The Fathers of the Constitution
Max Farrand

Part 1 out of 3



















"The United States of America"! It was in the Declaration of
Independence that this name was first and formally proclaimed to
the world, and to maintain its verity the war of the Revolution
was fought. Americans like to think that they were then assuming
"among the Powers of the Earth the equal and independent Station
to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them";
and, in view of their subsequent marvelous development, they are
inclined to add that it must have been before an expectant world.

In these days of prosperity and national greatness it is hard to
realize that the achievement of independence did not place the
United States on a footing of equality with other countries and
that, in fact, the new state was more or less an unwelcome member
of the world family. It is nevertheless true that the latest
comer into the family of nations did not for a long time command
the respect of the world. This lack of respect was partly due to
the character of the American population. Along with the many
estimable and excellent people who had come to British North
America inspired by the best of motives, there had come others
who were not regarded favorably by the governing classes of
Europe. Discontent is frequently a healthful sign and a
forerunner of progress, but it makes one an uncomfortable
neighbor in a satisfied and conservative community; and
discontent was the underlying factor in the migration from the
Old World to the New. In any composite immigrant population such
as that of the United States there was bound to be a large
element of undesirables. Among those who came "for conscience's
sake" were the best type of religious protestants, but there were
also religious cranks from many countries, of almost every
conceivable sect and of no sect at all. Many of the newcomers
were poor. It was common, too, to regard colonies as inferior
places of residence to which objectionable persons might be
encouraged to go and where the average of the population was
lowered by the influx of convicts and thousands of slaves.

"The great number of emigrants from Europe"--wrote Thieriot,
Saxon Commissioner of Commerce to America, from Philadelphia in
1784--"has filled this place with worthless persons to such a
degree that scarcely a day passes without theft, robbery, or even
assassination."* It would perhaps be too much to say that the
people of the United States were looked upon by the rest of the
world as only half civilized, but certainly they were regarded as
of lower social standing and of inferior quality, and many of
them were known to be rough, uncultured, and ignorant. Great
Britain and Germany maintained American missionary societies,
not, as might perhaps be expected, for the benefit of the Indian
or negro, but for the poor, benighted colonists themselves; and
Great Britain refused to commission a minister to her former
colonies for nearly ten years after their independence had been

* Quoted by W. E. Lingelbach, "History Teacher's Magazine,"
March, 1913.

It is usually thought that the dregs of humiliation have been
reached when the rights of foreigners are not considered safe in
a particular country, so that another state insists upon
establishing therein its own tribunal for the trial of its
citizens or subjects. Yet that is what the French insisted upon
in the United States, and they were supposed to be especially
friendly. They had had their own experience in America. First the
native Indian had appealed to their imagination. Then, at an
appropriate moment, they seemed to see in the Americans a living
embodiment of the philosophical theories of the time: they
thought that they had at last found "the natural man" of Rousseau
and Voltaire; they believed that they saw the social contract
theory being worked out before their very eyes. Nevertheless, in
spite of this interest in Americans, the French looked upon them
as an inferior people over whom they would have liked to exercise
a sort of protectorate. To them the Americans seemed to lack a
proper knowledge of the amenities of life. Commissioner Thieriot,
describing the administration of justice in the new republic,
noticed that: "A Frenchman, with the prejudices of his country
and accustomed to court sessions in which the officers have
imposing robes and a uniform that makes it impossible to
recognize them, smiles at seeing in the court room men dressed in
street clothes, simple, often quite common. He is astonished to
see the public enter and leave the court room freely, those who
prefer even keeping their hats on." Later he adds: "It appears
that the court of France wished to set up a jurisdiction of its
own on this continent for all matters involving French subjects."
France failed in this; but at the very time that peace was under
discussion Congress authorized Franklin to negotiate a consular
convention, ratified a few years later, according to which the
citizens of the United States and the subjects of the French King
in the country of the other should be tried by their respective
consuls or vice-consuls. Though this agreement was made
reciprocal in its terms and so saved appearances for the honor of
the new nation, nevertheless in submitting it to Congress John
Jay clearly pointed out that it was reciprocal in name rather
than in substance, as there were few or no Americans in France
but an increasing number of Frenchmen in the United States.

Such was the status of the new republic in the family of nations
when the time approached for the negotiation of a treaty of peace
with the mother country. The war really ended with the surrender
of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. Yet even then the British were
unwilling to concede the independence of the revolted colonies.
This refusal of recognition was not merely a matter of pride; a
division and a consequent weakening of the empire was involved;
to avoid this Great Britain seems to have been willing to make
any other concessions that were necessary. The mother country
sought to avoid disruption at all costs. But the time had passed
when any such adjustment might have been possible. The Americans
now flatly refused to treat of peace upon any footing except that
of independent equality. The British, being in no position to
continue the struggle, were obliged to yield and to declare in
the first article of the treaty of peace that "His Britannic
Majesty acknowledges the said United States . . . to be free,
sovereign, and independent states."

With France the relationship of the United States was clear and
friendly enough at the time. The American War of Independence had
been brought to a successful issue with the aid of France. In the
treaty of alliance which had been signed in 1781 had been agreed
that neither France nor the United States should, without the
consent of the other, make peace with Great Britain. More than
that, in 1781, partly out of gratitude but largely as a result of
clever manipulation of factions in Congress by the French
Minister in Philadelphia, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, the
American peace commissioners had been instructed "to make the
most candid and confidential communications upon all subjects to
the ministers of our generous ally, the King of France; to
undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace or truce without
their knowledge and concurrence; and ultimately to govern
yourselves by their advice and opinion."* If France had been
actuated only by unselfish motives in supporting the colonies in
their revolt against Great Britain, these instructions might have
been acceptable and even advisable. But such was not the case.
France was working not so much with philanthropic purposes or for
sentimental reasons as for the restoration to her former position
of supremacy in Europe. Revenge upon England was only a part of a
larger plan of national aggrandizement.

* "Secret Journals of Congress." June 15, 1781.

The treaty with France in 1778 had declared that war should be
continued until the independence of the United States had been
established, and it appeared as if that were the main purpose of
the alliance. For her own good reasons France had dragged Spain
into the struggle. Spain, of course, fought to cripple Great
Britain and not to help the United States. In return for this
support France was pledged to assist Spain in obtaining certain
additions to her territory. In so far as these additions related
to North America, the interests of Spain and those of the United
States were far from being identical; in fact, they were
frequently in direct opposition. Spain was already in possession
of Louisiana and, by prompt action on her entry into the war in
1780, she had succeeded in getting control of eastern Louisiana
and of practically all the Floridas except St. Augustine. To
consolidate these holdings and round out her American empire,
Spain would have liked to obtain the title to all the land
between the Alleghany Mountains and the Mississippi. Failing
this, however, she seemed to prefer that the region northwest of
the Ohio River should belong to the British rather than to the
United States.

Under these circumstances it was fortunate for the United States
that the American Peace Commissioners were broad-minded enough to
appreciate the situation and to act on their own responsibility.
Benjamin Franklin, although he was not the first to be appointed,
was generally considered to be the chief of the Commission by
reason of his age, experience, and reputation. Over seventy-five
years old, he was more universally known and admired than
probably any man of his time. This many-sided American--printer,
almanac maker, writer, scientist, and philosopher--by the variety
of his abilities as well as by the charm of his manner seemed to
have found his real mission in the diplomatic field, where he
could serve his country and at the same time, with credit to
himself, preach his own doctrines.

When Franklin was sent to Europe at the outbreak of the
Revolution, it was as if destiny had intended him for that
particular task. His achievements had already attracted
attention; in his fur cap and eccentric dress "he fulfilled
admirably the Parisian ideal of the forest philosopher"; and with
his facility in conversation, as well as by the attractiveness of
his personality, he won both young and old. But, with his
undoubted zeal for liberty and his unquestioned love of country,
Franklin never departed from the Quaker principles he affected
and always tried to avoid a fight. In these efforts, owing to his
shrewdness and his willingness to compromise, he was generally

John Adams, being then the American representative at The Hague,
was the first Commissioner to be appointed. Indeed, when he was
first named, in 1779, he was to be sole commissioner to negotiate
peace; and it was the influential French Minister to the United
States who was responsible for others being added to the
commission. Adams was a sturdy New Englander of British stock and
of a distinctly English type-- medium height, a stout figure, and
a ruddy face. No one questioned his honesty, his
straightforwardness, or his lack of tact. Being a man of strong
mind, of wide reading and even great learning, and having serene
confidence in the purity of his motives as well as in the
soundness of his judgment, Adams was little inclined to surrender
his own views, and was ready to carry out his ideas against every
obstacle. By nature as well as by training he seems to have been
incapable of understanding the French; he was suspicious of them
and he disapproved of Franklin's popularity even as he did of his

Five Commissioners in all were named, but Thomas Jefferson and
Henry Laurens did not take part in the negotiations, so that the
only other active member was John Jay, then thirty-seven years
old and already a man of prominence in his own country. Of French
Huguenot stock and type, he was tall and slender, with somewhat
of a scholar's stoop, and was usually dressed in black. His
manners were gentle and unassuming, but his face, with its
penetrating black eyes, its aquiline nose and pointed chin,
revealed a proud and sensitive disposition. He had been sent to
the court of Spain in 1780, and there he had learned enough to
arouse his suspicious, if nothing more, of Spain's designs as
well as of the French intention to support them.

In the spring of 1782 Adams felt obliged to remain at The Hague
in order to complete the negotiations already successfully begun
for a commercial treaty with the Netherlands. Franklin, thus the
only Commissioner on the ground in Paris, began informal
negotiations alone but sent an urgent call to Jay in Spain, who
was convinced of the fruitlessness of his mission there and
promptly responded. Jay's experience in Spain and his knowledge
of Spanish hopes had led him to believe that the French were not
especially concerned about American interests but were in fact
willing to sacrifice them if necessary to placate Spain. He
accordingly insisted that the American Commissioners should
disregard their instructions and, without the knowledge of
France, should deal directly with Great Britain. In this
contention he was supported by Adams when he arrived, but it was
hard to persuade Franklin to accept this point of view, for he
was unwilling to believe anything so unworthy of his admiring and
admired French. Nevertheless, with his cautious shrewdness, he
finally yielded so far as to agree to see what might come out of
direct negotiations.

