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The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation, America's first constitution, aimed for limited government to avoid monarchy. It united the 13 colonies but had flaws like no executive or judicial branch, and required unanimous consent for amendments. Shays' Rebellion exposed its weaknesses, leading to the Constitutional Convention and the drafting of a new constitution.

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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Leila Lee
    Wait... so what is the difference between the Articles of Confederation, and the form of government formed by the Constitutional Convention?
    (8 votes)
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    • male robot donald style avatar for user David
      The Constitution formed from the Constitution Convention gave the federal government more power to create laws and tax the states (and control the states), and also established the three branches of the federal government (executive, legislative, judicial). Under the Articles of Confederation, the US was more like 13 separate countries than the "United" States, because each state had its own currencies and military. The federal government in the AoC had no judicial and executive component, and little ability to control the states. However, in the Constitution, the states were more unified, and had the same currencies! I hope that was helpful.
      (21 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user musicalgrace7
    In this video, the treaty of Paris is mentioned. Could someone explain how the war ended? I could not find any details on it in any of the previous sections on Khan Academy.
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user A.P. Richards
      There were two treaties of Paris. I guess they loved to make treaties in Paris at that time. The first Treaty of Paris was in 1763 and ended what was known as the French and Indian War which was between the British and the French and was also known as the Seven Years War in Europe. (the Indians aided both sides) The Treaty of Paris referred to above was in 1783 and ended the Revolutionary War between the colonies and Great Britain in which France was an ally of the colonies.
      (12 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user The House Guy
    was it actually the first constitution?
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user christopher.horton
    how do y'all get tose pictures
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Keneki24
    What was the biggest difference between the articles of confederation and the constitution?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Manomay Shravage
      To get a sense of why the two were so different, you have to understand what a modern government is able to do today:
      1) It's able to collect taxes from citizens and provide resources that everyone can use in return.
      2) It is able to draft soldiers into the army.
      3) It is also able to regulate trade with other nations.
      4) It is able to pass laws and acts.
      5) It has a judicial system.
      6) It considers the vote of the people.
      These are just some of the things that are included in the constitution of the United states today. Since the Articles of Confederation did not have any of these accommodations, it was not used in later years.

      Hope this answered your question :)
      (10 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user James844
    But then who drafted or created the Articles of Confederation? Because depending who did, could't we have just changed it?
    (3 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Aaron Shapiro
      Mostly, the same people who wrote and/or confirmed the Articles of Confederation also confirmed the Constitution. The reason they couldn't just edit it was because they needed changes so drastic that they couldn't be encompassed by the already set outline of the AoC. An entirely new document was needed.
      (5 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Trivia Master
    Did the Articles of Confederation say who the "leader" of the country was? Did it say that the people would elect a president? Or was the role of the president not invented until the modern US constitution (the second one)?
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Have you read the articles? What have you found there?

