisions in the constitution enhance the national governments power, whilst others facilitate those of the states. There are also checks and balances that shield each from being encroached by the others.
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National powers comprise of exclusive powers such foreign relations, military, war, peace, cross border trade and control of the monetary system. These functions cannot be done by the states. Concurrent powers are accorded to the national government while not barring them from the states. These include the regulation of elections, taxation, borrowing funds and the establishment of courts. The national government is responsible for regulating commercial activity with foreign nations as well as among the States and also with the Indian tribes (“Why Should We Study Government and Politics?”). Laws can be made and enforced by both the national and state governments. States can establish their own constitutions and judicial systems. The decisions of the supreme court of a state can be appealed to the Supreme Court of the U.S. on condition that a federal question is raised by the decision, for instance the interpretation of the national law or the U.S. Constitution. The exercise of police powers for the protection of the health, safety, morals and order by states is recognized by the Supreme Court.
Other guiding principles provided by the U.S Constitution are the responsibility of the national government to the states; responsibilities of the states to each other; superiority of the Supreme laws of the land given; recognition of the Native American Reservations; and the recognition of the local governments and their subdivisions in all of the states with the exception of Alaska and Louisiana that have boroughs and parishes respectively.
- “Debating The Roles Of Government In U.S. Society”.
- Ginsberg, Benjamin et al. We The People. 7th ed., New York, NY, W.W. Norton & Co., 2017.
- “The Roots Of Government: Power, Coercion, And Voice”. 2017.
- “Why Should We Study Government And Politics?”.