article x articles of confederation

  • History Classics
  • Your Profile
  • Find History on Facebook (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Twitter (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on YouTube (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Instagram (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on TikTok (Opens in a new window)
  • This Day In History
  • History Podcasts
  • History Vault

Articles of Confederation

By: History.com Editors

Updated: August 15, 2023 | Original: October 27, 2009

HISTORY: The Articles of Confederation

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 13 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.

Ratification of the Articles of Confederation 

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 defense, 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

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.

Thirteen Articles:

The Stile of this confederacy shall be "The United States of America."

Article 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.

Article III.

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.

Article 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 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 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 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.

Article 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 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.

Article VII.

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.

Article VIII.

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 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 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.

Article 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 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.

Article XI.

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.

Article 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.

Article XIII.

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.

Conclusion:

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.

article x articles of confederation

HISTORY Vault: The American Revolution

Stream American Revolution documentaries and your favorite HISTORY series, commercial-free.

article x articles of confederation

Sign up for Inside History

Get HISTORY’s most fascinating stories delivered to your inbox three times a week.

By submitting your information, you agree to receive emails from HISTORY and A+E Networks. You can opt out at any time. You must be 16 years or older and a resident of the United States.

More details : Privacy Notice | Terms of Use | Contact Us

Explore the Constitution

The constitution.

  • Read the Full Text

Dive Deeper

Constitution 101 course.

  • The Drafting Table
  • Supreme Court Cases Library
  • Founders' Library
  • Constitutional Rights: Origins & Travels

National Constitution Center Building

Start your constitutional learning journey

  • News & Debate Overview
  • Constitution Daily Blog
  • America's Town Hall Programs
  • Special Projects
  • Media Library

America’s Town Hall

America’s Town Hall

Watch videos of recent programs.

  • Education Overview

Constitution 101 Curriculum

  • Classroom Resources by Topic
  • Classroom Resources Library
  • Live Online Events
  • Professional Learning Opportunities
  • Constitution Day Resources

Student Watching Online Class

Explore our new 15-unit high school curriculum.

  • Explore the Museum
  • Plan Your Visit
  • Exhibits & Programs
  • Field Trips & Group Visits
  • Host Your Event
  • Buy Tickets

First Amendment Exhibit Historic Graphic

New exhibit

The first amendment, historic document, articles of confederation (1781).

Continental Congress | 1781

When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, the United States already had a framework of national government—the Articles of Confederation.  The Constitutional Convention itself was—in many ways—a response to the weaknesses of this form of government.  Adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and ratified by the states in 1781, the Articles of Confederation created a weak central government—a “league of friendship”—that largely preserved state power (and independence).  The Articles created a national government centered on the legislative branch, which was comprised of a single house.  There was no separate executive branch or judicial branch.  The delegates in Congress voted by state—with each state receiving one vote, regardless of its population.  The national government did not have the power to tax, to regulate commerce between the states, or to force the states to provide troops or send the government money.  And any proposed amendment to the Articles required unanimous approval from all thirteen states.  As a result, no amendment was ever ratified.  The delegates to the Constitutional Convention eventually framed a new Constitution designed to address many of these flaws.

Selected by

The National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center

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 Newhampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhodeisland and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia . . . .

Article I.  The Stile of this confederacy shall be, “The United States of America.”

Article 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.

Article III.  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. . . .

Article V.  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 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 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 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. . . .

Article IX. The united states, in congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war, . . . - 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 . . . .

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 and 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 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 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 . . . .

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 expenses 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. . . .

Article XIII. 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 con-firmed by the legislatures of every state.

Explore the full document

Modal title.

Modal body text goes here.

Share with Students

Teacher Seminars In Person : Join us in California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Virginia this summer. Apply by March 5, 2024.

  • AP US History Study Guide
  • History U: Courses for High School Students
  • History School: Summer Enrichment
  • Lesson Plans
  • Classroom Resources
  • Spotlights on Primary Sources
  • Professional Development (Academic Year)
  • Professional Development (Summer)
  • Book Breaks
  • Inside the Vault
  • Self-Paced Courses
  • Browse All Resources
  • Search by Issue
  • Search by Essay
  • Become a Member (Free)
  • Monthly Offer (Free for Members)
  • Program Information
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid
  • Applying and Enrolling
  • Eligibility (In-Person)
  • EduHam Online
  • Hamilton Cast Read Alongs
  • Official Website
  • Press Coverage
  • Veterans Legacy Program
  • The Declaration at 250
  • Black Lives in the Founding Era
  • Celebrating American Historical Holidays
  • Browse All Programs
  • Donate Items to the Collection
  • Search Our Catalog
  • Research Guides
  • Rights and Reproductions
  • See Our Documents on Display
  • Bring an Exhibition to Your Organization
  • Interactive Exhibitions Online
  • About the Transcription Program
  • Civil War Letters
  • Founding Era Newspapers
  • College Fellowships in American History
  • Scholarly Fellowship Program
  • Richard Gilder History Prize
  • David McCullough Essay Prize
  • Affiliate School Scholarships
  • Nominate a Teacher
  • Eligibility
  • State Winners
  • National Winners
  • Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
  • Gilder Lehrman Military History Prize
  • George Washington Prize
  • Frederick Douglass Book Prize
  • Our Mission and History
  • Annual Report
  • Contact Information
  • Student Advisory Council
  • Teacher Advisory Council
  • Board of Trustees
  • Remembering Richard Gilder
  • President's Council
  • Scholarly Advisory Board
  • Internships
  • Our Partners
  • Press Releases

History Resources

article x articles of confederation

The Articles of Confederation, 1777

A spotlight on a primary source by the second continental congress.

The Articles of Confederation, 1777 (GLC04759)

More of a treaty—or a "firm league of friendship"—than a constitution, the Articles of Confederation in no way infringed upon the sovereignty of the original thirteen states. Each state held "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 Congress, the primary organ of the new national government, only had the power to declare war, appoint military officers, sign treaties, make alliances, appoint foreign ambassadors, and manage relations with the American Indians. All states were represented equally in Congress, and nine of the thirteen states had to approve a bill before it became law. Amendments required the approval of all the states.

The Articles of Confederation represented an attempt to balance the sovereignty of the states with an effective national government. Under the Articles, the states, not Congress, had the power to tax. Congress could raise money only by asking the states for funds, borrowing from foreign governments, and selling western lands. In addition, Congress could not draft soldiers or regulate trade. There was no provision for national courts or a chief executive.

Importantly, the Articles did not establish a genuinely republican government. Power was concentrated in a single assembly, rather than being divided, as in the state governments, into separate houses and branches. Further, members of the Confederation Congress were selected by state governments, not by the people.

The Articles served as the nation’s plan of government until the US Constitution was ratified in 1788.

A full transcript is available.

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.

ARTICLE 1. The Stile of this confederacy shall be "The United States of America".

ART. 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.

ART. 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.

ART. 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 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 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 other state.

ART. V. 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 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 year. . . .

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 attendence on congress, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace. . . .

Questions for Discussion

Read the introduction and the document and apply your knowledge of American history in order to answer the following questions.

  • Locate four provisions within the Articles of Confederation that indicate the concerns of the founding generation with the powers of a central government.
  • How accurate is the following statement? The experience of having lived under a monarchy was largely responsible for the emphasis on sovereignty of the states under the Articles of Confederation.
  • Critics of the Articles pointed out its weaknesses and shortcomings. Identify and explain four such areas in the Articles that were changed, altered, removed, or added in the Constitution.
  • To what extent does the debate continue today over the power of the federal government? 

A printer-friendly version is available here .

Stay up to date, and subscribe to our quarterly newsletter..

Learn how the Institute impacts history education through our work guiding teachers, energizing students, and supporting research.

America's Historical Documents

National Archives Logo

Articles of Confederation

refer to caption

Engrossed and corrected copy of the Articles of Confederation, showing amendments adopted, November 15, 1777, Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives.

