Striving for union.
‘our respective governments which compose the
union,’ so ran the circular of congress to the states in the opening of the year 1779, ‘are settled and in the vigorous exercise of uncontrolled authority.’
Itself without credit and unable to enforce the collection of taxes, it increased its paper money.
About one hundred and six millions were then in circulation.
The worth of the continental dollar, for a time buoyed up by the French
alliance, had in three months fallen from twenty cents to twelve and a half.
For the service of the year 1779, congress invited the states to pay by instalments their respective quotas of fifteen millions; and, further, to pay six millions annually for eighteen years as a fund to sink all previous emissions and obligations.
The two series which under British auspices had been most largely counterfeited were called in; but this act impaired the credit of them all more than would have been
done by leaving the people to discriminate for them-
After these preliminaries, a new issue of a little more than fifty millions was authorized.
‘The state of the currency was the great impediment to all vigorous measures;’ it became a question whether men, if they could be raised, could be subsisted.
In April, when a paper dollar was worth but
five cents, it was said that ‘a wagon-load of money would scarcely purchase a wagon-load of provisions.’
farmers were unwilling to sell their
wheat except for hard money.
There seemed no hope of relief but from some central authority.
To confederate without Maryland
was the vote of Connecticut
; with nine or more states, was the opinion at Boston
; with ‘so many as shall be willing to do so,’ allowing to the rest a time during which they might come in, was the decision of Virginia
Late in May, congress apportioned among the states forty-five millions of dollars more, though there was no chance that the former apportionment would be paid.
Four times in the course of the year it sent forth addresses to the several states.
Newspapers, town meetings, legislatures, teemed with remedial plans; but the issue of paper constantly increased, and its value fell with accelerated velocity.
In the middle of August, when a paper dollar was
worth but three or four cents, Washington
, who had suffered very heavy losses and remained really willing to sacrifice his whole estate, instructed his agent that the legal-tender law countenanced dishonesty.
On the second of September, congress having
ascertained that the sum of outstanding emissions was but a little short of one hundred and sixty
millions, limited paper money to two hundred mil-
lions; and the limit was reached before the end of the year.
In October, it appointed Henry Laurens
of South Carolina
to negotiate a loan of ten millions in the Netherlands.
In November, it further resolved
to draw upon him for one hundred thousand pounds sterling; and to draw on Jay
, for as much more.
The two were instructed mutually to support each other; but neither of them had any resources.
The king of Spain
was the most determined foe to the independence of the United States
; and the United Provinces had not yet acknowledged their existence.
In the midst of these financial straits, the year came to an end; and a paper dollar, which in January had been worth twelve and a half cents, was in December worth less than two and a half cents.
The legislature of Virginia had, on the second of
June, 1779, unanimously ratified the treaties of alliance and commerce between France
and the United States
; and the governor had, under the seal of the commonwealth, notified the French
minister at Philadelphia
of the act. On this procedure, Vergennes
in September instructed the French
minister at Phil
adelphia in these words: ‘During the war it is essential both for the United States
and for us that their union should be as perfect as possible.
When they shall be left to themselves, the general confederation will have much difficulty in maintaining itself, and will perhaps be replaced by separate confederations.
Should this revolution take place, it will weaken the United States
, which have not now and never will have real and respectable strength except by their union.
But it is for themselves alone
to make these reflections.
We have no right to pre-
sent them for their consideration, and we have nointerest whatever to see America
play the part of a power.
The possibility of the dissolution of the general confederation, and the consequent suppression of congress, leads us to think that nothing can be more conformable to our political interest than separate acts by which each state shall ratify the treaties concluded with France
; because in this way every state will be found separately connected with us, whatever may be the fortune of the general confederation.’1
was the only other state to take notice of treaties, and it did no more than approve the act of its delegates in ratifying them.
The sentiment of congress was strong against these seeming assumptions of a separate voice on a subject reserved exclusively for the deliberation of all. Before the war was ended, both Maryland
applied to France
for assistance, which the latter received.
On the question of a closer union, Virginia
hung nearly on the balance.
The first of her citizens was at the head of the army, and was using all his powers of persuasion to promote an efficient government; and her legislature selected Madison
, a friend to union, as one of her representatives.
On the other hand, as the chief claimant of western and northwestern lands in opposition to congress, she, above all others, asserted the sovereignty of the separate states.
