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the sport of chance, or the scoff of a once admiring Chap. T. world; but that great things are yet in store for 1783 this people, which time, and the wisdom of the 1^7. Great Director will produce in its best season.""It is indeed a pleasure," said general Wash. ington in reply, "from the walks of private life to view in retrospect the difficulties through which we have waded, and the happy haven into which our ship has been brought. Is it possible after this that it should founder? will not the all wise and all powerful Director of human events preserve it? I think he will. He may however, for some wise purpose of his own, suffer our indiscretions and folly to place our national character low in the political scale ;...and this, unless more wisdom and less prejudice take the lead in our government, will most certainly happen."
That the imbecility of the federal government, the impotence of its requisitions, and the inattention of some of the states to its recommendations, would in the estimation of the world, abase the American character, could scarcely be termed a prediction. From its inability to protect the general interests, or to comply with its political or pecuniary engagements, already had that course of national degradation commenced which such a state of things must necessarily produce.
As the system recommended to the states on the 18th of April 1783, had been matured by the best wisdom in the federal councils, a compliance with it was the last hope of the government; and congress continued to urge its adoption on the several states. While its fate remained undecided, requi
Chap. i. sitions for the intermediate supply of the national 1783 demands were annually repeated, and were annually 1787. neglected. From the first of November 1784, to the first of January 1786, there had been paid into the public treasury only four hundred and eighty two thousand eight hundred and ninety.seven dollars H ths. Happily, a loan had been negotiated in Holland by Mr. Adams, after the termination of the war, out of which the interest of the foreign debt had been partly paid, but that fund was exhausted, and the United States possessed no means of replacing it. Unable to pay the interest, they would, in the course of the succeeding year, be liable for the firstinstalmentof the principal; and the humiliating circumstance was to be encountered of a total failure to comply with the most solemn engagements, unaccompanied with the prospect of being enabled to give assurances that, at any future time, their situation would be more eligible. The condition of the domestic creditors was not absolutely desperate, the prospect of obtaining satisfaction for their claims was so distant and uncertain, that their evidences of debt were transferred at an eighth, and even at a tenth of their nominal value. The distress consequent on this depreciation was great and afflicting. "The requisitions of congress for eight years past," say the committee in February 1786, to whom the subject of the revenue had been referred, "have been so irregular in their operation, so uncertain in their collection, and so evidently unproductive, that a reliance on them in future as a source from whence monies are to be drawn to discharge the engagements of the confederacy, definite as they are in time and Chap. I. amount, would be not less dishonourable to the |-83 understandings of those who entertain such con- ijg7. fidence, than it would be dangerous to the welfare and peace of the union." Under public embarrassments which were daily increasing, it had become it was said, the duty of congress to declare most explicitly that the crisis had arrived, when the people of the United States, by whose will, and for whose benefit, the federal government was instituted, must decide whether they will support their rank as a nation, by maintaining the public faith at home and abroad, or whether, for want of a timely exertion in establishing a general revenue, and thereby giving strength to the confederacy, they will hazard not only the existence of the union, but of those great and invaluable privileges for which they have so arduously and so honourably contended."
The revenue system of the 18th of April 1783, was again solemnly recommended to the consideration of the several states, and their unanimous and early accession to it was declared to be the only measure which could enable congress to preserve the public faith, and to avoid the fatal evils which will inevitably flow from "a violation of those principles of justice which are the only solid basis of the honour and prosperity of nations."
In framing this system, a revenue adequate to the funding of the whole national debt had been contemplated, and no part of it was to go into operation until the whole should be adopted. By suspending partial relief to the pressing necessities
Chap. i. of the government, it was believed that complete 1783 relief would be the more certainly secured. 1787. To the enlightened and virtuous statesmen with whom that measure originated, it appeared impossible that their countrymen would be so unmindful of the obligations of honour and of justice, or could so misjudge their real interests, as to withhold their assent from the entire plan, if convinced that no partial compliance with it would be received. In the progress of the business however, there was reason to believe that the impost might be conceded, but that the application for the internal taxes would encounter difficulties not easily to be surmounted. In the impoverished state of the federal treasury, an incompetent revenue was preferred to no revenue; and it was deemed more advisable to accept a partial compliance with the recommendations of congress, than, by inflexibly adhering to the integrity of the system, to lose the whole. The states therefore, were requested to enable congress, "to carry into effect that part which related to impost so soon as it should be acceded to." In the course of the year 1786, every state in the union had acted upon the recommendation, and, with the exception of New York, had granted the impost duty which had been required. New York had passed an act upon the subject; but, influenced by its jealousy of the federal government, had not vested in congress the power of collecting the duties detailed in the resolutions of that body, but had reserved to itself the sole power of levying the duties according to its own laws. Neither did the act permit the collectors to be made accountable to Chap. I. congress. To the state only were they amenable. 1783 In addition to these deviations from the plan re- lf8j. com mended, New York had emitted bills of credit, which were liable to depreciation, and in them the duties were payable. As the failure on the part of this single state, suspended the operation of the grants made by all the others, the executive thereof was requested again to convene the legislature, in order to lay the subject once more before them. To a similar resolution governor Clinton had already replied, that "he had not power to convene the legislature before the time fixed by law for their stated meeting, except on extraordinary occasions, and as the present business proposed for their consideration had already been repeatedly laid before them, and so recently as at their last session had received their determination, it could not come within that description. This second resolution was not more successful than that which preceded it, and thus was finally defeated the laborious and persevering effort made by the federal government to obtain from the states the means of preserving in whole or in part, the faith of the nation. The private letters of that period, abound with passages showing the solicitude with which general Washington watched the progress of this recommendation, and the chagrin with which he viewed the obstacles to its adoption; in a letter of October 1785, he said, "the war as you have very justly observed, has terminated most advantageously for America, and a fair field is presented to our view; but I confess to you freely my dear sir, that I do not think we