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CHAP. I. possess wisdom or justice enough to cultivate it
properly. Illiberality, jealousy, and local policy, mix too much in all our public councils, for the good government of the union. In a word, the confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance; and congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little at. tended to. To me, it is a solecism in politics :... indeed it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our own making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, recallable at any moment, and subject to all the evils which they may be instrumental in producing,...sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy as this, the wheels of government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonish. ment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.
“That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable nations upon earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt, if we would but pursue a wise, just and liberal policy towards one another, and would keep good faith with the rest of the world :... that our resources are ample and increasing, none can deny; but while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and will sink in the eyes of Europe, into contempt.”
Misunderstandings between Great Britain and the United
States....Mr. Adams appointed to negotiate with the Bri. tish cabinet....Discontents of the Americans against the commercial regulations of Britain.... Rise of parties in the United States... The convention at Annapolis.... Virginia appoints deputies to meet those of the other states at Phil. adelphia for the purpose of revising the federal system.... G. Washington chosen one of them....Insurrection in Massachussetts....Convention at Philadelphia.... A form of gov. ernment for the United States is submitted to the respective states, which is ratified by eleven of them.... Letters from Gen. Washington respecting the chief magistracy of the new government.... He is unanimously elected president.... meeting of the first congress.
While the friends of the national government were making these unavailing efforts to invest it with a revenue which might enable it to preserve the national faith, many other causes concurred to prepare the public mind for some great and radi. cal change in the political system of America.
Scarcely had the war of the revolution termi. Misutulernated, when the United States and Great Britain between reciprocally charged each other with having vio- United lated the treaty of peace. On the construction of that part of the seventh article which stipulates against the “ destruction or carrying away of any negroes, or other property of the American inhab. itants,” a serious difference of opinion prevailed, and the misunderstanding occasioned by that dif. ference could not be easily accommodated. As men seldom allow much weight to the reasoning of an adversary, the construction put upon that VOL. v.
CHAP.II. article by the cabinet of London was generally
1783 treated in America as a mere evasion, and the re. 1787. z moval of the negroes who had joined the British
army on the faith of a proclamation offering them freedom, was considered as a flagrant breach of faith. In addition to this circumstance, the troops of his Britannic majesty still retained possession of the posts on the American side of the great lakes. As those posts gave their possessors a decided influence over the warlike tribes of In. dians in their neighbourhood, this was a subject to which America was peculiarly sensible.
On the other hand, the United States were charged with infringing the fourth, fifth, and sixth articles, which contain agreements respecting the payment of debts, the confiscation of property, and prosecution of individuals for the part taken by them during the war. Desirous of removing every just cause of complaint, so far as came within the scope of their powers, congress, on the 14th of January 1784, the day on which the defin. itive articles were ratified, passed a resolution containing a recommendation in the words of the treaty, respecting confiscated property, which was transmitted without delay to the several states. By them, this resolution was considered as merely formal; and it was contended that neither the American nor the British government expected from it any beneficial results. But other stipulations which are explicit, the performance of which was not to rest on the recommendation of the government, especially that respecting the pay. ment of debts, were also neglected. These causes of mutual complaint being permitted to rankle for CHAP. II. some time in the bosoms of both nations, pro. 1783 duced no inconsiderable degree of irritation. The 187 British merchants had large credits in America. A great proportion of the property of many of them, consisted of debts in that country. These men had been nearly ruined by the rupture between the two nations; and, without taking into the account the embarrassments in which the war had involved their debtors, they calculated, after the restoration of peace, on the prompt collection of the vast sums which were due to them. But the impediments to the recovery of debts were, in many instances, unremoved ; and the dispositions manifested by those states in which they were chiefly due, did not authorize a belief that any favourable change of measures was about to take place. It might well be expected that men thus circumstanced would be loud in their complaints. They openly charged the American government with violating the most solemn obligations which public and private contract could create ; and this charge affected the national character the more seriously, because the terms of the treaty were universally considered as being highly, advantageous to the United States. The recriminations on the part of individuals in America, were also uttered with the angry vehemence of men who believe themselves to be suffering unprovoked injuries. The negroes in possession of the British armies at the restoration of peace, belonged, in many cases, to actual debtors ; and in all, to persons who required the labour of which they
CHAP. II, were thus deprived, to repair the multiplied losses
1783 produced by the war. To the detention of the 1787.
posts on the lakes was ascribed the hostile temper manifested by the Indians; and thus, to the indignity of permitting a foreign power to maintain garrisons within the limits of the nation, were su. peradded the murders perpetrated by the savages, and the consequent difficulty of settling the fertile and vacant lands of the west. * On the eastern frontier too, the British were charged with making encroachments on the territory of the United States. On that side, the river St. Croix, from its source to its mouth in the bay of Passamaquoddy, is the boundary between the two nations. Three rivers of that name empty into the bay. The Americans claimed the most eastern, as the real St. Croix, while settlements were actually made under the authority of the government of Nova Scotia to the middle river, and the town of St. Andrews was established on its banks.
But the cause of most extensive disquiet was the rigorous commercial system pursued by Great Britain. While colonists, the Americans had car. ried on a free and gainful trade with the British West Indies, from which they had drawn consider. able supplies of specie. As citizens of an indepen. dent state, those ports were closed against them, and in other parts of the empire also, the navigation act was, in many points, strictly enforced with respect to them. To explore new channels into which the trade of a nation may be transferred,