« 上一頁繼續 »
m the summer of 1782, declaring "that the confederation was defective, in not giving Congress power to provide a revenue for itself, or in not investing them with funds from established and productive sources; and that it would be advisable for Congress to recommend to the States to call a general convention, to revise and amend the confederation." It does not appear, however, that his expectation had been fulfilled.
In a letter to James Madison from R. H. Lee, then president of Congress, dated the 26th of November, 1784, he says: "it is by many here suggested, as a very necessary step for Congress to take, the calling on the Slates to form a convention, for the sole purpose of revising the confederation, so far as to enable Congress to execute, with more energy, effect, and vigor, the powers assigned to it, than it appears by experience that they can do under the present state of things." The answer of Mr. Madison remarks: "I hold it for a maxim, that the Union of the States is essential to their safety against foreign danger and internal contention; and that the perpetuity and efficacy of the present system cannot be confided in. The question, therefore, is in what mode and at what moment, the experiment for supplying the defects ought to be made."
In the winter of I784-5, Noah Webster, whose political and other valuable writings had made him known to the public, proposed, in one of his publications, "A new system of government, which should act, not on the States, but directly on individuals, and vest in Congress full power to carry its laws into effect."
The proposed and expected Convention at Annapolis, the first of a general character that appears to have been realized, and the state of the public mind awakened by it, had attracted the particular attention of Congress, and favored the idea there of a Convention with fuller powers for amending the confederacy.
It does not appear that in any of these cases the reformed system was to be otherwise sanctioned than by the legislative authority of the States ; nor whether, nor how far, a change was to be made in the structure of the depository of federal powers.
The Act of Virginia, providing for the Convention at Philadelphia, was succeeded by appointments from the other States, as their legislatures were assembled, the appointments being selections from the most experienced and high-standing citizens. Rhode Island was the only exception to a compliance with the recommendation from Annapolis, well known to have been swayed by an obdurate adherence to an advantage, which her position gave her, of taxing her neighbors through their consumption of imported supplies—an advantage which it was foreseen would be taken from her by a revisal of the Articles of Confederation.
As the public mind had been ripened for a salutary reform of the political system, in the interval between the proposal and the meeting of the Commissioners at Annapolis, the interval between this last event and the meeting of Deputies at Philadelphia, had continued to develop more and more the necessity and the extent of a systematic provision for the preservation and government of the Union. Among the ripening incidents, was the insurrection of Shays, in Massachusetts, against her government, which was with difficulty suppressed, notwithstanding the influence on the insurgents of an apprehended interposition of the federal troops.
At the date of the Convention, the aspect and retrospect of the political condition of the United States could not but fill the public mind with a gloom, which was relieved only by a hope that so select a body would devise an adequate remedy for the existing and prospective evils so impressively demanding it.
It was seen that the public debt, rendered so sacred by the cause in which it had been incurred, remained without any provision for its payment. The reiterated and elaborate efforts of Congress, to procure from the States a more adequate power to raise the means of payment, had failed. The effect of the ordinary requisitions of Congress had only displayed the inefficiency of the authority making them; none of the States having duly complied with them, some having failed altogether, or nearly so, while in one instance, that of New Jersey, a compliance was expressly refused; nor was more yielded to the expostulations of members of Congress, deputed to her legislature, than a mere repeal of the law, without a compliance. The want of authority in Congress to regulate commerce had produced in foreign nations, particularly Great Britain, a monopolizing policy, injurious to the trade of the United States, and destructive to their navigation; the imbecility, and anticipated dissolution of the Confederacy, extinguishing all apprehensions of a countervailing policy on the part of the United States. The same want of a general power over commerce, led to an exercise of the power, separately, by the States, which not only proved abortive, but engendered rival, conflicting, and angry regulations. Beside the vain attempts to supply their respective treasuries by imposts, which turned their commerce into the neighboring ports, and to coerce a relaxation of the British monopoly of the West India navigation, which was attempted by Virginia, the States having ports for foreign commerce, taxed and irritated the adjoining States trading through them—as New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. Some of the States, as Connecticut, taxed imports from others, as from Massachusetts, which complained in a letter to the Executive of Virginia, and doubtless to those of other States. In sundry instances, as of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, the navigation laws treated the citizens.of other States as aliens. In certain cases, the authority of the confederacy was disregarded—as in violation, not only of the treaty of peace, but of treaties with France and Holland; which were complained of to Congress. In other cases, the Federal authority was violated by treaties and ware with Indians, as by Georgia; by troops raised and kept up without the consent of Congress, as by Massachusetts; by compacts without the consent of Congress, as between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and between Virginia and Maryland. From the legislative journals of Virginia, it appears, that a vote, refusing to apply for a sanction of Congress, was followed by a vote against the communication of the compact to Congress. In the internal administration of the States, a violation of contracts had become familiar, in the form of depreciated paper, made a legal tender, of property substituted for money, of instalment laws, and of the occlusions of the courts of justice, although evident that all such interferences affected the rights of other States, relatively creditors, as well as citizen creditors within the State. Among the defects which had been severely felt, was want of a uniformity in cases requiring it, as laws of naturalization and bankruptcy; a coercive authority operating on individuals ; and a guarantee of the internal tranquillity of the States.
As a natural consequence of this distracted and disheartening condition of the Union, the federal authority had ceased to be respected abroad, and dispositions were shown, particularly in Great Britain, to take advantage of imbecility, and to speculate on its approaching downfall. At home, it had lost all confidence and credit; the unstable and unjust career of the States had also forfeited the respect and confidence essential to order and good government, involving a general decay of confidence and credit between man and man. It was found, moreover, that those least partial to popular government, or most distrustful of its efficacy, were yielding to anticipations, that, from an increase of the confusion, a government might result more congenial with their taste or their opinions; whilst those most devoted to the principles and forms of republics were alarmed for the cause of liberty itself, at stake in the American experiment, and anxious for a system that would avoid the inefficacy of a mere loose confederacy, without passing into the opposite extreme of a consolidated government. It was known that there were individuals who had betrayed a bias toward monarchy, and there had always been some not unfavorable to a partition of the Union into several confederacies, either from a better chance of figuring on a sectional theatre, or that the sections would require stronger governments, or, by their hostile conflicts, lead to a monarchical consolidation. The idea of dismemberment had recently made its appearance in the newspapers.
Such were the defects, the deformities, the diseases, and the ominous prospects, for which the Convention was to provide a remedy, and which ought never to be overlooked in expounding and appreciating the constitutional charter, the remedy that was provided.
As a sketch on paper, the earliest, perhaps, of a constitutional government for the Union, (organized into regular departments, with physical means operating on individuals,) to be sanctioned by the people of the States, acting in their original and sovereign character, was contained in the letters of James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, of the 19th of March; to Governor Randolph, of the 8th of April; and to General Washington, of the 16th of April, 1787.
The feature in these letters which vested in the general authority a negative on the laws of the States, was suggested by the negative in the head of the British Empire, which prevented collisions between the parts and the whole, and between the parts themselves. It was supposed that the substitution of an elective and responsible authority for an