תמונות בעמוד

the fum due, with a justice of the peace, who should give notice of it in the public papers ; and if the creditor did not appear and receive the money within fix months from the first notice, his debt should be forfeited. This act astonished all honeft men; and even the promoters of paper-moneymaking in other states, and on other principles, reprobated this act of Rhode-Inand, as wicked and oppressive. But the state was governed by faction. During the cry for paper money, a number of boisterous ignorant men were elected into the legislature, from the smaller towns in the Itate. Finding themselves united with a majority in opinion, they formed and executed any plan their inclination suggested; they oppofed every measure that was agreeable to the mercantile intereft; they not only made bad laws to suit their own wicked purposes, but appointed their own corrupt creatures to fill the judicial and executive departments: Their money depreciated sufficiently to answer all their vile purposes in the difcharge of debts-business almost totally ceased, all confidence was lost, the state was thrown into confusion at home, and was execrated abroad.

Massachusetts Bay had the good fortune, amidst her political calamities, to prevent an emiffion of bills of credit. New Hampshire made no paper; but in the distresses which followed her loss of bufiness after the war, the legislature made horses, lumber, and most articles of produce a legal tender in the fulfilment of contracts. It is doubtless unjust to oblige a creditor to receive any thing for his debt, which he had not in contemplation at the time of the contract. But as the commodities which were to be a tender by the law of New Hampshire, were of an intrinsic value, bearing some proportion to the amount of the debt, the injustice of the law was less flagrant, than that which enforced the tender of paper in Rhode Island. Indeed a similar law prevailed for some time in Mafachusetts, and in Connecticut it is a standing law that a creditor shall take land on an execution, at a price to be fixed by three indifferent freeholders ; provided other means of payment shall appear to satisfy the demand. In a state that has but little foreign commerce, and but little money

in circulation, such a law may not only be tolerable ; but, if people are satisfied with it, may produce good effects. It must not however be omitted, that while the most flourishing commercial states introduced a paper

medium, to the great injury of honest men, a bill for an emission of paper in Connecticut, where there is very little specie, could never command more than one-eighth of the votes of the legislature. The movers of the bill have hardly escaped ridicule ; fo generally is the measure reprobated as a source of frauds and public mischief.

The legislature of New-York; a state that had the least neceffity and apology for making paper money, as her commercial advantages always furnish her with specie sufficient for a medium, issued a large fum in bilis of credit, which support their value better than the currency of any ot!ier ftate. Still the paper has raised the value of specie, which is always in demand for exportation, and this difference of exchange between paper and specie, exposes commerce to most of the inconveniences resulting from a depreciated medium.

Such is the history of paper money thus far; a miserable substitute for real coin, in a country where the reins of government are too weak to



[ocr errors]

compel the fulfilment of public engagements; and where all confidence in public faith is totally destroyed.

While the states were thus endeavouring to repair the loss of specie by empty promises, and to support their business by shadows, rather than by reality, the British ministry formed some commercial regulations that deprived them of the profits of their trade to the West-Indies and to GreatBritain. Heavy duties were laid upon such articles as were remitted the London merchants for their goods, and such were the duties upon

American bottoms, that the states were almost wholly deprived of the carrying trade. A prohibition, as has been mentioned, was laid upon the produce of the United States, shipped to the English West India Islands in American built vessels, and in those manned by American seamen. These restrictions fell heavy upon the eastern states, which depended much upon shipbuilding for the support of their trade ; and they materially injured the business of the other states.

Without a union that was able to form and execute a general system of commercial regulations, some of the states attempted to impose restraints upon the British trade that should indemnify the merchant for the losses he had suffered, or induce the British miniftry to enter into a commercial treaty and relax the rigor of their navigation laws. These measures however produced nothing but mischief. The states did not act in concert, and the restraints faid on the trade of one state operated to throw the business into the hands of its neighbour. Massachusetts, in her zeal to counteract the effect of the English navigation laws, laid enormons duties upon British goods imported into that state ; but the other states did not adopt a fimilar measure; and the loss of business foon obliged that state to repeal or fufpend the law. Thus when Pennsylvania laid heavy duties on British goods, Delaware and New-Jersey made a number of free ports to encourage the landing of goods within the limits of those states ; and the duties in Pennfylvania served no purpose, but to create smuggling.

