A More Perfect Union
As inevitable as the U.S. Constitution feels today as the foundation on which the United States of America and its political system are built, it was not the first document ratified by the former British colonies to establish a union. During the years of the American Revolutionary War and the years directly following it, the newly formed United States of America were essentially a collection of thirteen more or less sovereign states loosely held together in an alliance by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (Articles of Confederation). However, as a foundation for a functioning government, the Articles of Confederation were lacking, leaving the federal government essential powerless and unable to effectively execute the few powers explicitly bestowed upon it by the Articles. Fiscal issues and rebellion threaten to tear the young nation apart before it is even a decade old. When the United States Constitution is drafted in 1787, it is to address these shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation and establish a functioning government. By ensuring that the legislature contains both equal and proportional representation and finding a way to give both the federal government and the individual states a voice through Dual Levels of Federalism, the United States Constitution manages to reconcile the varied interest groups, small states and big states, Localists and Federalists to form a more perfect union. When the Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4th 1776, the men signing it understood that it was not merely an empty dramatic gesture but in practice amounted to a declaration of war against Britain. The Continental Congress, needing some form of legitimacy to conduct a war, especially a war on such a global scale as the Revolutionary War was about to become, drafted the Articles on the premise that all thirteen states held common interests when it came to foreign policy and diplomacy. Congress would run matters of war and peace, negotiate treaties, settle disputes between states, operate a national post office, print money, and deal with issues regarding the Native American tribes. Written in 1776-77 but not ratified until March 2nd 1781, the Articles of Confederation are a document that perfectly reflect common political attitudes towards central government in the United States at that point in history, namely a deep mistrust towards any form of non-local authority. The role of the central government in the Articles was left intentionally weak while states’ governments held almost all power. Matters of taxation, the formation of militias, and judicial decisions were all left to the states’ governments in an attempt to differentiate the newly established nation from the British form of centralized government and its lack of representation that were so reviled in the former colonies. Congress had no power to tax or establish a federal judicial system, and while it was technically able to declare war, it had no actual power to levy taxes to pay for said war. Any decision made by Congress needed at least nine of the thirteen states’ votes and any changes made to the Articles of Confederation required all thirteen states’ agreement to be ratified. While the Articles succeeded in directing the majority of legislative, executive, and judicial power to the states, and Congress had been successful in passing two ordinances regarding the Western Territories, it soon became apparent that they were insufficient as the foundation for a functioning central government. During the war the United States had amassed foreign debt of approximately $12 million, mostly to France, but also the Dutch government, and Spanish investors. The United States’ government’s debt to its own citizens was even more substantial. The combined federal and states debt to Americans who had provided services and outfitted the revolutionary forces with supplies exceeded $60 million. The consensus, at least...
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