Articles of Confederation Research

The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation created a unicameral Congress. It had widespread powers which it could not exercise barring state compliance, which it rarely received, under the British rule. The troubles faced by the Congress and the nation beneath the Articles of Confederation are what led to debates and proposal of a bilateral Congress. Article 1 contains the powers accorded the Congress.

Structure and Composition of Congress

A bicameral legislature composed of the House of Representatives (the lower house), elected through the people, and the Senate (the upper house), chosen by the lower house based on recommendations from state legislatures.

The Seventeenth Amendment to the constitution ratified in 1913, however, changed the method of senators’ selection who are now elected by the people.

Powers of Congress

Article 1, Section 8 list seventeen specific authorities given to the Congress by the delegates among them; lay and collect taxes as well as those that center on foreign relations, the military, and internal matters such as the creation of courts, post offices and much more.

Two powers brought about controversy among the framers:

  • The proposal to give Congress veto authority over state legislation

  • Would legislature be able to exercise powers not listed in Article 1, Section 8, or was it limited to those explicitly enumerated?


Article 1 also includes provisions dealing with the ability of the chambers to control who joins the Congress and to punish those who do not behave in accord with their norms. The Supreme Court does not always agree to legislative wishes although the Court’s members have had prior state of federal legislative experience

Membership in Congress: Seating and Discipline

Prospective members of the Congress must meet the following requirements as per Article 1:

  • A senator must be at least 30 years old and have been a US citizen not less than nine years

  • A representative must be at least 35 years old and have been a US citizen not less than seven years

  • Every member of Congress must be when elected, an inhabitant of the state he/she is to represent

  • No one may be a member of Congress who holds any other “Office under the Authority of United States”

  • No person may be a senator or a representative who, having taken an oath as a member of Congress to support the constitution has engaged in rebellion against the United States or given aid or comfort to its enemies unless Congress has removed such restrictions by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Speech or Debate Clause

Duly elected members of the Congress who meet the set qualifications are protected by the constitution from exclusion by members of their branch.

They are also privileged from arrest during their attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and going and returning from the same and for any speech or debate in either House; they don’t get questioned in any other pace. However, in the case of Treason, Felony, and Breach of Peace they are not privileged.


In addition to the powers explicitly mentioned in article 1, Section 8, the Court suggests that the Congress possesses implied, amendment-enforcing and inherent powers.

Enumerated and Implied Powers

These powers get derived from the necessary and proper clause of Article 1, Section 8. The Congress has enumerated powers to regulate commerce, but the court needs to define what the power entails. In exercising its power, the legislature is put under check by the Court to ensure that there is a balance between individuals' rights and the legislative powers.

Amendment-Enforcing Power

These powers come from amendments to the constitution. The legislature through appropriate legislation ensures that the changes in the constitution get enforced as provided. They do this by passing laws that guarantee that the constitutional amendments get achieved.

Inherent Powers

These are powers that are neither explicit nor directly implied by the constitution but somewhat attach themselves to sovereign states. Congressional authority to investigate is characterized as inherent.

The notion of inherent power is controversial as some people argue that inherent powers cannot conform to the vision of a federal government limited to its enumerated and inferred powers.


When legislators debate and enact bills pursuant to the necessary and proper clause, they must interpret the word proper.

When discussing legislation based on their amendment-enforcing powers, they must agree on the meaning of the phrase appropriate legislation.

Although most actions were taken by the Congress never reach the Supreme Court thus ensuring that legislators have the last word, the Court at times overturns the legislators’ “interpretations.”

Discussion Question: The legislative branch of the United States government is bicameral. Describe the composition of the Congress and explain reasons why it is composed of two houses.

The constitution created a Congress that has two separate chambers; the Senate (the upper house) and the House of Representatives (the lower house). The Senate is smaller as compared to the House of Representatives with 100 seats. The members of the Senate get drawn from the states with each state having two representatives who serve for six years. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, is more significant with 435 seats currently. Representation of the lower house is proportional to the population of the States with more large states having more places than the smaller ones. Members of the Senate are referred to as Senators while those of the House of Representatives are called Congressmen. For a piece of proposed legislation to become law, it must be passed by the two Houses.

The constitution created a bicameral Congress for some reasons. To start with, the United States was under the British rule, and even though the American colonists rebelled against this government, they obtained most of their ideas from the experiences they had during colonialism. The British parliament had two houses; the House of Commons which had representatives of the ordinary people and the House of Lords which had representatives of the aristocracy. These British ideas shaped constitutional framers' thinking.

The framers of the constitution were suspicious that having a unicameral legislature may give a lot of excess powers to one institution. They were guided by the need to ensure there were checks and balances in how the Congress got to run. By dividing the legislative powers between the Senate and the House of representative, the framers assured that the two chambers would check each other and provide that neither of them gets dictatorial powers as this is harmful to the running of any government.