The rest was relatively easy. Of course there were difficulties
and such sharp differences of opinion that, even after long
negotiation, some matters had to be compromised. Some problems,
too, were found insoluble and were finally left without a
settlement. But such difficulties as did exist were slight in
comparison with the previous hopelessness of reconciling American
and Spanish ambitions, especially when the latter were supported
by France. On the one hand, the Americans were the proteges of
the French and were expected to give way before the claims of
their patron's friends to an extent which threatened to limit
seriously their growth and development. On the other hand, they
were the younger sons of England, uncivilized by their wilderness
life, ungrateful and rebellious, but still to be treated by
England as children of the blood. In the all-important question
of extent of territory, where Spain and France would have limited
the United States to the east of the Alleghany Mountains, Great
Britain was persuaded without great difficulty, having once
conceded independence to the United States, to yield the
boundaries which she herself had formerly claimed--from the
Atlantic Ocean on the east to the Mississippi River on the west,
and from Canada on the north to the southern boundary of Georgia.
Unfortunately the northern line, through ignorance and
carelessness rather than through malice, was left uncertain at
various points and became the subject of almost continuous
controversy until the last bit of it was settled in 1911.*

* See Lord Bryce's Introduction (p. xxiv) to W. A. Dunning. "The
British Empire and the United States" (1914).

The fisheries of the North Atlantic, for which Newfoundland
served as the chief entrepot, had been one of the great assets of
North America from the time of its discovery. They had been one
of the chief prizes at stake in the struggle between the French
and the British for the possession of the continent, and they had
been of so much value that a British statute of 1775 which cut
off the New England fisheries was regarded, even after the
"intolerable acts" of the previous year, as the height of
punishment for New England. Many Englishmen would have been glad
to see the Americans excluded from these fisheries, but John
Adams, when he arrived from The Hague, displayed an appreciation
of New England interests and the quality of his temper as well by
flatly refusing to agree to any treaty which did not allow full
fishing privileges. The British accordingly yielded and the
Americans were granted fishing rights as "heretofore" enjoyed.
The right of navigation of the Mississippi River, it was declared
in the treaty, should "forever remain free and open" to both
parties; but here Great Britain was simply passing on to the
United States a formal right which she had received from France
and was retaining for herself a similar right which might
sometime prove of use, for as long as Spain held both banks at
the mouth of the Mississippi River, the right was of little
practical value.

Two subjects involving the greatest difficulty of arrangement
were the compensation of the Loyalists and the settlement of
commercial indebtedness. The latter was really a question of the
payment of British creditors by American debtors, for there was
little on the other side of the balance sheet, and it seems as if
the frugal Franklin would have preferred to make no concessions
and would have allowed creditors to take their own chances of
getting paid. But the matter appeared to Adams in a different
light--perhaps his New England conscience was aroused--and in
this point of view he was supported by Jay. It was therefore
finally agreed "that creditors on either side shall meet with no
lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value in sterling
money, of all bona fide debts heretofore contracted." However
just this provision may have been, its incorporation in the terms
of the treaty was a mistake on the part of the Commissioners,
because the Government of the United States had no power to give
effect to such an arrangement, so that the provision had no more
value than an emphatic expression of opinion. Accordingly, when
some of the States later disregarded this part of the treaty, the
British had an excuse for refusing to carry out certain of their
own obligations.

The historian of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788,
H. B. Grigsby, relates an amusing incident growing out of the
controversy over the payment of debts to creditors in England:

"A Scotchman, John Warden, a prominent lawyer and good classical
scholar, but suspected rightly of Tory leanings during the
Revolution, learning of the large minority against the repeal of
laws in conflict with the treaty of 1783 (i. e., especially the
laws as to the collection of debts by foreigners) caustically
remarked that some of the members of the House had voted against
paying for the coats on their backs. The story goes that he was
summoned before the House in full session, and was compelled to
beg their pardon on his knees; but as he rose, pretending to
brush the dust from his knees, he pointed to the House and said
audibly, with evident double meaning, 'Upon my word, a dommed
dirty house it is indeed.' The Journal of the House, however,
shows that the honor of the delegates was satisfied by a written
assurance from Mr. Warden that he meant in no way to affront the
dignity of the House or to insult any of its members."

The other question, that of compensating the Loyalists for the
loss of their property, was not so simple a matter, for the whole
story of the Revolution was involved. There is a tendency among
many scholars of the present day to regard the policy of the
British toward their North American colonies as possibly unwise
and blundering but as being entirely in accordance with the legal
and constitutional rights of the mother country, and to believe
that the Americans, while they may have been practically and
therefore morally justified in asserting their independence, were
still technically and legally in the wrong. It is immaterial
whether or not that point of view is accepted, for its mere
recognition is sufficient to explain the existence of a large
number of Americans who were steadfast in their support of the
British side of the controversy. Indeed, it has been estimated
that as large a proportion as one-third of the population
remained loyal to the Crown. Numbers must remain more or less
uncertain, but probably the majority of the people in the United
States, whatever their feelings may have been, tried to remain
neutral or at least to appear so; and it is undoubtedly true that
the Revolution was accomplished by an aggressive minority and
that perhaps as great a number were actively loyal to Great

These Loyalists comprised at least two groups. One of these was a
wealthy, property-owning class, representing the best social
element in the colonies, extremely conservative, believing in
privilege and fearing the rise of democracy. The other was
composed of the royal officeholders, which included some of the
better families, but was more largely made up of the lower class
of political and social hangers-on, who had been rewarded with
these positions for political debts incurred in England. The
opposition of both groups to the Revolution was inevitable and
easily to be understood, but it was also natural that the
Revolutionists should incline to hold the Loyalists, without
distinction, largely responsible for British pre-Revolutionary
policy, asserting that they misinformed the Government as to
conditions and sentiment in America, partly through stupidity and
partly through selfish interest. It was therefore perfectly
comprehensible that the feeling should be bitter against them in
the United States, especially as they had given efficient aid to
the British during the war. In various States they were subjected
to personal violence at the hands of indignant "patriots," many
being forced to flee from their homes, while their property was
destroyed or confiscated, and frequently these acts were
legalized by statute.

The historian of the Loyalists of Massachusetts, James H. Stark,
must not be expected to understate the case, but when he is
describing, especially in New England, the reign of terror which
was established to suppress these people, he writes:

"Loyalists were tarred and feathered and carried on rails, gagged
and bound for days at a time; stoned, fastened in a room with a
fire and the chimney stopped on top; advertised as public
enemies, so that they would be cut off from all dealings with
their neighbors; they had bullets shot into their bedrooms, their
horses poisoned or mutilated; money or valuable plate extorted
from them to save them from violence, and on pretence of taking
security for their good behavior; their houses and ships burned;
they were compelled to pay the guards who watched them in their
houses, and when carted about for the mob to stare at and abuse,
they were compelled to pay something at every town."

There is little doubt also that the confiscation of property and
the expulsion of the owners from the community were helped on by
people who were debtors to the Loyalists and in this way saw a
chance of escaping from the payment of their rightful
obligations. The "Act for confiscating the estates of certain
persons commonly called absentees" may have been a measure of
self-defense for the State but it was passed by the votes of
those who undoubtedly profited by its provisions.

Those who had stood loyally by the Crown must in turn be looked
out for by the British Government, especially when the claims of
justice were reinforced by the important consideration that many
of those with property and financial interests in America were
relatives of influential persons in England. The immediate
necessity during the war had been partially met by assisting
thousands to go to Canada--where their descendants today form an
important element in the population and are proud of being United
Empire Loyalists--while pensions and gifts were supplied to
others. Now that the war was over the British were determined
that Americans should make good to the Loyalists for all that
they had suffered, and His Majesty's Commissioners were hopeful
at least of obtaining a proviso similar to the one relating to
the collection of debts. John Adams, however, expressed the
prevailing American idea when he said that "paying debts and
compensating Tories" were two very different things, and Jay
asserted that there were certain of these refugees whom Americans
never would forgive.

But this was the one thing needed to complete the negotiations
for peace, and the British arguments on the injustice and
irregularity of the treatment accorded to the Loyalists were so
strong that the American Commissioners were finally driven to
the excuse that the Government of the Confederation had no power
over the individual States by whom the necessary action must be
taken. Finally, in a spirit of mutual concession at the end of
the negotiations, the Americans agreed that Congress should
"recommend to the legislatures of the respective states to
provide for the restitution" of properties which had been
confiscated "belonging to real British subjects," and "that
persons of any other description" might return to the United
States for a period of twelve months and be "unmolested in their
endeavours to obtain the restitution."

With this show of yielding on the part of the American
Commissioners it was possible to conclude the terms of peace,
and the preliminary treaty was drawn accordingly and agreed to
on November 30, 1782. Franklin had been of such great service
during all the negotiations, smoothing down ruffed feelings by
his suavity and tact and presenting difficult subjects in a way
that made action possible, that to him was accorded the
unpleasant task of communicating what had been accomplished to
Vergennes, the French Minister, and of requesting at the same
time "a fresh loan of twenty million francs." Franklin, of
presented his case with much "delicacy and kindliness of manner"
and with a fair degree of success. "Vergennes thought that the
signing of the articles was premature, but he made no
inconvenient remonstrances, ill procured six millions of the
twenty."* On September 3, 1783, the definite treaty of peace was
signed in due time it was ratified by the British Parliament as
well as by the American Congress. The new state, duly accredited,
thus took its place in the family of nations; but it was a very
humble place that was first assigned to the United States of

* Channing, "History of the United States," vol. III, p. 368.


