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The object of the present volume is to state the nature and to record the proceedings of the general government, which was established in 1789. Half a century has now elapsed, since that great political event occurred, in the history of the United States : and the rising generation may not be correctly and fully acquainted with its origin, with its design, or with the public measures, early adopted and pursued; which give to it its legitimate and distinctive character. In neither of these respects, however, does the writer pretend to give any new views; nor does he differ, he believes, from those already presented by eminent statesmen and civilians, who have written on the subject. But these are to be found only by searching numerous volumes; and as to a history of the federal government since it was established, nothing in a connected form has yet been given to the public. Such a narrative or view, is here attempted. But the purpose has been to do this in as concise a form as was consistent with a faithful and just statement. And it is believed, that it contains an account of all the important events which have occurred under the general government; so that the leading measures and conduct of each successive administration may be fairly exhibited, and the nature and the extent of the powers of that government may be fully perceived.
The work might have been greatly extended, by a more minute reference to every act and measure of the government, and to the particular circumstances therewith connected. Much might have been added, by way of illustration and comment; and various public documents might have been incorporated with it. The latter have already been published to a great extent, and may be found in most public libraries in every State. And they will remain as rich materials to one who may in future undertake a more elaborate history: All the prominent measures adopted, however, it is believed, will be found here noticed; and a sincere desire has not been wanted to give a correct and impartial statement.
Little indulgence has been allowed to a disposition for political speculation ; for the writer did not feel it just to enlarge in the expression of his own political opinions; and yet he trusts he has not purposely concealed them; nor been
deterred, in any case, from praise or censure, as to individuals or measures, such as he believed warranted by the evident consequences to the public.
It is believed that the historian should confine himself, in a great measure, to a faithful narrative of events, instead of writing essays on different political theories; in which, if there should be no highly improper coloring given, the writer would at least substitute his own speculations for a just and impartial relation. A history may be faithfully written where there is little of the theory of the author :but when it is prepared chiefly for the purpose of vindicating a party, it ceases to deserve the name, as it wants the attribute of impartiality. Many writers, both in politics and religion, have favored the world with publications, called history; and though they record many real facts and occurrences, they have often been mere apologies for the sect or party to which the writers belonged, rather than true histories.
It is certainly difficult to divest one's self of all biasses and prejudices of this sort. And therefore there is a strong reason against theorising at all; or in often intruding our own views on a party question. A statement of what has really occurred, and what specific measures have been adopted by an individual ruler, or the majority, should be fairly given. The candid will then judge correctly, from the circumstances and the results.
The writer of this volume would dare hope, that he has aimed to avoid these errors. And yet he could not speak in the same high terms of praise of some of the rulers in the republic, as of others. He could not confound political integrity with mere professions of patriotism; nor an honorable policy with successful intrigue. Trained up in the school of Washington and that of his sincere friends and co-patriots, he early learned to revere their characters, and to approve their political course; and in so far as others. have repudiated their policy, or adopted wild theories and experiments in government, he cannot commend them; but he trusts a spirit of candor and impartiality has guided him in his researches for this volume, and that his statements are made in conformity to the public documents and records which still exist. His strongest desire for the continuance of the liberties of the people and of the welfare of the republic, reposes in a hope, ardently cherished, that our rulers may be imbued with the spirit of WASHINGTON, and that a sacred regard may be always manifested for the principles of the Constitution.
Boston, July 1, 1840.
Formation of Federal Government. Power of Old Congress, under the Con
federation. Design and Nature of the Federal Constitution. Extent of the Powers granted to the General Government. The Powers not delegated remain with the Separate States, which in most cases are still Sovereign. Address of President Washington. Of Mr. Adams, Vice President. Acts of First Session of Congress. Auspicious Effects of Federal Government. Power of the President in Appointments to Office. Second Session. Report of Secretary of Treasury on Finances and Revenue. Speech of President, December, 1789. Proceedings of Congress on the Report of Secretary, and on Subjects mentioned in Speech. Indian Tribes. Difference proposed between Original and Present Holders of Public Securities. Funding System. Military Peace Establishment. Slavery. Permanent Seat of Government. Distinguished Members of First Congress.
The federal Constitution, prepared by a Convention of delegates, from twelve of the thirteen independent States of North America, in 1787,* was adopted by the requisite majority of those States in 1788 t; and in April, 1789,8 the federal government, provided by that compact, was organ
* The State of Rhode Island did not send delegates to the Convention.
