By May 10, 1776, war appeared inevitable, and the Continental Congress adopted John Adams's resolution that each of the "united colonies" (soon to be "The United States of America") "adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general." When the Declaration of Independence was adopted in July 1776, this task became urgent.

Fearing centralized power, the delegates to the Continental Congress did not contemplate the establishment of a strong national government. The Continental Congress approved Articles of Confederation in 1777 that were designed to create a limited national government with strictly curtailed authority over the states. The government established by the Articles of Confederation was in effect until its apparent weaknesses led to the adoption and ratification of the United States Constitution.