Imatges de pàgina

royal party being the stronger, it was improbable that a legislative act authorizing the election of representatives in Congress could be obtained, the people themselves assembled in those places where the spirit of opposition prevailed, and elected delegates, who were readily received as members of the Congress. The powers with which the deputies of the several colonies were invested were of various extent; although the recommendations for their appointment had been expressed in the most general and comprehensive terms, and requested that they should be clothed with “authority and discretion to meet and consult together for the common welfare.Most generally they were empowered to consult and advise on the means most proper to secure the liberties of the colonies, and restore the harmony formerly subsisting between them and the parent state. In some instances, the powers conferred seemed to contemplate only such measures as would operate on the commercial connexion between the two countries; in others, the discretion of the delegates was unlimited.

* Deputies from eleven of the provinces appeared at Philadelphia on the day appointed, and took into immediate consideration the calamitous aspect of public affairs; and especially the sufferings of those colonies which had been foremost and most active in resistance to the oppressive measures of the mothercountry. By a series of declaratory resolutions, they asserted what they deemed to be the absolute and inalienable rights of the colonists, as men, and as free subjects of Great Britain ; pointed out to their constituents the systematic aggression which had been pursued, and the impending violence premeditated against them; and enjoined them, by their regard to honour, and their love of country, to re

nounce commerce with Great Britain, as the most effectual means of averting the dangers with which they were threatened, and of securing those liberties which they claimed from the bounty of their Creator, and as an inheritance from their fathers.

This requisition received prompt and universal obedience; and the Union thus formed, and confirmed by these resolutions, was continued by suc. cessive elections of delegates to the General Congress, and was maintained through every period of the Revolution which immediately ensued, and every change in our Federal and State Governments, and is revered and cherished by every true American as the source of our national prosperity, and the only solid foundation of our national independence.

In the month of May, 1775, a new Congress, consisting of delegates from twelve provinces, clothed with ample discretionary powers, met at Philadelphia ; and soon after it assembled, the accession of Georgia completed the confederation of the Thirteen Colonies of North America. These delegates were instructed to "concert and prosecute such measures as they should deem most fit and proper to obtain a redress of grievances ;” and, in more general terms, corresponding with the formula of classic antiquity, to “take care of the liberties of the country.” Charged thus solemnly with the protection of the common rights and interests, the representatives of the American people prepared for resistance, sus. tained by the confidence, and animated by the zeal of their constituents. They published a declaration of the causes and necessity of resorting to arms, and proceeded to levy and organize forces by land and sea; to contract debts and emit a paper currency, pledging the faith of the Union for its redemption; and gradually assuming all the powers of na.

tional sovereignty, this Congress at length declared the United Colonies free and independent states.*

Preparatory to this momentous and uncompromising measure, by which our Revolution may be said to have been consummated, an important preliminary step had been taken by Congress, which in itself was considered decisive of the question of independence. It had previously recommended to particular colonies to establish temporary institutions for conducting their affairs during the contest with the mothercountry; but when independence was perceived to be the inevitable result, it was proposed by Congress, to the respective assemblies and conventions of the provinces where no government adapted to the exi. gencies of the crisis had already been formed, to adopt such constitutions as should be most conducive, to the happiness and safety of their immediate constituents, as well as of the nation at large. The provincial assemblies acted on this recommendation; and the several colonies, already contemplating themselves as independent states, adopted the principle, then considered visionary in Europe, of limiting the constituted authorities by a written fundamental instrument; and thus the doctrine of the “ Social Contract,” hitherto advanced merely as an ingenious theory, or regarded as a bold and fanciful speculation, was first actually exemplified, and successfully reduced to practice.

To secure and perpetuate these state institutions, it was deemed expedient, while these measures were maturing, to explain more fully, and by a formal instrument, the nature of the federative compact, and to define both the powers vested in the General Government, and the residuary sovereignty of the

# Vide Appendix A.

states. But the measure was attended with so much embarrassment and delay, that notwithstanding they were surrounded by the same common danger, and were together contending for the same inestimable principles and objects, it was not until late in the following autumn that the discordant interests and prejudices of these thirteen distinct commonwealths could be so far blended and compromised as to induce their agreement to the terms of the proposed Federal Union; and when submitted to the state legislatures for ratification, the system was declared by Congress to have been the result of impending necessity, consented to, not for its intrinsic excellence, but as the best that could be adapted to the circumstances of the states respectively, and, at the same time, afford any reasonable hope of general assent.

The “ Articles of Confederation” met with still greater obstacles in their progress through the states. Most of the state legislatures, indeed, ratified them with a promptitude which evinced a due sense on their part of the necessity of preserving the confederacy, and, to that end, of the duty of exercising a liberal spirit of accommodation. But some of the states withheld their assent for several years after the declaration of independence; and one, in particular, persisted so long in its refusal, as to injure the common cause, afford encouragement to the enemies, and depress the hopes of every friend of America, The perception of these consequences at length induced the state in question to abandon its objections ; and on the first of March, 1781, these articles of Union received, upon the accession of Maryland, the unanimous approbation of the states.*

* Vide Appendix B.

By the terms of this compact, cognizance and jurisdiction of foreign affairs; the power of declaring war and concluding peace; and authority to make unlimited requisitions of men and money, were exclusively vested in Congress; and a compliance with these powers, when exercised by that body, was rendered obligatory upon the several states. But these rights of political supremacy, extensive as they were, had been conferred in a very imperfect manner, and · under a most imperfect organization. The articles, indeed, were but a written digest, and even a limitation of the discretionary powers which had been del. egated to Congress in 1775, and which had always been freely exercised, and implicitly obeyed. The powers themselves, now formally enumerated and defined, might, nevertheless, have proved competent for all the essential purposes of union, had they been duly distributed among the several departments of a well-balanced government, and brought to bear upon the individual citizens of the United States by means of a federal executive and judicial, as well as legislative authority. Congress, as then constituted, was, in fact, an improper and unsafe depository of political power, since the whole national authority, in one consolidated mass of complicated jurisdiction, was vested in a single body of men; while, in imitation of all former confederacies of independent sovereignties, the decrees of the federal council affected the states only in their corporate capacity, as contradistinguished from the individuals of whom they are composed. This was considered by the ablest statesmen of that day as the radical defect of the first confederation; " and although this vicious principle did not,” as one of them has justly remarked, “run through all the powers delegated to the Union, yet it pervaded and governed those on which the efficacy

« AnteriorContinua »