Perpetual Union

Perpetual Union

A Perpetual Union of the 13 American states was a key element of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The concept of a 'perpetual union' of the states was important enough to be a part of the title of the Articles. Moreover, in "Article XIII" it was stipulated that "their provisions shall be inviolably observed by every state" and "the Union shall be perpetual."

The drafting of the Articles began in the summer of 1776 when the American Revolutionary War was being fought and the Declaration of Independence was being signed. The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles for ratification by the sovereign States on November 15, 1777. The ratification was mostly completed in 1779, with only Maryland holding up the ratification due to a disagreement over Western land claims. When Virginia became the last state to agree to cede their land claims, Maryland became the 13th and final state to ratify the Articles on February 2, 1781. In effect, this act heralded the birth of the Perpetual Union as it represented the requisite unanimous consent for its formation. A formal signing of the Articles by the Maryland delegates took placed at the Second Continental Congress on March 1, 1781, heralding the coming into effect of the new constitution. On the following day, the Congress of the Confederation assembled and Samuel Huntington became its first President.

Historical meaning

The Articles have been called the first US constitution. The Confederation of the Articles was a looser form of political organization than the Federation established by the US Constitution. Even as the form of government was being changed with the adoption of a new constitution, as the Perpetual Union had been established with the Articles, it was not felt necessary to enter words to that effect in the US Constitution [cite web
title=The Concept of a Perpetual Union
publisher=The Journal of American History
] . While the permanence of the Union had been established and it was only the form of government that needed to be changed, legal scholars have argued that the nature of the Union changed at the same time. The Union, which began as a compact of the 13 founding states in the Articles, evolved into a direct relationship between the federal government and the people in the US Constitution. The importance of the legal nature of the Articles is nevertheless clear from the fact that it was Article XIII of the Articles which became a chief basis for Abraham Lincoln in denying the secession of the Southern states from the Union and for prosecuting their compliance with the Articles with armed force.

In his First Inaugural Address on Monday March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln stated:

Blockquote|"The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordain­ing and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union" [cite web
title=President Who? - Forgotten Founders
publisher=Evisum, Inc

Ratification of the Articles

The Second Continental Congress approved the draft Articles to be sent to the 13 states for their ratification on November 15, 1777. The legislature of each state passed an Act ratifying the articles and empowering its delegates to sign the document. As the attached image shows, the ratification process was completed by 12 states from July 1778 to May 1779. The process then stalled due to Maryland's refusal to sign until certain conditions with regard to western land claims had been met. It was only in January 1781 that the last state, Virginia, bowed to these demands and the road was paved for Maryland to ratify the Articles.

Marylands' 13th and final ratification of the Articles

Following the passage of a law in Virginia, ceding its western land claims on January 2, 1781, the Maryland legislature drafted and passed legislation to authorize Congress delegates' confirmation of Maryland's ratification. [cite web
title=The Act of Maryland to ratify the Articles
publisher=The Maryland State Archives
] .

The event is described as follows:

Maryland Senate, Annapolis, February 2, 1781In the afternoon Session ["Post Meridiem"] among the engrossed Bills, Nos. 26 up to 52, signed and sealed was No. 40, by the Governor, in the Senate Chamber, in the presence of the members of both Houses of the State Legislature.

"No. 40 An Act to empower the delegates of this state in Congress to subscribe and ratify the articles of confederation.

The Senate adjourns to the first Monday in August next.

So ends the proceedings of the Senate, this second day of February, seventeen hundred and eighty-one." [Source: Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of the State of Maryland, Regular Session, # 184, October 17, 1780 - February 2, 1781, page 52 [Archive p. 413] . Following the passage of the act to ratify, Mr. Daniel Carroll, a delegate for the State of Maryland, attended Congress in Philadelphia on Monday, February 12, 1781 and produced the credentials of his appointment, which were read, as follows:

Maryland, Annapolis 3 Feb. 1781.We hereby certify that John Hanson, Daniel of St. Thomas Jennifer, Daniel Carroll and Richard Potts Esquires are elected Delegates, to represent this State in Congress for the year One thousand seven hundred and Eighty one.Ja. Macubbin Cl. Sen.F. Green Cl He Del.1

[Note 1: The original is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, Maryland, Credentials of Delegates.]

