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American Government
The Articles of Confederation
Independence! Now what?
• We all know that the United States
achieved independence from Great
Britain after the American Revolution,
but winning a war was not the only
concern. Colonists also had to come
up with a new form of government.
Constitutions and Government
• A constitution is a plan that provides
the rules and structure for
• Constitutions set out the goals and
purposes of government as well as the
ideals shared by the people.
• Constitutions provide the supreme law
for states and their governments.
State Constitutions
• American political leaders began
drafting state constitutions. New
Hampshire was the first state to ratify in
January of 1776.
• Most state legislatures were bicameral
(had two houses). Most constitution
also had a bill of rights.
• Each state had a governor.
Massachusetts Constitution
• The Massachusetts Constitution divided
power evenly between the legislature,
the governor, and the courts.
• The governor and the courts were
given authority to check the
• The constitution was created by a
special convention and then approved
by the citizens.
Articles of Confederation
• First attempt at a unified government
of all 13 former colonies.
• Proposed in 1777.
• Ratified by all 13 independent states
by 1781.
The Articles of Confederation
• 1776- Thirteen delegates drafted a
proposal for loosely uniting the
• 1775-1783- Important during the war
• 1781- Maryland gave its ratification
and the first constitution of what would
be called the “United States of
America” officially took effect.
Failures of the Articles
• Congress could print money, but by 1786, the money was
• Congress could borrow money, but could not pay it back
• No state paid all of their U.S. taxes
• Default on debt owed to foreign governments
• The United States could not defend itself as an
independent nation
• Too few troops able to defend territories
• Troops were not paid so many defected
• Barbary Pirates began seizing ships
• Congress had no funds to stop piracy
• 13 individual states
• Border and Land disputes
• 1783 Treaty of Paris
Key Features of the Articles
• Weak national government
• One branch of government –
• Unicameral
• One vote per state – all were equal.
Weaknesses of the Articles
• The Congress had to depend on the states
for money and had no power to tax, regulate
trade, or enforce laws.
• Amending the Articles required the approval
of all the states.
• No president or executive branch.
• No system of national courts; state courts
enforced and interpreted national laws.
Weaknesses of the Articles (cont.)
Weaknesses of the Articles (cont.)
1) They could borrow or
request money from states.
2) Weak, they gave little
power to government
3) They could wage war and
make treaties and alliances
with other nations
Discussion Question
• Why did the writers of the Articles of
Confederation make the plan so weak?
• Their experience with a king made
delegates afraid to give any one
individual or branch too much power.
Important achievements…
The Confederation government …..
• established a fair policy for developing
western land – the Northwest
• signed the peace treaty with England.
• set up several departments
establishing the precedent for cabinet
departments later mentioned in the
The Need for Stronger Government
• Soon after the war, disputes broke out
among the states; the government’s debt
left soldiers unpaid.
• An economic depression in 1786 led to
Shay’s Rebellion, an armed uprising by
Massachusetts farmers who could not pay
their debts.
• They decided to call a constitutional
convention in Philadelphia
Discussion Question
• How did Shays’s Rebellion suggest the
need for a stronger government?
• The rebellion alarmed people who
feared mob violence and the
Confederation government’s inability to
do anything about it.