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- Formation of the Union - 20/46 -

arms, and must be kept up until peace was formally declared, and then must be paid off. The territorial claims of the States and of the Union were still in confusion. Virginia roused the suspicion of the small States by making the promised cession in terms which Congress could not accept, and the other States had made no motion towards yielding their claims. Relations with the Indians were still confused. Superintendents of Indian affairs had been appointed, and in 1778 a treaty was negotiated with the Creeks; but the States, particularly Pennsylvania and Georgia, continued to make their own arrangements with Indian tribes.

[Sidenote: Finances.] [Sidenote: Commerce.] [Sidenote: General weakness.]

The finances of the country seemed to have reached their lowest ebb. An attempt was made to float a new issue of continental money at one dollar for forty of the old bills The new obligations speedily sank to the level of the old, and the country was practically bankrupt. The aid of the French was all that kept the government afloat ( 43). The return of peace was expected to restore American commerce to its old prosperity; but having gone to war principally because colonial commerce with other countries was restricted, the Americans found themselves deprived of their old freedom of trade with England. They were subject to discriminating duties in English ports, and were excluded from the direct trade with the English West Indies, which had been the chief resource the colonial ship- owners. The State governments were in debt, embarrassed, and beset with the social difficulties which come in the train of war. The disbanded troops were not accustomed to regular employment or to a quiet life; taxes were heavy and odious; the far Western settlements clamored to be set free from the States to which they belonged. Above all, the national government was weak, inefficient, and little respected by the army or the people at large.

60. FORM OF THE GOVERNMENT (1781-1788.)

[Sidenote: Congress.]

The first and fundamental defect of the government was in the organization of Congress. The Continental Congress had been a head without a body; under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was a body without a head. A single assembly continued to be the source of all national legislative, executive, and judicial power ( 37). As though to prevent the country from getting the benefit of experience, no man could remain a member of Congress for more than three years in succession. The delegates of each State continued to cast jointly one vote; if only one member were present, the vote of a State was not counted; if but two were present, they might produce a tie. On important questions the approval of nine States was necessary, and often less than that number had voting representatives on the floor. Amendment was impossible, except by consent of all the State legislatures. Although Congress had to deal with difficult questions of peace, its principal power was that of carrying on war. Congress might make treaties, but it could pass no act in defence of American commerce.

[Sidenote: Executive departments.]

A great effort was made to improve the executive system. By resolutions passed early in 1781, secretaries were appointed for the three departments of Foreign Affairs, War, and Finance; the board system, championed by Samuel Adams and others, was to be abandoned. The importance of the War Department diminished after 1782. "The Secretary of the United States for the Department of Foreign Affairs" was quartered in two little rooms, and furnished with two clerks. The post was filled first by Robert R. Livingston, and from 1784 by John Jay. The office of Superintendent of Finance was bestowed upon Robert Morris of Pennsylvania.

[Sidenote: Courts.]

The Articles of Confederation provided for a special tribunal to settle territorial disputes between the States. The system was invoked in 1782, and a verdict was rendered in favor of Pennsylvania and against Connecticut in their rival claims to the Wyoming region. A second set of federal courts was constituted by designating certain State courts to try piracies and felonies committed on the high seas. A third and the only important federal tribunal was the Court of Appeals in prize cases, which began to sit in January, 1780, and before which were sued sixty-five cases. All the courts, like all the executive departments, were created by Congress, alterable by Congress, and subject to the control of Congress. In 1784 the Court of Appeals was allowed to lapse, by the refusal of Congress to pay the salaries of the judges.


To follow the history of the Confederation from year to year would be unprofitable. It was a confused period, with no recognized national leaders, no parties, no great crises. We shall therefore take up one after another the important questions which arose, and follow each to the end of the Confederation.

[Sidenote: Half-pay question.] [Sidenote: Protests.]

The first duty of Congress after peace was declared was to cut off the military expenditures ( 42). The food, clothing, and pay of the army amounted to about $400,000 a month. Provision had been made for bounty lands for the soldiers; the officers expected some more definite reward. On April 26, 1778, Congress, by a majority of one State, had voted half pay for life to the officers, as an essential measure for keeping the army together. In the four years following, five different votes had been passed, each annulling the previous one. Another proposition, in November, 1782, was to remit the whole matter to the States. On March 10, 1783, appeared the so-called "Newburgh addresses,"--an anonymous plea to the army, urging the officers not to separate until Congress had done justice in this respect. A crisis was threatened. Washington himself attended the meeting of the officers, and counselled moderation. He used his utmost influence with Congress, and on the 22d of March secured a vote of full pay for five years. As the treasury was empty, the only payment to the officers was in certificates of indebtedness, upon which interest accumulated during the next seven years. Massachusetts protested, declaring the grant to be "more than an adequate reward for their services, and inconsistent with that equality which ought to subsist among citizens of free and republican states." In June, 1783, three hundred mutineers surrounded the place of meeting of Congress, and demanded a settlement of their back pay; and the executive council of Pennsylvania declined to interfere. The result was that Congress changed its place of meeting, and ever after retained a lively resentment against the city of Philadelphia.


[Sidenote: The Western claims.] [Sidenote: Northwest cessions.]

Although Congress had no power, under the Articles of Confederation, to regulate territory, it earnestly urged the States to cede their claims. The Ohio River divided the Western country into two regions, each having a separate territorial history. The northern part was claimed by Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, on the ground that their old charters, extending to the Pacific, were revived ( 45). The United States, as representing the landless States, claimed the whole region as territory won by the common effort and sacrifice of the Revolutionary War. On March 1, 1784, Virginia ceded all her claims north of the Ohio River, except a reservation for bounty lands. Massachusetts followed in 1785; the commonwealth had large tracts of unoccupied land in Maine and in New York. Connecticut had no such resources, and in 1786 ceded only the western part of her claim, retaining till 1800, as a "Western Reserve," a strip, extending along Lake Erie, one hundred and twenty miles west from Pennsylvania.

[Sidenote: Territorial organization.]

The claims to the region north of the Ohio having thus been extinguished, the government began to make plans for the administration of its domain. On Oct. 10, 1780, the Continental Congress had promised that the lands ceded by the States should be "disposed of for the common benefit of the United States," and "be settled and formed into distinct republican States which shall become members of the federal union." These two principles are the foundation both of the territorial and the public land systems of the United States.

On April 23, 1784, an ordinance reported by Jefferson was passed, providing for representative legislatures as fast as the West grew sufficiently populous to maintain them. It is hardly a misfortune that the map was not encumbered with the names suggested by Jefferson for the new States,--Cherronesus, Metropotamia, Assenisippia, Polypotamia, and Pelisipia; but another clause was voted down which would have prohibited slavery in the Territories after 1800.

[Sidenote: Northwest Ordinance.]

June 13, 1787, a second ordinance passed Congress, which was inferior in importance only to the Federal Constitution. It provided minutely for a preliminary territorial government, in which laws were to be made by appointive judges, and for a later representative government. The conception was that the Territories were to occupy the position formerly claimed by the colonies; they were to be subject to no general taxation, but placed under a governor appointed by the general government; their laws were to be subject to his veto, and to later revision by the central authority. A new principle was the preparation of the Territories for statehood: the ordinance laid down a series of "Articles of Compact" to govern them after they were admitted into the Union. Religious liberty and personal rights were to be secured; general morality and education to be encouraged; and finally it was provided that "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." The introduction of this clause is due to New England men, who were anxious to form a colony on the Ohio, and who desired to secure the freedom with which they were familiar. The clause had no effect upon slaves held in the Territory at the time of the passage of the ordinance, but it distinctly expresses the dissatisfaction of the country with the system of human slavery. As soon as the Northwest Territory was organized, the sale of lands began; but nothing was received in cash till long after the Confederation had expired.

[Sidenote: Southern cessions.]

In the southern block of States the territorial settlement proceeded more slowly, and was in every way less satisfactory. Virginia retained both jurisdiction and land in Kentucky. North Carolina in 1790 granted the jurisdiction in what is now Tennessee, but every acre of the land had already been granted by the State. South Carolina had almost nothing to cede, and yielded it in 1787. Georgia stood out on the claim to the whole territory between her present boundary and the Mississippi, and would not yield until 1802. Slavery was not prohibited.

Formation of the Union - 20/46

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