The First Four Articles
The Preamble introduces the states that will be part of a “perpetual union”. Its interesting to read it because not all the states have the same name today. For example, Massachusetts is still referred to as Massachusetts Bay, and Rhode Island is called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Otherwise the States remain the same.
The original Thirteen were Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
It dates the document as November 15, 1777 and the second year of Independance.
Article One is perhaps the most straightforward piece of legislation I have ever read. It simply reads that this country shall be named “The United States of America”. This time around it had a bit more literal a meaning, as it was to represent a union of states rather then a government that had states. The Articles of Confederation were very strong on the side of individual state rights.
A Confederation is defined as being a group of states with a central government with with independance of internal affairs. This was the style of government the US tried first. Our current government is a Federation – meaning it has a strong central government. Confederations have weaker central governments, with more power being distributed to the indivusual members of the union.
The States get any power not delegated to Congress as their representatives, and retain their sovereignty. This is important. State rights have often been an area of contention between those who favor strong central governing from those who prefer uncentralized (State/local) power distribution.
In fact, it was over this fact that the first political parties were formed. George Washington had no party, and found the idea an horrible one. Clearly no one listened, and parties were formed. The first two major parties in the US were the Federalists (those who believed in a strong central government) and the Democratic-Republicans (those who favored a weaker central government and stronger State governments). The first election where this became an issue was when John Adams ran for President afer George Washington stepped down.
This all happened after the constitution, which gave the central government more rights then the Articles do. In the Articles, the central government really only has the power to deal with foreign affairs, such as payment of debts, declaring war & peace, and dealing with diplomatic channels. But there is a section on that so we will get to that later.
State Rights have been extremely important in American History. It not only created the first party divide, and political divisions, it also created some of the incentive for the Civil War which would occur less then 100 years later.
One of the many reasons the states entered into this union was the fact that there were a few common needs the states faced where a central government would come in handy. One of them was mutual defense.
Article 3 was an agreement between the states to come to each other’s aid for common defense, general welfare and resistence against outside forces trying to attack the state in question through religion, soverneignty, trade or other issues.
In the fourth Article, the Confederacy states that any citizen of the United States shall have their rights respected by all states, and can move freely around the country as long as they are not convicted of a crime. It also states that if someone is on the run from a crime and is found by another state, that state shall render the suspect back to their original state upon request from the executive of said state. This may sound familar because the Constitution also states this. However, the articles have a much weaker central government and much stronger state governments. The Constitution gave Congress more power to enforce such regulations.
To make an analogy, perhaps this is like the EU (although I admittedly have little knowledge on how governmentally the EU is set up.) The EU allows for its members to pass freely from country to country, no passports needed. However each country is independent. Under the Articles of Confederation, States had individual powers over many things we now consider Federal responsibility. They were able to create their own currencies and more. It would eventually cause problems, but this article enforces the idea that citizens of one state must have the same rights as a citizen of another state. So you can’t ignore someone’s rights just because they are from New Jersey and made the mistake of going to Philly for some cheesesteak.