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For more details on this topic, see "Admission to the Union § Articles of Confederation.

Nevertheless, the Confederation Congress did take two actions with long-lasting impact. The "Land Ordinance of 1785 and "Northwest Ordinance created territorial government, set up protocols for the admission of new states and the division of land into useful units, and set aside land in each township for public use. This system represented a sharp break from imperial colonization, as in Europe, and provided the basis for the rest of American continental expansion through the 19th Century.

The "Land Ordinance of 1785 established both the general practices of land surveying in the west and northwest and the land ownership provisions used throughout the later westward expansion beyond the "Mississippi River. Frontier lands were surveyed into the now-familiar squares of land called the "township (36 square miles), the "section (one square mile), and the quarter section (160 "acres). This system was carried forward to most of the States west of the Mississippi (excluding areas of "Texas and "California that had already been surveyed and divided up by the "Spanish Empire). Then, when the "Homestead Act was enacted in 1867, the quarter section became the basic unit of land that was granted to new settler-farmers.

The "Northwest Ordinance of 1787 noted the agreement of the original states to give up "northwestern land claims, organized the "Northwest Territory and laid the groundwork for the eventual creation of new states. While it didn't happen under the articles, the land north of the "Ohio River and west of the (present) western border of Pennsylvania ceded by "Massachusetts, "Connecticut, "New York, "Pennsylvania, and "Virginia, eventually became the states of: "Ohio, "Indiana, "Illinois, "Michigan, and "Wisconsin, and the part of "Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 also made great advances in the abolition of slavery. New states admitted to the union in said territory would never be slave states.

No new states were admitted to the Union under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles provided for a blanket acceptance of the "Province of Quebec (referred to as "Canada" in the Articles) into the United States if it chose to do so. It did not, and the subsequent Constitution carried no such special provision of admission. Additionally, ordinances to admit "Frankland (later modified to Franklin), "Kentucky, and "Vermont to the Union were considered, but none were approved.

The United States of America under the Articles[edit]

The peace treaty left the United States independent and at peace but with an unsettled governmental structure. The Articles envisioned a permanent confederation, but granted to the Congress—the only federal institution—little power to finance itself or to ensure that its resolutions were enforced. There was no president and no national court.[30][31] Although historians generally agree that the Articles were too weak to hold the fast-growing nation together, they do give credit to the settlement of the western issue, as the states voluntarily turned over their lands to national control.[32]

By 1783, with the end of the British blockade, the new nation was regaining its prosperity. However, trade opportunities were restricted by the mercantilism of the British and French empires. The ports of the British West Indies were closed to all staple products which were not carried in British ships. France and Spain established similar policies. Simultaneously, new manufacturers faced sharp competition from British products which were suddenly available again. Political unrest in several states and efforts by debtors to use popular government to erase their debts increased the anxiety of the political and economic elites which had led the Revolution. The apparent inability of the Congress to redeem the public obligations (debts) incurred during the war, or to become a forum for productive cooperation among the states to encourage commerce and economic development, only aggravated a gloomy situation. In 1786–87, "Shays' Rebellion, an uprising of dissidents in western Massachusetts against the state court system, threatened the stability of state government.[33]

The Continental Congress printed paper money which was so depreciated that it ceased to pass as currency, spawning the expression "not worth a continental". Congress could not levy taxes and could only make requisitions upon the States. Less than a million and a half dollars came into the treasury between 1781 and 1784, although the governors had been asked for two million in 1783 alone.[34]

When "John Adams went to London in 1785 as the first representative of the United States, he found it impossible to secure a treaty for unrestricted commerce. Demands were made for favors and there was no assurance that individual states would agree to a treaty. Adams stated it was necessary for the States to confer the power of passing navigation laws to Congress, or that the States themselves pass retaliatory acts against Great Britain. Congress had already requested and failed to get power over navigation laws. Meanwhile, each State acted individually against Great Britain to little effect. When other New England states closed their ports to British shipping, Connecticut hastened to profit by opening its ports.[35]

By 1787 Congress was unable to protect manufacturing and shipping. State legislatures were unable or unwilling to resist attacks upon private contracts and public credit. Land speculators expected no rise in values when the government could not defend its borders nor protect its frontier population.[36]

The idea of a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation grew in favor. "Alexander Hamilton realized while serving as Washington's top aide that a strong central government was necessary to avoid foreign intervention and allay the frustrations due to an ineffectual Congress. Hamilton led a group of like-minded nationalists, won Washington's endorsement, and convened the "Annapolis Convention in 1786 to petition Congress to call a constitutional convention to meet in Philadelphia to remedy the long-term crisis.[37]


The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles for distribution to the states on November 15, 1777. A copy was made for each state and one was kept by the "Congress. On November 28, the copies sent to the states for ratification were unsigned, and the cover letter, dated November 17, had only the signatures of "Henry Laurens and "Charles Thomson, who were the "President and Secretary to the Congress.

