ePub 版

influence, unless often refreshed by new elections from the people. So was it with the Long Parliament in England ; so was it with the French Assembly of Bordeaux that prolonged itself to weariness at Versailles; and so too, a century ago, as the war of the American Revolution began to drag, and the original force of cohesion under pressure was somewhat relaxed, the people showed an increasing reluctance to allow a Congress that was chosen for an occasional emergency of counsel to transform itself into a permanent government of power; and the Congress itself, conscious of its inability to provide the sinews of war, or to enforce its own acts, early took measures for a government suited to the new condition of the country. In these steps it followed, not theory, but experience, as its guide.

Franklin, whose practical sense was almost an equivalent for prophetic sagacity, was the first to propose “ Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,” which he did as early as July 21, 1775,- almost a year before the Declaration of Independence: and, a month before that act, Congress had appointed a committee to devise a plan of confederation; the notion of some being, that the formation of a government ought to precede the assumption of a station among sovereigns. So complicated, however, was the question of a united central government, that it was not until Nov. 15, 1777, that Congress adopted such a plan, and not till March, 1781, that this went into operation as a government ratified by all the States. A few years sufficed to demonstrate the utter failure of this scheme; but the experiment was necessary to show the futility of a confederacy of independent States upon the broad and diversified theatre of the American continent, and to prepare the way for that National Constitution which is the highest product of political wisdom yet wrought out for combining liberty with order, equality with unity, co-ordinate selfgovernment with supreme central sovereignty. The framers of the Confederacy failed through following precedents not suited to their condition, and by fearing to clothe free institutions with the power needful for their security, lest this should be turned to their destruction : the framers of the Constitution succeeded by providing in government itself a method and a motive for preserving free institutions from that disintegration to which they tend alike through their inertia in times of security, and their centrifugal force in times of danger. The study of the failure will enable us the better to appreciate the success.

The Congress of 1776 had before them these precedents in American history to guide them in framing a government: first, the practice of local self-government, under various forms, in all the Colonies; and, secondly, the occasional union of the Colonies, upon equal terms, for counsel or action for preserving their several liberties, or guarding against some impending danger. They had been called into existence by local assemblies, regularly or irregularly convened, which represented the right and interest of the people in governing themselves; and their union — first as a Congress of all the Colonies, and now of the independent States — was for the very purpose of maintaining the liberties of the people under their forms of local independence. Hence it was natural, that, in framing a government to perpetuate union, they should make it their first care to secure the independence of the States, and keep intact their sovereignty. They took up arms for the independence of the Colonies of a control outside of themselves. The usurpations of king and parliament upon their prerogative of local government had made them jealous of any central head, executive or legislative; and the States would not consent that Congress should directly enroll an army, but retained the control of their several quotas, lest, in the pride of victory, some ambitious general might use the army to overawe the liberties of the people.1

Outside of their colonial experience, the Congress of 1776 had no recent examples to guide them but the republics of Switzerland and of the Netherlands, and these both were confederacies; and, in point of fact, the confederation that Congress finally commended to the

1 Washington frequently complained of this dependence of the army upon so many local, scattered, and sometimes jealous and discordant heads, as impairing its unity and efficiency, preventing the formation of veteran and disciplined troops, and often crippling his resource3 on the eve of important movements. There can be no doubt that it greatly prolonged the war of independence, and, at times, made its issue dubious.

all foreighsuch defence ruce or peace Wished, affecting the

providesign or domesties should defenaustoms, and begles,

States was modelled as nearly as possible upon the union of Utrecht of 1579. The five provinces of the Netherlands that entered into the compact of Utrecht agreed that “ each province should retain its particular privileges, liberties, laudable and traditional customs, and other laws; that the provinces should defend each other against all foreign or domestic potentates, provinces, or cities, provided such defence were controlled by the generality of the union; that no truce or peace was to be concluded, no war commenced, no import established, affecting the generality, but by unanimous advice and consent of the provinces; and none of the united provinces, or of their cities or corporations, were to make treaties with other potentates or states without consent of their confederates.” 1

