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province of New York had been under English rule one hundred and twelve years, and many of these years had been filled with contentions between the royal government and the assemblies chosen by the people. The people claimed, and finally gained, the right to have the sole power of the appropriation of money, and consequently of taxation, without dictation or amendment on the part of the royal governor and his council. If they did not like a royal governor or judge they would not pay his salary.
Practically, the people of the colony of New York had nearly as free institutions in 1776 as they have to-day. They were thoroughly alarmed by the declaration of the English Parliament that the king with its consent “ had the right to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever."
It was on the 9th day of July, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was read and ratified by the “ Provincial Congress of the colony of New York.” This was not the assembly of the colony, but a sort of rebel congress convened at the request of an executive council appointed by the people. This council was assembled “to deliberate upon, and from time to time to direct, such measures as may be
expedient for our common safety;” it was in fact the government of the people in displacement of the royal government. On the 10th of July this Congress changed its title to the “ Convention of the representatives of the State of New York.” The people in New York were divided into parties. There were parties of peace, of action, and of union, but the parties of action and union became one, with large accessions from the party of peace. This state convention, it is interesting to notice, moved about considerably, the delegates probably consulting their personal safety. At one time we read of them at White Plains, then at Harlem, at Fishkill, and finally at Kingston, where on the 20th day of April, 1777, the first Constitution of the State of New York was adopted. John Jay, afterwards Chief Justice of the United States, was the principal draftsman of the instrument, and it is not too much to say that it was a good piece of work. We find a curious record of the convention at Fishkill. It met in the Episcopal church, which, says the record, “ being
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
foul with the dung of doves and fowls, without any benches, seats, or conveniences of any kind, the convention adjourned to the Dutch church.” The palatial apartments of the representatives of the people in the capital at Albany contrast strikingly with this hencoop at Fishkill, and the contrast illustrates the growth of the state.
The states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina adopted their constitutions in 1776, Georgia in 1777, and Massachusetts in 1780. These constitutions were very much alike. They were copied largely from their colonial charters, except that election by the people was substituted for appointment by the king or his governor. The executive, legislative, and judicial departments were continued. These departments existed in Great Britain, and in the several colonies, and there was no reason why they should be less serviceable under popular than under monarchical governments. Of course, there was some modification which experience had suggested. There was usually a full bill of rights, founded in great part upon Magna Charta, and the Bill of Rights of English subjects as declared upon the accession of William and Mary in 1688, with additions suggested by the Declaration of Independence. The colonists had in vain contended that an act of Parliament against Magna Charta was void, and they therefore were explicit in defining the rights of the people which their own governments must not invade. Valuable as these constitutions were, they were quickly and easily written. They were adaptations, not inventions.
It is a mistake to suppose that our fathers took up arms against actual oppression. It was oppression threatened and feared, rather than executed and felt, which they rose to resist. They met it at the threshold and strangled it there. An examination of the array of alleged “ facts submitted to
“ a candid world,” in the imposing rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, will disclose the truth to be, that it is the threatened assumption of power by the king that forms the chief burden of the formidable indictment against him. Our fathers were striving to retain their liberties, not to resume them. Instead of throwing off the yoke of King George, they refused to put it on.
A NATIONAL GovernmeNT. — THE ARTICLES OF
TIE ConstitUTIONAL CONVENTION. The Convention.
We have seen that it was comparatively easy for the colonies to change their colonial into state governments.
But there was to be wrought out under the necessity and pressure of the circumstances of their war with the mother country, and the burdens and duties which the war would entail, a common government for the common defence and the general good of all the states. This was the new problem which the American people were destined to solve. The states themselves must be protected against the common enemy, and possibly against each other. It is this elaboration of the general government which resulted in 1787 in framing, and in 1788 in adopting, the Constitution of the United States, that forms the most interesting and instructive portion of our constitutional history. It took the twelve years from 1776 to 1788 to bring it all about. The first step was the meeting of the Continental Congress. Practically, this accomplished the union of the colonies for the purpose of carrying on the war. The second step was the Declaration of Independence. This affirmed the union of the colonies in their renunciation of allegiance to Great Britain. The third step was in the efforts of Congress to provide efficient measures, in which all the states should take part, to prosecute the war, and resulted in the Articles of Confederation. The fourth step was the adoption of the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation were of themselves the first written Constitution of the United States. Their importance will justify our attention to their history and character.
ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION.
The necessity of an organized union of the colonies into one common power, adequate to command the resources of the whole in the conflict with Great Britain, was obvious from the first. But it was not obvious that the creation of one state out of all the people, and commanding them all, of its own right and power, was the best method. It was plain enough, however, to a few. Thomas Paine, in “ Common Sense,” in January, 1776, said: “Let a continental conference be held to frame a continental charter.” Many wise friends of the cause repeated, and from time to time renewed, the suggestion. But a continental charter or constitution for one continental state or nation was to await the teachings of experience and the pressure of calamities. An association or confederation of the states, in which each state should pledge itself to comply with the request of the committee or congress of the whole, was thought to be either a sufficient or the only practicable expedient.
In June, 1776, a committee was appointed by the Continental Congress to prepare and digest the form of confederacy to be entered into between the colonies. This was before the Declaration of Independence was adopted. The committee in July did report a plan, and Congress debated, and considered, and waited, until a year from the then next November, before it actually agreed upon the plan, in the form of Articles of Confederation, to be submitted to the several states for adoption. The method of adoption proposed was that each state should instruct its delegates in Congress to subscribe the same in behalf of the state. Congress sent out a circular letter to each state. That letter probably tells the truth about the difficulties in the way, as clearly as they can be stated. It recites that
" To form a permanent union, accommodated to the opinions and wishes of the delegates of so many states, differing in habits, produce, commerce, and internal police, was found to be a work which nothing but time and reflection, conspiring with a disposition to conciliate, could mature and accomplish. Hardly is it to be expected that any plan, in the variety of provisions essential to our union, should exactly correspond with the maxims and political views of every particular state. Let it be remarked that after the most careful inquiry, and the fullest information, this is proposed as the best which could be adapted to the circumstances of all, and as that alone which affords any tolerable prospect of general ratification. Permit us then earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states. . . . Let them be examined with a liberality becoming brethren and fellowcitizens, surrounded by the same imminent dangers, contending for the same illustrious prize, and deeply interested in being forever bound and connected together, by ties the most intimate and indissoluble. And finally let them be adjusted with the temper and magDanimity of wise and patriotic legislators, who, while they are concerned for the prosperity of their own immediate circle, are capable of rising superior to local attachments, when they are incompatible with the safety, happiness, and glory of the general confederacy."
When the Articles of Confederation were submitted for adoption, many objections were stated by the different states, and many amendments proposed. “It is observable,” says Mr. Madison in the 38th number of “The Federalist," " that among the numerous objections and amendments suggested by the several states, not one is found which alludes to the great and radical error which on actual trial has discovered itself.” That error was, the confederacy did not itself execute its resolves, but requested the states to execute them. But Congress did not deem it wise to accept any of the modifications suggested. The states were intensely jealous of any central power or headship over themselves, and, had not the pressure and danger of the war been upon them, they would not have adopted these articles. All the states, except Delaware and Maryland, ratified them in 1778; Delaware in 1779, and Maryland not until March, 1781. One of the causes of delay was a controversy between the states in regard to the public lands which the crown had held, and the states now claimed. The states which had the least land, or whose boundary claims were doubtful, felt that the whole ought to be devoted to the United States to provide a fund to pay the expense of the war.
Five of the seven years of the war had passed before this Constitution was adopted. What authority had Congress in the mean time? None whatever, except what was implied from the consent of the states or of the people. The Congress was in fact the only central government that existed, and its