The articles of confederation and the constitution


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The United States of America is arguably the greatest nation on earth, but it is definite the road to its greatness was rough and bumpy. The country literally operated under two constitutions, which were mainly the ‘articles of confederation’ and ‘the constitution’. The ‘article of confederation’ was the first ever written document to be used as the constitution of the United States. The article was stemmed from the wartime and was later ratified on first march, 1781 (Hockett & Jensen, 1941). The main content of the article was the liberation and power of the state, with the congress acting as the last solution for appeal disputes. Under the articles of confederation, the congress was also given the powers to make truce and agreements, maintain the militaries and coin money. These are among the issues that were addressed in the articles of confederation among others that seemed too weak to apply such as, inability of the central government to impose taxes and control trade. There was also no established central authority to aid governance, and lack of a judicial arm of the government to solve disputes. These led to an urge to enact the new constitution in 1787. The constitution convention team converged in Philadelphia and effectively enacted laws that would see the replacement of the articles of confederation that was considered vague. It took 10 months after the first convention for all states to approve the constitution and by March 4 1789, the new constitution was effective and began to operate the government.

There are not many similarities between the ‘constitution’ and the ‘articles of confederation’ because most of the things in the articles were changed and replaced with new ideas in the constitution. This is because those involved in the writing of the constitution were unhappy with the way the government was being run under the articles of confederation. However, one of the few similarities was that both documents set a democratic system of government, which was unique from other forms of government during that time such as the monarchy system. Another similarity is that both the ‘articles of confederation’ and ‘the constitution’ put up limited governments that were not in position to do certain things (Johnson, 2013). Additionally, both documents had restrictions for the state on conducting foreign policies and created a system by which there were democratically elected governments in place.

However, there were so many differences between the two documents, which ranged from the legislature to the congress, judiciary and executive. The articles had no executive or any provision for the same, but the constitution came up to replace the void with the presidency. In the articles, the judiciary was established under the maritime, a clause that was changed by the constitution to make the judiciary federally established and the Supreme Court (Hockett & Jensen, 1941). Other common factors that changed under the constitution is the legislature whereby the legislature stated the Unicameral and called it the congress in the articles, was changed to be Bicameral and divided into two houses, which were the house of representatives and the senate. The congress as stated in the articles had only a minimum of seven members while the constitution allowed as many representatives per state as the population dictated, and two senators.

The enactment of the constitution took place Philadelphia on 25th may 1787 and all states were represented except Rhode Island. The convention took place in a Pennsylvania’s state building, which came to be known as the independence hall and the exact place where the signing of the articles took place. The delegates agreed on many changes and unanimously devised enactments such as a clear federal system that saw the introduction of the checks and balances (Johnson, 2013). However, the delegates did not agree on state representation in the congress, because smaller states wanted equal representation while the big states wanted a representation that was proportional. In the wake of this issue, Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth provide the convention with a major compromise otherwise known as the “great compromise”. The plan was to provide a dual system of congress representation that would see each state be assigned seats in proportion to its population. The plan further proposed that in the senate all states have the same number of seats. The proposals were later adopted with an additional clause that that would see equal vote in all matters except those to do with money.

In the United States history, anti-federalist are those against the development of a strong federal government with an idea to give power to the states and local governments, while federalist are those that support the original cause of the constitution and the court’s power to review the enactments of the legislature hence a stronger national government. The debate on the ratification raved the floor of national conventions and the votes were always close. The anti-federalists were obviously from the rural areas of the country and were dominated by smaller communities who felt that the states should be left to manage their own money because they were free agents, this included Kentucky and Virginia states. On the other hand, the federalists were urban settlers who had proposed and supported federalism. This group mainly consisted of wealthy business people who wanted government regulations in the economy, because they believed that different monetary and fiscal policies would lead to a weak economy.

These ideological wars ensued resulting to the ‘federalist and anti-federalist papers’, and there were many articles written some for and others against the ratification of the constitution. Some of the remarks from the federalist articles are, “nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of the government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must code to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers”. Another view in support of centralized power in the federal paper stated, “One can hardly expect the state legislatures to take enlightened views on national affairs.” This simply meant that a small state cannot manage itself appropriately without the intervention of the national government (Gotchy, 1994). It is clear that the federalist were the elite patriots who were for the betterment of the economy of the country. Their ideologies were based on the ideals of the constitution and the application of the national laws directly to the citizens.

The ‘bill of rights’ in the United States constitutes the first ten adjustments, whose aim was to respond to calls made from several states seeking the constitutional protection. The bill has specific prohibitions on the power of the government on its citizens. The federalists argued that the bill of rights touched on the fundamental rights of the American citizens, which included freedom to worship, speech and freedom of assembly. According to the federalist, the bill of rights is what any government on earth would desire for (Salton, 2012). On the other hand, the anti-federalists argued that the bill would not guarantee but restrict freedoms, because it could imply that the government grants the rights rather than being inherent in nature. The anti-federalist’s rationale was that the mention of one thing would amount to the exclusion of the other and imply that they are the only freedoms. The bill of rights provides a balance between the national government and the states for their vested interests in the powers that control the nation. The American people have the power and willingness to unite the government under ‘the constitution’. The addition of the ‘bill of rights’ to the constitution saw the approval of the document, because the bill of rights lies deep in the Anglo- American history. The bill also provided for arbitrations under the petition of right and other operational arrangements such as the separation of powers, which saw the equilibrium between the national administration and the states.

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  1. Gotchy, J. (1994). Federalists and Anti-Federalists: Is a Bill of Rights Essential to a Free Society?. OAH Magazine of History, 8(4), 45-46.
  2. Hockett, H., & Jensen, M. (1941). The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 28(1), 89.
  3. Johnson, C. (2013). JURGEN HEIDEKING. The Constitution before the Judgment Seat: The Prehistory and Ratification of the American Constitution, 1787-1791. The American Historical Review, 118(1), 176-177.
  4. Salton, H. (2012). A Godless Constitution? Faith, Politics and Speech in the Bill of Rights of the United States. International Law Research, 1(1).
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