Though the word revolution implies a violent break with the past,
there was nothing in the Revolution that transformed the
essential character or the characteristics of the American
people. The Revolution severed the ties which bound the colonies
to Great Britain; it created some new activities; some soldiers
were diverted from their former trades and occupation; but, as
the proportion of the population engaged in the war was
relatively small and the area of country affected for any length
of time was comparatively slight, it is safe to say that in
general the mass of the people remained about the same after the
war as before. The professional man was found in his same
calling; the artisan returned to his tools, if he had ever laid
them down; the shopkeeper resumed his business, if it had been
interrupted; the merchant went back to his trading; and the
farmer before the Revolution remained a farmer afterward.

The country as a whole was in relatively good condition and the
people were reasonably prosperous; at least, there was no general
distress or poverty. Suffering had existed in the regions ravaged
by war, but no section had suffered unduly or had had to bear the
burden of war during the entire period of fighting. American
products had been in demand, especially in the West India
Islands, and an illicit trade with the enemy had sprung up, so
that even during the war shippers were able to dispose of their
commodites at good prices. The Americans are commonly said to
have been an agricultural people, but it would be more correct to
say that the great majority of the people were dependent upon
extractive industries, which would include lumbering, fishing,
and even the fur trade, as well as the ordinary agricultural
pursuits. Save for a few industries, of which shipbuilding was
one of the most important, there was relatively little
manufacturing apart from the household crafts. These household
industries had increased during the war, but as it was with the
individual so it was with the whole country; the general course
of industrial activity was much the same as it had been before
the war.

A fundamental fact is to be observed in the economy of the young
nation: the people were raising far more tobacco and grain and
were extracting far more of other products than they could
possibly use themselves; for the surplus they must find markets.
They had; as well, to rely upon the outside world for a great
part of their manufactured goods, especially for those of the
higher grade. In other words, from the economic point of view,
the United States remained in the former colonial stage of
industrial dependence, which was aggravated rather than
alleviated by the separation from Great Britain. During the
colonial period, Americans had carried on a large amount of this
external trade by means of their own vessels. The British
Navigation Acts required the transportation of goods in British
vessels, manned by crews of British sailors, and specified
certain commodities which could be shipped to Great Britain only.
They also required that much of the European trade should pass by
way of England. But colonial vessels and colonial sailors came
under the designation of "British," and no small part of the
prosperity of New England, and of the middle colonies as well,
had been due to the carrying trade. It would seem therefore as if
a primary need of the American people immediately after the
Revolution was to get access to their old markets and to carry
the goods as much as possible in their own vessels.

In some directions they were successful. One of the products in
greatest demand was fish. The fishing industry had been almost
annihilated by the war, but with the establishment of peace the
New England fisheries began to recover. They were in competition
with the fishermen of France and England who were aided by large
bounties, yet the superior geographical advantages which the
American fishermen possessed enabled them to maintain and expand
their business, and the rehabilitation of the fishing fleet was
an important feature of their programme. In other directions they
were not so successful. The British still believed in their
colonial system and applied its principles without regard to the
interests of the United States. Such American products as they
wanted they allowed to be carried to British markets, but in
British vessels. Certain commodities, the production of which
they wished to encourage within their own dominions, they added
to the prohibited list. Americans cried out indignantly that this
was an attempt on the part of the British to punish their former
colonies for their temerity in revolting. The British Government
may well have derived some satisfaction from the fact that
certain restrictions bore heavily upon New England, as John Adams
complained; but it would seem to be much nearer the truth to say
that in a truly characteristic way the British were
phlegmatically attending to their own interests and calmly
ignoring the United States, and that there was little malice in
their policy.

European nations had regarded American trade as a profitable
field of enterprise and as probably responsible for much of Great
Britain's prosperity. It was therefore a relatively easy matter
for the United States to enter into commercial treaties with
foreign countries. These treaties, however, were not fruitful of
any great result; for, "with unimportant exceptions, they left
still in force the high import duties and prohibitions that
marked the European tariffs of the time, as well as many features
of the old colonial system. They were designed to legalize
commerce rather than to encourage it."* Still, for a year or more
after the war the demand for American products was great enough
to satisfy almost everybody. But in 1784 France and Spain closed
their colonial ports and thus excluded the shipping of the United
States. This proved to be so disastrous for their colonies that
the French Government soon was forced to relax its restrictions.
The British also made some concessions, and where their orders
were not modified they were evaded. And so, in the course of a
few years, the West India trade recovered.

* Clive Day, "Encyclopedia of American Government," Vol. I, p.

More astonishing to the men of that time than it is to us was the
fact that American foreign trade fell under British commercial
control again. Whether it was that British merchants were
accustomed to American ways of doing things and knew American
business conditions; whether other countries found the commerce
not as profitable as they had expected, as certainly was the case
with France; whether "American merchants and sea captains found
themselves under disadvantages due to the absence of treaty
protection which they had enjoyed as English subjects";* or
whether it was the necessity of trading on British
capital--whatever the cause may have been--within a comparatively
few years a large part of American trade was in British hands as
it had been before the Revolution. American trade with Europe was
carried on through English merchants very much as the Navigation
Acts had prescribed.

* C. R. Fish, "American Diplomacy," pp. 56-57.

From the very first settlement of the American continent the
colonists had exhibited one of the earliest and most lasting
characteristics of the American people adaptability. The
Americans now proceeded to manifest that trait anew, not only by
adjusting themselves to renewed commercial dependence upon Great
Britain, but by seeking new avenues of trade. A striking
illustration of this is to be found in the development of trade
with the Far East. Captain Cook's voyage around the world (1768-
1771), an account of which was first published in London in 1773,
attracted a great deal of attention in America; an edition of the
New Voyage was issued in New York in 1774. No sooner was the
Revolution over than there began that romantic trade with China
and the northwest coast of America, which made the fortunes of
some families of Salem and Boston and Philadelphia. This commerce
added to the prosperity of the country, but above all it
stimulated the imagination of Americans. In the same way another
outlet was found in trade with Russia by way of the Baltic.

The foreign trade of the United States after the Revolution thus
passed through certain well-marked phases. First there was a
short period of prosperity, owing to an unusual demand for
American products; this was followed by a longer period of
depression; and then came a gradual recovery through acceptance
of the new conditions and adjustment to them.

A similar cycle may be traced in the domestic or internal trade.
In early days intercolonial commerce had been carried on mostly
by water, and when war interfered commerce almost ceased for want
of roads. The loss of ocean highways, however, stimulated road
building and led to what might be regarded as the first
"good-roads movement" of the new nation, except that to our eyes
it would be a misuse of the word to call any of those roads good.
But anything which would improve the means of transportation took
on a patriotic tinge, and the building of roads and the cutting
of canals were agitated until turnpike and canal companies became
a favorite form of investment; and in a few years the interstate
land trade had grown to considerable importance. But in the
meantime, water transportation was the main reliance, and with
the end of the war the coastwise trade had been promptly resumed.
For a time it prospered; but the States, affected by the general
economic conditions and by jealousy, tried to interfere with and
divert the trade of others to their own advantage. This was done
by imposing fees and charges and duties, not merely upon goods
and vessels from abroad but upon those of their fellow States.
James Madison described the situation in the words so often
quoted: "Some of the States, . . . having no convenient ports for
foreign commerce, were subject to be taxed by their neighbors,
thro whose ports, their commerce was carryed on. New Jersey,
placed between Phila. & N. York, was likened to a Cask tapped at
both ends: and N. Carolina between Virga. & S. Carolina to a
patient bleeding at both Arms."*

* "Records of the Federal Convention," vol. III, p. 542.

The business depression which very naturally followed the short
revival of trade was so serious in its financial consequences
that it has even been referred to as the "Panic of 1785." The
United States afforded a good market for imported articles in
1788 and 1784, all the better because of the supply of gold and
silver which had been sent into the country by England and France
to maintain their armies and fleets and which had remained in the
United States. But this influx of imported goods was one of the
chief factors in causing the depression of 1785, as it brought
ruin to many of those domestic industries which had sprung up in
the days of nonintercourse or which had been stimulated by the
artificial protection of the war.

To make matters worse, the currency was in a confused condition.
"In 1784 the entire coin of the land, except coppers, was the
product of foreign mints. English guineas, crowns, shillings and
pence were still paid over the counters of shops and taverns, and
with them were mingled many French and Spanish and some German
coins . . . . The value of the gold pieces expressed in dollars
was pretty much the same the country over. But the dollar and the
silver pieces regarded as fractions of a dollar had no less than
five different values."* The importation of foreign goods was
fast draining the hard money out of the country. In an effort to
relieve the situation but with the result of making it much
worse, several of the States began to issue paper money; and this
was in addition to the enormous quantities of paper which had
been printed during the Revolution and which was now worth but a
small fraction of its face value.

* McMaster, "History of the People of the United States", vol. I,
pp. 190-191.

The expanding currency and consequent depreciation in the value
of money had immediately resulted in a corresponding rise of
prices, which for a while the States attempted to control. But in
1778 Congress threw up its hands in despair and voted that "all
limitations of prices of gold and silver be taken off," although
the States for some time longer continued to endeavor to regulate
prices by legislation.* The fluctuating value of the currency
increased the opportunities for speculation which war conditions
invariably offer, and "immense fortunes were suddenly
accumulated." A new financial group rose into prominence composed
largely of those who were not accustomed to the use of money and
who were consequently inclined to spend it recklessly and

* W. E. H. Lecky, "The American Revolution," New York, 1898, pp.

