Articles of Confederation vs Constitution – What’s The Difference?

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Articles of Confederation vs Constitution – What’s The Difference?

Law Author: Admin


The Constitution of the United States, ratified by the then brand new United States of America in 1788, is the bedrock of the modern United States government and is considered by red-blooded Americans everywhere as the single greatest piece of paper ever written. The American Revolutionary War came to a close in 1783, and the gap of a framework for the newly formed government would be filled by the Articles of Confederation for nearly eight years before the Constitution was written, ratified, and put into action – from 1781 to 1789.

The Articles of Confederation, then, can be seen as the stopgap measure that was written before the American Colonies won their independence from Britain, without overly serious consideration given to a strong, unified America.

The Articles of Confederation was more of a treaty than a real governmental framework, a weak interstate body that had very limited power over individual states. The Constitution would create a strong governing Federal Government, run by three branches of government – the Executive (including the office of the President), the Legislature (dominated by Congress), and the Judiciary (run by federal, countrywide judges).

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation were the first imagining of what the United States of America would be, a far cry from the strong, unified North American government that exists today. Under the Articles of Confederation, States had almost all of the power while the Federal government – the government that is in charge of the entire country, not just individual states – had next to none.

Under the Articles of Confederation, each state would send members to Congress, which was a single legislative house with no real power of ‘teeth’ to force the States to act as they wished. They could request taxes from States, but not force them to pay; they could ask the states to send them an army, but could not forcefully draft soldiers.

In addition, there was no interstate body to deal with disputes, with trade rules and laws being set by individual states, instead of a central governing body. Under the articles, the Federal government was more of a body that could recommend things or be a place where states could argue with one another, but it was not a place where true authority, or sovereignty, originated.

The Constitution

The writers of the Constitution saw the need for a stronger Federal government that could unite the States, taking many of the powers held by the States – the right to tax, the right to raise armies, the right to regulate trade, among others – and giving it to a central Federal body. The Constitution also designed a system of government that would be fair and representative, a difficult task given the regional, size, and cultural differences among many of the peoples of the various states. Despite having fought and won the revolutionary war together, Americans did not see themselves as part of one great nationality, but instead identified with their respective state or region – they were Virginians first, Southerners second, and Americans last.

In order to put the Constitution into effect, the writers compromised heavily, eventually creating two different houses of Congress (The Senate, with two votes per state, and the House of Representatives, with votes depending on size) and a hefty amount of powers still residing with the States. The document was then put to vote by individual states, and eventually passed, creating the United States of America in its modern sense.

One Without The Other 

If the Constitution never replaced the Articles of Confederation, and the Articles still were the law of the land, America today would be a very different place, likely more akin to the loose association of countries in Europe rather than one, unified country.