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of discouragement; notwithstanding the urgent calls for money, the states did not respond. Morris sent out to the governors a letter of appeal; up to June 13 his payments had exceeded his receipts by more than $1,000,000. “How, indeed, could it be otherwise,” he asked, “when all the taxes brought into the treasury since 1781 did not amount to seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars?” 1
For the year 1782 Congress asked for $8,000,000, and for the year 1783 it asked for $2,000,000; but by the end of the latter year less than $1,500,000 had been paid in. A committee which was appointed to consider the matter spoke of the distress and poverty of the people “just relieved from the ravages of predatory armies, returning from an attendance on camps, to the culture of their fields—beginning to sow, but not yet having reaped.” ?
The fact is, however, that the people were not in destitution. There is abundance of contemporary evidence to show that at the end of the Revolution the people were living with more ease and circumstance than before the war. “The people,” wrote Morris to Franklin, “are undoubtedly able to pay, but they have easily persuaded themselves into a conviction of their own inability, and in a Government like ours the belief creates the thing." : The trouble was not poverty, but commercial confusion,
"Wharton, Dip. Corresp. of Am. Rev., VI., 611.
Journals of Congress, report of April 5, 1784. • Wharton, Dip. Corresp. of Am. Rev., V., 774.
vicious politics, and a native disinclination to pay taxes. “The necessity of the present application for money,” Morris said in 1782, and his remark held true for the next five years, “arises from the necessity of drawing by degrees the bands of authority together, establishing the power of Government over a people impatient of control, and confirming the Federal Union of the several States by correcting defects in the general Constitution." 1
On the disbanding of the army Washington addressed a long letter to the states, in which he frankly spoke of the condition of the country and the need of respectable government. “This is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our federal government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution, or this may be the ill-fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the confederation, and exposing us to become the sport of European politics, which may play one State against another, to prevent their growing importance, and to serve their own interested purposes.” ? The letter was courteously received by the states, and it may have had some influence for a time. Things were to grow worse, however, before they grew better. It was already evident that the Confederation was a failure, though efforts to amend the Articles gave no prospect of success; and Congress grew steadily more helpless as the months went by.
· Wharton, Dip. Corresp. of Am. Rev., V., 774.
COMMERCIAL AND FINANCIAL CONDITIONS
ORRIS, as we have seen, declared in 1782
that the people were quite able to pay taxes, but had persuaded themselves of their poverty. All through the critical years after the peace this outcry against taxes and this lament over poverty continued, and yet there seems to have been little excuse for it. Some tribulation there was, but that the country was forlorn, destitute, and poverty-stricken is far from the truth.1
When the Revolution began it brought at the outset a necessity for industrial and chiefly for commercial readjustment. The trade of New England was, of course, badly deranged. Men were thrown out of employment and property was destroyed. The New England merchants and sailors, however, did not stand about in idleness waiting for the skies to clear. Some of those whose living had been made from the sea moved off into the forest to begin life anew on the frontier; the capital and labor of the people "flowed back from the coasts towards the interior of the country, which has profited rapidly by the reflux." 1 But the fishermen and sailors were not altogether driven from the sea, for hostilities had scarcely commenced when it was seen that war had its chances for gain no less than peace. Privateering was an exciting and lucrative calling, full of interest for the seaman and of fascination for the vessel-owner. Fast-sailing ships were fitted out in the New England ports, and the Yankee skippers soon showed aptitude for the new trade. In the year 1776, it is said, three hundred and forty-two English merchantmen were captured by American privateers; in the course of the war Boston alone commissioned three hundred and sixty-five vessels, and to Salem came as many as four hundred and forty-five prizes. Thus many of the New England seamen and vessel-owners found new, interesting, and lucrative employment which brought money and supplies into the country. An illustrative experience is that of Elias Hasket Derby, who at the outbreak of hostilities owned a small fleet with which he had been carrying on a profitable trade. Seeing his business broken up and ruin staring him in the face, he did not spend much time in repining, but fitted out his ships as privateers. The end of the war found him rich and prosperous.
1 Chastellux, Travels in No. Am., I., 47, II., 255; Jay, Corresp. and Public Papers, III., 223.
1 Chastellux, Travels in No. Am., II., 237, 250. * Winsor, Memorial Hist. of Boston, III., 118. Weeden, Econ, and Soc. Hist. of New Eng., II., 776–778.
But after the war was over what were the privateersmen to do? How were the owners to use their ships or employ their capital? Evidently it was necessary to pause and take breath, and there was doubtless a short time when the trade of New England was dull if not stagnant. The whalefisheries were ruined by the war, and it would take years to build them up to their old place; the codfisheries, too, were in bad condition. The whole situation was now altered, for the tradesmen could not at once fall back into the normal methods of peace, and, moreover, the conditions prevailing before the war no longer existed. England was no longer the guardian of American commerce; her old acts of navigation and her old commercial policy, under which, however loud the complaint, American trade had in one manner or another grown tremendously, were now the acts and the policy of a rival nation.
In former years the New-Englanders had carried rum and some other commodities to the British possessions at the north, but by an act passed in 1784 the commerce with Newfoundland was almost entirely prohibited. They had also sent large quantities of oil to London, had sold their ships, built of New England lumber, to pay the debts of their merchants, and had carried on a trade with the West Indies. Soon after the war the king
* Letters of Higginson, in Am. Hist. Assoc., Report, 1896, I., 723, 729.
• 25 George III., chap. i.