Weaknesses of The Articles of Confederation: Early Governance Challenges


What Were the Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?

Lack of Central Authority

Perhaps the biggest flaw of the Articles of Confederation was the absence of a strong centralized power. The other provisions of the Act created a unicameral Congress that was accessible to and named by the governors or congresses of the member countries to serve collectively, with no separate executive or judicial branches. The result was that the only body of government was Congress, with little power. Laws would be created, but no one would abide by them. Consequently, the central government was largely impotent in running national politics and settling interstate conflicts.

Inability to Enforce Laws

The Articles did not allow Congress to enforce laws. It could legislate, but it had to rely on the states to carry out and enforce any laws it passed. By then states that held the power to follow or not follow the national directives often did not, resulting in inconsistency and non-compliance. This weakened the federal government, which meant that it could not manage to maintain order and perform its duty.

Absence of a National Judiciary

The Constitution was ratified to replace the Articles of Confederation, which did not include a national judiciary. There was no system of federal courts to provide a means of interpreting laws or resolving conflicts between the states. But these gaps allowed hot disputes — and inconsistencies between state laws — to fester. Federal court adjudication did not exist, leading to uncertainty about the law and questioning the uniformity of the laws as applied across the nation.

Financial Weaknesses

Another very important weakness of the Articles of Confederation was financial instability. The federal government could not impose taxes or raise funds in its own right. Instead, it relied on voluntary state donations, which often left it underfunded and impotent.

Inability to Raise Taxes

With Congress unable to tax, it was difficult for the national government to raise funds for itself to cover the costs of the nation, including payment of debts that Congress had incurred during the Revolution. Reducing the size of the budget has just led states to shirk their proportional responsibilities and the federal government to run out of money permanently. This financial weakness handicapped the government’s ability to maintain a standing army, supply public services, or meet the financial costs of fulfilling its fiscal obligations.

Economic Disunity.

The doctrine of intentions has also contributed to a disjointed economic policy; the result of the disjointed economic plan is the Articles of Confederation. States were able to hold on to their trade regulations and taxation of tariffs, making for an economy that was fragmented and competitive between states. This disunity inhibited interstate commerce and placed impediments on economic growth. The federal government was unable to control trade, which ultimately prevented the nation from forging a strong, integrated economy.

Interstate Disputes and Foreign Relations

The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation extended to issues of interstate disputes and foreign relations. The federal government lacked the authority to effectively manage relationships between states and negotiate with foreign powers.

Interstate Conflicts

The Articles provided that each state retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence. This independence also created tensions and disputes over territory, commerce, and other matters. They would otherwise turn into national dissensions that threaten the unity of the country, and in the absence of a central command authority to mediate, we would risk further escalation and chaos. One of these was the challenge of dealing with interstate conflicts in a beneficial and peaceful manner so as to ensure amicable relations among the different states.

Weakness in Foreign Relations

The constraints on the federal government also limited its effectiveness in foreign relations. While Congress had the power to enter into treaties and alliances, but because it lacked enforcement or taxing powers, it could not back its diplomacy with any force to compel the United Kingdom to fulfil the Treaty of Paris of 1783. Countries around the world were wary of partnering with a government that could not deliver on its commitments nor demonstrate financial and budgetary discipline. This weakening showed itself in, among other things, the continued presence of British troops on American soil and in the prohibition of the colonists from doing business with the British West Indies.

The Need for Constitutional Revision

The ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation turned out to be more clear than anyone’s wildest dreams during the 1780s, a period that is sometimes alluded to as the Critical Period. Attempts to reform the Articles to address these shortcomings proved to be functionless, as the state legislatures constitutionally entrenched their authority over the national government.

Failed Amendments

Many attempts were made to change the Articles in order to give Congress more power, especially the power to tax. These attempts were unsuccessful because any amendments had to have unanimous approval from all thirteen states. So, this failure to reach consensus on needed reforms created a powerful motivator to change the existing framework in order to paint a more flexible and muscular system of governance.

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention was convened in 1787 in Philadelphia for the most part to address the insufficiency of the Articles of Confederation. The delegates quickly recognized that merely amending the Articles would not suffice. In its place, they created a new constitution to form a federal government with a strong central government and separate executive, legislative, and judiciary branches. The U.S. Constitution established a sounder, better-coordinated system of the national government.


The Articles of Confederation were a significant step, yet an insufficient leap for a consolidated nation. An economic downturn that unsettled ex-Confederates and citizens alike and the inability to remedy interstate and foreign conflicts exposed the lack of a central authority and financial weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, reinforcing the need for a stronger constitution. The limited powers of government under the Articles of Confederation contributed to a series of challenges faced by the nation, ultimately leading to the U.S. Constitution, which replaced the Articles and sought to correct these weaknesses, thus establishing a stronger and more efficient federal government.

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