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The Constitution vs. The Articles of Confederation

Grades 6-8 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 1060L-1540L

Learning Standards




Prompt: Today you will read and analyze two sources related to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Write an essay in which you make a claim about how the Constitution created a more effective government than the Articles of Confederation for the United States. Be sure to cite evidence from both sources to support your essay.



Source 1

Excerpts from the United States Constitution (Primary Source)


We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


Article I


Section 1

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.


Section 2

…Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons…


Section 8

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; …


To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; …


To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States…


Article II


Section 1

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term…


Section 2

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States…


Article III


Section 1

The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish…


Article V


The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or… the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths [of the states…


Article VI


…This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…


Citation: The Constitution of the United States,




Source 2

What You Should Know about the Articles of Confederation (Secondary Source)

by Martin Kelly


  1. The Articles of Confederation established the first governmental structure unifying the thirteen states that had fought in the American Revolution. In effect, this document created the structure for the confederation of these thirteen states. The Articles went into effect on March 1, 1781 and lasted until March 4, 1789, when they were replaced by the US Constitution. So, why did the Articles of Confederation fail after just eight years?
  2. The purpose of the Articles of Confederation was to create a confederation of states whereby each state retained "its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right . . . not . . . expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled." Every state was as independent as possible with the central government of the United States, only responsible for the common defense, the security of liberties, and the general welfare. To this effect, the Articles were purposely written to keep the national government as weak as possible. However, this led to many of the problems that became apparent once the Articles took effect.

Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation


  1. Following is a list of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation that would quickly lead to problems which the founding fathers realized would not be fixable under the current form of government. These included the following:
  • Each state only had one vote in Congress, regardless of size.
  • Congress did not have the power to tax.
  • Congress did not have the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce.
  • There was no executive branch to enforce any acts passed by Congress.
  • There was no national court system.
  • Amendments to the Articles of Confederation required a unanimous vote.
  • Laws required a 9/13 majority to pass in Congress.
  1. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was concerned with preserving its own sovereignty and power. This led to frequent arguments between the states. In addition, the states would not willingly give money to financially support the national government.
  1. The national government was powerless to enforce any acts that Congress passed. Further, some states began to make agreements with foreign governments. Almost every state had its own military. Each printed its own money. This, along with issues with trade, meant that there was no stable economy.
  1. In 1786, Shays' Rebellion occurred in western Massachusetts as a protest to rising debt and economic chaos. However, the national government was unable to gather a combined military force amongst the states to help put down the rebellion.

Gathering of the Philadelphia Convention


  1. As the economic and military weaknesses became apparent, especially after Shays' Rebellion, individuals began asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope was to create a stronger national government. Initially, some states met to deal with their trade and economic problems.
  1. However, as more states became interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting was set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This became the Constitutional Convention. It was quickly realized that changes would not work, and instead the entire Articles needed to be replaced with a new Constitution.



Citation: Kelly, Martin, "What You Should Know about the Articles of Confederation", March 11, 2017,














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