      As for the "role of the president", even the continental congresses had presidents, and those were before even the Articles of Confederation. The US Constitution adopted to replace the Articles of Confederation defined what the role of the president would be in the new system.
      (2 votes)
  • area 52 purple style avatar for user t.lott
    why is her mike always changeing the moment i here it, it is eather to loud to quiet or what not i it just me because i don't want to be ear blasted the moment i here HEYYY GUYYYYS.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Tyleisheya
    How were the Articles amended and what were some issues with the amending process?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user k.escoba5
    How did this confederation limit government power?
    (3 votes)
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    • sneak peak yellow style avatar for user William Wang
      The Articles of Confederation were the first legal documents that formed America, and they reflected the Founders' beliefs that there should not be a centralized or powerful government. Having just gained independence from an oppressive Great Britain, the new country wanted to avoid making a government that could act similarly. The government could not raise funds, regulate trade, enforce laws, or raise an army. They soon learned this would cause many issues in the future, and the Articles of Confederation would later be replaced after the government realized it didn't have any power to manage conflict (Shay's Rebellion).
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] Hey, this is Kim and I'm here with Leah, Khan Academy's US Government and Politics Fellow. Welcome Leah. - [Leah] How's it going? - [Kim] Alright, so we're talking about the Articles of Confederation, which I think many people don't realize was the first constitution of the United States before the one that we have now since 1789. So could you take us through a little bit what the Articles of Confederation were and the context in which we first brought them on as a governmental system? - [Leah] Sure, so I think the most important thing to understand about the Articles of Confederation and why we would talk about this is because one of the biggest debates that we have in our history is about the balance of power between the federal government and state governments. When the Articles of Confederation were first created, it was in the middle of the American Revolution. They were created in 1777, and so the question becomes, well, how can we run a government that looks as different from monarchy as possible? - [Kim] Right, so they're trying to run away from the past that they're getting away from in the Revolutionary War and trying to create a separate government that doesn't have any of those abuses that they are rebelling against. - [Leah] If they're running away from a monarchy, what they're running towards is what we would call limited government. - [Kim] OK. - [Leah] So their central government, which is synonymous with a federal government, the central government is actually really, really, really small. - [Kim] OK. - [Leah] They don't have an executive branch. They only have Congress. They don't even have a judicial branch. So Congress is made up of all 13 states. Every state had one representative. - [Kim] OK. - [Leah] In order to change the Articles of Confederation, if they wanted to pass an amendment, they had to get unanimous consent from all 13 states. - [Kim] OK, so they're trying to make sure that all of the states are represented equally, but that also sounds like it would have a lot of hurdles to overcome when it comes to getting consensus. - [Leah] Yeah, for laws, you had to get nine out of 13 states to actually pass a law. So if you can imagine, if you're in a room of 13 people and you all have to agree on one pizza topping for the rest of your lives. (Kim laughs) It would be almost impossible, right? - [Kim] Wow, OK, alright, so it sounds like there are some problems with the Articles of Confederation, but did they do anything good for us in this early period? - [Leah] Yeah, so the biggest thing is that it unites all 13 colonies who are now states under one government. - [Kim] OK. - [Leah] This government is able to pass a really favorable treaty with Britain and end the Revolutionary War in 1783, the Treaty of Paris. - [Kim] OK, so this is kind of the government that gets us through the revolutionary war and is with us when we first start in the 1780s. - [Leah] Yeah, and one another specific law that they pass is the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and this Northwest Ordinance kinda tells us how we are going to expand as we move west and what are we going to do with that land, and that's a really important idea when we're moving forward with our country. The only problem is with the Articles of Confederation is there is a lot of things that we still have to figure out as we're growing, there's a lot of growing pains. - [Kim] So what led the early government of the United States to realize that they wanted to abandon these Articles of Confederation in favor of a different constitution? - [Leah] So the inciting incident is Shays' Rebellion. It happens in Massachusets, and it's a group of farmers led by this guy named Daniel Shays. What's happening is that we had just gotten out of the Revolutionary War, and a lot of of the people who had fought in the Revolutionary War still hadn't gotten payment for their duty. They also were experiencing really high state taxes, so Daniel Shays and these farmers are very upset, obviously, in their wanting their money and so they started rebelling, but the problem is, with the way that the central government that was built, first, Congress had no ability to levy or collect taxes. If they couldn't collect taxes, they had no ability to actually pay back their farmers. Along with that, they didn't have any money to create a military, so each state had their own militia, but the United States as a whole as a country did not have a military to suppress this rebellion. So on both ends, we are in a really bad situation politically. - [Kim] Wow, so, there's this moment where you find armed rebellion against the United States for a lack of money and the US government finds that it can't raise money and it can't raise an army to put down this rebellion. - [Leah] Exactly, and so there is this fear immediately. And what we see is a lot of the founding fathers that we know and really respect today like George Washington and Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, they get together and they say this is a problem, we need to change what we have, and this leads to the Constitutional Convention in which we draft our second constitution. - [Kim] Right, yeah, so in 1787, the leaders of the United States get together and say, alright, the Articles of Confederation aren't working. We're gonna need a stronger central government, even though we were trying to get away from the monarchy and now let's think of something that's going to work a little bit better for us.