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1.4 Challenges of the Articles of Confederation

6 min readfebruary 7, 2023

Annika Tekumulla

Annika Tekumulla

Riya Patel

Riya Patel


AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

240 resources
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Introduction

The Articles of Confederation were the first constitution of the United States, written during the American Revolution and adopted in 1777. It established a weak central government with limited powers and a loose confederation of independent states. The central government under the Articles was unable to tax, regulate commerce effectively, or enforce laws, and had no separate executive or judicial branches. This led to economic instability and disputes between states, which ultimately resulted in the adoption of the US Constitution in 1787, which established a stronger central government with defined powers and a separation of powers between branches of government.

Key Weaknesses

  1. Weak central government: The central government under the Articles had limited powers, making it difficult to enforce laws and regulate commerce.
  2. No taxation powers: The federal government lacked the power to tax, making it difficult to raise revenue to support its activities.
  3. No control over commerce: The central government had limited control over commerce and trade, leading to economic instability and disputes between states.
  4. No executive or judicial branches: The Articles lacked a strong executive or judicial branch to enforce laws and interpret the Constitution.
  5. Requirement of unanimity for changes: The Articles required unanimity among the states to make changes to the Constitution, making it difficult to address emerging issues and adapt to changing circumstances.
These challenges ultimately led to the adoption of the US Constitution in 1787, which established a stronger central government with more defined powers and a separation of powers between branches of government.

Weak Central Government

A weak central government refers to a system of government where the central authority has limited powers and is unable to effectively govern the country. The central government under the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, was considered weak because it had limited powers to enforce laws, regulate commerce, and raise revenue. This led to economic instability and disputes between states, and ultimately resulted in the adoption of the US Constitution in 1787, which established a stronger central government with defined powers and a separation of powers between branches of government.

No Taxation Powers

The lack of taxation powers refers to the inability of the central government to collect taxes from citizens and businesses. Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government lacked the power to tax, which made it difficult to raise revenue to support its activities and pay off the national debt incurred during the American Revolution. This lack of taxation power was one of the key challenges faced by the Articles of Confederation and ultimately contributed to its failure. The US Constitution, which was adopted in 1787, granted the central government the power to tax and regulate commerce, which allowed for a stronger and more effective government.

No Control Over Commerce

The lack of control over commerce refers to the inability of the central government to regulate trade and commerce between states and with other countries. Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government had limited control over commerce, leading to economic instability and disputes between states. Each state had its own trade policies, tariffs, and currency, making it difficult for businesses to operate across state lines and for the federal government to regulate commerce effectively. This lack of control over commerce was one of the major challenges faced by the Articles of Confederation and was addressed in the US Constitution, which granted the federal government the power to regulate commerce and promote trade between the states and with other nations.

No Executive or Judicial Branches

The lack of separate executive and judicial branches refers to the absence of clear division of powers between the different branches of government. Under the Articles of Confederation, there was no clear separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, which made it difficult to enforce laws and ensure that the government was accountable and responsive to the needs of citizens. This lack of separate branches was one of the key challenges faced by the Articles of Confederation, and was addressed in the US Constitution, which established a clear separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, creating a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch of government became too powerful.

Requirement of Unanimity for Changes

The requirement of unanimity for changes refers to the rule that all states must agree to any changes made to the Articles of Confederation. This made it difficult to address emerging issues and adapt to changing circumstances, as any proposed change had to be approved by every state in the union. This requirement for unanimity was one of the key challenges faced by the Articles of Confederation and was seen as a major weakness in the government structure. The US Constitution, which was adopted in 1787, allowed for changes to be made with the approval of only a supermajority of states, making it easier to address emerging issues and adapt to changing circumstances.

Shays' Rebellion

Shays' Rebellion was a series of armed uprisings that took place in Massachusetts in 1786 and 1787, led by veteran Daniel Shays and other disgruntled farmers and debtors. The rebellion was a response to the economic hardship and political instability that was affecting many people in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The uprisings were a direct challenge to the authority of the Massachusetts government and its treatment of ordinary citizens, and were seen as a sign of the weaknesses in the central government under the Articles of Confederation. The rebellion ultimately contributed to the call for a stronger central government and the creation of a new, more effective constitution, the US Constitution, which was adopted in 1787.

Example

An example of how Shays' Rebellion contributed to the call for a stronger central government is as follows:
During the rebellion, the Massachusetts government was unable to effectively put down the uprisings and protect its citizens, due to the limitations of the central government under the Articles of Confederation. This lack of a strong central authority led many people to question the effectiveness of the current government structure and call for a more powerful central government that could enforce laws and protect citizens.
As a result of the rebellion, leaders from across the country met at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to draft the US Constitution, which established a stronger central government with defined powers and a separation of powers between branches of government. This new constitution was intended to address the challenges faced by the Articles of Confederation, including the weaknesses in the central government and the need for a more effective system of government that could respond to the needs of the citizens.
🎥 Watch: AP GOPO - Constitutional Convention

Things to Review

Key Terms

  • Articles of Confederation: The first constitution of the United States, adopted in 1777, which established a weak central government with limited powers.
  • Weak central government: A system of government where the central authority has limited powers and is unable to effectively govern the country.
  • No taxation powers: The inability of the central government to collect taxes from citizens and businesses.
  • No control over commerce: The inability of the central government to regulate trade and commerce between states and with other countries.
  • No executive or judicial branches: The absence of clear division of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.
  • Requirement of unanimity for changes: The rule that all states must agree to any changes made to the Articles of Confederation.
  • Shays' Rebellion: A series of armed uprisings in Massachusetts in 1786 and 1787, led by veteran Daniel Shays and other disgruntled farmers and debtors.
  • US Constitution: The second and current constitution of the United States, adopted in 1787, which established a stronger central government with defined powers and a separation of powers between branches of government.

Key Questions

  1. What were the weaknesses of the central government under the Articles of Confederation?
  2. Why was the requirement of unanimity for changes seen as a challenge under the Articles of Confederation?
  3. How did Shays' Rebellion contribute to the call for a stronger central government?
  4. What was the role of the US Constitution in addressing the challenges faced by the Articles of Confederation?
  5. How did the US Constitution establish a stronger central government with defined powers and a separation of powers between branches of government?
  6. How did the lack of control over commerce affect trade and commerce between states and with other countries under the Articles of Confederation?
  7. Why was the absence of a clear division of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government a challenge under the Articles of Confederation?

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