VIII. THE CONFEDERATION AND CONSTITUTION.
[Bond of the States.]
The Confederation was designed as a temporary civil machine, with which to conduct a war common to the colonies. The Constitution was the later and permanent bond, combining the States under a single government. Without the confederation, there would have been chaos in the revolution; without the constitution, there would have remained the weakness arising from the division and rivalry of States. It is most interesting to observe the gradual manner in which our civil government crystallized out of the original elements offered by the colonies; and it is wonderful to see with what wise deliberation and patriotic earnestness States differing so widely in manners, in religion, in colonial system, and even in blood and race, were brought together in harmonious coalition, bound with a bond which the greatest civil war of modern times failed to sever, and which it seems only to have confirmed and strengthened.
There were, indeed, local confederations before those which, in 1774, enabled a congress to meet at Philadelphia, and which, in 1777, established articles for a more regular, though still a temporary, civil enginery with which to bring the war to a successful conclusion. More than a century before the first meeting of the Continental Congress, the idea of a confederation had been agitated among the New England colonies. In 1643 a confederation of those colonies was agreed upon at Boston, with twelve organic articles, for the common protection and defence. Here was the very beginning of American unions; and in its features may be discovered traces of the democratic principles of the Pilgrims.
[Declaration of Rights.]
A general congress of all the colonies met at New York in 1690, for purposes of conference, when the Stamp Act was promulgated. Massachusetts invited the colonies to meet in a general congress, which assembled at New York in 1765, adopted a declaration of rights, asserted the sole right of taxation to rest in the colonies, and passed other important resolutions. Eleven years before this, commissioners from nearly all of the colonies had met at Albany, and before this body Benjamin Franklin submitted his famous "project of union." Other conferences and congresses were held between 1765 and 1774; but it was early in September of the latter year that the first formal Continental Congress met, at Philadelphia, mainly to concert measures for resisting the arbitrary acts of the mother country. The rules which guided its deliberations were few and simple; but even so early we find Patrick Henry arguing upon the great question of the rights of the States, which has been a bone of contention in this country from that time to this.
[Articles of Confederation Adopted. ]
The first formal articles of confederation, after several ineffectual attempts, were adopted on the 15th of November, 1777, when the States were in the midst of the war of independence; but they were not formally ratified by all of the colonies until 1781, when Maryland at last agreed to them. These articles contained the germs of nationality, the crude material out of which the much broader and wiser constitution was afterwards framed. The second article provided for the complete "sovereignty, independence, and freedom," of the several States, in all powers not expressly delegated to Congress.
[Restrictions on the States. ]
It was declared that the confederation was a mutual league for protection and defence; that each State should deliver fugitives from justice to the others, and accord full faith to the judicial records of the others; that each State should have the right to recall its delegates, and that no State should be represented in Congress by less than two nor more than seven delegates; that no State should send embassies to foreign powers, confer titles of nobility, lay imports inconsistent with treaties of the United States, keep vessels of war or military forces in time of peace without the consent of Congress, a certain quota of militia excepted, or engage in war except in certain specified exigencies.
These, with many minor regulations, were the organic rules under which our civil government was carried on from 1777 to 1788, when the constitution came into force. The confederation was supplied with an executive chosen by Congress, comprising secretaries of foreign affairs, war, and finance. It was evident, however, that this league, while it had well served a temporary purpose, was quite inadequate to the purpose of a permanent bond of union. "We are one nation to-day," said Washington, "and thirteen to-morrow; who will treat with us on these terms?"
[Steps towards a Constitution.]
The first formal step towards establishing a constitution was the meeting, in the autumn of 1786, of commissioners from Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, at Annapolis. They conferred together, and reported to Congress a recommendation that a body, comprising delegates from all the States, and empowered to frame an organic instrument, should be convened early in the following year. Congress adopted the scheme, and the constituent convention was called.
[The Constituent Convention.]
This famous assembly met at Philadelphia in May, 1787, and its deliberations continued until the middle of September. Among its members were many of the most eminent statesmen and soldiers of the Revolutionary period.
[Members of the Convention.]