The cover of the Articles of Confederation
The founders of the United States put many limitations on the federal government, and had various reasons for doing so.
Our country today is known as the United States of America--but the United States were not always so united. After they rid themselves of the problematic British government, the States faced a problematic American one. Before the Constitution brought the government we know today, the country’s leadership was very different--and almost nonexistent. Our government used to be based on a document called the Articles of Confederation, which was proposed in 1777 and ratified in 1781. Meant to give power to the people, this document severely limited the abilities of the government, and didn’t even include a president for fear of having another all-powerful figure like King George III. The founders of the United States put many limitations on the federal government, and had various reasons for doing so.
The founders of the US writing the Articles of Confederation
Congress had to ask for money from the states
One limitation the founders put on their government was the inability to levy taxes. Only the state governments, not the federal one, were able to impose taxes upon their citizens, so Congress had to ask for money from the states whenever they needed it--a request that was almost always ignored. The founders did not want a repeat of the taxation without representation that they had faced themselves under Britain’s regime. Regardless of any good intentions, this limitation made Congress unable to pay off either war debts or soldiers’ salaries.
The federal government had no real power
Another way the government’s power was limited by the founders was by only being allowed to pass laws with the states’ approval. Every state had exactly one vote, which they used for various purposes. One way they used their votes was to ratify laws--every newly proposed law from Congress had to be agreed upon by at least nine of the 13 states, or else it would not be passed. Another way they used their votes was to amend the Articles of Confederation. Similarly to the policy about laws, every amendment to an official document required a certain amount of votes. Instead of only needing a minimum of nine votes, however, amendments required unanimous agreement from all 13 states. The founders included this limitation in the Articles to prevent the federal government from imposing any laws that weren’t approved of by the people they were being imposed upon. Therefore, the federal government had no real power over the states because the only laws were ones that the states themselves approved of.
The government was defenseless
The third way the founders limited government power was by not allowing the assembly or usage of military forces by Congress. The federal government could not appoint officers of the rank of colonel or below, nor could it organize militias. When it required military use, Congress had to ask one of the states for permission to use its militia. The founders included this limitation to avoid an invasion of a state like the invasion of Massachusetts by Britain during the Intolerable Acts. Because of this, the government was defenseless against all attacks unless it was granted permission to use one of the states’ militias, and could not enforce laws.
The articles were eventually removed
The United States founders used the Articles of Confederation to severely limit the powers of the federal government. The States themselves had to approve or provide all of Congress’s propositions and requests. The Articles were eventually removed, but if they hadn’t been, America--and the world--would be a very different place; the original States affected by the Articles of Confederation might have even become 13 separate countries with only their own words as laws.
"Digital History." Digital History. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.