Structure of the Government under the Articles of Confederation
The 13 articles in the document outlined the structure of the national government based on the principle of state sovereignty—the individual states had supreme authority and the power to govern themselves. In other words, any power not specifically given to the U.S. government belonged to the individual states. The authors of the document were attempting to prevent the national government from holding excessive power. While the articles specifically gave the national government the powers to determine war and peace, maintain an army and navy, and enter treaties and alliances with other countries, it denied that government the power to collect taxes, regulate commerce between states, or enforce its laws.
The Articles of Confederation created a Confederation Congress that was unicameral, meaning it only had one house or legislative chamber. This congress constituted the whole of the national government; there were no executive or judicial branches. The states could send between two and seven delegates to the Confederation Congress, but each state had only one vote. Any measures or laws passed by the Congress had to be approved by 9 of the 13 states.
Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation
These harsh economic conditions led to Shays's Rebellion in 1786 and early 1787. In this rebellion, poor farmers and others marched on courthouses to stop foreclosures on their properties and the imprisonment of debtors. Formed in western Massachusetts and led by Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolution, the revolt was ended forcefully by the Massachusetts militia in February 1787. However, the conflict gave weight to calls to revise the articles, and worried leaders agreed to meet for that purpose later in 1787.
Comparing the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution
|Articles of Confederation||U.S. Constitution|
|Weak central government||Stronger central government|
|One branch of government only—no executive or judicial branches||Three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial.|
|Unicameral national legislature||Bicameral national legislature|
|Legislative branch with few powers||Legislative branch with power to make laws and raise revenue through taxation; executive branch with the power to enforce the laws; judicial branch with the power to determine the constitutionality of laws and executive actions|
|Unanimity required to amend||Three-fourths of the states could approve amendments|