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reference to, the existence of a nation. The People of the United States are not once mentioned; the presence and supreme attributes of that organic aggregate are completely ignored; no power is represented as derived from thein, and conferred upon
for even the slender concessions made by the states are not granted to the People, nor even to the United States as a political society distinct from its government, but only to the United States as represented by its government, to the “United States in Congress assembled.” As a consequence, there is no status of United States citizenship created or recognized; we have free inhabitants and citizens of the respective states, but no citizen of the United States.
§ 68. The formative elements which were combined in this political structure were not individuals, but were the sovereign, independent states, united in a friendly league for their mutual defense and welfare; and all powers not expressly delegated to the Congress were declared to be reserved by the several states to themselves. Here we perceive that the national idea had been tacitly abandoned, or, at least, totally lost sight of. The People who revolted, and who, through their delegates, had announced to the world their own independence and sovereignty, had no part nor voice in this new creation. They never adopted it by any formal act. It was not even the work of their delegates. Nay, the people of the respective states were not its direct authors; but the legislatures of these commonwealths assumed the power thus to restrain the sovereignty of their own constituents.
It is plain that, upon the extreme States’-Right theory even, this assumption was a palpable usurpation. No legislature is 80 supreme that it can, without direct authority, cede away the inherent political attributes and organic social existence of the body-politic it represents. But the jealousies of the state politicians, and the local rivalries fostered by them, had temporarily blinded the people and their public servants to their true interests, and to the rightful claims of the nation. If some pure patriots perceived the real position of affairs, and attempted to impress upon their countrymen the national
ideas, their voices were drowned in the clamors of state partisans, and their arguments and warnings were powerless against state pride and prejudice.
§ 69. II. The second feature to be noticed is, that the few powers possessed by the United States were not directed against individuals, but against communities, against the respective states. Congress could not take money from the people by means of taxation ; it could only direct the states to act. Congress could not enlist a soldier ; it could only determine the number of troops needed for the common defence, and request the states to furnish their respective amounts. And, if we go through the whole range of its legislative and executive functions, we shall find the same principle at work,
a government acting upon independent states considered as separate, organized, political societies, and not upon the single individuals whose aggregates compose those societies.
There is no more important and distinctive element than this in the whole scheme of the confederated government, nothing in which it contrasts more strongly with the
present Constitution. For herein lies the very essence of the States'Right theory; herein was distinctly embodied the claim of the states to paramount sovereignty. This was the crowning feature of the old Confederation, the perfected result of those notions which had then obtained the supremacy, and the conceded cause of all the disastrous and miserable consequences which followed from ill-considered and self-destructive organization. And, finally, this feature was entirely abandoned, and the government restored to its true basis, by the convention which framed, and the people who adopted, the present Constitution.
$70. III. The third point to be noticed is, that the United States government possessed, absolutely, no authority to enforce any of its enactments, to compel obedience to any of its laws. In fact, it could only recommend, it could not command. It was left entirely to the option of the respective states, whether or not any of the congressional requisitions upon them should be observed. The government was without any coercive means of raising even the smallest amount
of money. If it was fortunate enough to borrow, it could offer no assurance of an ability to pay. It could lay no duties on imports or exports, levy and collect no taxes, command none of the resources for maintaining the common lefence or promoting the common welfare. This inability to raise money by any authoritative measures, was the essential element of weakness, which made it a government in name only, a mere solemn sham, and exposed it to the ridicule of its own people and of foreign nations.
$ 71. Again, the Congress was the sole organ of the government. No independent executive was constituted to direct the national affairs ; no independent judiciary was authorized to expound the provisions of the compact and determine the functions of the central and the state legislatures. Congress might, indeed, prescribe regulations for the disposition of prizes and captures taken in war, but could give these rules no sanction. It could create final courts of appeal in prize causes, but the decisions of these tribunals were mere nullities, for there was no executive arm to enforce them. The legislatures and courts of the respective states retained the substantial power, and this they constantly used with hardly a thought or notice of the shadowy attributes conferred upon the general government.
