The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was the first written constitution of the United States. Written in 1777 and stemming from wartime urgency, its progress was slowed by fears of central authority and extensive land claims by states. It was not ratified until March 1, 1781. Under these articles, the states remained sovereign and independent, with Congress serving as the last resort on appeal of disputes. Significantly, The Articles of Confederation named the new nation “The United States of America.” Congress was given the authority to make treaties and alliances, maintain armed forces and coin money. However, the central government lacked the ability to levy taxes and regulate commerce, issues that led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 for the creation of new federal laws under The United States Constitution.
From the beginning of the American Revolution, Congress felt the need for a stronger union and a government powerful enough to defeat Great Britain. During the early years of the war this desire became a belief that the new nation must have a constitutional order appropriate to its republican character. A fear of central authority inhibited the creation of such a government, and widely shared political theory held that a republic could not adequately serve a large nation such as the United States. The legislators of a large republic would be unable to remain in touch with the people they represented, and the republic would inevitably degenerate into a tyranny. To many Americans, their union seemed to be simply a league of confederated states, and their Congress a diplomatic assemblage representing thirteen independent polities. The impetus for an effective central government lay in wartime urgency, the need for foreign recognition and aid and the growth of national feeling.
Who Wrote the Articles of Confederation?
Altogether, six drafts of the Articles were prepared before Congress settled on a final version in 1777. Benjamin Franklin wrote the first and presented it to Congress in July 1775. It was never formally considered. Later in the year Silas Deane, a delegate from Connecticut, offered one of his own, which was followed still later by a draft from the Connecticut delegation, probably a revision of Deane’s.
None of these drafts contributed significantly to the fourth version written by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, the text that after much revision provided the basis for the Articles approved by Congress. Dickinson prepared his draft in June 1776; it was revised by a committee of Congress and discussed in late July and August. The result, the third version of Dickinson’s original, was printed to enable Congress to consider it further. In November 1777 the final Articles, much altered by this long deliberative process, were approved for submission to the states.
By 1779 all the states had approved the Articles of Confederation except Maryland, but the prospects for acceptance looked bleak because claims to western lands by other states set Maryland in inflexible opposition. Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts claimed by their charters to extend to the “South Sea” or the Mississippi River. The charters of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island confined those states to a few hundred miles of the Atlantic. Land speculators in Maryland and these other “landless states” insisted that the West belonged to the United States, and they urged Congress to honor their claims to western lands. Maryland also supported the demands because nearby Virginia would clearly dominate its neighbor should its claims be accepted. Eventually Thomas Jefferson persuaded his state to yield its claims to the West, provided that the speculators’ demands were rejected and the West was divided into new states, which would be admitted into the Union on the basis of equality with the old. Virginia’s action persuaded Maryland to ratify the Articles, which went into effect on March 1, 1781.
Weaknesses Of The Articles of Confederation
The weakness of the Articles of Confederation was that Congress was not strong enough to enforce laws or raise taxes, making it difficult for the new nation to repay their debts from the Revolutionary War. There was no executive and no judiciary, two of the three branches of government we have today to act as a system of checks and balances. Additionally, there were several issues between states that were not settled with ratification: A disagreement over the appointment of taxes forecast the division over slavery in the Constitutional Convention. Dickinson’s draft required the states to provide money to Congress in proportion to the number of their inhabitants, black and white, except Indians not paying taxes. With large numbers of slaves, the southern states opposed this requirement, arguing that taxes should be based on the number of white inhabitants. This failed to pass, but eventually the southerners had their way as Congress decided that each state’s contribution should rest on the value of its lands and improvements. In the middle of the war, Congress had little time and less desire to take action on such matters as the slave trade and fugitive slaves, both issues receiving much attention in the Constitutional Convention.
Article III described the confederation as “a firm league of friendship” of states “for their common defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare.” This league would have a unicameral congress as the central institution of government; as in the past, each state had one vote, and delegates were elected by state legislatures. Under the Articles, each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The old weakness of the First and Second Continental Congresses remained: the new Congress could not levy taxes, nor could it regulate commerce. Its revenue would come from the states, each contributing according to the value of privately owned land within its borders.
But Congress would exercise considerable powers: it was given jurisdiction over foreign relations with the authority to make treaties and alliances; it could make war and peace, maintain an army and navy, coin money, establish a postal service and manage Indian affairs; it could establish admiralty courts and it would serve as the last resort on appeal of disputes between the states. Decisions on certain specified matters–making war, entering treaties, regulating coinage, for example–required the assent of nine states in Congress, and all others required a majority.
Although the states remained sovereign and independent, no state was to impose restrictions on the trade or the movement of citizens of another state not imposed on its own. The Articles also required each state to extend “full faith and credit” to the judicial proceedings of the others. And the free inhabitants of each state were to enjoy the “privileges and immunities of free citizens” of the others. Movement across state lines was not to be restricted.
To amend the Articles, the legislatures of all thirteen states would have to agree. This provision, like many in the Articles, indicated that powerful provincial loyalties and suspicions of central authority persisted. In the 1780s–the so-called Critical Period–state actions powerfully affected politics and economic life. For the most part, business prospered and the economy grew. Expansion into the West proceeded and population increased. National problems persisted, however, as American merchants were barred from the British West Indies and the British army continued to hold posts in the Old Northwest, which was named American territory under the Treaty of Paris. These circumstances contributed to a sense that constitutional revision was imperative. Still, national feeling grew slowly in the 1780s, although major efforts to amend the Articles in order to give Congress the power to tax failed in 1781 and 1786. The year after the failure of 1786, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia and effectively closed the history of government under the Articles of Confederation.
