On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation, a precursor to the Constitution of the United States. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about the Articles of Confederation…
It Took Almost Four Years for All the States to Ratify the Articles. The Articles of Confederation were adopted in November 1777, but it wasn't until 1781 that all 13 states finally ratified them. Congress had actually set a deadline for ratification, but only one state, Virginia, managed to make it. Ratification by all 13 states was necessary to set the Confederation into motion. Because of disputes over representation, voting, and the western lands claimed by some states, ratification was delayed until Maryland ratified on March 1, 1781, and the Congress of the Confederation came into being.
The Articles Left Congress Nearly Powerless. The Articles left most local issues up to the states, with the national Congress responsible for nationwide items like defense and negotiations with other countries. However, the Articles gave Congress no teeth. The weakness of the Articles of Confederation was that Congress was not strong enough to enforce laws or raise taxes, making it difficult for the new nation to repay their debts from the Revolutionary War.
They Went Through Six Drafts -- and Ben Franklin's Version Was Pretty Much Rejected. Documents that served as the first version of the Articles were first sent to Congress starting in July 1775, but the first few drafts were effectively rejected. This included a version from Benjamin Franklin -- the first version, in fact -- now known as the Albany Plan. However, Franklin's plan did become a model for subsequent versions. The country eventually went through six different drafts; the version that was adopted was a heavily revised version of one submitted by John Dickinson from Pennsylvania.
Under the Articles, the States Essentially Acted as Small Countries Bound in an Alliance. While Congress remained relatively powerless, the states themselves had a lot of power internally. States couldn't prohibit free movement between states and couldn't affect how another state ran itself, but other than that, each state was like its own little country. This was a reaction to the centralized power that England had held over the colonies; unfortunately, it went a bit too far in the decentralized direction.
A Cascade of Terrible Economic News Eventually Led to the Current Constitution. Because Congress had no power to enforce tax collection, the country really had no money to pay important bills like debts owed by farmers who had been away at war. This led to an intense rebellion by those farmers, called Shays's Rebellion (after its leader, Daniel Shays) in 1786. In 1787, the government finally started holding talks to create a new set of documents to guide the country, and those documents became the Constitution.