The Government Class Book eBook

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Chapter XXVII.

Nature of the Union under the Confederation.

Sec.1.  As early as the year 1774, the colonies united in the plan of a congress, to be composed of delegates chosen in all the colonies, for the purpose of consulting on the common good and of adopting measures of resistance to the claims of the British government.  The first great continental congress met on the 4th of September, 1774.  Another congress assembled in May, 1775.  This congress adopted sundry measures having reference to war, and finally made the declaration of independence, July 4th, 1776.  The continental congress, the members of which were chosen by the state legislatures, conducted the affairs of the nation until near the close of the war.

Sec.2.  With a view to a permanent union of the colonies under a general government, the congress, in November, 1777, agreed upon a frame of government, contained in certain articles, called, “Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the States.”  These articles were to go into effect when they should have received the assent of all the states.  But as the consent of the last state (Maryland) was not obtained until March, 1781, they went into operation only about two years before the close of the war.

Sec.3.  As a plan of national government, the confederation was soon found to be very defective.  The union formed under it was a very imperfect one.  Having been framed in time of war, it had respect to the operations of war rather than to a state of peace.  Although it answered some good purpose in carrying on the war, it was not well adapted oven to the condition of the country then existing.  Its defects appeared almost as soon as it went into effect; and after the return of peace, it was found that the union, instead of being strengthened and perpetuated by it, could be preserved only by a radical change in the system of government.

Sec.4.  The leading defect of the confederation was its weakness.  Congress could do little more than to recommend measures.  As it could not legislate directly upon persons, its measures were to be carried into effect by the states; but the states were not in all cases willing, and some of them did at times refuse to do so, and congress could not compel them.  It belonged to congress to determine the number of troops and the sums of money necessary to carry on the war, and to call on each state to raise its share; but congress could not enforce its demands.  It borrowed money in its own name, but it had not the means of paying it.  It had no power to lay and collect taxes; this power was reserved to the states.

Sec.5.  Hence we see that congress was dependent for every thing upon the good will of thirteen independent states.  It is a wonder that a government of such inherent weakness should bring the war to a successful issue.  It was a sense of danger from abroad, rather than any power in the government, that induced a sufficient compliance with the ordinances of congress to achieve the independence of the states.

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