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Articles of Confederation: The Articles of Confederation were approved in November, 1777 and were the basic format for what would become the Constitution and Bill of Rights for the United States. There were, of course, deficiencies in the document, this was a new experiment and getting the delegates to agree in kind to pass any sort of document was challenging at best. The Articles did allow a semblance of unity, the further impetus to remain at war with the British, and the conclusion that there would be some sort of Federal government. The Articles, however, failed to require individual States to help fund the Federal (National) government, a template for an Executive and National Judicial Branch, or the issuance of paper money and a central banking system. In essence, the largest failure was the Articles' inability to allow a Federal government to regulate commerce, tax, or impose laws upon the States. As a position of power, the large, populated States continued to hold the most influence, and rather than centralized authority, tended to favor whatever application was best for their individual State, as opposed to what might be best for the nation as a (Klos, 2004).
Most scholars see the Articles as a very effective idea, but not an effective governmental template. Since the articles did not allow a national government to function as a government, in that sense it was a failure and required additional buttressing (Bill of Rights, Constitution, etc.). The Articles are more of a backlash against the fear of a centralized and powerful government, but possibly in that fear the framers went too far. Because the individual States had so much authority, many opted to legislate popular items, but not necessarily wise legislation that would contribute to a more cohesive Republic. For instance, some States inflated their own currencies, cancelled debts, ratified or closed trade barriers with other states, and, in violation of the Treaty of Paris, confiscated loyalist property (Isaacs, 2008).
In essence, then, the Articles of Confederation, being documents that were careful not to allow a strong centralized government resulted in too weak a government that was unable to protect and defend individual liberties. While they promoted the essence and spirit of liberty and equality, the loose confederation was not up to the task of ruling under the circumstances. To the west of all the colonies was unexplored and potentially dangerous country, some staffed by British fortifications, much of Europe was not convinced America would last and therefore remained unwilling to develop long-term banking and/or trade relations. The Articles were, though, an important step in the framing of a Constitution, again, remembering that this was a new, untried experiment in government. Without the Articles, and the various factions believing that without a stronger central government, it is unlikely the American experiment would have succeeded (Swaine, 2000).
Importance of the Constitution: There were several political and social events during the 18th century that contributed to the manner in which the United States Constitution was framed. First, it is important to realize that, at the time, the "typical" form of government to which the framers of the Constitution were familiar was a monarchy. The nations of Europe all had long traditions of Kingships, and indeed, the British King exerted a great deal of political and social authority. Since most of the authors of the Constitution were British educated, or had clear ties to Great Britain, the idea of a monarchy did not seem foreign to them. This new document, the Constitution allowed, for the first time, a broader class of electorate and a way to bridge the political and cultural differences between religious, ethnic, and State factions. The debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution are, in fact, at the heart of the structure of the formation of the United States. In fact, without the debate presented by the ratification, the Bill of Rights would not exist, which forms the basis of modern America (Amar, 2005, 3-22).
However, that being said, the idea of a monarchy became even more distasteful to many because of the power that the Crown held over the American Colonies was considered "taxation without representation." This phrase, however famous, was central to the view that a central government could not be strong without being responsive to the idea of representing its citizenry. This, of course, was the idea behind the Federal Government, lead of course by such famous individuals as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and - and espoused in such documents as "The Federalist Papers." The papers were necessary, from a public perspective, to provide a way to debate the issues of the Constitution in a larger vein, and in a manner more inclined to glean support for the Federal System (Coenen, 2006).
The view, then, was that to have a secure and strong government, a Federal System must be established that would take precedence in many aspects to those of a local or state government. The idea of a united UNION, made up of different components (States) but still subservient to the goals of the Union, was prominent. The leaders of the American Revolution were radicals of the time, but not in the sense of correcting the inequities of class or income, nor even to remake in the Lockian sense, the social order. Instead, they were dedicated to mending what they considered to be a broken system (royalist tyranny) and take the lessons of the past, all the way back to the Roman Republic, and remake society on a model that worked for the majority of the governed (Bailyn, 1992, 35-91).
There were several reasons the constitutional framers believed this to be necessary. For instance, not every state was equal in terms of resources (both human and natural), nor had developed the same urbanization as others. Each state, it was believed, had something unique to contribute to the Federal System, but that system would not be strong unless it had the backing of all the states. A single state, for example, Maryland, could not hope to fight the British Crown or establish independence, but the 13 Colonial States, mustered under a Federal guideline, could form a strong Union, enact laws to tax, trade, deal in international relations, and establish Federal offices that would help each individual state prosper and grow (Postal Service, Banking Rules, etc.).
There were many compromises that had to be made to ensure that these documents that framed the Federal System (e.g. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) were enacted. Slavery, for example, was debated heavily, but, at the time, was considered an economic necessity by the Southern States so was not put into law at this time. Had the colonies not united, it is likely that the British would've prevailed, and that it would have taken many more years to see American independence from the Crown. We must also remember that, rather than simply the concept of Slavery as a legal contract, the War Between the States (e.g. The Civil War) was essentially fought on the basis of a State's right of succession -- and to uphold the Federal System. The Northern States believing that the Constitution did not allow an individual State to succeed, the Southern States opting for State's rights as opposed to Federal rights.
Thus, the American Revolution was brought about by a number of disparate conditions and competing ideas -- all vying for both power and expression. At one end stood the American radical contingent -- Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. While these men did not agree upon everything, they objected to excessive governmental power, too much power in the Federal system, and a return to a less rigid government. Opposing this view were Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. These men, representing their own political views as well as those of a number of mercantile investors, sought a stable, strong and secure Federal system in which rather than a royalist view, the government would still retain control, but be more representational of the people. Too, we must remember that the Colonies were broke -- financing the war against Britain and attempting to set up a new Republic was expensive, and there were no deep pockets. Thus, the idea of putting together a Constitution eventually became one of political necessity -- in this view to ensure that there would be a country once the British were defeated. Cornell believes that Anti-Federalist ideas and attitudes remained an important part of the political landscape even after the U.S. Constitution had been ratified. Although Anti-Federalists were, in one sense, on the losing side, they didn't simply collapse or go away. After all, they were right: the United States did become more centralized and (perhaps) less democratic after the constitution had been adopted (Hummel, 2004).
Without the Constitution, even if the States relied on the Articles of Confederation, it is likely that the fledgling experiment of the new Republic would not…[continue]
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