Many contemporaries comment upon these things, of whom Brissot de
Warville may be taken as an example, although he did not visit
the United States until 1788:

"The inhabitants . . . prefer the splendor of wealth and the show
of enjoyment to the simplicity of manners and the pure pleasures
which result from it. If there is a town on the American
continent where the English luxury displays its follies, it is
New York. You will find here the English fashions: in the dress
of the women you will see the most brilliant silks, gauzes, hats,
and borrowed hair; equipages are rare, but they are elegant; the
men have more simplicity in their dress; they disdain gewgaws,
but they take their revenge in the luxury of the table; luxury
forms already a class of men very dangerous to society; I mean
bachelors; the expense of women causes matrimony to be dreaded by
men. Tea forms, as in England, the basis of parties of pleasure;
many things are dearer here than in France; a hairdresser asks
twenty shilling a month; washing costs four shillings a dozen."*

* Quoted by Henry Tuckerman, "America and her Commentators,"

An American writer of a later date, looking back upon his earlier
years, was impressed by this same extravagance, and his testimony
may well be used to strengthen the impression which it is the
purpose of the present narrative to convey:

"The French and British armies circulated immense sums of money
in gold and silver coin, which had the effect of driving out of
circulation the wretched paper currency which had till then
prevailed. Immense quantities of British and French goods were
soon imported: our people imbibed a taste for foreign fashions
and luxury; and in the course of two or three years, from the
close of the war, such an entire change had taken place in the
habits and manners of our inhabitants, that it almost appeared as
if we had suddenly become a different nation. The staid and sober
habits of our ancestors, with their plain home-manufactured
clothing, were suddenly laid aside, and European goods of fine
quality adopted in their stead. Fine rues, powdered heads, silks
and scarlets, decorated the men; while the most costly silks,
satins, chintzes, calicoes, muslins, etc., etc., decorated our
females. Nor was their diet less expensive; for superb plate,
foreign spirits, wines, etc., etc., sparkled on the sideboards of
many farmers. The natural result of this change of the habits and
customs of the people--this aping of European manners and morals,
was to suddenly drain our country of its circulating specie; and
as a necessary consequence, the people ran in debt, times became
difficult, and money hard to raise.*

* Samuel Kercheval, "History of the Valley of Virginia," 1833,
pp. 199-200.

The situation was serious, and yet it was not as dangerous or
even as critical as it has generally been represented, because
the fundamental bases of American prosperity were untouched. The
way by which Americans could meet the emergency and recover from
the hard times was fairly evident first to economize, and then to
find new outlets for their industrial energies. But the process
of adjustment was slow and painful. There were not a few persons
in the United States who were even disposed to regret that
Americans were not safely under British protection and prospering
with Great Britain, instead of suffering in political isolation.


When peace came in 1783 there were in the United States
approximately three million people, who were spread over the
whole Atlantic coast from Maine to Georgia and back into the
interior as far as the Alleghany Mountains; and a relatively
small number of settlers had crossed the mountain barrier. About
twenty per cent of the population, or some six hundred thousand,
were negro slaves. There was also a large alien element of
foreign birth or descent, poor when they arrived in America, and,
although they had been able to raise themselves to a position of
comparative comfort, life among them was still crude and rough.
Many of the people were poorly educated and lacking in
cultivation and refinement and in a knowledge of the usages of
good society. Not only were they looked down upon by other
nations of the world; there was within the United States itself a
relatively small upper class inclined to regard the mass of the
people as of an inferior order.

Thus, while forces were at work favorable to democracy, the
gentry remained in control of affairs after the Revolution,
although their numbers were reduced by the emigration of the
Loyalists and their power was lessened. The explanation of this
aristocratic control may be found in the fact that the generation
of the Revolution had been accustomed to monarchy and to an upper
class and that the people were wont to take their ideas and to
accept suggestions from their betters without question or murmur.
This deferential attitude is attested by the indifference of
citizens to the right of voting. In our own day, before the great
extension of woman suffrage, the number of persons voting
approximated twenty per cent of the population, but after the
Revolution less than five per cent of the white population voted.
There were many limitations upon the exercise of the suffrage,
but the small number of voters was only partially due to these
restrictions, for in later years, without any radical change in
suffrage qualifications, the proportion of citizens who voted
steadily increased.

The fact is that many of the people did not care to vote. Why
should they, when they were only registering the will or the
wishes of their superiors? But among the relatively small number
who constituted the governing class there was a high standard of
intelligence. Popular magazines were unheard of and newspapers
were infrequent, so that men depended largely upon correspondence
and personal intercourse for the interchange of ideas. There was
time, however, for careful reading of the few available books;
there was time for thought, for writing, for discussion, and for
social intercourse. It hardly seems too much to say, therefore,
that there was seldom, if ever, a people-certainly never a people
scattered over so wide a territory-who knew so much about
government as did this controlling element of the people of the
United States.

The practical character, as well as the political genius, of the
Americans was never shown to better advantage than at the
outbreak of the Revolution, when the quarrel with the mother
country was manifesting itself in the conflict between the
Governors, and other appointed agents of the Crown, and the
popularly elected houses of the colonial legislatures. When the
Crown resorted to dissolving the legislatures, the revolting
colonists kept up and observed the forms of government. When the
legislature was prevented from meeting, the members would come
together and call themselves a congress or a convention, and,
instead of adopting laws or orders, would issue what were really
nothing more than recommendations, but which they expected would
be obeyed by their supporters. To enforce these recommendations
extra-legal committees, generally backed by public opinion and
sometimes concretely supported by an organized "mob," would meet
in towns and counties and would be often effectively centralized
where the opponents of the British policy were in control.

In several of the colonies the want of orderly government became
so serious that, in 1775, the Continental Congress advised them
to form temporary governments until the trouble with Great
Britain had been settled. When independence was declared Congress
recommended to all the States that they should adopt governments
of their own. In accordance with that recommendation, in the
course of a very few years each State established an independent
government and adopted a written constitution. It was a time when
men believed in the social contract or the "compact theory of the
state," that states originated through agreement, as the case
might be, between king and nobles, between king and people, or
among the people themselves. In support of this doctrine no less
an authority than the Bible was often quoted, such a passage for
example as II Samuel v, 3: "So all the elders of Israel came to
the King to Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them in
Hebron before the Lord; and they anointed David King over
Israel." As a philosophical speculation to explain why people
were governed or consented to be governed, this theory went back
at least to the Greeks, and doubtless much earlier; and, though
of some significance in medieval thought, it became of greater
importance in British political philosophy, especially through
the works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. A very practical
application of the compact theory was made in the English
Revolution of 1688, when in order to avoid the embarrassment of
deposing the king, the convention of the Parliament adopted the
resolution: "That King James the Second, having endeavored to
subvert the Constitution of the Kingdom, by breaking the original
Contract between King and People, and having, by the advice of
Jesuits, and other wicked persons, violated the fundamental Laws,
and withdrawn himself out of this Kingdom, has abdicated the
Government, and that the throne is hereby vacant." These theories
were developed by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his "Contrat
Social"--a book so attractively written that it eclipsed all
other works upon the subject and resulted in his being regarded
as the author of the doctrine--and through him they spread all
over Europe.

Conditions in America did more than lend color to pale
speculation; they seemed to take this hypothesis out of the realm
of theory and to give it practical application. What happened
when men went into the wilderness to live? The Pilgrim Fathers on
board the Mayflower entered into an agreement which was signed by
the heads of families who took part in the enterprise: "We, whose
names are underwritten . . . Do by these presents, solemnly and
mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and
combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick."

Other colonies, especially in New England, with this example
before them of a social contract entered into similar compacts or
"plantation covenants," as they were called. But the colonists
were also accustomed to having written charters granted which
continued for a time at least to mark the extent of governmental
powers. Through this intermingling of theory and practice it was
the most natural thing in the world, when Americans came to form
their new State Governments, that they should provide written
instruments framed by their own representatives, which not only
bound them to be governed in this way but also placed limitations
upon the governing bodies. As the first great series of written
constitutions, these frames of government attracted wide
attention. Congress printed a set for general distribution, and
numerous editions were circulated both at home and abroad.

The constitutions were brief documents, varying from one thousand
to twelve thousand words in length, which established the
framework of the governmental machinery. Most of them, before
proceeding to practical working details, enunciated a series of
general principles upon the subject of government and political
morality in what were called declarations or bills of rights. The
character of these declarations may be gathered from the
following excerpts:

"That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and
have certain inherent rights, . . . the enjoyment of life and
liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and
pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. "That no man, or set
of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or
privileges from the community, but in consideration of public

"The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of
individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people
covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole
people that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common

"That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by
any authority, without consent of the representatives of the
people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be

"That general warrants, . . . are grievous and oppressive, and
ought not to be granted.

"All penalties ought to be proportioned to the nature of the

"That sanguinary laws ought to be avoided, as far as is
consistent with the safety of the State; and no law, to inflict
cruel and unusual pains and penalties, ought to be made in any
case, or at any time hereafter.

"No magistrate or court of law shall demand excessive bail or
sureties, impose excessive fines . . . .

"Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship
God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and reason;
. . .

"That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of
liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic

It will be perceived at once that these are but variations of the
English Declaration of Rights of 1689, which indeed was
consciously followed as a model; and yet there is a world-wide
difference between the English model and these American copies.
The earlier document enunciated the rights of English subjects,
the recent infringement of which made it desirable that they
should be reasserted in convincing form. The American documents
asserted rights which the colonists generally had enjoyed and
which they declared to be "governing principles for all peoples
in all future times."

But the greater significance of these State Constitutions is to
be found in their quality as working instruments of government.
There was indeed little difference between the old colonial and
the new State Governments. The inhabitants of each of the
Thirteen States had been accustomed to a large measure of
self-government, and when they took matters into their own hands
they were not disposed to make any radical changes in the forms
to which they had become accustomed. Accordingly the State
Governments that were adopted simply continued a framework of
government almost identical with that of colonial times. To be
sure, the Governor and other appointed officials were now elected
either by the people or the legislature, and so were ultimately
responsible to the electors instead of to the Crown; and other
changes were made which in the long run might prove of
far-reaching and even of vital significance; and yet the
machinery of government seemed the same as that to which the
people were already accustomed. The average man was conscious of
no difference at all in the working of the Government under the
new order. In fact, in Connecticut and Rhode Island, the most
democratic of all the colonies, where the people had been
privileged to elect their own governors, as well as legislatures,
no change whatever was necessary and the old charters were
continued as State Constitutions down to 1818 and 1842,

To one who has been accustomed to believe that the separation
from a monarchical government meant the establishment of
democracy, a reading of these first State Constitutions is likely
to cause a rude shock. A shrewd English observer, traveling a
generation later in the United States, went to the root of the
whole matter in remarking of the Americans that, "When their
independence was achieved their mental condition was not
instantly changed. Their deference for rank and for judicial and
legislative authority continued nearly unimpaired."* They might
declare that "all men are created equal," and bills of rights
might assert that government rested upon the consent of the
governed; but these constitutions carefully provided that such
consent should come from property owners, and, in many of the
States, from religious believers and even followers of the
Christian faith. "The man of small means might vote, but none
save well-to-do Christians could legislate, and in many states
none but a rich Christian could be a governor."** In South
Carolina, for example, a freehold of 10,000 pounds currency was
required of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and members of A
he Council; 2,000 pounds of the members of the Senate; and, while
every elector was eligible to the House of Representatives, he
had to acknowledge the being of a God and to believe in a future
state of rewards and punishments, as well as to hold "a freehold
at least of fifty acres of land, or a town lot."

