Download United States` First Written Constitution Articles of Confederation

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United States' First Written Constitution
In the "Road to Revolution" game, you answered questions to follow the road from
Boston in 1765 to Philadelphia in 1787. You read in the previous week about how the
colonies formed a government during the American Revolution and how that
government was in place after the Revolution. The title of a folder in this week's
lectures, "in order to form a more perfect union," comes from the Preamble to the U.S.
Constitution. Why were the citizens of the newly independent United States seeking "to
form a more perfect union"? What were the problems with the government that inspired
delegates to journey to Philadelphia in 1787?
Articles of Confederation
The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1777, but because
ratification required the approval of all 13 states Maryland was able to delay ratification
until 1781. As you know, Maryland demanded that states with western land claims,
especially Virginia, cede them to Congress. When Virginia was the last to relent in 1781,
Maryland voted for the Articles and with ratification the United States officially adopted
the system of government created by the Articles.
If you are interested, you can read the Articles of Confederation here:
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/artconf.asp
The Articles were the first written constitution of the United States. Imagine that
you are a colonist driven to war by Britain's attempts to govern you (including taxing
you) without giving you a real voice (actual representation). When you set up your own
government, would you seek to establish a strong central government or a weak one?
Government under the Articles of Confederation
Here are the basic features:
Congress -- A national assembly with each state having 1 vote. Powers included
conducting foreign affairs and maintaining armed forces, establishing a
postal system and coinage, regulating trade with Indians, settling disputes
between states, but not the power to tax citizens directly nor draft them
into military service.
Delegates -- Manner of election determined by the states. Delegates can serve no
more than 3 years out of 6.
President -- Presides over Congress. Elected annually by Congress and can serve no
more than 3 years out of 6.
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The Articles preserved the states' autonomy with an extremely weak central
government. Do you understand why colonial Americans feared central control? After
all, the individual colonies had jealously guarded their right of self-government against
the increasing incursions of the British Crown first with protests and boycotts and then
with armed resistance.
Throughout American history, we will see this struggle between local control and a
strong central government. What do you want? Do you like having the federal
government tell your schools how to teach children (No Child Left Behind)? Do you want
your federal government to insure that meat across the country is safe from "mad cow"
or other diseases or that your air and water are clean? Should the federal government
protect banks in danger of failing? What is the balance between services and protection
offered by a strong central government and policies that are burdensome and out of
touch with local situations?
©Susan Vetter 2009
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