Congress had received petitions from persons, claiming to be companies, holding land north-west of the Ohio
‘Should congress assume a jurisdiction,’
such was the remonstrance of the general assembly
, “it would be a violation of public faith; introduce a most dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be urged to deprive of territory or subvert the sovereignty and government of any one or more of the United States
; and establish in congress a power which, in process of time, must degenerate into an intolerable despotism.”
‘Although the general assembly of Virginia
would make great sacrifices to the common interest of America
(as they have already done on the subject of representation), and will be ready to listen to any just and reasonable propositions for removing the ostensible causes of delay to the complete ratification of the confederation, they do hereby, in the name and on behalf of the commonwealth of Virginia
, expressly protest against any jurisdiction or right of adjudication in congress, upon the petitions of the Vandalia
companies, or on any other matter or thing subversive of the internal policy, civil government, or sovereignty of this or any other of the United American States
, or unwarranted by the articles of confederation.’
Congress, on mature consideration, declined the discussion of the remonstrance.
To counterbalance the sturdy resistance of Virginia
the legislature of New York took the field.
They founded claims to western territory on the discoveries of the Dutch
; on the grant from Charles the Second to the Duke
; on the capitulation of the Dutch
; on the acquisition of the rights of the Five Nations and their tributaries as the native proprietors.
Desirous to accelerate the federal alliance, on the nineteenth of April, 1780, they authorized con-
gress to restrict their boundaries on the west.
is the first important act of the states in surrendering public lands to the federal union.
At the opening of the year 1780, congress found itself utterly helpless, and threw everything upon the states.
In truth, there was nothing else that it could do. On the ninth of February, it fixed the
number of men necessary for the service of the year at thirty-five thousand two hundred and eleven, and required the states to furnish by drafts or otherwise, before the first day of the coming April
, the respective deficiencies in their quotas, which were prescribed with exactness.
But troops need to be subsisted: congress called on the several states to furnish their respective quotas of supplies for the ensuing season; thus shoving off from itself all care for recruiting the army, and all responsibility for its support.
To gain money, it directed the states to bring into the continental treasury, by taxes or otherwise, one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars every month to the month of April, 1781, inclusive, in hard money or with forty dollars in the old bills for one dollar of the tax. The bills that should be thus brought in were to be destroyed; and, for every forty dollars actually cancelled, two dollars of a new issue might be uttered, bearing five per cent interest, receivable by the continental treasury as specie, and redeemable in specie by the several states on or before the last day of December, 1786.
As fast as the new bills should be signed and emitted, the states respectively on whose funds they were to be issued were to receive three-fifths of them, and the remaining two-fifths were to be subject
to the order of the United States
, and to be duly
credited to the several states.
All laws on legal tender were to be adapted to the new system.
The elaborate plan was generally well received, though by a mere vote it sponged out thirty-nine fortieths of the former currency.
As the bills were to be issued in the names of the several states according to enactments of their own legislatures, the plan could not go into effect till each one of them should give authority for the use of its name.
Meantime, the demands on the continental treasury were in part answered by warrants on the several states, which found means to discharge them, using the taxes collected for the continental treasury.
was the first state that had the opportunity to accept the measure, and it adjourned without acting upon it. The legislature of Virginia rejected it by an overwhelming majority, and at last, after great persuasion, accepted it by a majority of but two.
The new emission wanted credit from the beginning; the old currency soon ceased to circulate.
A cry arose among patriotic men, especially in the army, for an efficient government.
‘While the powers of congress,’ wrote Greene
, ‘are so incompetent to the duty required of them, I have but little hopes that the face of our affairs will mend; on the contrary, I fear they will grow worse and worse until ruin overtakes us.’
In the army, which had been unpaid for five months, every department was without money and without the shadow of credit.
To relieve this gloomy state of things, congress, on the tenth of April, 1780, promised to make good to the officers and line the depreciation in their pay; but the
promise was little worth.
For a long time the troops
received only from one-half to one-eighth of a ration of meat, and were several days without a single pound of it. Washington
appealed to the president of the rich state of Pennsylvania
, which, except for a few months in 1777 and 1778, had been untouched by the war; but it was in vain.
‘The great man,’ wrote Greene
secretly to the president of Pennsylvania
, ‘is confounded at his situation, but appears to be reserved and silent.
Should there be a want of provisions, we cannot hold together many days in the present temper of the army.’
