The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first written constitution of the United States is adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. A number of the members of the Congress hail from Ireland including Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson who is born in Maghera, County Derry in 1729. Thomson is the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. At least three signatories to the Declaration of Independence are Irish – James Smith, George Taylor, and Matthew Thornton.
The Articles of Confederation is approved, after much debate between July 1776 and November 1777, by the Second Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles come into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all thirteen states. A guiding principle of the Articles is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles receives only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.
The document provides clearly written rules for how the states’ “league of friendship” are to be organized. During the ratification process, the Congress looks to the Articles for guidance as it conducts business, directs the war effort, conducts diplomacy with foreign nations, addresses territorial issues and deals with Native American relations. Little changes politically once the Articles of Confederation go into effect, as ratification does little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had already been doing. That body is renamed the Congress of the Confederation however most Americans continue to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remains the same.
As the Confederation Congress attempts to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discover that the limitations placed upon the central government render it ineffective at doing so. As the government’s weaknesses become apparent, especially after Shays’ Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling nation begin asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope is to create a stronger national government.
Initially, some states meet to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states become interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting is set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This becomes the Constitutional Convention. It is quickly agreed that changes will not work, and instead the entire Articles needs to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles is replaced with the federal government under the Constitution of the United States. The new Constitution provides for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.