« AnteriorContinuar »
EXPOSITION OF THE CONSTITUTION.
The Union of the Colonies.
1. THE impolitic course of Great Britain towards her North American colonies led to that correspondence, and, finally, to that union between them, which has proved, in large measure, the source of their power and prosperity. Accustomed, however, anterior to the Revolution, to a separate, independent existence, each colony having its distinct government, they still maintained that separate political existence, notwithstanding they united their counsels and resources for the common defence and general welfare.
The Stamp-act Congress.
2. The attempt of England to derive a revenue
from the colonies by means of a tax on stamps, led a majority, namely, nine of the colonial assemblies, to send delegates to a Congress which assembled at New York, in October, 1765, to consult together, and make a common representation to implore relief. The determined attitude of the colonies on this occasion, and their resolute denial and resistance to the assumed right of taxation, induced Parliament to repeal the obnoxious act. 3. But little more than a year elapsed, however, before the project of taxation was again revived, and early in the year 1767 Parliament passed another act, with the avowed object of deriving a revenue from America. This measure re-opened the fountain of discontent and controversy, and led to that resistance on the one hand, and those attempts at coercion on the other, which at last resulted in open war, and the dismemberment of the British Empire.
The Continental Congress.
4. On the 5th of September, 1774, delegates from all the colonies, except Georgia, assembled at Philadelphia to deliberate upon the state of public affairs, and devise and recommend measures of relief. The method of voting in this Congress was by colonies, that is, each colony had one vote. In pursuance of their authority, they adopted resolutions defining their rights and the foundation of them. They de
clared the several instances in which those rights had been violated. For the redress of their wrongs they entered into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement. They prepared an address to the people of Great Britain, a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, and a petition to the king. 5. If these measures should prove unsuccessful, and their grievances remain unredressed, they recommended that another Congress should be held on the 10th of the following May. The British government still persisting in their system, a second Congress, composed of delegates from twelve colonies, accordingly assembled at Philadelphia in May, 1775. In the course of the year Georgia united with her sister colonies, and sent delegates to the Congress.
o Powers exercised by the Congress. 6. The second Continental Congress exercised for nearly six years, that is, from their meeting until the final ratification of the Articles of Confederation on the 1st of March, 1781, the powers of a supreme, controlling national council. They declared the colonies free and independent states, raised armies, made treaties, and performed the highest acts of sovereign authority. They did all this, without any express delegation of power, but with the implied sanction of their constituents, who acquiesced in, and approved their proceedings.
The Articles of Confederation.
7. The powers of Congress remained undefined until the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, which then became the rule of government. These Articles were laid before Congress by a committee of their body on the 12th of July, 1776; and after being debated and amended from time to time, they were finally agreed to on the 17th of November, 1777, and submitted to the legislatures of the states for their ratification.
8. The state legislatures, at successive dates, authorized their delegates in Congress to ratify them; but the ratifications were not completed until the 1st of March, 1781. Congress assembled under their authority on the following day; but it was soon discovered that the powers which they now possessed were totally inadequate to the purposes of an efficient government.
Powers confided to the Confederation.
9. Each state retained every power, right, and jurisdiction not expressly delegated to Congress. And the powers actually delegated were restricted in their exercise. Thus Congress could never engage in war, nor grant letters of marque and reprisal in time of peace, nor enter into any treaties or alliances, nor coin money, nor regulate the value thereof, nor ascertain the sums and expenses necessary for the defence and welfare of the United States or any of them, nor emit bills, nor borrow money on the credit of the United States, nor appropriate money, nor agree upon the number of vessels of war to be built or purchased, or the number of land or sea forces to be raised, nor appoint a commander-in-chief of the army or navy, without the assent of nine states, each state having one vote. 10. But even after the assent of the requisite number of states, Congress, having no coercive authority, could not execute its most important measures. The concurrence of thirteen distinct sovereignties was necessary in order to give them effect. 11. Congress, for example, could declare war, but it depended upon the states whether they should have an army and navy; they could make treaties, but it equally depended upon the states whether they should be observed; they could contract debts, and again it depended upon the states whether they should be paid. 12. They could lay and collect no taxes, the states reserving this power to themselves. They