Saturday, March 9, 2013

Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation

Passed by US Continental Congress - November 15, 1777  

Ratified by the required 13 States - February 2, 1781

Enacted by the US Continental Congress - March 1, 1781

 First laws passed by the United States in Congress Assembled  under the Articles of Confederation - March 2, 1781

The United States Constitution of 1777

A Brief History

The Articles of Confederation, passed by the US Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, was enacted on March 1, 1781 as the founding constitution of the United States of America.  The "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union" established the United States of America as a sovereign nation governed by the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA).

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200. - Click Here for more information

With the passage of Lee’s Resolution and the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Continental Congress was now faced with the challenge of transforming the voluminous United Colonies’ legislation into a U.S. Constitution capable of uniting and governing the 13 independent states.   Even before the acceptance of those two momentous documents, the matter of drafting a constitution gained the serious attention of Congress on June 12th, 1776, when it resolved to appoint a committee of thirteen to prepare a draft constitution for the new republic:

Resolved, that the committee to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies, consist of a member from each colony:

·         for New Hampshire ... Mr. [Josiah] Bartlett
·         Massachusetts ... Mr. S[amuel] Adams
·         Rhode Island ... Mr. [Stephen] Hopkins
·         Connecticut ... Mr. [Roger] Sherman
·         New York ... Mr. R[obert R.] Livingston
·         New Jersey … 
·         Pennsylvania ... Mr. [John] Dickinson
·         Delaware ... Mr. [Thomas] McKean
·         Maryland ... Mr. [Thomas] Stone
·         Virginia ... Mr. [Thomas] Nelson
·         North Carolina ... Mr. [Joseph] Hewes
·         S. Carolina ... Mr. [Edward] Rutledge
·         Georgia ... Mr. [Button] Gwinnett    [1]

On July 12th, 1776, the committee presented the first draft Articles of Confederation of the United States of America.  The Continental Congress resolved:

That eighty copies, and no more, of the confederation, as brought in by the committee, be immediately printed, and deposited with the secretary, who shall deliver one copy to each member: That a committee be appointed to superintend the press, who shall take care that the foregoing resolution [Articles of Confederation].

That the printer be under oath to deliver all the copies, which he shall print, together with the copy sheet, to the secretary, and not to disclose either directly or indirectly, the contents of the said confederation: That no member furnish any person with his copy, or take any steps by which the said confederation may be re-printed, and that the secretary be under the like injunction.[2]

The work on the new constitution would not be completed due to the British advance, forcing a Continental Congress move first to Baltimore and then, with the occupation of Philadelphia a flight to York-Town, Pennsylvania in September 1777.  The small hamlet located on the west side of the Susquehanna River offered a protective natural barrier to British invasion. York had an underutilized courthouse readily available to be used to reconvene Congress in safety. Unlike Lancaster, where Congress had convened for a day, York offered numerous accommodations to house the delegates comfortably. On September 30th, the Continental Congress moved into this 35-year-old town of about 300 dwellings and 2,000 residents.  John Adams, once settled in York-Town, wrote Abigail:

It is now a long Time, since I had an Opportunity of writing to you, and I fear you have suffered unnecessary Anxiety on my Account. -- In the Morning of the 19th. Inst., the Congress were allarmed, in their Beds, by a Letter from Mr. Hamilton one of General Washington’s Family, that the Enemy were in Possession of the Ford over the Schuylkill, and the Boats, so that they had it in their Power to be in Philadelphia, before Morning. The Papers of Congress, belonging to the Secretary's Office, the War Office, the Treasury Office, &c. were before sent to Bristol. The President, and all the other Gentlemen were gone that Road, so I followed, with my Friend Mr. Merchant [Marchant] of Rhode Island, to Trenton in the jersies. We stayed at Trenton, until the 21. when We set off, to Easton upon the Forks of Delaware. From Easton We went to Bethlehem, from thence to Reading, from thence to Lancaster, and from thence to this Town, which is about a dozen Miles over the Susquehanna River. -- Here Congress is to sit.

In order to convey the Papers, with safeties, which are of more Importance than all the Members, We were induced to take this Circuit, which is near 180 Miles, whereas this Town by the directest Road is not more than 88 miles from Philadelphia. This Tour has given me an Opportunity of seeing many Parts of this Country, which I never saw before.[3]

Philadelphia was lost, Fort Ticonderoga, also captured, and now the British, under the command of General John Burgoyne,[4] were marching down the Hudson Valley to cut off New England from the Middle Atlantic States.  These were perilous days but the Continental Congress pressed on with their work conducting what increasingly appeared to be a failing war effort. The work in York was prodigious as the delegates were in the final stages of formulating the first U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation.  The letters of the delegates report that Congress typically met from 10 am to 1 pm and recessed until 4 pm. The “after recess sessions” often lasted well into the evening. Committee duties, which were numerous, filled any remaining delegate free time. John Hancock wrote to his wife Dorothy during this period:

I sat in the Chair yesterday & Conducted the Business Eight hours, which is too much, and after that had the Business of my office to attend to as usual … I cannot Stand it much longer in this way" [5]

John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams of his tenure in York that “War has no Charms for me … If I live much longer in Banishment, I shall scarcely know my own Children. Tell my little ones, that if they will be very good, Pappa will come home.” [6]   Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Maryland Delegate, wrote of his own York experience that

The Congress still continues the same noisy, empty & talkative assembly it always was since I have known it. No progress has been made in the Confederation tho' all seem desirous of forming one. A good confederation I am convinced would give us great strength & new vigor. This State is in a great degree disaffected, & the well affected are inactive & supine. This supiness & inactivity I attribute to the government & to the men who govern; they want wisdom, influence, & the confidence of a very great portion of the People, particularly of those whose abilities & activity might in short time set things to rights.[7]

The Delegates grew painfully aware that French monetary aid would not be forthcoming to their cause without a constitution forming a nation out of 13 independent States.  The atmosphere of dread could only be improved with the crafting of such a document which, despite what Carroll reported to his father.  Delegate James Lovell wrote General Horatio Gates in Saratoga on October 5, 1777,

I believe we shall be able to get speedily thro' the Articles of Confederation, and shall sit faithfully about the Means of keeping our Currency in some sort of Credit.[8] 

Henry Laurens, as a freshman delegate,   impressed the members of Congress with his "nonpartisandeliberations on the Articles of Confederation.  Laurens remained steadfast against the nationalists' proposal to allow control of the proposed new federal government by the wealthy. He was also against Virginia's proposal to have one delegate in Congress for every 30,000 inhabitants, permitting each representative one vote and thereby allowing the large States to control the new federal government.

NCHC Honors Students at the National Constitution Center with Mark Keres holding a 1787 printing of the Annapolis Convention report to the USCA. Imani is holding the 1789 Acts of Congress, Naomi is holding a September 1787 printing of the United States Constitution and Carly is holding a Samuel Huntington March 11th, 1781 signed document as USCA President under the Articles of Confederation. For More information please visit NCHC Partners in the Park 2017  

On the Article that prohibited the federal government from making any foreign treaty by preventing the individual States "from imposing such imposts and duties on foreigners as their own people are subject to", Laurens was the only southern member to vote against the measure. Only three other states, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, voted with Laurens so the restrictive amendment became a part of the first constitution.  This shackled the confederation government’s efforts to properly control and conduct foreign affairs for the United States of America.

In an unusual position, Laurens voted for the new governing body called United States, in Congress Assembled (USCA) to have the authority to decide disputes between the States.  Perplexingly, Laurens would later vote no on the establishment of an autonomous and separate governmental branch necessary for such judicial matters to be employed. This failure to separate the judicial duties of government from the legislative federal body plagued the United States until the enactment of the current U.S. Constitution on March 4, 1789. 

Significantly, Laurens, in a final constitutional act, voted against Virginia's last attempt to gain more power in the federal government based on population. Specifically, Virginia's amendment proposed that the nine votes necessary to determine matters of importance in the USCA must be from the states containing a majority of the white population in the new "Perpetual Union.” The measure failed largely because of Laurens’ efforts, as well as the objections of the other smaller states..  The South Carolinian’s vote did not follow the southern block--clearly indicating Laurens was free from sectional bias. He stood out time and time again, putting forth and supporting articles and ideas that attempted to forge 13 individual States into one unified nation.  Laurens envisioned and worked diligently to form a constitution that empowered a new central government to act for the benefit of all states equally. This philosophy, along with his wealth, unknowingly made him a leading candidate for the Presidency to replace the ailing John Hancock in October of 1777. 

On October 20, 1777, the Continental Congress learned of General Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga;[9] the British plan to sever the States by controlling the Hudson River Valley had resulted in the capture of the British General and his 6,000 troops. This was the news Congress and their Foreign French Commissioner, Benjamin Franklin, desperately needed to convince France to form an alliance with the United States.  The Franco-American Alliance, however, would require a constitutionally formed United States of America to enact such a treaty. Work, therefore, on the Articles of Confederation accelerated, progressing steadily under what would be the last few days of John Hancock’s Presidency. Key amendments and changes to the Articles were agreed on in the sessions of October 27th, 28th, and even the 29th when John Hancock tendered his official resignation as President. So intent was Congress on completing the Constitution that they re-convened immediately after Hancock’s departure resolving unanimously by vote, "Resolved, That the secretary officiate as president until a new choice is made." They went back to work with Charles Thomson officiating over the Articles of Confederation debates and resolutions.  The Journals report:

Congress resumed the consideration of the 14 article of confederation, whereon it was moved to strike out the words "general officers" in the 24 line, and insert "all officers:" and to add after "United States," "excepting regimental officers." And on the question put, the same was agreed to. It was then moved to strike out the next paragraph, and in the following paragraph, after the word "forces" to insert these words, "and commissioning all officers whatever." And on the question put, the same was agreed to.

