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159. Dissolution of Congress Threatened.--At first the Continental Congress commanded great respect both at home and abroad. The States were all represented, and by their ablest men. But such did not long continue to be the case. Congress fell off in numbers and in character. This decline continued to increase as the difficulties of the government increased, and as the States became more and more absorbed in their owu affairs. Sometimes States did not even take the trouble to elect delegates. Sometimes the delegates who were appointed did not attend, or attended but a small part of the time. Frequently not enough States were present to transact business. The whole country desired peace above all things, but it was not until January 14, 1784, that the treaty of peace, signed September 3, of the previous year, could be ratified for want of a quorum, and then there were but twenty-three members present. A single negative vote given by Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, or South Carolina would have defeated the ratification of the treaty. Only eighteen delegates representing eight States were present when the Ordinance of 1787 was passed. It was with the greatest difficulty that delegates enough could be brought together in 1788 to set the government created by the Constitution in motion. And finally, not enough members attended formally to adjourn when the end came, and the Old Congress fell to pieces and left the country without a government from October, 1788, to April, 1789.
160. State of the Country. - This was no better than the state of the government. The State governments were efficient, but they could not take the place of a National government. Political confusion, industrial derangemeut, commercial distress, and social disorder abounded. The mass of private debts was very great. In some States, and notably in Massachusetts, men who felt the crushing weight of debt-some of whom had done faithful service as soldiers in the warm joined with the reckless and disaffected classes in threatening the peace of society, and even in promoting rebellion. The States regulated commerce regardless of the interests of neighboring States and of the country as a whole. Goods shipped from one State to another were subject to duty. State discriminated agaiust State. There was great scarcity of money ; in some States it disappeared from circulation altogether, while commodities, as whisky and tobacco, became the medium of exchange. And then, as though the Continental money had not caused sufficient distress, several States fell to issuing irredeemable paper currency. With all the rest, several States had serious disagreements as to boundaries and territorial claims; there was a sharp issue as to the disposition to be made of the Western lands; while the people beyond the Alleghany Mountains threatened to cut loose from the Union, and either attach themselves to Spain or create a new nation in the Mississippi Valley.? The farther men got away from the war, the weaker the government became, and the more distressful the state of the country.
161. Causes of the Situation.- Wise statesmen did not differ as to the causes of the existing state of affairs, or as to the needed remedy. The radical vice of the Confederation, Hamilton said, “was the principle of legislation for States as governments in their corporate or collective capacities, and as contra-distinguished from the individuals of whom they consist.” Washington said: “It is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere a superior power to regulate and goveru the general concerns of the Confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of any duration.” To a correspondent who urged the use of "influence" to check the disorders in Massachusetts that led to Shays's rebellion, he wrote: “Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst."
162. Attempts to Strengthen the Government.-In 1781, before the Articles went into operation, Congress asked the States for power to levy a five per cent. ad valorem duty on imports. Rhode Island refused outright, and Virginia withdrew the consent that she had at first given. In 1784 Congress asked the States for power to prohibit, for fifteen years, the entrance into the country of vessels belonging to a foreign country not having a commercial treaty with the United States. Ten States gave the power conditionally, and three refused altogether. In 1785 Congress asked for a grant of power to levy duties on imports for twenty-five years, the States themselves to appoint the revenue officers, who should be accountable to Congress. All the States but Rhode Island formally complied, but New York did so on conditions equivalent to a refusal, and so the plan was defeated. As Von Holst tells us, Congress was viewed in the light of a foreign power, spite of the fact that it was composed of delegates from the body of the people.”
