Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

III.]

The Treaty of Peace, 1783.

105

Effects of the War in America.

new nation, and to carry away no private property. Many slaves who had congregated at New York were carried away at the evacuation of that port. This was justified on the ground that places occupied by the British army were “English soil” in view of the famous decision of Lord Mansfield. It was also contended that when slaves or any other American property came within the British lines in time of war such property became British property. This controversy was never adjusted as Great Britain steadfastly refused to indemnify the Americans for their losses.

The peace found the people of the United States in a far more prosperous condition than at first sight would seem possible. The total population had increased some three hundred thousand in seven years. Of all the States, only Rhode Island and Georgia showed a decrease in population. The principal reason for this prosperity is that while the war had continued for seven years in the country as a whole, active operations had been carried on in no one portion of it for more than three years. First New England, then the Middle States, and finally the South had in turn been the seat of war. Falmouth was the only town destroyed during the conflict, and Boston was the only large town that was pillaged to any serious extent. Nor was the presence of the British army at a permanent station like that of New York, for instance, a commercial injury to the people of the neighbourhood. The British soldiers required provisions and generally paid good prices for what they bought. As we have seen, the same may be said of the French army — its presence was a benefit to Southern New England. Commerce was interrupted, but the tobacco crop, then the most valuable single crop, was sent to market, though in a roundabout way. Agriculture does not seem to have been seriously interfered with, and agriculture was the most important industry of the country. Historians seem to have

war.

overlooked the part played by the American privateers-men. It has been stated, though on what authority is not clear, that as many Americans were engaged on the water as were in the armies on land, and we know from the rise in insurance at “Lloyds” that they must have been fairly successful in their pursuit. It should also be stated, that many manufacturing industries were established and profitably carried on during the

The great depreciation in the currency has been often adverted to as showing the disastrous effect of the war on the people of the new States. But there is another side to this also. There were then few persons in the United States who depended upon the proceeds of invested funds. Most of the people lived on the proceeds of their own labour either on their own farms or as servants and slaves on the farms of their masters. The possession of more than a very small sum of money was unknown to the great mass of the people. Furthermore, the depreciation of the currency was gradual and spread out over many transactions. It was really in the nature of a tax, and was the only tax which the people could be induced to pay.

At all events, large quantities of specie were exported from the United States in the years immediately following the war. This was to pay for goods with which short-sighted English merchants and equally short-sighted American consignees glutted the markets of the country. This avalanche of British manufactures put an end for the time to American manufacturing, and induced the people to contract debts which they could not pay. Then real suffering ensued.

All sorts of questionable expedients were resorted to. Repudiation of obligations, inter-state conflicts, and local rebellions became the rule. The years 1783–88 have well been called “the critical period” in the history of the United States. But, perhaps the suffering of those years was necessary to "extort,” as John Adams said, “ the Constitution from the grinding necessities of a reluctant people."

CHAPTER IV.

THE CONSTITUTION.

ularism."

It has been noted in an earlier chapter how the particularist tendencies of the people of the several colonies

Beginning had prevented all the pre-revolutionary plans of of "particunion from consummation. At the beginning of the actual conflict, it seemed as if this obstacle to union had been overcome. Patrick Henry declared that government was dissolved and that the rebellious colonists were in a “state of nature.He proposed that colonial boundary lines should be disregarded, and that each hundred thousand persons should send one representative to Congress. At the time, however, no means existed of determining the population of the colonies. It was impossible to put any such scheme into execution, or even to apportion the representation in Congress among the several States. Congress was obliged to fall back on the familiar local organizations, and give to each colony one vote. If an accurate enumeration had been practicable, it is probable that representation would have been arranged according to population or wealth, or upon some combination of population and wealth. Had this been done at that time, the subsequent history of the United States might — in all likelihood it would – have been very different from what it actually has been. Historical students generally lament this decision of the First

Continental Congress. They regard the particularism of a later day as unfortunate, for they are familiar with the evils which have resulted from the State-rights theories, and are given to attribute to particularism many evils which were the result of the prevalence of slave-labour in the South and of free labour in the North. But it may well be that the salvation of the country has been due to the strong local pride which prevails among its citizens and to their dislike of centralization. At the outset of the conflict the Continental Congress assumed and exercised many of the functions of sovereignty, and the people acquiesced in this assumption of authority. For example, Congress raised, equipped, and maintained armies; sent and received all diplomatic agents; and contracted debts for national purposes. In the earlier years of the Revolutionary War, the State

governments were formed, in compliance, it is true, with the advice of Congress. As time

went on and the first feeling of enthusiasm gave way to a sense of depression, the people of the several States turned to their respective local governments as representing the old order of things and as the organizations with which they had the most to do and over which they exercised the most effective control. The central authority of Great Britain, which had bound them together, no longer acted as arbiter or protector. They determined to replace it by a central authority having such powers as they maintained the British government had possessed and no more. By the Articles of Confederation, therefore, they limited the functions of the national government -- the United States in Congress Assembled - and gave it no coercive power whatever. The Articles of Confederation, as the frame of government

for the union was called, were elaborated by a committee of the Congress, appointed in June, 1776. They were not completed until Novem

The States and the Confederation.

The Articles of Confederation.

IV.]

The Land Cessions.

109

Domain.

ber, 1777. By that time, the reaction towards part.cularism was well advanced. Three years elapsed before the articles were ratified by the States, and they did not come into force until March, 1781. The successful prosecution of the war would have been very difficult had Congress been earlier limited in its authority. As it happened, the impulse given by the old Congress, feeble though it was, carried the country through the Yorktown campaign. The causes of this delay must be described at some length, because, as an indirect result of it, the United States as a whole became the owner of a large tract of land, the possession of which necessarily made strongly for nationalism.

In 1783 Great Britain ceded to the United States the territory between the Alleghanies and the Missis

Origin of sippi. Even before the cession and regardless the National of historical facts and legal theories, several States put forth pretensions to an exclusive right to large portions of this vast domain. Many of these claims overlapped, Virginia's claim covering those of three other States. They were based on the old colonial charters, all but one of which had been annulled, and on other grounds. Connecticut, whose charter had been annulled and afterwards re-confirmed, claimed a large territory west of the settlements on the Hudson. Massachusetts based her claim to western lands on the charter of 1691, which had been suspended by Parliament in 1774. The Carolinas claimed lands under the charters of 1663 and 1665, notwithstanding the fact that the king had bought out seven of the eight proprietors in 1721. Georgia claimed under her charter of 1732, which had been surrendered to the Crown in 1751, and under a further grant contained in the Proclamation of 1763. Virginia's claim was based on her charters of 1606, 1609, and 1612, which had all been annulled in 1624, since which time she had been a royal province.

The king had even granted some of the land within her charter limits,

« AnteriorContinuar »