* George Combe, "Tour of the United States," vol. I, p. 205.

** McMaster, "Acquisition of Industrial, Popular, and Political
Rights of Man in America," p. 20.

It was government by a property-owning class, but in comparison
with other countries this class represented a fairly large and
increasing proportion of the population. In America the
opportunity of becoming a property-owner was open to every one,
or, as that phrase would then have been understood, to most white
men. This system of class control is illustrated by the fact
that, with the exception of Massachusetts, the new State
Constitutions were never submitted to the people for approval.

The democratic sympathizer of today is inclined to point to those
first State Governments as a continuance of the old order. But to
the conservative of that time it seemed as if radical and
revolutionary changes were taking place. The bills of rights
declared, "That no men, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive
or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in
consideration of public services." Property qualifications and
other restrictions on officeholding and the exercise of the
suffrage were lessened. Four States declared in their
constitutions against the entailment of estates, and
primogeniture was abolished in aristocratic Virginia. There was a
fairly complete abolition of all vestiges of feudal tenure in the
holding of land, so that it may be said that in this period full
ownership of property was established. The further separation of
church and state was also carried out.

Certainly leveling influences were at work, and the people as a
whole had moved one step farther in the direction of equality and
democracy, and it was well that the Revolution was not any more
radical and revolutionary than it was. The change was gradual and
therefore more lasting. One finds readily enough contemporary
statements to the effect that, "Although there are no nobles in
America, there is a class of men denominated 'gentlemen,' who, by
reason of their wealth, their talents, their education, their
families, or the offices they hold, aspire to a preeminence,"
but, the same observer adds, this is something which "the people
refuse to grant them." Another contemporary contributes the
observation that there was not so much respect paid to gentlemen
of rank as there should be, and that the lower orders of people
behave as if they were on a footing of equality with them.

Whether the State Constitutions are to be regarded as
property-conserving, aristocratic instruments, or as progressive
documents, depends upon the point of view. And so it is with the
spirit of union or of nationality in the United States. One
student emphasizes the fact of there being "thirteen independent
republics differing . . . widely in climate, in soil, in
occupation, in everything which makes up the social and economic
life of the people"; while another sees "the United States a
nation." There is something to be said for both sides, and
doubtless the truth lies between them, for there were forces
making for disintegration as well as for unification. To the
student of the present day, however, the latter seem to have been
the stronger and more important, although the possibility was
never absent that the thirteen States would go their separate

There are few things so potent as a common danger to bring
discordant elements into working harmony. Several times in the
century and a half of their existence, when the colonies found
themselves threatened by their enemies, they had united, or at
least made an effort to unite, for mutual help. The New England
Confederation of 1643 was organized primarily for protection
against the Indians and incidentally against the Dutch and
French. Whenever trouble threatened with any of the European
powers or with the Indians--and that was frequently--a plan would
be broached for getting the colonies to combine their efforts,
sometimes for the immediate necessity and sometimes for a broader
purpose. The best known of these plans was that presented to the
Albany Congress of 1754, which had been called to make effective
preparation for the inevitable struggle with the French and
Indians. The beginning of the troubles which culminated in the
final breach with Great Britain had quickly brought united action
in the form of the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, in the Committees
of Correspondence, and then in the Continental Congress.

It was not merely that the leaven of the Revolution was already
working to bring about the freer interchange of ideas; instinct
and experience led the colonies to united action. The very day
that the Continental Congress appointed a committee to frame a
declaration of independence, another committee was ordered to
prepare articles of union. A month later, as soon as the
Declaration of Independence had been adopted, this second
committee, of which John Dickinson of Pennsylvania was chairman,
presented to Congress a report in the form of Articles of
Confederation. Although the outbreak of fighting made some sort
of united action imperative, this plan of union was subjected to
debate intermittently for over sixteen months and even after
adopted by Congress, toward the end of 1777, it was not ratified
by the States until March, 1781, when the war was already drawing
to a close. The exigencies of the hour forced Congress, without
any authorization, to act as if it had been duly empowered and in
general to proceed as if the Confederation had been formed.

Benjamin Franklin was an enthusiast for union. It was he who had
submitted the plan of union to the Albany Congress in 1754, which
with modifications was recommended by that congress for adoption.
It provided for a Grand Council of representatives chosen by the
legislature of each colony, the members to be proportioned to the
contribution of that colony to the American military service. In
matters concerning the colonies as a whole, especially in Indian
affairs, the Grand Council was to be given extensive powers of
legislation and taxation. The executive was to be a President or
Governor-General, appointed and paid by the Crown, with the right
of nominating all military officers, and with a veto upon all
of the Grand Council. The project was far in advance of the times
and ultimately failed of acceptance:, but in 1775, with the
beginning of the troubles with Great Britain, Franklin took his
Albany plan and, after modifying it in accordance with the
experience of twenty years, submitted it to the Continental
Congress as a new plan of government under which the colonies
might unite.

Franklin's plan of 1775 seems to have attracted little attention
in America, and possibly it was not generally known; but much
was made of it abroad, where it soon became public, probably in
the same way that other Franklin papers came out. It seems to
been his practice to make, with his own hand, several copies of
such a document, which he would send to his friends with the
statement that as the document in question was confidential they
might not otherwise see a copy of it. Of course the inevitable
happened, and such documents found their war into print to the
apparent surprise and dismay of the author. Incidentally this
practice caused confusion in later years, because each possessor
of such a document would claim that he had the original. Whatever
may have been the procedure in this particular case, it is fairly
evident that Dickinson's committee took Franklin's plan of 1775
as the starting point of its work, and after revision submitted
it to Congress as their report; for some of the most important
features of the Articles of Confederation are to be found,
sometimes word for word, in Franklin's draft.

This explanation of the origin of the Articles of Confederation
is helpful and perhaps essential in understanding the form of
government established, because that government in its main
features had been devised for an entirely different condition of
affairs, when a strong, centralized government would not have
been accepted even if it had been wanted. It provided for a
"league of friendship," with the primary purpose of considering
preparation for action rather than of taking the initiative.
Furthermore, the final stages of drafting the Articles of
Confederation had occurred at the outbreak of the war, when the
people of the various States were showing a disposition to
follow readily suggestions that came from those whom they could
trust and when they seemed to be willing to submit without
compulsion to orders from the same source. These circumstances,
quite as much as the inexperience of Congress and the jealousy of
the States, account for the inefficient form of government which
was devised; and inefficient the Confederation certainly was. The
only organ of government was a Congress in which every State was
entitled to one vote and was represented by a delegation whose
members were appointed annually as the legislature of the State
might direct, whose expenses were paid by the State, and who were
subject to recall. In other words, it was a council of States
whose representatives had little incentive to independence of

Extensive powers were granted to this Congress "of determining on
peace and war, . . . of entering into treaties and alliances," of
maintaining an army and a navy, of establishing post offices, of
coining money, and of making requisitions upon the States for
their respective share of expenses "incurred for the common
defence or general welfare." But none of these powers could be
exercised without the consent of nine States, which was
equivalent to requiring a two-thirds vote, and even when such a
vote had been obtained and a decision had been reached, there was
nothing to compel the individual States to obey beyond the mere
declaration in the Articles of Confederation that, "Every State
shall abide by the determinations of the United States in
Congress assembled."

No executive was provided for except that Congress was authorized
"to appoint such other committees and civil officers as may be
necessary for managing the general affairs of the United States
under their direction." In judicial matters, Congress was to
serve as "the last resort on appeal in all disputes and
differences" between States; and Congress might establish courts
for the trial of piracy and felonies committed on the high seas
and for determining appeals in cases of prize capture.

The plan of a government was there but it lacked any driving
force. Congress might declare war but the States might decline to
participate in it; Congress might enter into treaties but it
could not make the States live up to them; Congress might borrow
money but it could not be sure of repaying it; and Congress might
decide disputes without being able to make the parties accept the
decision. The pressure of necessity might keep the States
together for a time, yet there is no disguising the fact that the
Articles of Confederation formed nothing more than a gentlemen's


The population of the United States was like a body of water that
was being steadily enlarged by internal springs and external
tributaries. It was augmented both from within and from without,
from natural increase and from immigration. It had spread over
the whole coast from Maine to Georgia and slowly back into the
interior, at first along the lines of river communication and
then gradually filling up the spaces between until the larger
part of the available land east of the Alleghany Mountains was
settled. There the stream was checked as if dammed by the
mountain barrier, but the population was trickling through
wherever it could find an opening, slowly wearing channels, until
finally, when the obstacles were overcome, it broke through with
a rush.

