The Articles of Confederation was the first governing constitution of the United States of America. While it had imperfections and defects, the principles it laid down can be considered as one of the landmarks in world history. For one, it was one of the written constitutions in the world where the powers of government and the rights of the people were outlined. It was also the first attempt in history to create a representative and republican government where the people were given opportunity to choose their own leaders.
The Articles of Confederation however had its share of weaknesses. The pervading political philosophy during the 18th Century was against centralization and concentration of power. This was brought about by the past experiences in the hands of the King of Great Britain who wielded almost absolute power even against the individual states leading to despotism and abuse of power. As a result, the Articles of Confederation avoided over-concentration of power in the hands of the national government.
Moreover, the power of the National Congress over the States was made very specific and definite. The power to levy taxes however was reserved to the state governments. In effect, the national Congress had no power to raise revenues and could not request the state governments to raise their revenue to cover their share of the national expenditures (“America under the Articles of Confederation,” p.2).
Traders and merchants doing business from one border to another were likewise confused with the different trade laws. Since the national government had not been expressly granted the right to control interstate commerce, the states were given discretion to draft laws relating to trade and commerce which oftentimes conflicted with other states.
Because of the weakness of the Articles of Confederation it was replaced by the United States Constitution. One improvement made by the framers of the United States Constitution was the establishment of federalism. Federalism is defined as the political philosophy that underlies a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units like states or provinces.
In effect, the framers of the United States Constitution attempted to preserve the power granted to the individual states but at the same time strengthened the role of the federal or national government (“Five Things You Should Know about the US Constitution,” 2008, p.1). It is the essence of the Federal System of government that a real cooperation and mutual support is created between the Federal government and the individual states.
While the powers of the national government were strengthened, the lessons learned in the hands of the British rule were not forgotten. Thus, the powers of government were conveniently divided among the three major branches of government. These three branches are the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature. Each of these three branches is supreme within its own sphere and is considered co-equal branches. The US Constitution entrusted to the President the power to execute the law while the power to make, amend or repeal laws was entrusted to the Legislature and the power to interpret the constitution and existing laws were entrusted to the Judiciary.
Unlike in the Articles of Confederation where Congress could only request states to pay taxes, Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution specifically grants such power to Congress. Thus, the national government is no longer powerless against the different states in case they refused to pay taxes, “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”
Under the Articles of Confederation Congress cannot regulate trade. Aside from the tariff war among different states this likewise resulted to the inability of the government to raise funds needed to operate its machinery. Art 1 Section 8 Clause 3 gives the Congress the power to regulate trade, “The Congress shall have power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
There is no bad or good constitution as every constitution is written in response to certain problems or concerns at the time it is drafted. The Articles of Confederation embodied the ideals and aspirations of every member of the Union and was considered as the solution to the problems of the Union at the time it was drafted. The same is true for the US Constitution. Both these documents despite their fundamental differences serve embody the ideals and aspirations of the people during their time.
- "America under the Articles of Confederation." American Eras. Gale Research Inc. 1997.
- Retrieved December 28, 2008 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G2-2536600772.html
- "Five Things You Should Know About the U.S. Constitution." PR Newswire. PR Newswire
- Association LLC. 2008. Retrieved December 28, 2008 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-184638274.html