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Why Was it Very Difficult to Get Laws Passed Under the Articles of Confederation?

The Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitution, was ratified in 1781, in the middle of the Revolutionary War. This document acted as the United States’ initial framework of government before the current constitution was adopted in 1789. However, the Articles faced severe criticism for its structural weaknesses, the most problematic of which was the difficulty in getting laws passed.

The core of the issue lay in the deliberate construction of a weak central government. The memory of the British monarchy’s oppression was fresh in the minds of the newly independent Americans, who were wary of a strong centralized authority. Hence, the drafters of the Articles deliberately aimed to limit federal powers and allowed states to maintain significant sovereignty.

The way the Articles of Confederation was set up made it very difficult to get laws passed. For any significant law to pass, it required the approval of at least nine out of the thirteen states, as stated in Article IX of the Confederation. This rule meant that a mere five states could block any proposed legislation, making it a high bar for any national law to pass. Such an arrangement often resulted in a lack of consensus and the stalling of critical legislation.

Besides, the Articles did not establish an executive branch that could enforce laws, nor a judicial branch that could interpret them. As such, even when a law managed to be passed, its enforcement remained a challenge. Without the checks and balances system that the current Constitution provides, the Articles’ model made for an inefficient lawmaking process and ineffective enforcement mechanisms.

Furthermore, the Articles of Confederation gave the federal government no power to levy taxes. Instead, it relied on voluntary donations from the states. This lack of financial independence meant that the central government was often cash-strapped and struggled to get financial legislation passed. Moreover, without a stable source of revenue, the government could not pay off its wartime debts or finance new projects, which added to the nation’s difficulties.

Lastly, the lack of a centralized foreign policy under the Articles of Confederation often left the nation unable to uphold its international obligations. Since the approval of all thirteen states was required to enter into international agreements, the United States was often seen as a weak and unreliable partner on the global stage.

All these structural issues led to a political logjam and economic turmoil. The inability to pass laws effectively under the Articles of Confederation significantly contributed to the constitutional crisis of the 1780s. As a response, the Philadelphia Convention was convened in 1787, and a new Constitution was drafted, which addressed many of these challenges by creating a stronger federal government with a more effective system of checks and balances.

In conclusion, the extreme difficulty in passing laws under the Articles of Confederation was due to its design favoring state sovereignty over a strong central government, high approval requirements for legislation, lack of an executive and judicial branch, and an ineffectual financial system. These limitations highlighted the need for a new constitutional framework, leading to the establishment of the current U.S. Constitution, which carefully balances state and federal powers.

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