The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (commonly referred to
as the Articles of Confederation) was the constitution of the revolutionary
wartime alliance of the thirteen United States of America.
Articles of Confederation
November 15, 1777
by: Stanley L. Klos
Independence from Great Britain was declared on July 2, 1776 the United
Colonies needed to form a new Confederation to govern and conduct the war
against England. The Continental Congress, after painstaking debate, passed the
Articles of Confederationof the United States of America on November
15, 1777. Unlike the
Constitution of 1787 this confederation charter required the ratification of
all 13 states before it would become the first "Constitution" of
the United States of America.
Maryland who held out ratifying the
Articles of Confederationuntil 1781 due to border disputes with
neighboring states. On March 1, 1781 with this 13th state
ratification the Continental Congress ceased to exist and "The United States
in Congress Assembled" was placed at the head of each page of the Official
Journal of Congress. The New United States in Congress Assembled Journal
reported on March 2, 1781:
The ratification of the Articles of Confederation
being yesterday completed by the accession of the State of Maryland: The United
States met in Congress, when the following members appeared: His excellency
Samuel Huntington, delegate for Connecticut, President ...
Mr. Samuel Huntington served as President of the Continental Congress from
1779 to 1781, which was well beyond the one-year term limitation now mandated by
Articles of Confederation. Despite this Huntington was recognized as
President of the United States in Congress Assembled during the ratification
celebration of March 1781 and presided over the new Government until the
election of President
Thomas McKean. Contrary to popular belief, Samuel Huntington actually became
the first President of the United States on that fateful day. There were nine
more US Presidents who served under the Articles before
George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 making him the eleventh (see
many interesting and noteworthy provisions in this new Constitution. Article XI,
however, astonishes most Americans because of the automatic admission provision
of a 14th state with a simple letter to the United States in Congress Assembled:
XI. Canada acceding to this confederation, and
adjoining 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.
course, never sought admission and the carte blanche invitation expired in 1788.
The United States Congress
passed numerous laws and resolutions under the new Constitution of 1781.
Clearly, it was President
Arthur St. Clair's 1787 administration that passed the most significant
piece of legislation under the Articles of Confederation.
An Ordinance for the government of the Territory of
the United States northwest of the River Ohio.
Northwest Ordinance had lingered in Congress since 1784 until President St.
Clair championed the measure before Congress.
Daniel Webster described the Northwest Ordinance as follows:
"We are accustomed to praise lawgivers of antiquity ...
but I doubt whether one single law of any lawgiver, ancient or modern, has
produced the effects of more distinct, marked, and lasting character than the
Ordinance of 1787"
This ordinance was an
exceptional piece of legislation because Article 5 permitted the people North
and West of the Ohio River to settle their land, form their own territorial
government, and take their place as a full fledge state equal to the original
13. The Northwest Ordinance's Article 5 became the principal that enabled the
United States rapid westward expansion, which ended with the inclusion of Alaska
and Hawaii as our 49th and 50th states.
In Article 6 slavery and
involuntary servitude were prohibited in the Northwest Territory which finally
gave some merit to the United States 1776 Declaration of Independence's "...
all men are created equal...". Other Ordinance provisions provided for free
College and educational land grants.
Clearly the importance of the Articles of
Confederation and its government has been rendered obtuse, as it is virtually
ignored in our educational and public rhetoric.The fact that
Samuel Huntington is not recognized as the first President of the United
States is primarily due to the popular view that the United States formally
began with the United States Constitution. This, coupled with oath of secrecy of
all 1774-1788 Congressional debates and the current national fixation with the
importance of the 1787 Constitutional Presidency, has doomed the legacy of the
Articles of Confederation to obscurity.
There is no doubt, however, that a future
US generation will re-discover the early patriots and the genius entwined within
the Articles of Confederation. Perhaps that generation will someday deem March
1, 1781 - A National Holiday - set aside to honor the US Presidents,
patriots and leaders of the
War for Independence.
Articles of Confederation
Passed by Congress Nov. 15, 1777 - Ratified by the
States March 1, 1781
To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the
undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.
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.
I. The Stile of this
Confederacy shall be "The United States of America".
II. 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.
III. The said States hereby
severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their
common defense, 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 pretense whatever.
IV. 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 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 restrictions 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 offense.
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
V. For the most convenient
management of the general interests of the United States, delegates shall be
annually appointed in such manner as the legislatures 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 recall its delegates, or any of them, at any
time within the year, and to send others in their stead for the remainder of the
No State shall be represented in Congress by less than two, nor 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
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 or imprisonments, during the
time of their going to and from, and attendance on Congress, except for treason,
felony, or breach of the peace.
VI. 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 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 vessel 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 defense 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 defense 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 filed 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.
