What Are the Characteristics of the Articles of Confederation?

The Articles of Confederation created a weak national government with little authority, leaving much power and responsibility to the states. The Articles gave the national government supremacy in matters of foreign policy. The states, meanwhile, handled matters of trade and most other domestic policy on their own.

The Articles of Confederation created a relatively weak central government intentionally during the American Revolution by people fighting against what they considered to be the tyrannical excesses of the British. The main purpose of the Articles was to unite the states enough to successfully make it through the war.

After the revolution, the Articles mainly functioned as a way of giving the states a united foreign policy, but the Articles were not entirely successful. Georgia, for example, independently pursued policies regarding Spanish Florida, going so far as to make threats of war against the Spanish if they did not curb Indian hostilities and prevent the harboring of escaped slaves.

Under the Articles of Confederation, every state had equal representation and a single vote in the unicameral legislature. There was no national executive or judiciary. Although the national government prevented the states from printing their own money, it did not have the power to tax the states. It could only make requests for the money to pay national obligations.

The weakness of the government under the Articles of Confederation was further exposed by the government’s inability to efficiently deal with Shays’ Rebellion. A growing concern for the inefficiency of the government led many of the nation’s leaders to call for a new political system and eventually create the Constitution.