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Declaration of Independence
Articles of Confederation
Cultural Impact


A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions

t the same time that Jefferson was drafting the Declaration, members of the Continental Congress were developing a new form of government for the confederated colonies. On 7 June 1776, in addition to the resolution for independence, Richard Henry Lee moved that "a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation."(37) On 12 June, one delegate from each colony was chosen to sit on a committee "to prepare and digest the form of confederation."(38) The committee members were: Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, John Dickinson (chairman), Button Gwinnett, Joseph Hewes, Stephen Hopkins, Robert R. Livingston, Thomas McKean, Thomas Nelson, Edward Rutledge, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Stone. Francis Hopkinson was added to the committee on 28 June.

John Dickinson was chosen to draft the document outlining a plan for confederation. It had been almost a decade since the publication of his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. Although Dickinson was not ready to support colonial independence, his knowledge of the institutions of government made him the appropriate choice to draft the plan of union. On 12 July, a draft of the "Articles of confederation and perpetual union" in Dickinson's hand was presented and read before Congress. Dickinson was absent from Congress on 12 July as he was called into temporary service for the Continental Army.(39)

The previous July, Benjamin Franklin presented to the Committee of the Whole a sketch of a plan for a permanent union of the colonies. Franklin's plan was endorsed by Charles Thomson: "Sketch of Articles of Confederation. July '75." Although Franklin's plan for a confederation was at first rejected, a large part of his plan was used by Dickinson and the committee chosen to draft the Articles of Confederation.(40) After Dickinson's rough draft of the Articles was read on 12 July 1776, it was resolved that "eighty copies, and no more, of the confederation, as brought in by the committee, be immediately printed, and deposited with the secretary, who shall deliver one copy to each member."(41) The printers, Philadelphians John Dunlap and David C. Claypoole, and all members of Congress were instructed not to share with anyone the contents of the plan of confederation.(42)

Beginning on 22 July, the Articles were discussed in the Committee of the Whole. A part of every day for the next twenty days was devoted to consideration of the Articles. Secretary Charles Thomson annotated and amended John Dickinson's manuscript draft during the latter's absence from the discussions of the Articles in Congress.(43)

The debates concerning the Articles were prolonged over questions regarding representation in Congress, western land boundaries, and apportionment of taxation. On 20 August, after a week of neglect, the Articles were once again taken up in the Committee of the Whole. With the preliminary modifications made to the Articles, Congress ordered that eighty copies of the Articles of Confederation, as reported from the committee of the whole, be printed under the same injunctions as the former articles were printed, and delivered to the members under the like restrictions as formerly.(44)

Dunlap and Claypoole printed the revised Articles to include all notations and changes made since the 12 July printing.(45)

Military concerns associated with the Revolutionary War, lack of representatives attending Congress, and the relocation of Congress from Philadelphia to Baltimore commanded the attention of the Continental Congress and prevented continual debate on the Articles. Subsequently, consideration of the Articles was tabled until 8 April 1777, when it was decided that two days a week would be devoted to discussion of the Articles. Debate over the Articles continued as the members of Congress discussed each issue separately. In an effort to settle all issues in a timely manner, a motion was made to consider the Articles as a part of each day's business. On 2 September, the motion was voted down and Congress continued to devote two days a week to matters of confederation.

With the continued threat of British occupation of Philadelphia, Congress was once again forced to relocate. On 19 September, members of Congress departed Philadelphia and nine days later reconvened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then moved the following day to York. On 8 October, Congress resumed discussion on the Articles and the members debated the details of confederation daily during October and November.

On 10 November, a committee of three was appointed to consider the Articles as they existed and report any additional amendments. James Duane, Richard Law, and Richard Henry Lee were selected for this task. The following day, the three men suggested seven additions, of which only a few were incorporated into the final document.(46)

On 13 November, James Duane, Richard Henry Lee, and James Lovell were appointed to revise and arrange the Articles. Lee was employed to create a circular letter to be dispatched to the states with the Articles. On 15 November, the revised Articles of Confederation was recorded in the "Journal of the Continental Congress." At the conclusion of the day, it was ordered that "the committee appointed to revise and arrange the articles of confederation, have three hundred copies printed and lodged with the secretary."(47) The Articles of Confederation were printed by Francis Bailey in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (see Appendix F for a list of extant printed copies of the Articles of Confederation). The committee appointed to arrange the Articles and prepare a circular letter presented the letter in Congress on 17 November. In an effort to secure ratification, Richard Henry Lee offered an apology to the states for the delay of this plan for confederation and wrote, "after the most careful enquiry and the fullest information, this is proposed as the best which could be adapted to the circumstances of all."(48)

The printed copies of the Articles of Confederation, in the form of a twenty-six page pamphlet, were delivered to the president of Congress on 28 November. Henry Laurens allocated eighteen copies to the delegates of each State and reserved the rest for himself.(49) With each state receiving only eighteen copies of the Articles of Confederation, printers in many states were prompted to create their own copies of the document. In the fall of 1777, the Articles were printed in New London, Connecticut; Annapolis, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Exeter, New Hampshire; Providence, Rhode Island; Williamsburg, Virginia and Newbern, North Carolina. In the Park collection is a copy of the Articles of Confederation printed in 1777 by Boston printer, John Gill.(50)

In the circular letter accompanying the Articles, Congress asked the states to take action on the Articles by 10 March 1778. The Articles were not approved until 1 March 1781, when Maryland gave its assent. The Articles of Confederation were ordered to be engrossed on 26 June 1778. The following day, the engrossed copy was laid before Congress and found incorrect, and a second engrossed copy was ordered. On 9 July, the second engrossed copy was presented before Congress and signed by all those present. The signed Articles are untitled with the heading endorsed on the outside of the document.(51)


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