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|The Articles of Confederation and
Perpetual Union Between the States
the first "governing authority" of the United States
The Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and went into effect on March 1, 1781. The document created a loose confederation of the thirteen sovereign states called "the United States of America," with most power vested with the state governments. Congress was given the authority to regulate foreign affairs, declare and conduct war, operate a postal service, control Indian affairs, and to borrow and coin money. It was not, however, given any authority to enforce its requests for money or troops. Each state sent two delegates to Congress, but had only vote. Delegates were elected to one-year terms and could not serve more than three years in any six-year period. No decision made by Congress was official unless delegates from at least seven of the thirteen states were present.
The Articles of Confederation established no executive or judicial branch; the president of the Continental Congress simply served as presiding officer of Congress and had no executive function. In fact, his authority was so limited that when he was absent a clerk performed his duties. The Articles did establish a Committee of States, which was charged with executing certain "federal" duties when Congress was in recess, so long as those duties did not require consent from a quorum. Other committees performed administrative duties -- the Marine Committee dealt with the navy, the Board of War and Ordnance with the army, and the Committee of Secret Correspondence with diplomacy.
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed establishment of a confederation of states on June 7, 1776. Congress appointed a committee to draw up a plan of union, made up of one representative from each colony, and John Dickinson of Delaware was chosen as the principal writer. Dickinson's plan called for a Council of State appointed by Congress that would have authority over the military, finances, and diplomacy, but Congress rejected that plan in favor of a less powerful central government.
Twelve states ratified the modified document rather quickly, but Maryland objected to the western land claims of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. Maryland finally ratified the Articles on March 1, 1781, after those states agreed to give up their claims. The Articles remained in effect until ratification of the Constitution of the United States, on March 4, 1789.
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This page was last updated on 11/14/2017.