Sidebilder
PDF

the aggressions and staying the oppressions of the parent state, while the nature and extent of that resistance seemed limited or defined by the respected sense of allegiance. But when that sense was itself eradicated, when they had brought themselves to feel that they were no longer an infant community, that they had attained to the full stature and the strength of a gigantic nation, they felt also that other and far higher interests depended on the issue of achieving and sustaining their independence. They felt that whatever the force of arms and the indignant resistance of a people resolved on independence might accomplish, the security of the position which they had taken before the world depended more on a wellinstituted and wisely-adapted frame of government. Accordingly, on the 11th of June, 1776, the congress passed a resolution appointing " a committee to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies." The committee appointed in pursuance of this resolution, presented a draft of articles on the 12th of July following. After a variety of debate on their provisions and adaptation, congress, in committee of the whole, reported a new draft, and ordered the same to be printed for the use of the members, (August 20th, 1776.) The subject continued to be agitated, till, on the 15th of November, 1777, it was reported with sundry amendments, and adopted by the congress. Immediately on its adoption, a committee was appointed to draft a circular to be sent to each of the states, requesting them to authorize their delegates in congress to subscribe the same in behalf of their respective states. This request did not meet with a ready or easy compliance on the part of the states. Many objections were made, and many amendments suggested by each to the articles proposed. The difficulty or inexpediency of sending them back again to all of the states thus amended for their concurrence, prevented congress from regarding any of the amendments suggested, and a copy was ordered to be engrossed for ratification, (June 26, 1778,) which was ratified the same year by all the states except Delaware and Maryland. The former did not accede to the union till 1779, the latter in the year 1781, when its final ratification was announced by congress, and received with demonstrations of joy throughout the Union.

It were tedious, perhaps useless, to enter into a detail of all or even the principal part of the objections which were made by the respective states to the ratification of these articles, or to note the various causes of delay which preceded its final adoption. The question, however, which more than any other hindered its success, and gave rise to serious and alarming controversy, respected the boundaries of the several states, and the disposition of the lands held by the crown within the reputed limits of each. Those boundaries, according to the provisions of the charter or patent under which the several colonies were erected, were limited "by the South Sea," or extended indefinitely towards the western wilderness. The larger states claimed exclusive title to all the lands within their territorial limits; while, on the other hand, it was contended that all such lands, within whichever of the states, as were unsettled at the commencement of the war, and belonged to Great Britain, should be deemed common property, subject to the disposal of congress for the general good.

Amid such a conflict of claims and interests, of opinions and passions, it was difficult to fix upon any regulation which would give satisfaction to all the parties interested. The subject was regarded as one of vast importance, and seemed alone destined to prevent a union under the confederacy, and when, or how, or where it might have terminated, it were difficult to divine; but in February, 1780, New York passed an act authorizing a surrender to congress of part of the western territory claimed by her, " for the use and benefit of such states as should become members of the federal alliance." Congress took occasion from this magnanimous example, to appeal to the other states for a similar cession of their western domains, at the same time urging upon them how indispensably necessary it was to establish the federal union on a fixed and permanent basis, and on principles acceptable to all its respective members, how essential to public credit and confidence, to the support of their army, to the vigor of their councils, the success of their measures, to tranquillity at home, and their reputation abroad, to their very existence as a free, sovereign, and independent people. The example of New York was followed by Virginia, and afterwards by South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and thus was lulled this fearful source of controversy.