On the twenty-fifth of May, two regiments of Connecticut
, worn out by want of clothes and food and pay, paraded under arms, declaring their resolution to return home, or to obtain subsistence for themselves; and they were brought back to their duty only by being reminded that they were defenders of the rights of mankind, and, as a grave writer who was then with the army relates, by the ‘influence of the commander-in-chief
whom they almost adored.’
The enemy appeared against them in the midst of these trials; and they rallied as one man and kept him at bay.
‘Certain I am,’ wrote Washington
in May, to his friend Joseph Jones
, a delegate from Virginia
unless congress are vested with powers by the several states competent to the great purposes of war, or assume them as matter of right, and they and the states respectively act with more energy than they have hitherto done, our cause is lost.
We can no longer drudge on in the old way. By ill-timing in the adoption of measures, by delays in the execution of them, or by unwarrantable jealousies, we incur
enormous expenses and derive no benefit from them. One state will comply with a requisition of congress; another neglects to do it; a third executes it by halves; and all differ either in the manner, the matter, or so much in point of time, that we are always working up hill.
While such a system as the present one, or rather want of one, prevails, we shall ever be unable to apply our strength or resources to any advantage.
This, my dear sir, is plain language to a member of congress, but it is the language of truth and friendship.
It is the result of long thinking, close application, and strict observation.
I see one head gradually changing into thirteen.
I see one army branching into thirteen, which, instead of looking up to congress as the supreme controlling power of the United States, are considering themselves as dependent on their respective states.
In a word, I see the powers of congress declining too fast for the consideration and respect which are due to them as the great representative body of America, and I am fearful of the consequences.
‘Congress,’ answered his correspondent, ‘have scarcely a power left but such as concerns foreign transactions; for, as to the army, they are at present little more than the medium through which its wants are conveyed to the states.
This body never had, or at least in few instances ever exercised, powers adequate to the purposes of war; and indeed such as they possessed have been frittered away to the states, and it will be found very difficult to recover them.
Resolutions are now before us, by one of which the states are desired to give express
powers for the common defence.
Others go to the
assumption of them immediately.
The first will sleep with the states; the others will die where they are, so cautious are some of offending the states.’
When it became certain that troops from France
were on their way to assist the country, congress made not even a semblance of direct action, and could only entreat the states to correspond severally with its committee at headquarters, so that it might explicitly know how far they could be relied on to furnish the men and money and provisions that had been called for. The legislature of Pennsylvania, before its adjournment, vested large discretionary powers in its president; but these from motives of prudence he declined to use. It remained to be seen what private efforts could do. In June, steps were
taken at Philadelphia
for founding a bank with power to issue notes.
The subscribers proposed, but only on adequate security, to make purchases in advance for the suffering soldiers.
Congress accepted the proffered aid, and further resolved to advance to the company as much of its paper money as could be spared from other services.
Thus began the deposit of funds of the United States
with a bank.
Throughout the war, the women of America
never grew weary of yielding up articles necessary for the comfort of their own households, to relieve the distresses of the soldiers.
The women of Philadelphia
, rallying round the amiable Esther Reed
, wife of the president of Pennsylvania
, now made a more earnest effort: they brought together large donations of clothing, and invited the ladies of other states to adopt a like plan.
They thus assisted to keep alive
the spirit of patriotism in the army, but their gifts
could not meet its ever-recurring wants.
‘The congress,’ wrote Greene
towards the end of ‘have lost their influence.
I have for a long time seen the necessity of some new plan of civil constitution.
Unless there is some control over the states by the congress, we shall soon be like a broken band.’
Without the impulse from a centre, there could be no good administration.
Money enough had been expended for clothing the army; but large importations were left to waste in different parts of the country, and the troops were never seen otherwise than half naked.
When congress drew supplies in kind directly from each state for its own troops, quotas were sometimes apportioned by the states to their towns, and in towns to individuals.
Men of small means in a New England
village would club together to buy an ox of a weight equal to their collective quotas, and herds of cattle gathered in this way were driven slowly to camp.
All this marked an active spirit of patriotism reaching to the humblest and remotest, but it showed the want of organized power.
Even with the energy of Greene
, there could be no efficient administration in the quartermaster's department, though it had been placed on a centralized system under his immediate authority with powers almost independent of congress, and with most liberal and even lucrative emoluments for himself, his assistants and subordinates.
was satisfied that he did all that was possible, that he ‘conducted the various duties of his office with capacity
and diligence, and with the strictest integrity.’
system itself in the hands of a bad man would have opened the way to endless abuses; and congress wisely restored its own controlling civil supervision.
