In June of 1776, the Second Continental Congress commissioned a committee to create a document specifying how the federal government was to be structured. The objective was to give the Continental Congress credibility when representing the thirteen colonies in national affairs. After debate and revision, the final version of that document was submitted to the Second Continental Congress the following summer. It was submitted to the individual states for ratification on November 15, 1777. It took until March 1, 1781 for the final state (Maryland) to ratify the document. That document was the Articles of Confederation. Once ratified, the Second Continental Congress became known as the Congress of the Confederation.
There were a total of thirteen different articles in the document. They specified, among other things, the new name and structure of the nation and granted the central government specific authority to conduct foreign affairs, conduct war, specify measurement standards, and oversee disputes between the states. The central government agreed to be responsible for the revolutionary war debt and could request funds from each state to fund its operation. The articles specified that each individual state had retained their independence and authority in all other matters. The authors specified that all thirteen colonies would have to ratify the document for it to become the law of the land.
From its inception, the Articles of Confederation had its detractors. They claimed that the central government was not granted enough power to establish credibility. Under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress could enact legislation, but it had no authority to compel any state to comply with its actions. Since each state retained equal power with the central government, it took just one veto to prevent any proposed legislation from becoming law.
Those who defended the articles, noting the reluctance of the colonies to submit their independence to yet another form of central government, justified the limited powers granted to the central government as the only option that would meet with the unanimous acceptance required for ratification.
The independence retained by each state led them to make agreements and resolve disputes among themselves. Each state established their own trade policies and then negotiated with foreign nations, as well as the other states, in matters of commerce. One such agreement led to an eventual gathering of delegates from all of the states in Philadelphia to strengthen the Articles of Confederation and the role of the central government.
The next article in this series will focus on the chain of events that led to that meeting. This article is the second in a series that focus on the evolution of the structure that governs our nation. To read the previous article, click here.
To gain a more in-depth understanding of the issues covered in this article, be sure to visit my blog and explore the articles relating to the founding of the nation and the history of the Constitution.