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of the rest depended.” Except as to the rule of apportionment, Congress had an indefinite discretion to make requisitions for men and money ; but they had no authority to raise either the one or the other by regulations extending to the individual citizens of the American Republic. Like the warrior-magician of the great dramatic poet, they could “call up spirits from the yeasty deep,” but none would "come when they did call.” The consequence was, that though in theory the resolutions of Congress were equivalent to laws, yet in practice they were found to be mere recommendations, which the states, like other irresponsible sovereigns, observed or disregarded, according to their own good will and gracious pleasure.
The next most palpable defect, therefore, in the system was the absence of all power in Congress to compel obedience to their decrees; or, in legal parlance, the total want of a sanction to their laws. There was no express delegation of authority to use force against delinquent members of the confederacy, and no such right could be ascribed to the federal head, as resulting from construction, or derived by inference from the nature of the compact, inasmuch as Congress was actually restricted from any assumption of implied powers, however essential to the complete exercise of those which were expressly given. Fortunately for the country, there was then too much public virtue in that body to assume a power not warranted by the Constitution. Had its members possessed less wisdom and integrity, and stretched their authority under the plea of an imperious necessity, which might often have been alleged on stronger and more plausible grounds than at any subsequent period, it would have been usurpation; and had they been clothed with the power of enfor. cing their constitutional requisitions, it might, from the accumulated jurisdiction vested in them, have proved fatal to public liberty. The only remedy, therefore, for a violation of the compact was war upon the refractory party, by such others of the confederates as might think proper tó resort to it. But the application of this remedy would probably have produced dismemberment, and thus have proved worse even than the disease itself.
The want of a mutual guarantee of the state governments to protect them from internal violence and rebellion ; the principle by which the contributions of the states were made to the common treasury; the want of a power in Congress to regulate commerce ; the right of equal suffrage possessed by the states in Congress, as well as the omission of distinct and independent executive and judicial departments, were also regarded as fundamental errors in the confederation. In these leading particulars, and in some others of inferior importance, it had proved totally incompetent to fulfil the ends for which it had been devised. Almost as soon as it was finally ratified, the states began to fail in prompt and faithful observance of its provisions. As the dangers incident to revolution and war receded, instances of neglect and disobedience became more gross and frequent; and, “ by the time peace was concluded,” it was observed by one of our constitutional jurists* that “the disease of the government had displayed itself with alarming rapidity.” The inequality in the application of the principle of contributions produced delinquencies in many of the states; and the delinquencies of one state became the pretext or apology for those of another, until the project of supplying the pecuniary exigencies of the
* Chancellor Kent.
nation by requisitions upon the individual states was discovered to be altogether delusive in its concep tion, and hopeless in its execution.
The Continental government, destitute, as we have seen, of power to adopt regulations of commerce binding on the states, each state established its separate system, on such narrow and selfish principles, and executed it in so partial and unequal a manner, that the confidence of foreign nations in our commercial integrity and stability, and the mutual harmony and freedom of intercourse among the states themselves, were impaired, if not destroyed. The national engagements, indeed, seem, in most cases, to have been abandoned ; and, in the indignant language of the “ Federalist,” “ each state, yielding to the voice of immediate interest or convenience, successively withdrew its support from the confederation, until the frail and tottering edifice was ready to fall on the heads of the people, and crush them beneath its ruins.”
In the most persuasive and manly remonstrances, Congress had endeavoured to obtain from the states the right of levying, for a limited time, a general im post on goods imported from abroad, for the exclu sive purpose of providing for the discharge of the national debt. But it was impracticable to unite so many independent sovereignties in this or any other measure for the safety and honour of the confederacy. Disastrous, however, as their refusal appeared at the time, and deeply regretted as it was by every intelligent friend of the Union, it may be deemed providential that the state legislatures withheld from Congress the power solicited ; for, had it then been granted, it is the opinion of the constitutional jurist to whom I have already referred, that “the subsequent effort to amend the system of federal government would never, probably, have been made, and
the people of this country might have continued to this day the victims of a feeble and incompetent confederacy." The necessary tendency of affairs at that period was either to an entire annihilation of the national authority, or to a civil war in order to maintain it. Universal poverty and distress were spreading dismay throughout the land. Agriculture, as well as commerce, was crippled; private confidence, as well as public credit, was destroyed; and every expedient was resorted to by men of desperate fortunes to inflame the minds of the people, and cast odium upon .hose who laboured to preserve the national faith, and establish an efficient government. Notwithstanding the sufferings of the people and the imbecility of the government, there were many citizens, of high respecrability and undoubted patriotism, who still adhered to the old confederation; and, from their preference or their possession of state authority, and their jealousy of federal power, could see nothing in the proposed renovation of the Union but oppression and tyranny. They apprehended, indeed, nothing less than the entire destruction of the state governments by the overwhelming influence of the national institutions, and determined to resist the contemplated change. But a large majority of those who had conducted the country in safety through the Revolution, united their influence to put an end to the public calamities, by establishing a political system which should be adequate to the exigencies of national union, and act as an efficient and permanent government on the several states. The foremost among these patriots was General Washington. At the close of the Revolutionary war, he had addressed a circular letter to the governors of the several states, urging an indissoluble union as essential to the well-being, and even to the existence of the nation; and now, from
his retirement, he strove, in all his intercourse and correspondence with his fellow-citizens, to impress upon the public mind the necessity of such a meas. ure. At his seat at Mount Vernon, in the year 1785 it was agreed by certain commissioners from Vir. ginia and Maryland, whose visit had reference to far inferior objects, to propose to their respective governments the appointment of new commissioners, with more extensive powers in regard to the commercial arrangements between these states. This proposal was not only adopted by the Virginia Legislature, but was so enlarged as to recommend to all the other states to unite in the appointment of commissioners from each, to meet and consult on the general subject of the commercial interests and relations of the confederacy. And this measure, thus casual and limited in its commencement, terminated in a formal proposition for a general convention to revise the state of the Union.
When the period arrived for the meeting of this body, the objects of its assembling had been carried much farther than at first expressed by those who perceived and deplored the complicated and increasing evils flowing from the inefficiency of the existing confederation. Representatives from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware were all that assembled on this occasion, in addition to those from Virginia and Maryland; and upon proceeding to discuss the subjects for which they had convened, it was soon perceived that a more general representation of the states, and powers more extensive than had been confided to the delegates actually attending, would be requisite to effect the great purposes in contemplation. This first convention, therefore, broke up without coming to any specific resolution on the pirticular matters referred to them ; but, previously