Articles of Confederation (1777)

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Citation: 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.
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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.

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On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed three committees in response to the Lee Resolution. One of these committees, created to determine the form of a confederation of the colonies, was composed of one representative from each colony with John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, as the principal writer.

The Dickinson Draft of the Articles of Confederation named the Confederation "the United States of America," provided for a Congress with representation based on population, and gave to the national government all powers not designated to the states. After considerable debate and alteration, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by Congress on November 15, 1777. In this "first constitution of the United States" each state retained "every Power...which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States," and each state had one vote in Congress. Instead of forming a strong national government, the states entered into "...a firm league of friendship with each other..."

Ratification by all 13 states was necessary to set the Confederation into motion. Because of disputes over representation, voting, and the western lands claimed by some states, ratification was delayed until Maryland ratified on March 1, 1781, and the Congress of the Confederation came into being.

This document is the engrossed and corrected version that was adopted on November 15, 1777.

(Information excerpted from National Archives Education Staff. The Constitution: Evolution of a Government. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001.)

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