VII. When land forces are
raised by any State for the common defense, 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
VIII. All charges of war, and
all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general
welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress assembled, shall be
defrayed 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 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.
IX. 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 marquee 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
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
causes 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 favor, 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 standards
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 through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses 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 members 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 expenses -- 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 solid-like
manner, at the expense of the United States; and the officers and men so
clothed, armed and equipped 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 of
men than the quota thereof, such extra number shall be raised, officered,
clothed, armed and equipped in the same manner as the quota of each State,
unless the legislature of such State shall judge that such extra number cannot
be safely spread out in 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 clothed, armed, and equipped, shall march to
the place appointed, and within the time agreed on by the United States in
The United States in Congress assembled shall
never engage in a war, nor grant letters of marquee or 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 expenses necessary for the defense
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 the
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
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.
X. 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 the 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 be requisite.
XI. Canada acceding to this
confederation, and adjoining 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
XII. 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.
XIII. Every State shall abide
by the determination 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 purpose, 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.
On the part & behalf of the State of New
JOHN WENTWORTH JUNR.
August 8th 1778
On the part and behalf of The State of
On the part and behalf of the State of
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
On the part and behalf of the State of
TITUS HOSMER ANDREW ADAMS
On the Part and Behalf of the State of New
On the Part and in Behalf of the State of
New Jersey, November 26, 1778.
On the part and behalf of the State of
JOHN BAYARD SMITH.
22nd July 1778
On the part & behalf of the State of
February 12, 1779
May 5th 1779
NICHOLAS VAN DYKE,
On the part and behalf of the State of
March 1 1781
DANIEL CARROLL do
On the Part and Behalf of the State of
RICHARD HENRY LEE
FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE
On the part and Behalf of the State of No
July 21st 1778
On the part & behalf of the State of South
WILLIAM HENRY DRAYTON
THOs HEYWARD Junr
On the part & behalf of the State of
Georgia JNo WALTON
24th July 1778
The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union
(commonly referred to as the Articles of Confederation) was the
constitution of the revolutionary wartime alliance of the thirteen
United States of America. The Articles' ratification (proposed in 1777)
was completed in 1781, and legally federated several sovereign and independent
states, allied under the
Articles of Association into a new
federation styled the "United States of America". Under the Articles (and
the succeeding Constitution) the states retained sovereignty over all
governmental functions not specifically relinquished to the central
The last draft of the Articles was written in the summer
of 1777 and adopted by the
Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777 in
York, Pennsylvania after a year of debate. In practice the final draft of
the Articles served as the de facto
system of government used by the Congress ("the United States in Congress
assembled") until it became de jure
by final ratification on March 1, 1781; at which point Congress became the
Congress of the Confederation. The Articles set the rules for
operations of the "United States" confederation. The confederation was capable
of making war, negotiating diplomatic agreements, and resolving issues
regarding the western territories. An important element of the Articles was
that Article XIII stipulated that "their provisions shall be inviolably
observed by every state" and "the
Union shall be perpetual".
The Articles were created by the chosen representatives
of the states in the Second Continental Congress out of a perceived need to
have "a plan of confederacy for securing the freedom, sovereignty, and
independence of the United States." Although serving a crucial role in the
victory in the
American Revolutionary War, a group of reformers,
known as "federalists",
felt that the Articles lacked the necessary provisions for a sufficiently
effective government. Fundamentally, a
federation was sought to replace the
confederation. The key criticism by those who favored a more powerful
(i.e. the federalists) was that the government (i.e. the
Congress of the Confederation) lacked taxing authority; it had to request
funds from the states. Also various federalist factions wanted a government
that could impose uniform tariffs, give land grants, and assume responsibility
for unpaid state war debts ("assumption".) The libertarian factions, on the
other hand, considered these limits on government power to be necessary and
good. Another criticism of the Articles was that they did not strike the right
balance between large and small states in the legislative decision making
process. Due to its one-state, one-vote plank, the larger states were
expected to contribute more but had only one vote.
Congress began to move for ratification of the Articles
"Permit us, then, earnestly to recommend these
articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of
the respective states. Let them be candidly reviewed under a sense of the
difficulty of combining in one general system the various sentiments and
interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent
communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our
councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common
The document could not become officially effective until
it was ratified by all of the thirteen colonies. The first state to ratify was
on December 16, 1777.
The process dragged on for several years, stalled by the refusal of some
states to rescind their claims to land in the West.
was the last holdout; it refused to go along until
and New York agreed to cede their claims in the
River valley. A little over three years passed before Maryland's
ratification on March 1, 1781.
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.
Establishes the name of the confederation as "The
United States of America."
Asserts the equality of the separate states with the
confederation government, i.e. "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom,
and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by
this Confederation expressly delegated."