The delegates for Maryland laid before Congress a certified copy of an act of the legislature of that State, which was read, as follows:

"An act to empower the delegates of this State in Congress to subscribe and ratify theArticles of Confederation.

"Whereas it hath been said that the common enemy is encouraged by this State not acceding to the Confederation, to hope that the union of the sister states may be dissolved; and therefore prosecutes the war in expectation of an event so disgraceful to America; and our friends and illustrious ally are impressed with an idea that the common cause would be promoted by our formally acceding to the Confederation: this general assembly, conscious that this State hath, from the commencement of the war, strenuously exerted herself in the common cause, and fully satisfied that if no formal confederation was to take place, it is the fixed determination of this State to continue her exertions to the utmost, agreeable to the faith pledged in the union; from an earnest desire to conciliate the affection of the sister states; to convince all the world of our unalterable resolution to support the independence of the United States, and the alliance with his Most Christian Majesty, and to destroy forever any apprehension of our friends, or hope in our enemies, of this State being again united to Great Britain;

"Be it enacted by the general assembly of Maryland, that the delegates of this State in Congress, or any two or three of them, shall be, and are hereby, empowered and required, on behalf of this State, to subscribe the Articles of Confederation and perpetual union between the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, signed in the general Congress of the said States by the honorable Henry Laurens, esq. their then President, and laid before the legislature of this State to be ratified if approved. And that the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual union, so as aforesaid subscribed, shall thenceforth be ratified and become conclusive as to this State, and obligatory thereon. And it is hereby declared, that, by acceding to the said Confederation, this State doth not relinquish, or intend to relinquish, any right or interest she hath, with the other united or confederated states, to the back country; but claims the same as fully as was done by the legislature of this State, in their declaration, which stands entered on the journals of Congress; this State relying on the justice of the several states hereafter, as to the said claim made by this State.

"And it is further declared, that no article in the said Confederation, can or ought to bind this or any other State, to guarantee any exclusive claim of any particular State, to the soil of the said back lands, or any such claim of jurisdiction over the said lands or the inhabitants thereof.

By the House of Delegates, January 30th, 1781, read and assented to,By order, F. Green, Clerk.By the Senate, February 2nd, 1781. Read and assented to.By order, JAs. MacCubbin, Clerk,
Tho. S. Lee. (L. S.) Feb. 2nd, 1781, signed enrolled bill No. 40

Historical assessment

The Perpetual Union has been a decisive feature in the history of the USA. While the Confederation form of government in the Articles (1781-1789) was replaced with the Federal government structure of the US Constitution since then, the Perpetual Union has continued unabated. As for the timing of this event, it is clear that the 13th and final ratification proved an important stepping stone in the creation of a Perpetual Union of the states and in boosting their resolve to win the Revolutionary War and conversely diminishing the resolve of the enemy. The "United" States of America effectively won the war some half a year later with the defeat of General Cornwallis and the surrender of his army on October 19, 1781 at Yorktown. The hostilities between the USA and Great Britain were formally ended with the signing of The Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were also instrumental in motivating the US government in the 1860s to preserve the Union in the events leading up to the Civil War, its prosecution and final conclusion. Finally, the moment of the ratification by Maryland of the Articles may be considered the birth of the Perpetual Union of the United States of America.



* Kenneth M. Stampp, "The Concept of a Perpetual Union," The Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Jun., 1978), pp. 5-33.
* The Act of the Maryland legislature to ratify the Articles is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 70, folio 453 and No. 9, History of the Confederation.
* Stanley L. Klos, "President Who? - Forgotten Founders," Evisum, Inc., Brandon, Florida.

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