The president having taken leave of Congress.  Four o'Clock, pm. Met at 4’ O’clock, Resolved, That the secretary officiate as president until a new choice is made. On motion, Ordered, That the secretary wait upon the president and request him to furnish the house with a copy of the speech with which he took leave of Congress. [10]

Congress would meet only once more, on October 30th, 1777, to debate and revise the Articles of Confederation with Secretary Charles Thomson presiding.  The Articles would not be finalized, however, until a new President of the Continental Congress was elected to the presiding office.  On October 31st, 1777, Secretary Thomson turned to other business and presented congress with General Horatio Gates’ official notification of the Saratoga Convention.  The Continental Congress Journals report:

A letter, of the 18 October, from General Gates, with the copy of the convention at Saratoga, whereby General Burgoyne surrenders himself and his whole army; and another, of the 20th, enclosing the copy of a letter from him to Major General John Vaughan, were read.[11]

The spirit of the delegates soared as the thorough defeat of General Burgoyne was far more than anyone anticipated.  The following day, to Henry Laurens’ astonishment, the Chair nominated him to be the President of the Continental Congress.  The vote was taken and with unanimous approval, he was elected the fourth President of a very festive Continental Congress.

Henry Laurens’ first official act as the President was to preside and vote for a Day of Thanksgiving and "to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God". In his first letter to the 13 States, President Laurens declared:

Dear Sir, The Arms of the United States of America having been blessed in the present Campaign with remarkable Success, Congress have Resolved to recommend that one day, Thursday the 18th December next be Set apart to be observed by all Inhabitants throughout these States for a General thanksgiving to Almighty God. And I have it in command to transmit to you the inclosed extract from the minutes of Congress for that purpose. [12]

November 1, 1777 Thanksgiving Proclamation - Library of Congress, 
Rare Book and Special Collections Division. [13]

Henry Laurens did not reconvene the Continental Congress until November 4th, when they officially thanked General Horatio Gates[14] and his army for their defense against Burgoyne's invasion as well as various other officers and units for their defense of the Delaware.  After another recess, Congress reconvened on November 7th to reorganize the Board of War and agreed to resume debate to finalize the Articles of Confederation. The constitutional deliberations resumed on the 10th, with the Delegates working until the morning of November 15th, 1777, concluding the session with the passage of the Articles of Confederation. 

Under this new constitution, the Continental Congress would cease to exist and a new body, the United States, in Congress Assembled (USCA), would become the federal government of a “Perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.” [15]   

The Articles constituted a feeble constitution, a confederation of sovereign States that formed a Not Quite Perpetual Union based on mutual respect and a central government with no taxing power.  The federal government also had no power to regulate trade between the States. The national government would have to ask the States for money to wage war, establish federal departments, hire employees, maintain a judicial system and carry out the host of laws Congress passed to govern the new United States of America.  The States were expected, in a most gentlemanly fashion, to comply with all constitutional requests, bequeathing the federal government with money and land to fund its national endeavors. 

The legislative, executive and judicial systems were all entrusted to one body: the “United States in Congress Assembled.”  Each State had only one vote despite its population or its size, “all equal in the eyes of God.”  Presidents served only one year and Congress rotated candidacy between North and South.  The Presidents and Commander-in-Chief accepted only expenses for their services. It was a furtive commune where all members pledged secrecy and service for God and the people of their respective States that were freely united and desperately seeking peace.

In summary, the first constitution’s Articles: 
I. Establish the name of the nation as "The United States of America;"

II. State 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 new federal government called the “United States, in Congress Assembled” (USCA);[16]

III. Establish the Sovereign States as one Sovereign nation ". . . for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them . . . ;"

IV. Establish the freedom of citizens to pass freely between states, excluding "paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice." All the people were also entitled to the rights established by the State into which they traveled. If a crime were committed in one state and the perpetrator to flee to another state, the citizen would be extradited to and tried in the State in which the crime had been committed;

V. Equality was established in the United States in Congress Assembled with only one vote to each State, regardless of size, but delegations might have from two to seven members. Members of the USCA were elected or appointed by state legislatures and could serve no more than three out of any six years; [17]
VI. Only the USCA was permitted to conduct foreign relations and to declare war. No states were permitted to have navies or standing armies, or engage in war, without permission of USCA. State militias were encouraged;

VII. When an Army was raised for common defense, colonels and military ranks below colonel were to be named by the state legislatures;
VIII. Expenditures by the USCA were paid by funds raised by State legislatures and apportioned based on the real property values of each;
IX. The ninth- article defined the powers of the central government:

