« ZurückWeiter »
tions of the public forces; to the power given to keep up a standing army in time of peace; and, above all, to the omission of the reservation of all the public lands, owned by the Crown, within the boundaries of the United States, to the National Government, for national purposes. This latter subject was one of a perpetually recurring and increasing irritation ; and the Confederation would never have been acceded to, if Virginia and New York had not at last consented to make liberal cessions of the territory within their respective boundaries for national purposes.
§ 29. The Articles of Confederation had scarcely been adopted, before the defects of the plan, as a frame of national government, began to manifest themselves. The instrument, indeed, was framed under circumstances very little favorable to a just survey of the subject in all its proper bearings. The States, while colonies, had been under the controlling authority of a foreign sovereignty, whose restrictive legislation had been severely felt, and whose prerogatives, real or assumed, had been a source of incessant jealousy and alarm. Of course, they had nourished a spirit of resistance to all external authority and having had no experience of the inconveniences of the want of some general government to superintend their common affairs and interests, they reluctantly yielded any thing, and deemed the least practicable delegation of power quite sufficient for national purposes. Notwithstanding the Confederation purported on its face to contain articles of perpetual union, it was easy to see, that its principal powers respected the operations of war, and were dormant in times of peace; and that even these were shadowy and unsubstantial, since they were stripped of all coercive authority. It was remarked, by an eminent statesman, that by this political compact the Continental Congress have exclusive power for the following purposes, without being able to execute one of them :- They may make and conclude treaties ; but can only recommend the observance of them. They may appoint ambassadors; but they cannot defray even the expenses of then tables. They may borrow money in their own name, or the faith of the Union ; but they cannot pay a dollar.
They may coin money ; but they cannot import an ounce of bullion. They niay make war, and determine what number of troops are necessary; but they cannot raise a single soldier. In short, they may declare every thing, but they can do nothing. And, strong as this description may seem, it was literally true ; for Congress had little more than the power of recommending their measures to the good will of the States.
§ 30. The leading defects of the Confederation were the following : In the first place, there was an utter want of all coercive authority in the Continental Congress, to carry into effect any of their constitutional measures They could not legislate directly upon persons; and, therefore, their measures were to be carried into effect by the States ; and of course, whether they were executed or not, depended upon the sole pleasure of the legislatures of the latter. And, in point of fact, many of the measures of the Continental Congress were silently disregarded ; many were slowly and reluctantly obeyed ; and some of them were openly and boldly refused to be executed.
$ 31. In the next place, there was no power in the Continental Congress to punish individuals for any breaches of their enactments. Their laws, if laws they might be called, were without any penal sanction ; the Conti nental Congress could not impose a fine, or imprisonment, or any other punishment, upon refractory officers, or even suspend them from office. Under such circumstances, it might naturally be supposed, that men followed their own interests, rather than their duties. They obeyed, when it was convenient, and cared little for persuasions, and less for conscientious obligations. The wonder is, not that such a scheme of government should fail; but, that it should have been capable even of a momentary existence.
$32. In the next place, the Continental Congress had no power to lay taxes, or to collect revenue, for the public service. All that they could do was, to ascertain the sums necessary to be raised for the public service, and to apportion its quota, or proportion upon each State. The power to lay and collect the taxes was expressly and ex
clusively reserved to the States. The consequence was, that great delays took place in collecting the taxes ; and ne evils from this source were of incalculable extent, ven during the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress were often wholly without funds to meet the :xigencies of the public service ; and if it had not been or their good fortune, in obtaining money by some loans a foreign countries, it is far from being certain, that this dilatory scheme of taxation would not have been fatal to the cause of the Revolution. After the
of 1783, the States relapsed into utter indifference on this subject The requisitions of the Continental Congress for funds, even for the purpose of enabling them to pay the inter est of the public debt, were openly disregarded ; and, notwithstanding the most affecting appeals, made from time to time by the Congress, to the patriotism, the sense of duty, and the justice of the States, the latter refused to raise the necessary supplies. The consequence was, that the national treasury was empty ; the credit of the Confederacy was sunk to a low ebb; the public burdens were increasing; and the public faith was prostrated and openly violated.
