The Failure of the Articles of Confederation and the Subsequent Success of the Constitution


A nnapolis Convention, 1786

R atification debate between Federalists and Antifederalists

T reaty of Paris, 1783

 I nterstate Commerce problems (depression in 1780s)

C onstitutional Convention, 1787

L and legislation (Land Ordinance of 1785; NW Ordinance of 1787)

E ngland, France, Spain and Barbary Corsairs challenged U.S. in foreign affairs

S hays’ Rebellion

Domestic Challenges:

  • Newburgh Conspiracy, 1783
  • Gov’t run out of Philadelphia, 1783 (relocated to Princeton, New Jersey)
  • Economic depression in 1780s
    • Ineffective regulation of interstate commerce
    • Annapolis Convention, 1785
  • Tensions between states
    • Jay-Gardoqui Treaty (1785) (did not pass) Peace treaty would have secured trading rights w/ Spain while accepting Spain’s dominance of Mississippi River; southerners infuriated.
  • Shays’s Rebellion, 1787
  • Difficult to pass laws; nearly impossible to pass amendments

Foreign Challenges:

  • Britain:
    • Froze U.S. out of trade with West Indies (Caribbean)
    • Did not leave its forts on U.S. soil
    • Helped Indians on U.S. frontier attack American settlements
    • Impressment of U.S. sailors
  • Spain
    • Closed Mississippi River at New Orleans for much of 1780s
    • Conspired to tear southwest away from the U.S.
  • France
    • Froze U.S. out of trade in West Indies
  • Barbary Pirates (North Africa)
    • Captured U.S. ships and held sailors for ransom


  • Land Ordinance, 1785
  • Northwest Ordinance, 1787
  • Spurring people to create the Constution or else drive the country into chaos.


>Annapolis Convention, 1786: Purpose—resolve problem of interstate commerce;

gained approval for a Constitutional Convention the following year

>Constitutional Convention, 1787: Philadelphia (included Madison, Washington, Adams & Franklin)

>“Great Compromise” (CT Compromise): Established bicameral legislature—Senate (2 per state) & House of Representatives (based on state populations)

>“Three Fifths” Compromise: slaves in the South would count as 3/5 of a person for population when determining representation in the House of Representatives

>North-South Compromise (Commerce Compromise): No taxes on exports; tariffs on imports

>Checks and balances (separation of powers): Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches

>Presidential Powers: Commander-in-Chief, veto, appointments

>Federalist Papers: Hamilton, Madison, Jay

Be able to compare and contrast them! It may appear (not)  on a Free Response Question!

Under Articles of Confederation Under Federal Constitution
A loose confederation of states –“a firm league of friendship.” A firm union of people where the national government was supreme.
1 vote in Congress for each state 2 votes in Senate for each state; representation by population in House (Art.I, Secs. II., III)
2/3 vote (9 states in Congress for all important measures) Simple majority vote in Congress, subject to presidential veto (Art. I, Sec. VII, para. 2)
Laws executed by committees of Congress Laws executed by powerful president (Art. II, Secs. II, III)
No congressional power over commerce. States free to impose levies, and restrictions on trade with other states and enter economic agreements with foreign countries. Congress to regulate both foreign and interstate commerce (Art. I, Sec. VIII, para. 3)
No congressional power to levy taxes – payment of taxes by states was voluntary. Extensive power in Congress to levy taxes (Art. I, Sec. VIII, para. 1)
No federal courts – states free to resolve their own matters, or conflicts with other states. Federal courts, capped by Supreme Court (Art. III)
Unanimity of states for amendment Amendment less difficult (Art. V) – 2/3 Congress and ¾ of the states
No authority to act directly upon individuals and no power to coerce states Ample power to enforce laws by coercion of individuals and to some extent of states


 Antifederalist objections to the Constitution Federalist defenses of the Constitution
Antifederalists — states’ rights advocates, backcountry farmers, poor farmers, the ill-educated and illiterate, debtors, & paper-money advocates.In general, the poorer classes of society. Federalists — Well educated and propertied class. Most lived in settled areas along the seaboard.

Ratification Positions:

1.  Articles of Confederation were a good plan. 1.  Articles of Confederation were weak and ineffective.
2. Opposed strong central government.  Opposed a standing army and a 10 square mile federal stronghold (later District of Columbia).  2. National government needed to be strong in order to function. Powers in foreign policy needed to be strengthened while excesses at home needed to be controlled.
3.  Strong national government threatened state power. 3.  Strong national government needed to control uncooperative states.
4.  Strong national government threatened rights of the common people. Constitution was created by aristocratic elements. Suspected a sinister plot to suppress liberty of the masses. 4. Men of experience and talent should govern the nation. “Mobocracy” threatened the security of life and property.
5.  Constitution favored wealthy men and preserved their power. Opposed the dropping of annual elections for representatives. 5.  National government would protect the rights of the people.
6.  Constitution lacked a bill of rights. State governments already had bills of rights but they might be overriden by the Constitution. 6. Constitution and state governments protected individual freedoms without bill of rights. Since people could take back delegated power to the gov’t, there was no risk that the national gov’t would overreach.
7.  Argued against 2/3 ratification plan. Articles of Confederation required unanimous consent. 7.  In favor of establishing the Constitution with almost any means possible.
8.  Opposed omitting any reference to God. 8.  More sympathetic to separation of church and state.

[Move onto the Federalist Era ==>]


2 responses to “The Failure of the Articles of Confederation and the Subsequent Success of the Constitution

  1. Pingback: Map of the US History Guide | Surviving High School: A Hypocrat in a Perpetual State of Procrastination·

  2. Pingback: The American Revolution | Surviving High School: A Hypocrat in a Perpetual State of Procrastination·

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