163. Causes of the Failures.-The ultimate causes of the defects of the government and of the failures to remedy them, lay in the current sentiments and habits, ignorance and passions, of the people. They were slow to see the sources of the prevalent evils, aud slower still to see the necessary remedy. Having but recently escaped from the evils that one strong government had inflicted upon
Some account of these
1 See Hinsdale, The Old Northwest, Chaps. XI.-XIII. controversies are given in this work, Chap. XLI.
them, they were not in haste to set up another strong one. Some thought King George as good a king as “King Cong.” The problem to be solved was really one of great difficulty, involving the adjustment of the State and General Governments. The States were often narrow-minded and jealous. There was an excess of State pride, and a sad lack of National feeling. Federal government was little understood. Few men saw that legitimate trade is mutually advantageous; while States legislated on the principle that the true way to build up themselves was to pull down their neighbors. And finally, there were men of influence who acted from no general principles whatever, but from motives of pure selfishness,-men who believed that they would better thrive in business or politics in the midst of confusion and distress than in the midst of peace and prosperity.
164. Loss of the Favorable Opportunity.--The favoring opportunity to form a vigorous National government had been lost. That opportunity came in the years 1775 and 1776, when the people were in the full flush of patriotic ardor; when Congress had great authority and prestige; and when the States had not yet seized certain powers that they now held so stubbornly, and that they finally yielded to the Union only from stern necessity. Few more significant facts were stated in the Federal Convention of 1787 than those contained in this extract from a speech by Mr. James Wilson, of Pennsylvania :
“Among the first sentiments expressed in the first Congress, one was that Virginia is no more, that Massachusetts is no more, that Pennsylvania is no more, etc.; we are now one nation of brethren; we must bury all local interests and distinctions. This language continued for some time. The tables at length began to turn. No sooner were the State governments formed than their jealousy and ambition began to display themselves. Each endeavored to cut a slice from the common loaf to add to its own morsel ; till at length the Confederation became frittered down to the impotent condition in which it now stands.” 1
165. Future Political Parties in Embryo.-At the beginning of the Revolutionary struggles the country was sharply divided into the Patriots or Whigs and the Loyalists or Tories. In the end, the Tories were utterly overwhelmed. But in the midst of the struggle, the Whigs began to divide into two sections or parties. And, inevitably, this division had reference to the powers that the General Government should exercise. It was a sort of revival of the old controversy between the Colonies and the Crown, and a distinct antici. pation of the political parties of later years. The dispatches of the French ministers at Philadelphia to Paris contain frequent references to the bitter contentions of the National and State parties.1 One was the party of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison; the other of John Adams, Samuel Adams, and R. H. and Arthur Lee. Mr. Jefferson went so far as to hold that Congress had authority to coerce a State to pay its quotas to the treasury.
1 Elliot's Debates, Vol. V., p. 172.
THE FEDERAL CONVENTION CALLED.
1. GENERAL.-Bancroft, Vol. VI., (The Formation of the Amer. ican Constitution, II.); same author, History of the Constitution, Chaps. VII-VIII.; Hildreth, Vol. III.; Winsor, Vol. VII., Chap. IV.; Curtis, Book III., Chaps. VI., VII.; Frothingham, Chap. XII.; Cooley, same as last chapter; Johnston, same as last chapter, also Convention of 1787 (in Lalor); Fiske, The Critical Period of American History; Von Holst, Constitutional and Political History of the U.S., 1750-1828; MacMaster, Vol. I., Chap. IV.; Schouler, Chap. I., Sec
II. SPECIAL.-The principal documents relating to the calling of the Convention, with notes, are found in Elliot's Debates, Vol. I. Many of them are contained in Bancroft's and Curtis's Histories of the Constitution. See also Journals of Congress, Vol. IV., and the Introduction to J. C. Hamilton's edition of The Federalist.
166. Conference at Alexandria.-In March, 1785, commissioners appointed by Maryland and Virginia met at Alexandria to frame a compact concerning the navigation of Chesapeake Bay and the other waters that belong to those States in common. Mount Vernon is near by, and they naturally conferred with its distinguished master. Not only was Washington alive to the pending scheme, but he was also deeply interested in the improvement of the navigation of the Potomac and James Rivers, in connecting the waters of the sea-board and those of the interior by transit lines, in uniform customs-duties, and a uniform currency for the two States. He urged these ideas on the commissioners. In time the commissioners made reports to their respective Legislatures concerning the better regulation of the navigation of the Bay and the Potomac. It was seen at once, as it had been seen at Alexandria, that