페이지 이미지
[blocks in formation]

to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

In 1774 a plan of union had been proposed by a conservative, but this was ignored as it was distinctly pro-British. Franklin offered an outline in 1775 which also was neglected. Finally the Articles of Confederation were agreed to and submitted to the states in 1777. The victory of the small states in establishing their right to an equal vote was not considered by some of them as sufficient, however. New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland demanded that

. the states that had large claims to western lands renounce them in favor of the Confederation. Maryland was the last state to ratify the Articles, holding out until March 1, 1781, when she became satisfied that the western claims would become the expected treasure of the entire nation.

This delay caused almost the whole of the American Revolution to be fought under a gentlemen's agreement, and one that was by no means favorable to efficient operation, either civil or military. The correspondence of Washington, the commander-in-chief, during the war is one long plaint of things that were lacking-soldiers, supplies, funds, and cooperation. Undoubtedly, the Continental Congress was not an ideal instrument for the work that it had to do; it deteriorated in personnel, much time was wasted on unimportant matters and in bickering; but in spite of this the evidence is strong that Congress was better than its results. Time and again it passed measures admirable for military efficiency and success, only to see them fall by the wayside because of the obduracy of the state governments, which alone had the power to make the acts operable.

No war was ever won through enthusiasm alone, and as this died down and the realization of the burden increased, the reluctance of the states to face necessary conditions increased both the burden and the duration of the contest. In the end the war was won because of the character of the commander-in-chief and because of French aid. Without these it undoubtedly would have failed, and the failure would have been due to the attitude of the state governments, to their unwillingness to forget the selfish claims of the parts in the needs of the whole.


CONDITIONS were not improved under the Articles of Confederation. This direct predecessor of the Constitution brought no transformation of the government; it merely placed on a legal foundation a structure that needed rebuilding throughout. The main, and fatal, character of the government under the Articles is indicated by Article II: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States.” It was a "league of friendship” only, of which the Congress was the unique organ and in which "each state shall have one vote.” The vote of nine states in Congress was necessary to important action by that body. The Articles "shall be inviolably observed by every state, and the union shall be perpetual”; and the consent of the legislature of each state was necessary to any amendment of the fundamental law.

The Articles contained many wise details which were later perpetuated in the Constitution; but the compact gave Congress no commercial control and no power to raise money. It could only make requisitions on the states (as it had done during the war) on an ascertained basis, and then hope and pray that the states would respond adequately. They never did. Congress was given control over foreign affairs, but was given no means of making the states obey even the treaty requirements, or provide for the payment of the foreign debt. It was a government of responsibility without power; to foreign nations it was the United States, to the states it was merely what they chose to allow it to be. Its dealing with the people was through states and not otherwise.

During the war most of the states had adopted constitutions. These provided for governments in separate departments—executive, legislative, and judicial-generally with bills of rights to protect the citizens, especially from such evils as had caused the revolt against British control. They were based on the practices of colonial times and the current theories of government; and they gave control through the elective franchise over the lower house of legislature in all cases, as had been the rule of the colonies. There was usually an upper house, but the character of its election varied. The governor was in a majority of cases chosen by the legislature. In only five states, New England and New York, were both the entire legislature and the executive popularly elected. The Articles of Confederation were, however, a thing apart from this movement, a concession to necessity rather than an inherent element of American polity.

There is small wonder that the Confederation was not a success. Congress recognized at once the financial need; but several efforts to get the states to amend the Articles, by adding the right to levy import duties, failed through lack of unanimous authorization. The

[blocks in formation]

binding force of war conditions having ended, there was the collapse of moral fiber that seems always to follow a great clash of arms. Interest in the Union steadily waned. It became increasingly difficult to secure a quorum of attendance in Congress, and when there was a sufficiency of states represented important measures were blocked by the need of nine state votes, especially as a state frequently lost her vote because of differences among her delegates. Localism became more and more rampant; interstate difficulties and discriminating commercial legislation arose; and within the states depression, with its following of radicalism and class and ignorant sectional demands, bred anarchy. It is, however, easy to put too much emphasis on the evils of this critical period and upon the economic distress. It was a time of experimentation, of learning a hard lesson that would be remembered. The Continental Congress and Articles of Confederation not only remained a symbol of union; they also prepared the way for a better national government and left on hand agencies of government in fair working order and various substantial acts of legislation, such as the ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory and that for the publicland survey.

Formation of the Constitution


tactics ...

THOUGHTFUL men, both in and out of public life, were fully aware of the distressful state of affairs and its only too evident consequences; and there were many exchanges of ideas on the possible remedies. Pamphlets were also issued on the subject, such as those of Noah and Pelatiah Webster. Washington was then in retirement on his Mount Vernon estate, but in touch with affairs through visitors and an extensive correspondence. He wrote Lafayette in 1783: “We stand, now, an Independent People, and have yet to learn political

experience, which is purchased at the price of difficulties and distress, will alone convince us that the honor, power, and true interest of this country must be measured by a Continental scale, and that every departure therefrom weakens the Union, and may ultimately break the band which holds us together."

Since the attempts for a stronger central government through the regular agency were failing to produce results, efforts for a better understanding and cooperation were sought in outside ways. Virginia led in the measures which had direct results, and the economic interests of the former commander-in-chief were factors in the situation. He was concerned with the improvement of the navigation of the Potomac River and was instrumental in inducing a joint VirginiaMaryland commission, in 1785, to sign a compact for the regulation of the river that was their mutual boundary. Consideration led to the suggestion to include Pennsylvania and Delaware in the adjustment of commercial matters which they had in common with the other two states. On January 21, 1786, the legislature of Virginia, enlarging upon this idea and ignoring entirely the requirements of the Articles of Confederation, suggested a general convention of commissioners from the states to view the trade of the Union, and “consider how far a uniform system in their commercial relations may be neces sary to their common interests and their permanent harmony."



The convention thus projected met at Annapolis in September 1786, but was attended by New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia only, though other states had appointed delegates.. Because of the limited attendance, nothing was done except to make a report, drafted by Alexander Hamilton, to the legislatures of the five states and also to Congress. This called attention to the fact that the delegates of New Jersey had been authorized to consider not only commercial regulations but “other important matters' necessary to the common interest and permanent harmony of the several states; and suggested the calling of another convention with enlarged powers, since the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general System of the foederal government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a corresponding adjustment of other parts of the Feoderal System.” It is interesting to note how farseeing Hamilton was in this statement of the importance of the commercial power of the Union.

Congress took this report into consideration and on February 21, 1787, eleven states being represented, resolved that such a convention appeared “to be the most probable means of establishing in these states a firm national government, and that it considered it “expedient” that such a convention be held in May 1787 at Philadelphia “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.” This resulve brought the acts of the proposed convention within the legal requirements of amendment of the Articles, since whatever was proposed by the convention must be agreed to by Congress and then confirmed, presumably, by all the state legislatures.

[ocr errors]


THE LEGISLATURES of all the states except Rhode Island appointed deputies to this Convention of 1787. Six of them did this before Congress passed the above resolve. Seventy-four men were appointed deputies; of these nineteen declined or did not attend. Of the fiftyfive who attended, fourteen left before the convention closed and three more refused to sign the final draft; thirty-eight signing, with the added signature of an absent deputy. Rhode Island, where localistic radicals were in control, ignored the whole proceeding.

« 이전계속 »