[graphic]

The compact under which the colonies now became united as independent states, was called Articles of confederation and perpetual union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The style of the confederation was, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. It was then declared that all sovereignty, freedom, and independence, with every power, jurisdiction, and right, which was not by these articles expressly delegated to the United States in congress assembled, was reserved in and retained by the states, which thereby entered into a mutual league of amity for their common defence, for the security of their liberties, and their reciprocal and general welfare, and bound themselves severally to assist each other against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretences whatever. It was further declared, that the free inhabitants of the several states, except paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice, should be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states; that the people of each state should have free ingress and egress to and from any other state, and enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions, and restrictions, as were imposed on the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restrictions should not prevent the removal of property imported into any state to any other state, of which the owner was an inhabitant; and that no imposition, duties, or restriction, should be laid by any state on the property of the United States, or either of them; that fugitives from justice, found in any part of the United States, should be delivered up to the state having jurisdiction of the offence committed, on demand of the executive power of such state; and that full faith and credit should be given in each of the United States, to the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other state.

The general government, it was further provided, should consist of a congress of delegates annually appointed, in such manner as the legislature of each state should direct, to meet on the first Monday of November in every year, reserving in each state a power to recall its delegates, or any of them, at any time within the year, and to send others in their stead for the remainder of the year; that no state should be represented in congress by less than two or more than seven members, and that no person could be a delegate for more than three in any term of six years, nor hold any office under the United States, for which he or any other for his benefit received any salary, fees, or emolument of any kind, while such person was a delegate; that each state should maintain its own delegates in a meeting of the states, and while acting as a member of the committee of the states; that each state should have one vote in determining questions which came before the United States in congress assembled; that freedom of speech in debate in congress should not be questioned or impeached in any court or place out of congress; and that the members should be privileged from arrest and imprisonment while going to, or returning from, or attending at congress, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace.

It was further provided, that no state, without the consent of the United States in congress assembled, should send an embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance, or treaty, with any king, or prince, or state; and that no person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, should accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state; and that neither congress, or any state, should grant any title of nobility ; that no two or more states should form any treaty, confederation, or alliance whatever between them, without the consent of congress, specifying accurately the purposes for which the same was entered into, and its continuance; that no state should lay any imposts or duties, interfering with stipulations or treaties entered into by the United States in congress assembled, with any king, prince, or state, in pursuance of any treaties then already proposed by congress tothe courts of France and Spain. That no vessels of war should be kept up in time of peace by any state, except such number as congress should deem necessary for the defence of such state, or its trade. That no body of forces should be kept up by any state in time of peace, except such number as congress should deem requisite to garrison the posts necessary for the defence of each state; provided, that every state should alwayskeep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and equipped, and provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field-pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition, and camp equipage. That no state, unless actually invaded by enemies, or threatened with instant invasion by the Indians, should engage in any war without the consent of congress, nor grant commissions to any ships or vessels of war, nor letters of marque and reprisal, except after a declaration of war by congress, and then only against the kingdom or state, and the subjects thereof, against which war was declared, and under such regulations as congress should establish; unless such state should be infested with pirates, in which case vessels of war might be fitted out, and kept up so long as the danger should continue, or till congress should otherwise determine. That when land forces were raised for the common defence by any state, all officers under the rank of colonel should be appointed by its legislature, or in such manner as it should direct. That all charges of war and expenses of the general government, which were allowed by congress, should be defrayed out of a common treasury. supplied by the several states in proportion to the value of all land within each state, granted to or surveyed for any person, according as the same should be estimated under the direction or appointment of congress; the taxes necessary to pay that proportion to be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several states, within a time agreed by congress.

It was also further provided that the Congress of the United States should have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war, with the exceptions already mentioned, of sending and receiving ambassadors, entering into treaties and alliances, provided that no treaty of commerce should be made whereby the legislative powers of the respective states should be restrained from imposing such imposts and duties on foreigners as their own people were subjected to; or from prohibiting the importation or exportation of any species of goods or commodities whatsoever; of establishing rules for deciding the legality of all captures on land or water, and as to the division and appropriation of prizes taken by the land or naval forces of the United States; of granting letters of marque and reprisal in times of peace; appointing courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas; and establishing courts for hearing and determining, finally, appeals in all cases of capture, provided that no member of congress shall be appointed a judge of any of the said courts. Congress was also invested with authority to hear and determine in the last resort, on appeal, all disputes and differences then subsisting, or that might thereafter arise between two or more states, concerning boundary, jurisdiction, or any other cause whatever. And all claims under different grants from two or more states, originating antecedent to the adjustment of the jurisdiction of those states, were to be finally determined by congress, on the petition of either party, and the mode of exercising such authority was prescribed.

