Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Articles of Confederation: Part 4

The Last Articles

Article 9

It gives Congress the following powers.

  • exclusive right to determine War/Peace (exceptions for Article 6)
  • Foreign Affairs such as ambassadors, treaties, etc.
  • Establishing courts to prosecute cases of piracy
  • Giving out senior ranks during wartime
  • The power to answer any disputes between states​

It also creates a system for how Congress will work.  They must meet often enough that no break between gathering is more than 6 months.  They also must record in a journal all the votes cast unless it’s a top-secret operation that requires that it not be public knowledge yet.  The idea was that Congress would be very open about what it did while in session.  It would send out monthly reports, including the vote rolls.  They also must put forth the journal should any delegate or state request it.

Congress was given very limited powers.  Most of the powers went to the states.  It reiterates this point by stating that no decision of congress on several matters (including war, debt and national security) shall be in effect unless 9 states (2/3) agree to it.    At this point in time the colonists who were forming their own country were afraid that a stronger government would abuse their powers, such as they saw Britain having done.

Later they would find that having too weak a central government caused problems as well.  One of the things the Constitution set out to do was correct the imbalance and make a stronger Federal government that wouldn’t be too strong to abuse its powers.

Article 10

This article allows for the states to take the powers of Congress into their own hands should congress be in recess when need arose.  It still required 9 states to agree to it, and if congress was in session, it would of course revert to Congress to have those powers.  I’m not entirely sure how well this article would work out in practice.  I tried researching this article to see if had ever been invoked but at the time of this posting, I haven’t found anything yet.

Article 11

I think this is my favorite part of the Articles of Confederation.  Article 11 is a side note to Canada letting them know they can come join the US if they get tired of Great Britain’s rule.  It basically says that they can come and join us and we’d be okay with that, but after them, everyone has got to be agreed on by at least 9 states (effective 2/3rd majority).

Considering this is not in the Constitution, I guess in ten years they gave up on the idea of the State of Canada.

According to the National Constitution Center, the US actually attempted to get Canada ceded over to them by the British in the Treaty of Paris.  As you can tell by the fact Canada is not part of the United States, the British did not agree. America tried to take over Canada twice – in the American Revolution (failed) and in the war of 1812 (Failed – and led to the White House being burned).  There was a poll done relatively recently and it should come as no surprise that not a large group of people feel that America and Canada should be one.  On either side of the border.

Article 12

This is an article that makes its way into the Constitution.  The US had lots of debts in its early years.  While at war, they needed supplies, had to have a way to pay the soldiers who fought for independence and otherwise fund their government.  This article pronounces that these debts will be recognized by the United States and the United States will pay them.

The Constitution notes that they will continue to recognize/pay these debts. It was important for the young nation to recognize what it owed to keep the allies it had made as well as keep the trust with any soldiers they may need to enlist in the future.  Failure to accept the debt would make trusting them a bit harder.

Article 13

This is the article that gives the document its power.  The declares that all the states shall abide by what had been decided in this congress of their representatives.  It does not allow for much change, which the Constitution does.  The only way to alter the document is for Congress to agree to it and for every state to agree to it.  The Constitution made a method for Amendments where Congress proposes/passes them, and a 2/3rd majority of the States can ratify them.  So in that it is more flexible to changing needs of the Nation.

Articles of Confederation – University of Minnesota Human Rights Library

Articles of Confederation – Revolutionary War.Net

When Canada was invited to join the United States – Constitution Center Blog

 

Posted in American History, history, Politics

The Articles of Confederation: Part 3

The Second Four Articles

Article 5

Article Five deals with Congress and representation.  Unlike the constitution, the Articles of Confederation have very strict ideas about representation.  For example, each state was allowed 2-7 representatives in Congress (no more or less). Each state would choose their delegates, and send them to meet on the first Monday in November each year.  They could be recalled and replaced at the will of the State.  A delegate’s term of service was limited to 3 years in any 6 year period.  They were also required not to hold any other office in the government in which they could be paid.

Each state, despite the number of delegates/representatives, would only have 1 vote as a state.  Which would mean that while there might be 7 people sent from that state, they’d have to come to some agreement on what they should vote for as a state rather than their own personal votes as it is now.

Delegates were given some diplomatic immunity to being arrested while doing their duties (unless it was treason, felony or breach of the peace).

Continue reading “The Articles of Confederation: Part 3”

Posted in American History, history, Politics

The Articles of Confederation: Part Two

The First Four Articles

Preamble

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 1

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.

Article 2

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.

Article 3

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.

Article 4

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.