+ Before August, 1789, ten States had adopted the new Constitution, being one more than the number required by that instrument, to have the government organized, viz: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, in December, 1797 ; Georgia, and Connecticut, in January, 1788 ; Massachusetts, in February, 1788 ; Maryland, in April, 1788 ; South Carolina, in May ; New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia, in June ; North Carolina, in November, 1789 ; Rhode Island, May, 1790 ; Vermont, in January, 1791.—Six States accepted the Constitution without proposing any amendments, and seven States proposing amendments, most of which were afterwards adopted, and added to the original Constitution.
A quorum was not formed till the first of April, though March had been proposed by the old Congress, when it announced the adoption of the Constitution by nine States.
ized, and commenced the exercise of high political powers. This convention was called, not by the people of the States directly, but by their representatives, or the legislatures of the States; but the Constitution, prepared by the Convention, was adopted by delegates chosen by the people in each State; and is justly to be considered the act and will of the majority of the people (in the States respectively) as declared in the preamble, “We, the people,” &c. The amendments to the federal Constitution, proposed by the first Congress, in 1789, in conformity to recommendations of most of the State Conventions which adopted it, were also sanctioned by the State legislatures, and not by Conventions specially called for the purpose. And this was agreeable to the fifth section of the third article of the Constitution, which points out the mode of amendments : so that it appears Conventions of delegates of the people are not necessary in making additions to the original compact; but it may be by the legislatures of the States. The amendment, respecting the election of President and Vice President, afterwards adopted, was made in this manner. But the difference is not material between these two modes of adopting amendments; as in either case, it is the act of the people by their representatives.
Up to the year 1789, from the time of the declaration of Independence, in July, 1776, and indeed from the beginning of 1775, the several States had assumed and exercised sovereign authority within their respective territories, although a continental Congress had been held from September, 1774: and united council and action had happily prevailed during the war of the Revolution. But that Congress, composed also of delegates from the several States, and appointed by the legislatures thereof, did not possess authority to carry into full effect the measures which they considered proper and important, without the consent of the State legislatures. It could only devise and recommend; and the decision of the several States was essential to consummate the plans and requisitions of the grand council of the confederacy. The imbecility and defects of such a political body were often felt and acknowledged, during the war for Independence, from 1775 to 1783; and when the contest with England was over, the defect was in some respects even more apparent and more deplored. By foreign governments, the thirteen States were considered as one nation ; and the welfare and prosperity of the whole, in a domestic view, rendered it equally necesary-also, that there should be a supervising and gen
eral government, as to national objects and purposes. The debt incurred by the war was of great amount; and the credit and honor of the United States required its speedy payment. And, while the resources of the country were perceived to be fully adequate to its extinguishment, it was also evident, that so long as the States should act separately, there could be no just hope of accomplishing this most important object. Uniformity in measures through all the States, relating to foreign commerce and foreign intercourse, was found to be essential, as well for the reputation of the country with other nations, as for the present peace and future prosperity of the United States. Insurrection had already occurred in some of the States; and it was believed that the laws and measures of a single State had less authority and respect than those which should be adopted by a general government. In a word, there appeared to be no foundation for internal peace, for national prosperity, or for political respectability in the estimation of the civilized world, but in UNION. The most intelligent citizens, of undoubted patriotism and political knowledge and experience, in all the States, declared their conviction of the necessity. of vesting greater power in Congress, as the only effectual remedy for existing evils, and for the prevention of future extensive national calamities.
Governor Bowdoin, of Massachusetts, expressed this opinion in two public addresses to the legislature, in 1785 and 1786; and near the close of the year last named, the General Assembly of Virginia adopted a resolution in favor of a continental Convention, for such a purpose.*
The great object proposed to be attained, when the Convention was called, was uniform and united action of all the States, “ for the general welfare, for common defence, and for the security of the blessings of liberty ;” and for delegating sufficient political authority to Congress, to direct, control and enforce all measures for the benefit of the States collectively. And this object was kept in view by the Convention which prepared the Constitution, and recommended it to the several States for adoption. It was provided, that the federal or general government, to be formed under it, should have authority to enact and execute all laws of a general nature, and 'affecting the whole
* The first step was a meeting at Annapolis, in Maryland, September, 1786 ; but only five States were represented in the Convention ; and nothing was then done, but to recommend a Convention of delegates from all the States to be held at Philadelphia in the Spring of 1787.-And the Virginia Assembly soon after proposed the same measure.