Dismissing a useless supernumerary, it determined to have but one head of the quartermaster's department at the seat of congress, and one at the camp; and in paying the officers of the staff it returned to salaries instead of commissions.2
The unanimous judgment of the country from that day to this has approved the reform.
, to whom his office had for more than a year become grievously irksome, resigned with petulant abruptness; but congress, still following its sense of public duty, conquered its well-grounded displeasure, and soon after, on the advice of Washington
, appointed him to the command of the southern army.
His successor in the quartermaster's department was Timothy Pickering
, who excelled him as a methodical man of business; so that the department suffered nothing by the change.
The tendency to leave all power in the hands of the separate states was a natural consequence of their historic development, and was confirmed by pressing necessity.
‘A single assembly,’ so John Adams
long continued to reason, ‘is every way adequate
to the management of all the federal concerns of the people of America
; and with very good reason, because congress is not a legislative assembly, nor a representative assembly, but a diplomatic assembly.’
Conventions of states had been held in 1776, and in every successive year, to consider the decline of the paper currency, and the regulation of prices.
One of these attracted the more attention, as it assembled at Philadelphia
, represented every state north of Virginia
except New York, and prolonged its existence by adjournments.
At the convention called in August, 1780, no states appeared except Massachusetts
, and New Hampshire
; but a step was taken towards the formation of a federal constitution.
After adopting a series of measures best suited to the campaign, they resolved ‘that the union of these states be fixed in a more solid and permanent manner; that the powers of congress be more clearly ascertained and defined; that the important national concerns of the United States
be under the superintendency and direction of one supreme head; that it be recommended to the states to empower their delegates in congress to confederate with such of the states as will accede to the proposed confederation; and that they invest their delegates in congress with powers competent for the government and direction of all those common and national affairs which do not nor can come within the jurisdiction of the particular states.’3
To these resolutions Washington
invited the attention of Bowdoin
, then president of the council of
. ‘If adopted,’ said he, ‘they will
be the means, most likely, to rescue our affairs from the complicated and dreadful embarrassments under which they labor, and will do infinite honor to those with whom they originate.
I sincerely wish they may meet with no opposition or delay in their progress.’
The words of the convention sunk deeply into the mind of Hamilton
, who for three and a half years had been Washington
's most able and confidential secretary; and, under his eye and guidance had watched the course of affairs from the central point where they could best be overseen.
To these opportunities he added the resources of an inventive and fearless mind, joined to the quick impulses of youth, and the habit of steady and severe reflection.
Uncontrolled by birth or inherited attachments to any one state, he fastened with superior power upon the idea of a stronger union.
Of Scotch and Celtic origin, he had something of proneness to the exercise of authority.
His nature and temperament demanded a strong and well-organized government of ever-active and enduring power.
Though still so young, his creative mind was, and remained for his lifetime, the wellspring of ideas for the conservative politicians of New York, and of an ever-increasing circle in other states.
From his childhood he was unbounded in his admiration of the English
constitution, and did not utterly condemn its methods of influence in the conduct of public affairs; yet in his own nature there was nothing mean or low; he was disinterested, and always true to the sense of personal integrity and honor.
The character of his mind and
his leaning to authority, combined with something
of a mean opinion of his fellow-men, cut him off from the sympathy of the masses, so that he was in many ways unfit to lead a party; and the years of his life which were most productive of good were those in which he acted with Washington
, who was the head.
the leader, and the guide of a nation in a manner which he was not only incapable of, but could never even fully comprehend.
While the weightiest testimony that has ever been borne to the ability of Hamilton
is by Washington
, there never fell from Hamilton
's pen during the lifetime of the latter one line which adequately expressed the character of Washington
, or gave proof that he had had the patience to verify the immense power that lay concealed beneath the uniform moderation and method of his chief.
He had a good heart, but with it the pride and the natural arrogance of youth, combined with an almost overweening consciousness of his powers, so that he was ready to find faults in the administration of others, and to believe that things might have gone better if the direction had rested with himself.
Bold in the avowal of his own opinions, he was fearless to provoke and prompt to combat opposition.
It was not his habit to repine over lost opportunities; his nature inclined him rather to prevent what seemed to him coming evils by timely action.
of that day had its precocious statesmen.
For stateliness of eloquence, and consummate skill in managing a legislative assembly, the palm must be given to Pitt
, whom Hamilton
excelled in vigor, consistency, and versatility.
