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clared by the other States, without any material variation from the terms employed by Virginia.
Hence it is that the previous history of the Union becomes important to be examined before we can appreciate the great general purposes of its original formation, as they were understood at the time of these proceedings, or can appreciate the further purposes that were intended to be engrafted upon it. The declarations made by the Congress and the States seem obviously to embrace two classes of objects; the one is what, in the language of Virginia, they conceived to have been “ the great objects for which the federal government was instituted ”; the other is the “ exigencies of the Union,” for peace as well as for war, as they had been displayed and developed by the defects of the Confederation, and by its failures to secure the general welfare. The first of these classes of objects could be ascertained by reference to the terms and provisions of the Articles of Confederation; the second could only be ascertained by resorting to the history of the confederacy, and by regarding its recorded failures to promote the general prosperity as proofs of what the exigencies of the Union demanded in a general government.
1 New Jersey specifically con the original purposes for which the templated a regulation of com Union was formed in 1775 or in
See the proceedings of 1781. But it became one of the exiCongress, and those of the States, gencies of the Union, by becoming ante, Vol. I. pp. 361, 367, notes. a national want, and by the revealed
2 Thus, for example, the regu incompetency of most of the States lation of commerce was not one of to deal with the subject so as to
In the first volume of this work we have examined the nature and operation of the previous Union, in both of its aspects, and we must carry the results of that examination along with us in studying the formation of the new system.
We have seen the character of the Union which was formed by the assembling of the Revolutionary Congress, to enable the States to secure their independence of the crown of Great Britain. We have seen that, from the jealousies of the States, even this Congress never assumed the whole revolutionary authority which its situation and office would have entitled it to exercise. We have seen also, that, from the want of a properly defined system, and from the absence of all proper machinery of government, it was unable to keep an adequate army in the field, until, in a moment of extreme emergency, it conferred upon the Commander-in-chief the powers of a dictator. We have witnessed the establishment of the Confederation, - a government which bore within itself the seeds of its own destruction ; for it relied entirely, for all the sinews of war, upon requisitions on the States, with which the States perpetually refused or neglected to comply. We have thus seen the war lingering and languishing until foreign aid could be procured, and until loans of foreign money supplied the means of keeping it alive long enough for the admirable courage, perseverance, and energy of Washington to bring it to a close, against all obstacles and all defects of the civil power. When the war was at length ended, and the duty of paying the debts thus incurred to the meritorious and generous foreign creditor, and the more than meritorious and generous domestic creditor, pressed upon the conscience of the country, we have seen that there was no power in the Union to command the means of paying even the interest on its obligations. We have seen that the treaty of peace could not be executed ; that the Confederation could do nothing to secure the republican governments of the States; that the commerce of the country could not be protected against the policy of foreign governments, constantly watching for advantages which the clashing interests of the different States at all times held out to them; and that, with the rule which required the assent of nine States to every important measure, it was possible for the Congress to refuse or neglect to do what it was of the last importance to the people of the United States they should do. Finally, we have seen that what now kept the existing Union from dissolution, as it had been one immediate inducement to its formation, was the cession of the vast Northwestern territory to the United States; and that over this territory new States were forming, to take their places in the band of American republics, while the Confederation possessed no sufficient power to legislate for their condition, or to secure their progress toward the great ends of civil liberty and prosperity.
promote their own welfare, or to for which we must resort, as the avoid injury to their confederates. framers of the Constitution resortSo of a great many other things, ed, to the history of the times.
A retrospection, therefore, of the previous history of the Confederacy, while it reveals to us the public appreciation of the national wants and the national failures, displays the general purposes contemplated by the States when they undertook effectually to provide for “the exigencies of the Union.” But what the nature of the proposed changes was to be, and in what mode they were to be reached, was, as we have seen, left undetermined by the constituent States when they assembled the Convention; and we are now, therefore, brought to the third preliminary fact, necessary to be regarded in our future inquiries, namely, the condition of the actual powers of that assembly.
The Confederation has already been described as a league, or federal alliance between independent and sovereign States, for certain purposes of mutual aid. So far as it could properly be called a government, it was a government for the States in their corporate capacities, with no power to reach individuals; so that, if its requirements were disregarded, compulsion could only be directed — if against anybody against the delinquent member of the association, the State itself.
At the time when the Convention was assembled, the general purpose entertained throughout the Union appears to have been, by a revision and amendment of the Articles of Confederation, to give to the Congress power over certain subjects, of which that instrument did not admit of its taking cognizance, and to add such provisions as would
render its power efficient. But it was not at all understood by the country at large, that, while the nominal powers of the Confederation might be increased at the pleasure of the States, those powers could not be made effectual without a change in the principle of the government. Hence, the idea of abolishing the Confederation, and of erecting in its place a government of a totally different character, was not entertained by the States, or, if entertained at all, was not expressed in the public acts of the States by which the Convention was called. This idea, however, was perhaps not necessarily excluded by the terms employed by the States in the instruction of their delegates; and we may therefore expect to find the members of that assembly, in construing or defining the powers conferred upon it, taking a broader or narrower view of those powers, according to the character of their own minds, the nature of their previous public experience, and the real or supposed interests of their particular States.
Many of the persons who had been clothed with this somewhat vague and indeterminate authority to “revise” the existing federal system, and to agree upon and propose such amendments and further provisions as might effectually provide for the “ exigencies of the Union,” were statesmen who had passed the active period of their previous lives in vain endeavors to secure efficient action for the powers possessed by the Congress, both under the revolutionary government and under the Confederation.