A Nullification Lesson from the Articles of Confederation

Learn More at the 10th Amendment Center

The problems facing the United States under the Articles of Confederation provide a nullification lesson for today. When states refuse to cooperate, the central government can’t get a whole lot done.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress could not compel the payment of taxes. It could only requisition the states and hope they paid up. In many cases they didn’t, This caused significant funding problems during the American Revolution and was one of the main factors driving the ratification of a new Constitution empowering the general government to levy taxes.

In order to fund the war effort, the Continental Congress issued paper money. As the Congress put more and more of the currency in circulation, it rapidly depreciated, making it increasingly difficult for the Continental Army to purchase supplies. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated May 22, 1779, William Fleming said there was between 130 and 140 millions continental dollars in circulation. In an effort to shore up it finances, Congress passed a requisition for $45 million from the states in hard money. Flemming called it “one bold effort to restore its sinking credit.”

In November of that same year, John Jay sent out a circular ...