This Day in History


Today in 1777, the Continental Congress commenced to consider the first draft of the Articles of Confederation. In a post at Liberty & Power, David Beito sticks up for that much-maligned document.


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  1. “First, during this period, the United States not only declared Independence but won a war against the greatest military power on the planet.”

    And that victory is due the Articles , HOW? It was Washington, the Swamp Fox Marion, and the French, plus adroit propaganda that won the victory and I don’t think that the Continental COngress or the Articles did much to provide that victory.

    “Second, it negotiated a favorable peace treaty.”

    Again, was this a function of the structure of the government or the exhaustion of the British?

    “Third, it instituted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which provided a system of disposing of land in the west. The Ordinance also banned slavery in the Northwest and created a system for admitting new states on an equal footing with the old ones.”

    Now this is certainly an accomplishment.

    “Fourth, it began to pay down the wartime debt.”

    Not from my US History classes… if there is more recent scholarship out there that’s fine, but otherwise I call B.S. on this one. The problem was the inability to tax, and to make good on that debt. Or at least so I was taught.

    “Fifth, the United States began a strong economic recovery in the mid 1780s after a normal post-war recession”

    Again, not from my classes… multiple currencies and tariff barriers between states hindered inter-state trade. That is the basis for the Interstate Commerce Clause and for the prohibition of state’s coining money.

    The Articles were not HORRIBLE, they were not good either… but that’s from someone that knows more about bombs and rockets than he does US History.

  2. The problem was the inability to tax? What? That’s exactly why the Articles would have been a hell of a lot better than the damn constitution.

  3. Well, the Confederal System certainly had serious drawbacks.

  4. Joe L.,

    Check out Merrill Jensen’s *Articles of Confederation*. Several states assumed and paid off the Continental war debt to their citizens, along with the respective state war debts. Hamilton’s policy of paying off continental bills of credit at face value, and assuming state obligations, was a tax on the people of the states that had paid off their debts.



    State sovereignty refers, not to the governments of the states, but to the peoples of the several states as bodies politic.

    The Constitution is a creation of the sovereign states precisely *because* its authority derives, in each state, entirely from the sovereign act of the people of that state.

    The federal government, in effect, is a municipal corporation allowed to act in each state by the sovereign power of that state–the people assembled in convention–and exists on the same basis as the state government.

    There is only one indivisible sovereign in each state–its own people–and that sovereign apportions delegated powers between the federal and state governments.

  5. I was excited when I saw this on Hit and Run…then I clicked the link and was disappointed beyond disappointment. The poster doesn’t say much of anything about the Articles, does he? He just lists a few events that happened during that time period and attributes the aforementioned events to the AoC.

  6. If you ever want to get a “strict constructionist” going, tweak him about how the Constitution is an “unarticular” document. After all, the AoC required unanimous consent of all the states in order to be amended, while the product of the Cabal of 1787 made the claim that a mere 9 states’ approval was necessary to not merely change, but totally supplant the entire structure of confederal government. Yes, the final four states eventually acceded to the change, but after the coup d’etat that left little Rhode Island the last holdout loyal to the lawful Constitution, even the anti-ratification forces there caved in. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    OK, so my tongue was firmly in cheek in the above, but it does point out the flaw in an overarching worship of law, as opposed to seeing law as a useful tool for gaining and maintaining liberty. A key part of the “dual sovereignty” theory of American government is that the sovereign people chose to delegate some of their power to their state, some to the national government, and importantly for us libs, reserved much for themselves. The Federal government is not a mere creation of the “sovereign states”, as ratification was done by special conventions of the people of each state, not by the existing state legislatures. To the extent that the regular procedure for amendment was not followed by the Annapolis and Philadelphia conventions, the adoption of the Constitution was a peaceful revolution, but a revolution none the less. In comparison, England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a bloodbath, not being fully resolved until the Battle of the Boyne.

    Note to anyone wearing a Chapeau d’Reynolds. Don’t try a “the Constitution was never adopted legally” argument in Federal court, unless you have a hankering for a sojourn in very secure public housing.


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