After considerable debate and alteration, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. This document served as the United States' first constitution, and was in force from March 1, 1781, until 1789 when the present day Constitution went into effect.

Read more at Our Documents ...

George Washington's Mount Vernon logo

Open 365 days a year, Mount Vernon is located just 15 miles south of Washington DC.

There's So Much to See

From the mansion to lush gardens and grounds, intriguing museum galleries, immersive programs, and the distillery and gristmill. Spend the day with us!

Farmer, Soldier, Statesman, and Husband

Discover what made Washington "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen".

Did You Know?

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has been maintaining the Mount Vernon Estate since they acquired it from the Washington family in 1858.

Ace Your American History Class

Need help with homework? Our Digital Encyclopedia has all of the answers students and teachers need.

The Library of the First President

The Washington Library is open to all researchers and scholars, by appointment only.

The Articles of Confederation

Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington logo

The Second Continental Congress began laying the groundwork for an independent United States on June 11, 1776, when it passed resolutions appointing committees to draft the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence. The Articles resolution ordered “a committee to be appointed to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies.” 1  John Dickinson, the chairman of the committee tasked with creating a confederation, worked with twelve other committee members to prepare draft articles. They presented their work to Congress on July 12, 1776, and the delegates began to debate the plan soon thereafter. Wary and conscious of repeated British intrusions on their civil and political rights since the early 1760s, the Articles’ framers carefully considered state sovereignty, the proposed national government’s specific powers, and the structure of each government branch as they wrote and debated their plan.  They sought to create a government subordinate to the states with power sufficiently checked to prevent the kind of infringements that Americans had experienced under British rule. Congress debated the Articles with these concerns in mind, and it approved the final draft of the Articles on November 15, 1777. Two days later, Congress sent it to the states for ratification. The Articles required unanimous consent from the thirteen states to take effect. Maryland became the final state to ratify the document on March 1, 1781.

The Articles of Confederation featured a preamble and thirteen articles that granted the bulk of power to the states. To some degree, it was a treaty of alliance between thirteen sovereign republics rather than the foundation for a national government. The preamble announced that the states were in a “perpetual union” with one another, but despite this seemingly stringent description, the Articles merely organized the states into a loose compact in which they mostly governed themselves. 2 The first article provided the new nation with its name: “the United States of America.” 3  The remaining articles detailed the states’ relationship with each other and with Congress. Article II provided that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence.” Article III, in which the states agreed to “enter into a firm league of friendship with each other,” did not negate an individual state’s sovereign status. 4  Article IV specified the rights of citizens within the several states, such as affording citizens the same privileges and immunities and allowing freedom of movement. Article IV also afforded full faith and credit to “the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other state.” 5  Article V gave each state only one vote in Congress, ensuring the idea of equality among the states. Other articles discussed the powers granted to Congress, including the power to levy war, send and receive ambassadors, create treaties, grant letters of marque and reprisal, regulate the value of coin, and establish post offices. The final article, Article XIII, required unanimous ratification for all amendments. It also featured a supremacy clause obligating every state to follow the Articles of Confederation.

Three years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, many Americans including George Washington began to argue that the perpetual union was in danger.  On January 18, 1784, Washington wrote to Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison that the government was “a half starved, limping Government, that appears to be always moving upon crutches, & tottering at every step.” 6  Washington and other Americans had witnessed several crises during the United States’ early years under the Articles, leading to a belief among many that preventing the nation’s collapse required revisiting the Articles. On June 27, 1786, John Jay confided in Washington that “Our affairs seem to lead to some crisis . . . I am uneasy and apprehensive—more so, than during the War.” 7  In Jay’s opinion, one many leading Americans shared, the national government’s weakness led to serious problems that threatened the nation’s survival.

Congress possessed only enumerated powers under the Articles of Confederation.  It had no real power to tax, regulate commerce, or raise an army. The inability to tax created major obstacles for the new nation. Without the ability to tax the states or citizens, Congress could not raise revenue, which it needed to pay war debts to international creditors. Congress could only request money from states, and frequently, states would donate only a portion of the request or nothing at all.  Between 1781 and 1787, Congress only received $1.5 million of the $10 million that it had requested from the states.

In April 1783, Congress proposed an amendment to the Articles that would allow Congress to levy a five percent tariff on imports for no more than twenty-five years.  The revenue from the proposed tariff was specifically earmarked to pay war debts. Given the unanimous amendment process, all states had to ratify the impost for it to take effect. All states but New York had adopted the impost by early 1786.  In May 1786, New York’s legislature was willing to adopt the impost with some alterations. However, Congress did not want to accept these alterations and requested that New York remove them. When New York refused to do so in February 1787, the attempt at giving Congress the power to tax, at least in some capacity, was over.

Shays’ Rebellion coincided with the impost ratification process. Led by Daniel Shays, the rebellion was comprised of indebted farmers in western Massachusetts, many of whom were Revolutionary War veterans that had lost much of their land due to foreclosures. They could not pay the high taxes that states had imposed in order to eliminate war debt. Congress had no ability to raise its own army to suppress the rebellion, forcing the nation to rely on a privately financed Massachusetts army to put down the insurrection. This exemplified the need for not only Congress to have the ability to tax, but also the power to raise an army. Additionally, the Articles did not give Congress the power to regulate commerce explicitly. Although it could negotiate treaties and regulate all American coin, it did not have the power to negotiate complex trade treaties with foreign nations and the Articles failed to create a singular uniform currency. This lack of universal currency made trade between states and foreign nations difficult, and led to inconsistencies in currency exchange rates among the states.

Despite the Articles’ weaknesses, it also had numerous strengths. Foremost, it enabled the country to prosecute the Revolutionary War. Because Congress observed that the Articles were its de facto government until officially ratified in 1781, the Articles allowed the country to create a treaty of alliance with France in 1778. It also allowed for the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which ended the war.  The Articles enabled Congress to create the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Wars, Marine, and Treasury, allowed for the establishment of post offices, and had a provision that would permit Canada to join the Union in the future. Congress’s most significant legislative achievement under the Articles was its passage of a series of land ordinances in the mid-1780s: the Land Ordinance of 1784, the Land Ordinance of 1785, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 .  These ordinances collectively provided a process for adding new and equal states to the nation, guaranteed republican governments and other rights for the new states and its inhabitants, banned slavery and involuntary servitude in the new territories after 1800, and provided for public education in the new states. Overall, the ratification of these ordinances was impressive, given the lack of unity among the states at the time and the super-majority vote needed to pass them.

Yet, the Articles of Confederation’s weaknesses triumphed over its virtues. As a result, the Annapolis Convention was called on September 11, 1786, just a few weeks after the outbreak of Shays’ Rebellion. The convention was called initially to address changes regarding trade, but the delegates realized the problems had a broader scope.  John Dickinson, who had chaired the committee to draft the Articles, was president of the Annapolis Convention.  He along with other delegates, particularly Alexander Hamilton , resolved to reconvene at a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles in May 1787.

The Philadelphia Convention of 1787 went beyond its mandate to revise the Articles by replacing it with a new constitution. However, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention incorporated several ideas from the Articles into the new charter. Examples of this incorporation include the full faith and credit clause and the power to declare war. In addition, the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV of the Articles was incorporated into Article IV of the Constitution.

Even after state conventions ratified the Constitution in 1788, the Articles of Confederation continued to inspire changes to the new federal charter. In 1791, Article II of the Articles of Confederation served as the basis for the 10 th Amendment to the Constitution. Born out of necessity to fight the War for Independence, the Articles of Confederation created a “perpetual union” that later generations of Americans would later strive to make “more perfect.”

Aubrianna Mierow The George Washington University

1. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 , ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904-37), 8:431.

2. JCC, 1774-1789 , ed. Ford et al., 9:907.

4. Ibid, 9:908.

5. Ibid, 9:908-9.

6. George Washington to Benjamin Harrison, 18 January 1784, Founders Online , National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-01-02-0039 .

