That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:
But I would say that the Articles, for all their formal flaws, are badly underrated. They are a brilliant construction for a power vacuum, given that the relevant parties in the 1780s couldn’t agree on very much, but nonetheless needed some path forward.
In other words, think of the Articles as an early business plan or charter for a startup. The point isn’t to get everyone’s roles and responsibilities right on first crack, but rather to make sure that the institution survives and that continued growth is possible.
By this metric, the Articles were an unprecedented success. Keep in mind that many European thinkers of the time thought that America was hopelessly disunited and that its system of government was due to collapse. The Articles proved them wrong by serving as a bridge from the Revolution to the later development of America as a fully fledged nation.
It is sometimes forgotten just how fruitful the Articles period was for laying the foundations for the further growth of the country. A system of relatively egalitarian and transferable property rights was codified for the settlement of external lands. Most importantly, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 determined that future settlements could be incorporated into the country as states rather than subordinate territories or colonies. The independence and sovereignty of the initial founding states allowed them to support such policies, without fearing much dilution of their power or influence.
Alas I did not have the space to consider either Native Americans or slavery in the column. National expansion was of course in general bad for Native Americans. Slavery is a trickier matter, however. Since the Articles gave states stronger rights, it may seem like they must have been bad for slaves. But is that true? Under the Articles, precisely because states’ rights were stronger, it might have been easier to create more free states on the rest of the continent. I would judge the comparison as uncertain, plus we know the history with the Constitution involved an extremely bloody civil war.
The column has much more, including a discussion of the EU and also the emoluments clause in the Articles, do read the whole thing.