The Articles, however, were unsigned, and the date was blank. Congress began the signing process by examining their copy of the Articles on June 27, 1778. They ordered a final copy prepared (the one in the National Archives), and that delegates should inform the secretary of their authority for ratification.

On July 9, 1778, the prepared copy was ready. They dated it, and began to sign. They also requested each of the remaining states to notify its delegation when ratification was completed. On that date, delegates present from "New Hampshire, "Massachusetts, "Rhode Island, "Connecticut, "New York, "Pennsylvania, "Virginia and "South Carolina signed the Articles to indicate that their states had ratified. "New Jersey, "Delaware and "Maryland could not, since their states had not ratified. "North Carolina and "Georgia also didn't sign that day, since their delegations were absent.

After the first signing, some delegates signed at the next meeting they attended. For example, John Wentworth of New Hampshire added his name on August 8. John Penn was the first of North Carolina's delegates to arrive (on July 10), and the delegation signed the Articles on July 21, 1778.

The other states had to wait until they ratified the Articles and notified their Congressional delegation. Georgia signed on July 24, New Jersey on November 26, and Delaware on February 12, 1779. Maryland refused to ratify the Articles until every state had ceded its western land claims.

The Act of the Maryland legislature to ratify the Articles of Confederation on February 2, 1781

On February 2, 1781, the much-awaited decision was taken by the "Maryland General Assembly in "Annapolis.[38] As the last piece of business during the afternoon Session, "among engrossed Bills" was "signed and sealed by Governor "Thomas Sim Lee in the Senate Chamber, in the presence of the members of both Houses... an Act to empower the delegates of this state in Congress to subscribe and ratify the articles of confederation" and perpetual union among the states. The Senate then adjourned "to the first Monday in August next." The decision of Maryland to ratify the Articles was reported to the Continental Congress on February 12. The confirmation signing of the Articles by the two Maryland delegates took place in Philadelphia at noon time on March 1, 1781, and was celebrated in the afternoon. With these events, the Articles were entered into force and the United States of America came into being as a sovereign federal state.

Congress had debated the Articles for over a year and a half, and the ratification process had taken nearly three and a half years. Many participants in the original debates were no longer delegates, and some of the signers had only recently arrived. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were signed by a group of men who were never present in the Congress at the same time.


The signers and the states they represented were:

Roger Sherman (Connecticut) was the only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States: the "Continental Association, the "United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.

Robert Morris (Pennsylvania) signed three of the great state papers of the United States: the "United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.

John Dickinson (Delaware), Daniel Carroll (Maryland) and Gouverneur Morris (New York), along with Sherman and Robert Morris, were the only five people to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution (Gouverneur Morris represented Pennsylvania when signing the Constitution).

Presidents of the Congress[edit]

The following list is of those who led the "Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation as the "Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled. Under the Articles, the president was the presiding officer of Congress, chaired the "Committee of the States when Congress was in recess, and performed other administrative functions. He was not, however, an executive in the way the successor "President of the United States is a chief executive, since all of the functions he executed were under the direct control of Congress.[39]

President of Congress Office Start Office Exit
"Samuel Huntington March 1, 1781 July 9, 1781
"Thomas McKean July 10, 1781 November 4, 1781
"John Hanson November 5, 1781 November 3, 1782
"Elias Boudinot November 4, 1782 November 2, 1783
"Thomas Mifflin November 3, 1783 October 31, 1784
"Richard Henry Lee November 30, 1784 November 6, 1785
"John Hancock November 23, 1785 May 29, 1786
"Nathaniel Gorham June 6, 1786 November 5, 1786
"Arthur St. Clair February 2, 1787 November 4, 1787
"Cyrus Griffin January 22, 1788 November 2, 1788

For a full list of Presidents of the Congress Assembled and Presidents under the two Continental Congresses before the Articles, see "President of the Continental Congress.


