Until 1775, 13 British colonies existed in North America. These colonies were ruled by Britain. In 1775, the colonies started the American War of Independence. In 1776, they declared that they were independent and free from British rule.
Once they were free, they needed a new constitution on which they could all agree. This was important if they were to stay united. For this reason, the Articles of Confederation were written in 1777. These were simply a set of rules which were related to how the united government of the 13 American states would be conducted.
The Second Continental Congress selected 13 members to a committee. It was this committee’s job to discuss, finalise and write down the Articles of Confederation. After they had discussed and finalised these rules, John Dickinson was the one who actually wrote them down.
The basic purpose of the Articles was to set down some rules which would help the 13 states run a new government, now that they had declared independence from Britain.
Each rule came to be called an Article. The first article stated that the name of the confederation was ‘United States of America’. This was the first time USA was used as the official name of the newly born nation.
Other articles stated that each state will have one vote in the Congress and national issues such as war and international trade will be in the power of the central government.
The Articles also mentioned that the main army of USA will be under the command of the central government while individual states can maintain a militia if they wanted to. In all, there were 13 articles.
The Articles actually left out a lot of things. This was because before the Articles were written, each state was independent and had a sort of government of its own. So whatever was left out in the Articles was handled by the individual states.
For example, the power to make most of the judicial decision was left with the individual states. So the central government had little power to decide important legal cases.
Another thing left out by the articles was the matter of money. The central government had no power to impose taxes and had to rely on individual states. So the central government simply had no way of getting money for the different tasks it had to accomplish.
Even after the Articles of Confederation had been written in 1777, they still had to be ratified by all the states. So the document was sent to each state. It took many years before all the states had officially approved it. Maryland was the last state who ratified it on February 2, 1781.
The Articles of Confederation was the first attempt to create a constitution for USA. But the Articles were able to create only a weak central government and strong individual states. So later in 1787, Congress decided to create a new constitution where the powers of the central government were described in more detail.