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children who were killed in the wars, died in prison, or suffered banishment because they had been faithful to the cause of King George? Could she prosper politically without the help of those disfranchised Tories that survived the trials of the war and remained to face the ill-will of their neighbors? To a country, then, which had known the agony of civil strife, which had been confiscating the property of its own citizens, which had seen thousands of its prosperous people impoverished or driven across the seas, came the duty of finding stable, trustworthy, and free institutions for a vast territory.
The political task that confronted the people when independence from Great Britain was declared was in its essence the same that had confronted the British ministry ten years before—the task of imperial organization. Britain had been able to find no principles that suited the colonists or that in the long run suited herself. The learned Mansfield or the faithful Grenville could do no more than assert the sovereignty of Parliament and declare that all power rested at Westminster. The Americans were not content with this simple declaration of law; they insisted on other rights, on an imperial order in which not all legislative power was gathered at the centre. When at length independence came, when the colonies were states, and especially when the war was over, what was America to do? Could the Americans, who had scolded England so roundly
and broken away from her control, find imperial
Though the Americans had been contending, as
lieved that a return to nature would be a return to happiness; and if, because of sinful man, government, an evil in itself, was necessary, it should be looked on with suspicion and guarded with jealous
Such philosophy was of wide influence in that generation and the next. Even a man like Jefferson was ready to talk nonsense about fertilizing the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants, and about the advisability of occasional rebellions, which ought not to be too much discouraged. In the days when such thoughts were current, it was difficult to argue for efficient government and to point to the necessity of punishment and restraint.
The men of those days could not quite see that if the Revolutionary principles were made complete, if the popular institutions were established, if the people were to be the real rulers, there could be no antithesis between government and people, inasmuch as the people were the government, the possessors of the final political authority; what was called government was merely the servant of a power superior to itself. To limit this servant and to make it weak and ineffective was to limit the people. This fact was not comprehended; it took time for the full significance of the democratic idea to come home to men. And this was natural in the light of the long struggle for liberty; it was natural, if it is true that the Revolution was but one of the great movements in English history for a freer life and
* Jefferson, Writings (Ford's ed.), IV., 362.
for a freer expression of the individual. How could men at once realize that, if the circle was now complete, if they were now the government, there was no need to struggle against government? “It takes time," said Jay, “to make sovereigns of subjects.” 1. But many there were besides who believed in individualism pure and simple, the right of the individual to do as he chooses. They did not care where government rested; they wished themselves and their neighbors let alone. All these influences were making, not for imperial organization, not for law and system, but for personal assertion, for confusion that might threaten the foundation of all reasonable order. If these influences were overcome, it must be because the wise and the strong succeeded in winning control.
During the war, it is true, the states had formed new state constitutions, and it will not do to underestimate the importance of the fact that these fundamental laws were made, and that the people discovered and began to make use of the constituent convention—this, after all, is the most significant fact of the American Revolution. But in a measure the theories of the day were a real source of danger even to the states themselves, and the time might come when the men in the individual states would anxiously turn to national authority for relief. It was, moreover, much easier for the people to allow the state governments to wield power than to grant any to the nation. The local authority was near at hand, and in its new dignity was not very different from the old colonial administration. The war had been begun against a general government; why should implicit obedience be paid to the Congress of the United States, clamoring for power and for taxes as George III. and Lord North had never dared to do?
* Jay, Corresp. and Public Papers, III., 211. · Van Tyne, American Revolution, chap. ix.
So far we have seen several different circumstances that must be taken into consideration in interpreting the task of the American people in the years of national readjustment: the harassing and demoralizing experiences of a war which was at once a civil war and a revolution; the banishment and voluntary emigration of thousands of its most intelligent and substantial citizens; the political thinking of the time, which the course of the war had intensified-thinking that, if allowed to ferment in shallow-pated citizens, might endanger the stability of society itself; and, lastly, the fact that the war had been waged to support local governments against a general government. Amid all of these difficulties America was imperatively called upon to organize its empire, if we may use the word to convey the meaning of the vast territory stretching from the St. Croix to the St. Mary's and westward to the Mississippi-an empire inhabited by thirteen distinct groups of people in large measure ignorant of the lives and thoughts of one another.