This week in 1781, the Articles of Confederation went into effect in the United States, following ratification by the 13 colonies – a.k.a. states. Work on the Articles had begun in 1776, around the time of the Declaration of Independence. Completion took a year and a half, until November 5 of 1777 – for two reasons: uncertainty about what to include, as well as several moves from city to city, to avoid advancing British troops. In the end, the final draft included state sovereignty, en bloc voting by state in a unicameral Congress, and terms that left western land claims unresolved – up to individual states.
The Articles were submitted to the states in late November of 1777. Virginia was the first state to ratify, in December, while Maryland was the last, in 1781. During the years the states worked on ratifying the Articles, the U.S. government took them as the country’s de facto structure. When Congress received word on March 1, 1781 that Maryland had finally ratified the Articles, it announced them as the law of the land. The Articles of Confederation remained America’s governing law until 1789, when today’s Constitution was ratified.
Image is a 1977 commemorative stamp marking the bicentennial of the Articles of Confederation.