The Articles of Confederation

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The Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States. The Articles

took place from March 1, 1781 to June 21, 1788. At the time of the American Revolution, the

Articles were written by a committee of the Second Continental Congress. John Dickson was the

head of the committee. He presented a report on the proposed articles to the Congress on July

12, 1776. He wanted a strong central government, control over the western lands, equal

representation for the states, and the power to levy taxes. A powerful central government was

feared by the thirteen states.

John Dickson’s articles were drastically changed before they sent them to all the states for

ratification. The Continental Congress had been careful to give the states as much independence

as possible and to specify the limited functions of the federal government. Many years passed

before the states ratified the articles. Disagreements were made over boundary lines. Decisions

were made by state courts, on differing tariff laws, and trade restrictions between the states. The

small states wanted equal representation with the large states in Congress, and the large states

were afraid they would have to pay an excessive amount of money to support the federal

government. The states continued to disagree over control of the western territories. The states

wanted the government to control the sale of these territories so that all the states profited. The

bordering states wanted to control as much land as they could. The states eventually agreed to

give control of all western lands to the federal government, paving the way for final ratification of the articles on March 1, 1781.

The articles created a loose confederation of independent states that gave limited powers

to a central government. The national government consisted of a single house of Congress, where

each state would have to vote. Out of thirteen states, three would have to give consent so the

Congress could borrow money as well as declare war and enter into treaties and alliances with

foreign nations. The federal government had no judicial authority and Congress only had the

judicial authority to arbitrate between states. The Congress denied the power to levy taxes. The

new federal government was financed by donations from the states based on the value of each

state’s lands. Any amendment to the articles required the unanimous approval of all 13 states.

The Second Continental Congress wanted to limit the power of the central government so

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