The Articles of Confederation Text
To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.
Whereas the Delegates of the United States of America in Congress assembled did on the fifteenth day of November in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy seven, and in the Second Year of the Independence of America, agree to certain articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, in the words following, viz:
Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The Stile of this confederacy shall be "The United States of America."
Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.
The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states in this union, the free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states; and the people of each state shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other state, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties impositions and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restriction shall not extend so far as to prevent the removal of property imported into any state, to any other state, of which the Owner is an inhabitant; provided also that no imposition, duties or restriction shall be laid by any state, on the property of the united states, or either of them. If any Person guilty of, or charged with treason, felony, — or other high misdemeanor in any state, shall flee from Justice, and be found in any of the united states, he shall, upon demand of the Governor or executive power, of the state from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the state having jurisdiction of his offence. Full faith and credit shall be given in each of these states to the records, acts and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other state.
For the more convenient management of the general interests of the united states, delegates shall be annually appointed in such manner as the legislature of each state shall direct, to meet in Congress on the first Monday in November, in every year, with a power reserved to each state, to recal its delegates, or any of them, at any time within the year, and to send others in their stead, for the remainder of the Year.
No state shall be represented in Congress by less than two, nor by more than seven Members; and no person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years in any term of six years; nor shall any person, being a delegate, be capable of holding any office under the united states, for which he, or another for his benefit receives any salary, fees or emolument of any kind.
Each state shall maintain its own delegates in a meeting of the states, and while they act as members of the committee of the states. In determining questions in the united states in Congress assembled, each state shall have one vote.
Freedom of speech and debate in Congress shall not be impeached or questioned in any Court, or place out of Congress, and the members of congress shall be protected in their persons from arrests and imprisonments, during the time of their going to and from, and attendance on congress, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace.
No state, without the Consent of the united states in congress assembled, shall send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference agreement, alliance or treaty with any King prince or state; nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the united states, or any of them, accept of any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince or foreign state; nor shall the united states in congress assembled, or any of them, grant any title of nobility.
No two or more states shall enter into any treaty, confederation or alliance whatever between them, without the consent of the united states in congress assembled, specifying accurately the purposes for which the same is to be entered into, and how long it shall continue.
No state shall lay any imposts or duties, which may interfere with any stipulations in treaties, entered into by the united states in congress assembled, with any king, prince or state, in pursuance of any treaties already proposed by congress, to the courts of France and Spain.
No vessels of war shall be kept up in time of peace by any state, except such number only, as shall be deemed necessary by the united states in congress assembled, for the defence of such state, or its trade; nor shall any body of forces be kept up by any state, in time of peace, except such number only, as in the judgment of the united states, in congress assembled, shall be deemed requisite to garrison the forts necessary for the defence of such state; but every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage. No state shall engage in any war without the consent of the united states in congress assembled, unless such state be actually invaded by enemies, or shall have received certain advice of a resolution being formed by some nation of Indians to invade such state, and the danger is so imminent as not to admit of a delay till the united states in congress assembled can be consulted: nor shall any state grant commissions to any ships or vessels of war, nor letters of marque or reprisal, except it be after a declaration of war by the united states in congress assembled, and then only against the kingdom or state and the subjects thereof, against which war has been so declared, and under such regulations as shall be established by the united states in congress assembled, unless such state be infested by pirates, in which case vessels of war may be fitted out for that occasion, and kept so long as the danger shall continue, or until the united states in congress assembled, shall determine otherwise.
When land-forces are raised by any state for the common defence, all officers of or under the rank of colonel, shall be appointed by the legislature of each state respectively, by whom such forces shall be raised, or in such manner as such state shall direct, and all vacancies shall be filled up by the State which first made the appointment.
All charges of war, and all other expences that shall be incurred for the common defence or general welfare, and allowed by the united states in congress assembled, shall be def rayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several states in proportion to the value of all land within each state, granted to or surveyed for any Person, as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated according to such mode as the united states in congress assembled, shall from time to time direct and appoint.
The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several states within the time agreed upon by the united states in congress assembled.
The united states in congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war, except in the cases mentioned in the sixth article — of sending and receiving ambassadors — entering into treaties and alliances, provided that no treaty of commerce shall be made whereby the legislative power of the respective states shall be restrained from imposing such imposts and duties on foreigners as their own people are subjected to, or from prohibiting the exportation or importation of any species of goods or commodities, whatsoever — of establishing rules for deciding in all cases, what captures on land or water shall be legal, and in what manner prizes taken by land or naval forces in the service of the united states shall be divided or appropriated — of granting letters of marque and reprisal in times of peace — appointing courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and establishing courts for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures, provided that no member of congress shall be appointed a judge of any of the said courts.
