Lessons Learned: The Articles of Confederation
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Lessons Learned: The Articles of Confederation


Do you think it is easy to write a constitution
for a country? Did you ever wonder why the United States has a constitution that has
lasted for more than two centuries while other countries have failed to find one that works? I’m Jim Lindsay, and this is Lessons Learned.
Our topic today is the Articles of Confederation, which went into effect on March 1, 1781, when
Maryland became the 13th and final colony to ratify it. Most of us know all about the major battles
and events of the American Revolution. April 19, 1775 saw Paul Revere’s midnight ride
and the battles at Lexington and Concord. July 4,, 1776 saw the Declaration of Independence.
The winter of 1777 saw the hardships of Valley Forge. October 19, 1781 saw the colonists
defeat the Redcoats at Yorktown, effectively ending the war. What typically gets forgotten in story of
the American Revolution, however, is the constitution the Founding Fathers wrote to govern the new
country: the Articles of Confederation. The Second Continental Congress approved it in
November 1777, after more than a year of debate. The Articles of Confederation reflected the
same deep distrust of national government that had prompted the colonists to rebel in
the first place. The individual colonies largely retained their sovereignty, or power, over
events within their own borders. The one major task they gave the national government was
the duty to manage the country’s foreign policy. Other than that the national government had
few powers. It could not impose taxes. Nor could it regulate economic relations between
states or with other countries. The Articles of Confederation didn’t even create an executive
branch. Congress exercised all the powers of the national government. The Articles of Confederation no doubt looked
sensible on paper. In practice, it was a disaster. In keeping the national government from becoming
too powerful, the Articles made it too weak. The states, ever jealous of their sovereignty,
squabbled among themselves. They negotiated their own trade deals with Europe. They protected
their own industries at the expense of industries in other states. And they frequently ignored
foreign affairs. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, languished for
months because so many state delegations failed to show up for sessions of Congress. Dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation
grew over the course of the 1780s. In the summer of 1787 delegates from all thirteen
states, except for Rhode Island, met in Philadelphia to discuss how to fix the Articles. They quickly
decided the smartest move was to dump it entirely. They ended up writing what became the U.S.
Constitution. So what it is the lesson of the Articles of
Confederation? Just this: It is easy to write a constitution. What is hard is to write a
constitution that works. America’s Framers, a smart and capable bunch, didn’t get it
right the first time. Their second effort has lasted for more than two centuries, but
even then it has been formally amended more than two dozen times. The difficulty of crafting a constitution
that works is worth keeping in mind as we watch countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar,
and South Sudan struggle to create effective and legitimate systems of government. Revolutions,
political openings, and independence bids can create opportunities to build democracies
and establish the rule of law. But success is by no means guaranteed. Here’s a question to consider: what makes
for a durable and effective constitution? I encourage you to weigh in on my blog, The
Water’s Edge, which you can find it at CFR.org. I’m Jim Lindsay. Thank you for watching
this installment of Lessons Learned.

16 Comments

  • Masahiro Sekine

    one of the best writing in the world history. can do amandment and revise also.
    and ban itself.

    only if people suffering for something which is not written in there.
    there is the possibilty to ban itself.

    Moneysystem do not work in the future. had better ban itself and create again.
    Money slavery tax and death
    it is over 2000 years, it will be the end later on.
    this is possibilty in the future for human rights
    Christ fought against it once long journey for all mankinds

  • VERBALMILITIA

    The Council on Foreign Relation is a US Sovereignty Hating, Inbred Foreign Owned Unelected World Banking Scam Loving POS NWO Treasonous Front Group.

    VERBALMILITIA
    marc27

  • Enticing Conversations

    The Articles of Confederation would have work had they were written better and give the Congress the power to enforce federal laws on the states

  • spacepatrolblue

    This video was extremely helpful, and it's helped to simplify all the major weaknesses of the Articles. It's amazing the U.S. even survived those years!

  • joshua warren

    The articles reflected a republic that could not be easily controlled. The CFR would have a much harder time implementing their will if the Articles were still the rule of law.
    Federalist are just loyalist disguised in a ideological facade. People who believe in a strong central government are traitors to the original intent of the formation of our nation.

  • omnix13

    Superb, brief overview of our first constitution, and its failings that precipitated our current one (Constitution 2.0). This historical perspective is indeed highly relevant to the still unfolding events in Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar, and South Sudan. Also interesting to consider how these lessons could have been (and may yet be) applied to nations like Cuba, Iran, and Israel. And of course there may be continued relevance in America itself, given that there have been persistent calls in recent years for a second (or should we say third?) constitutional convention to redress the increasingly severe shortcomings of the current system of governance.

  • Idania Arroyo

    The fact that this group Council of Foreign affairs is treason on our very government, built by people never elected by the tax payers yet they make decisions that impact the american people. They need to be gone.

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