<Standard 5.19..............................................................................................................................................................................................Standard 5.21>

Explain the reasons for the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and for its later failure.

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Topics on the Page

Overview of the Articles
Rationales and Weaknesses
Problems with the Articles
  • Shay's Rebellion
Slavery and the Articles

Focus Question: What were the reasons for the adoption and failure of the Articles of Confederation?

rotating gif.gifFor more on the Articles of Confederation, see USI.6

Seal of the Treasury of North America, 1782
Seal of the Treasury of North America, 1782

The Articles of Confederation in 1781 established a constitution for the a permanent United States of America. It was an agreement between the 13 founding states that legally established them as a nation, that nation being the United States of America. Another major reason was that it gave legitimacy to the Continental Congress to direct the rest of the Revolutionary War.

Multimedia.pngA good interactive website to look at is the Articles of Confederation, which also leads to links about the eventual constitution that was made.

This next link does a fantastic job of describing each Specific Articlein the Articles of Confederation,

As listed above, there were many problems created by the Articles of Confederation. The government was not regulating taxes, regulating trade between states, and failed to address anything economically within the United States at all.

The new nation drafts the Articles of Confederation. What is the rationale? What are the weaknesses?
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  • To protect the freedom and independence of each state.
  • To establish a single currency.
  • To give a national government the power to make war and to dictate the terms of peace.


  • The government lacked the ability to levy and regulate taxes.
  • No executive department to enforce laws and no national court system to interpret laws. Instead, there was a "league of friendships" between states.
  • There was a lack of national unity.

Problems with the Articles of Confederation - lacked national unity (states acted independently):

  • There was an economic downtown due to the disruptions in trade and farming caused by the war, but the new nation did not have the ability to address these problems. The government had no authority over trade between states, and it was powerless to address the restrictions that Great Britain (the largest naval power in the world at the time) placed on American trade. Great Britain sold manufactured goods at extremely low prices, which undermined the efforts of American producers, but the new American government did not have the ability under the Articles of Confederation to levy tariffs on imports to address this problem.
  • The US government did not have the ability to raise money through taxes to pay its debts. The states only gave money to the new national government when it served their specific interests. The paper money issued by the weak national government--"continental dollars"--were viewed as being worthless, and most people preferred to use gold and silver. The wealthy leaders in the country wanted a system whereby they would know that the national government would repay them, and this wasn't certain under the Articles of Confederation. States, dealing with disruptions to their economies by the war, levied high taxes on farmers, and this caused farmers to go into debt and then lose their lands. This, naturally, caused the new country's large agrarian population to grow dissatisfied with the government.

Shay's Rebellion

Shay's Rebellion highlighted the economic problems of the US under the Articles of Confederation.

  • Massachusetts taxed its citizens to pay debts, and many poor farmers lost their farms as a result.
  • Crowds began to form in front of state court buildings to protest against and to hopefully prevent further foreclosures in the fall of 1786.
  • Daniel Shays led protesters in a rebellion against foreclosures.
  • Shays and his followers attempted to seize the federal armory in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1786, and again in early 1787. They were stopped by the state militia.
  • There was a fear that this rebellion would spread to other states.
  • George Washington commented on the weaknesses of the new nation that were highlighted by Shay's Rebellion: "What a triumph for our enemies...to find we are incapable of governing ourselves."

multicultural.pngThe Articles of Confederation did not directly address the issue of Slavery.
  • Along with issues such as voting rights, Slavery was wholly left up to states to address (or not address) in their own state constitutions.
  • Pennsylvania abolished Slavery in 1780, and many other Northern States soon followed suit.
  • In some Southern States restrictions on the ability of individual slave owners to free their slaves were relaxed in the years before the ratification of the Constitution.

rotating gif.gifFor more, see

Grade 5.12 on the causes of slavery

Grade 5.31 on abolition of slavery


Souza, Christopher A. Lesson: The New Nation’s Start, Johnston, RI, October 11, 2005.
Souza, Christopher A. Lesson: The New Nation Starts and Expands, Johnston, RI, October 13, 2005.