Part 2: How It All Changed
The question of whether or not there were any flaws in the Articles of Confederation is possibly the subject for another discussion; the point is that argument formed the basis for a modification of the powers held by government; which ultimately led to the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. However, for the sake of argument, let us continue forward on the premise that the Articles of Confederation were flawed; that they did not give the Congress sufficient power to effectively manage the country.
If that argument is valid, then why did they feel the need to abolish the Articles of Confederation instead of just amending them? After all, the Constitution was ratified in 1789 and since then it has been amended numerous times. If they could do that to the Constitution, then they surely could have done it to the Articles of Confederation – unless they had ulterior motives, such as abolishing the Confederation and decreasing the power held by the States under them.
Whatever the case might have been, under existing law any changes to the Articles of Confederation, (and I’d include their complete abandonment as a change), had to originate in the Congress, and then be approved by all 13 State Legislatures. So why is it that in 1787 delegates chosen by the States gathered together in secret, and when they adjourned they presented Congress with an entirely new system of government, as well as the mode by which that system was to be adopted or rejected – all of which violated existing law? If you ask me, Patrick Henry was right to declare that he smelled a rat in Philadelphia.
Regardless of your opinions regarding the men, their motives, and the end result of the Constitutional Convention, the fact is that it was an extra legal assembly acting outside the authority of the law as found in Article XIII of the Articles of Confederation. Simply stated, something that is extra legal is something that is NOT sanctioned by law; which is a perfect description of the Constitutional Convention.
This is not due to the fact that they chose to abolish the Articles of Confederation entirely with their proposal; that was within their power to recommend. What made it illegal is the fact that the mode of adoption or rejection of their plan did not conform to the law as found in Article XIII of the Articles of Confederation.
Read Article XIII closely, it states, “…nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.” It does not say where any suggested alterations must originate, only that they first be agreed to by the Congress, and then by the State Legislatures; which was not the case with the proposed Constitution.
Not only did their actions violate the law as it existed in early 1787, it also exceeded the authority delegated them by their respective State Legislatures. Almost all of them had been given specific instructions to come up with proposals for amendments to the Articles of Confederation; instructions they ignored when they chose to abolish the Articles of Confederation altogether and replace them with an outline for a new system of government created by them.
The question we should be asking is; why was it necessary to call a convention when it was within the power of Congress to perform the same function; propose amendments to modify or increase the powers delegated to them under the Articles of Confederation?
Wait a minute, they did. Before the Annapolis Convention met in 1786 the Congress acted upon a motion introduced by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina and they established a committee ‘to take into consideration the state of public affairs.’ This shows me that the Congress was aware of the flaws in the system that created that body, and they were looking into correcting those flaws.
Then on July 3rd of that same year the Congress appointed a grand committee ‘…to report such amendments to the Confederation and a draft of such resolutions as it may be necessary to recommend to the several states for the purpose of obtaining from them such powers as will render the federal government adequate to the ends for which it was instituted.’
The purpose of this committee was the same as the instructions that had been given to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention, “to report such amendments to the Confederation and a draft of such resolutions as it may be necessary to recommend to the several states for the purpose of obtaining from them such powers as will render the federal government adequate to the ends for which it was instituted.”
Of those amendments, and there were 7 of them, a majority of them dealt with the major concerns of the day; the inability of Congress to raise revenue, (taxes) and its inability to regulate trade. Others included power to punish treason and the process by which new delegates to Congress should be chosen to fill vacancies.
Unfortunately it seems that nothing came of these proposals due to the fact that arguments ensued over a proposed treaty with Spain, negotiated by John Jay, which would have granted exclusive dominion to Spain to navigate the Mississippi River; which would have wrecked havoc on the South. The treaty was eventually rejected, but it appears that the debates over it shelved the proposed amendments to the Articles of Confederation as well. Why those proposed amendments were never reintroduced is something I’ve yet to learn; all I can say is that the Constitutional Convention’s proposal for a new system of government was the only proposal that was acted upon; resulting in the eventual ratification of the Constitution.
I could go on, but I think now would be a good place to take a break and let what I’ve explained sink in. My next discussion will attempt to cover who were behind the drafting of the Constitution, some of their motives, and what they hoped to achieve…