Further Reading

Articles of Confederation – Library of Congress

Confederation – Vocabulary.com

The Federalist Papers Project – Article Four

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Articles of Confederation: Introduction

Introduction:

The Constitution of the United States was not the first attempt to organize our government once the United States declared Independance.  The original “constitution” was called the Articles of The Confederation and Perpetual Union or Articles of Confederation for short.  For simplicity I will refer to it as The Articles in this essay series.

I’ve been doing this series a little backwards, starting with the Constitution’s amendments, then the Constitution itself and now the forerunner document, but if you are reading this after the fact, you may be starting here.  So it all depends on if you are going in tag order, chronological order or in the order the documents were written.  Welcome to my journey of amatuer history commentary.

But lets get back on topic. When the young nation first declared independence, it was quickly seen that something needed to be done about forming a new government to replace the one they had rejected. The influences on this document started long before independance.

Continue reading “The Articles of Confederation: Introduction”

Posted in American History, essay, Politics

The Constitution: Article 7 & Conclusion

Article 7 is a bit of a misnomer, its more of a conclusion (hence the title of this post.  It merely states that a majority of 9 states out of the 13 then involved would be required to ratify it before it was made officially law.  9 is 2/3rds of the original 13 states, a standard that continues today with amendments needing to pass 2/3rds of the States.  That is currently 33 states, since we now have a total of 50.

Of course, given that it is the constitution, it was prefered that all states would ratify it (which they eventually did)  Otherwise some states may still have been under the governing of the Articles of Confederation, which would be very awkward when trying to make laws, or making governing decisions between states.  It also was a political move to make the states ratify it early to be able to be on the decision-making team when it came to alterations (Amendments) and putting together the details that the constitution left vague. Continue reading “The Constitution: Article 7 & Conclusion”

Posted in American History, history, Politics

The Constitution: Article Six

Article Six addresses various other items that were of a concern with creating a new constitution and a new Federal government.

Clause 1:  The US will still honor its debts.

There was some concern that with a new constitution/government that the US wouldn’t honor debts or contracts entered into under the Articles of the Confederation (The First constitution that the United States had ratified).  The first clause addresses this concern by saying that the Constitution will uphold anything debts that occurred or engagements (such as treaties and contracts) shall be continued under the new constitution.

Basically it means that the US is under new management, but the old deals still apply.

Clause 2:  The US Constitution shall be the ultimate law of the land.

This directs that any law, judgement or other actions by the government must adhere to this document.  It also states that all states are subject to the Constitution and Federal law, effectively bringing them under the same umbrella.  One of the ongoing issues with the Articles of Confederation was the lack of power the federal government had to do anything.  The confusion as states formed their own money etc couldn’t be corrected by the federal with much power behind it.  This government however was stronger, and made sure to specify that this document was the supreme law.  This also effectively transitions the country from working under the Articles of Confederation to having a new constitution.

Clause 3:  All officers of the government shall uphold the oath.  None of them will be forced to prove their religious faith.

There are two elements to the third clause.  One is that every officer of the government is to swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the constitution when taking office.  The other element is that no officer has to prove his religious choices to get into office.

This particular element has come under recent speculation,  This clause basically assures that there is no government backed religion, that no person who works in the government will have to prove their religion in order to take office.

With fundamentalism of many religions being more visible, many people are being asked unofficially to prove that they belong to one religion or another. Personally I believe that this clause in the Constitution makes it unconstitutional to make someone prove that they are part of a religion (regardless of said religion) in order to do their job (i.e. take office), or seek services from the federal government.  Many have alternate points of view on the subject.

The Supreme Court expanded this clause to the states in 1961’s Torcaso v. Watkins. Now no governmental employee, federal, state or otherwise, is required to prove one’s religious conviction or religious orientation to take office.

I found Heritage Guide to the Constitution had an interesting background for this particular clause (I’ve included the link below in the further reading) which also goes into people’s concern about secular language (a argument still had today).

Further Reading:

Law.com – Article 6 – Kids

Us Constitution.net – The Constitution Explained

Heritage.Org – Religious Test

Justia.Com – Supreme  Court Case Torcaso v. Watkins (1961)

 

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Constitution: Article Five

Article Five is unique because it only has one section.  It also has only one job: To explain how we can alter the constitution.

To change the constitution to suit the evolving needs of its citizenship, Congress can pass Amendments.  Amendments must be passed by two-thirds majority of both houses, and then present it to the legislatures of the states.  It must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states before it can be accepted into law.

There are currently 27 Amendments that have been ratified as part of the constitution.  Several amendments have been proposed but not voted on, others have been voted on and not quite made the cut vote wise.  There are even a few amendments that missed ratification due to a time limit and lack of state ratifications.

