Congress of the Confederation

Congress of the Confederation
Congress of the Confederation
The Articles of Confederation
Type Unicameral
United States
Established 1781
Preceded by Second Continental Congress
Succeeded by 1st United States Congress
Disbanded 1789
Members Variable; ~50
Meeting place
Though there were about 50 members of the Congress at a given time, it was the states that had votes, so there were effectively only 13 seats.

The Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. It comprised delegates appointed by the legislatures of the states. It was the immediate successor to the Second Continental Congress. It referred to itself as the Continental Congress throughout its eight year history.[1] The membership of the Second Continental Congress automatically carried over to the Congress of the Confederation when the latter was created by the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The Congress of the Confederation was succeeded by the United States Congress.[2]



The Congress of the Confederation opened in the last stages of the American Revolution. Combat ended in October 1781 with the surrender of the British at the Battle of Yorktown. The British, however, continued to occupy New York City, while the American delegates in Paris, named by the Congress, negotiated the terms of peace with Great Britain.[3] Based on preliminary articles made on November 30, 1782, and approved by the Congress of the Confederation on April 15, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, and ratified by Congress on January 14, 1784, formally ending the American Revolutionary War between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the thirteen former colonies which on July 4, 1776, had declared independence.

The Congress had little power and without the external threat of a war against the British, it became more difficult to get enough delegates to meet to form a quorum. Nonetheless the Congress still managed to pass important laws, most notably the Northwest Ordinance.

The War of Independence saddled the country with an enormous debt. In 1784, the total federal debt was nearly $40 million. Of that sum, $8 million was owed to the French and Dutch. Of the domestic debt, government bonds, known as loan-office certificates, composed $11.5 million, certificates on interest indebtedness $3.1 million, and continental certificates $16.7 million.

The certificates were non-interest bearing notes issued for supplies purchased or impressed, and to pay soldiers and officers. To pay the interest and principal of the debt, Congress had twice proposed an amendment to the Articles granting them the power to lay a 5% duty on imports, but amendments required the consent of all thirteen states. Rhode Island and Virginia rejected the 1781 impost plan while New York rejected the 1783 revised plan.

Without revenue, except for meager voluntary state requisitions, Congress could not even pay the interest on its outstanding debt. Meanwhile, the states regularly failed, or refused, to meet the requisitions requested of them by Congress.[4]

To that end, in September 1786, the Annapolis Convention first attempted to look into improving the Articles of Confederation. There were enough problems that the Congress called a convention in 1787 to recommend changes. The Philadelphia Convention instead issued a Constitution to replace the Articles. The Congress submitted the Constitution to the states, and the Constitution was ratified by enough states to become operative in September 1788. On September 12, 1788, the Congress set the date for choosing the electors for President as January 7, 1789, the date for the electors to vote for President as February 4, 1789, and the date for the Constitution to become operative as March 4, 1789.

The Congress of the Confederation continued to conduct business for another month after setting the various dates. On October 10, 1788, the Congress formed a quorum for the last time; afterwards, although delegates would occasionally appear, there were never enough to conduct business, and so the Congress of Confederation passed into history. The last "meeting" of the Continental Congress was held March 2, 1789, two days before the Constitutional government took over; only one member was present at said meeting, Philip Pell, an ardent Anti-Federalist and opponent of the Constitution, who was accompanied by the Congressional secretary. Pell oversaw the meeting and adjourned the Congress sine die.

Meeting sites

Congress voting independence.jpg
Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
Confederation Congress

From 1776 to 1800, Congress met in numerous locations. Therefore, the following cities can be said to have once been the United States capital.[5] The Congress of the Confederation initially met at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (March 1, 1781 to June 21, 1783). It then met at Nassau Hall, in Princeton, New Jersey (June 30, 1783 to November 4, 1783), at the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, Maryland (November 26, 1783 to August 19, 1784), at the French Arms Tavern, in Trenton, New Jersey (November 1, 1784 to December 24, 1784), and City Hall (Federal Hall), in New York City, New York (January 11, 1785 to Autumn 1788). After the ratification of the United States Constitution, the new Congress of the United States met in Federal Hall, New York City (March 4, 1789 to December 5, 1790) and Congress Hall, Philadelphia (December 6, 1790 to May 14, 1800), before making its permanent home in the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., on November 17, 1800.


First Confederation Congress
  • March 1, 1781 – November 3, 1781, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Second Confederation Congress
  • November 5, 1781 – November 2, 1782, Philadelphia
Third Confederation Congress
  • November 4, 1782 – June 21, 1783, Philadelphia
  • June 30, 1783 – November 1, 1783, Princeton, New Jersey
Fourth Confederation Congress
  • November 3, 1783 – November 4, 1783, Princeton
Fifth Confederation Congress
Sixth Confederation Congress
Seventh Confederation Congress
  • November 7, 1785 – November 3, 1786, New York
Eighth Confederation Congress
  • November 6, 1786 – October 30, 1787, New York
Ninth Confederation Congress
  • November 5, 1787 – October 21, 1788, New York
Tenth Confederation Congress
  • November 3, 1788 – March 2, 1789, New York

See also


  1. ^ Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. Edited by Worthington C. Ford et al. 34 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904-37.
  2. ^ "Confederation Congress". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  3. ^ See: Peace of Paris (1783)#Treaty with the United States of America.
  4. ^ Proposed Amendments to the Articles of Confederation Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774--1789. Edited by Worthington C. Ford et al. 34 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904--37. 31:494-98
  5. ^ The Nine Capitals of the United States. United States Senate Historical Office. Accessed June 9, 2005. Based on Fortenbaugh, Robert, The Nine Capitals of the United States, York, PA: Maple Press, 1948. See: List of capitals in the United States#Former national capitals.


  • Burnett, Edmund C.. The Continental Congress. Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 0837183863. 
  • Henderson, H. James. Party Politics in the Continental Congress. Boston: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0819165255. 
  • Jensen, Merrill (1950). New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781–1789. New York: Knopf. 
  • McLaughlin, Andrew C. (1935). A Constitutional History of the United States. ISBN 9781931313315. 
  • Montross, Lynn. The Reluctant Rebels; the Story of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789. New York: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 038903973X. 
  • Morris, Richard B. (1987). The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060914246. 
  • Morris, Richard B. (1956). "The Confederation Period and the American Historian". William and Mary Quarterly 13 (2): 139–156. doi:10.2307/1920529. JSTOR 1920529. 
  • Rakove, Jack N. (1979). The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0394423704. 

External links

Preceded by
Second Continental Congress
National Legislature of the United States
March 1, 1781 – March 4, 1789
Succeeded by
United States Congress

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