  • USCA sends and receives ambassadors
  • USCA enters into treaties and alliances, provided that no treaty of commerce shall be made whereby the legislative power of the respective States shall be restrained from imposing such imposts and duties on foreigners, as their own people are subjected to, or from prohibiting the exportation or importation of any species of goods or commodities whatsoever;
  • USCA establishes the rules for deciding, in all cases, what captures on land or water shall be legal, and in what manner prizes taken by land or naval forces in the service of the United States shall be divided or appropriated;
  • USCA grants letters of marque (diplomacy) and reprisal in times of peace;
  • USCA appoints courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and establishes courts for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures, provided that no member of Congress shall be appointed a judge of any of the said courts;
  • USCA fixes the standards of weights and measures throughout the United States;
  • USCA regulates the trade and management of all affairs with Indians, not members of any of the States, provided that the legislative right of any State within its own limits be not infringed or violated;
  • USCA establishes or regulates post offices from one State to another, throughout all the United States. They also exact postage on the papers passing through the post office to defray the expenses of the bureau;
  • USCA appoints all officers of the land forces, in the service of the United States, excepting regimental officers;
  • USCA appoints all the officers of the naval forces, and commissions all officers whatever in the service of the United States;
  • USCA makes rules for the government and regulation of the said land and naval forces, and direction of their operations;
  • USCA serves as a final court for disputes between states;
  • USCA defines a Committee of the States to be a government when Congress is not in session;
  • USCA elects one of their members to preside, provided that no person be allowed to serve in the office of president more than one year in any term of three years
X. The Committee of the States, or any nine of them, shall be authorized to execute, in the recess of USCA, such of the powers of the USCA. The President of the USCA is to chair the Committee of the States;
XI. Nine states required to approve the admission of a new state into the confederacy; pre-approves Canada, should it apply for membership;
XII. Reaffirms that the Confederation accepts war debt incurred by the Continental Congress before the Articles;
XIII. Declares that the Articles of Confederation are perpetual, and can only be altered by approval of Congress with ratification by all the state legislatures.[18]

The Continental Congress, after 16 months of debate and deliberations, forged the United States Constitution of 1777, creating one nation empowered to govern but with one caveat: All 13 States were required to ratify the constitution before it would officially take effect. 

The 1777 Maryland Plan, even before the Articles of Confederation were passed by the U.S. Continental Congress, proposed that the USCA would have the sole right and power over the frontier lands “North and West of the Ohio River,” later known as the Northwest Territory.  This measure, however, was heartily opposed by Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts who all had vast interior claims to the Northwest Territory.   The Southern states of Georgia, South and North Carolina also had claims that stretched all the way to the Mississippi River. Maryland was alone but knowing that the constitution required state assembly ratification, its delegates approved the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777. The question of Northwest Territorial land claims was left to be considered by the individual state governments who were charged with the review and ratification of the Articles of Confederation.  

On May 21, 1779, after 12 States had ratified the Articles, the Maryland State Assembly formally communicated to the U.S. Continental Congress its conditions for ratification.  The assembly gave notice that it would only ratify the Articles if they received definite assurances that the Northwest Territory would be released by the states to the USCA:

We are convinced policy and justice require that a country unsettled at the commencement of this war, claimed by the British Crown, and ceded to it by the treaty of Paris, if wrested from the common enemy by the blood and the treasure of the 13 States, should be considered as a common property, subject to be parceled out by Congress into free, convenient, and independent governments, in such manner and at such times as the wisdom of that assembly shall hereafter direct.[19]

It was now the charge of Continental Congress Delegates John Hanson and Daniel Carroll to persistently press this demand of their State. 

U.S. State 1776-1781 claims on land east of the Mississippi River. 

On September 6, 1780 the U.S. Continental Congress acted on the Maryland Plan resolving that the western territory be released and Maryland ratify the Articles of Confederation. The Journals report:

Congress took into consideration the report of the committee to whom were referred the instructions of the general assembly of Maryland to their delegates in Congress, respecting the articles of confederation, and the declaration therein referred to, the act of the legislature of New York on the same subject, and the remonstrance of the general assembly of Virginia; which report was agreed to, and is in the words following:

"That having duly considered the several matters to them submitted, they conceive it unnecessary to examine into the merits or the policy of the instructions or declaration of the general assembly of Maryland, or of the remonstrance of the general assembly of Virginia, as they involve questions, a discussion of which was declined on mature consideration, when the articles of confederation were debated; nor, in the opinion of the committee, can such questions be now revived with any prospect of conciliation; that it appears more advisable to press upon those states which can remove the embarrassment respecting the western country, a liberal surrender of a portion of their territorial claims, since they cannot be preserved entire without endangering the stability of the general confederacy; to remind them how indispensably necessary it is to establish the federal union on a fixed and permanent basis, and on principles acceptable to all its respective members; how essential to public credit and confidence, to the support of our army, to the vigor of our councils and success of our measures, to our tranquility at home, and our reputation abroad, to our present safety and our future prosperity, to our very existence as a free, sovereign and independent people; that they are fully persuaded the wisdom and magnanimity of the patriotic legislators of these states will on an occasion of such vast magnitude, prompt them to prefer the general security to local attachment, and the permanency of the confederacy to an unwieldy extent of their respective limits, of the respective legislatures will lead them to a full and impartial consideration of a subject so interesting to the United States, and so necessary to the happy establishment of the federal union; that they are confirmed in these expectations by a review of the before mentioned act of the legislature of New York, submitted to their consideration; that this act is expressly calculated to accelerate the federal alliance, by removing, as far as it depends on that State, the impediment arising from the western country, and for that purpose to yield up a portion of territorial claim for the general benefit; an example which in the opinion of your committee deserves applause, and will produce imitation," Whereupon,

