15 terms

Articles of Confederation

What was the Articles of Confederation?
The Articles of Confederation, drafted in 1777, was the first constitution of the United States.
What did Americans want from their government?
Like Washington, most Americans did not want to be ruled by a monarch. What they did want, though, was an effective government. In the minds of many, that was not what they had under the Articles of Confederation.
Why did troops want George Washington to be king?
Troops who wanted Washington to be king were suffering from Congress's inability to meet the army's basic needs.
What was a major weakness of the Articles of Confederation?
It created a too-weak national government.
When Congress drafted the nation's first constitution in 1777, it knew that many Americans feared a powerful national government. For that reason, the proposed Articles of Confederation created a framework for a loose confederation of states. Within this alliance, each state would retain "sovereignty, freedom, and independence." Any power not specifically given to Congress was reserved for the states. This meant that each state could often develop its own policies.

In addition, the Articles did not set up an executive branch to carry out the laws or a judicial branch to settle legal questions.
What structure of government was established by the Articles of Confederation?
It created a framework for a loose confederation of states.
What powers did the Articles of Confederation give to Congress?
On paper at least, the Articles did give Congress several key powers.
Only Congress could declare war, negotiate with foreign countries, and establish a postal system. It could also settle disputes between states.
But it had no power to impose taxes, which explains why the Continental Army was so starved of funds.
What were some of Congress' achievements under the Articles of Confederation?
Despite its limited power, Congress recorded some notable achievements under the Articles of Confederation. Perhaps its most important success was the creation of policies for the settlement of western lands.
- Treaty of Paris
- Land Ordinance of 1785
- Northwest Ordinance
What was the treaty of Paris?
In the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War, Britain gave up control of a region known as the Northwest Territory. No government had yet been established for this large territory that stretched from the Appalachian Mountains west to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Congress wanted to organize this land and sell it to raise revenue. To do so, it passed the Land Ordinance of 1785.
What was the Land Ordinance of 1785?
The Land Ordinance of 1785 set up a system for surveying and dividing land in the new territory. After being surveyed, the land was to be divided into 36-square-mile townships. Each township would be divided into 36 numbered sections of 1 square mile each. Each section would then be divided for sale to settlers and land dealers. Section 16, however, was always set aside for schools.
What was the Northwest Ordinance?
In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance to specify how these western lands would be governed. This ordinance declared that the region would be divided into three to five territories. When a territory had 5,000 free adult men, those men could elect a legislature. When the population reached 60,000 free inhabitants, the legislature could write a constitution and form a government. If Congress approved both, the territory would become a state.

A number of the ordinance's provisions reflected the principle of equality. Each new state would have equal standing with the original states, and its people would enjoy the same freedoms and rights. Furthermore, slavery would be banned in any state formed from the region.
Why was the Northwest Ordinance considered to be the most important law passed during the period of confederation?
The Northwest Ordinance set up a system that became a general guide for admission of future states. For that reason alone, it is considered the most important law passed during the period of confederation.
What is an ordinance?
ordinance: a law that sets local regulations
What is ratification?
ratification: the approval of a plan of government or of a constitutional amendment
What were other weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?
*The lack of central authority made relations with foreign countries more difficult. For example, one British official said it would be better to negotiate with each state than to do business with Congress. When Congress tried to reach a trade agreement with Britain in 1785, Britain refused because it knew the states wouldn't agree to be bound by the accord.

*Many foreign countries also questioned the nation's financial stability. The United States had accumulated a huge war debt, mostly to foreign lenders. But Congress lacked funds to pay its debts. The Articles directed the state legislatures to pay taxes to the national treasury based on the value of each state's land. However, Congress could not force the states to pay.

*To make matters worse, overseas trade shrank under the confederation. Britain restricted American trade by closing some of its ports to American vessels. These actions hurt the American economy, which depended heavily on the British market. Meanwhile, the United States had little success boosting trade with other countries.

*Another problem was national defense. In the Treaty of Paris, Britain had agreed to withdraw troops from the Northwest Territory. Once it saw how weak Congress was, however, it refused to pull them out. Britain and Spain supplied arms to American Indians and urged them to attack settlers. Having disbanded the Continental Army after the war, Congress had no military force to counteract this threat.
Were there problems between the states under the Articles of Confederation?
Yes. As foreign trade declined, the economy relied more on interstate commerce, trade between states. But states often treated each other like separate countries by imposing tariffs, or import taxes, on each other's goods. In theory, Congress had authority to settle tariff disputes between the states, but the states often ignored its decisions.