Benjamin Franklin's Articles of Confederation
Benjamin Franklin had long been a proponent of self-government and
independence for the colonies of North America. In 1754, he had penned The Albany Plan for uniting the colonies, but the rest of
the people were not ready at the time. He waited.
The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775. The Second
Congress met because the First Continental Congress had decreed that it would,
if the concerns of the First Congress were not addressed by the King. They were
not. Preceding the opening of the Congress were the first shots of the
Revolutionary War, making the Second Congress more than just a political
gathering but also a body in charge of military tactics for the burgeoning
Franklin saw his opening - to further the war effort, the colonies should
align themselves not just with a common military goal but also with a common
political goal: unification.
Franklin presented the Congress with a plan of confederation on July 21,
1775, a full year before independence was declared. His presentation followed
a call to prepare a letter to the people of Jamaica and another to the people
of Ireland, and an inquiry into the making of tents. In the journals of the
Congress, the item is entitled "[a] Sketch of Articles of Confederation."
The Congress took up the issue of "the state of America" on July 22, 1775,
in a Committee of the Whole, but left the issue unresolved and adjourned the
Committee to discuss the issue further on July 24. It did so, but with no
agreement on the issue, tabled it until later. On August 1, the Congress
adjourned until September 5, never again taking up the issue of Franklin's
proposal (though the Congress did approve the letters to Jamaica and Ireland,
and appointed Franklin to be Postmaster General).
Franklin's proposal was not forgotten, however. Several of the main points
of Franklin's proposal made it into the Articles of
Confederation, though the Articles were more fleshed out and the result of
a committee's work and not just that of one man. Several of Franklin's
provisions are interesting. Article 4 requires that Congress be held in each
colony on a rotating basis. Article 9 creates a revolving "class" structure
for an executive council, similar to that in our Senate. Article 10 requires a
treaty with Indian Tribes, which harkens back the meeting at which Franklin
wrote the Albany Plan. Article 12 contemplates amendment, though by majority
vote rather than unanimous. Article 13 opens up the confederation to other
This text is taken from Volume 2 of the Journals of the Continental
Congress, page 195ff. This version is "cleaned up," meaning that words
stricken from the original have been removed, insertions have been placed in the
text without special delineation, unusual contractions have been expanded, and
misspellings have been corrected.
Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, entered into proposed by the
Delegates of the several Colonies of New Hampshire, &c &c, in general
Congress met at Philadelphia, May 10, 1775.
The Name of this Confederacy shall henceforth be The United Colonies of North
The said United Colonies hereby severally enter into a firm League of
Friendship with each other, binding on themselves and their Posterity, for their
common Defense, against their Enemies for the Security of their Liberties and
Properties, the Safety of their Persons and Families, and their mutual and
That each Colony shall enjoy and retain as much as it may think fit of its
own present Laws, Customs, Rights, Privileges, and peculiar Jurisdictions within
its own Limits; and may amend its own Constitution as shall seem best to its own
Assembly or Convention.
That for the more convenient Management of general Interests, Delegates shall
be annually elected in each Colony to meet in General Congress at such Time and
Place as shall be agreed on in the next preceding Congress. Only where
particular Circumstances do not make a Deviation necessary, it is understood to
be a Rule, that each succeeding Congress be held in a different Colony till the
whole Number be gone through, and so in perpetual Rotation; and that accordingly
the next Congress after the present shall be held at Annapolis in Maryland.
That the Power and Duty of the Congress shall extend to the Determining on
War and Peace, to sending and receiving ambassadors, and entering into Alliances,
the Reconciliation with Great Britain, the Settling all Disputes and Differences
between Colony and Colony about Limits or any other cause if such should arise;
and the Planting of new Colonies when proper.
The Congress shall also make such general Ordinances as thought necessary to
the General Welfare, particular Assemblies cannot be competent to; viz.
those that may relate to our general Commerce; or general Currency; to the
Establishment of Posts; and the Regulation of our common Forces. The Congress
shall also have the Appointment of all General Officers, civil and military,
appertaining to the general Confederacy, such as General Treasurer, Secretary,
All Charges of Wars, and all other general Expenses to be incurred for the
common Welfare, shall be defrayed out of a common Treasury, which is to be
supplied by each Colony in proportion to its Number of Male Polls between 16 and
60 Years of Age; the Taxes for paying that proportion are to be laid and levied
by the Laws of each Colony.