Resolved, That copies of the several papers referred to the committee be transmitted, with a copy of the report, to the legislatures of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia the several states, and that it be earnestly recommended to those states, who have claims to the western country, to pass such laws, and give their delegates in Congress such powers as may effectually remove the only obstacle to a final ratification of the articles of confederation; and that the legislature of Maryland be earnestly requested to authorize their delegates in Congress to subscribe the said articles; and that a copy of the aforementioned remonstrance from the assembly of Virginia and act of the legislature of New York, together with a copy of this report, be transmitted to the said legislature of Maryland.[20]

On October 10th Congress adopted Virginia proposal, moved by Delegate James Madison, to reimburse state expenses related to cession of western lands and to require that ceded lands "be disposed of for the common benefit of the United States.”  The Journals record:

Resolved, That the unappropriated lands that may be ceded or relinquished to the United States, by any particular states, pursuant to the recommendation of Congress of the 6 day of September last, shall be granted and disposed of for the common benefit of all the United States that shall be members of the federal union, and be settled and formed into distinct republican states, which shall become members of the federal union, and have the same rights of sovereignty, freedom and independence, as the other states: that each state which shall be so formed shall contain a suitable extent of territory, not less than one hundred nor more than one hundred and fifty miles square, or as near thereto as circumstances will admit: and that upon such cession being made by any State and approved and accepted by Congress, the United States shall guaranty the remaining territory of the said States respectively. That the necessary and reasonable expenses which any particular state shall have incurred since the commencement of the present war, in subduing any of the British posts, or in maintaining forts or garrisons within and for the defense, or in acquiring any part of the territory that may be ceded or relinquished to the United States, shall be reimbursed; That the said lands shall be granted and settled at such times and under such regulations as shall hereafter be agreed on by the United States in Congress assembled, or any nine or more of them. That all purchases made of the Indians of any of said lands by private persons, without the approbation of the Legislature of the State to whom the right of preemption belonged, shall not be deemed valid to make a title to such purchases. That no purchases and deeds from any Indians or Indian nations, for lands within the Territory to be ceded or relinquished, which have been made without the approbation of the legislature Postponed of the state within whose limits it lay for the use of any private person or persons whatsoever make a title to the purchasers shall not have been rated by lawful authority, shall be deemed valid or ratified by Congress.[21]

USCA President Samuel Huntington, a delegate from Connecticut, led the way for other congressional delegations when he successfully convinced his state legislature to relinquish their western lands claims to the federal government.  On November 28, 1780 John Hanson wrote Charles Carroll of Carrollton:

The president of Congress has promised to send by this post, a Copy of a late Law passed in Connecticut, respecting a Cession of some part of the back Lands. We have had nothing from Virginia or any other state on that Subject.[22]

Maryland, thanks to John Hanson, Daniel Carroll, James Madison, Samuel Huntington and others brokering land cessions from the states, finally passed an act to empower their delegates to subscribe and ratify the Articles of Confederation on January 30th, 1781. On February 2, 1781 Governor Thomas Sim Lee signed the empowerment into law.  

The Act of the Maryland legislature to ratify the Articles of Confederation on February 2, 1781 - Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

On February 20th, Daniel Carroll, after presenting Maryland’s ratification of the Articles to Congress, took a moment to write Charles Carroll of Carrollton:
On the first day of my appearing in Congress, I delivered the Act empowering the Delegates of Maryland to Subscribe the Articles of Confederation &c.! It was read, & entered on the Journals.[23]

John Hanson, the second delegate authorized to ratify the Articles of Confederation for Maryland, arrived in Philadelphia two days later.  Although Article V of the constitution stated that “… the United States, delegates shall be annually appointed in such manner as the legislatures of each State shall direct, to meet in Congress on the first Monday in November, in every year,” all the Congressional delegates were now duly appointed after their respective states had ratified the Articles of Confederation.Congress, who had waited on Maryland’s approval since the 12th state’s ratification in February 1779, decided to not to delay the formation of the “Perpetual Union”confederation until November 5, 1781.  On February 22, 1781, it was unanimously resolved that:

February 22, 1781 entry from the Journals of Congress, and of The United States in Congress Assembled, for the Years 1781-1782. Published By Order Of Congress, Volume VII. New York: Printed by John Patterson. 1787.  "An edition of five hundred copies was printed by order of Congress, 13 September, 1786” pages 38 and 39, - Image from the Collection