There were points of analogy between Hamilton
. Both were
of warm and passionate natures; but Hamilton
the father of a family, while Fox
wasted life as a libertine.
It was remarkable of both of them, that, with glowing natures, their style in debate and in writing was devoid of ornament, attractive only by strength of thought and clearness of expression.
On the third of September, 1780, Hamilton
the field as a maker of a national constitution by inviting Duane
, a member of congress from New York, to hold up to that body the example of the New England
states, and to call on the first day of the next November a convention of all the states, with full authority to conclude finally upon a general confederation.
He traced the causes of the want of power in congress, and censured that body for its timidity in refusing to assume authority to preserve the republic from harm.
‘Undefined powerss’ he said, ‘are discretionary powers, limited only by the object for which they were given,’ not holding in mind that congress could not have assumed such powers, even if it would.
‘Already,’ he continued, ‘some of the lines of the army, but for the personal influence of the general, would obey their states in opposition to congress, notwithstanding the pains taken to preserve the unity of the army.
The sovereign of an empire under one simple form of government has too much power; in an empire composed of confederated states, each with a government completely organized within itself, the danger is directly the reverse.’
‘We must, at all events, have a vigorous confederation,’ he said, ‘if we mean to succeed in the contest, and be happy thereafter.
should be regulated by the legislatures.
should have complete sovereignty in all that replates to war, peace, trade, finance, foreign affairs, armies, fleets, fortifications, coining money, establishing banks, imposing a land-tax, poll-tax, duties on trade, and the unoccupied lands.’
‘The confederation should provide certain perpetual revenues, productive and easy of collection,—a land-tax, poll-tax, or the like; which, together with the duties on trade and the unlocated lands, would give congress a substantial existence.’
‘Where the public good is evidently the object, more may be effected in governments like ours than in any other.
It has been a constant remark, that free countries have ever paid the heaviest taxes.
The obedience of a free people to general laws, however hard they bear, is ever more perfect than that of slaves to the arbitrary will of a prince.’
‘As to the plan of confederation which congress had proposed, it is,’ he said, ‘defective, and requires to be altered.
It is neither fit for war nor peace.
The idea of an uncontrollable sovereignty in each state will defeat the powers given to congress, and make our union feeble and precarious.’
The second step which Hamilton
recommended was the appointment of great officers of state,—one for the department of foreign affairs, another for war, a third for the navy, a fourth for the treasury.
These were to supersede the committees and the boards which had hitherto been usual; but his plan neither went so far as to propose a president with the chief executive power, nor two branches in the national legislature.
He would have placed the army exclusively
under congress, but perhaps mistook its impor-
tance as ‘a solid basis of authority and consequence.’
The precedent of the Bank of England, of which he over-estimated the influence on public credit, led him to place too much reliance on a bank of the United States
The advice which Hamilton
offered from his tent in the midst of an unpaid, half-fed, and half-clad army, was the more remarkable from the hopefulness which beamed through his words.
No doubt crossed his mind, or, indeed, that of any of his countrymen, that a republic of united states
could be formed over a widely extended territory.
Two days later, Washington
, with Duane
at his side, gazed from Weehawken heights on the half-ruined city of New York
in her bondage.
He may not have fully foreseen how the wealth and commercial representatives of all the nations of the world would be gathered on that island and the neighboring shores; but he, too, never doubted of the coming prosperity and greatness of his country.
Congress toiled as before, and, if for the moment it toiled in vain, it secured the future.
It urged on the states a liberal surrender of their territorial claims in the west, ‘to accelerate the federal alliance and lead to the happy establishment of the federal union;’ and, as if its eye had pierced the glories of the coming century, it provided ‘that the western lands which might be ceded to the United States
should be settled and formed into distinct republican states, which shall become members of that federal union, and have the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence as the other states.’
n words drafted by Robert R. Livingston
, it adhered
with hearty good — will to the principles of the armed neutrality, and by a vote of a majority of the states it sought to quiet the discontent among the officers in the army by promising them half-pay for life.
But to relieve the embarrassments of the moment it was powerless.
Again on the twenty-second of October, Washington
, to guide his native state towards union, poured out his heart to his early friend George Mason
Our present distresses are so great and complicated, that it is scarcely within the powers of description to give an adequate idea of them.
With regard to our future prospects, unless there is a material change both in our civil and military policy, it will be in vain to contend much longer.