Thus divided, the states began to feel their weakness. Most of the legislatures bad neglected to comply with the requisitions of Congress for furnishing the federal of treasury; the resolves of Congress were disregardcd; the proposition for a general impoft to be laid and collected by Congress was negatired first by Rhode Island, and afterwards by New-York. The British troops continued, under pretence of a breach of treaty on the part of America, to hold poffeffion of the forts on the frontiers of the itates, and thus commanded the fur-trade. Many of the states individually were infested with popular commotions or iniquitous tender laws, while they were oppressed with public debts; the certificates or public notes had loft most of their value, and circulated merely as the objects of speculation ; Congress lost their respectability, and the United States their credit and inportance.

In the midst of these calamities, a proposition was made in 1785, in the house of delegates in Virginia, to appoint commissioners, to meet such as might be appointed in the other states, who should form a system of commercial regulations for the United States, and recommend it to the several legilatures for adoption. Commiffioners were accordingly appointed, and a request was made to the legislatures of the other states to accede to the proposition. Accordingly several of the states appointed commissioners who met at Annapolis in the summer of 1786, to consult what mea


[ocr errors]

fures should be taken to unite the states in some general and efficient commercial system. But as the states were not all represented, and the powers of the commissioners were, in their opinion, too limited to propose a syftem of regulations adequate to the purposes of government, they agreed to recommend a general convention to be held at Philadelphia the next year, with powers to frame a general plan of government for the United States. This measure appeared to the commissioners absolutely necessary. The old confederation was essentially defective. It was deftitute of almost every principle necessary to give effect to legislation.

It was defective in the article of legislating over states, instead of individuals. All history testifies that recommendations will not operate as laws, and compulfion cannot be exercised over states, without violence, war, and anarchy. The confederation was also deftitute of a sanction to its laws. When resolutions were passed in Congress, there was no power to compel obedience by fine, by suspension of privileges, or other means. It was also destitute of a guarantee for the state governments. Had one ftate been invaded by its neighbour, the union was not conftitutionally bound to affift in repelling the invasion, and supporting the conftitution of the invaded state. The confederation was further deficient in the principle of apportioning the quotas of money to be furniskied by each ffate; in a want of power to form commercial laws, and to raise troops for the defence and security of the union; in the equal fuffrage of the states, which placed Rhode Idand on a footing in Congress with Virginia ; and to crown all the defects, we may add the want of a judiciary power, to define the laws of the union, and to reconcile the contradictory decisions of a number of independent judicatories.

These and many inferior defects were obvious to the commissioners, and therefore they urged a general convention, with powers to form and offer to the confideration of the states, a system of general government that should be less exceptionable. Accordingly in May, 1787, delegates from all the states, except Rhode Island, affembled at Philadelphia ; -and chose General Washington for their president. After four months deliberation, in which the clashing interests of several states appeared in all their full force, the convention agreed to recommend the plan of federal government which we have already recited.

As soon as the plan of the federal constitution was submitted to the legislatures of the several states, they proceeded to take measures for collectmg the sense of the people upon the propriety of adopting it. In the small ftate of Delaware, a convention was called in November, which after a few days deliberation, ratified the conftitution, without a diffenting voice.

In the convention of Pennsylvania, held the same month, there was a {pirited opposition to the new form of government. The debates were long and interesting. Great abilities and firmness were displayed on both fides; but, on the 13th of December, the conftitution was received by two-thirds of the members. The minority were dissatisfied, and with an obstinacy that ill became the representatives of a free people, published their reasons of diffent, which were calculated to inflame a party already violent, and which, in fact, produced some disturbances in the western parts of the state. But the opposition has since gradually fubfided.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

In New-Jersey, the convention which met in December were unanimous in adopting the constitution ; as was likewise that of Georgia.

In Connecticut there was some opposition ; but the conftitution was, on the gth of January, 1788, ratified by three-fourths of the votes in convention, and the minority peaceably acquiesced in the decision.

