Study Guide

Articles of Confederation Quotes

By The Second Continental Congress, John Dickinson

  • Politics

    Delegates shall be annually appointed in such manner as the legislatures of each State shall direct, to meet in Congress on the first Monday in November, in every year, with a power reserved to each State to recall its delegates, or any of them, at any time within the year, and to send others in their stead for the remainder of the year. (5.1)

    This government was run year-to-year, instead of holding elections every few years. One of the inspirations for this idea was the Roman Republic, in which elected officials served a term of one year.

    No two or more States shall enter into any treaty, confederation or alliance whatever between them, without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, specifying accurately the purposes for which the same is to be entered into, and how long it shall continue. (6.2)

    What might have happened if states were allowed to make treaties with each other willy-nilly? Would this have made them more like their own countries? Would state treaties have led to more regional rivalries (as happened in the Civil War)?

    No State shall lay any imposts or duties, which may interfere with any stipulations in treaties, entered into by the United States in Congress assembled, with any King, Prince or State, in pursuance of any treaties already proposed by Congress, to the courts of France and Spain. (6.3)

    The states weren't allowed to create trading taxes, known as tariffs, that "interfered" with international treaties. But they could still create their own taxes and local currencies. They also didn't mind breaking the rules, which frustrated the U.S.'s foreign ambassadors.

    All controversies concerning the private right of soil claimed under different grants of two or more States…shall on the petition of either party to the Congress of the United States, be finally determined as near as may be in the same manner as is before prescribed for deciding disputes respecting territorial jurisdiction between different States. (9.4)

    The states were in constant competition with each other to seize the nation's natural resources. They frequently made conflicting claims to unsettled land. (Of course, no one bothered to ask the Native Americans.)

    The Committee of the States, or any nine of them, shall be authorized to execute, in the recess of Congress, such of the powers of Congress as the United States in Congress assembled, by the consent of the nine States, shall from time to time think expedient to vest them with. (10.1)

    There were no federal agencies under the Articles of Confederation, as there are in today's government. A "Committee of the States" was allowed to carry out some of Congress' authority in much the same way agencies (like the Department of the Interior now do).

  • State's Rights

    Each state retains […] every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. (2.1)

    After reading the Articles of Confederation, what sorts of powers do you think were left to the states? How many can you come up with?

    The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare. (3.1)

    The phrase "common defense" comes first, suggesting that the main purpose of the federal government was to protect states militarily in the event of war with other nations.

    No State shall engage in any war without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, unless such State be actually invaded by enemies. (6.5)

    This is exactly what Britain had feared her colonies would do. By becoming involved in the French and Indian War, the colonies cost the mother country quite a chunk of change.

    The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several States within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled. (8.2)

    The phrase "within the time agreed upon" means that States simply had a deadline at which to submit their portion of national taxes. But as we know, not everyone turns in their homework.

    The United States in Congress assembled shall also be the last resort on appeal in all disputes and differences now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more States concerning boundary, jurisdiction or any other causes whatever. (9.2)

    This clause gave Congress judicial power sort of like the modern Supreme Court. States would argue their disagreements at a legislative hearing.

  • Majority vs. Minority

    No State shall be represented in Congress by less than two, nor more than seven members. (5.2)

    Why bother apportioning more delegates to some states? After all, every state still got one vote. One answer is influence. Early American politicians spent a lot of time trying to change each other's minds and build consensus. More members meant more of a voice in Congress.

    In determining questions in the United States in Congress assembled, each State shall have one vote. (5.4)

    Nowadays, most people would probably think this rule, designed to protect the minority populations in small states, was downright whacky. It would be the same as if California, with a population of tens of millions of people, had the same number of representatives as Montana, which has a population of mostly deer.

    All charges of war, and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several States in proportion to the value of all land within each State. (8.1)

    In other words, the richer a state was, the more they had to pay in taxes. There was much debate over how this should be measured (in terms of land or property value). In the end, large states were asked to pay more taxes even though they didn't get more votes, which sounded a little bit like "taxation without representation" to Anti-Federalists.

    And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State. (13.2)

    One of the biggest problems with the Articles is that they were impossible to amend—you were not going to get thirteen states to agree unanimously on big changes to the government. No wonder they decided to scrap the whole thing after planning to "revise" it at the Annapolis Convention.

    And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said Confederation are submitted to them. (13.4)

    This is the sentence Daniel Shays ignored when he rebelled against the government. Even in the politics of today, many people feel that they don't have to follow laws they disagree with.

  • Power

    If any person guilty of, or charged with, treason, felony, or other high misdemeanor in any State, shall flee from justice, and be found in any of the United States, he shall, upon demand of the Governor or executive power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of his offense. (4.2)

    States were supposed to cooperate in bringing escaped felons to justice, but there was no federal court system, so trials took place only under states' jurisdiction. There could be no United States vs. trials.

    No person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years in any term of six years. (5.2)

    An early experiment with legislative term limits. In today's Congress, you can be a Senator or Representative until you drop dead.

    No vessel of war shall be kept up in time of peace by any State, except such number only, as shall be deemed necessary by the United States in Congress assembled, for the defense of such State, or its trade; nor shall any body of forces be kept up by any State in time of peace, except such number only, as in the judgment of the United States in Congress assembled, shall be deemed requisite to garrison the forts necessary for the defense of such State. (6.4)

    The states were pretty close to being their own countries, but they couldn't keep their own standing armies or navies.

    When land forces are raised by any State for the common defense, all officers of or under the rank of colonel, shall be appointed by the legislature of each State respectively. (7.1)

    Even the military was a balance of states power and federal power under the Articles system. Congress appointed generals, and states delegated every other position.

    The Congress of the United States [… ] shall publish the journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy. (9.10)

    This form of transparency was supposed to be another check on the power of the federal government. If you were willing to read the meeting minutes for Congress without falling asleep.