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§ 25. But it may be asked, and it properly belongs to this work to declare ; What was the political organization, under which the Revolution was carried on and accomplished ? The Colonies being, as we have seen, separate and independent of each other in their original establishment, and down to the eve of the Revolution, it became indispensable, in order to make their resistance to the British claims either formidable or successful, that there should be harmony and unity of operations under some common head. Massachusetts, in 1774, recommended the assembling of a Continental Congress at Philadelphia, to be composed of delegates chosen in all the Colonies, for the purpose of deliberating on the common good, and to provide a suitable scheme of future operations. Delegates were accordingly chosen in the various Colonies, some by the legislative body, some by the popular representative branch thereof, and some by conventions of the people, according to the several means and local circumstances of each Colony. This first great Continental Congress assembled on the 4th of September, 1774, chose their own officers, and adopted certain fundamental rules to regulate their proceedings. The most important rule then adopted was, that each Colony should have one vote only in Congress, whatever might be the number of its delegates ; and this became the established course throughout the whole Revolution. They adopted such other measures, as the exigency of the occasion seemed to require ; and proposed another Congress, to be assembled for the like purpose, in May, 1775, which was accordingly held. The delegates of this last Congress were chosen in the same manner as the preceding ; but principally by conventions of the people in the several Colonies. It was the same Congress, which, after vot
ing other great measures, all leading to open war, finally, in 1776, made the Declaration of Independence, which was unanimously adopted by the American people. Under the recommendations of the same Congress, suitable arrangements were made to organize the State governments, so as to supply the deficiencies in the former establishments; and henceforth the delegates to the Continental Congress from time to time assembled, were appointed by the State legislatures.
§ 26. The Continental Congress, thus organized by a voluntary association of the States, and continued by the successive appointments of the State legislatures, constituted, in fact, the National Government, and conducted the national affairs until near the close of the Revolution, when, as we shall presently see, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by all the States. Their powers were no where defined or limited. They assumed, among others, the power to declare war and make peace, to raise armies and equip navies, to form treaties and alliances with foreign nations, to contract public debts, and to do all other sovereign acts essential to the safety of the United Colonies. Whatever powers they assumed were deemed legitimate. These powers originated from necessity, and were only limited by events ; or, in other words, they were revolutionary powers. In the exercise of these powers, they were supported by the people, and the exercise of them could not, therefore, be justly questioned by any inferior authority. In an exact sense, then, the powers of the Continental Congress might be said to be coextensive with the exigencies and necessities of the public affairs ; and the people, by their approbation and acquiescence, justified all their acts, having the most entire reliance upon their patriotism, their integrity, and their political wisdom.
$ 27. But it was obvious to reflecting minds, upon the slightest consideration, that the union thus formed, was but of a temporary nature, dependent upon the consent of all the Colonies, now become States, and capable of being dissolved, at any time, by the secession of any one of them. It grew out of the exigencies and dangers of
the times; and, extending only to the maintenance of the public liberties and independence of all the States during the contest with Great Britain, it would naturally terminate with the return of peace, and the accomplishment of the ends of the revolutionary contest. As little could it escape observation, how great would be the dangers of the separation of the confederated States into independent communities, acknowledging no common head, and acting upon no common system. Rivalries, jealousies, real or imaginary wrongs, diversities of local interests and institutions, would soon sever the ties of a common attachment, which bound them together, and bring on a state of hostile operations, dangerous to their peace, and subversive of their permanent interests.
History of the Confederation.
§ 28. One of the first objects, therefore, beyond that of the immediate public safety, which engaged the attention of the Continental Congress, was to provide the means of a permanent union of all the Colonies under a General Government. The deliberations on this subject were coeval with the Declaration of Independence, and, after various debates and discussions, at different sessions, the Continental Congress finally agreed, in November, 1777, upon a frame of government, contained in certain Articles of Confederation, which were immediately sent to all the States for their approval and adoption. Various delays and objections, however, on the part of some of the States, took place; and as the government was not to go into effect, until the consent of all the States should be obtained, the Confederation was not finally adopted until March, 1781, when Maryland (the last State) acceded to it. The principal objections taken to the Confederation were ; to the mode prescribed by it for apportioning taxes among the States, and raising the quota or proportions of the public forces ; to the power given to keep up a standing army in time of peace; and, above all, to the omission of the reservation of all the public lands, owned by the Crown, within the boundaries of the United States, to the National Government, for national purposes. This latter subject was one of a perpetually recurring and increasing irritation; and the Confederation would never have been acceded to, if Virginia and New York had not at last consented to make liberal cessions of the territory within their respective boundaries for national purposes.
§ 29. The Articles of Confederation had scarcely been adopted, before the defects of the plan, as a frame of national government, began to manifest themselves. The instrument, indeed, was framed under circumstances very little favorable to a just survey of the subject in all its proper bearings. The States, while colonies, had been under the controlling authority of a foreign sovereignty, whose restrictive legislation had been severely felt, and whose prerogatives, real or assumed, had been a source of incessant jealousy and alarm. Of course, they had nourished a spirit of resistance to all external authority; and having had no experience of the inconveniences of the want of some general government to superintend their common affairs and interests, they reluctantly yielded any thing, and deemed the least practicable delegation of power quite sufficient for national purposes. Notwithstanding the Confederation purported on its face to contain articles of perpetual union, it was easy to see, that its principal powers respected the operations of war, and were dormant in times of peace; and that even these were shadowy and unsubstantial, since they were stripped of all coercive authority. It was remarked, by an eminent statesman, that by this political compact the Continental Congress have exclusive power for the following purposes, without being able to execute one of them :- They may make and conclude treaties ; but can only recommend the observance of them. They may appoint ambassadors ; but they cannot defray even the expenses of their tables. They may borrow money in their own name, on the faith of the Union ; but they cannot pay a dollar.
They may coin money ; but they cannot import an ounce of bullion. They may make war, and determine what number of troops are necessary ; but they cannot raise a single soldier. In short, they may declare every thing, but they can do nothing. And, strong as this description may seem, it was literally true ; for Congress had little more than the power of recommending their measures to the good will of the States.
§ 30. The leading defects of the Confederation were the following : In the first place, there was an utter want of all coercive authority in the Continental Congress, to carry into effect any of their constitutional measures. They could not legislate directly upon persons; and, therefore, their measures were to be carried into effect by the States ; and of course, whether they were executed or not, depended upon the sole pleasure of the legislatures of the latter. And, in point of fact, many of the measures of the Continental Congress were silently disregarded ; many were slowly and reluctantly obeyed ; and some of them were openly and boldly refused to be executed. :
§ 31. In the next place, there was no power in the Continental Congress to punish individuals for any breaches of their enactments. Their laws, if laws they might be called, were without any penal sanction; the Continental Congress could not impose a fine, or imprisonment, or any other punishment, upon refractory officers, or even suspend them from office. Under such circumstances, it might naturally be supposed, that men followed their own interests, rather than their duties. They obeyed, when it was convenient, and cared little for persuasions, and less for conscientious obligations. The wonder is, not that such a scheme of government should fail; but, that it should have been capable even of a momentary existence.
§ 32. In the next place, the Continental Congress had no power to lay taxes, or to collect revenue, for the public service. All that they could do was, to ascertain the sums necessary to be raised for the public service, and to apportion its quota or proportion upon each State. The power to lay and collect the taxes was expressly and ex