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of the society were to be hereditary in their respective families, and distinguished individuals might be admitted as honorary members for life. These circumstances, together with the union of the officers of the army, gave an alarm to the community; several individuals of which supposed that the hereditary part of the institution would be a germ of nobility. It was the usual policy of Washington to respect the opinions of the people, in matters indifferent, or of small magnitude, though he might think them mistaken. Having ascertained, to his own satisfaction, that a degree of jealousy pervaded the mass of the people, respecting the probable tendency of this perpetual hereditary society, he successfully exerted his influence to new-model its rules, by relinquishing the hereditary principle, and the power of adopting honorary members. The result proved the wisdom of the measure; for all jealousies of the society henceforward were done away, and the members thereof were received as brethren by the most suspicious of their fellow citizens.
When Washington, at the close of the revolutionary war became a private citizen, his country confidently anticipated every possible blessing from peace, independence, and self-government. But experience soon proved the inefficacy of existing systems for promoting public happiness, or preserving national dignity. Congress had neither the power nor the means of doing justice to public creditors, nor of enforcing the respect of foreign nations. Gold and silver vanished, commerce languished, property was depreciated, and credit expired. The lovers of liberty and independence began to be less sanguine in their hopes from the American revolution, and to fear that they had built a visionary fabric of government on the fallacious ideas of public virtue. For the first five or six years immediately following peace, the splendour which surrounded the infant states from their successful struggle in the cause of independence and self-government was daily darkening. This state of things could not be indifferent to Washington. He was among the first to discover the cause, and to point out the remedy. The inefficient support he received while commander-in-chief, proved the inefficacy of the articles of confederation for raising and supporting a requisite military force. The experience of the first years of peace proved their total inadequacy for the purpose of national government. From want of vigour in the federal head, the United States were fast dwindling into separate sovereignties, unconnected by any bond of union equal to public exigency. The enthusiasm of a popular contest, terminating in victory, began to subside, and
the sacrifices of the Revolution soon became known and felt. The claims of those who toiled, and fought, and suffered in the arduous struggle were strongly urged, and the government had neither resources nor power to satisfy or to silence them. The federal head had no separate or exclusive fund. The members of Congress depended on the states which they respectively represented, even for their own maintenance, and money for national purposes could only be obtained by requisitions on the different members of the confederacy. On them it became necessary immediately to call forth funds to discharge the arrears of pay due to the soldiers of the Revolution, and the interest on the debt which the government had been compelled to contract. The legislatures of the different states received these requisitions with respect, listened to the monitory warnings of Congress with deference, and with silent and inactive acquiescence. Their own situation, indeed, was full of embarrassment. The wealth of the country had been totally exhausted during the Revolution. Taxes could not be collected, because there was no money to represent the value of the little personal property which had not been, and the land which could not be destroyed; and commerce, though preparing to burst from its thraldom, had not yet had time to restore to the annual produce of the country its exchangeable value. The States owed each a heavy debt for local services rendered during the Revolution, for which it was bound to provide, and each had its own domestic government to support. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that each state was anxious to retain for its benefit the small but rising revenue derived from foreign commerce; and that the custom-houses in each commercial city were considered as the most valuable sources of income which the states possessed. Each state, therefore, made its own regulations, its tariff, and tonnage duties, and, as a natural consequence, the different states clashed with each other; one nation became more favoured than another under the same circumstances; and one state pursued a system injurious to the interest of another. Hence, the confidence of foreign countries was destroyed; and they would not enter into treaties of commerce with the confederated government, while they were not likely to be carried into effect. A general decay of trade, the rise of imported merchandise, the fall of produce, and an uncommon decrease of the value of lands, ensued.
The private letters of Washington, at this time, show his anxiety for his country's welfare, and his wisdom in pointing out a remedy for its degradation. In one of them he observes, "The confede
ration appears to be to me, to be little more than a shadow without the substance, and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me it is a solecism in politics; indeed, it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our own making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, recallable at any moment, and subject to all the evils which they may be instrumental in producing, sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy the wheels of government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and dark
"That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable nations upon earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt, if we would but pursue a wise, just, and liberal policy towards one another, and would keep good faith with the rest of the world. That our resources are ample and increasing, none can deny; but while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and will sink in the eyes of Europe into contempt.'
In another, "It is one of the evils of democratic governments, that the people, not always seeing, and frequently misled, must often feel before they are set right. But evils of this nature seldom fail to work their own cure. It is to be lamented, nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those who wish to apply them seasonably are not attended to before they suffer in person, in interest, and in reputation. I am not without hopes that matters will soon take a favourable turn in the federal constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate powers to Congress for national purposes, and those of a different description must yield to it ere long."
In a letter to Mr. Jay, General Washington observed: "Your sentiments that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be, is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct; we have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of coercive power. I do not con
ceive we can subsist long as a nation, without lodging somewhere a power which will pervade the whole union, in as energetic a manner as the authority of the state governments extends over the several states. To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously, for fear of losing their popularity and future election? We must take human nature as we find it, perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant humble tone of requisition, by applications to the states, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity, and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nullity, where thirteen sovereign, independent, disunited states are in the habit of discussing, and refusing or complying with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a bye-word throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train for It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, having been disgusted with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingencies would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
"What astonishing changes are a few years capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking, proceeds speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocate of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time, to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
"Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet, having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles.
"Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy in the most solemn matter. I had then, perhaps, some claims to public attention. I consider myself as having none at present."
Illumination, on the subject of enlarging the powers of Congress, was gradual. Washington, in his extensive correspondence and intercourse with the leading characters of the different states, urged the necessity of a radical reform in the existing system of govern
The time at length came when the public mind gave tokens of being prepared for a change in the constitution of the general government, an occurrence the necessity of which had long been foreseen by Washington and most of the distinguished patriots of that period. Evil had accumulated upon evil, till the mass became too oppressive to be endured, and the voice of the nation cried out for relief. The first decisive measures proceeded from the merchants, who came forward, almost simultaneously, in all parts of the country, with representations of the utter prostration of the mercantile interests, and petitions for a speedy and efficient remedy. It was shown, that the advantages of this most important source of national prosperity were flowing into the hands of foreigners, and that the native merchants were suffering for the want of a just protection, and a uniform system of trade. The wise and reflecting were convinced that some decided efforts were necessary to strengthen the general government, or that a dissolution of the union, and perhaps a devastating anarchy, would be inevitable.
The first step towards a general reformation was rather accidental than premeditated. Certain citizens of Virginia and Maryland had formed a scheme for promoting the navigation of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, and commissioners were appointed by these two states to meet at Alexandria, and devise some plan of operation. These persons made a visit to Mount Vernon, and while there, it was proposed among themselves, that more important objects should be connected with the purpose at first in view, and that the state governments should be solicited to appoint other commissioners, with enlarged powers, instructed to form a plan for maintaining a naval force in the Chesapeake, and also to