With the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the 13 American colonies declared themselves to be independent and sovereign states. (Actually, you could say it was 14 states that declared independence, because the area known as Vermont simultaneously separated from New York.)
After defeating the British during the ensuing first war for independence in 1783, the new states of America set up a confederation designed to ensure equity and equality across all sovereign member states while uniting them for common purposes.
That was the primary goal and core strength documented in the Articles of Confederation.
It is also why each of the 13 sovereign states would have one single independent vote in all matters of decision with respect to the new federal level of confederated government.
If it hadn’t overlooked a few key interstate commerce-related issues, the Articles of Confederation would likely still be in place today.
Imagine the clarity retained by such a system, in which the states would still directly specify what the federal government is permitted to do — and not do.
Imagine too, that each sovereign state would still decide how it would fund its share of any activity that it permitted the federal level of government to undertake.
And imagine what the oft-heard phrase “limited government” would mean for America’s citizens today?
To put this into perspective, let’s take a brief look back at the Articles of Confederation, the gaps that did need attention, and the political jockeying that took place … all part of the prelude to the Constitution.
One of the original Articles of Confederation’s strengths was also a weakness.
To ensure equity and equality, the founders wisely established that every state had one vote. But, in order to revise or amend any part of it, every state had to unanimously vote to affect a proposed change. That meant any state held veto power. Given that the federal government was purposefully kept weak, some — including Founder James Madison — said that the federal government could not intervene in or regulate disagreements between states.
What were some examples of the real or perceived problems back then? For one, Maryland and Virginia argued over control of the Potomac River. For another, Rhode Island was taxing all traffic passing though it.
Such actions provided fodder for the political propensities of some Founders and others who wanted a more dominant federal government.
Perhaps the most important weakness of the Articles of Confederation was that it didn’t give the federal government the ability to regulate trade. Others have included the federal government’s inability to collect taxes on the list of the Articles’ weaknesses.
In my view, there is some validity in the former instances; barely any in the latter claim.
In both, amendments to the Articles of Confederation could have resolved all problems.
Unfortunately, egos and the pursuit of power were as present back then as they are these days.
Well, maybe back then they were mere seeds that over time have grown larger, and larger, and larger — like the federal government itself.
Part II is of this two-part series will be published in early September.
Richard Olivastro is president of Olivastro Communications, a professional member of the National Speakers Association and founder of Citizens for Change (www.CFC.us). He can be reached via email at RichOlivastro@gmail.com.