Congress was further invested with the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin, struck either by their own authority or by that of the respective states; to fix the standard of weights and measures throughout the United States, provided that the legislative right of any state within its own limits was not infringed or violated; to establish and regulate post-offices from one state to another throughout the Union, and to exact postage for defraying the expenses of the same; to appoint all officers in the land forces of the United States, excepting regimental officers; to appoint all naval officers, and to commission all officers whatsoever in the service of the United States, and to make rules for their government and regulation, and to direct their operations.

Provision was made giving authority to congress to appoint a COMMITTEE OF THE STATES, to sit during its recess, to consist of one delegate from each state, and to appoint such other committees and civil officers as were deemed necessary for managing the geileral affairs of the Union, under its direction; to appoint one of their number to preside, provided that no person should be allowed to serve as president more than one year in any term of three years; to ascertain the sums necessary for the service of the United States, and to appropriate and apply the same towards defraying the public expenses; to borrow money or emit bills of credit on the United States, transmitting half-yearly to each state an account of the moneys so borrowed or emitted; to build and equip a navy; to determine the number of land forces, and to make requisitions for its quota on each state, in proportion to the number of its white inhabitants; which were then to be raised, clothed, armed, and equipped, by the state, at the expense of the United States.

All these powers of congress were made subject to the restriction that nine states should consent to any measure involving their exercise; nor could any other question, except for adjourning from day to day, be determined, unless by the votes of a majority of the United States in congress assembled. The remaining articles provided for the adjournment and place of meeting of the congress, and the regulation of their proceedings while in session. The Committee of the States, or any nine of them, were authorized to execute, in the recess of congress, such of the powers of congress as congress with the consent of nine states should from time to time think expedient to vest them with; provided that no power should be delegated to the said committee, for the exercise of which the voice of nine states in the congress of the United States assembled was requisite.

Provision was also made for the admission of Canada into the Union; for the assumption of the bills of credit emitted, moneys borrowed, and debts contracted, by or under the authority of congress, before the assembling of the United States in pursuance of these articles of confederation, pledging the public faith for the payment of the same. Finally, it was declared that every state should abide by the determination of the United States in congress assembled in all questions which by the confederation were submitted to them. That the articles under which they had united as a nation, should be inviolably observed by every state ; that the Union should be perpetual, and that no alteration should thereafter be made in any of these articles of confederation, unless with the assent of a congress of the United States, afterwards confirmed by the legislature of every state.

Such were substantially the provisions embraced in the articles under which the several colonies had confederated with each other as IndepenDent States. It is easy for us to discover their most exceptionable features, comparing them as we can with the lessons of experience, and the more successful operation of the present constitution. Yet when we think of the difficulties which were encountered in their formation—when we consider how few were the sources from whence light could be derived to illumine their counsels, we wonder rather at the wisdom of those who framed them. The peculiar circumstances under which a frame of government was called for, the oppressions and grievances which they had sustained and were still smarting under, from the arbitrary legislation of the parliament of England, rendered the colonies extremely jealous of any authority erected whose powers should in any degree control or restrain their own legislation. The delegates of the nation, therefore, found themselves in a situation at once new and peculiar. They could look on the history of other republics as beacons to warm, not as lights to guide. The one for which they were called upon to legislate, was without its precedent or its parallel in the world's history. The states had understood the benefits of union only as colonies, and with reference to restraining the arbitrary exercise of a power to which they acknowledged and confessed all due allegiance, and from which they had had no disposition to alienate themselves. But now that they had severed the tie of political relationship with the parent country, they were extremely cau

« ForrigeFortsett »