7. John Jay to George Washington, 27 June 1786, Founders Online , National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0129 .

Bibliography:

Kaminski, John. “Empowering the Confederation: a Counterfactual Model.” (2005) Accessed November 1, 2018. https://law.utexas.edu/faculty/calvinjohnson/RighteousAnger/ SHEAR2005Kaminski.pdf .

Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Rakove, Jack N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress . New York: Knopf, 1979.

Richards, Leonard L. Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle . Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Van Cleve, George. We Have Not a Government: The Articles of Confederation and the Road to the Constitution . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 . Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Quick Links

9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

About the Articles of Confederation

article x articles of confederation

The war between the Thirteen American colonies and Great Britain was underway. The First Continental Congress, which had met in Philadelphia from September to October 1774, had organized to launch a collective affront to British taxation and unite in an economic boycott on all British goods. The Second Continental Congress, which formed on May 10, 1775, did not just organize an embargo but organized a de facto government in order to fight one of the largest militaries and political superpowers in Europe. Congress adopted the “ Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms ” to establish their military intent against Britain.

On June 14, 1775, they created the Continental Army . In one last show of goodwill, Congress drafted the Olive Branch Petition to implore Britain to peacefully end the conflict and grant the Thirteen Colonies their independence. The Petition was not acknowledged by King George III . As the conflict progressed, Congress began drafting a document that further unified the colonies, gave guidelines on how Congress should operate, and legitimized the budding nation in the eyes of the world. This document was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.  

Founding Fathers with the Declaration of Independence

Known simply as the “Articles of Confederation,” this document preserved the independence and sovereignty of the States while unifying them under one Constitution obligation. These articles were separate from the Declaration of Independence , although both written around the same time. The Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson , was the formal explanation of why the Thirteen Colonies had declared independence from Great Britain. While the previous Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms outlined why the Thirteen Colonies were starting an armed conflict, the Declaration of Independence established why the Thirteen Colonies wanted sovereignty and independence from their former ruler. The document is comprised of a list of grievances against King George III and the ideologies of the new country. Today several accepted American values and tenants come from this document, such as:  

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

The Declaration of Independence was officially ratified on July 4, 1776. Because of the importance of this document, America’s Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th every year.  

The Articles of Confederation took longer to write. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation were to be the guiding principles of governing the new United States of America and the pragmatic instructions on how to run a country.  The Continental Congress struggled and debated issues regarding state sovereignty, what powers a centralized government should hold, how congress should vote, and whether states could claim “unclaimed” western lands. While these issues were debated, pressing issues regarding the military and money required Congress’s attention as they traveled from city to city escaping the escalating military conflict. After drafting and redrafting the document, the final draft of the Articles of Confederation was completed on November 15, 1777.  

Twelve states ratified the Articles by February 1779, fourteen months after the submission of its completed draft. These ratifications occurred with little alteration to the Articles and the Continental Congress adopted the Articles as its de facto governmental procedures. Maryland, the lone holdout, worried that Virginia could claim large swaths of land west of the Ohio River. Hoping to limit the size of their neighboring state, Maryland refused to ratify unless all states ceded their claims to Western land and relented them to the national interest. If the land was in the national domain then these lands required congressional approval to be distributed to states. Almost four years after the Articles of Confederation were drafted, Maryland ratified the Articles on February 2, 1781. On March 1, the Articles became the official ruling document of the United States.  

The document, although long in approval, was far from perfect. The Article contained thirteen articles that divvied power between the central Congress and the individual states based on the idea of friendship between the states. In Article Three, Congress defines this friendship: 

"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." 

article x articles of confederation

The Articles, in general, gave limited power to the central government. Congress could sign treaties and alliances with foreign nations; could regulate post offices, appoint officers in the military, and regulate armed forces; could request requisitions from the states; and could do other administrative functions. Congress could not declare war or peace with other nations without the consent of a super-majority of the states; could not levy taxes on states; could not require states send soldiers to fight in a national army; and could not interfere with state’s sovereignty. Congress was granted only the power that Great Britain had previously held over the Thirteen Colonies before the Intolerable Acts were issued. These limits were deliberate. The United States was reluctant to establish a strong central government while fighting a war against the ideas of “tyranny.”  

The shortcomings of the Articles of the Confederation impeded the United States from properly governing the new country. The Treaty of Paris , which officially ended the conflict between the United States and Great Britain, was signed by delegates of the United States and Great Britain in Paris on September 3, 1783. However, the United States didn’t officially approve this treaty for another year as state delegates missed Congressional meetings. Quorum, the minimum number of delegates needed to proceed with Congressional meetings, was routinely not reached in order to approve the Treaty. These absences impacted Congress’s ability to pass any legislation. In addition to lacking the ability to force state delegates to attend Congress meetings, Congress lacked the ability to raise money to pay the veterans of the Revolutionary War. This procedural stall in payment resulted in Shays’ Rebellion, the name for numerous small rebellions that came to a peak on January 25, 1787. On that day, four thousand veterans, led by Daniel Shays, attempted to seize weapons from the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts to protest lack of veteran payments and excessive taxation.  Congress, unable to allocate money toward national troops, relied on the Massachusetts state militia and private militias to quell the rebellion. Even though the rebellion was quelled, Congress was powerless to provide solutions for the farmers’ qualms. On a foreign front, the United States was unable to secure treaties with foreign nations. With little ability to control individual state actions, foreign representatives in Europe could not guarantee compliance with potential treaties. Without these guarantees, foreign governments were reticent to trade the budding nation or strengthen the nation with political friendships.  

With a list of grievances growing, Congress began deliberations to write a new guiding document. This new document was the Constitution of the United States , the guiding document of the United States to this day. On September 28, 1787, the new Constitution was presented to Congress. Within a year, the Constitution had been ratified by all Thirteen States. On March 4, 1789, the Constitution was officially effective as rule of law in the United States and the Articles of Confederation was retired. While the Articles of Confederation was not inherently bad or ill-advised, it wasn’t the appropriate governing document for the United States. At the States became an independent nation and transitioned from wartime to peace, Congress recognized the strengths and the weakness of the Articles. Learning from their experiences, Congress used the Articles of Confederation as a steppingstone creating a productive government for their budding nation. 

Further Reading

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation  By: Joseph J. Ellis

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789  By: Joseph J. Ellis

The Articles of Confederation  By: Elizabeth Carol Sonneborn

article x articles of confederation

The Path to the Declaration

Signatures on a document.

Constitutional Convention

article x articles of confederation

Bill of Rights

You may also like.

