The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were drafted by a committee headed by John Dickinson on July 12, 1776. The colonies were still weary of strong central government after the problems they faced with the Parliament in England. Therefore, rather than granting authority to a central government, the Articles of Confederation gave the majority of power to the states. While Congress had power over foreign affairs, war and peace, coinage, postal service, and Indian affairs, there were no courts to enforce the resolutions, laws, and taxes on the states.
Instead, Congress relied on state requisitions, which states could easily ignore. (Tindall / Shi 208). Important acts required a special majority in which nine out of the thirteen states had to approve of the act. This was used in measures taken with war, treaties, coinage, finances, and the army and navy. All amendments to the Articles required unanimous ratification. Congress was also weary of executive power.
There was no head of government, but rather a President of Congress, whom was re-elected yearly. Committees were made for nearly everything. Organization was poor, and one man served on eighty committees at one time. Congress also set up three departments: Foreign Affairs, Finance, and War. These were much like the departments later set up in the Constitution. Due to the little power held by Congress, many problems sprang up.
States began coining their own money and refusing to trade with one another. A central bank could not be set up because the required amendment did not receive a unanimous vote from the states. Debt in the states grew from $11 million to $28 million. Indian lands were trampled by white settlers. Farmers became angry because crop prices dropped and their land taxes were increased in order to gain revenue for war debts.
Captain Daniel Shays, a war veteran and farmer, led a rebellion of 1,200 farmers against the federal arsenal in Springfield in 1787. (Tindall / Shi 216) They wanted a better monetary policy consisting of the right to use corn and wheat as hard money. The farmers also wanted a break from taxes until the depression lifted. The rebels fought and four were killed. This small riff convinced many politicians that the states were in need of a different and better suited constitution.
Twenty-nine delegates from 12 states (Rhode Island sent none) met in Philadelphia on May 25 of 1787 at a convention for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. (Tindall / Shi 219) George Washington was the was the presiding officer. The delegates decided upon a seperation of powers, giving certain rights to states and others to a central government. One person was also to be named chief executive, or president, but with limited powers in certain areas concerning state government. This leader could veto certain acts of Congress, but could also be overridden by a two-thirds majority of Congress. Three branches were also proposed: the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, and the Executive Branch.
The Legislative branch is made up of Congress, Senate, and the House of Representatives. The Judicial Branch contains the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch is the Office of the President. These three branches have a system of checks and balances with no branch being more powerful than another. After a struggle to pass the Constitution, the last state agreed and on October 10 of 1788, it was passed. Benjamin Franklin stated, Our constitution is in actual operation... everything appears to promise that it will last.
(Tindall / Shi 230) Tindall / Shi. History: A Brief Editon, NY: New York. 1995.