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Before following up that narrative, it is necessary to recur to some of the political matters that had engaged the attention of Congress, and to the contemporaneous movements in Europe, connected with American affairs.
A FRUITFUL source of embarrassment to American affairs in every department, military and civil, was the want of a stable government. Not only were the armies of 1776 and 1777 raised, clothed, and directed; the political and foreign relations of the country managed, and vast sums of money raised and expended and prodigious debts incurred, without any regular form of government or binding authority from the separate States, but without any definite system among their acting representatives in Congress. The delegates from the several States, by virtue of the general powers and instructions of each, exercised at discretion all the functions of legitimate government. The only sanction to this exercise was the implied assent of their separate constituencies, each of which was a distinct sovereignty. The States had not defined the powers which they designed to delegate, nor had Congress established a system of powers for themselves. All action grew out of the necessities of each occasion, and the acquiescence of the people was presumed to what was considered necessary. The evil of such unlimited discretion
It weakened all confidence in public engagements, while it gave constant occasion for jealousies and suspicion among the people of the States, no less than among
their representatives. These evils were foreseen at a very early day by the leading patriots, and plans were suggested for removing them by the adoption of a joint system of government. Union was urged as indispensable to strengthen and sustain Independence, and secure unanimity in the support of that measure. Dr. Franklin proposed a plan of Confederation in the summer of 1775, but Congress were not then ready for so decided a movement of resistànce. In the succeeding year, when the ties of connexion with Great Britain were about to be broken, the project of
a union of the States was revived contemporaneously with the determination to assert the independence of the States. But one day intervened between the adoption of the resolution on Independence in Committee, and the selection of a special committee to prepare a form of Confederation. Their names have already been quoted. Their report was made on the 12th of July. Delays and difficulties occurred, as well from differences of opinion and dissensions among the States, as from the pressure of immediate danger from the common enemy. The plan was resumed in April 1777, and, after long discussion and repeated postponements, was finally adopted by Congress, on the 15th of November, in that year.
John Hancock having resigned a few weeks before, Henry Laurens of South Carolina, was then President of Congress.
The “ Articles of Confederation" established a union between the thirteen States, under the style of the “United States of America.” It was resolved to be a “firm league of friendship” among them, "for their defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to, or attacks made upon, them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence what
Each State was to retain its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right not expressly delegated to the United States. Delegates were to be appointed by each State, not less than two or more than seven in number; each State to maintain its delegates; and to recall them at pleasure. In the determining of questions, the vote to be taken by States. No State was to enter into any treaty, agreement, or alliance, with a foreign nation, nor with any other State, or States, without the consent of Congress.
The States were prohibited from laying imposts or duties, to interfere with any treaty stipulations of the United States, in pursuance of propositions made to the courts of France
No vessels of war were to be kept up by them in time of peace, except such as Congress might deem ne
for the defence of the State, or its trade; nor keep up forces, except to garrison their forts: nor engage in war, except in case of actual invasion, or such imminent danger as not to admit of delay till the assembling of Congress. Every State was required to keep up a well-regulated and
disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, with a proper quantity of military stores, ammunition, artillery, &c. All the officers of land forces raised by the States, under the rank of colonel, were to be filled by the States.
All the charges of war, and other expenses incurred : for the common defence and general welfare, were to be defrayed out of a common treasury, supplied by the States in proportion to the value of all land within each State, granted to or surveyed for any person, as such land, and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated, according to such mode as the United States might direct; the proportion of the taxes of each State to be levied by the duration and authority of the State legislatures, within the time agreed upon by Congress.
The specially delegated and exclusive powers of Con- . gress were: to determine on peace and war, except in case of invasion, or imminent danger of invasion; to send and receive ambassadors ; make treaties and alliances, with the exception that no commercial treaty should be made restrain- i ing the States from imposing such duties on foreigners as their own people are subject to, or from prohibiting exportation or importation. Congress were to decide on captures by sea and land; prescribe the rules for distributing prizes ; grant letters of marque and reprisal; and establish courts for the adjudication of prizes, and the trial of crimes and felonies committed on the high seas. Congress was made the final judge between the States, in all cases of disputed boundaries, “ or any other cause whatever;" and the mode of decision was minutely prescribed, with the proviso, that no State should be deprived of territory for the benefit of their United States.