Twenty years before the Revolution the expanding population had
reached the mountains and was ready to go beyond. The difficulty
of crossing the mountains was not insuperable, but the French
and Indian War, followed by Pontiac's Conspiracy, made outlying
frontier settlement dangerous if not impossible. The arbitrary
restriction of western settlement by the Proclamation of 1763
did not stop the more adventurous but did hold back the mass of
the population until near the time of the Revolution, when a few
bands of settlers moved into Kentucky and Tennessee and rendered
important but inconspicuous service in the fighting. But so long
as the title to that territory was in doubt no considerable body
of people would move into it, and it was not until the Treaty of
Peace in 1783 determined that the western country as far as the
Mississippi River was to belong to the United States that the
dammed-up population broke over the mountains in a veritable

The western country and its people presented no easy problem to
the United States: how to hold those people when the pull was
strong to draw them from the Union; how to govern citizens so
widely separated from the older communities; and, of most
immediate importance, how to hold the land itself. It was,
indeed, the question of the ownership of the land beyond the
mountains which delayed the ratification of the Articles of
Confederation. Some of the States, by right of their colonial
charter grants "from sea to sea," were claiming large parts of
the western region. Other States, whose boundaries were fixed,
could put forward no such claims; and, as they were therefore
limited in their area of expansion, they were fearful lest in the
future they should be overbalanced by those States which might
obtain extensive property in the West. It was maintained that the
Proclamation of 1763 had changed this western territory into
"Crown lands," and as, by the Treaty of Peace, the title had
passed to the United States, the non-claimant States had demanded
in self-defense that the western land should belong to the
country as a whole and not to the individual States. Rhode
Island, Maryland, and Delaware were most seriously affected, and
they were insistent upon this point. Rhode Island and at length
Delaware gave in, so that by February, 1779, Maryland alone held
out. In May of that year the instructions of Maryland to her
delegates were read in Congress, positively forbidding them to
ratify the plan of union unless they should receive definite
assurances that the western country would become the common
property of the United States. As the consent of all of the
Thirteen States was necessary to the establishment of the
Confederation, this refusal of Maryland brought matters to a
crisis. The question was eagerly discussed, and early in 1780 the
deadlock was broken by the action of New York in authorizing her
representatives to cede her entire claim in western lands to the
United States.

It matters little that the claim of New York was not as good as
that of some of the other States, especially that of Virginia.
The whole situation was changed. It was no longer necessary for
Maryland to defend her position; but the claimant States were
compelled to justify themselves before the country for not
following New York's example. Congress wisely refrained from any
assertion of jurisdiction, and only urgently recommended that
States having claims to western lands should cede them in order
that the one obstacle to the final ratification of the Articles
of Confederation might be removed.

Without much question Virginia's claim was the strongest; but the
pressure was too great even for her, and she finally yielded,
ceding to the United States, upon certain conditions, all her
lands northwest of the Ohio River. Then the Maryland delegates
were empowered to ratify the Articles of Confederation. This was
early in 1781, and in a very short time the other States had
followed the example of New York and Virginia. Certain of the
conditions imposed by Virginia were not acceptable to Congress,
and three years later, upon specific request, that State withdrew
the objectionable conditions and made the cession absolute.

The territory thus ceded, north and west of the Ohio River,
constituted the public domain. Its boundaries were somewhat
indefinite, but subsequent surveys confirmed the rough estimate
that it contained from one to two hundred millions of acres. It
was supposed to be worth, on the average, about a dollar an acre,
which would make this property an asset sufficient to meet the
debts of the war and to leave a balance for the running expenses
of the Government. It thereby became one of the strong bonds
holding the Union together.

"Land!" was the first cry of the storm-tossed mariners of
Columbus. For three centuries the leading fact of American
history has been that soon after 1600 a body of Europeans, mostly
Englishmen, settled on the edge of the greatest piece of
unoccupied agricultural land in the temperate zone, and proceeded
to subdue it to the uses of man. For three centuries the chief
task of American mankind has been to go up westward against the
land and to possess it. Our wars, our independence, our state
building, our political democracy, our plasticity with respect to
immigration, our mobility of thought, our ardor of initiative,
our mildness and our prosperity, all are but incidents or
products of this prime historical fact.*

* Lecture by J. Franklin Jameson before the Trustees of the
Carnegie Institution, at Washington, in 1912, printed in the
"History Teacher's Magazine," vol. IV, 1913, p. 5.

It is seldom that one's attention is so caught and held as by the
happy suggestion that American interest in land or rather
interest in American land--began with the discovery of the
continent. Even a momentary consideration of the subject,
however, is sufficient to indicate how important was the desire
for land as a motive of colonization. The foundation of European
governmental and social organizations had been laid in feudalism-
-a system of landholding and service. And although European
states might have lost their original feudal character, and
although new classes had arisen, land-holding still remained the
basis of social distinction.

One can readily imagine that America would be considered as El
Dorado, where one of the rarest commodities as well as one of the
most precious possessions was found in almost unlimited
quantities that family estates were sought in America and that to
the lower classes it seemed as if a heaven were opening on earth.
Even though available land appeared to be almost unlimited in
quantity and easy to acquire, it was a possession that was
generally increasing in value. Of course wasteful methods of
farming wore out some lands, especially in the South; but, taking
it by and large throughout the country, with time and increasing
density of population the value of the land was increasing. The
acquisition of land was a matter of investment or at least of
speculation. In fact, the purchase of land was one of the
favorite get-rich-quick schemes of the time. George Washington
was not the only man who invested largely in western lands. A
list of those who did would read like a political or social
directory of the time. Patrick Henry, James Wilson, Robert
Morris, Gouverneur Morris, Chancellor Kent, Henry Knox, and James
Monroe were among them.*

* Not all the speculators were able to keep what they acquired.
Fifteen million acres of land in Kentucky were offered for sale
in 1800 for nonpayment of taxes. Channing, "History of the United
States," vol. IV, p. 91.

It is therefore easy to understand why so much importance
attached to the claims of the several States and to the cession
of that western land by them to the United States. But something
more was necessary. If the land was to attain anything like its
real value, settlers must be induced to occupy it. Of course it
was possible to let the people go out as they pleased and take up
land, and to let the Government collect from them as might be
possible at a fixed rate. But experience during colonial days had
shown the weakness of such a method, and Congress was apparently
determined to keep under its own control the region which it now
possessed, to provide for orderly sale, and to permit settlement
only so far as it might not endanger the national interests. The
method of land sales and the question of government for the
western country were recognized as different aspects of the same
problem. The Virginia offer of cession forced the necessity of a
decision, and no sooner was the Virginia offer framed in an
acceptable form, in 1783, than two committees were appointed by
Congress to report upon these two questions of land sales and of

Thomas Jefferson was made chairman of both these committees. He
was then forty years old and one of the most remarkable men in
the country. Born on the frontier--his father from the upper
middle class, his mother "a Randolph"--he had been trained to an
outdoor life; but he was also a prodigy in his studies and
entered William and Mary College with advanced standing at the
age of eighteen. Many stories are told of his precocity and
ability, all of which tend to forecast the later man of catholic
tastes, omnivorous interest, and extensive but superficial
knowledge; he was a strange combination of natural aristocrat and
theoretical democrat, of philosopher and practical politician.
After having been a student in the law office of George Wythe,
and being a friend of Patrick Henry, Jefferson early espoused the
cause of the Revolution, and it was his hand that drafted the
Declaration of Independence. He then resigned from Congress to
assist in the organization of government in his own State. For
two years and a half he served in the Virginia Assembly and
brought about the repeal of the law of entailment, the abolition
of primogeniture, the recognition of freedom of conscience, and
the encouragement of education. He was Governor of Virginia for
two years and then, having declined reelection, returned to
Congress in 1783. There, among his other accomplishments, as
chairman of the committee, he reported the Treaty of Peace and,
chairman of another committee, devised and persuaded Congress to
adopt a national system of coinage which in its essentials is
still in use.

It is easy to criticize Jefferson and to pick flaws in the things
that he said as well as in the things that he did, but
practically every one admits that he was closely in touch with
the course of events and understood the temper of his
contemporaries. In this period of transition from the old order
to the new, he seems to have expressed the genius of American
institutions better than almost any other man of his generation.
He possessed a quality that enabled him, in the Declaration of
Independence, to give voice to the hopes and aspirations of a
rising nationality and that enabled him in his own State to bring
about so many reforms.

Just how much actual influence Thomas Jefferson had in the
framing of the American land policy is not clear. Although the
draft of the committee report in 1784 is in Jefferson's
handwriting, it is altogether probable that more credit is to be
given to Thomas Hutchins, the Geographer of the United States,
and to William Grayson of Virginia, especially for the final form
which the measure took; for Jefferson retired from the
chairmanship and had already gone to Europe when the Land
Ordinance was adopted by Congress in 1785. This ordinance has
been superseded by later enactments, to which references are
usually made; but the original ordinance is one of the great
pieces of American legislation, for it contained the fundamentals
of the American land system which, with the modifications
experience has introduced, has proved to be permanently workable
and which has been envied and in several instances copied by
other countries. Like almost all successful institutions of that
sort, the Land Ordinance of 1785 was not an immediate creation
but was a development out of former practices and customs and was
in the nature of a compromise. Its essential features were the
method of survey and the process for the sale of land. New
England, with its town system, had in the course of its expansion
been accustomed to proceed in an orderly method but on a
relatively small scale. The South, on the other hand, had granted
lands on a larger scale and had permitted individual selection in
a haphazard manner. The plan which Congress adopted was that of
the New England survey with the Southern method of extensive
holdings. The system is repellent in its rectangular orderliness,
but it made the process of recording titles easy and complete,
and it was capable of indefinite expansion. These were matters of
cardinal importance, for in the course of one hundred and forty
years the United States was to have under its control nearly two
thousand million acres of land.

The primary feature of the land policy was the orderly survey in
advance of sale. In the next place the township was taken as the
unit, and its size was fixed at six miles square. Provision was
then made for the sale of townships alternately entire and by
sections of one mile square, or 640 acres each. In every township
a section was reserved for educational purposes; that is, the
was to be disposed of and the proceeds used for the development
of public schools in that region. And, finally, the United States
reserved four sections in the center of each township to be
disposed of at a later time. It was expected that a great
in the value of the land would result, and it was proposed that
the Government should reap a part of the profits.

It is evident that the primary purpose of the public land policy
as first developed was to acquire revenue for the Government;
but it was also evident that there was a distinct purpose of
encouraging settlement. The two were not incompatible, but the
greater interest of the Government was in obtaining a return for
the property.

