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The Rights of the People

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    CHAPTER II. HOW THE UNITED STATES BECAME A NATION

    When the fathers of ‘76 had declared that “these Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States,” Britain did not agree with the proposition, and consequently it had to be proved. In the war from 1776-1783, the proposition was so fully demonstrated that Britain and all other nations admitted its entire truthfulness.ROP 58.1

    No sooner was this question settled, however, than dangers, unrealized until now, threatened the very existence, not only of the union of the thirteen States, but of the separate States themselves. When the question had been settled that these Colonies were and of right ought to be free and independent States, then free and independent States was precisely what they were. There were thirteen of them, and each one of the thirteen was as entirely free and independent of all the others, as were the whole thirteen free and independent of Great Britain. Each of the thirteen States was as free and independent of any or all of the others, as though it stood alone on this continent.ROP 58.2

    True, articles of confederation had been entered into under which a Congress acted, but the Congress had no real power. It could recommend to the States measures to be carried into effect, but the States could and did do just as they pleased as to paying any attention to the recommendations. If the measure suited them, they would act upon it; but if not, they would not. And if it suited part of them and did not suit the rest, even if it met the approval of all but one, only the ones that chose would comply with the recommendation, and as to the others, or the other one, there was no power on earth that could require them or it to act with the States that chose to comply. Washington described the situation by saying, “We are one nation to-day, and thirteen to-morrow.” This is the exact truth. Practically they were thirteen independent nations, just as those of Europe are.ROP 58.3

    It was soon found that they could not long exist with such a fast and loose order of things as that. By their enemies prophecies were frequent of “the downfall of the United States,” and, indeed, the signs were so abundant and ominous that their friends were compelled to fear that this would certainly result. As soon as peace with Britain had been settled, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and other prominent ones, began to agitate for a federal government, a national power. Washington “had hardly reached home from the war” before he, in a letter to the governor of Virginia, January 18, 1784, stated the situation and the great need of the country in the following forcible words:-ROP 59.1

    “The prospect before us is fair. I believe all things will come right at last, but the disinclination of the States to yield competent powers to Congress for the federal government will, if there is not a change in the system, be our downfall as a nation. This is as clear to me as A, B, C. We have arrived at peace and independency to very little purpose if we cannot conquer our own prejudices. The powers of Europe begin to see this, and our newly acquired friends, the British, are already and professedly acting upon this ground, and wisely, too, if we are determined to persevere in our folly. They know that individual opposition to their measures is futile, and boast that we are not sufficiently united as a nation to give a general one. Is not the indignity of this declaration, in the very act of peacemaking and conciliation, sufficient to stimulate us to vest adequate powers in the sovereign of these United States?ROP 59.2

    “An extension of federal powers would make us one of the most wealthy, happy, respectable, and powerful nations that ever inhabited the terrestrial globe. Without them [federal powers] we shall soon be everything which is the direct reverse. I predict the worst consequences from a half-starved, limping government, always moving upon crutches and tottering at every step.”—History of the Constitution of the United States, Bancroft, Vol. I, p. 153. 5The quotations from Bancroft herein throughout are taken directly from his “History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States.” The same quotations, however, precisely as here given, can be found in Vol. VI of his latest revision of his “History of the United States,” so that anyone who has access to his “History of the United States,” needs not his “History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States.” This history of the Constitution is practically only a reprint of the last volume of his “History of the United States,” with the addition of a vast number of letters of the men of the times.ROP 59.3

    Nearly the end of the same year, December 14, 1784, “the French minister at Versailles” wrote as follows:-ROP 61.1

    “The American confederation has a strong tendency to dissolution. It is well that on this point we have neither obligations to fulfill nor any interest to cherish.”-Id., p. 167.ROP 61.2

    In November, 1785, during a discussion in the General Assembly of Virginia over the question of an extension of power to a federal government, Washington was asked for suggestions, to which, November 30, he replied:-ROP 61.3

    “The proposition is self-evident. We are either a united people or we are not so. If the former, let us in all matters of national concern act as a nation which has a national character to support.” “If the States individually attempt to regulate commerce, an abortion or a many-headed monster will be the issue. If we consider ourselves, or wish to be considered by others, a united people, why not adopt the measures which are characteristic of it, and support the honor and dignity of one? If we are afraid to trust one another under qualified powers, there is an end of the union.”-Id., p. 251.ROP 61.4

