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- The United States of America Part I - 6/54 -


only when railways and canal transportation had levelled the mountains and thereby lessened the importance of waterways.

European strategists made ready use of the isolated condition of the western people, not always with the object of absorbing them, but rather of using them in the great game of territorial acquisition played so many times on the American board. For instance, in 1787, the French Minister to the United States forwarded to his Government a document presented to him, evidently by a native of France residing in America, which described the extent of the Mississippi valley and the dissatisfaction of its inhabitants. The paper asserted that the people beyond the mountains

"seek for a new support and offer to the power which will welcome them advantages which will before long effect those which America, as it now is, could promise.... It requires a protector; the first who will stretch out his arms to it will have made the greatest acquisition that could be desired in this new world. Fortunate my country if she does not let this moment escape, one of those not presented twice."

A year or two later, the British consul at Philadelphia was suggesting to his Government the use of the western settlements of the United States in an expedition to be made against Spanish New Orleans. These frontiersmen would co-operate, he thought, in any measure that might tend to secure them a free trade which the uninterrupted passage of the Mississippi would effectually establish. He pronounced them a hardy race, adventurers by profession, and ready to seize every opportunity of profit or employment. They were described in a project for using them presented at another time to the French Government as "hardy, enterprising, good marksmen, lovers of liberty, and always armed."

The extent to which the western people were prepared to go in the Confederation days was a matter of much dispute, and was aired fully in the course of time by controversies in Kentucky politics. But their hardihood and capacity for achievement have never been questioned. They were qualified by nature to insist upon their rights even if such insistence embarrassed the foreign negotiations of the home Government. Bred in the rural districts of Virginia and the Carolinas, accustomed to solitude and privations, depending upon their rifles for food and largely for dress, they felt no ties binding them to home and the old life when once they had crossed the mountains. They were self-dependent in nearly every particular except arms and ammunition. Carrying the organising instinct of their English forefathers, they set up local government as rapidly as their numbers warranted. To be held as colonists by the States to the eastward of the mountains was contrary to that spirit of inherited freedom which had already made those States out of colonies. Just at the dawn of the Revolution the colonisation of the far-famed "blue grass" region of Kentucky had begun, when Daniel Boone led the Transylvania Company from North Carolina to found Boonesboro. Although the independent government which this company erected was suppressed by the governors of Virginia and North Carolina, the movement could not be stayed. A few years later, these Kentuckians, increased in numbers by the enormous migration thither, were holding secession conventions which Virginia thought wise not to resist. North Carolina repressed with some effort the independent State of Franklin, or "Frankland," the land of the free Franks, as it was first called, which John Sevier and other hardy spirits set up in what is now eastern Tennessee.

While these attempts to create independent States in the remote regions are now praised as evidences of the organising instinct of the American people, it must not be forgotten that at the time they were formed within the legitimate bounds of regular States and seriously threatened to impair their domains. The domain of a State is regarded as one of the most inviolable attributes of its sovereignty. The third Article of the Confederation bound the States to assist any of their number against attacks made upon its sovereignty. Not only were the States of Virginia and Kentucky threatened with the loss of territory through insurrection. The "Green Mountain boys," headed by Ethan Allen, had succeeded in setting up an independent State, with a popular innkeeper as governor, upon land claimed by New York. Against these infringements upon the integrity of the States, the Congress could do nothing more than draw up resolutions expressing "the highest disapprobation" of those who participated.

The experience of the National Government under the Articles of Confederation with the settlers on the frontier beyond the recognised limits of the thirteen States, although alarming at the time, was invaluable as a lesson. It taught thinking men not only that the Central Government must be given more power to protect the States themselves, but that these remote districts could be best governed by the central authorities. Every argument of this kind was timely since it might induce the States still holding out to yield their back lands as a common property. The beginning of ceding the western lands to the common stock is important as a precedent since it created ultimately the profit-sharing principle of the public domain. Mention has been made of the failure in Congress to place western bounds on certain States. When the Articles were sent to all the States for ratification before going into effect, individual State Legislatures had opportunity of making such boundary restriction the price of a national agreement. Individualism in this instance proved a blessing. It is important to an appreciation of the times to note that the State whose persistence won the victory was not one of the largest or most influential. Maryland was the eighth in rank of territory and probably the sixth in number of population. Her powerful neighbour and ancient enemy, Virginia, upon assuming statehood, had reiterated her charter claims to full one-half the territory of British North America, magnanimously "ceding" to the States of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the two Carolinas the land of which they were already possessed.

