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History of the Confederation. $ 21. One of the first objects, beyond that of immediate safety, which engaged the attention of the Continental Congress, was to provide the means of a permanent union of all the Colonies under a General Government. Their deliberations on this subject were coeval with the declaration of Independence, and after various debates and discussions, at different sessions, they finally agreed, in November, 1777, upon a frame of Government, contained in certain Articles of Confederation, which was immediately sent to all the States for their approval and adoption. Various delays and objections, however, on the part of the States took place; and as the Government was not to go into effect, until the consent of all the States should be obtained, the Confederation was not finally adopted until March, 1781 ; when Maryland (the last State) acceded to it. The principal objections taken to the Confederation were, to the mode prescribed by it for apportioning taxes among the States, and raising the quota or proportions 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 perpetual and increasing irritation; and the Confederation would never have been acceded to, if Virginia and New-York had not consented to make liberal cessions of the territory within their boundaries for national purposes.
$ 22. The Articles of Confederation had scarcely been adopted, before its defects, as a plan 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 anthority. 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 ambassa.
but cannot defray even the expenses of their tables. They may borrow money in their own name, on the faith of the Union ; but cannot pay a dollar. They may coin money; but they cannot import an ounce of bullion. They may make war, and determine what number of troops are necessary; but cannot raise a single soldier. In short, they may declare every thing, but 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.
§ 23. 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 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 latter. And in point of fact, many of them were silently disregarded ; many were slowly and reluctantly obeyed; and some of them were openly and boldly refused to be executed. 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 ; Congress could not impose a fine, or imprisonment, or 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.
24. In the next place, 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 the quota or proportion of each State. The power to lay and collect the taxes was reserved expressly to the States. The consequence was, that great delays took place in collecting the taxes; and the evils from this source were of incalculable extent, even during the revolutionary war. Congress were often wholly without funds to meet the exigencies of the public service; and if it had not been for their good fortune, in obtaining money by foreign loans, it is far from being certain, that this scheme of taxation would not have been fatal to the cause of the Revolution. But, after the peace of 1783, the States relapsed into utier indifference on this subject. The requisitions of Congress for funds, even to pay the interest of the public debt, were openly disregarded ; and, notwithstanding the most affecting appeals, made from time to time by Con
gress, to the patriotism, sense of duty, and 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 burthens were increasing; and the public faith was prostrate.
25. In the next place, Congress had no power to regulate either foreign or domestic commerce. It was left exclusively to the management of each particular State, according to its own views of its interests, or its 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 com
rce, 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 them were imminent; and thus, the peace and safety of the Union were made dependent upon measures, over which the General Government had not the slightest control.
$ 26. 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. Foreign nations imposed upon our navigation and trade just such restrictions, as they deemed best for 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 us 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 in the country was generally 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 debtor and creditor, threatened daily an overthrow even of the 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 resources, industry.
$ 27. There were many other defects in the Confederation, of a subordinate character and importance. But they were sufficient to establish its utter unfitness, as a frame of Government for a free, enterprizing, and industrious people. Great, however, and manifold as the evils were, and, indeed, so glaring and so universal, 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 Congress; but, from the predominance of State jealousies, and the supposed incompatibility 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