    At the suggestion of the Legislature of Maryland to the General Assembly of Virginia, in December, 1785, a resolution was passed by that body January 21, 1786, “proposing that commissioners from all the States should be invited to meet and regulate the restrictions on commerce for the whole.”-Id., p. 253. Madison was the first named of the commissioners of Virginia; Annapolis, Md., was named as the place, and “the first Monday in September,” 1786, the time, of the meeting. In accepting the invitation New Jersey empowered her commissioners “to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations and other important matters might be necessary to the common interest and permanent harmony of the several States,” and these “other important matters” turned out to be definite instructions “to be content with nothing less than a new federal government.”—Id., pp. 257, 268.ROP 61.5

    In February, 1786, the Congress of the confederation, after having discussed for two days the many and increasing difficulties which it was compelled to meet, referred the subject to a committee. After deliberating five days the committee, February 15, made their report. After stating the chief difficulties the report concluded as follows:-ROP 62.1

    “After the most solemn deliberation, and under the fullest conviction that the public embarrassments are such as above represented, and that they are daily increasing, the committee are of opinion that it has become the duty of Congress to declare most explicitly that the crisis has arrived when the people of the United States, by whose will and for whose benefit the federal government was instituted, must decide whether they will support their rank as a nation by maintaining the public faith at home and abroad, or whether, for want of a timely exertion in establishing a general revenue, and thereby giving strength to the confederacy, they will hazard not only the existence of the Union, but of those great and invaluable privileges for which they have so arduously and so honorably contended.”-Id., 255.ROP 62.2

    Yet, after this strong and pointed report, the Congress failed to take any decisive steps toward the relief and safety of the country. “The discussion, brought Congress no nearer to the recommendation of a general convention. Its self-love refused to surrender its functions, least of all on the ground of its own incapacity to discharge them.”-Id., p. 259. The effect of this report, however, was such that “far and wide a general convention was become the subject of thought, and ‘a plan for it was forming, though it was as yet immature.”-Id., p. 256.ROP 62.3

    Commissioners were not present at the Annapolis Convention from all the States, but such as were present unanimously adopted a report to Congress asking that body to use its endeavors to secure a meeting of commissioners from all the States, “to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday of May [1787] to consider the situation of the United States,” etc.—Id., p. 268. This recommendation was not adopted by Congress, 6Mr. Bryce (“American Commonwealth,” chapter 3 par. 4, edition 1895) says that Congress “approved” this report “and recommended the States to send delegates,” etc. This seems, however, certainly to be a mistake. Bancroft says that “a grand committee of the seventh Congress reported, in February [1787], by a bare majority of one,” approving the report of the Annapolis convention, and strongly recommending “to the different Legislatures to send forward delegates,” etc., “but that they never ventured to ask for a vote upon their report” History of the Constitution. Vol. I p. 273. I have not access myself to the original documents, so as positively to decide this contradiction between these two eminent authors; but, as Mr. Bancroft’s account is so full and circumstantial, I have no hesitation in accepting it in preference to Mr. Bryce’s statement. I must believe that Mr. Bryce has, from some cause, overlooked this failure of Congress to approve the Annapolis report, and confounded the recommendation that Congress did finally make with this one that it did not make. so that in itself that, was the end of this particular effort. Meanwhile the difficulties and dangers of the country had multiplied, and the impotency of Congress, as it then existed, to deal with them was becoming more and more apparent.ROP 63.1

    In this crisis Madison, who had been all along a tireless worker for the new federal government, for a national power which should be really such, stepped boldly forward and appealed to “the people of America” to take the necessary steps without the lead of Congress. He carried in the General Assembly of Virginia, November, 1786, the unanimous indorsement of the recommendation of the Annapolis convention, with the following preamble, written by himself:-ROP 63.2

    “The commissioners who assembled at Annapolis, on the fourteenth day of September last, for the purpose of devising and reporting the means of enabling Congress to provide effectually for the commercial interests of the United States, have represented the necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects, and have recommended that deputies for that purpose be appointed by the several Legislatures, to meet in convention in the city of Philadelphia on the second day of May next-a provision preferable to a discussion of the subject in Congress, where it might be too much interrupted by ordinary business, and where it would, besides, be deprived of the counsels of individuals who are restrained from a seat in that assembly.ROP 64.1