Images of an original draft["clarification needed] of the Articles of Confederation stored at the United States "National Archive.

Revision and replacement[edit]

On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, following "James Madison's recommendation, invited all the states to send delegates to Annapolis, Maryland to discuss ways to reduce interstate conflict. At what came to be known as the "Annapolis Convention, the few state delegates in attendance endorsed a motion that called for all states to meet in "Philadelphia in May 1787 to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation in a "Grand Convention." Although the states' representatives to the "Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were only authorized to amend the Articles, the representatives held secret, closed-door sessions and wrote a new constitution. The new Constitution gave much more power to the central government, but characterization of the result is disputed. The general goal of the authors was to get close to a "republic as defined by the philosophers of the "Age of Enlightenment, while trying to address the many difficulties of the interstate relationships. Historian Forrest McDonald, using the ideas of James Madison from Federalist 39, describes the change this way:

The constitutional reallocation of powers created a new form of government, unprecedented under the sun. Every previous national authority either had been centralized or else had been a confederation of sovereign states. The new American system was neither one nor the other; it was a mixture of both.[40]

In May 1786, "Charles Pinckney of "South Carolina proposed that Congress revise the Articles of Confederation. Recommended changes included granting "Congress power over foreign and domestic commerce, and providing means for Congress to collect money from state treasuries. Unanimous approval was necessary to make the alterations, however, and Congress failed to reach a consensus. The weakness of the Articles in establishing an effective unifying government was underscored by the threat of internal conflict both within and between the states, especially after "Shays' Rebellion threatened to topple the state government of Massachusetts.

Historian Ralph Ketcham comments on the opinions of "Patrick Henry, "George Mason, and other "Anti-Federalists who were not so eager to give up the local autonomy won by the revolution:

Antifederalists feared what Patrick Henry termed the "consolidated government" proposed by the new Constitution. They saw in Federalist hopes for commercial growth and international prestige only the lust of ambitious men for a "splendid empire" that, in the time-honored way of empires, would oppress the people with taxes, conscription, and military campaigns. Uncertain that any government over so vast a domain as the United States could be controlled by the people, Antifederalists saw in the enlarged powers of the general government only the familiar threats to the rights and liberties of the people.[41]

Historians have given many reasons for the perceived need to replace the articles in 1787. Jillson and Wilson (1994) point to the financial weakness as well as the norms, rules and institutional structures of the Congress, and the propensity to divide along sectional lines.

Rakove (1988) identifies several factors that explain the collapse of the Confederation. The lack of compulsory direct taxation power was objectionable to those wanting a strong centralized state or expecting to benefit from such power. It could not collect customs after the war because tariffs were vetoed by "Rhode Island. Rakove concludes that their failure to implement national measures "stemmed not from a heady sense of independence but rather from the enormous difficulties that all the states encountered in collecting taxes, mustering men, and gathering supplies from a war-weary populace."[42] The second group of factors Rakove identified derived from the substantive nature of the problems the Continental Congress confronted after 1783, especially the inability to create a strong foreign policy. Finally, the Confederation's lack of coercive power reduced the likelihood for profit to be made by political means, thus potential rulers were uninspired to seek power.

When the war ended in 1783, certain special interests had incentives to create a new "merchant state," much like the British state people had rebelled against. In particular, holders of war scrip and land speculators wanted a central government to pay off scrip at face value and to legalize western land holdings with disputed claims. Also, manufacturers wanted a high tariff as a barrier to foreign goods, but competition among states made this impossible without a central government.[43]

Legitimacy of closing down[edit]

Political scientist David C. Hendrickson writes that two prominent political leaders in the Confederation, "John Jay of New York and "Thomas Burke of North Carolina believed that "the authority of the congress rested on the prior acts of the several states, to which the states gave their voluntary consent, and until those obligations were fulfilled, neither nullification of the authority of congress, exercising its due powers, nor secession from the compact itself was consistent with the terms of their original pledges."[44]

According to Article XIII of the Confederation, any alteration had to be approved unanimously:

[T]he 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.