  • 2.2 The Articles of Confederation
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 What is Government?
  • 1.2 Who Governs? Elitism, Pluralism, and Tradeoffs
  • 1.3 Engagement in a Democracy
  • Review Questions
  • Critical Thinking Questions
  • Suggestions for Further Study
  • 2.1 The Pre-Revolutionary Period and the Roots of the American Political Tradition
  • 2.3 The Development of the Constitution
  • 2.4 The Ratification of the Constitution
  • 2.5 Constitutional Change
  • 3.1 The Division of Powers
  • 3.2 The Evolution of American Federalism
  • 3.3 Intergovernmental Relationships
  • 3.4 Competitive Federalism Today
  • 3.5 Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism
  • 4.1 What Are Civil Liberties?
  • 4.2 Securing Basic Freedoms
  • 4.3 The Rights of Suspects
  • 4.4 Interpreting the Bill of Rights
  • 5.1 What Are Civil Rights and How Do We Identify Them?
  • 5.2 The African American Struggle for Equality
  • 5.3 The Fight for Women’s Rights
  • 5.4 Civil Rights for Indigenous Groups: Native Americans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians
  • 5.5 Equal Protection for Other Groups
  • 6.1 The Nature of Public Opinion
  • 6.2 How Is Public Opinion Measured?
  • 6.3 What Does the Public Think?
  • 6.4 The Effects of Public Opinion
  • 7.1 Voter Registration
  • 7.2 Voter Turnout
  • 7.3 Elections
  • 7.4 Campaigns and Voting
  • 7.5 Direct Democracy
  • 8.1 What Is the Media?
  • 8.2 The Evolution of the Media
  • 8.3 Regulating the Media
  • 8.4 The Impact of the Media
  • 9.1 What Are Parties and How Did They Form?
  • 9.2 The Two-Party System
  • 9.3 The Shape of Modern Political Parties
  • 9.4 Divided Government and Partisan Polarization
  • 10.1 Interest Groups Defined
  • 10.2 Collective Action and Interest Group Formation
  • 10.3 Interest Groups as Political Participation
  • 10.4 Pathways of Interest Group Influence
  • 10.5 Free Speech and the Regulation of Interest Groups
  • 11.1 The Institutional Design of Congress
  • 11.2 Congressional Elections
  • 11.3 Congressional Representation
  • 11.4 House and Senate Organizations
  • 11.5 The Legislative Process
  • 12.1 The Design and Evolution of the Presidency
  • 12.2 The Presidential Election Process
  • 12.3 Organizing to Govern
  • 12.4 The Public Presidency
  • 12.5 Presidential Governance: Direct Presidential Action
  • 13.1 Guardians of the Constitution and Individual Rights
  • 13.2 The Dual Court System
  • 13.3 The Federal Court System
  • 13.4 The Supreme Court
  • 13.5 Judicial Decision-Making and Implementation by the Supreme Court
  • 14.1 State Power and Delegation
  • 14.2 State Political Culture
  • 14.3 Governors and State Legislatures
  • 14.4 State Legislative Term Limits
  • 14.5 County and City Government
  • 15.1 Bureaucracy and the Evolution of Public Administration
  • 15.2 Toward a Merit-Based Civil Service
  • 15.3 Understanding Bureaucracies and their Types
  • 15.4 Controlling the Bureaucracy
  • 16.1 What Is Public Policy?
  • 16.2 Categorizing Public Policy
  • 16.3 Policy Arenas
  • 16.4 Policymakers
  • 16.5 Budgeting and Tax Policy
  • 17.1 Defining Foreign Policy
  • 17.2 Foreign Policy Instruments
  • 17.3 Institutional Relations in Foreign Policy
  • 17.4 Approaches to Foreign Policy
  • A | Declaration of Independence
  • B | The Constitution of the United States
  • C | Federalist Papers #10 and #51
  • D | Electoral College Votes by State, 2012–2020
  • E | Selected Supreme Court Cases

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the steps taken during and after the American Revolution to create a government
  • Identify the main features of the Articles of Confederation
  • Describe the crises resulting from key features of the Articles of Confederation

Waging a successful war against Great Britain required that the individual colonies, now sovereign states that often distrusted one another, form a unified nation with a central government capable of directing the country’s defense. Gaining recognition and aid from foreign nations would also be easier if the new United States had a national government able to borrow money and negotiate treaties. Accordingly, the Second Continental Congress called upon its delegates to create a new government strong enough to win the country’s independence but not so powerful that it would deprive people of the very liberties for which they were fighting.

PUTTING A NEW GOVERNMENT IN PLACE

The final draft of the Articles of Confederation , which formed the basis of the new nation’s government, was accepted by Congress in November 1777 and submitted to the states for ratification. It would not become the law of the land until all thirteen states had approved it. Within two years, all except Maryland had done so. Maryland argued that all territory west of the Appalachians, to which some states had laid claim, should instead be held by the national government as public land for the benefit of all the states. When the last of these states, Virginia, relinquished its land claims in early 1781, Maryland approved the Articles. 4 A few months later, the British surrendered.

Americans wished their new government to be a republic , a regime in which the people, not a monarch, held power and elected representatives to govern according to the rule of law. Many, however, feared that a nation as large as the United States could not be ruled effectively as a republic. Many also worried that even a government of representatives elected by the people might become too powerful and overbearing. Thus, a confederation was created—an entity in which independent, self-governing states form a union for the purpose of acting together in areas such as defense. Fearful of replacing one oppressive national government with another, however, the framers of the Articles of Confederation created an alliance of sovereign states held together by a weak central government.

Link to Learning

View the Articles of Confederation at the National Archives. The timeline for drafting and ratifying the Articles of Confederation is available at the Library of Congress.

Following the Declaration of Independence , each of the thirteen states had drafted and ratified a constitution providing for a republican form of government in which political power rested in the hands of the people, although the right to vote was limited to free (White) men, and the property requirements for voting differed among the states. Each state had a governor and an elected legislature. In the new nation, the states remained free to govern their residents as they wished. The central government had authority to act in only a few areas, such as national defense, in which the states were assumed to have a common interest (and would, indeed, have to supply militias). This arrangement was meant to prevent the national government from becoming too powerful or abusing the rights of individual citizens. In the careful balance between power for the national government and liberty for the states, the Articles of Confederation favored the states.

Thus, powers given to the central government were severely limited. The Confederation Congress , formerly the Continental Congress , had the authority to exchange ambassadors and make treaties with foreign governments and Indian tribes, declare war, coin currency and borrow money, and settle disputes between states. Each state legislature appointed delegates to the Congress; these men could be recalled at any time. Regardless of its size or the number of delegates it chose to send, each state would have only one vote. Delegates could serve for no more than three consecutive years, lest a class of elite professional politicians develop. The nation would have no independent chief executive or judiciary. Nine votes were required before the central government could act, and the Articles of Confederation could be changed only by unanimous approval of all thirteen states.

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE ARTICLES?

The Articles of Confederation satisfied the desire of those in the new nation who wanted a weak central government with limited power. Ironically, however, their very success led to their undoing. It soon became apparent that, while they protected the sovereignty of the states, the Articles had created a central government too weak to function effectively.

One of the biggest problems was that the national government had no power to impose taxes . To avoid any perception of “taxation without representation,” the Articles of Confederation allowed only state governments to levy taxes. To pay for its expenses, the national government had to request money from the states, which were required to provide funds in proportion to the value of the land within their borders. The states, however, were often negligent in this duty, and the national government was underfunded. Without money, it could not pay debts owed from the Revolution and had trouble conducting foreign affairs. For example, the inability of the U.S. government to raise sufficient funds to compensate colonists who had remained loyal to Great Britain for their property losses during and after the American Revolution was one of the reasons the British refused to evacuate the land west of the Appalachians. The new nation was also unable to protect American ships from attacks by the Barbary pirates. 5 Foreign governments were also, understandably, reluctant to loan money to a nation that might never repay it because it lacked the ability to tax its citizens.

The fiscal problems of the central government meant that the currency it issued, called the Continental, was largely worthless and people were reluctant to use it. Furthermore, while the Articles of Confederation had given the national government the power to coin money, they had not prohibited the states from doing so as well. As a result, numerous state banks issued their own banknotes, which had the same problems as the Continental. People who were unfamiliar with the reputation of the banks that had issued the banknotes often refused to accept them as currency. This reluctance, together with the overwhelming debts of the states, crippled the young nation’s economy.

The country’s economic woes were made worse by the fact that the central government also lacked the power to impose tariffs on foreign imports or regulate interstate commerce. Thus, it was unable to prevent British merchants from flooding the U.S. market with low-priced goods after the Revolution, and American producers suffered from the competition. Compounding the problem, states often imposed tariffs on items produced by other states and otherwise interfered with their neighbors’ trade.

The national government also lacked the power to raise an army or navy. Fears of a standing army in the employ of a tyrannical government had led the writers of the Articles of Confederation to leave defense largely to the states. Although the central government could declare war and agree to peace, it had to depend upon the states to provide soldiers. If state governors chose not to honor the national government’s request, the country would lack an adequate defense. This was quite dangerous at a time when England and Spain still controlled large portions of North America ( Table 2.1 ).