The delegates of Maryland having taken their seats in Congress with powers to sign the Articles of Confederation: Ordered, That Thursday next [March 1, 1781]be assigned for compleating the Confederation; and that a committee of three be appointed, to consider and report a mode for announcing the same to the public: the members, [Mr. George] Walton, Mr. [James] Madison, Mr. [John] Mathews.[1]

Journals of Congress, and of The United States in Congress Assembled, for the Years 1781-1782. Published By Order Of Congress, Volume VII. New York: Printed by John Patterson. 1787. "An edition of five hundred copies was printed by order of Congress, March 1, 1781 Articles of Confederation signers entry” - Image from the Collection

On that date, the Articles of Confederation were adopted and the March 7, 1781 Pennsylvania Gazette reported on the festivities:

In pursuance of an Act of the Legislature of Maryland, entitled, 'An Act to empow­er the Delegates of the State in Congress to subscriber and ratify the Articles of Confederation,' the Delegates of the said State, on Thursday last, at twelve o, signed and ratified the Articles of Confederation; by which act the Confederation of the United States of America was completed, each and every of the Thirteen States, from New Hampshire to George, both included, having adopted and con­firmed, and by their Delegates in Congress ratified the same.

This happy even was immediately announced to the public by the discharge of the artillery on land, and the cannon of the shipping in the river Delaware. At two o’ clock his Excellency the President of Congress received on this occasion the congratulations of the Hon. the Minister Plenipotentiary of France, and of the Legislative and Executive Bodies of this State, of the Civil and Military Officers, sundry strangers of distinction in town, and of many of the principal inhabitants.

The evening was closed by an elegant exhibition of fireworks. The Ariel frigate, commanded by the gallant John Paul Jones, fired a feu de joye, and was beautifully decorated with a variety of streamers in the day, and ornamented with a brilliant appearance of lights in the night. 

Thus will the first of March, 1781, be a day memorable in the annals of America, for the final ratification of the Confederation and perpetual Union of the Thirteen States of America --- A Union, begun by necessity, cemented by oppression and common danger, and now finally consolidated into a perpetual confederacy of these new and rising States: And thus the United States of America, having, amidst the calamities of a destructive war, established a solid foundation of greatness, are growing up into consequence among the nations, while their haughty enemy, Britain, with all her boasted wealth and grandeur, instead of bringing them to her feet and reducing them to unconditional submission, finds her hopes blasted, her power crumbling to pieces, and the empire which, with overbearing insolence and brutality she exercised on the ocean, divided among her insulted neighbors. [25]

The following day, March 2nd, 1781, the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA) convened as the new government of the United States of America with Samuel Huntington as President.   Secretary Charles Thomas began the new journal by placing “The United States in Congress Assembled" at the head of the first page. The United States of America, which was conceived on July 2, 1776, proclaimed on the 4th, and re-formulated on November 15, 1777, had finally been constitutional born with the Articles of Confederation’s ratification. The USCA Journal reports:

The ratification of the Articles of Confederation being yesterday completed by the accession of the State of Maryland: The United States met in Congress, when the following members appeared: His Excellency Samuel Huntington, delegate for Connecticut, President...[26]

Journals of Congress, and of The United States in Congress Assembled, for the Years 1781-1782. Published By Order Of Congress, Volume VII. New York: Printed by John Patterson. 1787. "An edition of five hundred copies was printed by order of Congress, March 2nd, 1781 entry showing the name change of Continental Congress to United States in Congress Assembled and Samuel Huntington service as the  Articles of Confederation's first President.  - Image from the Collection  

With the Continental Congress dissolved and the first U.S. Constitution now in effect, the new government of the USCA was faced with the reality that they had to disqualify both New Hampshire and Rhode Island from voting in the new assembly.  This was particularly dubious because the two delegates, as members of the U.S. Continental Congress, voted unanimously to adopt the Articles of Confederation as the first U.S. Constitution. Delaware Delegate Thomas Rodney, in his diary’s March 2, 1781 entry, explains the conundrum that was caused by the formation of the Constitution of 1777’s Congress:

The States of New Hampshire and Rhode Island having each but one Member in Congress, they became unrepresented by the Confirmation of the Confederation-By which not more than Seven nor less than two members is allowed to represent any State  -Whereupon General Sullivan, Delegate from New Hampshire moved  - That Congress would appoint a Committee of the States, and Adjourn till those States Could Send forward a Sufficient number of Delegates to represent them-Or that they would allow their Delegates now in Congress To give the Vote of the States until one More from each of those States was Sent to Congress to Make  their representation Complete.

He alleged that it was but just for Congress to do one or the other of them-for that the act of Congress by completing the Confederation ought not to deprive those States of their representation without giving them due notice, as their representation was complete before, & that they did not know when the Confederation would be completed. Therefore if the Confederation put it out of the power of Congress to allow the States vote in Congress because there was but one member from each them, they ought in justice to those States to appoint a Committee of the States, in which they would have an Equal Voice. This motion was seconded by Genl. Vernon from Rhode Island and enforced by arguments to the same purpose.

 But all their arguments were ably confuted by Mr. Burke of N.C. and others, and the absurdity of the motion fully pointed out, So that the question passed off without a Division. But it was the general opinion of Congress that those members might continue to sit in Congress, and debate & serve on Committees though they could not give the vote of their States. 

It was unanimously agreed that the Articles of Confederation were in full force and for a State to have a vote in the USCA, unlike the Continental Congress; at least two delegates were required to cast the one vote for their respective state. 

March 12, 1781 Treasury letter referring to Samuel Huntington as
President of the United States in Congress Assembled

It is important to establish here that the framers viewed the Articles of Confederation as a federal constitution. The words “federal constitution” were exhaustively used in the pre-1787 U.S. Constitution era in resolutions (“and further provisions as to render the federal Constitution adequate to the Exigencies of the Union;”[28]  United States treaties (“That these United States be considered in all such treaties, and in every case arising under them, as one nation, upon the principles of the federal constitution;”)[29] United States finances (“The federal constitution authorizes the United States to obtain money by three means; 1st. by requisition; 2d., by loan; and 3d., by emitting bills of credit;”)[30] and in United States Delegate debates:

A requisition of Congress on the States for money is as much a law to them as their revenue Acts when passed are laws to their respective Citizens. If, for want of the faculty or means of enforcing a requisition, the law of Congress proves inefficient, does it not follow that in order to fulfill the views of the federal constitution, such a change sd. Be made as will render it efficient? Without such efficiency the end of this Constitution, which is to preserve order and justice among the members of the Union, must fail; as without a like efficiency would the end of State Constitutions, which is to preserve like order & justice among its members.[31]

Who was the first U.S. President?

These U.S. founding acts and laws also include a resolution empowering the President of the United States to reconvene the “federal government” in New Jersey after he and the Congress were held hostage in Independence Hall, by mutinous soldiers:

There is not a satisfactory ground for expecting adequate and prompt exertions of this State for supporting the dignity of the federal government, the President … be authorized and directed to summon the members of Congress to meet on Thursday next at Trenton or Princeton, in New Jersey[32]

The Articles of Confederation were recognized as a federal constitution by Maryland, the last state to ratify, in passing their “Act of Appointment of, And Conferring Powers in, Deputies from this State to the Federal Convention” affirming that it would join with other States

“ … in considering such alterations, and further provisions, as may be necessary to render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of the union.”

An Act for the appointment of, and conferring powers in, deputies from this state to the federal convention. Maryland Act of 1787 - Image Courtesy of

The unicameral federal government constituted under the Articles of Confederation known as the United States, in Congress Assembled (USCA) would convene in eight different sessions. The First session began on March 2nd, 1781 with Samuel Huntington as President.  The eighth and last USCA under President Cyrus Griffin ended on October 10th, 1788, as the ninth failed to achieve a quorum in November 1788:

USCA Sessions 1781 to 1789

First USCA: Convened March 2, 1781 - Samuel Huntington and Thomas McKean Presidents
Second USCA: Convened November 5, 1781 - John Hanson President
Third USCA: Convened November 4, 1782 - Elias Boudinot President
Fourth USCA: Convened November 3, 1783 - Thomas Mifflin President
Fifth USCA: Convened November 29, 1784 - Richard Henry Lee President
Sixth USCA: Convened November 23, 1785 - John Hancock and Nathaniel Gorham Presidents
Seventh USCA: Convened February 2, 1787 - Arthur St. Clair President
Eighth USCA: Convened January 21, 1788 - Cyrus Griffin President

[1] JCC, 1774-1789, Wednesday June 12, 1776.
[2] JCC, July 12, 1776
[3] Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 30 September 1777. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
[4] General John Burgoyne (24 February 1722 – 4 August 1792) was a British army officer charged with gaining control of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River valley. This would divide New England from the southern colonies ending the rebellion. On 17 October, 1777, during the Saratoga campaign he surrendered his army of 6,000 men to General Horatio Gates and the northern Continental Army.
[5] John Adams, 30 September, 1777, op. cit.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Letter from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, October 5, 1777.  In Paul H. Smith, et al., eds, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789. 25 volumes, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1976-2000). Cited hereafter as LDC, 1774-1789.
[8] Letter from James Lovell to General Horatio Gates, October 5, 1777. In as LDC, 1774-1789.
[9] JCC, 1774-1789, October 20, 1777.
[10]Debates on the Articles of Confederation and Hancock request for two months leave, October 29, 1777.  JCC, 1774-1789.
[11] Ibid, October 31, 1777
[12] IbidThanksgiving Proclamation, November 1, 1777
[13] Thanksgiving Proclamation, Original Broadside, November 1, 1777, Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
[14] Horatio Lloyd Gates (1727–1806) was a British soldier who became an American general during the Revolutionary War. He took credit, over Benedict Arnold  who led the attack, for the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga. He was promoted to head the Board of War and from there sought to replace George Washington as commander-in-chief. The Conway Cabal failed and Gates was eventually given the Southern Command where he was thoroughly defeated by General Cornwallis in the Battle of Camden.
[15] JCC, 1774-1789, Articles of Confederation, November 15, 1777, first paragraph.
[16] This language would later be reformulated and added as the 10th Amendment to the current U.S. Constitution that states:“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
[17] The concept of one vote to each State would be adopted under the current U.S. Constitution in the formation of any future constitutional conventions and the passage of all amendments.  The representation would also be incorporated in the U.S. Senate with each State, regardless of size, having two votes.
[18] Format and some information gathered from Wikipedia’s Articles of Confederation Fact checked against author’s research and JCC, 1774-1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. 
[19] Instructions of the General Assembly of Maryland to George Plater, William Paca, William Carmichael, John Henry, James Forbes, and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Esqs. laid before the Continental Congress on 21st of May, 1779, State Claims Northwest Territory Address Of Hon William E. Chilton Of West Virginia , In The Senate of The United States On April 10. 1912, p.5-6
[20] Journals of the US Continental Congress, September 6, 1780
[21] Journals of the US Continental Congress, October 10, 1780
[22] John Hanson to Charles Carroll of Carrolton, November 28, 1780, LDC 1774-1789
[23] Daniel Carroll to Charles Carroll of Carrolton, February 20, 1781, LDC 1774-1789
[24] Daniel Carroll to Charles Carroll of Carrolton, February 20, 1781, LDC 1774-1789
[25] John Nagy Editor - Pennsylvania Gazette 1728-1800 On-Line Publication By Accessible Archives, Malvern, PA, -
[26] March 2, 1781, JCC 1774-1789
[27] Thomas Rodney, in his diary’s March 2, 1781 LDC 1774-1789
[28] JCC, 1774-1789, , March15, 1787
[29] JCC, 1774-1789, March 26, 1784
[30] Ibid, February 3, 1786
[31] Ibid, January 28, 1783
[32] Ibid,  June 21, 1783

The Congressional Evolution of the United States of America 

Continental Congress of the United Colonies Presidents 
Sept. 5, 1774 to July 1, 1776

September 5, 1774
October 22, 1774
October 22, 1774
October 26, 1774
May 20, 1775
May 24, 1775
May 25, 1775
July 1, 1776

Commander-in-Chief United Colonies & States of America

George Washington: June 15, 1775 - December 23, 1783

Continental Congress of the United States Presidents 
July 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781

July 2, 1776
October 29, 1777
November 1, 1777
December 9, 1778
December 10, 1778
September 28, 1779
September 29, 1779
February 28, 1781

Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
March 1, 1781 to March 3, 1789

March 1, 1781
July 6, 1781
July 10, 1781
Declined Office
July 10, 1781
November 4, 1781
November 5, 1781
November 3, 1782
November 4, 1782
November 2, 1783
November 3, 1783
June 3, 1784
November 30, 1784
November 22, 1785
November 23, 1785
June 5, 1786
June 6, 1786
February 1, 1787
February 2, 1787
January 21, 1788
January 22, 1788
January 21, 1789

Presidents of the United States of America

D-Democratic Party, F-Federalist Party, I-Independent, R-Republican Party, R* Republican Party of Jefferson & W-Whig Party 

 (1881 - 1881)
*Confederate States  of America

Chart Comparing Presidential Powers Click Here

United Colonies and States First Ladies

United Colonies Continental Congress
18th Century Term
09/05/74 – 10/22/74
Mary Williams Middleton (1741- 1761) Deceased
Henry Middleton
05/20/ 75 - 05/24/75
05/25/75 – 07/01/76
United States Continental Congress
07/02/76 – 10/29/77
Eleanor Ball Laurens (1731- 1770) Deceased
Henry Laurens
11/01/77 – 12/09/78
Sarah Livingston Jay (1756-1802)
12/ 10/78 – 09/28/78
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
09/29/79 – 02/28/81
United States in Congress Assembled
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
03/01/81 – 07/06/81
07/10/81 – 11/04/81
Jane Contee Hanson (1726-1812)
11/05/81 - 11/03/82
11/03/82 - 11/02/83
Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747-1790)
11/03/83 - 11/02/84
11/20/84 - 11/19/85
11/23/85 – 06/06/86
Rebecca Call Gorham (1744-1812)
06/06/86 - 02/01/87
02/02/87 - 01/21/88
01/22/88 - 01/29/89

Constitution of 1787
First Ladies
April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Martha Wayles Jefferson Deceased
September 6, 1782  (Aged 33)
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
December 22, 1828 (aged 61)
February 5, 1819 (aged 35)
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
April 4, 1841 – September 10, 1842
June 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
February 22, 1862 – May 10, 1865
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
January 12, 1880 (Aged 43)
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1889 – October 25, 1892
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909
March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
December 18, 1915 – March 4, 1921
March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993
January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009 to date

Capitals of the United Colonies and States of America

Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
September 27, 1777
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
October 6, 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
Dec. 6,1790 to May 14, 1800       
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present

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