Page images

tion, they enabled the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to enter the new Union without humiliation and without loss.1

1 The point respecting the slavetrade was insisted upon by the delegates of those three States, both as a matter of State pride and a matter of practical interest. They regarded the increase of their slave population by new importations as a thing of peculiarly domestic concern, the control of which they were unwilling to transfer to the general government. But they also contended for a political right which their States intended to exercise. The following table, taken from the United States Census, shows that in the twenty years

1790 to 1800 1800 to 1810* 1810 to 1820

1820 to 1830

1830 to 1840 †

1840 to 1850


North Carolina. 32.53






But while the census shows that the power to admit slaves was exercised freely during the twenty years that followed the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, it also shows that the States which insisted on retaining it for

which elapsed from 1790 to 1810 during eighteen of which the importation of slaves could not be prohibited by Congress, the slaves of those three States increased in a ratio so much larger than the rate of increase after the year 1808, as to make it apparent that it was not a mere abstraction on which they insisted. The right to admit the importation of slaves was exercised, and was intended to be exercised; as some of the delegates of the three States declared in the Convention.

*The constitutional power of Congress to prohibit the importation took effect and was exercised in 1808.

The great diminution in the rates

[blocks in formation]

Thus was accomplished, so far as depended on the action of this Convention, that memorable compromise, which gave to the Union its control over the commercial relations of the States with foreign nations and with each other. An event so fraught with consequences of the utmost importance cannot be dismissed without some of the reflections appropriate to its consideration.

Nature had marked America for a great commercial nation. The sweep of the Atlantic coast, from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of Florida, comprehending twenty degrees of latitude, broken into capacious bays and convenient harbors, and receiving the inward flow of the sea into great navigable rivers that stretched far into the interior, presented an access to the ocean not surpassed by that of any large portion of the globe. This long range of sea-coast embraced all the varieties of climate that are found between a hard and sterile region, where summer is but the breath of a few fervid weeks, and the ever blooming tropics, where winter is unknown. The products of the different regions, already entering, or fit to enter, into foreign commerce, attested as great a variety of soils. The proximity of the country to the West Indies, where the Eastern and the Middle

1810 was 48.4, and in 1850, 58.93; in Georgia, in 1810 it was 42.4, and in 1850, 42.44. It is not probable, therefore, that the prosperity of those States has been diminished by the discontinuance of the slavetrade; for it is not likely that they

could well sustain a much larger ratio of the blacks to the whites than that which now exists, and which will probably continue to be maintained at about the same point for a long period of time.

States could find the best markets for some of their most important exports, afforded the promise of a highly lucrative trade; while the voyage to the East Indies from any American port could be performed in as short a time as from England or Holland or France. In the South, there were great staples already largely demanded by the consumption of Europe. In the North, there were fisheries of singular importance, capable of furnishing enormous additions to the wealth of the country. Beyond the Alleghanies, the West, with its vast internal waters and its almost unequalled fertility, had been opened to a rapid emigration, which was soon to lay the foundation of new States, destined to be the abodes of millions of men.


The very variety and extent of these interests had for many years occasioned a struggle for some mode of reconciling and harmonizing them all. But divided into separate governments, the commercial legislation of the States could produce nothing but the confusion and uncertainty which retaliation necessarily engenders. Different systems and rates of revenue were in force in seaports not a hundred miles apart, through which the inhabitants of other jurisdictions were obliged to draw their supplies of foreign commodities, and to export their own productions. The paper-money systems of the several States made the commercial value of coin quite different in different places, and gave an entirely insecure basis to trade.

The reader, who has followed me through the pre

ceding volume, has seen how the people of the United States, from the earliest stages of the Revolution, struggled to free themselves from these embarrassments; how they commenced with a jealous reservation of State authority over all matters of commerce and revenue; how they undertook to supply the necessities of a central government by contributions which they had not the power to make good, because their commercial condition did not admit of heavy taxation; how they endeavored to pass from this system to a grant of temporary revenues and temporary commercial regulation, to be vested in the federal Union; how they found it impracticable to agree upon the principles and details of a temporary power; how they turned to separate commercial leagues, each with its immediate neighbors, and were disappointed in the result or frustrated in the effort; and how at last they came to the conception of a full and irrevocable surrender of commercial and fiscal regulations to a central legislature, that could grasp the interests of the whole country and combine them in one harmonious system.

The influence of the commercial and revenue powers, thus obtained by the general government, on the condition of this country, has far exceeded the most sanguine hopes which the framers of the Constitution could have indulged. No one can doubt that the people of America owe to it both the nature and the degree of their actual prosperity; -and as the national prosperity has given them importance in the world, it is just and accurate to say, that commerce

and its effects have elevated republican institutions to a dignity and influence which they have attained through no other of the forms or the spirit of society. Let the reader consider the interests of commerce, in their widest relations with all that they comprehend, the interests of the merchant, the artisan, and the tiller of the soil being alike involved,

as the chief purpose of the new government given to this Union; let him contemplate this as the central object around which are arranged almost all the great provisions of the Constitution of the United States; and he will see in it a wonderfully harmonious and powerful system, created for the security of property, and the promotion of the material welfare and prosperity of individuals, whatever their occupation, employment, or condition. That such a code of civil government should have sprung from the necessities of commerce, is surely one of the triumphs of modern civilization.


It is not to be denied, that the sedulous care with which this great provision was made for the general prosperity has had the effect of impressing on the national character a strong spirit of acquisition. The character of a people, however, is to be judged not merely by the pursuit or the possession of wealth, but chiefly by the use which they make of it. If the inhabitants of the United States can justly claim distinction for the benevolent virtues; if the wealth that is eagerly sought and rapidly acquired is freely used for the relief of human suffering; if learning, science, and the arts are duly cultivated; if popular

« EelmineJätka »