Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were the first formal constitution of the United States. Approved by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, they were immediately printed by Francis Bailey in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Bailey’s official printing was issued in a small number of copies intended primarily for transmission to the governors of the states, who in turn were to submit them to their legislatures and local press in anticipation of the state-by-state ratification process, which had to be unanimous. On March 1, 1781, Maryland became the thirteenth state to ratify, having held out until the larger states with western boundaries that extended as far as the Mississippi had ceded their lands northwest of the Ohio River to the common government. Under the Articles, the new nation was organized as a federal union of independent states with authority vested in a single body, the Congress of Confederation. There was no Executive Branch and no provision for a federal Judiciary except for certain cases of court-martial. Congress had only those powers, and they were few, specifically granted to them by the states as common concerns. These chiefly related to military and foreign diplomatic initiatives required in the face of war with Great Britain. The weakness of this confederation became increasingly apparent when the War for Independence was over and the staggering debt repayment, which Congress under the Articles could proportionally assess but not directly collect, became a point of conflict between the states and a source of intense domestic strife within several of the states. The Articles of Confederation is the most sumptuously printed major American document of the 18th century, and of the nine extant copies none is more perfectly preserved than that at Williams.
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