The end of the 18th century signified the era of fighting for freedom and independence. The Colonial Congress initiated opposition to the British dominance and heavy tax policies. Following the militia creation, American Revolution, and ultimately the successful War for Independence, the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Although the army led by General Washington was still battling, the Congress was working to establish a functional government. Significantly, being comprised of various independent States, creating a strong governing structure posed a challenge. The Articles of Confederation were the first attempt to create a governing document that was a preface to the Constitution.
The Main Achievements of the Article of Confederation
The main achievement of the Article of Confederation is uniting the states together, to fight for the freedom of the single country. After the initial need to unite for the sake of common good, the states were spurred into certain collaboration, which was the basis of the future stability of the nation.
The Articles of Confederation gave the Congress the primary authority in the government of the newly created nation while, at the same time, attempting to ensure that the centralized political power will not pose any danger to the newly found freedom. Under the Articles of Confederation, the national government was declared a “perpetual union”. Each state received equal decision-making vote and representation in the Congress, as well as maintained its sovereignty and internal independence (Foner, 2008). There was no provision for presidential rule to enforce the law, which had to be ratified by the approval of nine states. This premise made the government extremely rigid and inflexible. This also made it difficult for the government to reach states’ quorum in carrying out certain decisions, even those needed for successful war continuation.
Also, each state had its own taxation system, and the Congress could not collect taxes, but only ask for it to be paid. Because of this provision, most of the Congress financial resources came from individual contributions, which led to the lack of finances even for essential needs, such as ammunition and wages for the soldiers that still fought the war (Foner, 2008).
Although the document discussed the respective powers of the confederation government, states’ authority, relations with each other, law-making procedures, and guarantees of liberty, the same binding agreements were making the government ineffective (Feinberg, 2002).
A significant achievement of the Congress was settling the control over the western land, its division and distribution. The issue of the division of the western territory delayed ratification of the Articles in the first place. However, the Congress was able to find the solution for claims that the vast western territories should be joined to certain states only, rather than being available for the use of the nation at large (Foner, 2008). Ultimately, it led to five new states emerging to north of the Ohio River. The territory was largely unoccupied except for the local Indians; however, the farmers felt the need to expand their estate. The self-government of the new states grew, as well, although first their governance was under the Congress (Foner, 2008). With time, the slavery was also prohibited in those new states.
Although the Articles of Confederation became the milestone achievement for the newly emerged nation, there were many faults that led to government weakness, namely large authority that was granted to the individual states (Feinberg, 2002).
The only powers of the national government were the ones needed to continue the struggle for independence or other provisions that concerned the national interests and foreign state of affairs. The Congress could declare wars or make other international treaties (Foner, 2008), such as asking for financial aid. Under the Articles of Confederation, the states could decide if they would contribute financially to the government. Although the payments were made obligatory during the Revolutionary War, after that, the states had the right to consider whether they would continue paying to the government, and many turned down the possibility. They did not want to support some distant government. As a result, the loans on the United States were not repaid; therefore, the government opted for selling western lands in order to meet their obligations. (Feineberg, 2008)
Government’s power to provide troops with reinforcement for the war was also limited; therefore, the army was extremely exhausted.
Although Articles of Confederation failed to set premises for a strong and successful central government due to various built-in limitations, it allowed ending the war and also settling issues concerning western lands. Because of the built-in limitations, it was very difficult to change the Articles of Confederation; however, they paved the way for the Constitution.