As we begin to deal with more and more detailed events, I will no longer rely on my memory to tell this story, as I mostly have up until now. I revert to my more-loved role of interpreter.
After the American Revolution, a new country called the United States of America was formed by a union of the 13 separate former colonies. Hereafter, these colonies would begin calling themselves "states."
As mentioned in the earlier posts, this union was not really an easy or natural thing, since the colonies had always been (and would continue to be) separate entities, each with its own government, and each with differing values and goals.
The revolution, however, as well as the previous common experience of the French and Indian War, had brought them closer together and, now that they were free of British rule, there was a need for some sort of central government to be established to handle the interactions between the several former colonies who suddenly found their fate and survival very much tied together - at least in terms of self defense from outside powers. They still weren't too keen on banding together for other purposes, save, perhaps, the regulation of commerce between the several new "states."
The Continental Congress was a legislature, consisting of representatives from the various colonies, which was, in effect, the central government of the colonies during the time they were in rebellion against Great Britain. They met in Philadelphia. The British would not have minded a bit hanging the members of this legislative body of the rebels. They even sailed a fleet up the Delaware to clear out the irritating nest, but the rebel legislators simply moved out of Philadelphia for a while. Frankly, they knew the lay of the land much better than the British, and were able to simply fade into the population. But the government in rebellion is a story for another day.
As early as 1776, following the declaring of independence from Great Britain, the Second Continental Congress, with the conviction, I assume, that the colonies would prevail against the mother country and gain their independence, had appointed a committee to draft up a plan for future confederation. The final draft was approved by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. However, these Articles were not ratified by the states until March of 1781. In the meantime, there was a war going on.
So, with a lot of input and debate from each colony's representation, the official document was drawn up, and eventually ratified, which outlined what powers they would delegate to the new central government. Not very much, as it turned out.
The word "confederation" simply refers to the fact that certain parties, or groups, have banded together for some common purpose. The current entity called the European Union, for example, is a "confederation" of several countries which have agreed to act in concert for a common (in this example, economic) purpose. Similarly, when the 13 former American colonies agreed to band together for economic purposes and for a common defense, the result of that agreement was called a confederation.
The ratification in 1781 resulted in the formalization of this agreement to form a confederation, and the document that stated the rules for the confederation, and told what powers the states agreed to give to the new government, was called "The Ariticles of Confederation." In effect, these Articles were the basis our first constitution, though that constitution was a separate document.
The Articles stated that our name would be "The United States of America". Our first president was Samuel Huntington of Connecticut. It should be noted that, under the Articles, the "president" (although called "The President of the United States") was not the Chief Executive authority as the office is today under our present constitution, but was the presiding officer of the congress, chair of the cabinet, and performer of various administrative functions.
This first attempt at a federal government failed pretty miserably and was later replaced by our second federal government which still exists today, empowered by a new constitution ratified by the states in 1787.
But let's stop for a moment and talk about what the Articles of Confederation were all about and why that government failed. It is important that we understand this period of our country's beginnings, because from the mistakes in the original Articles came many of the enduring strengths of our current constitution.
If one were to make one general statement to explain why our first federal government failed, it would probably be that the individual states still saw themselves as too individual and independent, and therefore were not willing to delegate enough power to the new central government for it to do its job. At least that is this blogger's opinion. Almost everything the new government did had to be approved by the several states. Without sufficient authority, nothing ever got done and the government failed.
In our next post, we will concentrate on the failings of the Ariticles of Confederation, and the subsequent struggle to produce a stronger, more viable, constitution. The struggle was pretty fierce, as the individual states fought to protect their own sovereignty and agendas.
This struggle, and the eventual compromises that produced our present constitution make for lively debate and interesting conversation so I hope you will stay tuned for tomorrow's post.
May the force be with you.