Is weak government best for the preservation of democracy?
“The government which governs least, governs best.”
In declaring themselves free from the tyrannical rule of England
the colonists set out to create a new nation free of the rule of a
strong central government. As most colonists identified themselves as
citizens of their state or colony and not the colonies or nation as a
whole, states rights became an important feature in the new
government. The Articles of Confederation brought the colonies
together as a loose confederation with states rights being
considerably more important than the power of the federal government.
This confederation of failed due to structural reasons.
Articles of Confederation, was the basic law of the country
from its adoption in 1781 until 1789, when it was superseded by the
Under the articles, the nation was a confederacy, league of
independent states, each with a single vote. The unicameral
legislature had little power and all states were equal, thus giving
the larger states a proportional disadvantage based upon their size.
The Congress, or central government, made up of delegates chosen
by the states, was given the power to conduct foreign affairs, make
treaties, declare war, maintain an army and a navy, coin money, and
establish post offices.
The new nation did have a few successes among them:
- The negotiation of the Treaty of Paris which ended the
- Guiding the young nation through the critical period at
- The passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which provided
for orderly admission of states to the Union.
Measures passed by Congress, however, required the approval of 9
of the 13 states. The Congress was severely limited in its powers.
- It could not raise money by collecting taxes;
- it had no control over foreign commerce;
- it could pass laws but could not force the states to comply
with them. Thus, the government was dependent on the willingness
of the various states to carry out its measures, and often the
states refused to cooperate.
- In addition, the articles were virtually impossible to amend,
so problems could not be corrected.
These defects provided an insurmountable barrier to effective
constitutional government. Several failures illustrated the new
governments weakness. These failures included:
- The inability to pay off the debt from the war collectively
thus appearing less like a nation in they eyes of the world. It
also hurt our ability to borrow money.
- Discord among states who began taxing each other. This led to
an overall slump in the national economy and, eventually, a
- The government was powerless to put down Shay’s
Rebellion, a farmers revolt.
The nation’s leaders realized that a stronger central
administration was needed if the United States was to survive. In
1787 the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia to draw up a
constitution, which was adopted in 1789.