Articles of Confederation, the written agreement that served as the constitution of the United States from 1781 to 1789. The full name was Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The purpose of the Articles was to provide a general government for the 13 colonies that had won their freedom from British rule and to bring about "perpetual union" of these new states.
At the time, most Americans feared a strong central government. Consequently, the Articles were purposely designed to make establishment of such a government impossible. Each state was guaranteed "its sovereignty, freedom, and independence." The general government was given certain responsibilities but no power to enforce its actions. The Confederation Congress was empowered to declare war and make treaties, but it had no army and could not levy taxes. It had no authority to establish courts. Although Congress could coin money, each state also had this right. Regulation of commerce and revenues was left to the states.
Each state had one vote in Congress, which meant that small states had as much power as large states. Laws passed by Congress required approval by 9 of the 13 states. Amendment of the Articles required unanimous approval.
The Articles were drawn up in 1776 by a committee appointed by the Continental Congress and headed by John Dickinson of Delaware. After a year of debate and revision, Congress approved the agreement in 1777; it was to become effective when ratified by all states.
By 1778, nine states had approved. However, ratification was delayed by some small states that had misgivings about the western land claims of certain states. Maryland in particular demanded that these states give their claims to the general government. When assured that most western lands would be ceded to the United States, Maryland ratified the Articles. By March, 1781, all states had approved the Articles of Confederation.
Major accomplishments of the Confederation Congress were providing for distribution of the western lands (in the Land Ordinance of 1785) and devising a plan for political organization of these lands (in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787). Because the Confederation government was weak, however, the states tended to ignore it and paid little attention to acts passed by Congress. The result was disunity, confusion, and scorn from other nations.
The difficulties of the Confederation government gave rise to proposals to amend the Articles. Discussions at the Annapolis Convention of 1786 led to a convention in Philadelphia in 1787. It replaced the Articles of Confederation with the present Constitution of the United States. Many provisions of the Articles, such as those dealing with the powers of Congress, were incorporated into the Constitution