The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, already recognized by many, became apparent to all as a result of an uprising of Massachusetts farmers, led by Daniel Shays . Known as Shays’ Rebellion , the incident panicked the governor of Massachusetts, who called upon the national government for assistance. However, with no power to raise an army, the government had no troops at its disposal. After several months, Massachusetts crushed the uprising with the help of local militias and privately funded armies, but wealthy people were frightened by this display of unrest on the part of poor men and by similar incidents taking place in other states. 6 To find a solution and resolve problems related to commerce, members of Congress called for a revision of the Articles of Confederation.

Shays’ Rebellion: Symbol of Disorder and Impetus to Act

In the summer of 1786, farmers in western Massachusetts were heavily in debt, facing imprisonment and the loss of their lands. They owed taxes that had gone unpaid while they were away fighting the British during the Revolution. The Continental Congress had promised to pay them for their service, but the national government did not have sufficient money. Moreover, the farmers were unable to meet the onerous new tax burden Massachusetts imposed in order to pay its own debts from the Revolution.

Led by Daniel Shays ( Figure 2.6 ), the heavily indebted farmers marched to a local courthouse demanding relief. Faced with the refusal of many Massachusetts militiamen to arrest the rebels, with whom they sympathized, Governor James Bowdoin called upon the national government for aid, but none was available. The uprising was finally brought to an end the following year by a privately funded militia after the protestors’ unsuccessful attempt to raid the Springfield Armory.

Were Shays and his followers justified in their attacks on the government of Massachusetts? What rights might they have sought to protect?

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/american-government-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • Authors: Glen Krutz (Content Lead), Sylvie Waskiewicz, PhD (Lead Editor)
  • Publisher/website: OpenStax
  • Book title: American Government 2e
  • Publication date: Feb 21, 2019
  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Book URL: https://openstax.org/books/american-government-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/american-government-2e/pages/2-2-the-articles-of-confederation

© Mar 9, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.

usconstitution.net

U.S. Constitution

  • The Constitution
  • US Constitution (Full Text)
  • Constitution Summary
  • Preamble of the Constitution
  • Constitution Pictures
  • Constitution Timeline
  • us constitución (spanish)
  • Constitution for Kids
  • Constitution - Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
  • Constitution - 4th - 7th Grade
  • Constition - 8th - 12th Grade
  • Teaching the Constitution
  • The Amendment Process
  • Failed Amendments
  • Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 - 10)
  • 11th Amendment
  • 12th Amendment
  • 13th Amendment
  • 14th Amendment
  • 15th Amendment
  • 16th Amendment
  • 17th Amendment
  • 18th Amendment
  • 19th Amendment
  • 20th Amendment
  • 21st Amendment
  • 22nd Amendment
  • 23rd Amendment
  • 24th Amendment
  • 25th Amendment
  • 26th Amendment
  • 27th Amendment
  • Bill of Rights
  • First Amendment
  • Second Amendment
  • Third Amendment
  • Fourth Amendment
  • Fifth Amendment
  • Sixth Amendment
  • 7th Amendment
  • 8th Amendment
  • 9th Amendment
  • 10th Amendment
  • Founding Fathers
  • Demographics
  • The Constitutional Convention
  • Constitutional Convention Timeline
  • Constitutional Topics
  • The Second Ammendment (Firearms)
  • Citizenship
  • Separation of Powers
  • Checks and Balances
  • How a Bill Becomes a Law
  • Miranda Rights
  • * More Constitutional Topics

The Articles of Confederation

Also see the Constitutional Topics Page for this document, a comparison of the Articles and the Constitution , and a table with demographic data for the signers of the Articles . Images of the Articles are available .

  • Article I - Style
  • Article II - States Rights
  • Article III - Mutual defense
  • Article IV - Laws of other states to be abided; extradition
  • Article V - The Legislature
  • Article VI - Rights denied the States
  • Article VII - Appointment of military officers
  • Article VIII - United States to pay for defense; taxes
  • Article IX - Rights granted the Federal Government
  • Article X - Committee of States
  • Article XI - Canada may join the United States
  • Article XII - Assumption of debt
  • Article XIII - Articles are Supreme Law, amendment
  • Signatories

Agreed to by Congress November 15, 1777; ratified and in force, March 1, 1781.

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.

Article I. The Stile of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America."

Article 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.

Article 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.

Article 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 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 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 other State.

Article 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 year.

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 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 or imprisonments, during the time of their going to and from, and attendance on Congress, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace.

Article 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 judgement 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 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.

Article 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 appointment.

Article 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.

Article 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 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 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 judgement 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 judgement, which shall in like manner be final and decisive, the judgement 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 judgement, 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 judgement, 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 cloath, arm and equip them in a solid- like manner, at the expense of the United States; 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. 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, cloathed, 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 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 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 judgement 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.

Article 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.

Article 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.

Article 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.

Article 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 and behalf of the State of New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett John Wentworth Junr. August 8th 1778

On the part and behalf of The State of Massachusetts Bay: John Hancock Samuel Adams Elbridge Gerry Francis Dana James Lovell Samuel Holten

On the part and behalf of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: William Ellery Henry Marchant John Collins

On the part and behalf of the State of Connecticut: Roger Sherman Samuel Huntington Oliver Wolcott Titus Hosmer Andrew Adams

On the Part and Behalf of the State of New York: James Duane Francis Lewis Wm Duer Gouv Morris

On the Part and in Behalf of the State of New Jersey, November 26, 1778. Jno Witherspoon Nath. Scudder

On the part and behalf of the State of Pennsylvania: Robt Morris Daniel Roberdeau John Bayard Smith William Clingan Joseph Reed 22nd July 1778

On the part and behalf of the State of Delaware: Tho Mckean February 12, 1779 John Dickinson May 5th 1779 Nicholas Van Dyke

On the part and behalf of the State of Maryland: John Hanson March 1 1781 Daniel Carroll

On the Part and Behalf of the State of Virginia: Richard Henry Lee John Banister Thomas Adams Jno Harvie Francis Lightfoot Lee

On the part and Behalf of the State of No Carolina: John Penn July 21st 1778 Corns Harnett Jno Williams

On the part and behalf of the State of South Carolina: Henry Laurens William Henry Drayton Jno Mathews Richd Hutson Thos Heyward Junr

On the part and behalf of the State of Georgia: Jno Walton 24th July 1778 Edwd Telfair Edwd Langworthy

Web site designed and maintained by Steve Mount . © 1995-2010 by Craig Walenta. All rights reserved. Contact the Webmaster. Site Bibliography. How to cite this site. Please review our privacy policy . Last Modified: 18 Oct 2010 Valid HTML 4.0

  • Home | Site Map
  • Constitution Facts
  • Privacy Policy

POPULAR PAGES

  • The United States Constitution - The U.S. Constitution Online
  • Comparing the Articles and the Constitution - The U.S. Constitution Online
  • Constitutional Topic: Articles of Confederation - The U.S. Constitution Online
  • How to Cite This Site - The U.S. Constitution Online
  • The Constitution Explained - The U.S. Constitution Online

American History Central

The Articles of Confederation — America’s First Constitution

March 1, 1781–1789

The Articles of Confederation was America's first constitution. It was in effect from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789, when it was replaced by the United States Constitution.

John Dickinson, Illustration

John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, was the principal author of the draft of the Articles of Confederation. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections .

Articles of Confederation Summary

As the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were drafting the Declaration of Independence , they were also developing a plan for unifying the 13 Colonies to defeat Great Britain. In the summer of 1776, a committee composed of one delegate from each colony drafted the Articles of Confederation — America’s first constitution. Although the document created a weak central government compared to the federal government established by the current Constitution, the Articles successfully created a “firm league of friendship” that guided the new nation through its early years.