The united states in congress assembled shall also be the last resort on appeal in all disputes and differences now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more states concerning boundary, jurisdiction or any other cause whatever; which authority shall always be exercised in the manner following. Whenever the legislative or executive authority or lawful agent of any state in controversy with another shall present a petition to congress stating the matter in question and praying for a hearing, notice thereof shall be given by order of congress to the legislative or executive authority of the other state in controversy, and a day assigned for the appearance of the parties by their lawful agents, who shall then be directed to appoint by joint consent, commissioners or judges to constitute a court for hearing and determining the matter in question: but if they cannot agree, congress shall name three persons out of each of the united states, and from the list of such persons each party shall alternately strike out one, the petitioners beginning, until the number shall be reduced to thirteen; and from that number not less than seven, nor more than nine names as congress shall direct, shall in the presence of congress be drawn out by lot, and the persons whose names shall be so drawn or any five of them, shall be commissioners or judges, to hear and finally determine the controversy, so always as a major part of the judges who shall hear the cause shall agree in the determination: and if either party shall neglect to attend at the day appointed, without showing reasons, which congress shall judge sufficient, or being present shall refuse to strike, the congress shall proceed to nominate three persons out of each state, and the secretary of congress shall strike in behalf of such party absent or refusing; and the judgment and sentence of the court to be appointed, in the manner before prescribed, shall be final and conclusive; and if any of the parties shall refuse to submit to the authority of such court, or to appear or defend their claim or cause, the court shall nevertheless proceed to pronounce sentence, or judgment, which shall in like manner be final and decisive, the judgment or sentence and other proceedings being in either case transmitted to congress, and lodged among the acts of congress for the security of the parties concerned: provided that every commissioner, before he sits in judgment, shall take an oath to be administered by one of the judges of the supreme or superior court of the state, where the cause shall be tried, "well and truly to hear and determine the matter in question, according to the best of his judgment, without favour, affection or hope of reward:" provided also, that no state shall be deprived of territory for the benefit of the united states.
All controversies concerning the private right of soil claimed under different grants of two or more states, whose jurisdictions as they may respect such lands, and the states which passed such grants are adjusted, the said grants or either of them being at the same time claimed to have originated antecedent to such settlement of jurisdiction, shall on the petition of either party to the congress of the united states, be finally determined as near as may be in the same manner as is before prescribed for deciding disputes respecting territorial jurisdiction between different states.
The united states in congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective states — fixing the standard of weights and measures throughout the united states — regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the states, provided that the legislative right of any state within its own limits be not infringed or violated — establishing or regulating post offices from one state to another, throughout all the united states, and exacting such postage on the papers passing thro' the same as may be requisite to defray the expences of the said office — appointing all officers of the land forces, in the service of the united states, excepting regimental officers — appointing all the officers of the naval forces, and commissioning all officers whatever in the service of the united states — making rules for the government and regulation of the said land and naval forces, and directing their operations.
The united states in congress assembled shall have authority to appoint a committee, to sit in the recess of congress, to be denominated "A Committee of the States," and to consist of one delegate from each state; and to appoint such other committees and civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the united states under their direction — to appoint one of their number to preside, provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of president more than one year in any term of three years; to ascertain the necessary sums of money to be raised for the service of the united states, and to appropriate and apply the same for defraying the public expences to borrow money, or emit bills on the credit of the united states, transmitting every half year to the respective states an account of the sums of money so borrowed or emitted, — to build and equip a navy — to agree upon the number of land forces, and to make requisitions from each state for its quota, in proportion to the number of white inhabitants in such state; which requisition shall be binding, and thereupon the legislature of each state shall appoint the regimental officers, raise the men and cloth, arm and equip them in a soldier like manner, at the expence of the united states; and the officers and men so cloathed, armed and quipped shall march to the place appointed, and within the time agreed on by the united states in congress assembled: But if the united states in congress assembled shall, on consideration of circumstances judge proper that any state should not raise men, or should raise a smaller number than its quota, and that any other state should raise a greater number of men than the quota thereof, such extra number shall be raised, officered, cloathed, armed and equipped in the same manner as the quota of such state, unless the legislature of such sta te shall judge that such extra number cannot be safely spared out of the same, in which case they shall raise officer, cloath, arm and equip as many of such extra number as they judge can be safely spared. And the officers and men so cloathed, armed and equipped, shall march to the place appointed, and within the time agreed on by the united states in congress assembled.
The united states in congress assembled shall never engage in a war, nor grant letters of marque and reprisal in time of peace, nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, nor ascertain the sums and expences necessary for the defence and welfare of the united states, or any of them, nor emit bills, nor borrow money on the credit of the united states, nor appropriate money, nor agree upon the number of vessels of war, to be built or purchased, or the number of land or sea forces to be raised, nor appoint a commander in chief of the army or navy, unless nine states assent to the same: nor shall a question on any other point, except for adjourning from day to day be determined, unless by the votes of a majority of the united states in congress assembled.
The congress of the united states shall have power to adjourn to any time within the year, and to any place within the united states, so that no period of adjournment be for a longer duration than the space of six Months, and shall publish the Journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the delegates of each state on any question shall be entered on the Journal, when it is desired by any delegate; and the delegates of a state, or any of them, at his or their request shall be furnished with a transcript of the said Journal, except such parts as are above excepted, to lay before the legislatures of the several states.
The committee of the states, or any nine of them, shall be authorized to execute, in the recess of congress, such of the powers of congress as the united states in congress assembled, by the consent of nine states, shall from time to time think expedient to vest them with; provided that no power be delegated to the said committee, for the exercise of which, by the articles of confederation, the voice of nine states in the congress of the united states assembled is requisite.
