Articles of Confederation
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The Articles of Confederation were the first attempt at a working document to unite the states after they'd seen off George III, written during that "seeing off" process. It was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1777 but wasn't ratified by all thirteen states until 1781.
The Articles suffered the minor problem that they didn't actually work well in practice. Thus, the United States Constitution was adopted a decade later. There are some to this day who feel that the Articles were much better, thank you, and that we wouldn't have this overwhelming federal government if we'd just stuck with it a little longer. Instead, the ideal Libertarian American government...was tossed in the trash by the people Libertarians most claim to admire.
The philosophy behind the Articles was that the United States was a confederation of thirteen sovereign states. The powers of the central government were weak by design, including the following provisions:
- States didn't follow a national currency and instead printed their own money.
- States placed tariffs on goods from other states. This reached the point of states engaging in trade wars with other states.
- There was no national executive or national court system.
- The national government was barred from raising an army, regulating trade, or collecting any taxes (yeah - the government had no money). It could only ask the states for money, and compliance was only partial and grudging.
- There was a unicameral legislature that required a 2/3 majority to pass any legislation, and to amend the Articles required a unanimous vote.
- Each state only received one vote regardless of population (much like today's UN, or at least the General Assembly, or the U.S. Senate).
This led to problems such as:
- The US could not place tariffs on foreign goods when foreign countries placed restrictions and tariffs on American goods.
- American merchant ships more easily fell victim to pirates because of a weak navy.
- Because of the national government's inability to raise an army, the US became vulnerable to lurking adversaries.
- Shays' Rebellion.
Essentially an anti-tax rebellion in Massachusetts caused by the state heavily taxing people and refusing to print more money. It was named for a guy who claimed not to be in charge of it. Inflation, often the boogeyman of the political right, can be beneficial to debtors, so it comes as little surprise that wealthier merchants and lawmakers prevented that. This prompted rebels to seize courthouses and otherwise prevent tax collection. In response, states began to call up their militias. Militias made up of poor folks in heavy debt who decided they didn't want to fight people just like them. Samuel Adams, presumably drunk on the brew of liberty, blamed all of America's lower-class protests on foreigners, tried to suspend habeas corpus, and proposed that the rebels all be executed. He failed at everything except exacerbating the situation, and the rebels, some of whom were former Continental Army soldiers, were not men you wanted to exacerbate off.
The wealthy raised private funds to hire their own private army to try and stamp out the rebellion, going so far as to seize a federal arsenal so they would have enough guns for their own men. Where was the real army? The government had to throw one together as quickly as possible with little to no funding, so they responded about as well to a potential threat as anyone with half a brain could expect. This concludes the section about what the federal government was able to do under the Articles. The rebels were easily scattered, martial law was declared, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill saying they'd repay all the merchants who donated money, and rebel sympathizers were disqualified from various public offices. At least the rebels escaped with the plans to a new Massachusetts superweapon, a space station rumored to have enough firepower to destroy a planet.
In the end, the Governor of Massachusetts lost his office, the Articles of Confederation were shown to be useless, many of the most important politicians from a U.S. history class sympathized with the rebels, the upper crust of Massachusetts acted out a modern conservative's wet dream, and everyone decided that the defense of the nation should be left to more reliable hands. And from then on, no one ever fell into the trap of thinking that the former colonies would be best governed by a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.
Some of the Freeman on the land crowd believe that the Articles of Confederation are still in effect, because the Constitution doesn't explicitly say it supersedes and replaces them. They use this as an argument to get out of paying income tax, just like all their other arguments.
- The Library of Congress: The Articles of Confederation
- Note the capitalization of the Declaration of Independence, written in the name of "the thirteen united States of America."