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The Articles of Confederation are Approved - This Day in History - November 15, 1777

Posted on Monday, November 15, 2021

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On This Day in History, November 15, 1777, The Articles of Confederation are created, officially creating the United States of America.

York Court House where the Continental Congress Approved the Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union officially created the United States of America as a unified country and served as the nation's first constitution. The creation of a constitution to bind the states together and govern them was first conceived in July of 1776 as the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia's Independence Hall began to take significant steps toward declaring their independence from Britain. The process by which the Articles of Confederation were created was incredibly tortured and would take nearly five years before the task was completed.

It was initially Pennsylvania representative to the Second Continental Congress, John Dickenson, that played the primary role of authoring the Articles of Confederation. The hope was that the Articles would be ready for approval by the time Independence was declared, but within a month Indpendence had been declared and the Continental Congress was no closer to agreeing on the Articles of Confederation. Efforts were complicated by the fact that Dickenson would refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence and would leave the assembly soon afterwards to fight in the Revolution. Congess would also be forced to flee Philadelphia following the Battle of Brandywine and the capital would move to York, Pennsylvania where congress met within the York Court House. It was within York, that an agreement was finally reached and after over a year of debating, the Articles of Confederation was approved on November 15, 1777.

Approving the Articles of Confederation was a very significant step in establishing the United States as an actual country that demanded international legitimacy and assisted America's attempts to secure foreign allies. Domestically, the articles also firmly established the authority of the Continental Congress as a government with legitimate authority over its citizens. 

While an important step, the Articles were also riddled with significant issues. Because an agreement was so difficult to reach, all the Articles really ended up doing was giving legitimacy to the Continental Congress that had already been meeting for years. Fearfull of giving up too much power to the newly created federal government, the states continued to hold sovereignty and the power of the federal government was incredibly weak. With so much power retained by the individual states, the Government under the Articles of Confederation more closely resembled the present day European Union than the United States itself today. Even after they were approved, it would take years for the Articles to be ratified by the states and wouldn't go into effect until 1781, nearly five years after they were first proposed.

The Articles of Confederation would prove insufficient in the long run and their failure would lead to a return to Philadelphia to write a new Constitution. But for a few crucial years, the Articles of Confederation, unified and governed the United States of America.

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