Orientation and Getting Started
The Creation of the Constitution
The Road to Philadelphia
Slavery and the Constitution
The Presidency
The Federal Judiciary
Some Other Important Details
1 of 2

Building on the Foundation of the Articles of Confederation

When Edmund Randolph gave his speech introducing the Virginia Plan on May 29, he tried to be diplomatic about Virginia’s choice to reject the Articles of Confederation wholesale: “In speaking of the defects of the Confederation, he professed a high respect for its authors, and considered them as having done all that patriots could do, in the then infancy of the science of constitutions and of confederacies.” These pioneering authors, Randolph went on to explain, simply did not have the benefit of hindsight; they had no way of knowing the sort of design flaws that would emerge, and plague them, as a result of this style of confederacy. Randolph attempted to tread on this subject with some delicacy, since the primary author of the Articles, John Dickinson, was among the assembly listening to him enumerate its defects. For all of Randolph’s respect for the Articles and its authors, however, it was undeniable that the Virginia Plan that he proposed seemed to depart from its example in almost every particular. During the debates that followed, several members tried to alter its resolutions so that it aligned more closely with the Articles, usually (but not always) without success. 

Borrowing from the Articles of Confederation

The Constitution of the United States would ultimately depart radically from the Articles of Confederation, but many features found in the new Constitution were eventually adopted or adapted from the political arrangement that it was intended to replace. The Framers had generally agreed that the Articles had been deeply flawed, yet they had no wish to toss out the baby with the bathwater. The first half of the Convention had been dominated by a rift between those who wanted to scrap the Articles entirely and those who wanted to retain many of its most important features. By mid-July, however, the Connecticut Compromise had worked out a truce on the single most contentious issue dividing the two factions: creating a Senate that would resemble the old Congress and a House that would be established on an entirely new principle of representation. Two weeks after this compromise, the Committee of Detail set to work salvaging several more of the Articles’ best features. 

They snipped off a number of its clauses—some of greater and some of lesser importance—pruning the healthiest branches from the old compact and grafting them onto the new vine of the Constitution. The report that they delivered on August 6 included several provisions that had not yet been discussed in the Convention but which would have been familiar to all of the delegates, because they had already been operating under them as a part of the old confederacy. Most of the provisions that the Committee had selected to purloin from the Articles were ultimately adopted in some form, and often with very little debate.