Articles of Confederation

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The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781. This was the format for the United States government until the Constitution.

The Articles of Confederation was the earliest form of government of the newly independent British colonies. The United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaimed the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain and formally began the American Revolution. The new nation then had to create a new government to replace the monarchy it was trying to overthrow. After much debate, the Americans adopted the Articles of Confederation. This document established a very weak national government that consisted of a one-house legislature known as the Confederation Congress. The Congress had the power to declare war, sign treaties, and settle disputes between the states. It could also borrow or print money and could ask for funds from individual states, which rarely provided the requested money to the federal government. The Americans were so fearful of a strong, centralized government that they refused to give their Congress the power to tax. The Articles of Confederation were first adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 1, 1777, and were given final ratification on March 1, 1781. The Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. This government was then in effect from 1781 until 1788.

In 1783, the Americans secured their independence from Great Britain with the Treaty of Paris (1783). They immediately began to build a new nation. Among the Confederation Congress' successes was passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which established the Northwest Territory. Still, the Confederation Congress faced many difficulties, primarily due to the weak nature of the national government. Without having the ability to tax, the federal government could not pay for a military. This was an especially important issue for people living in the Northwest Territory. As thousands of Americans moved into the area, Native Americans struggled to stop them. Unable to pay for an army, the government could not protect its citizens. To solve this and other problems, a Constitutional Convention took place in the summer of 1787. Called together to revise the Articles of Confederation the delegates decided that a new and stronger Constitution was needed. The federal government now had the power to tax, and its provisions were to be the supreme law of the land. Fearing that one person or faction might be able to gain control of the government, the drafters divided the government's powers among three separate branches -- the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Each branch had checks and balances on the powers of the other two. The Constitution created the United States in the form in which it still exists today.

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