Why Did the Articles of Confederation Fail What Were the Reasons?

The Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitution, were sent to the states for consideration in 1777. However, this initial attempt at establishing a central government proved short-lived. The Articles, designed to unite the states during the Revolutionary War, faced significant limitations. Read on to find out why did the Articles of Confederation fail.

Why Did the Articles of Confederation Fail?

It was on this day in 1777 that the Articles of Confederation, the first American constitution, was sent to the 13 states for consideration. It didn’t last a decade, for some obvious reasons.

On November 17, 1777, Congress submitted the Articles to the states for immediate consideration. Two days earlier, the Second Continental Congress approved the document, after a year of debates. The British capture of Philadelphia also forced the issue.

The Articles formed a war-time confederation of states, with an extremely limited central government. The document made official some of the procedures used by the Congress to conduct business, but many of the delegates realized the Articles had limitations.

6 Challenges of the Articles of Confederation 

Here is a quick list of the problems that occurred, and how these issues led to our current Constitution.

1. Weak Central Government

The Articles of Confederation created a weak central government with limited powers. The government had no executive branch to enforce laws and no judicial branch to interpret them. 

This lack of central authority made it difficult for the government to act decisively and effectively in addressing national issues.

2. Inadequate Economic Powers

The central government under the Articles of Confederation had limited authority to regulate trade and levy taxes. It couldn’t impose taxes directly on individuals and had to rely on the states for revenue. 

This lack of financial resources made it difficult for the government to pay off war debts, fund national defense, and stimulate economic growth.

3. Inefficiency in Decision-making

The Articles required the approval of nine out of thirteen states to pass laws, making it challenging to achieve consensus on important matters. 

This requirement often resulted in delays and hindered the government’s ability to respond promptly to crises and address pressing issues.

4. Lack of Unity and Coordination

The states retained significant sovereignty under the Articles of Confederation, leading to a lack of unity and coordination among them. 

Each state had its own currency, trade policies, and regulations, which created economic barriers and hindered interstate commerce. 

Additionally, the central government had limited power to resolve disputes between states, resulting in conflicts and disagreements.

5. Inability to Enforce Laws and Treaties

The central government lacked the authority to enforce the laws and treaties it entered into. 

This weakness was particularly evident in the area of foreign relations, as the United States was often seen as weak and disunited on the international stage.

6. Shays’ Rebellion

Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 and 1787 exposed the weaknesses of the central government under the Articles of Confederation. 

The rebellion, led by Massachusetts farmers protesting against high taxes and economic hardships, highlighted the government’s inability to maintain law and order and raised concerns about the stability of the nation.

These events alarmed Founders like George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton to the point where delegates from five states met at Annapolis, Maryland in September 1786 to discuss changing the Articles of Confederation.

Final Thought

The group included Madison, Hamilton, and John Dickinson, and it recommended that a meeting of all 13 states be held the following May in Philadelphia. 

The Confederation Congress agreed and the Constitutional Convention of 1787 effectively ended the era of the Articles of Confederation.

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