|articles of confederation|
page i of the articles of confederation
|created||november 15, 1777|
|ratified||march 1, 1781|
|purpose||first constitution for the united states; replaced by the current united states constitution on march 4, 1789|
the articles of confederation and perpetual union was an agreement among the 13 original states of the united states of america that served as its first constitution. it was approved, after much debate (between july 1776 and november 1777), by the second continental congress on november 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification. the articles of confederation came into force on march 1, 1781, after being ratified by all 13 states. a guiding principle of the articles was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. the weak central government established by the articles received only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.
the document provided clearly written rules for how the states' "league of friendship" would be organized. during the ratification process, the congress looked to the articles for guidance as it conducted business, directing the war effort, conducting diplomacy with foreign states, addressing territorial issues and dealing with native american relations. little changed politically once the articles of confederation went into effect, as ratification did little more than legalize what the continental congress had been doing. that body was renamed the congress of the confederation; but most americans continued to call it the continental congress, since its organization remained the same.
as the confederation congress attempted to govern the continually growing american states, delegates discovered that the limitations placed upon the central government rendered it ineffective at doing so. as the government's weaknesses became apparent, especially after shays' rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling union began asking for changes to the articles. their hope was to create a stronger government. initially, some states met to deal with their trade and economic problems. however, as more states became interested in meeting to change the articles, a meeting was set in philadelphia on may 25, 1787. this became the constitutional convention. it was quickly agreed that changes would not work, and instead the entire articles needed to be replaced. on march 4, 1789, the government under the articles was replaced with the federal government under the constitution. the new constitution provided for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the president), courts, and taxing powers.