The Articles of confederation was the foundation stone upon which American sovereignty was built following the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Articles of Confederation (hereafter ‘The Articles’) as originally drafted “did not create a national government, but rather a “firm league of friendship” among the sovereign states (Cornell, 2013, p.121) .
“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” (Articles of Confederation, July 9, 1778) In other words The Articles allowed the independent and autonomous states present a united front for the purpose of international diplomacy, military command and control, and raising revenue to support the aforementioned actions. It was nonetheless valuable as it gave the now independent states a means by which to conduct international diplomacy and fight the revolutionary war. The weakness of The Articles is that it was a voluntary association of autonomous independent states (In this case, states can be understood as countries) that had no centralized authority to make demands of the individual states but rather “depended entirely on the goodwill of the states” (Cornell, 2013, P.121) The Articles could not be adopted until four years after their drafting, because of what came to be known as The Western Problem. At the heart of this debate was the concern that certain states, most notably Virginia lay claim to western lands of undefined proportions, which could tip the balance of power should land mass and population be used as a method of determining influence in voting in congress.
As noted on the Library of Congress website “The states without such claims argued that the western lands should be owned by the national government. The states with land claims were reluctant to give up their claims. When Virginia finally gave up most of its claims to western lands, the Articles of Confederation were adopted” (Teacher Resources LOC, 2018). Under the Articles, a 9/13ths majority was required to pass legislation. Each state was afforded only one vote, regardless of physical size or population.
This was because smaller states feared being dominated by larger or more populous states and often resulted in an inability to affect legislation. This controversy would again appear in the negotiations surrounding the ratification of the new federal Constitution, and was ultimately solved by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut in what came to be known as the Great Compromise, the Connecticut Compromise, and also simply as The Sherman Plan. (Cornell, 2013, P.145) In Contrast to The Articles the new Federal Constitution had considerable power over the the individual states. This included a centralized executive power, held by the office of the President who had the power to enforce the Federal Policies put forth by the Legislative and Judicial arms of the federal government acting in accordance with the Constitution. The federal government under the Constitution had the power to tax the states, and to mint a centralized currency. Because power was centralized, the federal government was also able to regulate interstate and international commerce, and collect taxes, tariffs, and duties associated with those trades.
From the onset the differences between the largely industrialized north and the agricultural south was apparent in the negotiations surrounding the ratification of the Constitution. Supporters of Federalism or ‘Federalists’ as they were known were in favor of a highly centralized government that would hold jurisdiction over the individual states. In contrast, opponents, whilst less organized as a group came to be known as Anti-Federalists. In short, Federalists tended to be Northerners, and favored a highly centralized government with a central locus of control over all the states. In Contrast the Anti-Federalists tended to be Southerners, and were more in favor of a looser constitution, that would be more reflective of the Articles of Confederation, retaining more autonomy and sovereignty in the hands of the states, and to continue in what would be more of a “firm league of friendship” as compared to the centralization of power preferred by the Federalists. In forging the new Constitution of 1787 many compromises had to be made on all sides, including northerners, southerners, and westerners; in addition large states with large populations were also at odds with small states with small populations. Smaller states like New Jersey and Connecticut had much to loose if representation in congress were to be based solely on the size of the population.
Two plans were put forward, The Virginia Plan, which favored representation by population size, and the New Jersey plan which favored equal representation for states regardless of population size. The solution to this problem lay in what came to be known as The Great Compromise, or as the Connecticut Compromise. In this compromise, the interests of both small and large states are addressed, and it was accepted into the constitution. According to this plan the legislature would be comprised of an upper house and a lower house. In the upper house every state would be represented by two senators regardless of state population or size. The lower house would be represented proportionally according to the size of the states population.
(Cornell, 2013, P.145)