The Articles of Confederation
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
American Memory Historical Collections
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation
The Journals of the Continental Congress contain the firstdraft of the Articles of Confederation as presented to the Continental Congress on July 12, 1776. It would take more than a year of debate before Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777. Two days later the Articles were submitted to the states with a request for immediate action. However, it was not until Maryland’s approval on March 1, 1781 that the Articles of Confederation were finally ratified by all the states. On February 21, 1787, Congress approved a plan to hold a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.
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 Confederationwritten 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.
Search this collection during the years 1776 to 1789 using the word “confederation” or phrase “Articles of Confederation” to locate additional information on this topic.
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 Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals
Includes an article from The Atlantic Monthly that examined the weaknesses of the U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation.
Conduct a full-text search in this collection to find more articles from the nineteenth century that discuss the Articles of Confederation.
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.
Jump Back in Time: The Articles of Confederation Were Adopted, November 15, 1777
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.
External 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
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]
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]