CH. II.] ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION. 209
ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION.
§ 218. THE union, thus formed, grew out of the exigencies of the
and from its nature and objects might be deemed temporary, extending only
to the maintenance of the common liberties and independence of the states,
and to terminate with the return of peace with Great Britain, and the
accomplishment of the ends of the revolutionary contest. It was obvious to
reflecting minds, that such a future separation of the states into
absolute, independent communities with no mutual ties, or controlling
national government, would be fraught with the most imminent dangers to
their common safety and peace, and expose them not only to the chance of
re-conquest by Great Britain, after such separation in detached contests,
but also to all the hazards of internal warfare and civil dissensions. So,
that those, who had stood side by side in the common cause against Great
Britain, might then, by the intrigues of their enemies, and the jealousies
always incident to neighbouring nations, become instruments, in the hands
of the ambitious abroad, or the corrupt at home, to aid in the mutual
destruction of each other; and thus all successively fall, the victims of a
domestic or foreign tyranny. Such considerations could not but have great
weight with all honest and patriotic citizens, independent of the real
blessings, which a permanent union could not fail to secure throughout all
§ 219. It is not surprising, therefore, that a project,
which, even in
their colonial state, had been so often attempted by some of them to guard
210 HISTORY OF THE CONFEDERATION. [BOOK II.
the evils incident to their political weakness and their distance from the
mother country, and which had been so often defeated by the jealousy of the
crown, or of the colonies,1 should have occurred to the great and wise
men, who assembled in the Continental. Congress at very early period.
§ 220. It will be an instructive and useful lesson to us to trace
historically the steps, which led to the formation and final adoption of
the articles of confederation and perpetual union betweenthe United
States. It will be instructive, by disclosing the real difficulties
attendant upon such a plan, even in times, when the necessity of it was
forced upon the minds of men not only by common dangers, but by common
protection; by common feelings of affection, and by common efforts of
defence. It will be useful, by moderating the ardour of inexperienced
minds, which are apt to imagine, that the theory of government is too
plain, and the principles, on which it should be formed, too obvious, to
leave much doubt for the exercise of the wisdom of statesmen, or the
ingenuity of speculatists. Nothing is indeed more difficult to forsee,
than the practical operation of given powers, unless it be the practical
operation of restrictions, intended to control those powers. It is a
mortifying truth, that if the possession of power sometimes leads to
mischievous abuses, the absence of it also sometimes produces a political
debility, quite as ruinous in its consequences to the great objects of
§ 221. It is proposed, therefore, to go into an historical
review of the
manner of the formation and adoption of the articles of confederation.
This will be followed by an exposition of the general provisions and
1 2 Haz. Coll. 1, &c.; Id. 521; 2 Holmes's Annals, 55 and note;
Marshall Colon. 284, 285, 464; 1 Kent Comm. 190, 191.
CH. II.] ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION. 211
of power under it. And this will naturally lead us to a consideration of
the causes of its decline and fall; and thus prepare the way to a
consideration of the measures, which led to the origin and final adoption
of the present constitution of the United States.1
§ 222. On the 11th of June, 1776, the same day, on which the
for preparing the declaration of independence was appointed, congress
resolved, that "a committee be appointed to prepare and digest the form of
a confederation to be entered into between these colonies; " and on the
next day a committee was accordingly appointed, consisting of a member from
each colony.2 Nearly a year before this period, (viz. on the 21st of July,
1775,) Dr. Franklin had submitted to congress a sketch of articles of
confederation, which does not, however, appear to have been acted on.
These articles contemplated a union, until a reconciliation with Great
Britain, and on failure thereof, the confederation to be perpetual.
§ 223. On the 12th of July, 1776, the committee, appointed to
articles of confederation, presented a draft,3 which was in the
hand-writing of Mr. Dickenson, one of the committee, and a delegate from
Pennsylvania The draft, so reported, was debated from the 22d to the 31st
of July, and on several days between the 5th and 20th of August, 1776. On
this last day, congress, in
1 The first volume of the United States Laws, published by Bioren & Dunne,
contains a summary view of the proceedings in Congress for the
establishment of the confederation, and also of the convention for the
establishment of the constitution of the United States. And the whole
proceedings are given at large in the first volume of the Secret Journals,
published by Congress in 1821, p. 283 et seq.
212 HISTORY OF THE CONFEDERATION. [BOOK II.
committee of the whole, reported a new draft, which was ordered to be
printed for the use of the members.1
2 Journals of 1776, p. 207.
3 The draft of Dr. Franklin, and this draft, understood to be by Mr.
Dickenson, were never printed, until the publication of the Secret Journals
by order of Congress in 1821, where they will be found under pages 283 and
§ 224. The subject seems not again to have been touched until
the 8th of
April, 1777, and the articles were debated at several times between that
time and the 15th Or November of the same year. On this last day the
articles were reported with sundry amendments, and finally adopted by
congress. A committee was then appointed to draft, and they accordingly
drafted, a circular letter, requesting the states respectively to authorize
their delegates in congress to subscribe the same in behalf Or the state.
The committee remark in that letter, "that to form a permanent union,
accommodated to the opinions 'and wishes of the delegates of so many
states, differing in habits, produce, commerce, and internal police, was
found to be a work, which nothing but time and reflection, conspiring with
a disposition to conciliate, could mature and accomplish. Hardly is it to
be expected, that any plan, in the variety of provisions essential to our
union, should exactly correspond with the maxims and political views of
every particular state. Let it be remarked, that after the most careful
inquiry and the fullest information, this is proposed, as the best, which
could be adopted to the circumstances of all, and as that alone, which
affords any tolerable prospect of general ratification. Permit us, then,
(add the committee,) earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate
and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states.
