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THE REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT.-THE CONFE
BEFORE examining the details of the Constitution, it is necessary to advert briefly to the course of events that immediately preceded it.
All attempts at reconciliation having failed on both sides, the legislatures of some of the States, and conventions of the people in others, proceeded to appoint delegates, who assembled on the 4th September, 1774, and formed the first general and national Government, commonly known, from its origin, as “the Revolutionary Government.”
Having adopted a Declaration of Rights, passed Acts forbidding all commercial relations between themselves and Great Britain, authorised the raising of troops, and appointed
General Washington as their commander-inchief, they embarked
the great struggle and finally, on the celebrated 4th of July, 1776, published the Declaration of Independence.
The powers of the Revolutionary Government being vague and doubtful, discussions arose and were continued during the next few years among the several States, and it was not until the 1st of March, 1781, that the whole of the States assented to the “ Articles of Confederation,” prepared and digested by a Committee of Congress. On that date the final ratification took place, and the Government of the Confederation was announced and recognised.
Still, however, the defects in the political arrangements then agreed to were many and patent. “To form a permanent union,” remarked the Committee above referred to, “accommodated to the opinions 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.” It was not a matter capable of being “struck out at a heat," and required the patience and the wisdom of men accustomed to look at all the sides of great and complicated questions, and the experience of years to enable them to gather new counsel from novel circumstances. “ Although,” says one of the able men who took a leading part in those proceedings, Dr. Rush, “we understood perfectly the principles of liberty, yet most of us were ignorant of the forms and combinations of republics."* It need not, therefore, be a matter of surprise that inexperience on the one hand, and the jealousies of individual States on the other, should have combined to render the powers entrusted to the Confederation imperfect, and to hamper its action to so great a degree, as to cause it to be little more than a government in name only. It had no authority to levy taxes, no power to enforce obedience, no means of regulating foreign or domestic com
* Story, § 244, note.
merce, no national courts. It was invested with but “a delusive and empty sovereignty.” It, indeed, finished the war, and signed the treaty, by which the independence of the revolted colonies was acknowledged; but it could not pay its debts, or even its current expenses. It could only incur expenses, and call upon the States to provide the means of payment. But the power to levy the sums demanded, had been jealously retained by the several States. The extent to which, as late as the spring of 1787, the different States had complied with or refused the requisitions of Congress, is thus given by Mr. Justice Story, on the authority of a member of the New York Legislature :—“ During the last five years, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia had paid nothing; Connecticut and Delaware about one-third ; Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maryland, about one-half; Virginia, three-fifths ; ·Pennsylvania, nearly the whole; and New York, more than her quota.”+ The refusals or der
+ $ 259, note.
lays were justified under various pretexts; some plausible, as being founded on the alleged injustice and inequality of the provisions of the Articles of Confederation, as well as the importance of its omissions. But the leading statesmen of the day were unceasing in their calls upon the different States, to satisfy first the just demands upon them, and to sustain the credit and honour of the Confederation, and then to discuss their individual claims and grievances. Many solemn and affecting appeals” were made to them by Congress, and also by individuals. Mr. Jay, writing to Washington, on the 27th of January, 1786, says, in a letter full of apprehensions for the future, “ There is doubtless much reason to think and to say that we are woefully, and in many instances wickedly misled. Private rage for property suppresses public considerations, and personal rather than national interests have become the great objects of attention.”* Washington had before expressed his apprehensions
Correspondence of the American Revolution, by Professor Jared Sparks, Boston, 1853, vol. iv. p.