Articles of Confederation Dates

  • On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee, composed of one representative from each colony, to draft a document forming a confederation of the 13 colonies.
  • The Articles of Confederation were adopted by Congress on November 15, 1777.
  • The Articles went into effect when they were ratified by the 13th and final state (Maryland) on March 1, 1781.
  • In May 1787, following events such as Shays’ Rebellion, a convention was held in Philadelphia to revise the Articles. However, the convention resulted in the United States Constitution.
  • The Articles were replaced by the Constitution on March 4, 1789.

Facts About the Articles of Confederation

  • John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, was the principal writer of the draft document.
  • As adopted, the articles contained a preamble and 13 articles.
  • The Articles established a Confederation Congress with each state having one vote.
  • Measures passed by Congress had to be approved by 9 of the 13 states.
  • It did not establish federal executive or judicial branches of government.
  • Each state retained “every Power…which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States.”
  • Provided Congress with the powers to conduct foreign affairs, declare war or peace, maintain an army and navy, print money, resolve disputes between states, and a variety of other lesser functions.
  • Denied Congress the power to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce, and enforce laws.
  • All 13 states had to agree to any amendment of the federal government’s power.

Articles of Confederation — A Brief History of America’s First Constitution

The Articles of Confederation outlined the functions of the first national government of the United States, after gaining independence from Great Britain. The Articles created a limited central government that, to a certain extent, restricted individual states from conducting their own foreign diplomacy.

Albany Plan of Union

Just before the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the Albany Plan of Union was developed It was the first attempt to unite the colonies from New England to South Carolina. However, the plan was rejected for various reasons, including concerns the individual colonies had about granting authority to a central colonial government. 

However, as the American Revolution progressed and became the American Revolutionary War, many leaders recognized the benefits of a centralized government to coordinate the war effort. 

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis

New York’s Plan of Unification

In June 1775, the First New York Provincial Congress submitted a proposal for a united government to the Continental Congress. Like the Albany Plan, New York’s “Plan of Accommodation between Great Britain and America” acknowledged the authority of the British Crown, which was unpopular with the faction of Congress that leaned toward independence. 

Benjamin Franklin’s Articles of Confederation

Outside of the proceedings of Congress, some delegates explored the idea of a permanent union between the colonies, other than the temporary Continental Congress. 

Benjamin Franklin drafted a plan titled “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.” Although key delegates such as Thomas Jefferson endorsed Franklin’s proposal, it faced opposition. Franklin introduced his plan to Congress on July 21, emphasizing it should be considered a draft, which should be revised at a later date. The delegates agreed and decided to set the plan aside at that time.

Congress Agrees on Independence

Ultimately, Congress adopted Virginia’s “Resolution for Independence,” which was introduced by Richard Henry Lee on June 7, 1775. Also known as the “Lee Resolution,” it proposed three important initiatives:

  • Called for Congress to declare independence.
  • Form foreign alliances.
  • Prepare a plan to unite the colonies.

Richard Henry Lee, Illustration

The Committee of Thirteen

On June 11, Congress set up three committees — one for each of the initiatives. The committee assigned to “prepare a plan to unite the colonies” is known as the “Committee of Thirteen.” It included one delegate from each state:

  • John Dickinson, Pennsylvania, Chairman
  • Samuel Adams, Massachusetts
  • Josiah Bartlett, New Hampshire
  • Button Gwinnett, Georgia
  • Joseph Hewes, North Carolina
  • Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island
  • Robert R. Livingston, New York
  • Thomas McKean, Delaware
  • Thomas Nelson, Virginia
  • Edward Rutledge, South Carolina
  • Roger Sherman, Connecticut
  • Thomas Stone, Maryland
  • Francis Hopkinson, New Jersey

Roger Sherman, Founding Father, Illustration

The Committee Introduces the Articles of Confederation

On July 22, the committee presented its report to Congress. The Articles included. 

  • A government consisting solely of a unicameral legislature without an executive or judicial branch.
  • It would have limited powers to deal with foreign affairs, defense, and treaty-making.
  • The government did not have the authority to levy national taxes or regulate interstate trade. 
  • Any laws it created were nonbinding unless states chose to enforce them. 

The Articles were intended to balance the political ideas embraced in the American Revolution, such as “No Taxation Without Representation” and the necessity of conducting the war. However, there were significant issues that needed to be addressed, including:

  • Representation. The issue was resolved by giving all states equal status and one vote.
  • Appropriation. This was settled by having states contribute money to Congress based on the value of privately owned land. 
  • Control of western lands. Some states, like Virginia, claimed large territories that stretched across the frontier, to the west. Others, like Maryland, had no claims and insisted that such territories should be ceded to Congress beforehand. This issue was not resolved until much later.

The issues postponed the final debates on the Articles of Confederation until October 1777.

Congress Agrees to the Articles of Confederation

By October 1777, the situation was urgent, as British forces had captured Philadephia in September, forcing the members of Congress to flee to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then to York, Pennsylvania. On November 15, 1777, During the sessions in York, the delegates finally agreed to a framework for the Articles of Confederation. 

Congress forwarded the Articles to the states for ratification in late November. While most delegates recognized the Articles as a flawed compromise, they believed it was preferable to having no formal national government at all.

12 States Ratify the Articles of Confederation

Virginia led the way by ratifying the Articles of Confederation on December 16, 1777. Subsequently, other states followed suit during the early months of 1778. However, when Congress reconvened in June 1778, it was revealed that Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey had not succeeded in ratifying the Articles. 

The Articles required unanimous approval from all states, and the states that were holding out insisted the others needed to abandon their western land claims before they would ratify the document. 

Ultimately, with the war at a crucial point, the “landed” states — those with western land claims, like Virginia — indicated they would cede the lands. New Jersey and Delaware were satisfied and agreed to the terms of the Articles.

  • New Jersey ratified the Articles on November 20, 1778.
  • Delaware ratified the Articles on February 1, 1779. 

Maryland’s Path to Ratification

Maryland was not convinced the states would follow through on ceding lands and was the last holdout to ratify the Articles of Confederation.

Maryland’s reluctance was frustrating to the other state governments. Some even passed resolutions in favor of establishing a national government without Maryland. 

However, some politicians, like Congressman Thomas Burke of North Carolina, argued against such a measure. Burke and others insisted that without the unanimous approval of all 13 States, the nation would be vulnerable, divided, and susceptible to foreign interference and manipulation.

In 1780, British forces carried out raids on Maryland towns located along the Chesapeake Bay, alarming state officials. Maryland responded by contacting the French Minister, Anne-César De la Luzerne, and requesting French naval support. Luzerne responded by encouraging Maryland to ratify the Articles of Confederation. 

Virginia’s Governor, Thomas Jefferson , also agreed to cede all western land claims to Congress.

Finally, the Maryland legislature ratified the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781. On that date, the Articles of Confederation formally transformed the United States from a collection of 13 loosely connected states into a confederation government

Thomas Jefferson, Painting, Rembrandt Peale

Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

Unfortunately, the Articles did not grant Congress the necessary authority to force the states to comply with its decisions, including the provisions in the 1783 Treaty of Paris .

The Treaty of Paris allowed British creditors to sue debtors for pre-Revolutionary debts, a clause many state governments simply ignored. In response, British forces continued to occupy forts in the Great Lakes Region. 

Additional issues that were caused by the weakness of the Articles of Confederation included:

  • Without the ability to raise funds, the Confederation Congress was financially limited and dependent on the states for revenue, and the States often failed to provide funds.
  • States also disregarded laws meant to standardize interstate commerce. 
  • Congress did not have the power to regulate foreign trade, allowing nations like Britain to impose trade restrictions without fear of retaliation. 
  • Congress had no way to force states to provide military forces during a time when the military was needed to deal with Indian unrest in the Northwest Territory .

Similar issues, along with the Confederation government’s inadequate response to Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts, convinced national leaders of the need to make changes to the Articles of Confederation. This ultimately led to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 , which drafted the Constitution of the United States.

