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Primary Documents in American History

The Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation and
Perpetual Union...

Williamsburg: Va.
Printed by Alexander Purdie [1777].
Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur 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 state governments. The need for a stronger Federal government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

Important milestones related to the Articles of Confederation include the following references in the Journals of the Continental Congress:

  • June 11, 1776 - The Continental Congress resolved "that a committee be appointed to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies."
  • June 12, 1776 - The committee members were appointed "to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies."
  • July 12, 1776 - The first draft of the Articles of Confederation was presented to the Continental Congress.
  • November 15, 1777 - The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation.
  • November 17, 1777 - The Articles of Confederation were submitted to the states with a request for immediate action.
  • June 26, 1778 - The Articles of Confederation were ordered to be engrossed.
  • June 27, 1778 - The first engrossed copy was found to be incorrect, and a second engrossed copy was ordered.
  • July 9, 1778 - The second engrossed copy of the Articles was signed and ratified by the delegates from eight states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina.
  • July 21, 1778 - North Carolina delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
  • July 24, 1778 - Georgia delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
  • November 26, 1778 - New Jersey delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
  • May 5, 1779 - Delaware delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
  • March 1, 1781 - Maryland delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were finally ratified by all thirteen states.
  • February 21, 1787 - Congress approved a plan to hold a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Search the Journals of the Continental Congress using the word "confederation" or the phrase "Articles of Confederation" to locate additional information on this topic.

The Letters of Delegates to Congress contains drafts of the Articles of Confederation by Josiah Bartlett and John Dickinson from late June 1776. Both Bartlett and Dickinson were members of the committee responsible for writing the draft of the Articles of Confederation. This publication also includes a few notes on the plan of Confederation written by Bartlett.

Elliot's Debates provides a summary of the ratification process for the Articles of Confederation, a transcript of Thomas Jefferson's notes of debate on confederation, and another copy of the Articles.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Includes the special presentation To Form a More Perfect Union: The Work of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, which provides background information on the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and the call for a new Constitution. Also contains an incomplete copy of the Articles of Confederation printed in 1777.

The James Madison Papers

James Madison's "Vices of the Political System of the U. States" outlined the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

Search Madison's papers using the word "confederation" to locate additional documents related to the Articles of Confederation and the Confederation Government.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress

Includes Jefferson's notes on debates in the Continental Congress related to the Articles of Confederation. Also contains Jefferson's printed proposals for the Articles of Confederation.

Search this collection to find additional documents that mention the Articles of Confederation.

America's Library

Jump Back in Time: The Articles of Confederation Were Adopted, November 15, 1777

Exhibitions

Creating the United States

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The section of the exhibition Road to the Constitution contains a number of documents related to the Articles of Confederation.

The Teachers Page

American Memory Timeline: Policies and Problems of the Confederation Government

Provides an overview of the Confederation Government and links to related documents.

Today in History

November 15, 1777

On November 15, 1777, the second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

September 17, 1787

Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

Articles of Confederation, Avalon Project at Yale Law School

Charters of Freedom, Articles of Confederation, National Archives and Records Administration

Our Documents, Articles of Confederation, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Hoffert, Robert W. A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1992. [Catalog Record]

Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution 1774-1781. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970. [Catalog Record]

-----. The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789. New York: Knopf, 1950. [Catalog Record]

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Callahan, Kerry P. The Articles of Confederation: A Primary Source Investigation into the Document that Preceded the U.S. Constitution. New York: Rosen Primary Source, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick. The Articles of Confederation: The First Constitution of the United States. Brookfield, Conn.: Twenty-First Century Books, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Price Hossell, Karen. The Articles of Confederation. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2004. [Catalog Record]

Roza, Greg. Evaluating the Articles of Confederation: Determining the Validity of Information and Arguments. New York: Rosen Pub., 2006. [Catalog Record]

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  September 24, 2014
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