Canada acceding to this confederation, and joining in the measures of the united states, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this union: but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine states.
All bills of credit emitted, monies borrowed and debts contracted by, or under the authority of congress, before the assembling of the united states, in pursuance of the present confederation, shall be deemed and considered as a charge against the united states, for payment and satisfaction whereof the said united states, and the public faith are hereby solemnly pledged.
Every state shall abide by the determinations of the united states in congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every state, and the union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a congress of the united states, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every state.
And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union. Know Ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that pur pose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said articles of confederation and perpetual union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained: And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the united states in congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said confederation are submitted to them. And that the articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the states we respectively represent, and that the union shall be perpetual.
In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord one Thousand seven Hundred and Seventy-eight, and in the third year of the independence of America.
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Articles of Confederation
Richard Henry Lee introduced a historic resolution to the Second Continental Congress in June 1776, that called for that body’s endorsement of independence. At the same time, he also proposed that “a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective colonies . . ..” A few days later, Congress appointed John Dickinson to head a committee charged with drafting such a plan. The fruits of the committee’s labors, “The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,” were presented to Congress in July and touched off more than a year of spirited debate. The formal declaration of independence had made it necessary for the states to form some type of central authority. Sentiment for a strong government was not great, however. The states were then involved in a life-and-death struggle with an egregiously powerful central authority, King George III and his ministers, and many Americans feared the substitution of one form of tyranny for another. In the fall debates, two stumbling blocks were overcome by Congress:
Articles of Confederation, 1777–1781
The Articles of Confederation served as the written document that established the functions of the national government of the United States after it declared independence from Great Britain. It established a weak central government that mostly, but not entirely, prevented the individual states from conducting their own foreign diplomacy.
The Albany Plan an earlier, pre-independence attempt at joining the colonies into a larger union, had failed in part because the individual colonies were concerned about losing power to another central insitution. As the American Revolution gained momentum, however, many political leaders saw the advantages of a centralized government that could coordinate the Revolutionary War. In June of 1775, the New York provincial Congress sent a plan of union to the Continental Congress, which, like the Albany Plan, continued to recognize the authority of the British Crown.
Some Continental Congress delegates had also informally discussed plans for a more permanent union than the Continental Congress, whose status was temporary. Benjamin Franklin had drawn up a plan for “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.” While some delegates, such as Thomas Jefferson, supported Franklin’s proposal, many others were strongly opposed. Franklin introduced his plan before Congress on July 21, but stated that it should be viewed as a draft for when Congress was interested in reaching a more formal proposal. Congress tabled the plan.
Following the Declaration of Independence, the members of the Continental Congress realized it would be necessary to set up a national government. Congress began to discuss the form this government would take on July 22, disagreeing on a number of issues, including whether representation and voting would be proportional or state-by-state. The disagreements delayed final discussions of confederation until October of 1777. By then, the British capture of Philadelphia had made the issue more urgent. Delegates finally formulated the Articles of Confederation, in which they agreed to state-by-state voting and proportional state tax burdens based on land values, though they left the issue of state claims to western lands unresolved. Congress sent the Articles to the states for ratification at the end of November. Most delegates realized that the Articles were a flawed compromise, but believed that it was better than an absence of formal national government.
On December 16, 1777, Virginia was the first state to ratify. Other states ratified during the early months of 1778. When Congress reconvened in June of 1778, the delegates learned that Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey refused to ratify the Articles. The Articles required unanimous approval from the states. These smaller states wanted other states to relinquish their western land claims before they would ratify the Articles. New Jersey and Delaware eventually agreed to the conditions of the Articles, with New Jersey ratifying on Nov 20, 1778, and Delaware on Feb 1, 1779. This left Maryland as the last remaining holdout.
Irked by Maryland’s recalcitrance, several other state governments passed resolutions endorsing the formation of a national government without the state of Maryland, but other politicians such as Congressman Thomas Burke of North Carolina persuaded their governments to refrain from doing so, arguing that without unanimous approval of the new Confederation, the new country would remain weak, divided, and open to future foreign intervention and manipulation.
Meanwhile, in 1780, British forces began to conduct raids on Maryland communities in the Chesapeake Bay. Alarmed, the state government wrote to the French minister Anne-César De la Luzerne asking for French naval assistance. Luzerne wrote back, urging the government of Maryland to ratify the Articles of Confederation. Marylanders were given further incentive to ratify when Virginia agreed to relinquish its western land claims, and so the Maryland legislature ratified the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781.
The Continental Congress voted on Jan 10, 1781, to establish a Department of Foreign Affairs on Aug 10 of that year, it elected Robert R. Livingston as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. The Secretary’s duties involved corresponding with U.S. representatives abroad and with ministers of foreign powers. The Secretary was also charged with transmitting Congress’ instructions to U.S. agents abroad and was authorized to attend sessions of Congress. A further Act of Feb 22, 1782, allowed the Secretary to ask and respond to questions during sessions of the Continental Congress.
