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local independence. And so indeed it was. Congress had assessed the several States in due proportion for the debt of the war of independence; but some of the States took no measures for providing their quota, and one positively refused to do any thing toward the liquidation of that sacred charge. Peace was proclaimed Sept. 3, 1783. On the 25th February, 1787, Mr. Madison wrote to Edmund Randolph, “No money comes into the Federal treasury; no respect is paid to the Federal authority; and people of reflection unanimously agree that the existing Confederacy is tottering to its foundation. Many individuals of weight, particularly in the Eastern District, are suspected of leaning toward monarchy. Other individuals predict a partition of the States into two or more confederacies.”2 Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the one hand, Virginia and Maryland on the other, had entered into special compacts without the consent of Congress; and the legislature of Virginia not only refused to apply for the sanction of Congress, but actually voted against the communication of the compact to Congress. Georgia and Massachusetts had raised troops without consent of Congress ; Connecticut had taxed imports from Massachusetts ; some of the seaboard States had taxed adjoining States that must trade through them ; some, by their navigation laws, “ treated the citizens of other States as aliens.”. Thus the principle of local self-government was pushing itself to the destruction of co-operation even for the public order and safety; the centrifugal force of separatism was rending the Confederacy asunder.
With great clearness Mr. Madison pointed out that “the radical infirmity of the Articles of Confederation was the dependence of Congress on the voluntary and simultaneous compliance with its requisitions by so many independent communities, each consulting more or less its particular interests and convenience, and distrusting the compliance of the others.”5 And Mr. Wilson of Pennsyl
1 New Jersey in 1786: see Journals of Congress, vol. iv. p. 622. ACcording to Mr. Madison, Connecticut likewise refused to pass a law for complying with the requisitions of Congress (Rives's Life of Madison, ii. p. 108).
2 Papers of James Madison (ed. 1820), vol. ii. 620. 8 Ibid., p. 712. 4 Ibid., ii. 711, 712. 5 Ibid., ii, 692.
vanial thus sharply satirized the change that had come over public sentiment since the pressure of a common danger was withdrawn : “ Among the first sentiments expressed in the first Congress, one was, that Virginia is no more, that Massachusetts is no more, that Pennsylvania is no more: we are now one nation of brethren; we must bury all local interests and distinctions. This language continued for some time. The tables at length began to turn. No sooner were the State governments formed than their jealousy and ambition began to display themselves: each endeavored to cut a slice from the common loaf to add to its own morsel, till at length the Confederation became frittered down to the impotent condition in which it now stands.”
The perils of the Confederacy brought Washington from his retirement to save by his counsels the liberty he had won by his sword. “ No morn,” said he, “ever dawned more favorably than ours did, and no day was ever more clouded than the present. ... We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion. Thirteen sovereignties pulling against each other, and all tugging at the Federal head, will soon bring ruin on the whole.” “What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions ! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious!”3 In a word, the centrifugal tendency of local self-government had well-nigh separated the Confederacy into its primitive atoms.
This process of disintegration was favored by that inertia which seems to paralyze free institutions in times of outward security. In hereditary forms of government, monarchical or aristocratic, there is always a class to whom government is an occupation, and the exercise or conservation of power is the business of life. Like the royal house of Prussia, they are trained to government as a profession; like the House of Lords in England, they must care for government as a necessity of their own existence. They cannot let government alone, lest it slip
1 Papers of Madison, ii. 825. 2 Letter to Madison, Nov. 5, 1786: see in Sparks and in Madison. 8 Letter to Jay, 1st August, 1786.
