Articles of Confederation

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Articles of Confederation

In 1781, the Articles of Confederation were ratified and the American experiment commenced. The Framers feared that a large, centralized government, like those in Europe, would be more prone to corruption and would threaten the sovereignty and rights of individual states and their citizens. To combat this fear, the Articles of Confederation created a weak central government and delegated most authority to the various states. This decentralization of power, however, would prove to cause more problems than it solved as states struggled to pay war debts and came increasingly into more conflict with each other. In this lesson, students will explore two different versions of the Articles of Confederations and contrast them with each other while critically analyzing the document itself to identify its strengths and weakness. The lesson culminates in an essay-driven question that involves synthesizing, interacting, inferring, and interpreting primary source material and has the students use contextual evidence from both the draft and final version of the Articles of Confederation to articulate their own conclusions.  

Essential Questions

What document or artifact best summarizes the United States and why?
What role does analysis have in historical construction?


Students will be able to:

  • Identify strengths and weakness in the Articles of Confederation by examining the text.
  • Summarize how the Articles of Confederation allocates power between state and national government by answering the guided questions.
  • Establish a critical analysis, by using contextual evidence, to frame an informed argument in favor or against the Articles of Confederation by synthesizing the questions, their answers, and information gained from this lesson into a persuasive essay .

Suggested Instructional Procedures

Part A

1.     Students will get into groups of two or three and each student will receive a worksheet and a compare and contrast sheet.

2.     As a group, the students will read each question and find their answers on the compare and contrast sheet.

a.      The final version of the Articles of Confederation is in the left column, and the draft is on the right.

b.     Each part is sectioned off and corresponds to its respective section on the other worksheet, i.e. section three on the compare and contrast = questions in section three on worksheet.

3.     When students have finished answering the first twenty questions, have them stop writing.

Part B

1.     For this part of the lesson, students should not be in groups.

2.     Review answers to questions 1-20 and focusing answers around the themes of 1) the weakness of the Articles, 2) use of the word Colony v. State and 3) the distribution of power and authority between state and national governments.

3.     As you are going over the answers, have the students mark places in the text that support any of those three themes.

4.     Once the questions/answers have been flushed out, go over document “B” with the students and have them identify if each power could be seen as a weakness or strength and have them answer question “21.”

5.     Go over the essay question with the students and explain the length you want the essay. Make sure they understand they need to use evidence from the text to support their answer and use their answers to questions 1-21 to help formulate their essay.


  • Confederation: A group of people, organization, or states that come together to form an alliance
  • Sovereignty: The act of having complete power over one's state or area
  • Perpetuate: To keep something going indefinitely 

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