The Articles created a sovereign, national government, and, as such, limited the rights of the states to conduct their own diplomacy and foreign policy. However, this proved difficult to enforce, as the national government could not prevent the state of Georgia from pursuing its own independent policy regarding Spanish Florida, attempting to occupy disputed territories and threatening war if Spanish officials did not work to curb Indian attacks or refrain from harboring escaped slaves. Nor could the Confederation government prevent the landing of convicts that the British Government continued to export to its former colonies. In addition, the Articles did not allow Congress sufficient authority to enforce provisions of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that allowed British creditors to sue debtors for pre-Revolutionary debts, an unpopular clause that many state governments chose to ignore. Consequently, British forces continued to occupy forts in the Great Lakes region. These problems, combined with the Confederation government’s ineffectual response to Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts, convinced national leaders that a more powerful central government was necessary. This led to the Constitutional Convention that formulated the current Constitution of the United States.
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation (full text here) established the United States of America as its own separate entity, an alliance of independent states. It was the country’s first constitution, later superseded by “the Constitution,” which we still use today.
The Need for the Articles of Confederation
The growing need for inter-colonial cooperation led to the need for a document outlining the terms under which each colony would operate. Previous efforts to write such a document came and went unsuccessfully, changing each time the needs of a state changed.
The Second Continental Congress began acting as a sort of government for the states, which were all busy writing their own constitutions and providing for their own states’ needs. There was no way for the fledgling country to throw off the authority of Britain without establishing their own central government, which couldn’t be done unless it was unanimous.
Furthermore, international relations and trade relied on the recognition that came with being an independent nation. June of 1776 saw the initial drafting of a declaration of their independence and at the same time, Congress appointed a committee of 13 to prepare a draft of a constitution for the amalgamation of the states.
When the articles were presented to Congress, debate arose regarding the amount of power that should be allotted to each state, how voting procedures should be carried out, and what kind of central government there ought to be.
The Articles of Confederation were approved for ratification November 15, 1777, more than a year after they had begun.
Summary of the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation broken down can be outlined thusly:
Article 1: establishes the name of the new confederation: “The United States of America.” (See sidefoo.)
Why United States of “America”?
North and South America were named after Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci. “America” is the feminine version of Amerigo or Americus add “gen”, a version of the Greek word for ‘earth’. Technically that breaks down to “Land of Amerigo”.
One of the cartographers (mapmakers) who first used the name on a map in 1507 said, “Since both Asia and Africa [editor note: and Europa] received their names from women, I do not see why anyone should rightly prevent this [new part] from being called Amerigen—the land of Amerigo, as it were—or America, after its discoverer, Americus …”
Sadly, Amerigo died before he ever saw the map, so it’s likely he never knew that two continents bore his name.
- Article 2: Affirms the authority of each state, except for specified power entrusted to the confederate government.
- Article 3: Clarifies that rather than being a nation or having its own government, the states had entered into an agreed friendship and loyalty to each other, bound to protect each other.
- Article 4: Establishes equal treatment of each individual state and allows that free citizens could cross state borders unchecked and have equal rights in every state. Criminals and fugitives, it specifies, will be extradited back to the state in which they committed their crime to be tried in court.
- Article 5: Allots one vote in congress to each state and allows a delegation of two to seven members, appointed by individual state legislatures, who could not serve more than three out of any six years. This caused some problems later because no matter how large the state population, the vote was equal to any smaller state’s vote. This article also protected Congressmen’s freedom of speech in and out of session and protected them from imprisonment except for in the case of severe felonies.
- Article 6: Only the central government (Congress) could conduct foreign political or commercial relations or declare war. This article goes into detail regarding foreign titles and restricts states from individually making business deals with other countries. No state is allowed to maintain peacetime standing armies or Navies, but is to keep a compulsory militia, trained, equipped, and disciplined with storerooms of supplies.
- Article 7: Each state legislature will name colonels and military ranks below that if necessary (in the event that congress declares war).
- Article 8: Debts and expenses incurred by the United States of America will be paid by the states. Article 8 requires that state legislatures raise the funds necessary, which are portioned based on the property value of each state. This would cause problems later since congress had no way of enforcing this fund-raising and the debt just grew.
- Article 9: Outlines the rights that would be specifically designated to congress, such as determining whether the country would go to war, determining the worth of money, exchanging ambassadors with other countries, signing treaties, entering alliances, authorizing privateers (legal pirates), and the like. It also states that Congress was the final court for debates between states.
- Article 10: Nine states will be enough to pass a vote. In essence: if congress is in recess, and nine (of thirteen) states come to an agreement, that will be enough to make a decision. Having all thirteen is not necessary.
- Article 11: If Canada (The Province of Quebec) chooses to be part of this alliance, we will accept them. Clearly, this did not happen.
- Article 12: The Confederation government accepts the full debt incurred by Congress before the Articles were written.
- Article 13: Only Congress can only alter these Articles, and only with the ratification of all the states’ legislatures.
The Articles of Confederation document
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
Over time, it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were too weak to carry the nation. There was no president, no executive organizations outside of Congress, no tax base, and no way of enforcing the laws. At best, Congress could request funds from the states to help pay off the massive debt incurred during the war, but the states rarely paid up.
Congress was, in the words of General George Washington, “paralyzed.” Not only were they unable to collect money, they could not enforce attendance of their own members. Many documents, including the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, sat for far too long waiting for signatures from several states’ representatives who had gone home after the war.
Soldiers had been promised pension of half pay for life, but Congress could not force states to donate to the fund and many soldiers went without pay for a while and several riots ensued.
