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Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation

The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments. The Articles of Confederation gave Congress the power to govern foreign affairs, conduct war and regulate currency; however, these powers were sharply limited because Congress had no authority to enforce its requests to the states for money or troops.

This is an important concept to establish for students since State Rights are an important difference between our government and others around the world. This document shows that State Rights were always important. The various colonies each held modestly differing beliefs and wanted to be assured of certain levels of autonomy. The purpose of introducing this is only to set up the important difference between a Constitutional Republic and a Democracy. The need for a stronger Federal government would soon become apparent and eventually lead to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.

Hands-On Opportunity

Copies of the Articles are readily available in parchment paper.

Learning Opportunity

Conduct a discussion on what kinds of differences might the colonies want to retain for themselves. Consider all thirteen.

The Structure of the American Government

The government of the United States is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive, and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president, and the federal courts, respectively.

The Legislative Branch

The legislative branch drafts proposed laws, confirms or rejects Presidential nominations for heads of federal agencies, federal judges, and the Supreme Court, and has the authority to declare war. This branch includes Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives) and special agencies and offices that provide support services to Congress. American citizens have the right to vote for Senators and Representatives through free, confidential ballots.

Senate—There are two elected Senators per state, totaling 100 Senators. A Senate term is six years and there is no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.

House of Representatives—There are 435 elected Representatives, which are divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. There are additional non-voting delegates who represent the District of Columbia and the territories. A Representative serves a two-year term, and there is no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.

The Executive Branch

The executive branch carries out and enforces laws. It includes the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards, commissions, and committees. American citizens have the right to vote for the President and Vice President through free, confidential ballots. Key roles of the executive branch include:

President—The President leads the country. He or she is the head of state, leader of the federal government, and Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. The President serves a four-year term and can be elected no more than two times.

Vice President—The Vice President supports the President. If the President is unable to serve, the Vice President becomes President. The Vice President can be elected and serve an unlimited number of four-year terms as Vice President, even under a different President.

The Cabinet—Cabinet members serve as advisors to the President. They include the Vice President, heads of executive departments, and other high-ranking government officials. Cabinet members are nominated by the President and must be approved by a simple majority of the Senate–51 votes if all 100 Senators vote.

Judicial Branch

The judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and decides if laws violate the Constitution. It’s comprised of the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

Supreme Court—The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The Justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the President and must be approved by the Senate.

Nine members make up the Supreme Court— a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. There must be a minimum or quorum of six Justices to decide a case.
If there is an even number of Justices and a case results in a tie, the lower court’s decision stands. There is no fixed term for Justices. They serve until their death, retirement, or removal in exceptional circumstances.

Benefits of our Type of Government

  1. The power of the executive is greatly restricted compared to other nations, preventing hostile takeovers/unconstitutional actions.
  2. The power of the legislative branch is greatly restricted, as many of its potential powers are reserved for the President.
  3. Citizens can elect their President directly, instead of indirectly through a parliament.
  4. By necessity, congress is often forced to compromise on various bills, leading to relatively centrist legislation.
Hands-On Opportunity

Here is an opportunity to combine both an activity and learning experience. To fully understand how a fledgling group of colonies could defeat, Britain, the most powerful nation on earth, we need only to go back to our first document’s title: “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.” It was unity and the values and principles cooperation that created our great country. We must always remember that the enemies of freedom attack unity first. It is the uncivil discourse and divisiveness created by the “isms” (liberalism, socialism and communism) that all citizens must fear. Use this time to discuss how people with differing opinions can discuss, draft and adopt principles that benefit everyone.

Next Section: US Constitution