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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4736

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: War in Massachusetts.]

[Sidenote: National military measures.]

The situation rapidly passed beyond the stage of advice. The people of Massachusetts and the neighboring colonies, on their own motion, had shut up the governor of the colony and his troops in the town of Boston, and were formally besieging him. On June 17 the British made their last sortie, and attacked and defeated the besieging forces at Bunker Hill. Neither the country nor Congress could long stand still. Precisely a week after assembling, Congress voted that certain commerce "must immediately cease." A week later, May 26, they "Resolved, unanimously, that the militia of New York be armed and trained … to prevent any attempt that may be made to gain possession of the town;" and on June 14 the momentous resolution was reached that "an American continental army should be raised." On the following day George Washington, Esq., of Virginia, "was unanimously selected to command all the continental forces raised or to be raised for the defence of American liberty." In October the fitting out of a little navy and the commissioning of privateers were authorized.

These acts were acts of war such as up to this time had been undertaken only by individual colonies or by the home government. They were, further, acts of united resistance, and in form they pledged the whole country to the establishment of a military force, and the maintenance of hostilities until some accommodation could be reached.

[Sidenote: National diplomacy.]

[Sidenote: Other national powers.]

In other directions the Continental Congress showed similar energy. November 29, 1775, "a Committee of Correspondence with our friends abroad" was ordered, and thus began, the foreign relations of the United States of America. National ambassadors were eventually sent out; no colony presumed to send its own representative across the sea; foreign affairs from this time on were considered solely a matter for the Continental Congress. In like manner, Congress quietly took up most of the other matters which had been acknowledged up to this time to belong to the home government. Congress assumed the control of the frontier Indians, till this time the wards of England. The post-national office had been directed by English authority; Congress took it over. The boundaries and other relations of

the colonies had been strictly regulated by the home government; Congress undertook to mediate in boundary disputes. Parliament had controlled trade; Congress threw open American ports to all foreign nations, and prohibited the slave-trade. In financial matters Congress went far beyond any powers ever exercised by England. June 22 it ordered an issue of two million dollars in continental paper currency, and subscriptions to national loans were opened both at home and abroad.

[Sidenote: Basis of national authority.]

This assumption of powers is the more remarkable since their exercise by England had caused the Revolution. The right to raise money by national authority, the right to maintain troops without the consent of the colonies, and the right to enforce regulations on trade,-these were the three disputed points in the English policy of control. They were all exercised by the Continental Congress, and accepted by the colonies. In a word, the Continental Congress constituted a government exercising great sovereign powers. It began with no such authority; it never received such authority until 1781. The war must be fought, the forces of the people must be organized; there was no other source of united power and authority; without formally agreeing to its supremacy, the colonies and the people at large acquiesced, and accepted it as a government.

[Sidenote: Organization of the government.]

For the carrying out of great purposes Congress was singularly inefficient. The whole national government was composed of a shifting body of representatives elected from time to time by the colonial or State legislatures. It early adopted the system of forming executive committees out of its own number: of these the most important was the Board of War, of which John Adams was the most active member. Later on, it appointed executive boards, of which some or all the members were not in Congress: the most notable example was the Treasury Office of Accounts. Difficult questions of prize and maritime law arose; and Congress established a court, which was only a committee of its own members. In all cases the committees, boards, or officials were created, and could be removed, by Congress. The final authority on all questions of national government in all its forms was simply a majority of colonies or States in the Continental Congress.

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