Also, the delegates from smaller states at the Constitutional Convention were afraid of losing influence in the new government to the more large states. For this reason, they insisted that representation in the Senate gets equally awarded regardless of the size of the state. The bigger states' delegates, on the other hand, emphasized that representation should be by the proportion of the population of the state. Due to this dispute, the Convention was almost disrupted and coming up with a bicameral legislature created a compromise since in the House of Representatives the larger states got more representation making everyone happy.


The executive includes; the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies as well as other boards, commissions, and committees. It carries out and enforces laws.


The Americans suffered a lot under the British monarchy, and thus the framers of the constitution were hesitant to award too much authority to the executive. They adopted constitutions that led to weak governorships with few powers often shared by councils and short terms in office for the state executives. With time some states strengthened their governorships hence some states remained weak while others were quite strong.

The Structure of the Presidency

Most of the discussions over Article II at the Constructional Convention were about the structure of the institution and not the executive powers

The framers debated on:

  • Selection of the President: Article II required that

  • The only individual who is natural born citizens can become president

  • The individual must have attained the age of 35 years

  • The individual must have been a resident of the United States for fourteen years.

  • The previous constitution provided for no qualifications for the vice president, but this got corrected in 1804 where the ratification mentioned that no individual could become a vice president who is not eligible to be the president.

  • Removal of the President: Impeachment is the method of removal of an incumbent president or vice president who abuses the office as provided for by the constitution. It occurs upon charges of Treason, Bribery or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

  • Tenure and Succession of the President: The presidential term is four years according to the constitution. Initially, there were no restrictions on the number of cycles a president could serve. George Washington introduced the two-term limit he announced he would not run again at the end of his second term.

  • The vice president assumes the powers of the president in the event of death, resignation or disability of the president as provided for by Article II.

Constitutional Power of the President

Unlike presidential selection and succession, the presidential powers are the same today as the Philadelphia Convention drafted them. The President has authorities to:

  • Make treaties provided two-thirds of the senators present at the making of the agreements agree with them.

  • Nominate, and by and with advice and consent of the Senate appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court and all other Officers of the United States


Congressional Limitations on Executive Power

The courts have placed limits on the president’s power among them the congressional limit. The courts state that the president’s power on some issues, if any, should stem from either an act of Congress or from the constitution itself. The president’s powers are, however, not fixed as he/she can act against the will of the legislature if the president can show that the power he/she is asserting conclusively and exclusively belongs to him.

The Obligation to Enforce the Law

The president’s powers are also limited regarding law enforcement as the constitution requires the president to enforce all the laws not just those administration supports.


The president is more constrained by the public, Congress and the Supreme Court in internal affairs than in foreign ones.

Veto Power

After receiving a piece of legislation from the Congress, the president can decide to sign it into law, Veto it or ignore it. When he vetoes it is a decision that can be overridden by the required two-thirds of the Congress

Presidential Signing Statements

The signing statements express the president’s concerns regarding particular bills by;

  • Representing the president’s interpretation of the language of the law

  • Announcing constitutional limits on the implementation of some of the law’s provisions

  • Indicating directions to executive branch officials as how to administer the new law in an acceptable manner

The Power of Appointment

The president has the power to appoint and remove administrators of various federal departments as per the following guidelines:

  • Principal Versus Inferior officers: Article II provides the president with the power to appoint principal administrative and judicial officials, but for minor positions, the Congress allocates the authority to other bodies.

  • Recess Appointments: the president, under Article II, Section 2, is allowed to fill up all vacancies that may happen during Recess of Senate provided that the appointments expire at the end of the next session.

  • The power of Remove

  • When the president’s appointees do not carry out their duties as per the expectations of the president or are not loyal to the administration’s policy objectives, he may remove them.

Executive Privilege: Protecting Presidential Confidentiality

The administrative privilege argument asserts that specific conversations, documents, and records are closely tied to the sensitive duties of the president and should remain confidential. The Congress, the Judiciary, or other bodies cannot access this information without the consent of the president.

Immunity: Protecting the President from Lawsuit

Although the president is immune to some lawsuits, there have been controversies on whether or not the president of the United States is immune from other civil lawsuits in the federal court.

The Power of Pardon

The president has the power to grant amnesties for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment. A pardon erases al penalties and other legal effects of a criminal conviction.


The president has the power to create and carry out the nation’s foreign policy. The following roles are assigned to the United States president in regards to foreign policy:

  • The president is the commander in chief of the army and the navy under Article II, Section 2. Military power protects the nation from hostile actions from other countries and also can be used as a threat to persuade other nations to follow a particular course of action

  • Making of treating is solely on behalf of the United States given to the president under Article II

  • The president selects the individuals to represent the United States in other nations

  • The president receives ambassadors and ministers of foreign countries.

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