The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789)


Article 9

Summary Article 9


What seems at first glance to be a lengthy list of powers granted to Congress under the Articles of Confederation was in actuality little more than a grant of limited powers necessary for the mutual defense of the United States. The Articles did not grant Congress the powers necessary for the effective governance of the United States.

In Article 9, the debate over the strength of the state versus the nation is articulated in a detailed list of precisely which powers Congress does and does not have. Although granted with the sole power to act in affairs of an international nature, Congress holds little authority over the day-to-day management of a nation. The radicals wanted it that way, inserting as many checks against strong governmental power as they could.

The most glaring deficiency of power is that the Congress served only a legislative role, and only in a narrowly defined area. Evolving out of a congress that united solely for the purpose of winning a war, the final draft of the Articles of Confederation did not recognize the need for a more expansive central government.

The only power of taxation belonging to Congress came in the form of postage, the revenue of which could solely be used to support the post office. Congress only possessed judicial power in cases involving felonies and piracy on the high seas and in cases related to the regulations it established for the army and the navy. The Articles imply that Congress had the authority to judge matters related to the boundaries of states or their jurisdiction, but only as a last resort. And, Congress lacked the executive power to enforce such decisions. Even if Congress were to rule in matters of interstate conflict, it would be up to the states to abide by that ruling.

Closely related to boundary disputes, but conspicuously absent from the Articles of Confederation, is whether Congress had the authority to acquire and administer land claimed by multiple parties. As the single most divisive issue facing the Congress when they drafted the Articles, it also served to delay Maryland's ratification, thereby delaying the Articles being put into effect, by four years.

At issue was a conflict between "landed" states, whose original charters granted them land west of the Appalachian Mountains (and in some cases to the Pacific Ocean), and the "landless" states, whose boundaries were clearly defined and finite. The situation was made even more complicated by the Proclamation of 1763, in which King George III dictated that land west of the Appalachian Mountains was off-limits to American settlers even if it was included in their colonial charters. Private speculators and corporations took advantage of this no-man's land to purchase property directly from Native Americans, banking on the fact that when the area was opened up, they would already own huge stakes of it.

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