Some examples of failed or still pending Amendments include:

  • The Equal Rights Amendment
    First introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, this amendment keeps poping up as society seems reluctant to catch up with equal rights in reality rather then theory.  It got as far as being ratfied by 35 states, falling short by 3 by the deadline of the 1972 edition.  It has still come up for a vote in Congress in recent years
  • The “First” Amendment.
    When the Bill of rights was proposed, there were actually 12 amendments, not 10. 11 of those Amendments have been ratitifed as Amendments 1-10, and 27 (which took the longest of any amendment to be ratified). It dealt with the size of congress, and basically deals in thousands when we have millions of citizens now so it doesn’t really fit the current needs of the population.
  • The Nobility Amendment
    This is still on the books to be ratified, but doesn’t really come up often.  It was a restriction on American’s ability to hold international nobility titles.  Basically it came down to Americans could not receive any gifts, income, title from a foreign government without the permission of Congress. Otherwise they must surrender their citizenship to the US
  • The Corwin Amendment
    While James Buchanan was president, an amendment came up that actually protects slavery, and would have made it unconstitutional to do away with slavery.  Its still technically out there to be ratified despite the 13th Amendment which makes it moot and unconstitutional.  Its one of two Amendments that the President actually signed (again, Presidents really have no input in Amendments offically).  The other is the 13th, which was signed by Buchanan’s successor Abraham Lincoln.
  • Child Labor Amendment
    This Amendment would have regulated child labor and made it a federal issue, removing the power from the States.  It has been ratified by 28 states.
  • District of Columbia Amendment
    This amendment would have granted DC representation in Congress.  It wasn’t ratified before the 7 year limit posed on it was reached.
  • 1876 – Anti-Congress Amendment
    As you can well imagine, this one never passed Congress.  The Amendment would have abolished the Senate.

Most Amendment proposals don’t make it out of their respective house.  The last amendment to be ratified was the 27th, which was one of the original 12 amendments made in  1789. It was ratified in 1992, 203 years later.

Further Reading

The Amendment Series

Constitution Center – Top Ten Amendments that haven’t made it (Yet)

US Consitiution.net – Failed Amendments

Lexis Nexis – Failed Amendments

 

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Constitution: Article Two (Part Two)

Article 2: Part 1

Section Two

Section 2 relates to the President’s duties as far as administrative function.  He is given the right to fill vacancies in the executive department (providing that they are confirmed by Congress), and to take into consideration the opinions of those people. He is also allowed to fill vacancies in Ambassadorial positions.  This part of the job is well shown on Media these days as Congress goes through the process of confirming nominations for the cabinet positions.   It is rare that nominations are not confirmed.  In some cases Nominations are pulled before they take a vote if it proves problematic.  However, there have been a few over the years (Senate.gov).

For most confirmations a simple majority vote is taken, from precedent from the first cabinet confirmations.  In current history, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate President –  Vice President Pence – breaking a tie. This was not a usual occurrence, and all sources I find at the moment point to it not having happened before.

He is also the head of the military services, and can call state militias into the national service. When the US was first created, the national military was very small, and depended on state militias to fill out the ranks. Over the centuries as the National military grew, and due to experiences in the Civil War and Spanish-American war, this was altered.  Each state now has a National Guard, whose primary use is for State needs, but can be called up for Federal service.

For example, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard to “prevent anarchy” and to enforce the law passed by Congress requiring schools to integrate races.  The story of Little Rock 9 is often told as a major point in race relations in the US, as is Eisenhower’s decision to use the National Guard to overrule the school/Governor defiance of the law.

Some states still have their own Defense Force outside the National Guard. Several states had them at one point but are currently inactive either due to States dismissing them due to liability issues or other reasons.  Pennsylvania had a reserve militia, for example, but only during WWII and Korea.  Then again Pennsylvania’s history with state militias is an interesting story for another time.

Section 3

This section essentially lays out the State of the Union address.  The constitution requires that the President occasionally present before Congress his plans for the nation and the status of the nation.  When originally used, it was not required that it happened every year but it has become customary now that it happens every year.

And because I love using segments of West Wing:

This section also makes him the chief diplomat, in that he is expected to meet with Ambassadors and other dignitaries of the world.  He is also to make sure that laws are faithfully adhered to.  Which really goes back to the oath of office.

Section 4:

This section adds that the President is subject to impeachment.

Further Reading:

Civil War Army Organization (Civil War.org)

State Defense Force (Wikipedia)

President Sends Troops To Arkansas  (New York Times; September 25, 1957)

The National Constitution Center: Article Two

The National Constitution Center: Five Presidential Cabinet Rejections