On the other hand, Article VII of the proposed Constitution stated that it would become effective after ratification by a mere nine states, without unanimity:

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

The apparent tension between these two provisions was addressed at the time, and remains a topic of scholarly discussion. In 1788, "James Madison remarked (in "Federalist No. 40) that the issue had become moot: "As this objection...has been in a manner waived by those who have criticised the powers of the convention, I dismiss it without further observation." Nevertheless, it is an interesting historical and legal question whether opponents of the Constitution could have plausibly attacked the Constitution on that ground. At the time, there were state legislators who argued that the Constitution was not an alteration of the Articles of Confederation, but rather would be a complete replacement so the unanimity rule did not apply.[45] Moreover, the Confederation had proven woefully inadequate and therefore was supposedly no longer binding.[45]

Modern scholars such as Francisco Forrest Martin agree that the Articles of Confederation had lost its binding force because many states had violated it, and thus "other states-parties did not have to comply with the Articles' unanimous consent rule".[46] In contrast, law professor "Akhil Amar suggests that there may not have really been any conflict between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution on this point; Article VI of the Confederation specifically allowed side deals among states, and the Constitution could be viewed as a side deal until all states ratified it.[47]

Final months[edit]

On July 3, 1788, the Congress received "New Hampshire's all-important ninth ratification of the proposed Constitution, thus, according to its terms, establishing it as the new framework of governance for the ratifying states. The following day delegates considered a bill to admit Kentucky into the Union as a sovereign state. The discussion ended with Congress making the determination that, in light of this development, it would be "unadvisable" to admit Kentucky into the Union, as it could do so "under the Articles of Confederation" only, but not "under the Constitution".[48]

