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The Articles of Confederation (1781-1789)

The Founding Fathers

Article 5

Articles 3-4

Article 6

Summary—Representation in Congress

Each state can decide how it wants to select its delegates, but it must do so once a year, prior to the annual meeting of Congress on the first Monday of November.

States can send between two and seven delegates to Congress. A delegate cannot serve for more than three years in every six-year period. A delegate cannot hold another position in the United States government for which he receives any kind of payment or benefit, either directly or indirectly.

Each state has one vote in Congress, irrespective of how many delegates are sent.

Delegates' freedom of speech is protected while they are serving in Congress. Delegates may not be arrested or put in prison while they are in Congress, or traveling to and from, unless they have committed treason, a felony, or have been guilty of breach of the peace.


Article 5 strongly supports the sovereignty of states clause of Article 2. Instead of outlining a national system of elections to Congress, which would be more reflective of the overall population of the United States, the Articles of Confederation require that each state provide at least two delegates, regardless of the amount of land, population size, or wealth of that state.

Although John Dickinson's original draft of the Articles of Confederation included equal representation in Congress regardless of state size, other conservatives were deeply troubled by the implications of this form of representation. This issue became another debate between the radicals on one side and the conservatives on the other. The radicals argued that since the government of the United States was a loose confederation of equal and sovereign states, they must be equally represented in that confederation. Furthermore, radicals insisted that Congress did not have the authority to determine how elections were to be carried out in the individual states, each of which had its own constitution and means for holding elections.

Conservatives, on the other hand, hoped for a strong centralized government and felt that only a system of "national" representation would effectively represent the people. In this form of representation, elections would be administered by Congress and would be the same in each state: the people would be represented by a number of delegates proportionate to the population in their state. This method of representation places sovereignty more firmly in the nation than the state, and was deeply opposed by radicals.

The evolution of Benjamin Franklin's thinking on the topic of representation is interesting because it reflects the transition between a colonial mindset and a young national mindset. When Franklin drafted the Albany Plan of Union in 1754, he called for equal representation from each colony to that congress (two per colony). However, when he drafted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in early 1776, he called for a system of representation in which delegates were chosen annually in proportion to their population of males between the age of sixteen and sixty (one delegate to every five thousand). Franklin clearly distinguished between the union created during the colonial period, which didn't have much overall authority to begin with and could be a loose confederation, and the necessity for the young nation to place more authority in the hands of a central government.

Article 5 also established some precedents for our current national government. The years a delegate could serve were restricted (term limits), they had limited immunity from legal proceedings while Congress was in session, and their freedom of speech was guaranteed while in Congress.

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