The other committee of which Jefferson was chairman made its
report of a plan for the government of the western territory upon
the very day that the Virginia cession was finally accepted,
March 1, 1784; and with some important modifications Jefferson's
ordinance, or the Ordinance of 1784 as it was commonly called,
was ultimately adopted. In this case Jefferson rendered a service
similar to that of framing the Declaration of Independence. His
plan was somewhat theoretical and visionary, but largely
practical, and it was constructive work of a high order,
displaying not so much originality as sympathetic appreciation of
what had already been done and an instinctive forecast of future
development. Jefferson seemed to be able to gather up ideas, some
conscious and some latent in men's minds, and to express them in
a form that was generally acceptable.

It is interesting to find in the Articles of Confederation
(Article XI) that, "Canada acceding to this confederation, and
joining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted
into, and entitled to all the advantages of this Union: but no
other colony shall be admitted into the same unless such
be agreed to by nine States." The real importance of this article
lay in the suggestion of an enlargement of the Confederation. The
Confederation was never intended to be a union of only thirteen
States. Before the cession of their western claims it seemed to
be inevitable that some of the States should be broken up into
several units. At the very time that the formation of the
Confederation was under discussion Vermont issued a declaration
of independence from New York and New Hampshire, with the
expectation of being admitted into the Union. It was impolitic to
recognize the appeal at that time, but it seems to have been
generally understood that sooner or later Vermont would come in
as a full-fledged State.

It might have been a revolutionary suggestion by Maryland, when
the cession of western lands was under discussion, that Congress
should have sole power to fix the western boundaries of the
States, but her further proposal was not even regarded as
radical, that Congress should "lay out the land beyond the
boundaries so ascertained into separate and independent states."
It seems to have been taken as a matter of course in the
procedure of Congress and was accepted by the States. But the
idea was one thing; its carrying out was quite another. Here was
a great extent of western territory which would be valuable only
as it could be sold to prospective settlers. One of the first
things these settlers would demand was protection--protection
against the Indians, possibly also against the British and the
Spanish, and protection in their ordinary civil life. The former
was a detail of military organization and was in due time
provided by the establishment of military forts and garrisons;
the latter was the problem which Jefferson's committee was
attempting to solve.

The Ordinance of 1784 disregarded the natural physical features
of the western country and, by degrees of latitude and meridians
of longitude, arbitrarily divided the public domain into
rectangular districts, to the first of which the following names
were applied: Sylvania, Michigania, Cherronesus, Assenisipia,
Metropotamia, Illinoia, Saratoga, Washington, Polypotamia,
Pelisipia. The amusement which this absurd and thoroughly
Jeffersonian nomenclature is bound to cause ought not to detract
from the really important features of the Ordinance. In each of
the districts into which the country was divided the settlers
might be authorized by Congress, for the purpose of establishing
a temporary government, to adopt the constitution and laws of any
one of the original States. When any such area should have twenty
thousand free inhabitants it might receive authority from
Congress to establish a permanent constitution and government and
should be entitled to a representative in Congress with the right
of debating but not of voting. And finally, when the inhabitants
of any one of these districts should equal in number those of the
least populous of the thirteen original States, their delegates
should be admitted into Congress on an equal footing.

Jefferson's ordinance, though adopted, was never put into
operation. Various explanations have been offered for this
failure to give it a fair trial. It has been said that Jefferson
himself was to blame. In the original draft of his ordinance
Jefferson had provided for the abolition of slavery in the new
States after the year 1800, and when Congress refused to accept
this clause Jefferson, in a manner quite characteristic, seemed
to lose all interest in the plan. There were, however, other
objections, for there were those who felt that it was somewhat
indefinite to promise admission into the Confederation of certain
sections of the country as soon as their population should equal
in number that of the least populous of the original States. If
the original States should increase in population to any extent,
the new States might never be admitted. But on the other hand, if
from any cause the population of one of the smaller States should
suddenly decrease, might not the resulting influx of new States
prove dangerous?

But the real reason why the ordinance remained a dead letter was
that, while it fixed the limits within which local governments
might act, it left the creation of those governments wholly to
the future. At Vincennes, for example, the ordinance made no
change in the political habits of the people. "The local
government bowled along merrily under this system. There was the
greatest abundance of government, for the more the United States
neglected them the more authority their officials assumed."* Nor
could the ordinance operate until settlers became numerous. It
was partly, indeed, to hasten settlement that the Ordinance of
1785 for the survey and sale of the public lands was passed.**

* Jacob Piat Dunn, Jr., "Indiana: A Redemption from Slavery,"

** Although the machinery was set in motion, by the appointment
of men and the beginning of work, it was not until 1789 that the
survey of the first seven ranges of townships was completed and
the land offered for sale.

In the meantime efforts were being made by Congress to improve
the unsatisfactory ordinance for the government of the West.
Committees were appointed, reports were made, and at intervals of
weeks or months the subject was considered. Some amendments were
actually adopted, but Congress, notoriously inefficient,
hesitated to undertake a fundamental revision of the ordinance.
Then, suddenly, in July, 1787, after a brief period of
adjournment, Congress took up this subject and within a week
adopted the now famous Ordinance of 1787.

The stimulus which aroused Congress to activity seems to have
come from the Ohio Company. From the very beginning of the public
domain there was a strong sentiment in favor of using western
land for settlement by Revolutionary soldiers. Some of these
lands had been offered as bounties to encourage enlistment, and
after the war the project of soldiers' settlement in the West was
vigorously agitated. The Ohio Company of Associates was made up
of veterans of the Revolution, who were looking for homes in the
West, and of other persons who were willing to support a worthy
cause by a subscription which might turn out to be a good
investment. The company wished to buy land in the West, and
Congress had land which it wished to sell. Under such
circumstances it was easy to strike a bargain. The land, as we
have seen, was roughly estimated at one dollar an acre; but, as
the company wished to purchase a million acres, it demanded and
obtained wholesale rates of two-thirds of the usual price. It
also obtained the privilege of paying at least a portion in
certificates of Revolutionary indebtedness, some of which were
worth about twelve and a half cents on the dollar. Only a little
calculation is required to show that a large quantity of land was
therefore sold at about eight or nine cents an acre. It was in
connection with this land sale that the Ordinance of 1787 was

The promoter of this enterprise undertaken by the Ohio Company
was Manasseh Cutler of Ipswich, Massachusetts, a clergyman by
profession who had served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War.
But his interests and activities extended far beyond the bounds
of his profession. When the people of his parish were without
proper medical advice he applied himself to the study and
practice of medicine. At about the same time he took up the study
of botany, and because of his describing several hundred species
of plants he is regarded as the pioneer botanist of New England.
His next interest seems to have grown out of his Revolutionary
associations, for it centered in this project for settlement of
the West, and he was appointed the agent of the Ohio Company. It
was in this capacity that he had come to New York and made the
bargain with Congress which has just been described. Cutler must
have been a good lobbyist, for Congress was not an efficient
body, and unremitting labor, as well as diplomacy, was required
for so large and important a matter. Two things indicate his
method of procedure. In the first place he found it politic to
drop his own candidate for the governorship of the new territory
and to endorse General Arthur St. Clair, then President of
Congress. And in the next place he accepted the suggestion of
Colonel William Duer for the formation of another company, known
as the Scioto Associates, to purchase five million acres of land
on similar terms, "but that it should be kept a profound secret."
It was not an accident that Colonel Duer was Secretary of the
Board of the Treasury through whom these purchases were made, nor
that associated with him in this speculation were "a number of
the principal characters in the city." These land deals were
completed afterwards, but there is little doubt that there was a
direct connection between them and the adoption of the ordinance
of government.

The Ordinance of 1787 was so successful in its working and its
renown became so great that claims of authorship, even for
separate articles, have been filed in the name of almost every
person who had the slightest excuse for being considered.
Thousands of pages have been written in eulogy and in dispute, to
the helpful clearing up of some points and to the obscuring of
others. But the authorship of this or of that clause is of much
less importance than the scope of the document as a working plan
of government. As such the Ordinance of 1787 owes much to
Jefferson's Ordinance of 1784. Under the new ordinance a governor
and three judges were to be appointed who, along with their other
functions, were to select such laws as they thought best from the
statute books of all the States. The second stage in
self-government would be reached when the population contained
five thousand free men of age; then the people were to have a
representative legislature with the usual privilege of making
their own laws. Provision was made for dividing the whole region
northwest of the Ohio River into three or four or five districts
and the final stage of government was reached when any one of
these districts had sixty thousand free inhabitants, for it might
then establish its own constitution and government and be
admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original

The last-named provision for admission into the Union, being in
the nature of a promise for the future, was not included in the
body of the document providing for the government, but was
contained in certain "articles of compact, between the original
States and the people and States in the said territory, [which
should] forever remain unalterable, unless by common consent."
These articles of compact were in general similar to the bills of
rights in State Constitutions; but one of them found no parallel
in any State Constitution. Article VI reads: "There shall be
neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory,
otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party
shall have been duly convicted." This has been hailed as a
farsighted, humanitarian measure, and it is quite true that many
of the leading men, in the South as well as in the North, were
looking forward to the time when slavery would be abolished. But
the motives predominating at the time were probably more nearly
represented by Grayson, who wrote to James Monroe, three weeks
after the ordinance was passed: "The clause respecting slavery
was agreed to by the southern members for the purpose of
preventing tobacco and indigo from being made on the northwest
side of the Ohio, as well as for several other political

It is over one hundred and forty years since the Ordinance of
1787 was adopted, during which period more than thirty
territories of the United States have been organized, and there
has never been a time when one or more territories were not under
Congressional supervision, so that the process of legislative
control has been continuous. Changes have been made from time to
time in order to adapt the territorial government to changed
conditions, but for fifty years the Ordinance of 1787 actually
remained in operation, and even twenty years later it was
specifically referred to by statute. The principles of
territorial government today are identical with those of 1787,
and those principles comprise the largest measure of local
self-government compatible with national control, a gradual
extension of self-government to the people of a territory, and
finally complete statehood and admission into the Union on a
footing of equality with the other States.

