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Lessons Learned: The Articles of Confederation

Speaker: James M. Lindsay, Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
February 28, 2012

On March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation came into effect after Maryland became the thirteenth and final state to ratify them. As the first constitution for the new nation, The Articles established a national legislature but assigned it relatively little power. The individual colonies retained much of their sovereignty, and it soon became clear that such a weak federal government was ineffective. By 1787 the framers had begun writing a new constitution, the one that created the federal government Americans have today.

James M. Lindsay, CFR's senior vice president and director of studies, says that this episode in U.S. history points to the difficulty of creating a workable constitution. "It is easy to write a constitution," he says, but "hard to write a constitution that works." This lesson, he argues, should be kept in mind as countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar, and South Sudan "struggle to create effective and legitimate systems of government."

This video is part of Lessons Learned, a series dedicated to exploring historical events and examining their meaning in the context of foreign relations today.


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