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The Birth and Government

of the

United States of America

Constitution

of the

United States Of America

Page 1

BEFORE THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, also known as the Articles of Confederation, was the first official governing document of the newly created Unites States of America. After the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by the Continental Congress, the brand new nation needed a document that bound the thirteen colonies into a union. On November 15, 1777 the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation that combined the thirteen colonies into a loose confederation. The articles were ratified by the colonies and took effect March 1, 1781. The Second Continental Congress at that time evolved a new a name for itself to go with the new constitution: Congress of the Confederation.

The Articles of Confederation would fail to provide for decisive leadership and did not create the position of a chief executive or president of the country. Instead, the articles created a position for a person to serve as the presiding officer of Congress under the Articles of Confederation. This post was called President of the United States in Congress Assembled. By failing to provide for a strong national chief executive the Articles of Confederation fell out of favor with members of Congress and the people.

Eventually, the Articles of Confederation would be replaced by the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788, when the ninth state, New Hampshire, ratified the Constitution.

United States of America - Official Name

Though brief in its existence, the Articles did leave its mark. The document contained thirteen articles, a conclusion, and signatures. The first article established the name of the confederation as “The United States of America”. The second article explained the rights possessed by any state and the power to which the state is entitled. Other articles dealt with freedom of movement, state representation in the Congress of the Confederation (each state had one vote), and limited the power of states to conduct foreign relations independent of Congress and limited the right of a state to declare war. It also provided that the Congress have a unicameral legislature (one chamber).

The Articles of Confederation also outlined the right of the central government to declare war, set weights and measures including coins, and to be the final arbiter of arguments between states.

Another weakness of the Articles of Confederation was its failure to empower congress to compel states to provide its share of revenue or troops for war for independence from Great Britain, the American Revolution, that was still raging. The inefficiency of weak central government led to Gen. George Washington’s frustration as he often lacked needed funds and troops to fight the war. The Articles endorsed Congressional control of the Continental Army and allowed for the show of colonial unity but lacked the teeth to enforce its own laws.

A decisive blow to the life of the Articles of Confederation lay in its failure to provide for a national means of collecting taxes from the various states. Without a consistent flow of income from all the states the central government was ineffective.

Finally, after several failed attempts to address the issue of the weaknesses of the Articles, leaders from several states first met at the Annapolis Convention of 1786 and then in Philadelphia to debate improvements to the federal government. On February 21, 1787 Congress endorsed the plan by state leaders to revise the Articles of Confederation.

The endorsement for changes by Congress led to the Constitutional Convention. Secretly, and at great risk to their freedom, instead of simply revising the Articles, delegates from the various states created a plan to completely replace the Articles with a new governing document that would come to be the United States Constitution, the same Constitution in effect today. The Constitutional Convention, as the assembly came to be known, endorsed the new Constitution on September 17, 1787.

On September 28, 1787 Congress sends the newly written Constitution to the states for ratification. The document states it will become effective upon ratification by the ninth state. This happened on June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire ratified it. Rhode Island became the thirteenth and last state to ratify it on May 29, 1790.

On July 2, 1788 the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America was officially announced by Congress. On November 1, 1788 the last Congress under the Articles of Confederation adjournsed.

On March 4, 1789 the new government created by the U.S. Constitution came into existence when the U.S. Congress met for the first time.

NEXT PAGE - Constitutional Convention

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