Let them be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining,
in one general system, the various sentiments and interests of a continent,
divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under
1 Secret Journals, 1776, p. 304.
CH. II.] ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION. 213
a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils, and all
our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties, Let them be
examined with a liberality becoming, brethren and fellow citizens,
surrounded by the same imminent dangers, contending for the same
illustrious prize, and deeply interested in being for ever bound, and
connected together, by ties the most intimate and indissoluble. and
finally, let them be adjusted with the temper and magnanimity of wise and
patriotic legislators, who, while they are concerned for the prosperity of
their own more immediate circle, are capable of rising superior to local
attachments, when they may be incompatible with the safety, happiness, and
glory of the general confederacy."
§ 225. Such was the strong and eloquent appeal made to the
carried, however, very slowly conviction to the minds of the local
legislatures. Many objections were stated; and many amendments were
proposed. All of them, however, were rejected by congress, not probably
because they were all deemed inexpedient or improper in themselves; but
from the danger of sending the instrument back again to all the states, for
reconsideration. Accordingly, on the 26th of June, 1778, a copy, engrossed
for ratification, was prepared, and the ratification begun on the 9th day
of July following. It was ratified by all the states, except Delaware and
Maryland, in 1778; by Delaware in 1779, and by Maryland on the first of
March, 1781, from which last date its final ratification took effect, and
was joyfully announced by congress.1
§ 226. In reviewing the objections, taken by the various
states to the
adoption of the confederation in the
1 Secret Journals, 401, 418, 423, 424, 426; 3 Kent's Comm. 196, 197.
214 ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION. [BOOK II.
form, in which it was presented to them, at least so far as those
objections can he gathered from the official acts of those states, or their
delegates in congress, some of them will appear to be founded upon a desire
for verbal amendments conducing to greater accuracy and certainty; and some
of them, upon considerations of a more large and important bearing, upon
the interests of the states respectively, or of the Union.1 Among the
latter were the objections taken, and alterations proposed in respect to
the apportionment of taxes, and of the quota of public forces to be raised
among the states, by Massachusetts, Connecticut, New- Jersey, and
Pennsylvania.2 There was also an abundance of jealousy of the power to
keep up a standing army in time of peace.3
§ 227. But that, which seemed to be of paramount importance,
indeed, protracted the ratification of the confederation to so late a
period, was the alarming controversy in respect to the boundaries of some
of the states, and the public lands, held by the crown, within these
reputed boundaries. On the one hand, the great states contended, that each
of them had an exclusive title to all the lands of the crown within its
boundaries; and these boundaries, by the claims under some Or the charters,
extended to the South sea, or to an indefinite extent into the uncultivated
western wilderness. On the other hand, the other states as strenuously
contended, that the territory, unsettled at the commencement of the war,
and claimed by the British crown, which was ceded to it by the treaty of
1 2 Pitk. Hist. ch. 11, p. 19 to 36; 1 Kent's Comm. 197, 198.
CH. II.] ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION. 215
Paris of 1763, if wrested from the common enemy by the blood and treasure
of the thirteen states, ought to be deemed a common property, subject to
the disposition of congress for the general good.1 Rhode-Island, Delaware,
New-Jersey, and Maryland insisted upon some provision for establishing the
western boundaries of the states; and for the recognition of the unsettled
western territory, as the property of the Union.
2 Secret Journals, 371, 373, 376, 378, 381; 2 Pitk. Hist. ch. 11, p.
19 to 32.
3 Secret Journals, 373, 376, 383; 2 Pitk. Hist. ch. 11, p. 19 to 32.
§ 228. The subject was one of a perpetually recurring,
irritation; and threatened a dissolution of the confederacy. New-York, at
length, in February, 1780, passed an act, authorizing a surrender of a part
of the western territory claimed by her. Congress embraced the
opportunity, thus afforded, to address the states on the subject of ceding,
the territory, reminding them, "how indispensably necessary it is to
establish the federal union on a fixed and permanent basis, and on
principles, acceptable to all its respective members; how essential to
public credit and confidence, to the support of our army, to the vigor of
our councils, and the success of our measures; to our tranquility at home,
our reputation abroad; to our very existence, as a free, sovereign, and
independent people." They recommended, with earnestness, a cession of the
western territory; and at the same time, they as earnestly recommended to
Maryland to subscribe the articles of confederation.2 A cession was
accordingly made by the delegates of New-York on the first of March, 1781,
the very day, on which Maryland acceded to the confederation. Virginia had
previously acted upon the recommendation of congress; and by subsequent
1 2 Dall. R. 470, per Jay C. J.; 2 Pitk. Hist. ch. 11, p. 19 to 36.
216 ORIGIN OF THE CONFEDERATION. [BOOK II.
from her, and. from the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut,
South-Carolina, and Georgia, at still later periods, this great source of
national dissension was at last dried up.1
2 Secret Journals, 6 Sept. 1780, p. 442; 1 Kent's Comm. 197, 198; 2
Pitk. Hist. ch. 11, p. 19 to 36.
1 The history of these cessions will be found in the Introduction to the
Land Law of the United States, printed by order of congress in 1810, 1817,
and 1828; and in the first volume of the Laws of the United States, printed
by Bioren and Duane in 1815, p. 452, &c.