For thousands of years, North America was populated mainly by Native Americans and was mostly unknown to Europe. In the 1500s, Europeans began arriving in North America; they found a land with many natural resources and began to claim parts of it. While the French moved into the north and the Spanish settled in the south and west, the British founded colonies on the east coast.

The British settlers came to these new lands for many reasons. Some wanted to make money or set up trade with their home country while others wanted religious freedom. In the early 1600s, the British king began establishing colonies in America. By the 1700s, most of the settlements had formed into 13 British colonies: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

The colonists, or people living in the colonies, were unhappy about paying taxes without having any say in their government. This unhappiness would eventually lead to a clash between the Americans and the British and lead to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). When the British were defeated at the end of the war, America was free to take the first steps toward creating a new system of government.

Before the American Revolutionary War, each state had its own constitution, which gave people certain rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. During the war, the 13 colonies united to free themselves from British rule. The states were very different from each other, but they realized that in order to grow and prosper, they needed to form a union.

The states joined together to set up a central government. Delegates from each state met at the Second Continental Congress on July 12, 1776. After much debate, on November 15, 1777, the states finally established a "firm league of friendship" that became known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles, however, did not go into effect until March 1, 1781.

Under the Articles of Confederation, each state remained independent, with a single vote, and there was no real power behind the Federal Government. Within two years, it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation were weak. Many people were in debt, and states were printing money that was worthless.