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 rebellion.
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 English colonies.
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 America.
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 general Welfare.
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, &c.
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 for him.
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 perpetual.