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Chap. i. government, by which alone the capacities of 1783 the nation could be efficaciously exerted, could 1787. discern the imbecility of the nation itself; who, viewing the situation of the world, could perceive the dangers to which these young republics were exposed, if not held together by a cement capable of preserving a beneficial connexion; who felt the full value of national honour, and the full obligation of national faith; and who were persuaded of the insecurity of both, if resting for their preservation on the concurrence of thirteen distinct sovereignties; arranged themselves generally in the first party. The officers of the army, whose local prejudices had been weakened by associating with each other, and whose experience had furnished lessons on the inefficacy of requisitions which were not soon to be forgotten, threw their weight almost universally into the same scale.
As if sensible that the character of the government would be decided in a considerable degree by the measures which should immediately follow the treaty of peace, gentlemen of the first political abilities and integrity, among whom were some who, after performing a distinguished part in the military transactions of the continent, had retired from the army, sought a place in the congress of 1783. Combining their efforts for the establishment of principles on which the honour and the interest of the nation were believed to depend, they exerted all their talents to impress on the several states, the necessity of conferring on the government of the union, powers which might be competent to its preservation, and which would Chap. I. enable it to comply with the engagements it had 1783 formed. With unwearied perseverance they di- 17'87. gested and obtained the assent of congress to a system, which, though unequal to what their wishes would have prepared, or their judgments have approved, was believed to be the best that was attainable. The great object in view was, "to restore and support public credit," to effect which it was necessary, "to obtain from the states substantial funds for funding the whole debt of the United States."
The committee* to whom this interesting subject was referred, was composed of persons alike distinguished for their intelligence, for their attachment to the union, and for their veneration of the public faith. They reported sundry resolutions, recommending it to the several states, to vest in congress permanent and productive funds adequate to the immediate payment of the interest on the national debt, and to the gradual extinction of the principal. These funds were to be raised in part by duties on imported articles; and in part by internal taxes. A change in the rule by which the proportions of the different states were to be ascertained was also recommended. In lieu of that article of the confederation which apportions on them the sums required for the public treasury, according to the value of their located lands with the improvements thereon, it
• Mr. Fitzsimmons, and Mr. Rutledge.
Chap. i. was proposed to substitute another more capable 1783 of execution, which should make the population 1787. of each state the measure of its contribution.*
It was readily perceived, that if the provision made by the states should prove inadequate to the claims of all the public creditors, its distribution would be partial; and that the less favoured, who might be neglected, would be reduced to a still more hopeless condition by being separated from the great mass whose demands it was thought impossible to disregard. To obviate this manifest injustice, it was declared that no part of the revenue system should take effect until the whole should be acceded to by all the states; after which, every part of the grant was to be irrevocable, except by the concurrence of the whole, or of a majority of the United States in congress assembled.
* On a subsequent occasion, an attempt was made to obtain a resolution of congress, recommending as an additional amendment to the eighth article of the confederation, that the taxes for the use of the continent should be laid and levied separate from any other tax, and should be paid directly into the national treasury; and that the collectors respectively should be liable to an execution to be issued by the treasurer, or his deputy, under the direction of congress, for any arrears of taxes by him to be collected, which should not be paid into the treasury in conformity with the requisitions of congress.
Such was the prevalence of state policy, even in the government of the union, or such the conviction of the inutility of recommending such an amendment, that a vote of congress could not be obtained for asking this salutary regulation as a security for the revenue only for eight years.
To the application which, during the war, had Chap. J.
been made by congress for power to levy an 1783 impost of five per cent on imported and prize ^7. goods, one state had never assented, and another had withdrawn the assent it had previously given.
It was impossible to yield to some of the objections which had occasioned the ill success of this measure, because they went to the certain destruction of the system itself; but in points where the alterations demanded were indeed mischievous but not fatal to the plan, it was thought advisable to accommodate the recommendations of the government to the prejudices which had been disclosed. It had been insisted that the power of appointing persons to collect the duties, would enable congress to introduce into a state, officers unknown and unaccountable to the government thereof; and that a power to collect an indefinite sum for an indefinite time, for the expenditure of which that body could not be accountable to the states, would render it independent of its constituents, and would be dangerous to liberty. To obviate these objections, the proposition now made was so modified, that the grant was to be limited to twenty-five years; was to be strictly appropriated to the debt contracted on account of the war; and was to be collected by persons to be appointed by the respective states.
After a debate, which the tedious and embarrassed mode of conducting business protracted for several weeks, the report was, on the 18th of April, 1783, adopted; and a committee, consisting
Chap. i. of Mr. Madison, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Ellsworth, 17S3 was appointed to prepare an address, which should 1787. accompany the recommendation to the several states. In enforcing the necessity and justice of an ample and permanent provision for paying the interest of the national debt, this address observes; "the present creditors, or rather the domestic part of them, having either made their loans for a period which has expired, or having become creditors in the first instance involuntarily, are entitled on the clear principles of justice and good faith, to demand the principal of their credits instead of accepting the annual interest. It is necessary therefore, as the principal cannot be paid to them on demand, that the interest should be so effectually and satisfactorily secured, as to enable them, if they incline, to transfer their stock at its full value." "For the discharge of the principal within the term limited," proceeded the report, "we rely on the natural increase of the revenue from commerce, on requisitions to be made from time to time for that purpose, as circumstances may dictate, and on the prospect of vacant territory. If these resources should prove inadequate, it will be necessary at the expiration of twenty-five years, to continue the funds now recommended, or to establish such others as may then be found more convenient."
After a full explanation of the principles on which the system had been framed, the address proceeds, "the plan thus communicated and explained by congress, must now receive its fate from their constituents. All the objects comprised