In 1825, when the military occupation of Oregon was suggested in
Congress, Senator Dickerson of New Jersey objected, saying, "We
have not adopted a system of colonization and it is to be hoped
we never shall." Yet that is just what America has always had.
Not only were the first settlers on the Atlantic coast colonists
from Europe; but the men who went to the frontier were also
colonists from the Atlantic seaboard. And the men who settled the
States in the West were colonists from the older communities. The
Americans had so recently asserted their independence that they
regarded the name of colony as not merely indicating dependence
but as implying something of inferiority and even of reproach.
And when the American colonial system was being formulated in
1783-87 the word "Colony" was not used. The country under
consideration was the region west of the Alleghany Mountains and
in particular the territory north and west of the Ohio River and,
being so referred to in the documents, the word "Territory"
became the term applied to all the colonies.

The Northwest Territory increased so rapidly in population that
in 1800 it was divided into two districts, and in 1802 the
eastern part was admitted into the Union as the State of Ohio.
The rest of the territory was divided in 1805 and again in 1809;
Indiana was admitted as a State in 1816 and Illinois in 1818. So
the process has gone on. There were thirteen original States and
six more have become members of the Union without having been
through the status of territories, making nineteen in all; while
twenty-nine States have developed from the colonial stage. The
incorporation of the colonies into the Union is not merely a
political fact; the inhabitants of the colonies become an
integral part of the parent nation and in turn become the
progenitors of new colonies. If such a process be long continued,
the colonies will eventually outnumber the parent States, and the
colonists will outnumber the citizens of the original States and
will themselves become the nation. Such has been the history of
the United States and its people. By 1850, indeed, one-half of
the population of the United States was living west of the
Alleghany Mountains, and at the present time approximately
seventy per cent are to be found in the West.

The importance of the Ordinance of 1787 was hardly overstated by
Webster in his famous debate with Hayne when he said: "We are
accustomed to praise the lawgivers of antiquity; we help to
perpetuate the fame of Solon and Lycurgus; but I doubt whether
one single law of any lawgiver, ancient or modern, has produced
effects of more distinct, marked and lasting character than the
Ordinance of 1787." While improved means of communication and
many other material ties have served to hold the States of the
Union together, the political bond was supplied by the Ordinance
of 1787, which inaugurated the American colonial system.


John Fiske summed up the prevailing impression of the government
of the Confederation in the title to his volume, "The Critical
Period of American History." "The period of five years," says
Fiske, "following the peace of 1783 was the most critical moment
in all the history of the American people. The dangers from which
we were saved in 1788 were even greater than were the dangers
from which we were saved in 1865." Perhaps the plight of the
Confederation was not so desperate as he would have us believe,
but it was desperate enough. Two incidents occurring between the
signing of the preliminary terms of peace and the definitive
treaty reveal the danger in which the country stood. The main
body of continental troops made up of militiamen and short-term
volunteers--always prone to mutinous conduct--was collected at
Newburg on the Hudson, watching the British in New York. Word
might come at any day that the treaty had been signed, and the
army did not wish to be disbanded until certain matters had been
settled primarily the question of their pay. The officers had
been promised half-pay for life, but nothing definite had been
done toward carrying out the promise. The soldiers had no such
hope to encourage them, and their pay was sadly in arrears. In
December, 1782, the officers at Newburg drew up an address in
behalf of themselves and their men and sent it to Congress.
Therein they made the threat, thinly veiled, of taking matters
into their own hands unless their grievances were redressed.

There is reason to suppose that back of this movement--or at
least in sympathy with it--were some of the strongest men in
civil as in military life, who, while not fomenting insurrection,
were willing to bring pressure to bear on Congress and the
States. Congress was unable or unwilling to act, and in March,
1783, a second paper, this time anonymous, was circulated urging
the men not to disband until the question of pay had been settled
and recommending a meeting of officers on the following day. If
Washington's influence was not counted upon, it was at least
hoped that he would not interfere; but as soon as he learned of
what had been done he issued general orders calling for a meeting
of officers on a later day, thus superseding the irregular
meeting that had been suggested. On the day appointed the
Commander-in-Chief appeared and spoke with so much warmth and
feeling that his "little address . . . drew tears from many of
the officers." He inveighed against the unsigned paper and
against the methods that were talked of, for they would mean the
disgrace of the army, and he appealed to the patriotism of the
officers, promising his best efforts in their behalf. The effect
was so strong that, when Washington withdrew, resolutions were
adopted unanimously expressing their loyalty and their faith in
the justice of Congress and denouncing the anonymous circular.

The general apprehension was not diminished by another incident
in June. Some eighty troops of the Pennsylvania line in camp at
Lancaster marched to Philadelphia and drew up before the State
House, where Congress was sitting. Their purpose was to demand
better treatment and the payment of what was owed to them. So far
it was an orderly demonstration, although not in keeping with
military regulations; in fact the men had broken away from camp
under the lead of noncommissioned officers. But when they had
been stimulated by drink the disorder became serious. The
humiliating feature of the situation was that Congress could do
nothing, even in self-protection. They appealed, to the
Pennsylvania authorities and, when assistance was refused, the
members of Congress in alarm fled in the night and three days
later gathered in the college building in Princeton.

Congress became the butt of many jokes, but men could not hide
the chagrin they felt that their Government was so weak. The
feeling deepened into shame when the helplessness of Congress was
displayed before the world. Weeks and even months passed before a
quorum could be obtained to ratify the treaty recognizing the
independence of the United States and establishing peace. Even
after the treaty was supposed to be in force the States
disregarded its provisions and Congress could do nothing more
than utter ineffective protests. But, most humiliating of all,
the British maintained their military posts within the
northwestern territory ceded to the United States, and Congress
could only request them to retire. The Americans' pride was hurt
and their pockets were touched as well, for an important issue at
stake was the control of the lucrative fur trade. So resentment
grew into anger; but the British held on, and the United States
was powerless to make them withdraw. To make matters worse, the
Confederation, for want of power to levy taxes, was facing
bankruptcy, and Congress was unable to devise ways and means to
avert a crisis.

The Second Continental Congress had come into existence in 1775.
It was made up of delegations from the various colonies,
appointed in more or less irregular ways, and had no more
authority than it might assume and the various colonies were
willing to concede; yet it was the central body under which the
Revolution had been inaugurated and carried through to a
successful conclusion. Had this Congress grappled firmly with the
financial problem and forced through a system of direct taxation,
the subsequent woes of the Confederation might have been
mitigated and perhaps averted. In their enthusiasm over the
Declaration of Independence the people--by whom is meant the
articulate class consisting largely of the governing and
commercial elements--would probably have accepted such a
usurpation of authority. But with their lack of experience it is
not surprising that the delegates to Congress did not appreciate
the necessity of such radical action and so were unwilling to
take the responsibility for it. They counted upon the goodwill
and support of their constituents, which simmered down to a
reliance upon voluntary grants from the States in response to
appeals from Congress. These desultory grants proved to be so
unsatisfactory that, in 1781, even before the Articles of
Confederation had been ratified, Congress asked for a grant of
additional power to levy a duty of five per cent ad valorem upon
all goods imported into the United States, the revenue from which
was to be applied to the discharge of the principal and interest
on debts "contracted . . . for supporting the present war."
Twelve States agreed, but Rhode Island, after some hesitation,
finally rejected the measure in November, 1782.

The Articles of Confederation authorized a system of requisitions
apportioned among the "several States in proportion to the value
of all land within each State." But, as there was no power vested
in Congress to force the States to comply, the situation was in
no way improved when the Articles were ratified and put into
operation. In fact, matters grew worse as Congress itself
steadily lost ground in popular estimation, until it had become
little better than a laughing-stock, and with the ending of the
war its requests were more honored in the breach than in the
observance. In 1782 Congress asked for $8,000,000 and the
following year for $2,000,000 more, but by the end of 1783 less
than $1,500,000 had been paid in.

In the same year, 1783, Congress made another attempt to remedy
the financial situation by proposing the so-called Revenue
Amendment, according to which a specific duty was to be laid upon
certain articles and a general duty of five per cent ad valorem
upon all other goods, to be in operation for twenty-five years.
In addition to this it was proposed that for the same period of
time $1,500,000 annually should be raised by requisitions, and
the definite amount for each State was specified until "the rule
of the Confederation" could be carried into practice: It was then
proposed that the article providing for the proportion of
requisitions should be changed so as to be based not upon land
values but upon population, in estimating which slaves should be
counted at three-fifths of their number. In the course of three
years thereafter only two States accepted the proposals in full,
seven agreed to them in part, and four failed to act at all.
Congress in despair then made a further representation to the
States upon the critical condition of the finances and
accompanied this with an urgent appeal, which resulted in all the
States except New York agreeing to the proposed impost. But the
refusal of one State was sufficient to block the whole measure,
and there was no further hope for a treasury that was practically
bankrupt. In five years Congress had received less than two and
one-half million dollars from requisitions, and for the fourteen
months ending January 1, 1786, the income was at the rate of less
than $375,000 a year, which was not enough, as a committee of
Congress reported, "for the bare maintenance of the Federal
Government on the most economical establishment and in time of
profound peace." In fact, the income was not sufficient even to
meet the interest on the foreign debt.

In the absence of other means of obtaining funds Congress had
resorted early to the unfortunate expedient of issuing paper
money based solely on the good faith of the States to redeem it.
This fiat money held its value for some little time; then it
began to shrink and, once started on the downward path, its fall
was rapid. Congress tried to meet the emergency by issuing paper
in increasing quantities until the inevitable happened: the paper
money ceased to have any value and practically disappeared from
circulation. Jefferson said that by the end of 1781 one thousand
dollars of Continental scrip was worth about one dollar in

The States had already issued paper money of their own, and their
experience ought to have taught them a lesson, but with the
coming of hard times after the war, they once more proposed by
issuing paper to relieve the "scarcity of money" which was
commonly supposed to be one of the principal evils of the day. In
1785 and 1786 paper money parties appeared in almost all the
States. In some of these the conservative element was strong
enough to prevent action, but in others the movement had to run
its fatal course. The futility of what they were doing should


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