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The Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

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The Articles of Confederation was the charter of the first national government of the United States that was in effect from 1781 until 1789 when it was eventually replaced by the Constitution. The Articles was definitely a necessary step toward democracy but it wasn’t a very effective system of government. The Articles of Confederation served as a stepping stone toward the outlining of the democracy that we have today but the central government was overall unsuccessful in governing foreign affairs as well as domestic affairs.

The confederation style of government had many weaknesses in domestic affairs. After the states won their independence they had to set up a government, and of course they didn’t want it to be anything like the British so the central government was severely lacking in power. The Articles of Confederation gave sovereign power to each of the states to rule themselves, which isn’t terrible considering they were under despotic rule of the king all this time, but they couldn’t agree on anything. Under the Articles of Confederation the Congress had no power to levy taxes or tariffs, which led to a shortage of money.

The only way it could gain funds was to ask the states for money even though most of those requests were ignored or only partially met. Speaking of money, the congress did have the right to print its own currency, but so did the states. In the states in which the creditor classes controlled the legislatures, high taxes and a tight money system made it impossible for debtors to repay their debts but in the states where debtors did have a heavy influence over the legislatures, the amount of paper money became excessive, which led to high inflation.

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had very little power and because of the lack of power, they were weak in foreign affairs. The big issue with currency unfortunately also led to foreign affairs. Due to Congress’s inability to levy taxes or tariffs, it could not generate enough money to pay off foreign debts. Another problem that resulted from this was that Great Britain continued to occupy posts in the Northwest Territory, even though the Treaty of Paris of 1783 had provided that the British would leave this area “with all convenient speed.” The British argued that they would leave the area when Congress fulfilled their end of the treaty by paying the debts owed to British creditors and the returning of confiscated property to the Loyalists, which America couldn’t.

Under the Confederation, Congress also lacked the power to control and regulate trade. As a result, this responsibility fell to the states and turned out to be a problem. The states with lower tariffs on imported goods received the most foreign trade while the states with higher tariffs received very little foreign trade. As jealousies arose between states, they would levy tariffs on each other’s goods. This lowered domestic trade tremendously.

All these weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation were the result of the attempt of the American people to deny authority to any central government superior to the legislative bodies of the states. It was a stepping stone toward the separation of power between the three branches of government but this document made it clear that state sovereignty was to be maintained and implied that the confederation consisted of independent states. This however, did not work well in uniting the American people and eventually led to the movement to centralize power.

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