$ 33. In the next place, the Continental Congress had no power to regulate commerce, either with foreign nations, or among the several States composing the Union. Commerce, both foreign and domestic, was left exclusively to the management of each particular State, according to its views of its own interests, or its local prejudices. The consequence was, that the most opposite regulations existed in the different States ; and, in many cases, and especially between neighboring States, there was a perpetual course of retaliatory legislation, from their jealousies and rivalries in commerce, in agriculture, or in manufactures. Foreign nations did not fail to avail themselves of all the advantages accruing to themselves from this suicidal policy, tending to the common ruin. And as the evils grew more pressing, the resentments of the States against each other, and the consciousness, that their local interests were placed in opposition to each other, were daily increasing the mass of disaffection, until
it became obvious, that the dangers of immediate warfare between some of the States were imminent ; and thus, the peace and safety of the Union were made dependent upon measures of the States, over which the General Government had not the slightest control. $ 34. But the evil did not rest here.
Our foreign commerce was not only crippled, but almost destroyed, by this want of uniform laws to regulate it. Foreiga nations imposed upon our navigation and trade just such restrictions, as they deemed best to their own interest and policy. All of them had a common interest to stint our trade, and enlarge their own; and all of them were well satisfied, that they might, in the distracted state of our legislation, pass whatever acts they pleased on this subject, with impunity. They did not fail to avail themselves, to the utmost, of their advantages. They pursued a system of the most rigorous exclusion of our shipping from all the benefits of their own commerce ; and endeavored to secure, with a bold and unhesitating confidence, a monopoly of ours. The effects of this system of operations, combined with our political weakness, were soon visible. Our navigation was ruined ; our mechanics were in a state of inextricable poverty ; our agriculture was withered ; and the little money still found in the country was gradually finding its way abroad, to supply our immediate wants. In the rear of all this, there was a heavy public debt, which there was no means to pay; and a state of alarming embarrassment, in that most difficult and delicate of all relations, the relation of private debtors and creditors, threatened daily an overthrow even of the ordinary administration of justice. Severe, as were the calamities of the war, the pressure of them was far less mischievous, than this slow but progressive destruction of all our re sources, all our industry, and all our credit.
§ 35. There were many other defects in the Confederation, of a subordinate character and importance. But these were sufficient to establish its utter unfitness, as a frame of government, for a free, enterprising, and industrious people. Great, however, and manifold as the evils were, and, indeed, so glaring and so universary, it
was yet extremely difficult to induce the States to concur in adopting any adequate remedies to redress them. For several years, efforts were made by some of our wisest and best patriots to procure an enlargement of the powers of the Continental Congress ; but, from the predominance of State jealousies, and the supposed in compatibility of State interests with each other, they all failed. At length, however, it became apparent, that the Confederation, being left without resources and without powers, must soon expire of its own debility. It had not only lost all vigor, but it had ceased even to be respected. It had approached the last stages of its decline ; and the only question, which remained, was, whether it should be left to a silent dissolution, or an attempt should be made to form a more efficient government, before the great interests of the Union were buried beneath its ruins.
Origin of the Constitution.
$36. IN 1785, commissioners were appointed by the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia, to form a compact, relative to the navigation of the rivers Potomac and Roanoke, and the Chesapeake Bay. The commissioners met, accordingly, at Alexandria, in Virginia ; but, feeling the want of adequate powers, they recommended proceedings of a more enlarged nature. The legislature of Virginia accordingly, in January, 1786, proposed a convention of commissioners from all the States, for the purpose of taking into consideration the state of trade, and the propriety of a uniform system of com mercial relations, for their permanent harmony and common interest. Pursuant to this proposal, commissioners were appointed by five States, who met at Annapolis, in September, 1786. They framed a Report, to be laid before the Continental Congress, advising the latter