Congress were to have the sole right to regulate the alloy and value of the coin struck by their own authority, or that of the States ; to fix a general standard of weights and measures; regulate trade and manage affairs with the Indians, not members of the States, “provided the legislative right of any State, within its own limits, be not infringed or violated;" establish and regulate post-offices; and appoint all officers of the lan rces, except regimental officers, and all naval officers.
Congress were further authorized to appoint a committes to sit in the recess, to be denominated “A Committee of the States," consisting of one delegate from each State ; to ap
point other committees and necessary civil officers for managing the general affairs of the United States, under their direction; to appoint a President of Congress, provided no person was allowed to serve more than one year in any time of three years; to ascertain the sums of money necessary to be raised for the service of the United States, and appropriate the same; to borrow money and emit bills on the credit of the United States, rendering an account half yearly to every State ; to build and equip a navy; agree on the number of land forces, and make requisitions for them upon the State legislatures, the United States to bear the expense of raising, equipping, arming, and clothing them.
The United States were expressly restrained from en. gaging in war; granting letters of marque and reprisal in time of peace ; entering into treaties and alliances, coining money or regulating its value, ascertaining or fixing the sums necessary for the use of the United States, emitting bills, borrowing money or appropriating it, agreeing on the number of land or sea forces, or appointing a com: mander-in-chief, unless nine States should assent to the same. All other questions, except that of adjournment from day to day, required the votes of a majority of States.
The “ Committee of the States," or any nine of them, might, in the recess of Congress, execute such powers as Congress, with the consent of nine States, should invest them with; provided no power be delegated which, in Congress, required the assent of nine States.
It was further provided, that all bills of credit emitted, moneys borrowed, and debts contracted under the authority of Congress, before the assembling of the United States, in pursuance of the new Confederation, should be deemed and considered as a charge against the United States, for which the public faith was hereby solemnly pledged.
Every State stipulated to abide by the determination of the United States, in Congress assembled, on all questions which by the Confederation are submitted to them; the articles of the Confederation to be inviolably observed by every state, and the union to be perpetual ; no alteration at any time thereafter to be made in any ofám, unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress United States, and afterwards confirmed by the legislature”of every State.
Canada, according to the Confederation, and joining in the measures of the United States, might be permitted into
the Union, but no other colony to be admitted into the same unless such admission be agreed to by nine States.
This plan being finally agreed to in Congress, was transmitted to the State legislatures, with a circular letter, entreating their early consideration of it, as a "Confederacy for securing the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of the United States." “ It will,” says the letter, "confound our foreign enemies, defeat the flagitious practices of the disaffected, strengthen and confirm our friends, support our public credit, restore the value of our money, enable us to maintain our fleets and armies, and add weight and respect to our councils at home, and to our treaties abroad. In short, this salutary measure can no longer be deferred. It seems essential to our very existence as a free people; and without it we may soon be constrained to bid adieu to independence, to liberty, and safety : blessings which, from the justice of our cause and the favor of our Almighty Creator visibly manifested in our protection, we have reason to expect, if, in humble dependence on his divine Providence, we strenuously exert the means which are placed in our
· It will be perceived that these “ articles” contain little more than a form of agreement or league between States entirely distinct and independent, and that there was provided in them no means for enforcing the decision of Congress, or carrying its resolutions into effect, other than by the free action of each State in its separate capacity, acting through its legislature, representing its citizens. The Confederation vested no power in the new government to act upon the people of the States, except through requisitions upon State authorities. Adopted by Congress in November, «s the articles" were not considered as binding conclusively until they had been approved of, and ratified by, the legislatures of all the states; which was not accomplished in fact until the year 1781. The delays and controversies which postponed the ratification so long, did not however prevent the States from acting, so far as the conduct of the war was concerned, under an admission that the stipulations were to be fulfilled in good faith. Their most important bearing upon the history of this era of the revolution, is in the rule of action and specifications of powers which they established for Congress. If the States did not immediately and formally sanction all the features of the plan, it, nevertheless,