altogether from their hands. But Freedom asks for nothing so much as to be let alone. She wishes neither to govern nor to be governed; and though fierce as a lioness for her cubs when her retreat is threatened, yet she loves to rest unconscious of danger, and, unless pressed for life, will molest none who do not molest her. But as with the human constitution, so with the constitution of civil society, inertia is fatal to life. Unless something be done to excite its powers to activity, these will presently sink into decay, or succumb to the first disorder. Hence, for the preservation of free institutions, there must be some device for investing government with dignity, responsibility, and authority, so that it shall be an object to wise and good men to devote their lives to public affairs, to make statemanship their science, and politics their profession. True, this would also make government à prize for the ambitious and designing; but, under any system, we must take the risks of human nature as it is, and compound with it on the best terms possible. Left to their own inertia, free institutions will die of inanition, or fall a prey to faction, conspiracy, or invasion. But a strong government set to watch over liberty will provoke the vigilance that must be the safeguard against its own abuse. Happily for the life of the American Republic, there were at that day men who had the perspicacity to see this, and the courage to avow it; chief among them Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. Hamilton viewed the crisis from the lower plane of human passions and political experiences; Washington, with the comprehensive wisdom and supreme moral judgment that marked the slow but certain processes of his mind. Hamilton argued that 6 the great and essential principles for the support of government are, (1) An active and constant interest in supporting it; (2) The love of power; (3) An habitual attachment of the people, its sovereignty being immediately before their eyes, its protection immediately enjoyed by them; (4) Force, by which may be understood a coercion of laws, or coercion of arms; (5) Influence, or a dispensation of those regular honors and emoluments which produce an attachment to the government." But, by the confederate system, “all the passions of avarice, ambition, interest, which govern most individuals and all public bodies, fall into the current of the States, and do not flow into the stream of the General Government. The former, therefore, will generally be an overmatch for the General Government, and render any confederacy in its very nature precarious.”] Hence Hamilton contended for a national government, in distinction from “ an association of independent communities into a federal government.” After a fair trial of confederation, Washington wrote, “I confess that my opinion of public virtue is so far changed, that I have my doubts whether any system, without the means of coercion in the sovereign, will enforce due obedience to the ordinances of a general government, without which every thing else fails.” And again : “ We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power. I do not conceive we can long exist as a nation, without having lodged somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the State governments extends over the several States.” 2 Yet Washington was thoroughly opposed to the idea of a monarchy as the solution of the problem, and had spurned with indignation the suggestion of the army that he should make himself king or dictator.
It was for Madison to point out how that control of the whole, that Washington and Hamilton insisted on, could be secured with safety to the parts. “ Congress,” he said, “ have kept the vessel from sinking; but it has been by standing constantly at the pump, not by stopping the leaks which have endangered her.” 3 He pointed out that “the great desideratum in government is such a modification of the sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions to control one part of the society from invading the rights of another, and, at the same time, sufficiently controlled itself from setting up an interest adverse to that of. the whole society.”I How completely the Confederacy had failed of this is shown by an analysis of the system put forth by a statesman of that period : “ By this political compact, the United States in Congress have exclusive power for the following purposes, without being able to execute one of them :
1 For an abstract of Hamilton's great speech in the Federal Convention, see Madison Papers, ii. 878–893.
2 Letter to Jay, Aug. 1, 1786.
“1. They may make and conclude treaties, but can only recommend the observance of them.
“ 2. They may appoint ambassadors, but cannot defray even the expenses of their tables.
“ 3. They may borrow money in their own name, on the faith of the Union, but cannot pay a dollar.
“ 4. They may coin money; but they cannot purchase an ounce of bullion.
“5. They may make war, and determine what number of troops are necessary, but cannot raise a single soldier.
66. In short, they may declare every thing, but do nothing."
From the fatal collapse of free government that the wisest statesmen of the Confederacy feared, there were but two ways of escape, — the one by the division of the Confederacy into smaller republics, that should be related to each other, as to foreign powers, by treaties of commerce and alliance; the other by the erection of a strong central national government. The first of these was already talked of, especially by some extreme advocates of practical democracy and state sovereignty in Massachusetts. A letter of Mr. Monroe to Patrick Henry, dated New York, 12th August, 1786, contains this apparently authentic statement: “ Committees are held in this town, of Eastern men, and others of this State, upon the subject of a dismemberment of the States east of the Hudson from the Union, and the erection of them into a separate government. To what length they have gone I know not, but have assurances as to the truth of the above position, with this addition to it, that the measure is talked of in Massachusetts familiarly, and is supposed to have originated there. The plan of the government in all its modifications has even been contemplated by them.” 2
1 Paper on the Vices of the Political System of the United States, April, 1787; Rives, ii. 216.
2 Rives's Life of Madison, ii. 122.