Constitutional Convention, Signing the Constitution, Christy

Accomplishments Under the Articles of Confederation

Despite its limited authority, the Confederation Congress was able to accomplish some important feats that led to the growth and development of the nation.

1783 Treaty of Paris

The 1783 Treaty of Paris was one of a series of treaties, collectively known as the Peace of Paris, or the Treaty of Versailles of 1783, that established peace between Great Britain and the allied nations of France, Spain, and the Netherlands. The Treaty of Paris was negotiated as a separate treaty between Great Britain and the United States, the primary provisions of the Treaty of Paris established the independence of the United States and ended hostilities between the two nations. Other provisions dealt with defining borders, restitution for Loyalist property confiscated by Americans during the war, the return of slaves confiscated by the British, and the removal of British troops from American soil. Congress ratified the treaty on January 14, 1784.

Ordinance of 1784

The Ordinance of 1784 was a bill passed by the Congress of the Confederation that served as an initial blueprint for governing the territory Britain ceded to the United States after the American Revolutionary War.

Land Ordinance of 1785

The Land Ordinance of 1785 was a bill passed by the Congress of the Confederation. It made adjustments to the Ordinance of 1784 and introduced squares. If first divided the land into six-mile-square townships. It also required the land to be surveyed and for some of it to be given to veterans of the Continental Army.

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 , also known as the Ordinance of 1787, set up the rules and guidelines for governing the Northwest Territory, including a bill of rights and prohibition of slavery. It also set up the process for a territory to become a state and join the Union, with equal status to the 13 Original States.

Presidents Under the Articles of Confederation

The following men served as President from 1781 to 1789 under the Articles of Confederation. The position was officially called “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.” 

Contrary to some sources, these men did not hold the office of President of the United States. It was an entirely different office. 

Thomas McKean, Portrait

  • Samuel Huntington served from March 2, 1781, to July 6, 1781, when he retired.
  • Thomas McKean served from July 10, 1781, to October 23, 1781. During his term as President, Congress received the news of the British surrender at Yorktown .
  • John Hanson was the first President to serve a full term and served from November 5, 1781, to November 3, 1782. Hanson is sometimes referred to as the first President of the Confederation Congress. However, he is recognized as the third President by the Office of the Historian of the United States House of Representatives.
  • Elias Boudinot was President from November 4, 1782, to November 3, 1783. During his term, the British evacuated Charleston in January 1783, and the Treaty of Paris of 1783 was signed in September 1783, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War.
  • Thomas Mifflin was President from November 3, 1783, to November 30, 1784. During his term, George Washington resigned from the army. On December 23, 1783, in a ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, Washington handed his commission and resignation speech to Mifflin.
  • Richard Henry Lee served from November 30, 1784, to November 4, 1785.
  • John Hancock was appointed President and held the title from November 23, 1785, to June 6, 1786. However, Hancock was ill and he could not perform the duties of the office. His duties were carried out by David Ramsay from November 23, 1785, to May 15, 1786, and then by Nathaniel Gorham from May 15 to June 5, 1786. Ramsay and Gorham were Chairman of the Confederation Congress.
  • Nathaniel Gorham served as President from June 6, 1786, to November 2, 1786.
  • Arthur St. Clair served as President and served from February 2, 1787, to October 5, 1787.
  • Cyrus Griffin was the last President of the Congress Assembled and served from January 22, 1788, to March 2, 1789.

Articles of Confederation Significance

The Articles of Confederation are important to United States history because they served as the first Consitution of the United States. Although the Articles had many weaknesses, the Confederation Congress was able to make some key legislative decisions that helped the nation develop. Ultimately, the lessons learned during the time the nation operated under the Articles helped develop its replacement, the United States Constitution.

Thomas Mifflin, Illustration

Articles of Confederation APUSH, Review, Notes, Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study the Articles of Confederation, the Confederation Congress, and the Confederation Era for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam .

Articles of Confederation Definition APUSH

The Articles of Confederation is defined as the first written constitution of the United States, adopted in 1781. The articles established a weak federal government with limited powers, with most decision-making power reserved for the individual states. The articles were in effect until 1789 when they were replaced by the United States Constitution.

Articles of Confederation Video — Explained for APUSH and AP Gov

This video from Heimler’s History discusses the Articles of Confederation, one of the Foundational Documents for APUSH and AP Gov.

  • Written by Randal Rust

If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

To log in and use all the features of Khan Academy, please enable JavaScript in your browser.

AP®︎/College US History

Course: ap®︎/college us history   >   unit 3.

  • The Articles of Confederation
  • Shays's Rebellion

Challenges of the Articles of Confederation

  • Articles of Confederation
  • The Articles of Confederation comprised the United States’ first constitution, lasting from 1776 until 1789. The Articles established a weak central government and placed most powers in the hands of the states.
  • Under the Articles, the US economy faltered, since the central government lacked the power to enforce tax laws or regulate commerce.
  • Shays’s Rebellion , an uprising of Revolutionary War veterans in Massachusetts that both the state and national governments struggled to address due to a lack of centralized military power, illustrated the need to create a stronger governing system.

America: the teenage years

The us government under the articles of confederation, economic problems under the articles, shays’s rebellion, food for thought, want to join the conversation.

  • Upvote Button navigates to signup page
  • Downvote Button navigates to signup page
  • Flag Button navigates to signup page

Good Answer

  • Skip to primary navigation
  • Skip to main content
  • Skip to primary sidebar
  • Skip to footer

Historyplex

Historyplex

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.

Articles of Confederation Summary

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.

If the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation are weighed against each other, you notice that its weaknesses outweighed its strengths; that explains why it was eventually replaced by the U.S. Constitution―the supreme law in the United States as of today.

Like it? Share it!

Get Updates Right to Your Inbox

Further insights.

People using computer together

Privacy Overview

Library homepage

  • school Campus Bookshelves
  • menu_book Bookshelves
  • perm_media Learning Objects
  • login Login
  • how_to_reg Request Instructor Account
  • hub Instructor Commons
  • Download Page (PDF)
  • Download Full Book (PDF)
  • Periodic Table
  • Physics Constants
  • Scientific Calculator
  • Reference & Cite
  • Tools expand_more
  • Readability

selected template will load here

This action is not available.

Social Sci LibreTexts

5.3: Constitutions and Contracts- Articles of Confederation

  • Last updated
  • Save as PDF
  • Page ID 162746

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the steps taken during and after the American Revolution to create a government
  • Identify basic tenets of the Articles of Confederation
  • Describe some unexpected consequences of the Articles of Confederation

Successful revolt depended on the ability to borrow money, negotiate treaties, and defend the borders.  Delegates of the confederation government sought recognition as an independent nation by other countries. The Second Continental Congress needed a government strong enough to win independence and recognition without depriving people of the very liberties for which they were fighting.

Establishing a New Framework for Governing

The final draft of the Articles of Confederation , which formed the basis of the new nation’s government, was accepted by Congress in 1777 and submitted for ratification by all thirteen states. Maryland argued that territory west of the Appalachian mountains, to which some states had laid claim, should instead be held by the national government as public land for the benefit of all. The last of these states, Virginia, relinquished its land claims in 1781, clearing the way for Maryland’s approval and ratification of the Articles . [1]

The Articles defined a governmental structure (confederacy) based upon a confederation of states, which would be independent, self-governing entities unifying for the purpose of common defense and commerce.  Newly separated from a monarchy with a  unitary or highly centralized power structure, the representatives sought an emphasis on local government within the states, which they believed were best suited to manage states’ separate interests.  Fearful of replacing one oppressive national government with another, the framers of this confederation created an alliance held together by a weak central government.

link to learning

Following the Declaration of Independence, the central government had written authority to act for national defense. States were assumed to have a common interest in defense and a common desire to supply militias. In the careful balance between power for the national government and liberty for the states, the Articles of Confederation favored the states.