Many people blamed the weak Articles of the Confederation for the trouble ensuing. There was a general fear that if the country could not get its feet under itself financially, that winning the war would have been for nothing and that it would collapse in on itself.
Two political parties began a debate that essentially boiled down to whether the central government could be trusted with the power that it needed to right the situation, which was spiraling out of control. Since taxation had been a major catalyst in the previous war, there was hesitation in granting Congress taxing power.
However, John Jay, president of the Continental Congress believed that there was no way around taxes. His biographer Walter Stahr writes, “Jay concluded by requesting…that the states and the people provide funds through ‘loans and taxes’ and ‘taxes are…the price of liberty, the peace and the safety of yourselves and posterity.'” John Jay: Founding Father, p. 107
Alexander Hamilton asserted the need for a stronger central government and he received Washington’s approval to convene the Annapolis convention in 1786. There he petitioned Congress to call another convention to re-write the Constitution.
May 1775: The Second Continental Congress meets to discuss colonial problems with Great Britain. This Congress would appoint George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
January 1776: Benjamin Franklin drafts a plan of union that based representation in congress and contribution to the common treasury on the number of males 16 &ndash 60 years of age that was called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee delivers his famous speech that argues for independence from Great Britain. Lee being a delegate of Virginia swayed the many southern colonies to the cause of independence.
July 4, 1776: America declared its independence from Great Britain when the Declaration of Independence was released to the public.
November 15, 1777: After much debate the Articles of Confederation were put into place to create a central government. The individual states still retained most power, but with a central government they were able to unify each of the states.
December 16, 1777: Virginia ratified the Articles of Confederation.
February 5, 1778: South Carolina ratified the Articles of Confederation.
February 6, 1778: New York ratified the Articles of Confederation.
February 9, 1778: Rhode Island ratified the Articles of Confederation
February 12, 1778: Connecticut ratified the Articles of Confederation
February 26, 1778: Georgia ratified the Articles of Confederation
March 4, 1778: New Hampshire ratified the Articles of Confederation
March 5, 1778: Pennsylvania ratified the Articles of Confederation
March 10, 1778: Massachusetts ratified the Articles of Confederation
April 5, 1778: North Carolina ratified the Articles of Confederation
November 19, 1778: New Jersey ratified the Articles of Confederation
February 1, 1779: Delaware ratified the Articles of Confederation
January 2, 1781: Virginia cedes a portion of its land west of the Appalachian Mountains to Congress.
February 2, 1781: Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation
March 1, 1781: The Articles of Confederation officially became the ruling government in the United States, although it had been the de facto government prior to Maryland&rsquos ratification.
March 2, 1781: Samuel Huntington becomes 1st President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
July 10, 1781: Huntington resigns and Thomas McKean finishes the term and becomes 2nd President during the Articles of Confederation.
November 5, 1781: John Hanson becomes the 3rd President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
1782: Secretary of Finance, Robert Morris, founds the Bank of North America. This bank helped to stabilize the commerce of the United States.
November 4, 1782: Elias Boudinot becomes the 4th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation
March, 1783: The army stationed at Newburgh threatened mutiny because they had not received their pay and were only stopped by George Washington&rsquos effective persuasion to remain loyal to the patriotic cause.
June, 1783: A mutinous group of Pennsylvania troops, demanding pay, forced Congress to leave Philadelphia. President of Pennsylvania John Dickinson refused the assistance of the state militia, as he feared they were not reliable. Congress retreated to Princeton.
November 3, 1783: Thomas Mifflin becomes the 5th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
March 1784: Congress officially acquires the land ceded by Virginia north and west of the Ohio River. It became known as the Northwest Territory.
April 23, 1784: Thomas Jefferson drafts that Land Ordinance that would be accepted by Congress, this ordinance is the first to establish the process to administer newly acquired lands.
November 30, 1784: Richard Henry Lee becomes the 6th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
March 25, 1785: Representatives of Maryland and Virginia met at George Washington&rsquos plantation in Mount Vernon to resolve conflicts over the navigation of the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers.
November 23, 1785: John Hancock becomes the 7th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
June 5, 1786: Hancock resigns and Nathaniel Gorham finishes the term and becomes 8th President during the Articles of Confederation.
September 11, 1786: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, meet to discuss uniform trade regulations, but agree to appeal to all states to meet again to discuss broader reforms. It would be known as the Annapolis Convention.
January 25, 1787: Daniel Shays and other armed farmers from western Massachusetts are defeated in their attempt to conquer an arsenal of weapons in Springfield, Massachusetts. It became known as the Shay&rsquos Rebellion and prompted many to re-evaluate the Articles of Confederation.
February 2, 1787: Arthur St. Clair becomes 9th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
May 25, 1787: Delegates from all states except Rhode Island meet in Philadelphia for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. This would be the first meeting of the Constitutional Convention.
July 13, 1787: The Northwest Ordinance is passed and serves as a revision of the earlier ordinance. One of its provisions abolished slavery from the new region.
November 4, 1787: Arthur St. Clair resigns and nobody finishes his term.
September 17, 1787: The Constitutional Convention sends its draft of the U.S. Constitution to the states for ratification.
January 22, 1788: Cyrus Griffin becomes the 10th President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
November 2, 1788: Congress adjourned and Griffin completes term.
