Summary—The Committee of the States

When Congress is not in session, a committee called the Committee of the States has the full authority to act in its place, and take on additional powers as necessary if nine of the states agree. However, the Committee of the States can never adopt any powers that specifically require the consent of nine states while Congress is in session.


Under John Dickinson's draft of the Articles of Confederation, this body was called the Council of State, and was endowed with permanent bureaucratic and executive control over a variety of matters. It was changed to the Committee of the States and vested with minimal powers to sufficient only to simply manage the affairs under the authority of Congress when Congress was not in session.

Dickinson's Council would have been in charge of any matter agreed upon by nine of thirteen states, and was probably inspired by the bureaucratic committees that had existed during the war to help with administrative duties. Dickinson's Council could have been empowered to administer matters of commerce, trade, education, or any other area that Congress deemed appropriate. However, radicals viewed this vague extension of congressional authority as threatening to the state's sovereignty.

Therefore, the Committee of the States, as described in the final draft of the Articles, had even stricter restrictions placed on it than Congress. The Committee could never make war or peace, could never coin or regulate money, and could never appoint the military commanders. In their zeal to protect themselves from centralized power falling into the hands of a body not directly controlled by the states, the radicals also stripped the national government of the only semblance of executive authority it had.

Under the guise of managing matters that fell under the authority of Congress, bureaucratic committees operated both during and after the war. Originally, delegates to Congress were required to sit on committees. Over time, this policy evolved toward bureaucracy, first to the establishment of committees or boards that included appointed outsiders, and then to the appointment of a non-delegate as single head of each department. This secretary system outlasted the Continental Congress, and the Confederation Congress appointed a Secretary of War and Foreign Affairs, a Secretary of the Post Office, and a Secretary of Finance.

The Committee of the States met only once during the summer of 1784 and suffered the same low attendance as Congress. It never reached its required quorum to accomplish any of the administrative tasks assigned to it.

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