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Articles of Confederation


June 11, 1776 - 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."

June 12, 1776 - The committee members were appointed "to prepare
and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these

July 12, 1776 - The first draft of the Articles of Confederation was
presented to the Continental Congress.

November 15, 1777 - The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of


November 17, 1777 - The Articles of Confederation were submitted to

the states with a request for immediate action.

June 26, 1778 - The Articles of Confederation were ordered to be


June 27, 1778 - The first engrossed copy was found to be incorrect, and
a second engrossed copy was ordered.

July 9, 1778 - The second engrossed copy of the Articles was signed
and ratified by the delegates from eight states: New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania,
Virginia, and South Carolina.

July 21, 1778 - North Carolina delegates signed the ratification of the
Articles of Confederation.

July 24, 1778 - Georgia delegates signed the ratification of the Articles
of Confederation.

November 26, 1778 - New Jersey delegates signed the ratification of the
Articles of Confederation.

May 5, 1779 - Delaware delegates signed the ratification of the Articles

of Confederation.

March 1, 1781 - Maryland delegates signed the ratification of the

Articles of Confederation. The Articles were finally ratified by all thirteen

February 21, 1787 - Congress approved a plan to hold a convention in

Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation was the first written constitution of the United
States. Stemming from wartime urgency, its progress was slowed by fears of
central authority and extensive land claims by states before was it was ratified
on March 1, 1781. Under these articles, the states remained sovereign and
independent, with Congress serving as the last resort on appeal of disputes.
Congress was also 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.
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
The impetus for an effective central government lay in wartime urgency, the
need for foreign recognition and aid, and the growth of national feeling.
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 Deanes.
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 Dickinsons 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 it except Maryland, but 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. Virginias action persuaded Maryland to ratify the Articles, which went
into effect on March 1, 1781.
Not all issues had been settled with ratification, however. A disagreement over
the appointment of taxes forecast the division over slavery in the Constitutional
Convention. Dickinsons 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 states 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 mattersmaking war, entering treaties,
regulating coinage, for examplerequired 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 loyaltiesand suspicions of central authoritypersisted. In the
1780sthe so-called Critical Periodstate 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, 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.

Chart of Strengths and Weaknesses in The Articles of Confederation

1 To declare war and make peace.
2 To coin and borrow money
3 To detail with foreign countries and sign treaties
4 To operate post offices
1 The national government could not force the states to obey its laws.
2 It did not have the power to tax
3 It did not have the power to enforce laws
4 Congress lacked strong and steady leadership
5 There was no national army or navy
6 There was no system of national courts
7 Each state could issue its own paper money
8 Each state could put tariffs on trade between states. (A tariff is a tax on
goods coming in from another state or country.)
9 There was no Chief Executive or Executive Branch at all.