The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak government, leaving most of the power within the state governments. The need for a stronger Federal government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789. There were a total of thirteen articles making up the Articles of Confederation.
These articles included: the preamble, style, state’s rights, mutual defense, laws of other states to be abided, the legislature, rights denied by the states, appointment of military officers, taxes, rights granted to the Federal government, committee of states, Canada joining the United states, assumption of debt, articles of Supreme law and amendment, and a conclusion. The Articles brought the colonies together as a loose confederation with the states’ rights being more important than the power of the government. Even though the government under the Articles of Confederation was very weak, it was still more democratic because it gave more rights and power to the states.
The Articles unified the states, which lacked a strong, central government. Although the Articles of Confederation had several successes, it created far more weaknesses and failures. First of all, under the Articles, there was no executive head of the government. Since there was no executive to be in charge of the nation, having a strong government was nearly impossible.
In addition to, there was no judicial system with any federal courts, so matters and problems that existed had no substantial way of getting solved. The Articles of Confederation required ratification by all thirteen states, which nearly eliminated any chance of change. The failures of the Articles had to be addressed, so a new constitution was created and drafted at the Constitutional Convention, which resolved the many failures of the Articles, and created a stronger government.
The Articles of Confederation created a more democratic government because it gave more power to the individual states and to the people, yet the nation as a whole functioned better under the Constitution. Since the Articles were the first written constitution, they held the states together. The Articles provided an example for the writing of the future Constitution and proved to be a sign in government laws. The Constitutional Convention met to change the Articles of Confederation, by creating a new constitution.
On June 21, 1788, the U.S. Constitution was ratified, specifically addressing the failures of the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution created a strong central government with a firm combination of people, unlike the loose confederation of the states, established by the Articles. An executive branch was created, and led by the President. The President is also able to choose members of the Cabinet and is in charge of the judicial and legislative branches.
A federal court system was created to deal with issues between citizens and states. The two major limits of Congress’s power under the Articles were revised in the Constitution, allowing Congress the right to collect taxes on individuals and to legalize foreign and interstate trade. Congress also had the power develop and support an army to deal with military situations. Instead of having power exist in the states, the Constitution became the supreme law of the land. The U.S. Constitution was drafted to revise the Articles, and was able to address all of the weaknesses under the previous government.
Although, the U.S. Constitution was written as a modification of the Articles of Confederation and provided for a stronger government, it was still less democratic than the Articles. The main reason why the Articles were more democratic than the Constitution was because it gave more power to the states and the people, rather than to the government. After the Constitution was created, power was taken away from the individual person. It was then put in the hands of the national government. The Founding Fathers of the Constitution did not intend to create democracy. Rather, their intent was to create a government with a system of representation. Authority was taken away from the common person, and instead, given to the government.
The Articles of Confederation combined the colonies under one government, whereas the Constitution gave power to each state individually. The colonists wanted to move away from their rule from England and their goal was to create a nation free of the rule of a strong central government. Most colonists recognized themselves as citizens of their state or colony and not the nation as a whole; therefore, states rights became an important feature of the new government. The Constitution essentially created a better government for the people of all states and the nation altogether. In general, it paved the way for a clear, coherent view on how to deal with situations and occurrences of the nation overall.
Comparing the Articles and the Constitution
The United States has operated under two constitutions. The first, The Articles of Confederation, was in effect from March 1, 1781, when Maryland ratified it. The second, The Constitution, replaced the Articles when it was ratified by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788.
The two documents have much in common - they were established by the same people (sometimes literally the same exact people, though mostly just in terms of contemporaries). But they differ more than they do resemble each other, when one looks at the details. Comparing them can give us insight into what the Framers found important in 1781, and what they changed their minds on by 1788.
The following is a comparison, detailing the similarities and differences between the Constitution and the Articles. The topic page for The Articles and the Constitution Explained Page may also be of some interest.
Formal name of the nation
Articles: The United States of America
Constitution: (not specified, but referred to in the Preamble as "the United States of America")
Articles: Unicameral, called Congress
Constitution: Bicameral, called Congress, divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate
Members of Congress
Articles: Between two and seven members per state
Constitution: Two Senators per state, Representatives apportioned according to population of each state
Voting in Congress
Articles: One vote per state
Constitution: One vote per Representative or Senator
Appointment of members
Articles: All appointed by state legislatures, in the manner each legislature directed
Constitution: Representatives elected by popular vote, Senators appointed by state legislatures
Term of legislative office
Articles: One year
Constitution: Two years for Representatives, six for Senators
Term limit for legislative office
Articles: No more than three out of every six years
Articles: Paid by states
Constitution: Paid by the federal government
Articles: A Committee of States had the full powers of Congress
Constitution: The President can call for Congress to assemble
Chair of legislature
Articles: President of Congress
Constitution: Speaker of the House of Representatives, Vice President is President of the Senate
Articles: Maritime judiciary established
Constitution: Federal judiciary established, including Supreme Court
Adjudicator of disputes between states
Constitution: Supreme Court
Articles: Admitted upon agreement of nine states (special exemption provided for Canada)
Constitution: Admitted upon agreement of Congress
Articles: When agreed upon by all states
Constitution: When agreed upon by three-fourths of all states
Articles: Congress authorized to build a navy; states authorized to equip warships to counter piracy
Constitution: Congress authorized to build a navy; states not allowed to keep ships of war
Articles: Congress to decide on size of force and to requisition troops from each state according to population
Constitution: Congress authorized to raise and support armies
Power to coin money
Articles: United States and the states
Constitution: United States only
Ex post facto laws
Articles: Not forbidden
Constitution: Forbidden of both the states and the Congress
Bills of attainder
Articles: Not forbidden
Constitution: Forbidden of both the states and the Congress
Articles: Apportioned by Congress, collected by the states
Constitution: Laid and collected by Congress
Articles: Unanimous consent required
Constitution: Consent of nine states required
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