The Articles of Confederation and the first American Constitution of 1787 are two historical documents, which are imperative for the United States. Despite the fact that they do have much in common, they have even more differences when looking at the details.
The Comparison of the Articles of Confederation and the American Constitution
The Articles of Confederation was the first document that served as the American Constitution. First of all, it was important because helped to manage the states after that gained independence from Britain. The Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation at the end of 1777 and five more years had passed before this document was finally ratified.
The new American Constitution was drafted and signed by many of the same people only six years later. What made them change their minds?
In comparison to the American Constitution, the Articles of Confederation had a lot of weaknesses. First of all, the Articles established a confederation where all states were in “a firm league of friendship with each other” (Articles of Confederation, 2008, para. 5). Although the Articles created the first National American government, this government was limited in power and, therefore, was not able to govern effectively. For example, it was difficult for the government to pass a new law since nine votes out of thirteen were needed (each of the states had one vote). The states often could not find compromises, for example, about managing western territories, on which several states had their claims. One of the biggest problems was the inability of the government to collect taxes and regulate the trade since the Articles had not given the government such kind of authority. As a result, some of the states refused to pay money. Moreover, the United States had a lot of debts after the ending of the Revolutionary War, and without the necessary funds from the states, the country was unable to pay them back. It was also unable to support the army and, therefore, to protect the borders. All of these finally led to the revision of the Articles.
The new American Constitution was signed in 1787 and formed “a more perfect Union” with a strong government that was able to control all of the states (The Constitution of the United States n.d., para. 2). While, in the Confederation, there was only the Congress, the Constitution divided power between the executive (the president), legislative (congress and the senate) and judicial (supreme and federal courts). The government also had “power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises” (U.S. Constitution n.d., para. 26).
Finally, the Articles of Confederation were valid only from 1781 to 1787, while the American Constitution, with some amendments, lasted more than 200 years.
The Drafting of the Constitution
Despite the many advantages that the Constitution had in comparison to the Articles of Confederation, its drafting was not so monosemantic and caused a lot of conflicts. Fortunately, the most important of them ended with compromises.
One of such compromises is well-known as the Three-Fifth Compromise. Like most of the others, it concerned the states’ representation in the government. The problem here was how to count slaves. The delegates split into two groups: those who preferred not to count slaves at all and those who wanted “Blacks be counted with whites” (The “Three-Fifth” Compromise n.d., para. 2). Finally, states agreed to count five slaves as three free people. That is how slavery got a new, political, life.
Another important issue was about western states. Some delegates were convinced that the “West should never attain political equality with the coastal States” (Drafting and Ratifying the Constitution n.d., p. 9). However, the opponents managed to persuade the majority to give new West states equal rights with old East ones.
Finally, the Great Compromise that is also known as the Connecticut Compromise or Roger Sherman’s plan became crucial for the development of the new Constitution. The question was whether the number of representatives in the government should be equal for each state or depend on population. When the debate was already dead-end Roger Sherman came up with the solution. In the House of Representatives, the number of members from each state would be proportional to the state population, but in the Senate, all states would have an equal number of representatives (Roger Sherman and the Connecticut Compromise n.d.).
The Ratification of the Constitution
There were many debates over the ratification of the Constitution as well. The most severe one was between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.
The Anti-Federalists were afraid that the Constitution would give the president and the government too much power and the rights of people, as well as the strength of each state, would be limited. Most frequently, they proved the point with the fact that the Constitution did not include the Bill of Rights, which would establish the rights of people against the government. The Federalists, on the contrary, did not even think that this section is necessary, since the Constitution was aimed to regulate and limit the government, not the people.
The Federalists wanted to ratify the Constitution and create a strong central government that would unite and protect the states, as well as provide stability and handle the federation’s problems. They were sure that a federal government would stimulate the commercial growth of the country and, unlike the Anti-Federalists, did not think of society as of a group of farmers. Just the opposite, they wanted to create a country with different competing interest groups without a dominant one. All of these shows that the Federalists have been more cognizant and conservative about both social and economic changes in their country.
In spite of the Anti-Federalists’ opinion, the Federalists did not strive to centralize all kinds of power in the same hands. According to The Federalist Papers (2008), “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” (para. 2).
The debate ended with the Massachusetts Compromise when several Anti-Federalists, including John Hancock, who was one of the leaders, agreed to vote for ratification. In exchange, the Federalists promised to consider the amendments. As a result, in 1791, the section of the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
Without any doubts, all debates and compromises mentioned above, as well as the Articles of Confederation, played a crucial role in the formation and development of the American Constitution. Moreover, only all of these made it possible.
Articles of Confederation: March 1, 1781. (2008). Web.
Drafting and Ratifying the Constitution. (n.d.). Web.
Roger Sherman and the Connecticut Compromise. (n.d.). Web.
The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. (n.d.). Web.
The Federalist Papers, No. 47. (2008). Web.
The “Three-Fifth” Compromise. (n.d.). Web.
U.S. Constitution: Article I. (n.d). Web.