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- The United States of America Part I - 3/54 -
punishment or coercion.
One of the chief disagreements over the Articles, as they were considered by Congress, arose from the conflicting claims to the land lying between the Alleghany Mountains and the Mississippi. The claims put forth by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, that their charters extended interminably into the land, were resisted by New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, whose western boundaries were distinctly defined. New York put forth a claim for the Ohio valley, based on an Indian treaty. It lay athwart the claims of some of the other States.
Virginia's assertion that the "South Sea" mentioned in her charter as her western limits entitled her to the land as far west as the Pacific, if British authority should ever extend so far, was declared preposterous by delegates from other States who looked upon the land between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi as a valuable common asset, if the war should terminate favourably to their cause.
"Every gentleman," said Wilson, of Pennsylvania, in debate, "has heard much of the claims to the South Sea. They are extravagant. The grants were made upon mistake. They were ignorant of geography. They thought the South Sea within one hundred miles of the Atlantic Ocean. It was not conceived they extended three thousand miles. Lord Camden considers the claims to the South Sea as what can never be reduced to practice. Pennsylvania has no right to interfere in these claims, but she has a right to say that she will not confederate unless those claims were cut off."
On the other hand, Virginia and the States having these western claims had sufficient influence in the Congress to strike out every proposed clause attempting to restrict the western limits; but they could not prevent the regulation of trade with the Indians not inhabiting a State being handed over to the proposed Confederation. This was the initial step in national regulation of western affairs.
Since the Congress in this new form was to be the sole visible agency of the National Government, possessing the legislative, the executive, and even such judicial powers as the Confederation possessed, representation in it had to be most carefully considered. The committee had provided that in determining questions the present method should be continued which allowed each State to have one vote; and in vain did the advocates of representation according to population plead against it. Franklin pointed to the effects of unequal representation in England and begged that the new Government might be started aright. "Let the smaller colonies give equal money and men," said he, "and then have an equal vote." His fellow-delegate from Pennsylvania, Dr. Rush, added the voice of prophecy when he declared that the States ought to represent the whole people; and that each State retaining one vote would tend to keep up colonial distinctions.
"We are now a new nation," said he. "Our trade, language, customs, manners, don't differ more than they do in Great Britain. The more a man aims at serving America, the more he serves his colony. We have been too free with the word independence; we are dependent on each other, not independent States. I would not have it understood that I am pleading the cause of Pennsylvania. When I entered that door I considered myself a citizen of America."
Truly here was the voice of unionism crying in the wilderness of individualism. It is the sentiment of a century later.
The advocates of equal State representation had the advantage of precedent and of present practice. The large States had won in retaining their claims to the western lands. It was now the turn of the small States. In the final vote on representation, the four large States of Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, containing over one-half the entire population of the thirteen States, were outvoted by the five small States of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia. The State and not individual voting was to continue in Congress. The medium-sized States of Connecticut, New York, and the two Carolinas, showed a "disinterested coolness" in the matter. Few took so gloomy a view of such an arrangement as did John Adams, who predicted that within ten years the Articles would be found as weak as a rope of sand in holding the people together.
Being one of the chief causes of the Revolution, the power of direct taxation was a very sensitive point. To avoid this, the pernicious system of assessing quotas on the several States was continued. It was derived from the colonial custom, and might be expected to produce as little revenue and as much discord as it had done in those days. The Articles as adopted by the Congress were an improvement upon any effort of the kind previously attempted; but the results likely to follow the withdrawal of the pressure of war and the return of decentralising peace might easily be predicted.
Having at length been agreed to in the Congress, the Articles were sent to the several State Legislatures to be accepted or rejected. Although popular conventions had come into use in forming the various State Constitutions, the Congress maintained its early diplomatic and consulting nature by dealing with the State Legislatures instead of popular conventions. The members of Congress were too well aware of the many defects in the new frame to hope that it would be speedily adopted. In the official letter which accompanied it to the State Legislatures, they confessed that the business of coming into the national agreement had been attended with uncommon embarrassment and delay.
"To form a permanent union," said the address, "accommodated to the opinion 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."
