When  did the Articles of Confederation reign, and when did the Constitution become the law of the land?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Technically speaking, the Articles of Confederation “reigned” beginning on March 1, 1781.  They were replaced by the Constitution of the United States, which became “the law of the land” almost exactly 8 years later, on March 4, 1789.

The Articles of Confederation were the first constitution for the United States.  They were written before the country had won the Revolutionary War and become independent in the eyes of the world.  They were actually written and finalized in October of 1777 and sent to the states to be ratified in the next month.  However, the Articles would not become binding until all of the states formally ratified them.  Therefore, they did not officially go into effect until Maryland became the last state to ratify them in March of 1781.  From 1777 to 1781, then, the US government was without a formal constitution.  During that time, the structure of government was set by the Articles of Confederation even though the Articles had not actually been ratified.  So, we might argue that the Articles “reigned” from 1777 on, but they were not technically in effect until March of 1781.

After the Revolution, Americans soon came to think that the Articles were flawed.  They wanted a stronger central government than the one the Articles had created.  Therefore, they convened a convention that ended up writing a new constitution, the Constitution of the United States.  That document was written in 1787 and finally ratified on June 21, 1788.  However, it did not formally take effect until March 4, 1789.