As Virginia admitted, the British Government had always assumed that the Atlantic coast-plain was the seat of its thirteen American colonies, and had refused to acknowledge openly their claims much beyond the crest of the Alleghanies. The ownership of the vacant lands between the mountains and the Mississippi River was vested in the King under the name of "Crown lands." But no sooner had the struggle for independence begun than the colonies determined in case of success to claim the entire British possessions in those parts; that is, to the Mississippi. As early as 1776, Silas Deane, the commercial agent of the United States in Paris, suggested to Congress the sale of the vacant lands to French colonists as a means of paying the expenses of the war. The rich valley, when fully regarded as a possible spoil of war, became a golden apple of discord. It had been won, small States argued, "by the blood and treasure of all, and ought, therefore, to be a common estate."

Led more by the necessity for some kind of a national government to replace the rule of Britain thrown off in 1776 than by such appeals, the Legislature of New York in 1781 authorised her delegates in Congress to quitclaim all lands lying outside her present boundaries to the General Government for the benefit of present and future States of the Union. Although the claim of New York, based upon a treaty with the Indians, had been regarded as shadowy by other States, yet her greatly lauded action led in the same year to propositions from Virginia and, a few years later, to advances from Massachusetts and Connecticut resulting eventually in their giving up all territory north of the Ohio and west of Pennsylvania and New York. Persuaded by these favourable indications, Maryland signed the Articles, as heretofore described.

Whether the persistence of Maryland was due to her desire for the national good, to selfishness in wishing a share of the national spoils of war, or to animosity toward Virginia dating from their ancient boundary dispute, the result may well be pronounced the most important step toward union since the appointment of Washington to the head of a national army. The public domain was the first inheritance the needy National Government ever received aside from debts and disputes. Not that the pecuniary return from the sale of the public lands proved as large as at first imagined; but that this tangible asset gave some dignity to the intangible Union. The disposal of the land, as a profit-sharing enterprise, formed a business undertaking which concerned all the States. It could be managed only by the combined powers.

CHAPTER III

THE CARE OF THE PUBLIC LANDS

Having been entrusted with the responsibility of administering the back lands, Congress immediately entered upon the work of arranging a method for their survey and sale, and of devising a feasible government to be extended over them. The pressing need of securing a revenue from them, together with a realisation that prospective purchasers would require protection both from each other and from the savages, impelled the members to immediate action. Against the many failures with which the old Congress stands charged during the eight years of its national control, the ordinances for the disposition and government of the western lands form a most pleasant and redeeming contrast. The Congress faced an absolutely new task. There were many precedents in history for colonial holding, varying from the policy of Greece, which allowed complete severance of home ties, to that of Spain, which regarded colonies as existing solely for the benefit of the mother country. By adopting the one, the United States must have left the western emigrants to perish. The other was repugnant to a people who had just rebelled against even the moderate colonial system of Great Britain. Equality is the only standard for a republic. Congress had resolved in 1780 that the lands ceded to its jurisdiction should be "disposed of for the common benefit and be settled and formed into distinct republican States which shall become members of the Federal Union and have the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence as the other States." Here was an action almost unprecedented. Instead of holding the outlying region as a colonial possession for the benefit of the older portion, or making it into an Indian hunting-ground as Britain had tried to do, the Confederation of States had voluntarily agreed to erect it into independent States upon perfect equality with themselves. It was a practical application of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, of no taxation without representation, and of the real equality of all portions of the domain. The action was taken for the very practical purpose of assuring the States that if they surrendered their claims to the western lands, their citizens who migrated thither would not lose their rights by changing from State to national sovereignty.

Jefferson is presumed to be the father of the ordinance which first collected these promises into a working model; but not even Jefferson, rejoicing in laying out imaginary states from the new national possession and giving classic names to them, could foresee that there was being called into existence a factor most dangerous to his beloved individualism. The people who would remove from the States and settle upon lands purchased from the National Government, would be under national protection, subject to national legislation, and eventually be admitted by the national power to national statehood. Their affection would be gradually won away from their native States to be centred on the Union. Yet the States had not been able to hold the lands individually. Thus was necessity silently making the Union.

The provisions of the Jefferson Ordinance of 1784 for the temporary government of the western territory have been almost lost sight of


The United States of America Part I - 6/54

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