December 15, 1788 &ndash January 10, 1789: The first Presidential election under the United States Constitution is held. this ends the government under the Articles of Confederation.
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Articles of Confederation Summary
A summary of the Articles of Confederation, which will not just help you get a better understanding of this agreement, but also help you differentiate its guidelines from those of the Constitution.
A summary of the Articles of Confederation, which will not just help you get a better understanding of this agreement, but also help you differentiate its guidelines from those of the Constitution.
Not many people know this, but the Articles of Confederation was used as the first constitution of the United States of America. It was used as the supreme law for a brief period in the American history between March 1, 1781, and March 4, 1789. Even though it was written by the same people who wrote the Constitution, you can see a great deal of difference between the two.
Summary of the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation was a five-page written agreement, which laid the guidelines of how the national government of America would function. The preamble of the Articles stated that all the signatories “agree to certain Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union” between the thirteen original states. It had a total of thirteen articles which formed the guidelines for the functioning of then Federal government along with a conclusion and a signatory section for the states to sign. Given below is the summary of these thirteen articles which will put forth brief information on each of them with special emphasis on what they imply.
- Article I: It gave the new confederacy a name―the ‘United States of America’, which is followed even today.
- Article II: It gave all the states sovereignty, freedom, and independence, alongside all those powers which were not specifically given to the national government.
- Article III: It implied that the different states should come together to facilitate common defense, secure each other’s liberties, and work for each other’s welfare.
- Article IV: It granted the freedom of movement to all the citizens of the nation as a whole which allowed people to move freely between the states and also entitled them to get the rights established by the particular state. It also spoke about the need of respecting each other’s laws and a clause to extradite criminals.
- Article V: It spoke about the national interests of the United States and asked each state to send delegates to discuss the same in the Congress. It gave each state one vote in Congress and restricted the period for which a person would serve as a delegate. It also gave the members of Congress the power of free speech and ruled out their arrests, unless the crime was something serious, such as treason or felony.
- Article VI: It put some restrictions on the states and disallowed them from getting into any sort of treaty or alliance with each other or waging a war without the consent of the Congress. It also disallowed the states from keeping a standing army, but did give them permission to maintain the state militia.
- Article VII: It gave the state legislature the power of appointing all officers ranked colonel and above, whenever the states were to raise an army for the purpose of self defense.
- Article VIII: It stated that each state was to pay a particular sum of money―in proportion to the total land area of that state―to the national treasury and added that all the national expenses including war costs were to be deducted from this common treasury.
- Article IX: It highlighted all the powers given to the Congress of the Confederation, including the right to wage wars and make peace, govern army and navy, enter into treaties and alliances, settle dispute between states, regulate the value of coins, etc.
- Article X: It laid the guidelines for the formation of an executive committee which would work when the Congress was not in session.
- Article XI: It stated that the approval of nine of the thirteen original states was mandatory to include a new state in the Union.
- Article XII: It declared that America takes full responsibility for all debts which were incurred before the Articles came into existence.
- Article XIII: It declared that it would be mandatory for all the states to abide by the decisions made by the Congress of the Confederation. It also declared that the Union would be perpetual. Most important of all, it put forth the stipulation that if any changes were to be made to the Articles of the Confederation it would require the approval of Congress and ratification by the states.
Historians are of the opinion that this document had its own strengths and weaknesses. That it brought the thirteen states, which were pitted against each other, on a common platform was its greatest strength. On the other hand, its weaknesses revolved around the fact that it gave states more power than the national government and reduced the latter to a mere spectator.
Articles of Confederation: History & Significance
It would have been very difficult to run an effective government under the Articles of Confederation. Many of the great minds politically active after the American Revolution realized this thus arrived the birth of one of the greatest political documents of all time: The Constitution. With the implement of the Constitution, the United States government became effective.
The product of some of the greatest minds to ever exist in this world, the Articles did have some positive effects on society. It successfully put an end to the Revolutionary War, it negotiated a favorable end to the war in the Treaty of Paris, and created a model for the admission of new territories courtesy of the Northwest Ordinance. Nonetheless, it was much too weak to give the new nation the necessary foundation on which the growth of society could be started from.
For one thing, any amendment of the Articles required a unanimous vote throughout the colonies. Since this was almost impossible, there always being two sides to everything [a pro and a con], changing the Articles to eliminate the ideas that did not function properly was near impossible. Another factor of the Articles’ ineffectiveness was that Congress was in essence tied in its authority. After the war, the colonists trusted no ultimate authority not even one they designed. It could not regulate commerce, so what resulted was thirteen colonies with different taxations and tariff laws. This only added to the already present feelings of dislike and distrust which had existed between the colonies since they were first established.
After this period of eight years, the “Critical Period”, the light at the end of the tunnel arrived with Thomas Jefferson writing the Constitution. It delegated the power, at the discretion of the people. It was designed to be amended the great minds who designed it realized that they themselves were not infallible, and could make mistakes. The beauty of the Constitution was that it allowed for these mistakes. Instead of the outrageous unanimous vote of states to change it, two-thirds of Congress and then three-fourths of the states must approve. It ensured that no one section of government could grow so powerful to the point that it could be considered a Parliament through the Checks and Balances. It promoted unity in that Congress would now regulate all interstate and foreign commerce this eliminated many disputes since there was a simple majority rule to pass laws. The unification of the colonies was beginning.
