« PreviousContinue »
proved in operation to be very imperfect. They presented a melancholy spectacle of great promise and little performance. There was no want of authority, but there was a great want of the means of maintaining it.
It was not to be supposed that the Confederacy of the United States, formed, as it was, on the same general plan, could escape their fate. It was even more imperfect than some of them. Congress had power to decide, and their decisions were binding on the states. But in case the states should not like their decisions, and should not choose to obey them, what was to be done? That was the question. It soon proved to be a most serious question.
The decrees of congress for raising men and money, the two things most essential to maintain their authority, were sent to the legislatures of thirteen different states. The legislatures were bound to execute them, provided they were agreeable to the Articles of Confederation. But who was to judge of that? Manifestly in the absence of any court to decide the question, the state legislatures were to judge for them
selves. The state legislatures were bound to execute them. But suppose they did not. What was to be done? You will answer, compel them. But no power of compulsion was given to congress. It was not agreed by the states in the Articles of Confederation, that congress should have any such power. If it had been granted, how was it to be made effectual? Power without money, the raising of which depended on the state legislatures, would have been a shadow. Congress soon found their decrees at the mercy of thirteen different sovereigns. They could issue their commands, but like those of the maniac who fancies himself the commander of armies, they were lost upon the winds. Their authority was a mock authority. All the Confederacies which the world had ever seen, had proved entirely inefficient, or had been obliged to enforce their decisions by civil war. Our congress had no authority to attempt to execute their decisions. They could make them, and then they must sit still and wait the result.
Almost as soon as the Articles of Con
federation were ratified, the states began to disregard them. The hand of a common enemy held over them, had, however, the effect of keeping them in some sort together. As that hand receded, the parts of the union, which it was solemnly declared should be perpetual, also began to recede from each other.
Some of the states passed navigation laws which interfered with treaties made by the United States with foreign powers. Disputes about territory arose.
But the greatest evil of all was the neglect or refusal of the state governments to raise the monies required by congress. Congress early in 1781 made arrangements for the expenses of the union by apportioning taxes among the states agreeably to the Articles of Confederation. But the state legislatures failed to comply with the requisitions made upon them. They declared that their constituents were utterly unable to bear further taxation. In the beginning of the year 1782 there was not a single dollar in the treasury.
At the approach of peace in 1783 the
army became disaffected for want of their pay. A proposition was made to take their dues by force, since they could not otherwise obtain them. It required all the wisdom and influence of Washington to prevent the meditated violence.
The states neglected to maintain a representation in congress. It was even difficult to induce them to send a sufficient number of delegates to constitute a quorum for transacting business. The credit of the government at home and abroad was ruined. In consequence of the inability to pay the officers and soldiers, the whole army was in 1781 reduced to less than eighty persons. Robert Morris, who by the appointment of congress managed the pecuniary concerns of the government, addressed letters to the governors of the different states, urging in the strongest terms the necessity that the states should comply with the requisitions of congress. In one of these letters he says, is this what is meant by pledging our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor, in support of independence? But it was all in vain. "Each
state yielding to the voice of immediate interest or convenience, successively withdrew its support from the confederation, till the frail and tottering edifice was ready to fall upon our heads, and to crush us beneath its ruins." America which had maintained herself with so much glory in the eyes of the world, was now in danger of being covered with humiliation and shame. From the weakness and inefficiency of the government, there were American citizens who openly advocated monarchy, and the enemies of liberty in Europe were beginning to exult over the ruin of our Republican institutions.
The first attempt towards relieving the country from its distress was made in Virginia, in 1785. The legislature of this state, at the suggestion of James Madison, proposed a convention of delegates to concert measures for the better regulation of foreign commerce. This convention met at Annapolis, in 1786. Its members were aware of the radical defects of the Confederation. They perceived that any thing short of a change of the system would be useless.