Federalism - State Governments vs. the Articles of Confederation

Updated: 8/30/2018
Federalism - State Governments vs. the Articles of Confederation
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Federalism Lesson Plans

Federalism: The Evolution of a Democratic Republic

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett

The United States did not spring into being, fully formed. It took the valiant efforts of patriotic revolutionaries both on and off the battlefield. Creating a government that could unite the colonies into a single nation was a controversial idea when it was proposed. But after many debates and compromises, the US federal government was formed through the development of the Articles of Confederation and the later Constitution.


Federalism

Storyboard Description

What is Federalism - Students will compare and contrast the powers, structure, strengths, and weaknesses of both state governments and the national government under the Articles of Confederation. While colonists identified namely with their own states, many were cautious when developing and adhering to a national government. Tyranny was to be avoided, but to what extent? With this guide, students will be able to explain and analyze the differences that existed between state and federal government in early America and their attempts to guide the newly formed nation.

Storyboard Text

  • POWERS
  • STATE GOVERNMENT
  • RI
  • VA
  • CT
  • GA
  • VT
  • NJ
  • NJ
  • MA
  • POWERS
  • FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
  • Taxes are too HIGH!
  • We simply cannot help you!
  • Our money is NO GOOD!
  • In early American government, much of the country's power lay with the states. States held a strong belief in conducting their own affairs. States could operate voting rights, taxes, money, defense, etc. Each state was governed by its own constitutions that were created prior to any federal government structure. States also operated their own judicial systems, and had strong legislatures.
  • STRUCTURE
  • The federal government in early America was weak. The Articles of Confederation were created by the Continental Congress in 1777 and adopted in 1781. Powers mostly included making limited laws and enforcing them. It could declare war, but not collect taxes. They had to petition states for money, which could be problematic. In addition, each state had one vote, and achieving a majority to change law was very difficult.
  • STRUCTURE
  • EXECUTIVE
  • LEGISLATIVE
  • JUDICIAL
  • Virginia will NEVER agree to this!
  • New Jersey will NEVER agree to this!
  • State governments were structured with three branches and separated powers. They operated under an executive (the governor), a legislature (law-making body), and judicial system (courts and decisions on law). State representatives were elected by those who could vote. They also maintained their own monetary and tax systems.
  • STRENGTHS
  • ORDER OF THE VIRGINIAN COURT
  • Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government had one united legislature, it operated unicamerally. The only branch existent was the legislature, or law-making body. The Articles did not create a judicial system; that was left to the states. Furthermore, the executive portion of government was weak, as presidents had very limited powers, if any. Overall, the Articles were weak and poorly structured.
  • STRENGTHS
  • LEGISLATIVE
  • The strengths of state governments in early America mostly lay in each state's ability to operate on its own. They conducted their own courts, taxes, and citizens generally identified with their states, not their national government. State constitutions had existed for years, making them strong and popular. In addition, state governments enjoyed strong support from its citizens.
  • WEAKNESSES
  • The strengths of the Articles of Confederation were few and far between. With no real power to tax, conduct foreign affairs, and force states to do things at will, the Articles strength mainly lay in the legislative abilities. They also provided structure to the newly formed United States. Having little power was, in fact, a strength, as it eased people into not fearing central power, post-revolution.
  • WEAKNESSES
  • EXECUTIVE
  • But Georgia needs THAT!
  • But Massachusetts needs this!
  • Amending the Articles is IMPOSSIBLE!
  • State governments did have weak points. Each state operated differently, and had contrasts in economies, money, law, and rights, like voting. This promoted disunity, and it was difficult for states to agree on things. Overall, these differences, along with each state's independence, proved to be a major weakness.
  • Many weaknesses existed within the Articles of Confederation. For one, they lacked major powers such as taxation, conducting war, and managing the economy. In addition, in order for amendments to be made to the Articles, all 13 states had to agree, making changes nearly impossible. Even to achieve a majority of 7 out of 13 states proved to be difficult. In essence, the national government was weak and needed to be changed.