Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Remembering the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation are one of the most neglected and overlooked aspects of the American Revolution. It is often clouded by the grandiose history of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (not that those documents are undeserving). Many students today have never even heard of the Articles of Confederation. Though their legacy may not be as grand as other historical documents, no true historian can ignore their massive importance in the American Revolution saga. As historian Donald Lutz of the University of Houston put it:
"The Articles functioned as the first national constitution of the United States and, as such, reflected American political theory as it emerged during the Revolution. Equally important, a textual analysis reveals the extent to which the 1787 Constitution was a logical extension of the Articles of Confederation. Most of the Articles were incorporated in the U.S. Constitution, and several key changes found in the later document were present in embryo in the Articles of Confederation."
To understand the federal government and the Constitution one must first understand the Articles of Confederation. It was an essential first step in shaping American political ideology. One also gains a greater appreciation for the truly remarkable achievement that was the Constitution when we consider that the Articles of Confederation was THE governmental system of the United States. In essence, the Constitutional Convention was a bloodless coup d'etat when we consider the role of the Article of Confederation.
In addition, understanding the Federalist Papers (and anti-Federalist Papers) can only be accomplished with a strong understanding and knowledge of the Articles of Confederation.
Of course we must also keep in mind the limitations of the Articles of Confederation. After all, they were replaced with a more centralized system of government created under the Constitution. James Madison called the Articles, "a blessed stumbling block that re-charted America's course." Despite its faults, the Articles of Confederation should be remembered as a critical stepping-stone in what the founders have called, "The American experiment."