Articles of Confederation. Analyze the degree to which the Articles provided an effective form of government with respect to any two of the following: Foreign Relations, Economic Conditions, or Western Lands.
In 1777, the states enacted the Articles of Confederation to preserve democracy and prevent tyranny from those who sought to centralize power. However, in their efforts to keep their independence, the states created a weak central government that was unable to improve an insolvent economy and poor foreign relations. Although the confederation gained some substantial powers, the crucial powers to tax and regulate commerce remained with the individual states. Each state passed its own currency, creating inflation and rendering Continentals” in circulation worthless. Compounded with restrictions on trade with Great Britain and down the Mississippi River, the states became mired in a heavy depression.
John Fiske, of the conservative view, realized the precarious situation when he stated, The nation was on the verge of collapse and near-anarchy, and that the five-year period after 1783 was the most critical time in American history.” Robert Morris, secretary of finance, resorted to desperate measures with the Newburgh conspiracy in an attempt to raise funds for a depleted military, but it took an impassioned plea from General Washington himself to put down the rebellion. Furthermore, the Articles allowed for personal rights abuses such as unsubstantiated foreclosures on farms and ill-advised loans to certain “small groups,” the antithesis of republicanism. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. stated, “The Articles were too impotent to govern.” Lastly, no judicial system was provided to enforce laws and therefore allowed for insurrections such as Shay’s Rebellion.
In addition, passing legislation required unanimous consent, and more often than not, a single dissenting vote prevented the ratification of strong economic bills. Overall, the Articles were ineffective in improving the economic state of the new nation. Although Thomas Paine (Common Sense) believed that the Articles and decentralization were a logical choice of government after the strict rule of the British, the Articles inherently divided the interests of the thirteen colonies. Following the war for Independence, foreign relations with Britain and Spain were tense at best, but division of the states made relations worse.
American delegates had to satisfy the needs of thirteen sovereign states, and therefore any resulting treaty was regarded by the minority as a failure. Such was the case in the Jay Gardoqui treaty in which John Jay created a deal for East Coast merchants but at the expense of the interests of the West and South. In addition, a lack of national unity allowed Britain and Spain to continue to subvert the new nation by increasing hostilities with the Indians. Unless a strong central government was created, the confederation would not be taken seriously by European powers. The British believed that the new nation could not survive and therefore continued to have military personnel stationed in Canada and in the West. The Republicans, such as Adams and Madison, summed up their fears when they said that democracy rule under the confederation was mob rule at worst, uneducated at best.”
The Articles were a short-term failure in democracy because they lacked the essential strength that a government of national power needed. It wasn’t until the states finally decided to relinquish some power in the Constitution that improvements in economics and foreign relations began to solidify and take shape.”