The Number of Delegates to be elected and sent to the Congress by each
Colony, shall be regulated from time to time by the Number of such Polls
returned; so as that one Delegate be allowed for every 5000 Polls. And the
Delegates are to bring with them to every Congress, an authenticated Return of
the number of Polls in the respective Provinces which is to be annually
triennially taken for the Purposes above mentioned.
At every Meeting of the Congress One half of the Members returned exclusive
of Proxies be necessary to make a Quorum, and Each Delegate at the Congress,
shall have a Vote in all Cases; and if necessarily absent, shall be allowed to
appoint any other Delegate from the same Colony to be his Proxy, who may vote
An executive Council shall be appointed by the Congress out of their own
Body, consisting of 12 Persons; of whom in the first Appointment one Third,
viz. 4, shall be for one year, 4 for two Years, and 4 for three Years;
and as the said Terms expire, the Vacancy shall be filled by Appointments for
three Years, whereby One Third of the Members will be changed annually. And
each Person who has served the said Term of three Years as Counselor, shall
have a Respite of three Years, before he can be elected again. This Council (of
whom two thirds shall be a Quorum), in the Recess of the Congress is to execute
what shall have been enjoined thereby; to manage the general continental
Business and Interests to receive Applications from foreign Countries; to
prepare Matters for the Consideration of the Congress; to fill up Pro tempore
general continental Offices that fall vacant; and to draw on the General
Treasurer for such Monies as may be necessary for general Services, &
appropriated by the Congress to such Services.
No Colony shall engage in an offensive War with any Nation of Indians without
the Consent of the Congress, or great Council above mentioned, who are first to
consider the Justice and Necessity of such War.
A perpetual Alliance offensive and defensive, is to be entered into as soon
as may be with the Six Nations; their Limits to be ascertained and secured to
them; their Land not to be encroached on, nor any private or Colony Purchases
made of them hereafter to be held good; nor any Contract for Lands to be made
but between the Great Council of the Indians at Onondaga and the General
Congress. The Boundaries and Lands of all the other Indians shall also be
ascertained and secured to them in the same manner; and Persons appointed to
reside among them in proper Districts, who shall take care to prevent Injustice
in the Trade with them, and be enabled at our general Expense by occasional
small Supplies, to relieve their personal Wants and Distresses. And all
Purchases from them shall be by the Congress for the General Advantage and
Benefit of the United Colonies.
As all new Institutions may have Imperfections which only Time and Experience
can discover, it is agreed, That the General Congress from time to time shall
propose such Amendments of this Constitution as may be found necessary; which
being approved by a Majority of the Colony Assemblies, shall be equally binding
with the rest of the Articles of this Confederation.
Any and every Colony from Great Britain upon the Continent of North America
and not at present engaged in our Association may upon Application and joining
the said Association be received into this Confederation, viz. Ireland,
the West India Islands, Quebec, St. Johns, Nova Scotia, Bermudas, and the East
and West Floridas; and shall thereupon be entitled to all the Advantages of our
Union, mutual Assistance and Commerce.
These Articles shall be proposed to the several Provincial Conventions or
Assemblies, to be by them considered, and if approved they are advised to
empower their Delegates to agree to and ratify the same in the ensuing Congress.
After which the Union thereby established is to continue firm till the Terms of
Reconciliation proposed in the Petition of the last Congress to the King are
agreed to; till the Acts since made restraining the American Commerce and
Fisheries are repealed; till Reparation is made for the Injury done to Boston by
shutting up its Port; for the Burning of Charlestown; and for the Expense of
this unjust War; and till all the British Troops are withdrawn from America. On
the Arrival of these Events the Colonies shall return to their former Connection
and Friendship with Britain: But on Failure thereof this Confederation is to be