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Articles of Confederation with handwritten annotations, April-November 1777

The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union on November 15, 1777, and it was approved by all thirteen states by 1781. Under the Articles, states delegated minimal authority to a national assembly to conduct war and diplomacy, but reserved most other powers, including raising revenue, to themselves.

The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship….binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to or attacks made upon them…on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.

Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Articles of Confederation with handwritten annotations, April-November 1777 Articles of Confederation with handwritten annotations, April-November 1777

Strengthening the Union

The Articles of Confederation united the thirteen original states but lacked centralized authority for foreign diplomacy, commerce, national defense, and arbitration. In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention called to address those weaknesses, James Madison of Virginia argued that a balance of centralized government and states’ rights was essential to a lasting republic. The Convention produced a new agreement of union embodying those principles––the United States Constitution which was ratified by the states.