    “The general assembly of this commonwealth [Virginia], taking into view the situation of the confederacy, as well as reflecting on the alarming representations made from time to time by the United States in Congress particularly in their act of the fifteenth day of February last, can no longer doubt that a crisis is arrived at which the people of America are to decide the solemn question whether they will, by wise and magnanimous efforts, reap the fruits of independence and of union; or whether, by giving way to unmanly jealousies and prjeudices, or to partial and transitory interests, they will renounce the blessings prepared for them by the Revolution.ROP 64.2

    “The same noble and extended policy, and the same fraternal and affectionate sentiments which originally determined the citizens of this commonwealth to unite with their brethren of the other States in establishing a federal government, cannot but be felt with equal force now as motives to lay aside every inferior consideration, and to concur in such further concessions and provisions as may be necessary to secure the objects for which that government was instituted, and to render the United States as happy in peace as they have been glorious in war.”-Id., pp. 271, 272.ROP 64.3

    It was as late as the middle of November, 1786, when this was passed by the Virginia Assembly. As soon as New Jersey received the news, she endorsed the action, November 23; in December, Pennsylvania joined these two; in January, North Carolina, and in February, 1787, Delaware joined the former three. Congress, seeing how the tide was moving, thought it best to move also; and accordingly thought to maintain its dignity by totally ignoring all that had been done and gravely recommending precisely such a convention as was going to meet, and also recommending it to meet in the same place and on the identical day. One after another of the remaining States fell into line, except Rhode Island, which never did. And so only twelve States had any part in the work of the convention that created the national government under which we live.ROP 64.4

    As soon as it became apparent that the convention would certainly assemble, Madison began to prepare an outline of a constitution for the expected new government, “and, in advance of the federal convention, he had sketched for his own use and that of his friends, and ultimately of the convention, a thoroughly comprehensive constitutional government for the Union.”-Id., p. 278.ROP 65.1

    The delegates were slow in arriving, and it was the 29th of May, 1787, before the convention was fully organized for business. The regular business of the convention was begun by Randolph, the governor of Virginia, in these words:-ROP 65.2

    “To prevent the fulfillment of the prophecies of the downfall of the United States, it is our duty to inquire into the defects of the confederation and the requisite properties of the government now to be framed, the danger of the situation, and the remedy.”-Id., Vol. II, p. 10.ROP 65.3

    After a few further remarks he proposed for a working basis for a constitution, the outline that had been drawn by Madison, and to which, with some amendments and alterations, the whole Virginia delegation had agreed.ROP 65.4

    The convention went steadily on with its work, and on September 17, 1787, with the unanimous consent of the representatives of the eleven States present, there was completed and signed the Constitution of the United States as it stands, from the “Preamble” down to “Amendments.”ROP 65.5

    Not all who signed it, however, were satisfied with it. Nevertheless, those who were not entirely favorable to it, signed it because it was the only course in which there lay any hope. Though dissatisfied with it, they accepted it in order to escape a much worse fate than anything under it could possibly be.ROP 66.1

    Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, said:-ROP 66.2

    “I, too, object to the power of a majority of Congress over commerce, but apprehending the danger of a general confusion, and an ultimate decision by the sword, I shall give the plan my support.”-Id., p. 218.ROP 66.3

    Gouver ñeur Morris, of Pennsylvania, remarked:-ROP 66.4

    “I, too, had objections; but, considering the present plan the best that can be obtained, I shall take it with all its faults. The moment it goes forth, the great question will be, Shall there be a national government, or a general anarchy?”-Id., p. 220.ROP 66.5

    Alexander Hamilton signed with the following explanation:-ROP 66.6

    “No man’s ideas are more remote from the plan than my own are known to be; but is it possible to deliberate between anarchy and convulsion on the one side, and the chance of good to be expected from the plan on the other?”-Id.ROP 66.7

    And after the proposed constitution had been sent forth to the people, for their consideration, Washington sought further to disarm opposition by a letter in which he used the following words:-ROP 66.8

    “My decided opinion is that there is no alternative between the adoption of the proceeding of the convention and anarchy.... The Constitution or disunion is before us to choose from.”-Id., pp. 279, 280.ROP 66.9

    So well was the situation understood outside of the country, as well as by these leading men in the country, that Great Britain was really considering whether she should not administer upon the estate, in the event of the convention failing to come to any agreement upon a plan of government. “The ministry of England harbored the thought of a constitutional monarchy, with a son of George III. as king; and they were not without alarm lest gratitude to France should place on an American throne a prince of the House of Bourbon.”-Id., Vol. I, p. 277.ROP 66.10

    Thus, and for these reasons, was the government of the United States created; and thus the United States became a nation.ROP 67.1

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