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The Articles of Confederation, the United States' first constitution, was written during a time when the American people feared strong national governments. The new nation needed some kind of organization to hold states together to help them fend off future attacks and hopefully make a stronger economy, and the Articles of Confederation seemed like the best answer to build unity at the time.
The English government had been especially abusive to the Colonists, who were very reluctant to install a new government that could potentially function similar to the monarchy under King George. The loyalty of the people seemed to align more with the individual states than with the nation. After the American Revolution, states were still printing their own money, which was worthless in other states and further hindered cooperation. The 13 new states needed to find common ground and a way to cooperate.
During the American Revolution, many states wrote their own state constitutions. These constitutions consisted of political ideas that provided equality and freedom. States particularly relished the three branches of government and the idea of a republic, where citizens elect political officials. However, when the states came together to complete the first constitution, the nation was formed as a confederation, where states were sovereign, while trying to work together.
Not many historians today talk about the strengths of the Articles of Confederation, likely because of how unpopular the document quickly became. The Articles did set the legislative body, Congress, as the highest power in the nation because of the fear of monarchy. Congress had the sole power to declare war, assign treaties, entertain foreign relations, and operate post offices. Disputes between states and territorial issues were to be brought to Congress. The document also stipulated that Canada was allowed to enter the Union if they desired.
There were more weaknesses than strengths under the Articles of Confederation. The lack of power given to the Continental Congress strangled the federal government. The Articles gave Congress the power to pass laws but no power to enforce those laws. If a state did not support a federal law, that state could simply ignore it. Congress had no power to levy taxes or regulate trade. Without a federal court system or executive leader, there would be no way to enforce these laws, either. Amending the Articles of Confederation would also require a unanimous decision, which would be extremely difficult.