In Massachusetts, the opposition was large and respectable. The con vention, consisting of more than three hundred delegates, were assembled in January, and continued their debates, with great candor and liberality, about five weeks. At length the question was carried for the constitution by a small majority, and the minority, with that manly condescension which becomes great minds, submitted to the measure, and united to support the

government. In New Hampshire, the federal cause was, for some time, doubtful. The greatelt number of the delegates in convention were at first on the side of the opposition; and some, who might have had their objections removed by the discussion of the subject, instructed to reject the conftitution. Although the instructions of conftituents cannot, on the true principles of representation, be binding upon a deputy, in any legislative affembly, because his constituents are but a part of the state, and have not heard the arguments and objections of the whole, whereas his act is to affect the whole itate, and therefore is to be directed by the sense or wisdom of the whole, collected in the legislative assembly; yet the delegates in the New Hampthire convention conceived, very erroneously, that the sense of the freemen in the towns, those little districts where no act of legislation can be performed, imposed a restraint upon their own wills * An adjournment was therefore moved and carried. This gave the people an opportunity to gain a farther knowledge of the merits of the constitution, and at the second meeting of the convention, it was ratified by a respectable majority.

In Maryland, several men of abilities appeared in the opposition, and were unremitted in their endeavours to persuade the people, that the proposed plan of government was artfully calculated to deprive them of their dearest rights ; yet in convention it appeared that five-fixths of the voices were in favour of it.

In South-Carolina, the opposition was respectable ; but two-thirds of the convention appeared to advocate and vote for the conftitution.

In Virginia, many of the principal characters opposed the ratification of the constitution with great abilities and industry. But after a full discusfion of the subject, a small majority, of a numerous convention, appeared for its adoption.

In New-York, two-thirds of the delegates in convention were, at their first meeting, determined to reject the conftitution. Here therefore . the debates were the moft interesting, and the event extremely doubtful. The argument was managed with uncommon address and abilitics on both fides of the question. But during the feffion, the ninth and tenth states had acceded to the proposed plan, so that by the conftitution, Congress were empowered to issue an ordinance for organizing the new government. This event placed the opposition on new ground; and the expediency of

* This pernicious ofinion has prevailed in all the states, and done infinite mischief.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

uniting with the other states--the generous motives of conciliating all differences, and the danger of a rejection, influenced a respectable number, who were originally opposed to the constitution, to join the federal interest. The conftitution was accordingly ratified by a small majority; but the ratification was accompanied here, as in Virginia, with a bill of rights, declaratory of the sense of the convention, as to certain great principles, and with a catalogue of amendments, which were to be recommended to the confideration of the new congress, and the several state legilatures.

North Carolina met in convention in July, to deliberate on the new conftitution. After a short feffion they rejected it, by a majority of one hundred and seventy-fix against seventy-fix. This is the first ftate that has, in a formal manner, rejected the constitution. Upon what principle they did it, it is difficult to tell, and delicate to conjecture. The miseries that will probably arise from their feparation from the union, and their internal divifions, may eventually occafion a reconfideration. It is certain that their rejection of the new plan of government, will have no effe& in impeding its organization and establishment between the ratifying ftates.

Rhode Island was doomed to be the sport of a blind and singular policy. The legislature, in confiftency with the measures which had been before pursued, did not call a convention, to collect the sense of the state upon the proposed conftitution ; but in an unconftitutional and absurd manner, submitted the plan of government to the confideration of the people. Accordingly it was brought before town-meetings, and in most of them rejected. In some of the large towns, particularly in Newport and Providence, the people collected and resolved, with great propriety, that they could not take up the subject; and that the proposition for embracing or rejecting the federal conftitution, could come before no tribunal but that of the State in convention or legislature.

It is hoped that the very respectable minority, who have ever strenuously opposed the proceedings of the infatuated majority, will

, by their prudent and persevering exertions, effect the salvation of the state. NewYork rejected the proceedings of the firft Congress, and Georgia refused to send delegates; yet in two years after they were both among the foremost in supporting our independence. In two years North-Carolina and Rhode Island may be as warmly engaged in supporting, as they are now in oppofing the conftitution. If we may judge from their present situations, they have more need of an efficient government than any state in the union.

From the moment the proceedings of the general convention at Philadelphia transpired, the public mind was exceedingly agitated, and fufpended between hope and fear, until nine states had ratified their plan of a federal government. Indeed the anxiety continued until Virginia and New-York had acceded to the system. But this did not prevent the de. monftrations of their joy, on the accession of each state.

On the ratification in Massachusetts, the citizens of Boston, in the elevation of their joy, formed a proceffion in honour of the happy event, which was novel, splendid and magnificent. This example was afterwards followed, and in some inftances improved upon, in Baltimore. Charleston,


« הקודםהמשך »