We are without money; without provision and forage, except what is taken by impress; without clothing; and shortly shall be, in a manner, without men. In a word, we have lived upon expedients till we can live no longer.
The history of this war is a history of temporary devices instead of system, and economy which results from it.
If we mean to continue our struggles (and it is to be hoped we shall not relinquish our claims), we must do it upon an entire new plan.
We must have a permanent force; not a force that is constantly fluctuating and sliding from under us, as a pedestal of ice would leave a statue on a summer's day; involving us in expense that baffles all calculation, an expense which no funds are equal to. We must at the same time contrive ways and means to aid our taxes by loans, and put our finances upon a more
certain and stable footing than they are at present. Our civil government must likewise undergo a reform; ample powers must be lodged in congress as the head of the federal union, adequate to all the purposes of war. Unless these things are done, our efforts will be in vain.
On the fourth of November, congress once more
distributed among the several states a tax of six millions of silver dollars, to be paid partly in specific articles.
But in truth everybody came to the conviction that the country must depend on France
for aid in money.
‘It is now four days,’ wrote Glover
on the eleventh of December,
‘since your line of the army has eaten one mouthful of bread.
We have no money; nor will anybody trust us. The best of wheat is at this moment selling in the state of New York
for three-fourths of a dollar per bushel, and your army is starving for want.
On the first of January something will turn up, if not speedily prevented, which your officers cannot be answerable for.’
When congress in September, 1776, had transferred the enlistment of troops to the states, the new recruits were to bind themselves to serve for the war; but in some cases the enlistment was made ‘for three years or for the war;’ and three years had passed since that time.
In the night of the first of January,
1781, a part of the Pennsylvania
line, composed in a large degree of Irish immigrants, and hutted at Morristown
, revolted, and, under the lead of their non-commissioned officers, marched with six fieldpieces to Princeton
The want of clothes in winter, of pay for nearly a year, the not infrequent want of
food, the compulsion imposed upon some of them to
remain in service beyond the three years for which they believed they had engaged, were extremities which they would no longer endure.
Informed of the mutiny, Sir Henry Clinton
passed over to Staten Island
with a body of troops for its support; but two emissaries whom he sent to them with tempting offers were given up by the mutineers, and after trial were hanged as spies.
, the president of Pennsylvania
, repaired to the spot, though it was beyond his jurisdiction; and without authority, and without due examination of each case, he discharged those who professed to have served out their specified term, while measures were taken by the state of Pennsylvania
to clothe and pay the rest.
They, for the most part, obtained no more than was due them; but it was of evil tendency that they gained it by a revolt.
In a circular letter to the New England
states, of which Knox
was made the bearer, Washington
laid open the aggravated calamities and distresses of the army.
‘Without relief the worst,’ he said, ‘that can befall us may be expected.
I will continue to exert every means I am possessed of to prevent an extension of the mischief; but I can neither foretell nor be answerable for the issue.’
Troops of New Jersey
, whose ranks next to the Pennsylvania
line included the largest proportion of foreigners, showed signs of being influenced by the bad example; but Washington
The troops of New England
, which had twenty regiments in the continental service, had equal reasons for discontent; but they were almost every one of them
, freeholders or sons of freeholders.
In spite of their nakedness, they marched through deep snows, over mountainous roads, and suppressed the incipient revolt.
The passions of the army were quieted by their patriotism; and order and discipline returned.
‘Human patience has its limits,’ wrote Lafayette
to his wife on the occasion; ‘no European
army would suffer the tenth part of what the American
It takes citizens to support hunger, nakedness, toil, and the total want of pay, which constitute the condition of our soldiers, the hardiest and most patient that are to be found in the world.’
reported from New England
zealous efforts to enlist men for the war. Congress could do nothing, and confessed that it could do nothing.
‘We have required,’ thus they wrote to the states on the fifteenth of January, 1781, ‘aids of men, provisions, and money;’ and they stated exactly the difficulty under which the union labored when they added: ‘the states alone have authority to execute.’
Since congress itself made a public confession of its powerlessness, nothing remained but to appeal to France
for rescue not from a foreign enemy, but from the evils consequent on its own want of government.
lends not a speedy aid,’ wrote Greene
from the south to her minister in Philadelphia
, ‘I fear the country will be for ever lost;’ and Greene
was ‘not of a desponding spirit or idle temper.’
