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:

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

Problem

Lack of leadership and central decision-making power.

Result

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

Problem

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

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

Problem

Congress never had enough funds to cover its operation costs.

Result

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

Problem

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

Result

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

Problem

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

Result

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

Problem

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

Result

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

Problem

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

Result

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

Problem

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