07 April 2015

The Articles of Confederation

The Anti-Federalists by Jackson Main, 1961, Excerpts

The Articles of Confederation grew out of Revolutionary America. The Articles of Confederation registered the general fear of a standing army. Congress was prohibited from maintaining a peacetime force except for internal defense. In war, Congress requested the states to provide troops, which were taken under Congressional direction, but all the officers below the rank of general were appointed by the states, and the taxes necessary to support an army were levied by the states.

That the Articles of Confederation denied to Congress the right to raise money by taxation was no accident, nor a product of ignorance, but a recognition that control of the public’s money could be “faithfully watched” only if the individual states had their separate treasuries. Equally important was the conviction that the power to tax must be retained by the people. “Taxation is the necessary instrument of tyranny. There is no tyranny without it.”  The Revolution had been fought primarily over the issue of taxation.

It was in accordance with such principles that under the Articles most powers were reserved to the states and there was no independent executive. Executive functions were performed by Congress through committees. Similarly, there was no judiciary except Congress itself, and that body appointed all officers. Under the Confederation, Congress could not abuse control over taxation and the army, for it had no such powers.

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles A. Beard, 1913, Excerpts

There was a loose union of thirteen sovereign states under the Articles of Confederation. The national government consisted of one legislative house in which the states had an equal voting power. There was no executive department and no general judiciary. The central government had no power to regulate commerce or to tax directly.

The debtor class had developed a strong consciousness of identical interests in several states. Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, the disturbances of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and other Northern states, promoted the relief of debtors, such as the abolition of imprisonment and laws delaying the collection of debts, and other measures framed in behalf of debtors.

Large and important groups of economic interests, particularly those of the public creditors, were adversely affected by the system of government under the Articles of Confederation. They set to work to assemble a Convention to “revise” the Articles of Confederation.

No comments: