"Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes." - Benjamin Franklin
The History of the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement between all thirteen original states in the United States of America that served as its first constitutional government. Its drafting by a committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress began on July 12, 1776, and an approved version was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777. The formal ratification by all thirteen states was completed in early 1781. Government under the Articles was superseded by a new constitution and federal form of government in 1789. Even un-ratified, the Articles provided a system for the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe, and deal with territorial issues and Native American relations. Nevertheless, the weakness of the government created by the Articles became a matter of concern for key nationalists. On March 4, 1789, the general government under the Articles was replaced with the federal government under the United States Constitution. The new Constitution provided for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive, the President, courts, and taxing powers.
On June 12, 1776, a day after appointing a committee to prepare a draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress resolved to appoint a committee of 13 to prepare a draft of a constitution for a union of the states. The committee met repeatedly, and chairman John Dickinson presented their results to the Congress on July 12, 1776. There were long debates on such issues as sovereignty, the exact powers to be given the confederate government, whether to have a judiciary, and voting procedures. The final draft of the Articles was prepared in the summer of 1777 and the Second Continental Congress approved them for ratification by the individual states on November 15, 1777, after a year of debate. In practice, the Articles were in use beginning in 1777, however, the final draft of the Articles did serve as the true formal system of government used by the Congress, "the United States in Congress assembled," until it became de-jure by final ratification on March 1, 1781. It was at this point that Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. This points to one of the weakness of the Articles. It took four years to ratify the government's foundational document, much too long in the scheme of things. Under the Articles, the states retained sovereignty over all governmental functions not specifically relinquished to the national government. The individual articles set the rules for current and future operations of the United States government. It was made capable of making war and peace, negotiating diplomatic and commercial agreements with foreign countries, and deciding disputes between the states, including their acquisition of additional territories in the contested western territories. Article XIII stipulated that "their provisions shall be inviolably observed by every state" and "the Union shall be perpetual." The articles, however, did not provide for effective gathering of taxes or troops by the national government. This was so because the states feared that a strong national government would produce a system of government similar to the one they were fighting against.
The History of the Constitution
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. The Constitution, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. Its first three articles entrench the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress; the executive, consisting of the President; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Articles Four, Five and Six entrench concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments and of the states in relationship to the federal government. Article Seven establishes the procedure subsequently used by the thirteen States to ratify it.
Since the Constitution came into force in 1789, it has been amended twenty-seven times to meet the changing needs of a nation now profoundly different from the eighteenth-century world in which its creators lived. In general, the first ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, offer specific protections of individual liberty and justice and place restrictions on the powers of the various levels of government. The majority of the seventeen later amendments expand individual civil rights protections. Others address issues related to federal authority or modify government processes and procedures. Amendments to the United States Constitution, unlike ones made to many constitutions worldwide, are appended to the end of the document. All four pages of the original U.S. Constitution are written on parchment. According to the United States Senate, the Constitution's first three words, We the People, affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. For over two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers wisely separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments.
The first constitution of its kind, adopted by the people's representatives for an expansive nation, it is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of constitutional law, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations. On the appointed day, May 14, 1787, only the Virginia and Pennsylvania delegations were present, and so the convention's opening meeting was postponed for lack of a quorum. A quorum of seven states met and deliberations began on May 25. Eventually twelve states were represented; 74 delegates were named, 55 attended and 39 signed. The delegates were generally convinced that an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the weaker Congress established by the Articles of Confederation. Their depth of knowledge and experience in self-government was remarkable. As Thomas Jefferson, in Paris, wrote to John Adams, in London, "It really is an assembly of demigods." According to one view, the Framers embraced the federal ambiguities in the constitutional text allowing for compromise and cooperation about broad concepts rather than dictating specific policies for the future. Delegates used two streams of intellectual tradition, and any one delegate could be found using both or a mixture depending on the subject under discussion, foreign affairs, the economy, national government, or federal relationships among the states.
One will find brief histories of both documents written above to show where they came from and how each document came to be the law of the land in the United States. Notice, however, that the dates for the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution overlap one another. This is because the delegates of the Articles of Confederation knew that the present state of their government was not working the way that they wanted it to. The national government was routinely deadlocked on needed legislation because one person could hijack a bill because all states were needed to pass a bill, in other words, unanimous consent was needed to pass a bill. The problem lies in this question, "Since when was anyone able to vote unanimously on anything this country?" Further, under the Articles of Confederation, the national government could not force levies for taxes on the states. It could also not draft troops from the states. It had to rely on the states to give or send what they saw fit, when they saw fit. The text and intent of the documents were not all that different from one another, except for the added Bill of Rights in the Constitution and a set of defined powers for separate branches of government. The Constitution was also backed up by a clause making it quite clear that the national government was superior to that of the state governments. It also had another very important difference. This deference lied in procedural affairs. Legislation and other affairs that would come before the Congress' attention would only require a simple majority vote or two-thirds majority vote, depending on the item being deliberated, a general law versus a constitutional amendment. This made it much easier for legislation to pass through Congress, even in the face of broad opposition.
The real thing that must be addressed here is what the 'Founding Fathers' were sent to Philadelphia to do. On March 25, 1787, when deliberations began over the document, the delegates that showed up, representing twelve states, Rhode Island abstained, the men were not their to write what is now the Constitution. Their assigned mission, per orders from the Articles of Confederation government, was to simply amend the Articles of Confederation in such a way that the central government under that document would be able to function more effectively. It needed to be able to collect taxes, draft troops, and control the distribution and development of lands outside the boundaries of the present states, so as to be able to create more states. They also needed to be able come to decision more effectively. What they got instead was a completely different document. Though it was similar is many ways, it created a new government that only required nine states to approve it and thus completely replace the Articles government without any approval from that body. The men that were sent to Philadelphia knew that what they were doing was close to criminal. They locked up the building they were meeting in like a prison, and all of the delegates were sworn to silence. Once they had come up with a finished product, a copy was sent to the Articles government, and then copies were sent to each state government.
Surprisingly, the Articles government did not put up as big a fight as one might expect, in fact on March 4, 1789, the Articles government voluntarily disbanded itself. Two months after the Articles government disbanded itself, George Washington was sworn in as the first Constitutional President of the United States. What these men did was treasonous. If you still do not think so, consider the definition of treason itself, as was presented above. The last sentence is the most important in this case. "In many nations, it is also often considered treason to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, even if no foreign country is aiding or involved in such an endeavor." This is precisely what the Constitutional government did. They walked into Independence Hall with a defined set of pentameters; in short, strengthen the Articles government's ability to conduct the business of the new nation. What they did instead was write the Articles government out of existence. If the Articles government had not been filled with men who agreed with much of what the authors of the Constitution did, the authors of the Constitution could have ended up with a rope around their necks. Instead, they came out with a new government. They successfully overthrew the Articles government without a single drop of blood spilled. Good Luck for them. In most other nations of that period such behavior would have been met with severe penalties, most definitely, to included death. So far, their work has succeeded in keeping the peace in the United States, with only stain, the Civil War, on its record. However, there are a great many people who feel that the document will soon find itself under sever challenge once again. Will it survive a second battle? Only history will tell.