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Declaring Independence

The first attempt at national government arose during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). State governments sent representatives to the Second Continental Congress in 1776 to organize American efforts immediately before and during the Revolutionary War. Instead of merely demanding better treatment as British subjects, the congress decided to fight for full independence.

The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to formally break away from Great Britain and to justify the Revolutionary War. According to the Declaration, “all men are created equal” and certain rights and liberties cannot be denied to people. Among those rights is self-government: The people must consent to the government for it to be legitimate. Because the British government had repeatedly abused the rights of the colonists and ignored their wishes, the colonists were no longer obligated to obey the government.

The Articles of Confederation

The Second Continental Congress also wrote a constitution to create a new national government. The Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation, which took effect in 1781 during the war. The national government under the Articles of Confederation consisted of a single legislative body called Congress in which each state received one vote. All congressional decisions required a unanimous vote. The government under the Articles did not have a judicial system (national courts) or an executive (such as a president). As a result, each state had a significant degree of sovereignty and autonomy. The national government under the Articles remained in effect until 1789.

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