Comparing the Articles and the Constitution
The United States has operated under two constitutions. The first, The Articles of Confederation, was in effect from March 1, 1781, when Maryland ratified it. The second, The Constitution, replaced the Articles when it was ratified by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788.
The two documents have much in common - they were established by the same people (sometimes literally the same exact people, though mostly just in terms of contemporaries). But they differ more than they do resemble each other, when one looks at the details. Comparing them can give us insight into what the Framers found important in 1781, and what they changed their minds on by 1788.
The following is a comparison, detailing the similarities and differences between the Constitution and the Articles. The topic page for The Articles and the Constitution Explained Page may also be of some interest.
Formal name of the nation
Articles: The United States of America
Constitution: (not specified, but referred to in the Preamble as "the United States of America")
Articles: Unicameral, called Congress
Constitution: Bicameral, called Congress, divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate
Members of Congress
Articles: Between two and seven members per state
Constitution: Two Senators per state, Representatives apportioned according to population of each state
Voting in Congress
Articles: One vote per state
Constitution: One vote per Representative or Senator
Appointment of members
Articles: All appointed by state legislatures, in the manner each legislature directed
Constitution: Representatives elected by popular vote, Senators appointed by state legislatures
Term of legislative office
Articles: One year
Constitution: Two years for Representatives, six for Senators
Term limit for legislative office
Articles: No more than three out of every six years
Articles: Paid by states
Constitution: Paid by the federal government
When Congress is not in session...
Articles: A Committee of States had the full powers of Congress
Constitution: The President can call for Congress to assemble
Chair of legislature
Articles: President of Congress
Constitution: Speaker of the House of Representatives, Vice President is President of the Senate
Articles: Maritime judiciary established
Constitution: Federal judiciary established, including Supreme Court
Adjudicator of disputes between states
Constitution: Supreme Court
Articles: Admitted upon agreement of nine states (special exemption provided for Canada)
Constitution: Admitted upon agreement of Congress
Articles: When agreed upon by all states
Constitution: When agreed upon by three-fourths of all states
Articles: Congress authorized to build a navy; states authorized to equip warships to counter piracy
Constitution: Congress authorized to build a navy; states not allowed to keep ships of war
Articles: Congress to decide on size of force and to requisition troops from each state according to population
Constitution: Congress authorized to raise and support armies
Power to coin money
Articles: United States and the states
Constitution: United States only
Ex post facto laws
Articles: Not forbidden
Constitution: Forbidden of both the states and the Congress
Bills of attainder
Articles: Not forbidden
Constitution: Forbidden of both the states and the Congress
Articles: Apportioned by Congress, collected by the states
Constitution: Laid and collected by Congress
Articles: Unanimous consent required
Constitution: Consent of nine states required
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The Articles of Confederation
The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments. The need for a stronger Federal government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.
Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875
Important milestones related to the Articles of Confederation include the following references in the Journals of the Continental Congress:
- June 11, 1776 - The Continental Congress resolved "that a committee be appointed to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies."
- June 12, 1776 - The committee members were appointed "to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies."
- July 12, 1776 - The first draft of the Articles of Confederation was presented to the Continental Congress.
- November 15, 1777 - The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation.
- November 17, 1777 - The Articles of Confederation were submitted to the states with a request for immediate action.
- June 25, 1778 - A committee of three was appointed to prepare the form of a ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
- June 26, 1778 - The Articles of Confederation were ordered to be engrossed.
- June 27, 1778 - The first engrossed copy was found to be incorrect, and a second engrossed copy was ordered.
- July 9, 1778 - The second engrossed copy of the Articles of Confederation was signed and ratified by the delegates from eight states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina.
- July 21, 1778 - North Carolina delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
- July 24, 1778 - Georgia delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
- November 26, 1778 - New Jersey delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
- May 5, 1779 - Delaware delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
- March 1, 1781 - Maryland delegates signed the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were finally ratified by all thirteen states.
- February 21, 1787 - Congress approved a plan to hold a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.
Search the Journals of the Continental Congress using the word "confederation" or the phrase "Articles of Confederation" to locate additional information on this topic.
The Letters of Delegates to Congress contains drafts of the Articles of Confederation by Josiah Bartlett and John Dickinson from late June 1776. Both Bartlett and Dickinson were members of the committee responsible for writing the draft of the Articles of Confederation. This publication also includes a few notes on the plan of Confederation written by Bartlett.
Elliot's Debates provides a summary of the ratification process for the Articles of Confederation, a transcript of Thomas Jefferson's notes of debate on confederation, and another copy of the Articles.
Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789
This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. It includes the essay To Form a More Perfect Union, which provides background information on the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and the call for a new Constitution.
- Articles of Confederation and 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. Williamsburg: Printed by Alexander Purdie, 1777.
James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859
The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items, spanning the period 1723-1859, captured in some 72,000 digital images.
Search Madison's papers using the word "confederation" to locate additional documents related to the Articles of Confederation and the Confederation Government.
Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history.
- Articles of confederation and 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. Williamsburg: Printed by Alexander Purdie, 1777.
Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827
The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.
Search this collection to find additional documents that mention the Articles of Confederation.
Jump Back in Time: The Articles of Confederation Were Adopted, November 15, 1777
Creating the United States
This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The section of the exhibition Road to the Constitution contains a number of documents related to the Articles of Confederation.
American Memory Timeline: Policies and Problems of the Confederation Government
Provides an overview of the Confederation Government and links to related documents.
November 15, 1777
On November 15, 1777, the second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
September 17, 1787
Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.
Articles of Confederation, Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Articles of Confederation, National Archives and Records Administration
Our Documents, Articles of Confederation, National Archives and Records Administration
Hoffert, Robert W. A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1992. [Catalog Record]
Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution 1774-1781. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970. [Catalog Record]
-----. The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789. New York: Knopf, 1950. [Catalog Record]
Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. [Catalog Record]
Callahan, Kerry P. The Articles of Confederation: A Primary Source Investigation into the Document that Preceded the U.S. Constitution. New York: Rosen Primary Source, 2003. [Catalog Record]
Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick. The Articles of Confederation: The First Constitution of the United States. Brookfield, Conn.: Twenty-First Century Books, 2002. [Catalog Record]
Price Hossell, Karen. The Articles of Confederation. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2004. [Catalog Record]
Roza, Greg. Evaluating the Articles of Confederation: Determining the Validity of Information and Arguments. New York: Rosen Pub., 2006. [Catalog Record]