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The Language of the
STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, Declaration. solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES."
This was the beginning of the Nation. Whether it could maintain its independence, thus boldly declared, was to be decided by the sword. Should the people fail in the bloody struggle, they would never be known as a Nation upon the page of history. Should they succeed, their National existence would date from the Fourth of July, 1776.
This Declaration of Independence was not the work of States, for no States existed. It was the people of the thirteen United Colonies who had, through their representatives, declared themselves absolved from their allegiance to Great Britain. The Nation and the States were born on the same day. Hitherto, there had been colonies and the mother country, to which all the colonists acknowledged allegiance. Now, the sovereignty was no longer in Great Britain, but in the people themselves, who claimed to be a separate political cornmunity; and the individual colonies had become States. From that day the Nation itself, through Congress, exercised all the functions of government. There was a real government, though as yet no written constitution; and the relations of the States to the General Government were in substance the same as they are now.
THE ARTICles of ConfEDERATION-THEIR FAILURE THE CONVENTION TO FORM A CONSTITUTION.
OON after the Declaration of Independence was made,
Articles of Confederation.
a committee, previously appointed, reported a draft of the Articles of Confederation. These were debated from time to time, and, after several modifications, were finally agreed to by Congress, November 15th, 1777. They were to become binding when ratified by all the States. Ten States ratified them in July, 1778; New Jersey, November 26th, and Delaware, February 22d, 1779. Maryland withheld her approval till March 1st, 1781. This was nearly five years after the Declaration of Independence. During this time the war had been carried on and all the affairs of the Nation had been conducted by Congress. A treaty had been made between France and the United States, which was concluded at Paris, February 6th, 1778, and ratified by Congress May 4th of that year. The surrender of Cornwallis, which virtually closed the war, took place on the 17th of October, 1781, about six months after the adoption of the Articles of Confederation.
These Articles were the result of the first effort to form a central government. Such a government had indeed existed from the time of the Declaration of Independence, Jealousy of the but it was revolutionary, and Congress had gov- States. erned by the common consent of the people. In attempting to draw the line between the powers to be exercised by the States on the one hand and the General Government on the other,
State influence was strongly predominant. The colonies had been independent of each other, and the encroachments of Great Britain had led to the revolution. A central government at home would in their view take the place of that of the mother country, and it was not strange that their jealousy of England should in some measure be transferred to their own General Government. Little power was confided to Congress, and this related principally to war.
The Articles were as erroneous in theory as they were inefficient in practice. The Declaration of Independence was made in the name of the people of the United States. The first sentence alludes to them as "one people" that had found it necessary to dissolve the political bands which had connected them with another people, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which they were entitled. The Constitution speaks the same language: "We, the People of the United States, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." But the Articles of Confederation do not purport to come from the people. They were the work of the States. The instrument is styled "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay," etc. It was drawn up and adopted by Congress, and sent to the States for ratification.
The Articles provided for one House of Congress, to be composed of delegates appointed annually by the several States, as each should direct, no State to be represented by more than seven or less than two, and no person being capable of serving as a delegate more than three years in six. Each State was to pay its own delegates, and could recall them at pleasure. The voting was to be by States.
Congress was invested with power as to war and peace, treaties and alliances. Congress could decide, on appeal, disputes between States, could regulate the alloy and value of money, had charge of all postal matters, etc., etc.; but no im
portant action could be taken without a vote of nine Statestwo thirds of the whole.
No Executive Department was provided, and no Judiciary. Taxes were to be apportioned among the States, but Congress had no authority to levy them. Commerce was in the control of the States. Each State could lay duties and imposts. Congress had no power to enforce its own measures.
Defects as to
66 "In the very modes of its operation there was a monstrous defect, which distorted the whole system from the true proportions and character of a government. It gave to the Confederation the power of contracting debts, and at the same time withheld the power of paying them. It created a corporate body, formed by the Union and known as the United States, and gave to it the faculty of borrowing money and incurring other obligations. It provided the mode in which its treasury should be supplied for the re-imbursement of the public credit. But over the sources of that supply, it gave the government contracting the debt no power whatever. Thirteen independent legislatures granted or withheld the means which were to enable the General Government to pay the debts which the general Constitution had enabled it to contract, according to their own convenience or their own views and feelings as to the purposes for which those debts had been incurred."1
"By this political compact, the United States in 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 can not defray even the expenses of their tables. They may borrow money in their own name on the faith of the Union, but can not pay a dollar. They may coin money, but can not purchase an ounce of bullion. They may make war, and determine what number of
1 Curtis's History of the Constitution, I. page 181.
troops are necessary, but can not raise a single soldier. In short, they may declare every thing but do nothing.'
As each State paid its own delegates in Congress, the smaller the number the less the expense. Oftentimes a State would have no representative. The Treaty of Peace, signed September 3d, 1783, could not be ratified till January 14th, for want of representatives, and then there were but twenty-three members present. In April of that year there were present twentyfive members from eleven States, nine being represented by two each. Three members, therefore one eighth of the whole-could negative any important measure.
The Treaty of Peace was made by the United States with Great Britain, but Congress could not enforce its provisions. Various articles were constantly violated by the States, and Congress could not prevent it. Great Britain declared her readiness to carry the treaty into effect when the United States would do the same.
As the General Government could not carry out its own treaties with foreign powers because of the refusal of the States, so it could not protect a State against insurrection or rebellion. The outbreak in Massachusetts in 1786, known as Shays's Insurrection, which embraced a fifth of the inhabitants in several of the most populous counties, caused great alarm through the country. Armed men surrounded the court-houses, and finally the insurgents were embodied in arms against the Government. The National Government was powerless to aid the State; the Articles of Confederation gave Congress no authority in such a
The weakness of this league of States was made abundantly manifest. It is not surprising that Washington should write as he did to a member of Congress : "You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to
appease the present tumults in Massachusetts.
1 American Museum, 1786, page 270, quoted by Story.