The Articles Of Confederation
The confederation movement.—When danger from without threatened, a union of the colonies as a device of safety had often been suggested, but separatist tendencies had always proved too strong for the federationists. Franklin had been a friend of the idea of union, in 1754 having penned the Albany plan. In July, 1775, when it became apparent that the colonies were facing a great war, he proposed a league of friendship whose affairs should be conducted by a general congress in which each colony should have representation according to its population. Franklin's plan was not adopted, but it focused attention upon the growing need of a confederation. The Continental Congress was a revolutionary body which had no power save the sufferance of states which were themselves revolutionary. Whether or not those states were to retain sovereign powers depended entirely on the outcome of the struggle. To insure a successful issue, it was believed that a more perfect organ than the Continental Congress should be devised to conduct the Revolution.
Work of the confederation committee.—When Lee's independence resolution was introduced in the Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, it was accompanied by a motion to appoint a committee to draw up articles of confederation. On June 12 a committee composed of one delegate from each colony was chosen, among the members being John Dickinson, Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, and Edward Rutledge. On July 12 the committee reported a plan of confederation, drawn mainly by Dickinson, which provided that each state should have a single vote in a central congress, and that an affirmative vote of nine states should be necessary to pass any measure.
Adoption of the articles.—Stress of business, military events which forced the hasty departure of Congress from Philadelphia on several occasions, and divergence of views prevented speedy action. On two ideas only was there agreement. The delegates were convinced that the English imperial system was wrong in its theory of taxation; whatever the form of the central government might be, it must not take from the states the power of taxation. They were also agreed that the executive power of the central government must be weak. The debates turned upon three main questions, taxation, representation, and congressional power to settle boundary disputes. Dickinson's plan proposed that taxation should be apportioned among the states according to population; this aroused the opposition of the Southerners, who objected to the slaves being counted as population. Franklin objected to Dickinson's proposal of one vote per state on the ground that it was an inequitable arrangement. In reply it was argued that the confederation was a league of friendship to be formed for a specific purpose and in consequence each state ought to have equal power. In regard to congressional power to settle boundary disputes, a difference arose between those states which possessed western lands and those which did not. Not until November, 1777, did Congress give the articles a favorable vote and on June 26, 1778, a form of ratification was adopted. Delegates from the New England states, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina signed the articles on July 9, North Carolina on July 21, Georgia on July 24, and New Jersey on November 26, 1778; Delaware on May 5, 1779, and Maryland not until March 1, 1781. In consequence of the tardy action of Maryland, the Continental Congress continued to conduct the war almost to its conclusion.
The more important provisions of the articles.—The preamble stated that the delegates had agreed "to certain articles of Confederation and perpetual union." Article I named the confederacy "The United States of America." Article II said, "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled." Article III stated the purpose of the entrance of the states into a league of friendship as follows: "for their common defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare." Article IV declared that the free inhabitants of each state should be "entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States" and provided for the extradition of criminals. It also stated that, "Full faith and credit shall be given in each of these States to the records, acts and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other State."
Article V provided that delegates should "be annually appointed in such manner as the legislature of each State shall direct," and that Congress should convene annually on the first Monday in November. No state was to be represented in Congress by less than two nor more than seven members, and in determining questions, each state should have one vote.
Article VI dealt mainly with prohibitions upon the states. Without the consent of Congress, no state was to enter into treaties, confederation, or alliance with foreign courts, nor was any state to lay imposts or duties which might interfere with any stipulations in treaties entered into between the United States and foreign powers. Such naval and military forces were to be maintained by the states in time of peace as Congress might deem necessary, and no state was to engage in war without the consent of Congress unless actually invaded or in danger of Indian attack.
Article VIII provided that expenses incurred for common defence or for the general welfare, when allowed by Congress, should be defrayed out of a common treasury, to "be supplied by the several states, in proportion to the value of all land within each state, granted to or surveyed for any person, as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated according to such mode as the United States in Congress assembled, shall from time to time direct and appoint."
Article IX dealt with the congressional powers. Congress was given the exclusive power (1) of determining peace or war except in the cases mentioned in Article VI, (2) of sending and receiving ambassadors, (3) of entering into treaties and alliances, provided such agreements did not interfere with the rights of the states to lay such imposts and duties on foreign goods as they were subjected to by foreigners, or prohibit exportation or importation, (4) of establishing rules for deciding prize cases, (5) of granting letters of marque and reprisal in time of peace, (6) of establishing admiralty courts, and (7) of settling disputes between two or more states, an elaborate procedure in such cases being prescribed.
Congress was also given the exclusive power (8) of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by its authority or by that of a state, (9) of fixing the standard of weights and measures, (10) of regulating affairs with Indians not members of states provided state rights were not infringed, (11) of establishing and regulating post offices and postage, (12) of appointing military officers except regimental officers, (13) of appointing naval officers, and (14) of making rules and regulations for the army and navy.
Other powers of Congress were (15) "to appoint a committee, to sit in the recess of Congress, to be denominated 'a Committee of the States,' and to consist of one delegate from each State; and to appoint such other committees and civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the United States under direction..., (16) to ascertain the necessary sums of money to be raised for the service of the United States, and to appropriate and apply the same for defraying the public expenses, (17) to borrow money or emit bills on the credit of the United States, (18) to build and equip a navy, and (19) "to agree upon the number of land forces, and to make requisition from each state for its quota, in proportion to the number of white inhabitants in each state." With the exception of a vote upon adjournment, all measures required the assent of nine states. No period of adjournment was to be longer than six months.
Article X provided that the committee of the states should be authorized to execute the delegated powers of Congress during recesses. Article XII stated that bills of credit, loans, and debts should be considered as a charge against the United States and for whose payment the United States and the public faith were pledged. Article XIII provided that every state should abide by the acts of Congress, that the union should be perpetual, and that no alteration should be made in the articles by Congress unless afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every state.
Fundamental weaknesses of the articles.—Admirable as this document was in many respects, it contained weaknesses which were certain to make the union temporary rather than perpetual. It failed to give the central government sufficient power. The articles were distinctly the instrument of a confederation of sovereign states, and not the constitution of a federal state. Congress was not given the power to raise money or to regulate commerce. It could not compel the states to pay the national debts, to live up to treaties, or to raise armies. The articles provided for no distinct executive department, but this was remedied in part by congressional acts. With the exception of the fourth, fifth, and seventh provisions of Article IX, judicial matters were left to the states. The required vote of nine state to pass measures necessarily hindered the passage of needed regulations. The requirement that every state legislature must give its consent before an amendment could be passed made it well-nigh impossible to change the instrument.
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