Articles of confederation being the United States’ first constitution, had specification on operations of The Federal government. It also included the adoption of a new name, the United States of America, for this nation. The Second Continental Congress, formed after American Revolutionary War, composed of delegates from thirteen colonies namely Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maine, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, South Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Rhode Island. These delegates set up a committee to draft the Articles in June 1776. In November 1777, the Articles draft was sent to the thirteen states for ratification. In March 1781, the ratification process ended (Brown, page 12).
Articles of confederation and its contents
The Articles cited that the states controlled all the government functions and did not cede them to the national government. This is a strong point of the Article. Up to date, states perform their government functions and the United States Constitution recognizes this. Roles of the legislature executive and judiciary are shared between the states and the government. This sharing of powers between the government and the states has been termed as federalism. Article 1, section 8 of the US constitution, give the Federal government powers to coin money, declare war, regulate trade and commerce between states, raise navy and army to establish immigration laws, establish post offices and provide postage. Sharing sovereignty balances both the rights of the state and government. Earlier before federalism developed powers lied within the states leaving the federal government from undertaking any function. The government could not carry out any power since it had no means of doing so (John, page 12). This formed a weakness to the United States Constitution. Under the article, all the states are bound to a common entity of friends, for their aim of maintaining common defense, their liberties security and their mutual welfare by assisting each other. The article further alleges that if force or attacks are made upon its member states, account of sovereignty trade or religion, the states will cooperate to solve the problem. A perfect example is the World trade centre in New York that was bombed in September 11 2001.
The decision to go to war and fight their alleged al-Qaeda enemies was government action through consultative efforts by all the states. However, no state is allowed to go to war. The article recognizes freedom of movement. All the US inhabitants are free to move within its member states. It also excludes vagabonds, paupers and fugitives from justice. Any state that one goes to is entitled to the rights established by that state. If one commits a crime and flees to another state, upon arrest, he will be extradited and tried in the state where he committed the crime. This cooperation therefore, ensures that the crime rate is maintained at a lower level in the various member states. However, this also makes the article powerful. It appears to supersede the function of the federal government. The article advocates for allocation of one vote to each state in Congress of Confederation which is entitled to between two and seven delegates. Delegates were appointed by legislature members. It also barred an individual from serving more than three years.
Expenditures by the US are to be paid by the state legislators through the funds they raise, and be divided to each state basing on their poverty values. US constitution did not draft some powers in its constitution. It leaves this to be the responsibility of the states. This sub-ordination of powers, however, makes the states powerful than the Federal government. Powers like collecting property taxes, requiring driving license, conducting elections, regulation of intra-state commerce and conducting elections have been left to the state. Additional powers include; provision for safety and public health, issue of hunting, marriage and driving licenses, ratification of amendments to the constitution, regulating intrastate commerce and local governments establishment.
The powers not delegated by the constitution and not prohibited by the states are left to the states or other people. Entrusting the state with such powers enables them to offer services instantly to its inhabitants. The states are so many and large that leaving service provision to a centralized body will be inefficient. States have also been allowed to ratify amendments. This allows the national government to have a true representation of views of all citizens.
Powers Shared by National and State Government
Through the development of Federalism, powers became shared between national and state governments. Such shared powers include; Court setting, creation and collection of taxes, borrowing money, building highways and law making and enforcement. Other additional powers include, condemning private property with fair condemnation, chartering corporations and banks, and money spending to improve the general welfare. When such powers are shared, a level playing field will be created (Jack 26).
Weaknesses of Articles of Confederation
There were many weaknesses of the above article. There was no separation of powers since the legislator was unicameral. The article did not distinct the decision-making legislature and judiciary arms of authority which lead to abuse of power in the United States. If powers were clearly separated, then groups would have many places to influence and create more activity. In some states, Governors also functioned as members of the highest courts in the states and, as well, they were presiding officers. In Delaware, the president was, as well, a member of the Courts of Appeal. The presiding officers belonging to the two houses of the state legislature served as vice presidents in the executive departments, as well. In both Pennsylvania and Delaware, executive council members served as judges. Under the article, the Central government becomes weak by vesting too much power in the state. It becomes hard for the state to undertake any activity since it has few powers. It can not control intra trade commerce, collect taxes and conduct elections. There is little to take pride of from the national government. It has been given the role of security since no state is allowed to go to war. Roles given to the government should be more than those given to the state.
Sometimes powers vested on the national government clash with those of the state. This lead to battle for state rights. In 1954, for example, Brown against Board of Education. The Supreme Court stated that school facilities separated basing on race were violating the 14th amendment which stated that no person is supposed to deny another the equal law protections. However, several southern states choose to ignore the ruling of the Supreme Court. They continued denying black students from enrolling in their schools. This battle for state rights is caused by vesting much power in the states.
Motor vehicles should have been mentioned in the constitution (Jack, page 72). However, this role was left to the state. The state department for motor vehicles issued license upon one’s application. Personal requirements for application include; telephone number, address, and name, and social security number, type of vehicle, photograph and medical information. State Department for Motor vehicles used to sell the information to businesses and individuals. This was contrary to the law requirement.US congress learned this and made an enactment, Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of1994 which established a regulatory system. The system restricted states from disclosing personal information of the driver without his consent. Congress did not have the power to conduct taxation. This means that they had poor financial set up. Taxation was done in the states. Congress could not get to the money. For articles to be amended or changed, it required unanimous approval by the states. This made hard for any article to be changed. The states are needed to ratify any changes. Passing of any major law could also not be accomplished unless 9 of the 13 states approved it. This interfered the usual running of government business. Congress did not have the power to control commerce. It controlled intra-commerce only. This caused diplomatic issues as well as competition between the states.
Weaknesses of the US constitution.
Dictatorship by the installed leaders is a major setback to the US constitution. Bush is claimed to stranglehold both houses of the legislator and also the executive branch. The judiciary proved that. When the three arms of government are paralyzed, the constitution as well, becomes paralyzed. There are checks and balances as well that favor some candidates to go to power. Leaders installed do not want anyone to talk about them or the government. This is violation of the first amendment right to freedom of speech. Some editors got jailed for writing about famous leaders in government. In the bill of rights, the principle ‘Habeas corpus’ has been removed. This means that one can be arrested and held against his wish without any cause (John, page 95).
Both the US constitution and Articles of confederation are of great importance to American citizens. Weaknesses of the Articles can be corrected. Those of the constitution are deliberate human actions. Acts of curtailing freedom of speech abuses the constitution. Weaknesses of the articles can be corrected by amendment. Government leaders should respect the constitution.
Parish, John, The Man with Iron Hand, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913.
Jack, Rakove, The Collapse of the Articles of Confederation, New York: Routledge, 1988.
Brown, Roger, Redeeming the Republic: Federalists, Taxation, and the Origins of the Constitution, New York: New York Publishers, 1993.
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