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A MORE PERFECT UNION FORMED
I. Fatal Defects in the Articles of Confederation.—No government can endure without the power of raising taxes to support it and the power of raising armies to defend it; but these powers were lacking in the Articles of Confederation. As long as the war lasted the States honored the requisitions of Congress; but after that danger had passed they were very indifferent.
2. Bankruptcy Threatened.—The amount of money asked of the States from 1781 to 1788 was about $16,000,000. The returns were only about $500,000 a year–barely enough to pay the running expenses, to say nothing of the payment of interest. Congress, therefore, could not hope to borrow any more money, and the Government was on the brink of bankruptcy by 1787.
3. The Government Not Respected.—Lacking the power to support and defend itself, the Government was not regarded at home or abroad as sovereign. The States acted as independent nations. Being themselves on the verge of financial ruin, they laid duties on imports from other States and from foreign countries; but a lack of uniformity gave a monopoly of commerce to the States having the lowest duties. The gold and silver having all been sent abroad to pay interest and import duties the States issued immense amounts of paper money, and Congress could not restrain them. The paper money.
depreciated. Debts could not be collected. Sheriffs' sales were daily occurrences. Lawlessness followed, and in some places, notably in Massachusetts, open rebellion against the State authorities broke out. Knowledge of these difficulties could not be kept from foreign nationsespecially England. They expected the Confederation to go to pieces. They refused to make commercial treaties or to send diplomatic agents to represent them in the United States. To restore confidence abroad Congress asked the States three times to amend the Articles so as to give the Confederation power to regulate trade and commerce. Each time the amendment was defeated by a vote of twelve States to one.
4. The Trade Convention.—Early in 1786 a member of Congress declared that “Congress must be vested with more powers, or the Federal Government must fall.” The idea that the form of Federal Government needed radical amendment now became general. At this critical juncture Virginia, which had the year before been in negotiation with Maryland for the regulation of trade on the Potomac River, invited all the States to send delegates to a trade convention at Annapolis, in September, 1786.
As only Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York were represented at Annapolis it was recommended to all the States that a convention meet in Philadelphia, in May, 1787, for the purpose of “rendering the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate.” Congress approved the convention, and all the States, except Rhode Island, elected delegates.
5. The Constitutional Convention.-On May 25th a quorum of the sixty-five delegates elected assembled in
the State House in Philadelphia. George Washington was chosen President. Most of the members were men of Revolutionary fame. Franklin, now eighty-one years old, was the Nestor of the convention. Madison made more suggestions and speeches than any other member, and, as the author of the plan that was finally adopted, was unquestionably the leader on the floor. Hamilton was also a member, but because his colleagues left in disgust before the convention was over he had less influence than his ability merited. Moreover, he wanted to do away with the State boundaries and create a centralized republic. Gouverneur Morris, as chairman of the Committee on Arrangement, is to be credited with the clear and simple language of the Constitution. James Wilson was the best-read lawyer on the floor. Whatever of Blackstone was brought before the convention was always submitted to Wilson.
The convention lasted until September 17, 1787. The sessions were secret; all votes were cast by States. A journal was kept, but it was a mere outline of the proceedings. Madison kept a private journal of much greater value. It was not published until 1839—three years after his death.
Two plans were presented for the formation of a new government-the Virginia plan, drawn by Madison, and the New Jersey plan, drawn by Patterson. The Virginia plan provided that the Federal Government should have supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers, and that representation in both houses of the Congress should be based on the population or the wealth of a State. This plan was favored by the large States. The New Jersey plan favored a revision of the Articles of
Confederation, so as to give Congress the power to regulate commerce, raise revenue, and coerce the States. : It also provided for equal representation in Congress. The small States favored the New Jersey plan. The difference was compromised by adopting the basis of representation in vogue in the State of Connecticut, namely, popular representation in the lower house and equal representation in the upper.
The next difficulty caused a division of the States into free and slave. The free States wanted representation in the House of Representatives based on the number of free people; the slave States, on the number of free and slave. This difference was compromised by representing slaves as “other persons,” five of whom should be equal to three free persons, both in the matter of representation and in the apportionment of direct taxes.
The third great difficulty which caused a division. among the States was commercial and agricultural. New England, New York, and Maryland wanted questions of commerce decided by a majority vote; the agricultural States, by a two-thirds vote. The compromise effected was that a mere majority should decide commercial questions, but that exports should not be taxed, and that the importation of slaves should not be prohibited prior to 1808.
These three great compromises having been accepted there was no further danger of the dissolution of the convention. While the thirty-nine members who were still in attendance at the close were signing their names, Franklin looking toward Washington's chair, on the back of which was cut a sun, said to those around him: “I have often and often, in the course of the session, and
in the solicitude of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that figure behind the President without knowing whether it was the rising or the setting sun. Now I know it is the rising sun.”
6. The Ratification.-On September 28th Congress submitted the Constitution to the States for ratification, which had to be made by conventions of the people in nine States before it could go into effect. The smaller States, together with Pennsylvania, ratified it first. In the States of Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina the ratification was for months uncertain, and was only accomplished by very small majorities. North Carolina did not ratify it until after Washington had been President six months or more. Rhode Island, which was a commercial State and profited greatly by not being subject to the Federal impost, came into the Union a year and three months after the Constitution had gone into effect—and then only after a threat had been made by Congress that it would be treated as a foreign country. The Union of the thirteen States was then complete. The United States under the Constitution became a nation—that is, sovereign in all powers necessary for its perpetuity.
7. The Relation of the States to the United States.The States are not related to the United States as the township and county are to the State. The State government is not the United States Government localized. The United States cannot make laws for the States, as the State can for township and county. The States are independent of the United States in all civil powers consistent with a republican form of government, except such powers as have been delegated to the United States