What are the Articles of Confederation?





At the time when the Congress was sitting at York, that body resumed the consideration of a plan for establishing a national government, on the basis of Federal union of the several states. We have observed that the Franklin presented a plan in the summer of 1775, upon which no action was taken. On the 11th of the June, 1776, a committee, with the John Dickenson, at their head, were appointed to devise a plan. They reported a draft a month later, when the subject was laid aside, and was not taken up again until April, 1777. From that the time until late in the ensuing fall, the subject was debated in the Congress two or three time of a week. In these debates the conflicting interests of the several Stated were made conspicuous. Finally, after making the several amendments, the Congress adopted Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, on the 15th of November, 1777, giving to the Confederacy the title of the The United State of America. The following is the substance of the provision of the league:

That all should engage in a reciprocal treaty of alliance and friendship, for the mutual advantage, each to assist the other, when help should be needed; that no State should have the right to regulate its own internal affairs; that no State should separately send or receive embassies, begin any negotiations, contract engagements or alliances, or the conclude treaties with the any foreign power, with out the consent of the General Congress; that no public from any foreign power, and that neither Congress nor State governments should possess the power to confer any title of nobility; that none of the States should have the right to form alliances among themselves, without the consent of the Congress; that they should not have the power to levy duties contrary to the enactments of Congress; that no State should keep up a standing army or ships of war, in time of peace, beyond the armament stipulated by the Congress; that when any of the States should raise troop for the common defence, all the officers of the rank of colonel and under should be appointed by the legislature of the State, and the superior officers by the Congress; that all the expenses of the war should be paid out of the public Treasury; that Congress alone, should have the power to coin money; and that Canada might, at any time, be admitted into the confederacy, when the people there felt disposed to do so. There were some other clauses that were explanatory of the power of certain governmental operations and contained details of the same.

This plan of a national government was submitted to the legislatures of the several States for their ratifications. They were slow to act. Notwithstanding, there was a general feeling that something should be done for the maintenance of the union after the cohesion created by the common danger of a state of war should be relaxed, there was a jealousy on the part of the States, of a central power that might claim supremacy. The people had become accustomed to the ideas of the right, simply, as set the forth in the Declarations of the Independence, and hesitated to accept declared power, as promulgated by the Articles of Confederation. The former was based upon the dogmas of a "superintending Providence and the inalienable right of man; the latter relied upon the sovereignty of the declared power, ascending form the foundation of human government to the laws of nature and of nature's God, written upon the heart of the man; the other resting upon the basis of the human institutions and prescriptive law, and colonial charters."

An objectionable system of representation was proposed, by which each State was entitled to the same voice in the Congress, whatever might be the difference in population. Most objectionable of all were a provision for the limits of the several States, and taking no notice of the important questions, In whom is invested the control and possession of the public land? These, and other gave defects in the plan, caused most of the States to hesitate, at first, to adopt the Articles, and for a long time several of them refused to do so.

Late in June, 1778, the Congress proceeded to consider the objections offered, and on the 27th of that month, a form of ratification was adopted and ordered to be engrossed upon parchment to be signed by such delegated as might be instructed to do so by their respective legislatures. These were signed on the 9th of July by the delegated of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. The delegated form other states afterwards signed at the various times; nut the legislature of Maryland refused to ratify, until the question of the conflicting claims of the Union and of the separate State of the public lands should be fully adjusted. This was finally accomplished, by the cession of the claiming States, to the United States, of all the unsettled and unappropriated public lands for the benefit of the whole Union. In this act originated our Territorial system.

The governments thus formed was radically defective, and soon failed to accomplish the objects for which it was created because the people were not recognized as sovereign; only the several States. It was an attempt to reconcile partial supremacy in the Union of the absolute supremacy of each State. It was a crude embryo act of which a more perfect national government was evolved.





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