By the end of July 1788, 11 of the 13 states had ratified the new Constitution. Congress continued to convene under the Articles with a quorum until October.[49][50] On Saturday, September 13, 1788, the Confederation Congress voted the resolve to implement the new Constitution, and on Monday, September 15 published an announcement that the new Constitution had been ratified by the necessary nine states, set the first Wednesday in February 1789 for the presidential electors to meet and select a new president, and set the first Wednesday of March 1789 as the day the new government would take over and the government under the Articles of Confederation would come to an end.[51][52] On that same September 13, it determined that New York would remain the national capital.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jensen, Merrill (1959). The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. xi, 184. "ISBN "978-0-299-00204-6. 
  2. ^ a b Morison p. 279
  3. ^ Kelley, Martin. "Why did the Articles of Confederation fail?". About Education. Retrieved March 2, 2017. 
  4. ^ Rodgers, Paul (2011). United States Constitutional Law: An Introduction. McFarland. p. 109. "ISBN "978-0-7864-6017-5. 
  5. ^ Wood, Gordon S. (1969). The Creation of the American Republic: 1776–1787. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 354–55. 
  6. ^ Paine, Thomas (January 14, 1776). "Common Sense". In "Foner, Eric. Paine: Collected Writings. The Library of America. pp. 45–6. "ISBN "978-1-4286-2200-5.  (Collection published 1995.)
  7. ^ "Armitage, David (2004). "The Declaration of Independence in World Context". Magazine of History. "Organization of American Historians. 18 (3): 61–66. "doi:10.1093/maghis/18.3.61. 
  8. ^ Jensen. Articles of Confederation. pp. 127–84. 
  9. ^ Schwarz, Frederic D. (February–March 2006). "225 Years Ago". American Heritage. 
  10. ^ Morris, Richard (1988). The Forging of the Union, 1782–1789. HarperCollins Publishers. pp. 245–66. 
  11. ^ "Monday, November 17, 1777". Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. 
  12. ^ "Articles of Confederation, 1777–1781". "U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on December 30, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2011. 
  13. ^ Elliot, Jonathan (1836). The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution. 1 (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Editor on the Pennsylvania Avenue. p. 98. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  14. ^ Mallory, John (1917). United States Compiled Statutes. 10. St. Paul: West Publishing Company. pp. 13044–5. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  15. ^ Frederick D. Williams, Ed. The Northwest Ordinance: Essays on its Formulation, Provisions, and Legacy, p.1782. MSU Press, (2012)]
  16. ^ Hough, Franklin Benjamin (1872). American Constitutions. Albany: Weed, Parsons, & Company. p. 10.  References to a 1778 Virginia ratification are based on an error in the Journals of Congress: "The published Journals of Congress print this enabling act of the Virginia assembly under date of Dec. 15, 1778. This error has come from the MS. vol. 9 (History of Confederation), p. 123, Papers of the Continental Congress, Library of Congress." Dyer, Albion M. (2008) [1911]. First Ownership of Ohio Lands. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company. p. 10. "ISBN "978-0-8063-0098-6. 
  17. ^ "Articles of Confederation". 
  18. ^ Carp, E. Wayne (1980). To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775–1783. UNC Press Books. "ISBN "978-0-8078-4269-0. 
  19. ^ Congress have come to no determination yet respecting the Peace Establishment nor am I able to say when they will. I have lately had a conference with a Committee on this subject, and have reiterated my former opinions, but it appears to me that there is not a sufficient representation to discuss Great National points.Letter George Washington to George Clinton, September 11, 1783. The George Washington Papers, 1741–1799
  20. ^ Chadwick p. 469. Phelps pp. 165–166. Phelps wrote:
    "It is hardly surprising, given their painful confrontations with a weak central government and the sovereign states, that the former generals of the Revolution as well as countless lesser officers strongly supported the creation of a more muscular union in the 1780s and fought hard for the ratification of the Constitution in 1787. Their wartime experiences had nationalized them."
  21. ^ Puls pp. 174–176
  22. ^ a b Puls p. 177
  23. ^ Lodge, Henry Cabot (1893). George Washington, Vol. I. I. 
  24. ^ Dougherty, Keith L. (Spring 2009). "An Empirical Test of Federalist and Anti-Federalist Theories of State Contributions, 1775–1783". Social Science History. 33 (1): 47–74. "doi:10.1215/01455532-2008-015. 
  25. ^ Ellis 92
  26. ^ Jensen, Merrill (1950). The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781–1789. Northeastern University Press. pp. 177–233. "ISBN "978-0-930350-14-7. 
  27. ^ Stahr p. 105
  28. ^ Stahr p. 107
  29. ^ Stahr pp. 107–108
  30. ^ Morris, Richard B. (1987). The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789. Harper & Row. "ISBN "978-0-06-091424-0. 
  31. ^ Frankel, Benjamin (2003). History in Dispute: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. St James Press. pp. 17–24. 
  32. ^ McNeese, Tim (2009). Revolutionary America 1764–1799. Chelsea House Pub. p. 104. "ISBN "978-1-60413-350-9. 
  33. ^ Murrin, John M. (2008). Liberty, Equality, Power, A History of the American People: To 1877. Wadsworth Publishing Company. p. 187. "ISBN "978-1-111-83086-1. 
  34. ^ Jensen, Merrill (1959). The Articles of Confederation. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 37. "ISBN "978-0-299-00204-6. 
  35. ^ Ferling, John (2010). John Adams: A Life. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 257–8. "ISBN "978-0-19-975273-7. 
  36. ^ Rakove, Jack N. (1988). "The Collapse of the Articles of Confederation". In Barlow, J. Jackson; Levy, Leonard W. & Masugi, Ken. The American Founding: Essays on the Formation of the Constitution. pp. 225–45. 
  37. ^ Chernow, Ron (2004). Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books. "ISBN "978-1-101-20085-8. 
  38. ^ "An ACT to empower the delegates". Laws of Maryland, 1781. February 2, 1781. 
  39. ^ Jensen, Merrill (1959). The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 178–179. "ISBN "978-0-299-00204-6. 
  40. ^ McDonald pg. 276
  41. ^ Ketcham, Ralph (1990). Roots of the Republic: American Founding Documents Interpreted. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 383. "ISBN "978-0-945612-19-3. 
  42. ^ Rakove 1988 p. 230
  43. ^ Hendrickson p. 154
  44. ^ Hendrickson p. 153–154
  45. ^ a b Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, p. 62 (Simon and Schuster, 2011).
  46. ^ Martin, Francisco. The Constitution as Treaty: The International Legal Constructionalist Approach to the U.S. Constitution, p. 5 (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  47. ^ Amar, Akhil. America's Constitution: A Biography, p. 517 (Random House 2012).
  48. ^ Kesavan, Vasan (December 1, 2002). "When Did the Articles of Confederation Cease to Be Law". Notre Dame Law Review. 78 (1): 70–71. Retrieved October 31, 2015. 
  49. ^ "America During the Age of Revolution, 1776–1789". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on March 15, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  50. ^ Charles Lanman; Joseph M. Morrison (1887). Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States. J.M. Morrison. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  51. ^ a b Maier, Pauline (2010). Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. Simon and Schuster. pp. 429–30. "ISBN "978-0-684-86855-4. 
  52. ^ "Continental Congress Broadside Collection for 1778-Sep-13". Retrieved April 17, 2011. 

References and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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