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The Articles of Confederation: A "League of Friendship"

Updated on December 20, 2017
Bibowen profile image

Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 26 years.

A "League of Friendship"

The Articles of Confederation was the first written national constitution and the first central authority for the new United States. Initiated in 1777 and ratified lastly by Maryland in 1781, the document proposed a “league of friendship” among the thirteen states. The Articles allowed each state one vote in the legislature. Its successes included bringing the War for Independence to an end as well as passing the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. In spite of its successes and the good intention of its framers, the document had some glaring weaknesses: it lacked an executive or judicial system which meant that law enforcement and the settling of disputes would be at a minimum. Second, the Articles required nine of the thirteen states to pass many laws and all thirteen to amend the document. The practical effect of this policy was that laws were rarely changed and the document was never amended. Third, the document also lacked the power to tax and regulate interstate commerce, a weakness continually brought up by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to champion a stronger national union. As political scientist Richard Stillman put it

“It could draft laws, but not enforce them; ask for money, but not compel payment,; enter treaties, but not maintain them in practice; provide for raising armies, but not fill their ranks; borrow money but not ensure repayment; advise and recommend, but not govern or control in reality. In short, it contained little in the way of a core system of administration in order to make it function effectively.” [1]

The weaknesses became glaringly apparent during Shays Rebellion when the central government could not enlist the aid of other states to assist Massachusetts in putting down a mob of farmers. This event spooked a good number of Americans, including George Washington, and encouraged more early leaders that something must be done to strengthen central authority.

The Importance of the Articles to the Constitution

The Articles contributed to constitutionalism in at least three ways. First, many historians believe that Shay’s Rebellion spurred states to send delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. Second, the Articles provided the foundation for central authority; it is unlikely there would be the present Constitution without the successes and failures of the previous Articles. Third, the Articles provided an object lesson for the nation to observe how law and order breaks down in the absence of central authority. This encouraged the Philadelphia framers to create a stronger central government.


[1] Richard J. Stillman II, Preface to Public Administration: A Search for Themes and Direction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 28.

© 2011 William R Bowen Jr


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    • Bibowen profile imageAUTHOR

      William R Bowen Jr 

      8 years ago from New Bern, NC

      You'll get no argument from me on that one. Thanks for stopping by.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 

      8 years ago from Southern California


      You say


      "the Articles provided both the foundation for central authority; it is unlikely that there would be the present Constitution without the successes and failures of the previous Articles.

      Third, the Articles provided an object lesson for the nation to observe how law and order breaks down in the absence of central authority. This encouraged the Philadelphia framers to create a stronger central government


      The Constitution today is being used against the people.

      Central government has increased to obesity in the last one hundred years.

      Neither the Articles of Confederation nor the Constitution know what is the optimum size and scope of the federal government.

      The liberal Supreme Courts have weakened the purpose and goals of the constitution.

      The power to tax is the power to destroy, said one Supreme Court Justice. And that is what is happening today.

      The two lines of the Interstate Commerce Clause was to prevent double taxation. But the government has used it to take control of the country and invade state rights.

      The more things that the federal government regulates or meddles in, the more things start to fail.

      We have a powerful national government and that is the reason that our economy collapsed in 2008, and why it has recovered even today.

      The government workforce is a very expensive one, and each superfluous government employee is a tax liability. Government work doesn't add to the GDP. It is overhead for the economy, and needs taxes to balance it out.

      my opinion...

    • Bibowen profile imageAUTHOR

      William R Bowen Jr 

      8 years ago from New Bern, NC


      I think we have to say that a stronger national union was the intent of some of the delegates (like Hamilton, Morris, Wilson, and Madison). If it had any single intent it was the official one for which the delegates were selected: namely, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Second, I don't understand the slam against the Tea Party. Too much of anything is not a good thing. You could be the biggest fan of central authority and still distain congressional and executive overreach and berate the courts for facilitating them. As for the EU, you might be right; I've never thought about it in those terms before.

      Thanks for reading and your reasoned remarks.

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 

      8 years ago

      You could make a good case that the European Union today is more of a nation than the United States was under the Articles of Confederation. I also find it ironic that the Tea Party, which claims to revere the Constitution, is so critical of the idea of a powerful national government. The primary purpose of the Constitution, after all, was to strengthen central authority.


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