The Articles of Confederation: The Amendments

Congress continued to meet in Philadelphia after the war, but was having a heck of a time of it. The Continentals had successfully thrown off the yoke of monarchy, but were left with an ineffective government and a pile of debt.

The states were refusing to live up to their obligations under the Articles of Confederation, and Congress was beginning to realize that they really had no authority. The Articles of Confederation, while looking good on paper, did not give Congress any power to force states to help pay for the war.

In 1786, a group of delegates came up with a set of amendments to allow Congress to try the carrot and stick approach with the states to get them to live up to their obligations. If they didn’t go for the carrot, they would beat them with the stick.

Most people don’t know about the Articles of Confederation. Even fewer know that there were amendments proposed to it before they decided to scrap the whole thing. 

The new Articles were not even amendments, really. They were addendum to the existing Articles.   

Article 14: Gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce as well as foreign trade. They may lay prohibitions, as well as imposts and duties on imports and exports, however, citizens are not to pay more than those imposed on the subjects of foreign subjects.

Any duties imposed will be collected under regulations adopted by Congress, consistent with the constitutions of each state. The monies will accrue for use by the state in which the duties are collected. The states will still be allowed to lay embargoes, even in times of scarcity. 

Article 15: (In response to issues that the Congress was experiencing in getting the states to pay their taxes) Any state that does not pay its taxes or fulfill a requisition from Congress will be charged a late fee of 10% a year. Any state that does not furnish land forces, the average expense will be calculated by Congress, and the state charged for those expenses PLUS 12% annually.

Article 16: Addresses penalties for any states that do not fulfill their commitments in paying taxes. Give Congress the power and authority to come and collect said taxes. If a state seeks to delay or prevent the collection of these taxes, Congress holds the authority to appoint sheriffs to enforce the collections. If the state (or the citizens) still oppose the collection of taxes, the state will be found in violation of the Federal compact. (It is not clear if this means the state will be considered in rebellion, or thrown out of the Union)

Article 17: Any state that is ahead in its payments, or has paid more than they need to will be reimbursed at the rate of 6% annually, while those in arrears will be charged 6% annually.

Article 18: Any changes to the tax system should not exceed fifteen years, but need to be approved by the legislatures of 11 of the 13 states (85%), or the same proportion if more states join the Union. Any states joining the Union will be bound by the same tax structure as the rest.

Article 19: Congress will determine what constitutes treason, piracy, and felonies on the high seas. Congress also gains the power to create a Federal judiciary to try those who misbehave or commit crimes while in office, or review treaties made by Congress. Also allows Federal courts to try cases involving the United States. States that trial by jury is sacred.

Federal Court to consist of seven judges: one from each state except New York and New Jersey (get one between them), Delaware and Maryland (get one between them), and North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (gets one judge for the three).

Article 20: Attention should be paid by the states to elect delegates as quickly as possible, and report to Congress how many delegates will be attending, and that Congress should meet early in the year and get business done as quickly as possible so everyone can get home to tend to business there.

These were an attempt to address those areas where the Article were found deficient.

Some of the major criticisms about the Articles is that it invested all power in Congress.  There was no provision for a Federal court system of any kind,  and Congress was having a difficult time collecting taxes from the states. While Congress was essentially toothless, there was no provision for anyone to review or challenge their legislation. 

Ultimately, these proposals were rejected, as Congress could not come to a consensus, and paved the way to the Constitution. However, some of these proposed amendments found their way into the Constitution, such as the regulation of interstate commerce.

The road lay open to something completely radical for its time: The United States Constitution. 

Update 3/27/2013:

Here is another proposed amendment for the Articles. It is kind of hard to read, because most of their “s’s” look like “f”s”. (By the UNITED STATES CONGRESS Affembled)

And a few more.

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