صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

necticut, New-York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, was held at Albany in 1754. This convention1 unanimously resolved, that a union of the colonies was absolutely necessary for their preservation. They proposed a general plan of federal government, which, however, was not adopted.

§ 8. In October, 1768, a congress2 of delegates from nine states assembled at New-York, and digested a bill of rights on the subject of taxation.

§ 9. In September, 1774, an association of twelve states was formed, and delegates authorized to meet and consult for the common welfare.

10. In May, 1775, the first congress of the thirteen states assembled at Philadelphia; and in July, 1776, issued the Declaration of Independence.

11. In November, 1777, Congress agreed upon the celebrated Articles of Confederation, under which the United States successfully terminated the Revolution. This was the first formation of a general government of all the states, and continued till the adoption of the Constitution in 1788. This, however, had inherent defects, which forced the states to the adoption of the present system. During the Revolution, the pressure of an instant and common danger kept the states in a close union, and incited them to make all possible efforts in the common defence. When that was over, however, mutual jealousies and separate interests, weakening the common bonds, soon proved the utter insufficiency of a mere confederacy for the purposes of national government. Then it was that the ablest heads and the purest hearts in the nation exercised their faculties in devising a new and better form of government. General Washington, in June, 1783, addressed a letter to the governors of the several states, in which he says, "There are

1 Kent's Comm. p. 191, 192. 2 Idem. 193. 4 Marshall's Life of Washington, vol. 5, c. 1, p. 46.

3 Idem. 195.

four things which I humbly conceive are essential to the well-being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an independent power. 1. An indissoluble union of the states under one federal head. 2. A sacred regard to public justice. 3. The adop→ tion of a proper peace establishment. 4. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States which will induce them to forget their local politics and prejudices."

12. Under the first head he remarked that, "It is only in our united character that we are known as an empire, that our independence is acknowledged, that our power can be regarded, or our credit supported among foreign nations. The treaties of European powers with the United States of America will have no validity on a dissolution of the Union. We may find by our own unhappy experience, that there is a natural and necessary progression from the extreme of anarchy to the extreme of tyranny; and that arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness." Such were the sentiments of Washington, and such were those then of the nation.

13. In January, 1786, the Legislature of Virginia recommended a meeting of commissioners from the several states to review the powers of government. The delegates of five states met at Annapolis, but adjourned, proposing a general convention at Philadelphia.

§ 14. In 1787, the convention of delegates from twelve states was convened, and after much deliberation, formed the present Constitution of the United States.

15. By resolution1 of the convention, it was directed to be carried into effect when ratified by the conventions of nine states chosen by "the people thereof." That ratification, after much opposition, scrutinizing discus

1 Marshall's Wash. 5 vol. P. 129.

sion, and the adoption of several amendments it finally received, and all the states, eventually assenting to its provisions, became members of the Union. In 1789 it went into practical operation, and from that period to this, more than forty years, has withstood unharmed the various violent influences of local feuds, opposing interests, domestic insurrection, and foreign violence.

§ 16. We have seen that, at several different periods, viz. 1643, 1754, 1765, 1774, 1777, and in 1787, the territories composing what is called the United States formed associations for the purposes of a common government and general welfare. Let us now examine how these were originally constituted, and in what manner modified by time and experience.

§ 17. By the articles of confederation made in 1643, between the colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New-Haven, it was expressly declared to be a league, under the name of the United Colonies of NewEngland. The chief points in this confederation were,— 1st. That each colony should have peculiar jurisdiction and government within its own limits. 2d. That the quotas of men and money were to be furnished in proportion to the population, for which purpose a census was to be taken from time to time of such as were able to bear arms. 3d. That to manage such matters as concerned the whole confederation, a Congress of two commissioners from each colony should meet annually, with power to weigh and determine all affairs of war and peace, leagues, aids, charges, and whatever else were proper concomitants of a confederation offensive and defensive; and that to determine any question, three-fourths of these commissioners must agree, or the matter is to be referred to the General Courts; 4th. That these commissioners may choose a president, but that such president has no power over the business or proceedings. 5th. That neither of the colonies should engage in any war without consent of the general com


missioners. 6th. That if any of the confederates should break any of these articles, or otherwise injure any of the other confederates, then such breach should be considered, and ordered by the commissioners of the other colonies.

§ 18. Now it will be observed that this confederacy was, by agreement, a mere league, for motives of amity, for objects of general offence and defence. As such, it was as good a model as any which history presents us; but as a government, it was utterly inefficient: its principal defects in the last point of view were, 1. The want of an Executive, without which it could never act as a whole. All the acts of the commissioners had to be enforced by each separate colony: they did not act upon individuals. 2d. The want of a General Judiciary, by which offences arising between the several members, or against the whole confederacy, might be taken cognizance of. 3d. The want of any general power to obtain credit or emit money. In short, this league did not pretend to be a government, and was deficient in nearly all the attributes of sovereignty.

19. Upon the last provision, that providing a remedy for breaches of the league by one of the confederacy, it is worthy of remark, that it never entered into the heads of people then, that it was possible for one party to a compact to make itself judges of its own breaches of it: on the contrary, it was provided that such breaches should be judged of by the other members of the confederacy. It was reserved for a much later period of history, and it would seem for far more ingenious men, to divine a mode by which a party to a contract can at once make itself a judge of its own violations of it, and invalidate at pleasure its provisions.

§ 20. The next plan of association was that formed by the commissioners who met at Albany in 1754. It was not accepted by the mother country, but may serve to show what progress in ideas of government had then

been made by the colonists. It is remarkable that the scheme proposed did not purport, like the other, to be a league, or confederation, but a plan for one general government. Its principal provisions were,-1. That the general government should be administered by a president-general appointed by the crown, and a grand council chosen by the representatives of the people in their general assemblies. 2. That the council should be chosen every three years, and shall meet once each year. 3. That the assent of the president be necessary to all acts of the council, and that it is his duty to see them executed. 4. That the president and council may hold treaties, make peace, and declare war with the several Indian tribes. 5. That for these purposes they have power to levy and collect such duties, imposts, and taxes as to them shall seem just.

§ 21. It will be seen that this was a much nearer approach to an organized government than the confederacy of 1643. It provided for a strong executive, but was without the sanction of a general judiciary, and made no provision for regulating the currency.

§ 22. We come now to the articles of confederation. During the early part of the Revolution, the powers of a general nature were executed without question or hinderance by a 'congress of deputies from the several states. Patriotism and a common danger absorbed all other principles, and made ordinary ties unnecessary. A universal opinion, however, prevailed in favour of union, and after much deliberation, 2Congress in November, 1777, agreed upon the articles of confederation. They were, after various delays, ratified by the different states; the principal objection being in respect to the wild lands, which were claimed by several of the states, but which others urged should go to bear the common burthen. In the sequel, these lands were nobly ceded

A Journal of Congress, vol. 2, p. 475. 21 Kent Comm. 197.

« السابقةمتابعة »