It was therefore resolved, for the moment, to despatch to Versailles
as a special minister some one who had lived in the midst of the ever-increasing distresses of the army, to set them before the government
in the most striking light.
the fittest man for the office, was not known to congress; and its choice fell on the younger Laurens
of South Carolina
To the agent Washington
confided a statement of the condition of the country; and with dignity and candor avowed that it had reached a crisis out of which it could not rise by its own unassisted strength.
‘Without an immediate, ample, and efficacious succor in money,’ such were his words, ‘we may make a feeble and expiring effort in our next campaign, in all probability the period of our opposition.
Next to a loan of money, a constant naval superiority on these coasts is the object most interesting;’ and without exaggeration he explained the rapid advancement of his country in population and prosperity, and the certainty of its redeeming in a short term of years the comparatively inconsiderable debts it might have occasion to contract.
he wrote in the same strain; and Lafayette
addressed a like memorial of ripe wisdom to Vergennes
While the United States
thus importuned a foreign prince for help, their people, in proportion to numbers, was richer than the people to whose king from their own want of government they were obliged to appeal.
organize its resources, and are the people of the republican America
incapable of doing so?
Can monarchy alone give to a nation unity?
Is freedom necessarily anarchical?
Can liberty not administer and rule?
Are authority and the hopes of humanity for ever at variance?
Can Louis the Sixteenth have revenues, armies, and fleets; and are American statesmen powerless to bring out the resources
of their collective states?
Are the people of
the United States
, who so excel that of France
in liberty, doomed to hopeless inferiority in respect of administration?
For the eye of Robert Livingston
, then the most influential member from New York, Washington
traced to their source the evils under which the country was sinking, and invited their correction.
‘There can be no radical cure,’ wrote he, ‘till congress is vested by the several states with full and ample powers to enact laws for general purposes, and till the executive business is placed in the hands of able and responsible men. Requisitions then will be supported by law.’
Congress began to be of the same opinion.
On the fifth of February, Witherspoon
of New Jersey
seconded by Burke
of North Carolina
, proposed to vest in that body the power to regulate commerce, and to lay duties upon imported articles.
The proposition was negatived, but it was resolved to be indispensably necessary for the states to vest a power in congress to levy a duty of five per cent on importations of articles of foreign growth and manufacture.
Before that power could be so vested, the separate approval of every one of the thirteen states must be gained.
The assent of Virginia
was promptly given.
That great commonwealth, having Jefferson
for its governor, sought to promote peace and union.
To advance the former, it even instructed its delegates in congress to surrender the right of navigating the Mississippi river
below the thirty-first degree of north latitude, provided Spain
in return would guarantee the navigation of the river above that parallel.
, obeying the instruction, voted for the measure
contrary to his private judgment.
, and North Carolina
alone opposed, New York being divided.
Avowing her regard for a ‘federal union,’ and preferring the good of the country to every object of smaller importance, it resolved to yield its title to the lands north-west of the Ohio
, on condition that the territories should be formed into distinct republican states, and be admitted members of the federal union; and Jefferson
, who from the first had pledged himself to the measure, announced to congress the great act of his administration in a letter full of hope for the completion of the American union, and the establishment of free republics in the vast country to which Virginia
quitted her claim.
The first day of March was a great day in the
history of the country.
America had proceeded by petitions to the king, by a declaration of rights, by an appeal to the world on taking up arms, by her declaration of independence
onwards to the confederation which was designed to make them one people for all time; Maryland
, the last of the thirteen states, subscribed and ratified the articles; and the United States of America
, each and every of them, adopted, confirmed, and ratified their confederation and perpetual union.
A new era of the United States
assembled in congress was begun.
It is terrible when a state, long crushed by sufferings, struggles for that which promises relief, and on attaining it finds it an illusion.
The people of the United States
thought that they had established a government, and there was no government.
In the form drafted by Dickinson
, the confederation
was to be only an alliance of sovereign states: every
change that had been made had still further impaired its relative consideration.
The original report permitted each separate state to impose duties on imports and exports, provided they did not interfere with stipulations in treaties; and the confederation, as adopted, confined this restriction to the treaties already proposed to France
No power to prohibit the slave-trade was granted.
In troops, raised for the common defence, the appointment of field and inferior officers, and the filling up of vacancies, were reserved to the several states.
The assent of two-thirds of the states, that is of nine states, was required for every important measure of peace or war, of treaties, of finance; and the vote of every absent or unrepresented state was counted in the negative: so that congress for months or even for years might be unable and was unable even to frame a resolution on vital questions.