Establishes the United States as a new nation, a
sovereign union of sovereign states, united ". . . for their common defense,
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 . . . ," while declaring that the union is
"perpetual," and can only be altered by approval of Congress with
ratification by all the state legislatures.
freedom of movement–anyone can pass freely between states, excluding "paupers,
from justice." All people are entitled to the rights established by the
state into which he travels. If a crime is committed in one state and the
perpetrator flees to another state, he will be
extradited to and tried in the state in which the crime was committed.
Allocates one vote in the
Congress of the Confederation (United States in Congress Assembled) to
each state, which was entitled to a delegation of between two and seven
members. Members of Congress were appointed by state legislatures;
individuals could not serve more than three out of any six years.
Only the central government is allowed to conduct
relations and to
declare war. No states may have navies or standing armies, or engage in
war, without permission of Congress (although the state
When an army is raised for common defense, colonels
and military ranks below colonel will be named by the state legislatures.
Expenditures by the United States will be paid by
funds raised by state legislatures, and apportioned to the states based on
the real property values of each.
Defines the powers of the central government: to
declare war, to set weights and measures (including coins), and for Congress
to serve as a final court for disputes between states.
Requires nine states to approve the admission of a
new state into the confederacy; pre-approves
Canada, if it applies for membership.
Reaffirms that the Confederation accepts war debt
incurred by Congress before the 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
Articles of Confederation
end of the war
Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended hostilities with Great Britain,
languished in Congress for months because state representatives failed to
attend sessions of the national legislature. Yet Congress had no power to
enforce attendance. Writing to
George Clinton in September 1783, George Washington complained:
Congress have come to no determination yet
respecting the Peace Establishment nor am I able to say when they will. I
have lately had a conference with a Committee on this subject, and have
reiterated my former opinions, but it appears to me that there is not a
sufficient representation to discuss Great National points.
The Articles supported the Congressional direction of
Continental Army, and allowed the 13 states to present a unified front
when dealing with the European powers. As a tool to build a centralized
war-making government, they were largely a failure: Historian Bruce Chadwick
George Washington had been one of the very first
proponents of a strong federal government. The army had nearly disbanded
on several occasions during the winters of the war because of the
weaknesses of the Continental Congress. ... The delegates could not draft
soldiers and had to send requests for regular troops and militia to the
states. Congress had the right to order the production and purchase of
provisions for the soldiers, but could not force anyone to actually supply
them, and the army nearly starved in several winters of war.
Since guerrilla warfare was an effective strategy in a
war against the British Empire, a centralized government proved unnecessary
for winning independence. At the same time, The Continental Congress took all
advice, and heeded every command by George Washington, and thus the government
essentially acted in a federalist manner during the war, thereby hiding all
problems of the Articles until the war was over.
Under the articles, Congress could make decisions, but had no power to enforce
them. There was a requirement for unanimous approval before any modifications
could be made to the Articles. Because the majority of lawmaking rested with
the states, the central government was also kept limited.
Congress was denied the power of taxation: it could only
request money from the states. The states did not generally comply with the
requests in full, leaving the Confederation Congress and the Continental Army
chronically short of funds. Congress was also denied the power to regulate
commerce, and as a result, the states maintained control over their own trade
policy as well. The states and the national congress had both incurred debts
during the war, and how to pay the debts became a major issue after the war.
Some states paid off their debts; however, the centralizers favored federal
assumption of states' debts.
Once the war was won, the
Continental Army was largely disbanded. A very small national force was
maintained to man frontier forts and protect against Native American attacks.
Meanwhile, each of the states had an army (or militia), and 11 of them had
navies. The wartime promises of bounties and land grants to be paid for
service were not being met. In 1783,
Washington defused the
Newburgh conspiracy, but riots by unpaid Pennsylvania veterans forced the
Congress to leave Philadelphia temporarily.
The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles
for distribution to the states on November 15, 1777. A copy was made for each
state and one was kept by the
Congress. The copies sent to the states for ratification were unsigned,
and a cover letter had only the signatures of
Henry Laurens and
Charles Thomson, who were the
President and Secretary to the Congress.
But, the Articles at that time were unsigned, and
the date was blank. Congress began the signing process by examining their copy
of the Articles on June 27, 1778. They ordered a final copy prepared
(the one in the National Archives), and that delegates should inform the
secretary of their authority for ratification.
After the first signing, some delegates signed at the
next meeting they attended. For example, John Wentworth of New Hampshire added
his name on August 8. John Penn was the first of North Carolina's delegates to
arrive (on July 10), and the delegation signed the Articles on July 21,
The other states had to wait until they ratified the
Articles and notified their Congressional delegation. Georgia signed on
July 24, New Jersey on November 26, and Delaware on February 12, 1779.
Maryland refused to ratify the Articles until every state had ceded its
western land claims.
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