The Articles of Confederation (The Articles) were commissioned by the Second Continental Congress on June 11, 1776. John Dickinson proposed a plan that was adopted by the States on November 15, 1777.
There are several interesting or unfavorable features about The Articles, among them are:
1. The States delegated a portion of their sovereignty to the Second Continental Congress, and then renamed that body as “the United States, in Congress Assembled”
2. The United States, in Congress Assembled has no executive authority and no specific authority to pass laws enforcing its decisions.
3. The Constitution, when later adopted, would copy several features of The Articles: Especially, limited and expressly enumerated delegation of Legislative powers to a Congress of the Federal government.
4. The Constitution places ultimate sovereignty with the people, not with any State or Federal branch of government.
For the above and other reasons, I conclude The Articles was only an expedient to create some semblance of unity among the states. The purpose was an attempt to show European nations that the United States would defend itself against attempted conquests of some or all of the United States. (The Articles was derided by European observers as inept.) Notwithstanding the fatal weaknesses of The Articles as a governing Constitution, there were some momentous achievements in its twelve years.
The surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781 ended the fighting. The Treaty of Paris was executed September 3, 1783. The boundaries between the United States and Britain’s Canadian colonies were formed, and the United States obtained full diplomatic recognition with several nations.
The United States in Congress Assembled wrote and passed The Northwest Ordinance dated July 13, 1787. This is a fundamental and comprehensive plan for bringing the territory of the Northwest (seceded by Britain in the Treaty of Paris) into the United States as five separate states; Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Among its provisions were: Establishing territorial governance; Surveying the entire area and laying out townships of six miles by six miles square; providing for public education in the townships; Establishing certain rights therein – habeas corpus, trial by jury, proportionate representation in a state legislature, and others. The Ordinance also provided how future lands acquired by the United States would be governed prior to becoming States. Slavery was forbidden in the territory and States, but any escaped person from whom lawful service is claimed, such fugitive may be reclaimed. The Mississippi and St. Lawrence were established to be “common highways” and forever free.
The economic recession of 1785-86 hit hard the agricultural and commercial trade of Massachusetts. In addition to the loss of trade, taxes on property and a poll tax were not reduced. Foreclosures of farms led to widespread hostilities against lawyers, courts and collectors. The Massachusetts legislature was nevertheless deaf to granting reform. An uprising led by Captain Daniel Shays, a veteran of the revolutionary War, gathered strength as it spread. Ultimately the U.S. Arsenal at Springfield was threatened; had it been captured Shays would have had access to canons and ammunition. The rebellion created fear among all the states, and highlighted weaknesses of the United States, in Congress Assembled to put it down. The whole nation paid attention; even George Washington was pleaded to personally intervene. He refused. The rebellion came to an end when the Governor of Massachusetts ordered the State Militia’s appearance to Shays, and the rebellion collapsed. There was then an immediate reaction to begin consideration of remedying the defects of The Articles, which ultimately resulted in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia; summer of 1787.
Publiustoo.com September 26, 2019
The Articles of Confederation