I mean the Congress under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 to 1789. Did the Constitutional system sweep aside the former class of politicians who made a poor job of government under the Articles and replaced them with a new group? Or did the two groups overlap significantly?

  • What reason do you have to think that the Constitution "swept aside the former class of politicians"?
    – Semaphore
    Oct 18, 2014 at 8:37
  • @Semaphore 1. Because they could have been associated with a failed dispensation and thus discredited. 2. Because I don't recall a person who was prominent in borth groups. Oct 18, 2014 at 10:20
  • Okay. I thought your wording meant someone has made the claim that the Constitution did that.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 18, 2014 at 10:30

1 Answer 1


There are two questions here, since "political elite" did not (and does not) equate to membership in congress. In terms of the physical overlap of the two Congresses, let's examine the composition of the First United States Congress.

In the Senate, only four senators out of 25 (+3 replacements), or 16% (14.3% counting replacements) had not previously served in the Continental or Confederation Congresses:

In the House of Representatives, only 29 out of 68 representatives, or 43% (including 1 replacement) were not also a previous delegate to the Continental or Confederation Congresses:

More previous delegates were elected to later Congresses, but for obvious reasons I am not going to bother with them. By these results alone, we can confirm that the two memberships overlapped to a very high degree.

In terms of continuity, I will contend that there is no "two groups" to speak of - that the exact same class of political elites continued in power. Referring back to the previous list, it is readily discernible that the vast majority of new members were were previously state legislators. Almost all of them were well connected to the political establishment in general. They already did belong to the political elite.

That more of the movers and shapers of politics migrated to the federal centre after the United States centralised with the Constitution is not surprising. In this they were also aided by the fact that the new United States Congress had almost twice as many seats as the Congress of the Confederation had.

  • Are the Continental and Confederation Congresses prosopographically the same? (I presume that they are, but just making sure). Oct 18, 2014 at 16:26
  • @FelixGoldberg Yes, the Second Continental Congress made itself the First Confederation Congress when the Articles of Confederation was signed. They kept the name.
    – Semaphore
    Oct 18, 2014 at 16:30
  • 1
    Shame there isn't a list you can link to rather than clutter up your answer with a bunch of names, but otherwise a really good answer. +1
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 18, 2014 at 21:47

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