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Prelude

The Articles of Confederation was the first United States Constitution. It was proposed by the Second Continental Congress in November 1777, more than two years after the start of the Revolutionary War, and was finally ratified by the states in March 1781, less than a year before the war essentially ended with the battle of Yorktown.

The Articles created a weak federal government. Article II provided that "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in congress assembled." The Confederation Congress could not act upon individuals; it could only address states. Congress did not have the power to tax, regulate commerce, or control the behavior of the states or the people.

On several occasions during the 1780s, Congress attempted to amend the Articles but failed because amendments required unanimous ratification by all of the state legislatures. Ultimately, the defects of the Articles and the inability to amend it led to the calling of a general convention of the states to meet in Philadelphia in May of 1787. With 12 state delegations attending, the Convention in September 1787 submitted a totally new Constitution to the states for their ratification.

Video: The Debate and Slavery

1775

On April 19, a colonial militia and British troops exchange the first shots of the American Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.

The Second Continental Congress, with delegates from 12 of the 13 English colonies in North America, convenes on May 10 in Philadelphia. Georgia’s delegates arrive on July 20.

1776

On July 2, the Second Continental Congress declares independence from England and forms the United States of America.

On July 4, the Second Continental Congress approves the Declaration of Independence. New York abstains from voting. Its Provincial Congress approves the Declaration on July 9.

1777

On November 15, the Second Continental Congress approves the Articles of Confederation as the constitution of the newly formed United States of America. The document will not be effective until it is ratified by all 13 states.

1781

On March 1, Maryland’s delegates to Congress sign the Articles of Confederation, the last state to do so. The Articles is now the governing document of the United States by law as well as in practice.

On October 19, the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.

1782

On November 30, a preliminary peace treaty between the combatants in the American Revolutionary War is signed in Paris.

1783

On September 3, the Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the American Revolutionary War.

Remaining British troops leave New York City on November 25.