WELDING THE NATION
The doubt, the drifting, the incongruities and inconsistencies, the mistakes and follies which marked the five years after 1783 form what has been well called “The Critical Period of American History.” They proved that the conquests of peace may not only be more difficult than the conquests of war, but that they may outlast those of war. Who should be the builders of the Ship of State? Those who had courage and clear vision, who loved justice, who were patient and humble and unflagging, and who believed with an ineluctable conviction that righteousness exalteth a nation; they were the simple fishermen who in the little church at Torcello predicted the splendor and power of Venice; they were the stern pioneers of Plymouth and Boston who laid the foundations of an empire greater than that of Rome.
It happened that during the American Revolution and immediately afterward, a larger number of such men existed in what had been the American Colonies than anywhere else at any other time in history. At the beginning of the Revolution, within a few weeks of the Declaration of Independence, some of these men, impelled by a common instinct, adopted Articles of Confederation which should hold the former Colonies together and enable them to maintain a common front against the enemy during the war. The Congress controlled military and civic affairs, but the framers of the Articles were wary and too timid to grant the Congress sufficient powers, with the result that Washington, who embodied the dynamic control of the war, was always most inadequately supported; and as he fared, so fared his subordinates.
At the end of the war the Americans found that they had won, not only freedom, but also Independence, the desire for which was not among their original motives. Each of the thirteen States was independent; they all felt the need of a union which would enable them to protect themselves; of a common coinage and postage; of certain common laws for criminal and similar cases; of a common government to direct their affairs with other nations. But by habit and by training each was local rather than National in its outlook. The Georgian had nothing in common with the men of Massachusetts Bay whose livelihood depended upon fisheries, or with the Virginian of the Western border, to whom his relations with the Indians were his paramount concern. The Rhode Islander, busy with his manufactures, knew and cared nothing for the South Carolinian with his rice plantations. How to find a common denominator for all these? That was the business of them all.