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The Articles of Confederation are Ratified by Final State - This Day in History - February 2, 1781

Posted on Wednesday, February 2, 2022

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On This Day in History, February 2, 1781, Maryland became the final of the thirteen states to ratify The Articles of Confederation, setting the stage for the America's first government to finally go into effect.

The Preamble of 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. While 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 path to the Articles actually serving as America's government was long and difficult.

The Second Continental Congress began writing the Articles in July of 1776 but it was only after many debates and changes that the Articles were finally approved by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. 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. 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. Even though little was set to change with the ratification of the Articles, ratification still proved to be an incredibly difficult process. 

One of the primary issues was the disparity in western land claims among the states. While some states, notably Virginia, held significant claims to lands beyond the Western borders of the original thirteen states, other states such as Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware were without any claims at all. These states feared that the states with claims could use them to potentially add new states to the union, thereby gaining additional representation which could be used to strong arm small states without claims. 

It was only after Virgininia agreed to reliquish all land claims beyond the Ohio River to Congress that Maryland finally agreed to ratify the Articles of Confederation on February 2, 1781. The Continental Congress in Philadelphia was notified of Maryland's ratification while meeting in Independence Hall on March 1, 1781. The following day on March 2, 1781 the Congress of the Confederation officially met for the first time. Nothing truly changed though, as the Articles had been serving as the de facto government for years at that point.

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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