Thursday, February 21, 2013

A priceless American document that you have never heard about

The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured ... by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."  Abraham Lincoln, 1861
Few Americans are aware that our union of states predates the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence.  During Lincoln’s time this document was still celebrated, but the legacy of this important document has now been forgotten by all but the most dedicated students of history.
The Articles of Association was drawn up and signed by members of the First Continental Congress in 1774.  The intent of the Congress and the Articles was to unify the British American colonies into a cohesive political body which could resist the high taxation and economic sanctions that the Crown had imposed on them.  There was no intent to sever allegiance, only to alter Britain's policies towards the colonies and to repeal the Coercive Acts that had been passed by Parliament.
Twelve of the future thirteen colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia to First Continental Congress in September 1774.  Georgia did not, as they were preoccupied with war against the Muskogee Indian Nation at the time.  The colonies of East Florida and West Florida never did agree to send delegates to the Continental Congress. (East and West Florida were the fourteenth and fifteenth colonies in what was to become the United States.  We have somehow collectively forgotten that they existed, but that is another story!)
On October 20, 1774 the First Continental Congress passed the Articles of Association which laid out grievances and fourteen economic and boycotting measures that the colonies would take against the Crown and British commerce.  More importantly, the colonies had taken the first step in coalescing into and union of states that would culminate in the Constitution thirteen years later.  The signers considered the Articles of Association as a contract, which universally pledged all the colonies together under "self rule."  In some ways, the Articles of Association is just as important as the Declaration of Independence.  The complete text of the Articles of Association can be found here:

One of the surviving 1774 printed version of Articles
Copies of the Articles were sent to all the colonies and to Great Britain, but the original, with the signatures of fifty three of our founding fathers, was lost.

Fast Forward to 1978
In 1978 a collector who was visiting Knoxville Tennessee on business went into a used book store in hopes of finding a first edition copy of "Lee and His Lieutenants," which was published in 1867.  He was thrilled to find just what he was looking for.  When he got home, he discovered a large document folded neatly and resting between the leaves of the book.  He did not know what he had found, but he could not miss the signatures of George Washington, John Adams, Roger Sherman and fifty other men.
The document was later authenticated by scholars at the Smithsonian and other institutions.  It was page four, the signature page, of the original hand drafted Articles of Association.  The fate of pages 1 - 3 is still a mystery.  But, if only one page was to survive, this was the page to have!  The document is still owned by the original finder and has been safeguarded since 1978. 

The signature page of the Articles of Association as it is being displayed while on tour
Recently the owner has graciously allowed Bill Stone, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) to take the document on the road to be shared with the public.  Bill will be showing the Articles of Association to schools, SAR/DAR chapters and other patriotic organizations across Alabama in the coming year. 

Mr. Bill Stone visited the Huntsville, Alabama chapter of the
Sons of the American Revolution on February 11th, 2013 and told
the fascinating story of the Articles and their rediscovery in 1978


A close up of the signatures of Virginia Delegation, including George Washington and Richard Henry Lee


  1. A spectacular display, one I'm proud to have observed up close!

    Bill Stone does a wonderful job of touring and explaining the meaning of the fourth page of this unique document. It's a must-see for every serious historian.

    Col. Larry P. Cornwell, USAF-Ret.
    Genealogist General
    Sons of the American Revolution

  2. I recently heard Bill Stone present a program at the Opelika Rotary Club on the "Articles of Association" and how he came to have access to the fourth page/ signature page of this document that predates the "Declaration". I thought the presentation was very interesting and informative.
    Rod Herring
    Opelika, AL

    1. Rod, thanks for your comment. I felt very fortunate to have seen this historic document when Mr. Stone spoke to my local Sons of the American Revolution chapter in Huntsville, AL. It truely is remarkable and the owner is most generous in allowing Mr. Stone to travel with and share this treasure with others.