Each of these features is found in the - Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” under which the United States of America were organized in 1781. The Confederacy was a “ league of friendship” between independent States, “ for their common defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare.” Its fundamental article declared, “Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.” This Congress consisted of a single house: its members were appointed annually by authority of the legislatures of the States; and each State could recall its delegates during the year, and send others in their stead. Each State maintained its delegates at its own cost. The voting in Congress was by States : each State had but one vote. No act could be passed without the consent of a majority of the States; and, in many cases, the consent of nine of the thirteen States was required. Though Congress had the right and power of determining on peace and war, of sending and receiving ambassadors, and entering into treaties and alliances, yet, in case of invasion or of imminent danger, a single State could go to war, and equip an army and navy of its own; and also, with the sanction of Congress, two or more States could enter into

1 Motley: Dutch Republic, vol. iii. 411, 412.

a special treaty or confederation between themselves, and single States could make a commercial or other alliance with foreign powers. The charges of war, and other expenses incurred by Congress for the common defence and general welfare, were assessed upon the several States in proportion to the value of all land granted or surveyed within each State; but the quota of a State could be raised only by the authority and direction of its own legislature. The Confederacy had no judiciary to enforce its acts, and no executive head to represent and administer its authority: from first to last, it was a compact between States whose independent sovereignty was jealously guarded at every point. Such a compact must fall to pieces as soon as the necessity was over that called it into being, and, indeed, because of that very necessity.

It is true that in Switzerland we have an example of a confederacy of independent cantons without a personal head; the executive and administrative authority being vested in a federal council of seven. But this is possible, because, first, the area of Switzerland, being only one two hundred and twenty-fifth part of the area of the United States, is so small as to admit of direct democratic government, as in the cantonal assemblies of Appenzell, Ausser, Rhoden, Uri, and Unterwalden, and in subdivisions of other cantons; and, next, because the constant pressure of external danger gives to the Swiss Bund an internal force of cohesion greater than the divisive tendencies of mountains and lakes, of language and religion. Should the Swiss push their local independence to the extreme of separatism, they would fall a prey to their powerful neighbors. Their union may lack the massive strength and the sunny warmth of their Alps; but there is also a coherence in the glacier as it lies locked in the arms of the mountains.

How different the geographical and political position of

1 The superficial area of Switzerland is 752 geographical square miles; that of the United States, 169,589.

2 This came near being the case thirty years ago, when the Sonderbund, or separate league of the Catholic cantons, furnished to France and Austria a pretext for meddling in the internal affairs of Switzerlanıl. Nothing but the patriotic uprising of the people at the call of the Diet, like the enthusiastic rally for the Union in the United States, saved Switzerland from being virtually appropriated and governed by the greater powers,

the United States under the Confederation of 1781! The thirteen Colonies, when they entered upon the war with Great Britain, occupied, in all, an area of 420,892 square miles, stretching along a sea-coast of 1,300 miles. By the peace of 1783, the title of the United States was secured to all the territory claimed by Great Britain east of the Mississippi, south of Canada, north of Florida and of the thirty-first parallel, — a total area of 827,814 square miles ; being fifty-four times greater than the whole area of the Swiss Confederation. The independence of the United States having been acknowledged by Great Britain and the leading powers of Continental Europe, the American Confederacy, separated from them all by an ocean not yet traversed by steam, had few dangers or fears from without. Hence, as I have hinted, the very emergency that compelled the States to co-operation for war would intensify their individuality on the return of peace. That emergency was the preservation of local self-government; and the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, touching the right of the people to have a government satisfactory to themselves, if pressed to an extreme, might encourage a State in maintaining its own sovereignty apart, and contending for its own interests against the claims of the Confederacy.

This would indeed have been a perversion of the Declaration, as well in letter as in spirit. That was “ a declaration by the representatives of the United States of America : ” it spoke “in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies,” in their totality as one political commonwealth, and declared “ that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” The Colonies, as united through their Congress, constituted a new body politic, which declared itself a separate and independent power among the nations. But an independence which was based upon union could not logically imply that any State could declare itself independent of the rest. Nevertheless, there was a lurking danger in this direction. Just as to usurpation from without was opposed the union of “free and independent States,” so to the danger of a central control from within would be opposed the centrifugal force of

« 上一頁繼續 »