Monday, March 28, 2011

What were the central problems of the Articles of Confederation, and how did the delegates to the Philadelphia convention address them?

The political problems included territory disputes over western lands delayed the ratification. The economic problems consisted of debts, taxes and tariffs. After the Revolutionary War, debt was a problem throughout the country. Money was owed to American citizens and to the French, who supported the war. The Government was limited in its capacity to handle debts and expenses; no authority to tax the states and the people and no means to raise money in order to repay the war debts. Tariff wars erupted between states, as each state was following its own interest in trade, at the expense of the other states. The Northern states wanted to abolish slavery, whereas the Southern states strongly depended on the slave labor to work their cotton and tobacco fields. From a military point of view, the federal government had no means to provide the necessary defense and security.

A revision of the Articles of Confederation was required. The convention met in Philadelphia and considered a plan for a powerful national government, rather than revising the Articles of Confederation. This was the Virginia Plan, proposed by James Madison. The New Jersey Plan introduced by William Paterson, proposed the preservation of the states’ powers. After one month, the delegates decided to continue with Madison’s plan, looking for ideas that would be accepted by most citizens. To settle state-related issues, the delegates restricted the extent of the central authority of left it ambiguous. State legislatures would elect members of the Senate, giving legislative power to the state. A compromise was made over slavery, through the “fugitive” clause; the word “slave” was not used in the Constitution, calling them “all other Persons” and counting them as 3/5 of a free person for representation and taxation. By addressing the issues and concerns of smaller states and slavery states, the delegates created a powerful national government, with power of taxation, military defense and authority to make laws.

Henretta, James A. and David Brody. America: A Concise History, Volume I: To 1877. 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2010, 177-185 

Renée C. Rebman, The Articles of Confederation, Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006.

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