Some historians consider the confederation period of American history, from 1781 to 1789, the most critical era in the nation's development. Having rebelled against royal authority, the collection of American colonies, now become a collection of American states, had to develop a new government. This government was the Articles of Confederation, a basic constitution, which was ratified by all the states in 1781 before the Revolutionary War ended. But from their conception in 1781 to their abandonment in 1789, the Articles were totally inadequate, providing the U.S. with an ineffective government. Perhaps the greatest contribution the Articles made was to show the people that a strong central government was needed.
In basic structure, the Articles of Confederation were relatively simple. Since US statesmen had little trust in the arbitrary judges and monarchs of Britain, the Articles provided for no judicial or executive branch. The body of government was the Congress, comprising delegates from the thirteen states. Congress was a weak body, again reflecting the US's fear of monarchs as well as the independent heritage possessed by the separate colonies. Amendments could be made only by unanimous consent of all thirteen states--a rather rare phenomenon--and even national laws required a two-thirds majority, also somewhat improbable. Thus, from 1781 to 1789 the U.S. possessed a very weak control government with individual states finding it easy to obstruct legislation.
When examining the foreign and domestic policy of the Articles, one sees their total inadequacy as a constitution. Since individual states held their own interest above that of the new nation, they sought to block much legislation that did not favor them directly. Only in one area did the Congress coax a unified policy from the states, the area of land reform. The major landholding states--Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts--did cede their western lands to the Congress.