Sovereignty of the States Under the Articles of Confederation, the central government was essentially a “lame duck” government that had very little power or control. The federal government owed $42 million (more than $47 billion today) after the Revolutionary War but Congress did not have the authority to ask states to help pay the country’s debts or tax the country’s citizens. Congress could declare war, but the states could refuse to send soldiers. The country did not have a common currency, nor did it have a chief executive (such as a president) to lead the way. The Articles of Confederation’s greatest weakness was that it had no direct origin in the people themselves; it recognized only state sovereignty. Therefore, each state had to collect its own taxes, issue currency and provide for its own militia. Looking back, the Articles of Confederation was the nation’s “baby step” toward adopting a the more robust Constitution now in place. It would have been very difficult for our country to have created a stronger second constitution without learning from the mistakes of the first. ✦
AMER I CA’ S F I RST CONST I TUT ION
Articles of Confederation
B efore the Constitution was written in 1787, the 13 states that formed the United States were not truly united because our country was following the principles of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. THIS HISTORICAL DOCUMENT was written in 1777 and came into force in 1781, after being ratified by all 13 states. The Articles of Confederation served as a transition between the Revolutionary War and the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation formed a confederation of states with an extremely limited and weak central government. In a confederation, the vast majority of political power rests with the local governments, and the central government has very little power. A guiding principle of the Articles was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. This was nice in theory but in practice it was unworkable because each state thought of itself as its own little country. The federal government did not have much power.
THIS COMMEMORATIVE STAMP was issued by the United States Postal Service in 1977, on the 200 th anniversary of the drafting of the Articles of Confederation in 1777.
Historical Documents that Led to Creation of U.S. Government
English Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for “Great Charter of Liberties”) goo.gl/TbEiNM
English Bill of Rights goo.gl/mLvhnh
U.S. Declaration of Independence
U.S. Articles of Confederation (adopted in 1777 but not ratified until 1781) goo.gl/U4VL99
U.S. Constitution U.S. Bill of Rights
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