Further: each state retained its sovereignty and every attribute not expressly delegated to the United States
in congress assembled; and, by the denial of all incidental powers, the exercise of the granted powers was rendered impracticable.
By the articles of confederation, congress alone could treat with foreign nations; but they provided no method for enforcing treaties, so that the engagements on the part of the nation might at any time be violated by any one of its members.
Congress was to defray expenses for the common defence or general welfare out of a common treasury; but there was no independent treasury: the taxes
were to be laid and levied by the legislatures of the
Moreover, the quotas of the states were to be assigned in proportion to the value of all real estate
within each state, and that value each state was to estimate for itself.
Congress, which had no direct power to levy any money whatever, could not even assign to the states their quotas, till every one of the thirteen should have completed its valuation.
The states might tax imports as much as they pleased: congress could not tax them at all. Congress could declare war, but had not power to bring a single citizen into the field.
A confederation is the opposite to union; since it acts not on individuals, but only on each separate sovereignty.
The states of America
had formed a confederation, not a union.
Room for amendment seemed to be provided for; but such amendment could not take place without the simultaneous and unanimous consent of the states.
America had seated anarchy deeply in the very source of legislation.
No creative word could go forth: through congress there could be no agreement in reform.
With every day men would grow more attached to their separate states; for many of these had the best governments in the world, while the confederation was one of the worst, or rather no government at all.
was the first to perceive the defects of the confederation, and to urge its reform.
On the day before it was adopted, he had explained to a young member of the Virginia legislature ‘the necessity of a controlling power to regulate and direct all matters of general concern.
The great business of war,’ he said, ‘never can be well conducted, if it
can be conducted at all, while the powers of congress
are only recommendatory.’
‘Our independence, our respectability and consequence in Europe
, our greatness as a nation hereafter, depend upon vesting congress with competent powers.
That body, after hearing the views of the several states fairly discussed, must dictate and not merely recommend.’
And now that the confederation was established, he addressed himself to the great statesmen of Virginia
, to Pendleton
, and Jefferson
, to give adequate powers to the representative body of the states, especially a control over refractory states, to compel their compliance with the requisitions made upon them.
‘Danger,’ he wrote, ‘may spring from delay; good, from a timely application of a remedy.
The present temper of the states is friendly to the establishment of a lasting union; the moment should be improved: if suffered to pass away, it may never return; and, after gloriously and successfully contending against the usurpations of Britain, we may fall a prey to our own follies and disputes.’4
He was more particularly impelled to express his opinions with freedom, because in December, 1779, the legislature of Virginia seemed to have censured the point of enforcing obedience to requisitions.
‘It would give me concern,’ he added, ‘should it be thought of me that I am desirous of enlarging the powers of congress unnecessarily, as I declare to God my only aim is the general good.
Perhaps a knowledge
that this power was lodged in congress might
be the means to prevent its ever being exercised, and the more readily induce obedience: indeed, if congress was unquestionably possessed of the power, nothing should induce the display of it but obstinate disobedience and the urgency of the general welfare.’
The course of business brought the subject imme-
diately into discussion in congress itself.
The confederation was but a month and a half old, when a committee presented a report drafted by Madison
, proposing by an amendment to the articles of confederation to give to the United States
full authority to employ their force, as well by sea as by land, to compel any delinquent state to fulfil its federal engagements; and the reason for the measure as assigned in the preamble was to cement and invigorate the federal union that it might be established on the most immutable basis.
From that day Madison
never ceased his efforts till a better system was established; but the most reflecting and far-seeing observers of the inadequacy of the powers allowed to congress dared not hope that its members would be able to remodel the confederacy.
In a pamphlet published in May, 1781, at the city in which they were assembled, Pelatiah Webster
, an able though not a conspicuous citizen, pointed out to them the necessity of their calling a continental convention for the express purpose of ascertaining, defining, enlarging, and limiting the duties and powers of their constitution.
The American people were bent on having a government, though their road to it lay through humiliation
But, while the United States
were slowly sounding their way to union, Washington
on the first day of May made a note, that instead of magazines they had but a scanty pittance of provisions, scattered here and there in the different parts of the army; and poorly provided arsenals, which the workmen were leaving.
The articles of field equipage were not in readiness, nor funds to defray the expenses of regular transportation.
Scarce any one of the states had as yet sent an eighth part of its quota into the field; and there was no prospect of a glorious offensive campaign, unless their generous allies should help them with money and with a fleet strong enough to secure the superiority at sea.5