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7 Articles of Confederation

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7. ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION. On 10 June 1776 the Continental Congress ap pointed a committee to frame an instrument of government. This was entitled the °Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.° (See ComFEDERATION, ARTICLES or). It was not until five years later (1 March 1781) that all of the States had finally signed it. The defects of this scheme of government were so numerous and serious that for a time it looked as if the Union would go to pieces. Under such circum stances attempts were made at various times to change the Articles in such a manner as to give more power to the central government in those matters in which it was most seriously ham pered: the finances, commerce and power to coerce the States. The first proposal to amend the Articles was made on 1 Feb. 1781, even be fore they went into effect. This was known as the Five Per Cent Amendment. Its avowed purpose was to give to Congress the power to levy a 5 per cent ad valorem tax on most articles imported and on all prizes taken on the high seas during the war. The proceeds of this tax were to go toward paying the principal and interest of the debt contracted during the war. Within a year 12 of the States had consented to the passage of this amendment, but Rhode Island refused. As the approval of all States was necessary for an amendment, this naturally failed. On 16 March 1781 Madison submitted a report of a committee which recommended giving to Congress the power to coerce the States to fulfil their Federal engagements. This power was to be embodied in an additional article to the Articles of Confederation. This report was referred to a grand committee on 2 May 1781 and reported back by it on 20 July of the same year. On its recommendation a new special committee of three was constituted to prepare an exposition of the Confederation, a plan for °its complete execution and supple mental articles.° This committee reported on 22 August and thought it ought to be dis charged from the exposition of the Confedera tion because such a comment would be volu minous if coextensive with the subject. The committee, nevertheless, made a report on the defects of the Articles of Confederation, and made strong recommendations that many sup plemental powers be given to Congress. The committee further advocated that a committee be appointed to prepare representations to the several States of the necessity of these supple mental powers and of pursuing, in the modifi cation of the Articles, one uniform plan. These recommendations, however, came to naught. The matter of the defects of the Articles was taken up from the outside and on 26 Feb. 1783 Pelatiah Webster issued 'A Dissertation on the Political Union and Constitution of the Thir teen United States,' in which he advocated the adoption of very thoroughgoing changes in the Articles. He proposed to divide Congress into two bodies and to give it greater power over the States and over individuals. On 18 April 1783 a Revenue Amendment was introduced into Congress. The object of this was to obtain for Congress the power to levy specific duties on certain articles imported and a 5 per cent ad valorem duty on all other goods at the time and place of importation. The collectors of the duties were to be appointed by the various States and after appointment were to be amen able to and removable by Congress. The pro ceeds from the duties were to be applied to the payment of the principal and interest of the debt. Under the same amendment the States were to make provision, during a term not longer than 25 years, for the collection and pay ment of their proportion of the Federal ex penses. In the same connection it was sug gested that the basis for the calculation of such proportions be changed from the value of land in each State, as was prescribed in the eighth article of the Articles of Confederation, to the number of people in each State. Again 12 States approved of this amendment, but this time New York, having just worked out an elaborate scheme of duties for herself against the other States, refused to ratify it. Alexander Hamilton of New York drew up an elaborate exposition of the defects of the Articles and on 3 June 1783 intended to present it to Con gress along with a resolution calling for a general convention to revise the Articles, but he abandoned his project for want of support. On 30 April 1784 another amendment was rec ommended by Congress. This time Congress asked to have given to it for a period of 15 years the power of forbidding trade with for eign powers having no treaty of commerce with the United States and of prohibiting the citizens of any foreign state from importing into the United States any articles which were not the produce or manufacture of that State. This

proposal, so essential in its essence for the gov ernment of every country to have in that age of restricted trade, was ratified by only two States and, therefore, failed of adoption. In 1785 another man outside the halls of Congress, Noah Webster, put forth, in his work entitled 'Sketches of American Policy,' suggestions for the improvement of the Articles. Like many other men of the time he recommended a strong executive and giving to Congress the power to coerce the States. About the same time James Monroe introduced in Congress a proposition to change article nine of the Articles in such a way as to give Congress the power to place retaliatory duties on the products of foreign states that discriminated against the United States. The proceeds of such duties, however, were not to go to the Federal government, but were to go to the State in which they were col lected. This proposition was referred on 28 Marc:: 1785 to a committee of which Monroe was chairman and on 13 and 14 July of the same year was discussed in Congress, but no action was taken. A similar proposition to that of Monroe's was embodied in the report on trade and revenue presented to Congress by a grand committee on 14 Aug. 1786. Additional proposals in the same report recommended that the States which delayed to pay their propor tions of the funds required for the running ex penses of the Federal government should have to pay fines in addition, that in States which made no provision for collecting the sums asked for Congress should have power to step in and order them collected by State officers and in case of necessity appoint officers or agents of its own to collect them, and that States offering resistance to Congress or its agents in making such collections should be considered as violat ing the Federal compact. Further provisions in this committee report gave Congress the power introduce ntroduce new systems of revenue and to make regulations for the finances, and if 11 of the States agreed to such systems or regulations, they were to become binding on all. In addition Congress was to be given the power to institute a court of seven members to try officials of the Federal government and to hear appeals from the State courts concerning the interpretation of treaties or regulations made by the Federal gov ernment. On the report of this grand com mittee Congress took no action. The longer the Confederation existed the more hopeless the chance for a strong central government became. From all sides came expressions of fear and alarm for the Union itself. As early as 1783 Washington, in a circular letter to the State governors, had expressed fear for the Union and declared that there must somewhere be lodged a supreme power to regulate and govern the general concern of the Confederated Re public, or it would go to pieces. Jay, in a letter to Washington in 1786, said: "I am un easy and apprehensive, more so than during the war.° From our former friends in Europe came the disquieting news that they no longer had confidence in our credit. Adams in trying to negotiate a loan in Holland in 1784 was met with expressions of distrust in the stability of the Union — a distrust which the London gazettes did everything to encourage. As Con gress had failed utterly in all attempts it had made to have the Articles amended, help had to come, if it came at all, from some other quar ter. Congress had lost the respect of the coun try through no fault of its own. The most capable men had deserted its halls for those of the State legislatures. Everything seemed to point to a speedy dissolution of the Union as it ex isted under the Articles of Confederation, when aid came from an unexpected quarter and quite by accident. This was the Alexandria Conven tion, called to settle commercial disputes be tween Virginia and Maryland. From this grew the Constitutional Convention. The new Constitution (q.v.) drafted by that body was ratified by nine States and 4 March 1789 set for its inauguration. On 2 March 1789 the Con gress of the Confederation adjourned sine die, and thus brought the government under the Articles of Confederation to an end.

Bibliography.— Bancroft, Fiske, 'Critical Period' ; bibliography in Chan mng, Hart and Turner, (Guide to the Study of American McLaughlin, tion and