As rapidly as the State Legislatures adopted the proposed plan, they were to notify their delegates in Congress to sign the document, thus formally entering the Confederation. It was provided in the Articles that they should not go into effect until signed by every State. Neither could they be amended without unanimous consent. These unfortunate provisions were due to the tender regard which prevailed at the time for the rights of the individual. "Government proceeds from the consent of the governed" was interpreted by many enthusiasts to mean the consent of every individual and not simply the majority. These Article days mark not only the ultimate point of the fear of centralisation, but also the greatest solicitude for the individual. Even in Congress, where delay in legislation might be hazardous, no important action could be taken by a majority, but the consent of nine States must be had.
The required unanimity of ratification kept the Articles for nearly three years awaiting action by all the State Legislatures, while the people gradually lapsed into that lawlessness which a civil war always brings in its train. The war itself contributed in no small degree to the delay. When a State was invaded by the enemy, help was needed, and the confederation feeling ran high; but the civic machinery, disturbed by war, could not be made to serve the purpose of ratification. When the tide of war swept on, and the State was relieved from immediate danger, the old feeling of local importance returned, individualism revived, and the union feeling waned.
The Legislatures of seven States in ratifying thought they could improve the Articles in certain particulars. Some wanted a test oath applied to all national officers; others would have wealth as a basis of apportionment simply a trial arrangement; and still others would remove the requirement that nine States be represented in Congress for the consideration of certain matters. New Jersey had the clearest vision of all.
"We are of the opinion," said her Legislature, "that the sole and exclusive power of regulating the trade of the United States with foreign nations ought to be clearly vested in the Congress, and that the revenue arising from all duties and customs imposed thereon ought to be appropriated to the building, equipping, and manning a navy, for the protection of the trade and defence of the coasts, and to such other public and general purposes as to the Congress shall seem proper and for the common benefit of the states."
Neither this nor any of the forty-six amendments thus proposed by the States was adopted by the Congress. The Articles stood as first adopted until their overthrow.
Maryland, for reasons to be given hereafter, was the last State to consent to the Articles. On March 2, 1781, the legal government of the Articles of Confederation took the place of the illegal revolutionary government, which had existed by common consent since 1776. A few guns were fired, and flags displayed, but there was nothing to show the change. The United States Congress, as it came to be called, was the chief evidence of the Federation. Its actions were now justified by a written agreement among the States and its powers definitely prescribed. Otherwise affairs continued as before. The war was still the engrossing business.
The Articles were in reality only a general treaty between thirteen sovereign States occupying contiguous territory and pledging themselves mutually to resist any attacks made upon them. Such a plan might have been practicable, if the States had occupied thirteen islands, each using a different language, and each producing sufficient to satisfy its inhabitants, so that trade and communication need never have become necessary. As it was, the framers failed to appreciate the force of geographic contiguity. They believed that they could create and maintain a kind of central clearing-house for national needs, giving to it only the duties of declaring war and peace, managing ambassadors, making treaties, establishing prize courts, managing the post-office, and commanding such land and naval forces as might at any time be necessary. Regardless of the expanding laws of growth, they thought the central authority could be confined to these stated activities.
[Illustration: TITLE-PAGE OF A COPY OF THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION. This copy was printed in 1777, the year the articles were proposed by the Continental Congress to the several States to be ratified.]
Compared with the present National Government, which a different plan and a liberal interpretation for a century have conspired to bring about, the Articles of Confederation presented some strange anomalies of administration. The Federal Government could declare war, but could not enlist soldiers. It could only call upon each State to furnish its proportion. If, as was likely to happen, any particular portion of the country was threatened by an enemy, Congress might call for an extra number of soldiers; but the State Legislature might judge how many could safely be spared from the service of the State. The National Government could not even appoint its own officers below the rank of colonel. It could make peace, but, in order to secure a successful end to a war, it could not collect a dollar for expense, except as each State graciously consented to pay its share. It could make a treaty with another sovereign, but could not compel its own subjects to obey the terms of the treaty. It could send an ambassador to a foreign Court, but had to turn to the States for money to pay his salary. It
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