Thus, it is observed that the Articles of Confederation were without a doubt weak and ineffective. Nonetheless, they were a necessary step in laying the foundation for the construction of the Constitution. It showed the basic ideas of democracy, and the Constitution was used in the expansion and enforcing of those ideas.
Primary Documents in American History
The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments. The need for a stronger Federal government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.
- - The Continental Congress resolved "that a committee be appointed to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies." - The committee members were appointed "to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies." - The first draft of the Articles of Confederation was presented to the Continental Congress. - The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. - The Articles of Confederation were submitted to the states with a request for immediate action. - A committee of three was appointed to prepare the form of a ratification of the Articles of Confederation. - The Articles of Confederation were ordered to be engrossed. - The first engrossed copy was found to be incorrect, and a second engrossed copy was ordered. - The second engrossed copy of the Articles of Confederation was signed and ratified by the delegates from eight states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. - North Carolina delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. - Georgia delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. - New Jersey delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. - Delaware delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. - Maryland delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were finally ratified by all thirteen states. - Congress approved a plan to hold a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.
Provides an overview of the Confederation Government and links to related documents.
On November 15, 1777, the second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.
Articles of Confederation, Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Articles of Confederation, National Archives and Records Administration
Our Documents, Articles of Confederation, National Archives and Records Administration
Hoffert, Robert W. A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas . Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1992. [Catalog Record]
Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution 1774-1781 . Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970. [Catalog Record]
-----. The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789. New York: Knopf, 1950. [Catalog Record]
Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. [Catalog Record]
Callahan, Kerry P. The Articles of Confederation: A Primary Source Investigation into the Document that Preceded the U.S. Constitution . New York: Rosen Primary Source, 2003. [Catalog Record]
Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick. The Articles of Confederation: The First Constitution of the United States . Brookfield, Conn.: Twenty-First Century Books, 2002. [Catalog Record]
Price Hossell, Karen. The Articles of Confederation . Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2004. [Catalog Record]
Roza, Greg. Evaluating the Articles of Confederation: Determining the Validity of Information and Arguments . New York: Rosen Pub., 2006. [Catalog Record]
After the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the thirteen rebellious colonies met and debated how best to run their wartime government and preserve their independence and sovereignty. The result of a year and a half of debate, the new Continental Congress created the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, and the states ratified the document on March 1, 1781.
The constitution formed a very limited government with marginal powers, to conduct the American Revolutionary War, diplomacy and settle territorial issues. In 1786 a rebellion in Massachusetts over government taxation led to a widespread view that the Articles needed to be replaced and the government reformed. As more states and their representatives met to discuss issues related to governance and interstate commerce, this eventually turned into the Constitutional Convention.
In 1789, eight years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution of the United States came into force, replacing government under the Articles with a federal government headed by a President, with a Congress and judicial system also officially formed.
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation was the earliest form of government of the newly independent British colonies. The United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaimed the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain and formally began the American Revolution. The new nation then had to create a new government to replace the monarchy it was trying to overthrow. After much debate, the Americans adopted the Articles of Confederation. This document established a very weak national government that consisted of a one-house legislature known as the Confederation Congress. The Congress had the power to declare war, sign treaties, and settle disputes between the states. It could also borrow or print money and could ask for funds from individual states, which rarely provided the requested money to the federal government. The Americans were so fearful of a strong, centralized government that they refused to give their Congress the power to tax. The Articles of Confederation were first adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 1, 1777, and were given final ratification on March 1, 1781. The Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. This government was then in effect from 1781 until 1788.
In 1783, the Americans secured their independence from Great Britain with the Treaty of Paris (1783). They immediately began to build a new nation. Among the Confederation Congress' successes was passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which established the Northwest Territory. Still, the Confederation Congress faced many difficulties, primarily due to the weak nature of the national government. Without having the ability to tax, the federal government could not pay for a military. This was an especially important issue for people living in the Northwest Territory. As thousands of Americans moved into the area, Native Americans struggled to stop them. Unable to pay for an army, the government could not protect its citizens. To solve this and other problems, a Constitutional Convention took place in the summer of 1787. Called together to revise the Articles of Confederation the delegates decided that a new and stronger Constitution was needed. The federal government now had the power to tax, and its provisions were to be the supreme law of the land. Fearing that one person or faction might be able to gain control of the government, the drafters divided the government's powers among three separate branches -- the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Each branch had checks and balances on the powers of the other two. The Constitution created the United States in the form in which it still exists today.
Article summaries [ edit | edit source ]
Even though the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were established by many of the same people, the two documents were very different. The original five-paged Articles contained thirteen articles, a conclusion, and a signatory section. The following list contains short summaries of each of the thirteen articles.
Still at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Framers were divided between those seeking a powerful, centralized national government, and those seeking a loosely-structured one. Jealously guarding their new independence, members of the Continental Congress arrived at a compromise solution dividing sovereignty between the states and the federal government, with a unicameral legislature that protected the liberty of the individual states. While calling on Congress to regulate military and monetary affairs, for example, the Articles of Confederation provided no mechanism to force the states to comply with requests for troops or revenue. At times, this left the military in a precarious position, as George Washington wrote in a 1781 letter to the governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock.