Articles of Confederation

March 1, 1781–1789

The Articles of Confederation was America's first constitution. It was in effect from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789, when it was replaced by the United States Constitution.

John Dickinson, Illustration

John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, was the principal author of the draft of the Articles of Confederation. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.


Summary of the Articles of Confederation

As the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were drafting the Declaration of Independence, they were also developing a plan for unifying the thirteen colonies to defeat Great Britain. In the summer of 1776, a committee composed of one delegate from each colony drafted the Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitution. Although the document created a weak central government compared to the federal government established by the current Constitution, the Articles successfully created a “firm league of friendship” that guided the emerging nation through its fledgling years.


Articles of Confederation — Quick Facts

  • On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee, composed of one representative from each colony, to draft a document forming a confederation of the 13 colonies.
  • John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, was the principal writer of the draft document.
  • Adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777.
  • As adopted, the articles contained a preamble and 13 articles.
  • Became effective when ratified by the 13th and final state (Maryland) on March 1, 1781.
  • Established a Confederation Congress with each state having one vote.
  • Measures passed by Congress had to be approved by 9 of the 13 states.
  • Did not establish federal executive or judicial branches of government.
  • Each state retained “every Power…which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States.”
  • Provided Congress with the powers to conduct foreign affairs, declare war or peace, maintain an army and navy, print money, resolve disputes between states, and a variety of other lesser functions.
  • Denied Congress the power to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce and enforce laws.
  • All 13 states had to agree to any amendment of the federal government’s power.
  • Replaced by the current U.S. Constitution on March 4, 1789.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Articles of Confederation
  • Date March 1, 1781–1789
  • Author
  • Keywords articles of confederation
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 31, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 5, 2022

Articles of Confederation is Part of the Following on AHC