Getting to Union

Navigating Differences in the Constitutional Convention

Part I. Citizens of Our Fragile New Country were Deeply Divided by Their Differences.

Part I. Step 1. Fragile Union: Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation were the first form of national government in the United States.  Congressional delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania prepared the first draft of the Articles of Confederation after the American colonies declared their independence and became states. When Dickinson presented his draft to the Continental Congress, he aimed to have the Articles approved by all states in three months. The new nation needed a government to manage the Revolutionary War. However, it took three years for all 13 states to adopt the Articles of Confederation. It was difficult for the states to give any power over to a central government.

Problems with American Government Under the Articles of Confederation:

Problem

No chief executive, such as a president or a king.

Problem
Result

Lack of leadership and central decision-making power.

Result
Problem

Congress did not have the power to tax citizens. It could only request tax money from the states.

Problem
Result

States often chose not to pay taxes, and the federal government did not have the funds to operate effectively, including it did not have funds to send food and equipment to the Continental Army. 

Result
Problem

Congress did not have the power to collect state debts owed to the federal government.

Problem
Result

Congress never had enough funds to cover its operation costs.

Result
Problem

Congress could not draft an army. It could only ask the states to send soldiers for the Continental Army.

Problem
Result

This left the country vulnerable to outside attacks. The Continental Army usually struggled to have enough soldiers.

Result
Problem

Any changes to the Articles of Confederation required approval by all 13 states.

Problem
Result

It was nearly impossible to get all 13 states to agree to changes.

Result
Problem

Congress did not have the power to settle disputes among states.

Problem
Result

Disputes among the states were not resolved. This created disunity and distrust among the states.

Result
Problem

Congress had the power to print its own money, but could not stop the states from printing their own currencies.

Problem
Result

Various forms of currencies circulated in the American economy, which devalued money in circulation and made trade difficult.

Result
Problem

Congress could make foreign treaties, but it could not require states to follow the treaties.

Problem
Result

After the Revolutionary War, some of the states violated the peace treaty made with the British. In response, the British did not follow their end of the agreement in some cases.

Result

Subscribe

Learn more about how to promote the 3Rs — rights, responsibility, respect — in your school and community.