The Articles of Confederation have been denounced for so long that no one bothers to denounce them anymore. Almost every American and almost every single person around the world who studies American history at any level considers the Articles a failure. The failure of the Articles is as sure as the sun rising tomorrow. It’s just an accepted “truism” that they did not work and that we Americans needed something to replace them.
Even those who take seriously the criticisms of the Constitution by the anti-Federalists typically believe the Articles a disaster.
A close examination, however, reveals that Articles were quite successful at several things, including: 1) keeping the peace (overall); 2) securing as well as keeping our independence; and 3) passing the most powerful piece of legislation in the history of republics, The Northwest Ordinance.
As to the first claim, historians often dismiss this by citing Daniel Shays and his uprising as a clear example of the failure of the Articles. If we do, however, we must state the exact same thing about the U.S. Constitution and its “failure” to prevent South Carolina from seceding in late 1860. Shays, however, did not want to secede. He merely wanted to get the government to take the demands of western Massachusetts farmers seriously. That he did so through violence was nothing new or exceptional. One might even readily argue that such a course had always been the course of last resort under the English Common Law.
That we remember the Articles poorly has far more to do with the ultimate success—in and out of the academy—of American nationalists than it does with actual failure or success of the Articles themselves.
Read the rest at The Imaginative Conservative.