$72. IV. The last general feature to be noticed is, the limited extent of the nominal powers granted to the United States Congress. Most of these had reference to the prosecution of war. The Articles of Confederation, in a very great measure, relate to a state of hostilities. The condition of peace, and the ordinary operations of government in seasons of tranquillity, are barely alluded to; all this was left to the local commonwealths. Congress might regulate the value of coin; might, together with the states, coin money; might fix the standard of weights and measures; might establish postoffices; and this brief enumeration exhausts the list of those powers which have reference to internal affairs, unconnected
In the foreign relations its functions were nominally unlimited, for it might declare war, make treaties, send and receive ambassadors. But these concessions were prac
tically nugatory, for it could neither raise troops to fill its armies, or money to pay them; nor could it procure the stipulations of its treaties to be observed, for the courts of the thirteen states were supreme in expounding, and the legislatures in carrying out, the provisions of these international compacts.
§ 73. Such was the government of the United States during the Confederation, a name without a body, a shadow without a substance. The consequences of this plan of government upon the material prosperity of the people, upon the development of the states and the Union in all that constitutes national greatness, upon the estimate in which the country was held by foreign powers, were such as might have been anticipated from a political organization contrived in utter disregard of all the lessons of history, and in complete opposition to all true principles of civil polity.
§ 74. These consequences are very accurately described by the writer quoted above. “ The history of the Confederation during the twelve years beyond which it was not able to maintain itself, is the history of the utter prostration, throughout the whole country, of every public and private interest, of that which was, beyond all comparison, the most trying period of our national and social life. For it was the extreme weakness of the confederate government, if such it could be called, which caused the war of independence to drag its slow length along through seven dreary years, and which, but for a providential concurrence of circumstances in Europe, must have prevented it from reaching any other than a disastrous conclusion. When, at last, peace was proclaimed, the confederate congress had dwindled down to a feeble junto of about twenty persons, which was so degraded and demoralized, that its decisions were hardly more respected than those of any voluntary and irresponsible association. The treaties which the Confederation had made with foreign powers, it was forced to see violated, and treated with contempt by its own members ; which brought upon it distrust from its friends, and scorn from its enemies. It had no standing among the nations
1 Princeton Review, October, 1861, pp. 618, 619.
of the world, because it had no power to secure the faith of its national obligations. For want of an uniform system of duties and imposts, and by conflicting commercial regulations in the different states, the commerce of the whole country was prostrated and well-nigh ruined. Private indebtedness was almost universal, and there was no business or industry to provide for its liquidation. Bankruptcy and distress were the rule rather than the exception. The government was loaded with an enormous debt, and had no authority to provide for the payment of either principal or interest, whence its credit was paralyzed. The currency of the country had hardly a nominal value."
§ 75. “ The states themselves were objects of jealous hostility to each other. The mouth and lower waters of the Mississippi were controlled by Spain, who prohibited their navigation ; and whilst the Eastern States were urgent that her claims should be acknowledged for the sake of advantages to their commerce, the whole Western valley, with its dependencies, was on the verge of separation from the East, in order to maintain, at all hazards, the rights of way to the ocean on that father of floods. The internal peace of the country was threatened, and a civil war seemed inevitable from the discontent of the officers of the revolution, for whose sacrifices and necessities Congress, in open breach of the publie faith, yet from sheer inability, had failed to make any compensation or provision. Nothing but the personal influence of Washington over the officers themselves averted this calamity: In some of the states rebellion was already raising its horrid front, threatening the overthrow of all regular government and the inauguration of universal anarchy. It is difficult for us to conceive of the panic which Shays's rebellion in Massachusetts spread throughout the country, and of the peril to which the whole fabric of society was exposed from organized bands of ten or fifteen thousand armed men bent on cancelling, at the point of the bayonet, all public and private indebtedness, and excited to madness with lust of plunder. Ah! what a picture of general gloom and distress, of patriot anguish and despair, is presented in the contemporary history of the confederate government.”