The Perpetual Union
is a feature of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which established the United States of America as a national entity. Under American constitutional law, this concept means that states are not permitted to withdraw from the Union.
The concept of a Union of the American States originated gradually during the 1770s as the independence struggle unfolded. In his First Inaugural Address on Monday March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln stated:
A significant step was taken on June 12, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...
approved the drafting of the Articles of Confederation, following a similar approval to draft the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...
on June 11. The purpose of the former document was to define the relationship among the new states but also to stipulate the permanent nature of the new union. Accordingly, Article XIII states that the Union "shall be perpetual". While the process to ratify the Articles began in 1777, the Union only became a legal entity in 1781 when all states had ratified the agreement. The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles for ratification by the sovereign States on November 15, 1777, which occurred during the period from July 1778 to March 1781.
The 13th ratification by Maryland was delayed for several years due to conflict of interest with some other states, including the western land claims of Virginia. After Virginia passed a law on January 2, 1781 relinquishing the claims, the path forward was cleared. On February 2, 1781, the Maryland state legislature in Annapolis passed the Act to ratify and on March 1, 1781 the Maryland delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia formally signed the agreement. Maryland's final ratification of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union established the requisite unanimous consent for the legal creation of the United States of America.
The concept of a perpetual union appeared earlier in European political thought. In 1532, François the 1st signed the Treaty of Perpetual Union (fr. Traité d'Union Perpétuelle), which pledged the freedom and privileges of Brittany within the kingdom of France. In 1713, Charles de Saint-Pierre presented a plan “A project for settling an everlasting peace in Europe,” wherein it is stated in Article 1
By itself the word perpetual
appears much earlier in the history of political thought. In January 44 B.C.
and Before Christ are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars....
, Denarii coins were struck with the image of Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....
and the Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
inscription "Caesar Dic(tator in) Perpetuo".
From the start the Union has carried with it importance in the national affairs. There was a sense of urgency in completing the legal Union during the American Revolutionary War. Maryland’s ratification act stated, “[I]t hath been said that the common enemy is encouraged by this State not acceding to the Confederation, to hope that the union of the sister states may be dissolved” The nature of the Union was hotly debated during a period lasting from the 1830s through the American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...
. During the Civil War, the United States was called "the Union
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...
", which could be seen as highlighting what it was fighting for.
When the United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...
replaced the Articles, nothing in it specifically stated that the Union is perpetual. Even after the Civil War, which had been fought by the North to confirm the inviolability of the Union, some still questioned whether any such inviolability survived after the Constitution replaced the Articles. The United States Supreme Court ruled on the issue in the 1869 Texas v. White
Texas v. White, was a significant case argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1869. The case involved a claim by the Reconstruction government of Texas that United States bonds owned by Texas since 1850 had been illegally sold by the Confederate state legislature during the American...
case. In that case, the court ruled that the drafters intended the perpetuity of the Union to survive: