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- The United States of America Part I - 10/54 -


insurrectionary force, chose rather to quiet rebellion and to inspire confidence by his hopefulness.

No sooner had the war ceased and the army melted away, than it was found that peace had its dangers no less than war. Released from the menace of war, the States felt no necessity for paying their respective quotas of expenses to the Central Government, as they had done in varying degrees since the beginning of hostilities. The year following the peace, they paid less than a million and a half of the eleven million asked in previous assessments. Three States, it was claimed, had paid comparatively nothing. Rhode Island and New Jersey, as if to add insult to injury, attempted to pay their quotas in their paper money, which was not received at par outside the States. Congress had no power of coercion. According to the second of the Articles, each State in the Confederation retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence. Congress could only make impotent appeals. Governor Randolph, of Virginia, pictured the Congress as saying to his State: "May it please your high mightinesses of Virginia to pay your just proportionate quota of the national debt; we humbly supplicate that it may please you to comply with your federal duties. We implore, we beg your obedience."

[Illustration: A PETITION FROM CONGRESS TO THE STATES. Many such appeals were issued at different times, begging the States in the Confederation to give more power to the Central Government.]

The financial confusion was increased because of the lack of a circulating medium. A mongrel collection of coins could be found, passing at varying rates in the different States--English pounds, shillings and pence, Spanish dollars, joes, half-joes, pistoles and moidores, French guineas, carolins and chequins--but no United States coins. Even this money was soon drawn off to Europe, because British exporters demanded cash until the Revolutionary debts had been settled. That this cash would return to the States was unlikely if one judged from the first year of the peace, during which the United States purchased 1,700,000 pounds worth of goods in England and sent in return only 700,000 worth. In order to secure some kind of money to conduct business, seven of the States began to issue paper money. The troubles arising from a depreciated paper during the Revolution were neither ignored nor forgotten; but no other method presented itself. Congress had power to issue only "bills on the credit of the United States," which were not likely to be more acceptable than other kinds of paper.

The hopelessness of managing a bankrupt nation, no doubt, was largely responsible for the deterioration which the membership of Congress suffered. Names prominent at the inception of the rebellion had disappeared from the rolls, and mediocrity ruled. The members personally experienced the financial stringency in the failure of their State Legislatures to pay their salaries. Many were dependent upon the patriotic purse of Haym Salomon, "a Jew broker of Philadelphia," as Madison termed him. There should have been a higher standard of membership in the Confederation Congress than in later times, because it comprised not only the usual legislative functions of the nation, but the executive and judicial as well. The machinery itself was largely to blame. Like many of the devices, that governing the Congress was too strongly set against centralisation to allow free play of the parts. No delegate, for instance, was allowed to serve more than three years out of any six lest his influence grow too great or he become unduly attached to the central power. It frequently happened that good men were thus cast out of service just when their experience made them valuable. Certain States forbade a man to serve two consecutive terms in Congress. Madison was debarred by such a provision in 1784.

Delegates were appointed by the State Legislatures usually for a term of one year to begin with the session on the first Monday of the following November. The term would frequently expire when the State Legislature was not in session, and the State would thus go unrepresented for some time. If a delegate pleaded the emergency of the case and asked that the rule be waived, as those from Rhode Island did at one time, Congress refused to sanction such a palpable infraction of the Articles. Cases actually occurred where delegates elect did not arrive at the seat of Government until after the expiration of their term of appointment.

Absenteeism was the drag paramount upon Congressional action. No State could be represented by less than two members and retain its power of voting. If only one representative were present, he had no vote. If only two were present, they might differ, in which case the State was counted as "divided," and the vote was lost. Congress once sent a plea to the States urging the necessity of having more than two delegates present. It showed that if each State had only two representatives in Congress, five out of the twenty-six delegates, being only one-fifth, could negative any vote requiring the consent of nine States. Eleven States were represented at the time, nine by two delegates only, and thus it was possible, continued the report, for three men out of the twenty-five, being only one-eighth, to block all action. If three attended from each State, it would require ten, or one-third of the whole, to have as much power.

The derelictness in attendance on some occasions was humiliating and even alarming. When Washington appeared at Annapolis to resign his commission as commander-in-chief, only seven States were represented by the least required number. He faced twenty-one delegates instead of the ninety-one from the thirteen States, who should have graced this memorable occasion. The definitive treaty of peace lay on the table at the time. Nine States were required by the Articles to be present when a treaty was ratified. Unless ratified within six months after it had been signed in Paris, it would be null and void. More than half the precious time had already elapsed. With the greatest difficulty, the required number was secured. Four years later, there was no quorum for a period of three months, the representation at times falling to two States. During the first eleven months of the year 1788, a quorum was present only 129 days. Much of this delinquency was due to the expense of maintaining the delegates which fell upon the individual States. To make the burden as light as possible, two delegates only were commonly sent. They were likely to disagree. Manifestly the State in which the Congress sat avoided this difficulty, because it could maintain a larger number of delegates at less expense. To avoid this draft upon the needy treasuries, some of the States adopted the expedient of choosing as representative a resident of the city wherein was located for the moment the seat of government, or some man who had the means and the willingness to serve without pay. During quite a long period, Delaware was represented by three delegates, only one of whom was a resident of the State. This was in accord with the custom of British representation. It is interesting to imagine the results if it had ever become fixed in the United States.

It may be truly said that the framers of the Articles could not have expected a successful continuous sitting of so large a body of men. They had not so planned it. The Articles provided that a Committee of States could be appointed at any time, whenever the Congress as a whole might wish to adjourn, by the delegates from each State naming one of their number to serve in this capacity. This was the method of forming a "grand committee" on any important business in Congress. The attempt to give over national affairs to a Committee of States was made in the spring of 1784, after the peace. One trial of the expedient was sufficient. Only eleven States were represented at the time. From these, eleven delegates were selected. According to Monroe, "their powers are confined so that no injury can be effected." He referred to the manner in which the Articles restricted the Committee. The eleven celebrated the beginning of their administration by adjourning for three weeks, "for the benefit of the health of the members." At the end of this vacation, nearly two weeks were consumed in getting nine of the Committee together. A month of regular sessions followed, when suddenly the ever-present dissension concerning the place of meeting broke out. The Southern members of the committee wished to remain at Annapolis. The Northern members wished to adjourn to the cooler climate of New Jersey.

The strife increased until, at the end of two months, the members from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New Jersey withdrew. Being left without a quorum, the remaining members signed a manifesto, placing the blame on the seceders and departed for their several homes. Franklin compared the action of the Committee to two lighthouse keepers who quarrelled about the task of filling the lamp until the light went out. "There will be an entire interregnum of the federal government for some time against the intention of Congress, I apprehend, as well as against every rule of decorum," wrote the indignant Madison. During this interregnum, a chief clerk was acting as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and General Knox was serving as Secretary of War. They were the only visible parts of the National Government. Madison at first thought that the Committee of States should be censured when Congress reassembled, but, recognising discretion as the better part, suggested that "we had also better keep this affair out of sight." It was so done. The complete failure of this Committee of States scheme as an executive makeshift was in the end fortunate since it demonstrated clearly the need of a trustworthy and permanent head to the General Government. If it had been even a partial success, it might have been tried again and correction thereby delayed.

The provincialism of the day was well illustrated in the strife of the Committee over the place of sitting. A similar controversy characterised well-nigh the entire life of the Congress. Never a session could close or an adjournment be had without this Banquo's ghost appearing. It was feared that the State in which Congress met would in some way get an undue influence and ascendency. At one time, to satisfy sectional jealousy, it was compelled to provide two places of meeting, Annapolis and Philadelphia, by turns. Cities were even projected in the country far removed from State capital influence. In this unsettled condition, the Congress wandered from place to place with insufficient accommodation. Van Berckel, arriving as minister from Holland, could find no house for rent at Princeton and was obliged to live at a tavern in Philadelphia. He contrasted his reception with that given by his Government to John Adams a few years previously. He reported that he hoped in time to locate the new Government and present his credentials. "Vagabondising from one paltry village to another," as Reed, one of their number, put it, the members became a legitimate prey of boarding-house keepers and stablemen. Small wonder that service in the State Governments was considered not only more dignified, but more agreeable in these days of paramount State rights.

[Illustration: SIGNATURES TO AN ADDRESS OF THE INHABITANTS OF PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY.]

That the capital of the United States to-day occupies a territory independent of a State is the result of sad experience in these early days. When Congress, in 1783, was driven from Philadelphia by some rebellious State troops, who threatened force unless they received their back pay, the village of Princeton was the refuge to which the members fled. Some faithful Continental troops stationed there would protect them. The citizens of the village, grateful for this gift of the gods, prepared a list of families and the number of guests each could accommodate. They also adopted a long set of resolutions, deprecating the "gross indignities" offered to the Congress at Philadelphia, and pledging with the utmost cheerfulness their lives and fortunes to the Government of the United States. They promised to protect Congress "in whatever way our services may be required, whether in resisting Foreign Invasion or in quelling intestine Tumults." That the National Government of the United States of America should be offered protection by a small New Jersey village is indicative of the progress which nationality had thus far made. Sentiment would in time demand a permanent, independent home. Notwithstanding the prevalent


The United States of America Part I - 10/54

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