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Failure of Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation were created out of fear and were a reflection of “the wariness by the states of a strong central government.” (1) Each of the states desired to keep their autonomy and limited the federal government to “conducting foreign affairs, declaring war or peace, maintaining an army and navy and a variety of other lesser functions.” (2) This left the federal government unable to collect taxes to fund the government, enforce laws, or regulate commerce between states.

The Articles did not spell out how the government was to function in every day matters. It might have given the states a sense of freedom, but it left those that were in the capitol floundering on how to actually run the country. Many saw the “undecided character of the new government” and strove to make their own marks in it which led to chaos and confusion by many of the first Congress. (3)

There was too much ambiguity as to the type of government. Many wondered it was a true republic or monarchy. They were confused as to how to address each other and how to act in each other’s company. The result was hypocritical acts where “men condemned political intrigue, yet none avoided it.” (4) They only knew how to rule a country based off European standards which they were constantly striving against as they pulled toward them. The Articles were not enough.

This was not what the new republic needed. Just as a new hire in a company needs strict instructions or a child needs to have restrictions, the new country needed more guidance on what it was and what it was to do. It just knew it was made of up of thirteen individual states who wanted to stay individual while enjoying the privileges of being united. In essence, they wanted to eat their cake and have it, too. The Articles of Confederation tried to give them that but was unable to meet the complete needs of the country as it left too much control to the individual states.


(1) “The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,” Archiving Early America, accessed January 19, 2012, http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/milestones/articles/.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Joanne B. Freeman, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 7.
(4) Freeman, 50.

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