The Articles of Confederation – A Valiant First Constitution
Once we were at war with Great Britain, the most powerful country in the world at the time, our founding fathers realized they needed a governing document that outlined what the Continental Congress could and couldn’t do. On June 12th, 1776, the day after the Second Continental Congress created a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, it assigned thirteen men to draft a constitution. It took the group roughly eighteen months until November 15th, 1777 before they had a document they knew would be ratified by the colonial legislatures.
Virginia ratified the Articles of Confederation a month later on December 16th, 1777. On February 2nd, 1781, Maryland was the last colony to ratify. On that day, the United States of America was born. The articles are the first official document that uses the words United States of America.
It is an interesting document to read. For example, Article 2 authorizes the Congress to provide for the common defense, security of the states’ liberties and general welfare. Article 6 starts by forbidding any citizen of the United States to accept a title or receive a present from any other country nor can the United States grant any title of nobility.
According to Article 7, selection of colonels and below is given to the state and generals would be appointed by the Congress. Article 8 says expenditures of by the United States of America will be paid by funds raised by the states based on the apportioned property value. Article 9 requires the states to fund and equip their own militia upon the request of the central government. It also establishes a position to lead the country for a term of three years.
Article 11 allows Canada to become one of the states if it agrees to the Articles of Confederation. To be admitted to the United States, other colonies need the approval of nine states.
The creators of the Articles of Confederation gave the responsibility for the common defense, declaring war, establishing a post office, creating a currency, providing rules to allow extradition of criminals, and regulating commerce to the central government. It reads like a constitution.
In another post, I’ll cover why it took just four years to realize that the Articles of Confederation needed replacing. On May 25th, 1787 the Constitutional Convention was convened and by September 17th, 1787, thirty-nine of the original fifty-five delegates signed the document we know as the constitution. It still had to be ratified by at least nine states that took until June 21st, 1788 and the document became the law of the land on March 4th, 1789.
Many of the clauses in the Articles of Confederation appear in the Constitution that governs us today. They were rewritten to make them clearer and give more control to the central government. The Constitution of the United States is a remarkable document that has stood the test of time. It has only been modified thirty-seven times, the first ten of which came almost immediately in the form of the Bill of Rights which was a condition required by several states, notably Massachusetts, before they would ratify the document.
Behold, a good document has been given unto you. Forsake it not!
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