These articles served as the first constitution and governing document of the nation. Though they were not in effect for an extensive period of time, they were the foundation principles for colonial interaction and governance.
The Articles of Confederation contain a preamble, thirteen articles, a conclusion, and a signatory section. The individual articles set the rules for current and future operations of the confederation's central government. Under the Articles, the states retained sovereignty over all governmental functions not specifically relinquished to the national Congress, which was empowered to make war and peace, negotiate diplomatic and commercial agreements with foreign countries, and to resolve disputes between the states. The document also stipulates that its provisions "shall be inviolably observed by every state" and that "the Union shall be perpetual".
The Articles of Confederation was submitted to the states for ratification in November 1777. The first state to ratify was Virginia on December 16, 1777; 12 states had ratified the Articles by February 1779, 14 months into the process. The lone holdout, Maryland, refused to go along until the landed states, especially Virginia, had indicated they were prepared to cede their claims west of the Ohio River to the Union. It would be two years before the Maryland General Assembly became satisfied that the various states would follow through, and voted to ratify. During this time, Congress observed the Articles as its de facto frame of government. Maryland finally ratified the Articles on February 2, 1781. Congress was informed of Maryland's assent on March 1, and officially proclaimed the Articles of Confederation to be the law of the land.
On February 2, 1781, the much-awaited decision was taken by the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. As the last piece of business during the afternoon Session, "among engrossed Bills" was "signed and sealed by Governor Thomas Sim Lee in the Senate Chamber, in the presence of the members of both Houses... an Act to empower the delegates of this state in Congress to subscribe and ratify the articles of confederation" and perpetual union among the states. The Senate then adjourned "to the first Monday in August next." The decision of Maryland to ratify the Articles was reported to the Continental Congress on February 12. The confirmation signing of the Articles by the two Maryland delegates took place in Philadelphia at noon time on March 1, 1781, and was celebrated in the afternoon. With these events, the Articles were entered into force and the United States of America came into being as a sovereign federal state.
Congress had debated the Articles for over a year and a half, and the ratification process had taken nearly three and a half years. Many participants in the original debates were no longer delegates, and some of the signers had only recently arrived. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were signed by a group of men who were never present in the Congress at the same time.