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11 the Federal Convention of 1787

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11. THE FEDERAL CONVENTION OF 1787. Early in the War of the Revolution the several colonies represented in that revolu tionary body, the Continental Congress, recog nized that some form of a regularly ordained central government was desirable. It was 17 Nov. 1777, however, before that body could agree upon the draft of a constitution; the Articles of Confederation, and the delay in ratification by the legislatures of the States prevented the new government being established until 1 March 1781. Even before the Articles were drafted the national enthusiasm of the years 1775-76 had cooled, most of the States had meanwhile drawn up their constitutions, and having had the selection of governmental powers there was little left to confer upon the general government, as they held tenaciously to all the powers they had appropriated. The States also became jealous of Congress and of each other. "There was an excess of State pride and a sad lack of national feeling." The change in the spirit of the people was voiced by Rutledge who declared he was "resolved to vest the Congress with no more power than was absolutely necessary," and this accounts in large part for the weak and defective of the Articles as a plan of government. An additional reason for the weakness of the Arti cles was that they were not based upon Ameri can experience, but were modeled after those European confederations with which Americans were most familiar, namely, the Dutch and the Swiss. It is small wonder, then, that they were not adapted to meet the needs of this country. Even before they went into effect Washington had characterized them as ua shade without sub stance." The truth of this was soon rendered evident. The short history of the Confederacy is an inglorious one. This government had no self-sustaining capacity, as there was a total lack of coercive power to enforce obedience to its laws. Congress was wholly dependent upon the good will and co-operation of the State governments, as it acted upon them and not upon individuals. Hamilton recognized this as The great and radical vice of the Confedera tion," and Randolph subsequently referred to it "as a government of supplication." As soon as the war was over and the pressure of a com mon danger was removed, there was a tendency toward decentralization,— the general govern ment being regarded as burdensome,— and the authority and character of Congress declined.

In practice the lack of power of Congress to lay taxes soon greatly embarrassed it. It depended wholly upon requisitions on the States for the means of paying the interest upon the debt, contracted to carry on the War of Inde pendence and to meet the current expenses of the government. These were largely neglected or refused. Even before the Articles had gone into effect this defect was anticipated, and as a step toward greater efficiency the Continental Congress recommended, on 8 Feb. 1781, an amendment to the State legislatures, authorizing the general government to lay a duty of 5 per cent ad valorem on imports to pay the foreign debt. All the States consented except Rhode Island. She considered it "the most precious jewel of her sovereignty that no State be called upon to open its purse, but by the authority of the State and by her own officers." Her refusal was sufficient to defeat the project, although Virginia soon afterward withdrew her consent.

In the fall of 1781 Congress made requisi tion for $8,000,000, but over a year later only $500,000 had been paid. Accordingly, that body again proposed another revenue amendment, 18 April 1783, this time seeking for a grant of power to lay moderate specific duties on certain enumerated articles and 5 per cent on all others for the period of 25 years. As a concession to the States the collection was to be made by officers appointed by them. This proposition met with even a less cordial response than the former one. As late as 1786 four States had failed to give their assent, finally all but that of New York's was secured, but Governor Clin ton twice declined to act upon the request of Congress to summon the legislature of that State in special session to reconsider its action, and so defeated the amendment and rendered the financial situation critical, as the compliance with requisitions had grown even more lax. Between 1782 and 1786 Congress had called for $6,000,000, but it received only $1,000,000. Some like Georgia, had paid nothing, nearly all were in arrears, while New Jersey expressly refused to pay its last quota as a protest against the illiberal policy of New York. The impotence of Congress could not be more clearly demon strated. A committee of Congress in 1786 de clared that any further dependence on requisi dons would be "dishonorable to the understand ing of those who entertain such confidence,* and that "the crisis had arrived when the people of the United States must speedily decide whether they will support their rank as a nation by maintaining the public faith at home and abroad." The failure of the Articles to confer upon Congress power over commerce, either foreign or domestic, proved almost equally disastrous. England refused to grant us commercial rights, realizing that Congress had nothing to give in return and was powerless to retaliate. Con gress, therefore, proposed a third amendment on 30 April 1784, asking the States to grant to it for 15 years the power to prohibit the en trance into the ports of the country the vessels of foreign countries not having commercial treaties with the United States. This was es pecially aimed at Great Britain, and it was hoped that it would be instrumental in securing favor able commercial concessions from her and other foreign nations, but more than two years later several of the States had failed to comply with the terms of the proposition. This attempt fail ing, each State was left to regulate trade in its own way, and the way of each differed from that of every other. Not only did it prove impossible to secure a uniform policy toward foreign nations, but they were soon engaged in what Washington termed war of imposts° with each other, as each State had a different set of tariff and tonnage laws, which engen dered discord, rivalry and retaliatory regula tions. Madison thus describes the situation: "The States having ports for foreign commerce taxed and irritated the adjoining States trading through them.° New Jersey, lying between New York and Philadelphia, was compared to a cask tapped at both ends, while North Caro lina, situated between Virginia and South Caro lina, was likened to a patient bleeding at both arms.

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