Powers given to the central government were limited. The Confederation Congress had the authority to exchange ambassadors, make treaties with foreign governments and Indian tribes, declare war, coin currency, borrow money, and settle disputes between states. Each state legislature appointed delegates to the Congress. Regardless of its size or the number of delegates it chose to send, each state had one vote. To avoid an elite professional political class, delegates served for no more than three consecutive years, . The nation had no independent chief executive or judiciary. Nine of thirteen votes were required before the central government could act, and the Articles of Confederation could be changed only by unanimous approval of all thirteen states.

Why did the Articles fail?

GOVT 2305 Government Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation Chart

The Articles of Confederation satisfied the goal of a weak central government with limited power. It soon became apparent that, while the sovereignty of the states was protected, the Articles had created a central government too weak to function effectively.

This 1787 almanac cover shows a drawing of Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck.

Fearful of creating a system no better than the oppressive monarchy they fought to escape, the men drafting the Articles of Confederation  limited the powers of the central government. The states maintained the right to locally govern their residents, while the central government could declare war, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs. An inability to impose taxes, regulate commerce, or raise an army hindered the defense of the nation and payment of debts. A solution had to be found.  Miraculously, this confederation managed to win a war with the world’s leading super power of the 18th century in spite of its weaknesses.

Questions to Consider

  • What are two reasons the Articles of Confederation hindered the government during the American Revolution?
  • Why would lack of a national judicial system be considered a weakness of the Articles ?
  • What is a confederation?
  • How might a unitary government be useful?

Terms to Remember

Articles of Confederation — the first basis for the new nation’s government; adopted in 1781; created an alliance of sovereign states held together by a weak central government

confederacy/confederation– a highly decentralized form of government; sovereign states form a union for purposes such as mutual defense

unitary– a form of government in which political power is highly centralized; often despotic/authoritarian; high level of order and control

  • Stuart Bruchey. 1990. Enterprise: The Dynamic Economy of a Free People . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 223. ↵
  • American Government. Authored by : OpenStax. Provided by : OpenStax; Rice University. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:Y1CfqFju@5/Preface . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/9e28f580-0d1...c48329947ac2@1 .
  • Share icon. Authored by : Quan Do. Provided by : The Noun Project. Located at : https://thenounproject.com/term/share/7671/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Adaption and Remix, and Original Content. Authored by : Deborah Smith Hoag. Provided by : Austin Community College. Located at : http://austincc.edu . Project : Achieving the Dream Grant. License : CC BY: Attribution

IMAGES

  1. The Articles of Confederation

    article x articles of confederation

  2. Articles of Confederation

    article x articles of confederation

  3. Articles of Confederation

    article x articles of confederation

  4. Articles of Confederation

    article x articles of confederation

  5. PPT

    article x articles of confederation

  6. America The Story Of Us Articles Of Confederation

    article x articles of confederation

COMMENTS

  1. Articles of Confederation (1777)

    The Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. This document served as the United States' first constitution. It was in force from March 1, 1781, until 1789 when the present-day Constitution went into effect.

  2. Articles of Confederation

    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...

  3. Articles of Confederation

    The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was an agreement among the 13 states of the United States, formerly the Thirteen Colonies, that served as the nation's first frame of government.

  4. Articles of Confederation

    Articles of Confederation, first U.S. constitution (1781-89), which served as a bridge between the initial government by the Continental Congress of the Revolutionary period and the federal government provided under the U.S. Constitution of 1787.

  5. Articles of Confederation (1781)

    Article I. The Stile of this confederacy shall be, "The United States of America." Article 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. Article III.

  6. The Articles of Confederation (article)

    Full text of the Articles of Confederation. To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.

  7. The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789): Article 10

    Commentary. Under John Dickinson's draft of the Articles of Confederation, this body was called the Council of State, and was endowed with permanent bureaucratic and executive control over a variety of matters. It was changed to the Committee of the States and vested with minimal powers to sufficient only to simply manage the affairs under the ...

  8. The Articles of Confederation, 1777

    The Articles of Confederation represented an attempt to balance the sovereignty of the states with an effective national government. Under the Articles, the states, not Congress, had the power to tax. Congress could raise money only by asking the states for funds, borrowing from foreign governments, and selling western lands.

  9. Articles of Confederation

    After considerable debate and alteration, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. This document served as the United States' first constitution, and was in force from March 1, 1781, until 1789 when the present day Constitution went into effect. Read more at Our Documents ...

  10. PDF The Articles of Confederation

    Six drafts of the Articles of Confederation were prepared before they were adopted by Congress on November 15, 1777. The Articles of Confederation became operative on March 1, 1781 when the last of the 13 states finally signed the document. The Articles of Confederation were effective from March 1, 1781 to March 4, 1789 and

  11. The Articles of Confederation · George Washington's Mount Vernon

    The final article, Article XIII, required unanimous ratification for all amendments. It also featured a supremacy clause obligating every state to follow the Articles of Confederation. Three years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, many Americans including George Washington began to argue that the perpetual union was in ...

  12. About the Articles of Confederation

    May 7, 2020 • Updated October 28, 2022 The war between the Thirteen American colonies and Great Britain was underway. The First Continental Congress, which had met in Philadelphia from September to October 1774, had organized to launch a collective affront to British taxation and unite in an economic boycott on all British goods.

  13. 2.2 The Articles of Confederation

    In the careful balance between power for the national government and liberty for the states, the Articles of Confederation favored the states. Thus, powers given to the central government were severely limited. The Confederation Congress, formerly the Continental Congress, had the authority to exchange ambassadors and make treaties with foreign ...

  14. The Articles of Confederation (Simplified) Approved by all 13 states

    The Articles of Confederation has 13 sections called articles. This is a short summary of each article. Article 1: Created the name of the combined 13 states as The United States of America. Article 2: State governments still had their own powers that were not listed in the Articles of Confederation.

  15. Articles of Confederation [ushistory.org]

    Road to the Constitution. The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777, but the states did not ratify them 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 ...

  16. A Concise Guide to the Articles of Confederation as a Source for

    in the Articles of Confederation. 3. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Marshall observed that while the Tenth Amendment limits Congress to those powers "delegated" to it by the Constitution, 4. Article II of the Articles of Confederation previously had limited Congress to those powers " expressly. delegated" by the Articles. 5. Chief ...

  17. The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789): Articles 7-8

    Summary—War Preparation When raising an army to defend the United States, each state legislature has the authority to name all colonels and lesser officers in any way they choose to lead the troops recruited from that state. The common treasury will supply any money needed to pay for war or to defend the country, when allowed by Congress.

  18. The Articles of Confederation

    Article X - Committee of States Article XI - Canada may join the United States Article XII - Assumption of debt Article XIII - Articles are Supreme Law, amendment Conclusion Signatories The Articles of Confederation Agreed to by Congress November 15, 1777; ratified and in force, March 1, 1781. Preamble

  19. Articles of Confederation, Summary, Facts, Significance, APUSH

    March 1, 1781-1789 The Articles of Confederation was America's first constitution. It was in effect from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789, when it was replaced by the United States Constitution. John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, was the principal author of the draft of the Articles of Confederation.

  20. Articles of Confederation

    Article I. The Stile of this confederacy shall be "The United States of America." Article 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. Article III.

  21. Challenges of the Articles of Confederation (article)

    The Articles of Confederation comprised the United States' first constitution, lasting from 1776 until 1789. The Articles established a weak central government and placed most powers in the hands of the states. Under the Articles, the US economy faltered, since the central government lacked the power to enforce tax laws or regulate commerce.

  22. Articles of Confederation Summary

    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.

  23. 5.3: Constitutions and Contracts- Articles of Confederation

    Establishing a New Framework for Governing. The final draft of the Articles of Confederation, which formed the basis of the new nation's government, was accepted by Congress in 1777 and submitted for ratification by all thirteen states.Maryland argued that territory west of the Appalachian mountains, to which some states had laid claim, should instead be held by the national government as ...