The Constitutional Convention was originally intended to revise the Articles of Confederation. At some point, the framers decided to start from scratch instead, and produced the Constitution, which fully came into effect when ratified by 13 states in 1790.

For the most part, the Constitution of 1787 covers the same topics as the Articles of Confederation, and obviously the Constitution takes precedence in case of conflict. However, nowhere in the US Constitution does it mention the Articles of Confederation, nor does it explicitly state that it supersedes it entirely.

So, what, if anything, would prevent Canada from hypothetically demanding to be admitted as the 51st state, as stipulated in Article Ⅺ?

Canada acceding to this confederation, and adjoining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this Union; but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine States.

  • The ruling in Texas v white rests on a phrase from the articles of confederation, I believe.
    – ziggurism
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 19:15
  • The constitution does explicitly mention the Articles of Confederation, in the part about the public debt in the first sentence in Article VI. Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 19:34
  • The Constitution of 1787 was ratified in 1789. Then, per your first link: "The Congress of the Confederation certified eleven states to begin the new government, and called the states to hold elections to begin operation. It then dissolved itself on March 4, 1789, the day the first session of the Congress of the United States began. . . . It was within the power of the old Congress of the Confederation to expedite or block the ratification . . . . the last article of the new instrument provided that when ratified by conventions in nine states . . . it should go into effect[.]"
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 2:44
  • Even if the provision about Canada in the Articles were considered still binding today, probably a question would arise about whether "Canada" at that time means the same thing as the present dominion north of the U.S. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 18:15
  • "which fully came into effect when ratified by 13 states in 1790" But even if you hold that it did not come fully into effect until the Congress and the president were sworn in, it was still fully in effect in 11 states after before the last two holdouts ratified it. Look at all the stuff Congress did in 1789, organizing the federal judiciary and the president's cabinet, and confirming the president's appointments of judges, marshalls, department heads, ambassadors, etc. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 18:40

3 Answers 3


See Article VI of the Constitution:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

This seems to me that it pretty clearly establishes the Constitution as taking the place of any previous laws.

In particular, Article XI of the Articles is in conflict with Article IV Section 3 of the Constitution ("New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union"). The Constitution says that Congress's action is required to create a new state, and doesn't mention any exceptions. The Constitution's terms presumably take precedence.

If Canada wanted to become a state, it would have to be admitted by Congress under Article IV Section 3.

  • "Supreme Law of the Land" is kind of vague, though. If you interpret it to nullify the Articles of Confederation, wouldn't it also nullify all of English Common Law? Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 17:26
  • @200 Alexander Hamilton writes in Federalist Paper 33 about what the "Supreme Law of the Land" means... It "expressly confines this supremecy to laws made pursuant to the constitution" congress.gov/resources/display/content/…
    – user3851
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 18:21
  • 1
    @200 The US passed "reception statutes" almost immediately that incorporated English Common Law: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reception_statute
    – user3851
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 18:24
  • 2
    @200_success the Constitution doesn't need to nullify the Articles of Confederation here; it just needs to supersede them. That is, even if the AoC were not repealed, the Constitution's mechanism for admitting states replaces the AoC method because the two methods are in conflict, and the Constitution is supreme. If your ultimate goal is to find out whether the AoC have been repealed, this example isn't particularly helpful.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 18:54

The Constitution does mention the Articles of Confederation, in Article VI, Clause 1. It says treaties, debts, and other engagements of the U.S. under the Confederation are equally valid under the new Constitution.

Does that constitute a formal repeal? I suspect not.

But the content taken as a whole makes it clear that the document was intended to supersede the earlier one.


I'm also interested in the Articles of Confederation, which does not allow for a central government over the states and the people. It appears the Constitution does not nullify the Articles of Confederation, yet it does include certain clauses that seem to contradict the Articles. In my opinion, this is an indication that the Constitution was a mere revision of the Articles that was drafted behind closed doors and passed with the hopes of burying the Articles. The reference to "Supreme Law" must include the Articles of Confederation and its subordinate Constitution.

  • But the constitution can't be subordinate to the articles, even if the articles weren't repealed, because the constitution is "the supreme law of the land." So in any case of a constitutional provision in conflict with the articles, the constitutional provision would prevail. The constitution may have been drafted behind closed doors, but its text was published and subsequently debated, voted on, and ultimately adopted by state legislatures entirely in the open as a matter of public record.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 18:19

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