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   Chapter 39 1777).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3974

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Is the Union older than the States?]

[Sidenote: Revolutionary governments.]

A practical result of the Declaration of Independence was that from that day each colony assumed the name of State; and the union changed its name of "The United Colonies" to the proud title of "The United States of America." Were the new States essentially different from the colonies? This is one of the insoluble questions connected with the formation of the Union. Calhoun later declared that the Declaration of Independence changed the colonies from provinces subject to Great Britain to States subject to nobody. Lincoln in his message of July 4, 1861, said that "The Union gave each of them whatever of independence and liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States, and in fact it created them as States." That the States did not regard independence as freeing them from their relation to Congress may be seen from the fact that their new governments were formed under the direction or with the permission of Congress. The outbreak of the Revolution in 1775 had suddenly destroyed the constitutional governments with which the colonies were familiar. Everywhere courts were prevented from sitting, and governors were impeded or driven out. In order to organize resistance and also to carry out the ordinary purposes of government, in each colony there arose a revolutionary and unauthorized body, known as the Provincial Convention, or Provincial Congress, which took upon itself all the powers of government. The new arrangement was unsatisfactory to a people accustomed to orderly government and to stable administrations. They turned to Congress for advice. At first Congress suggested only temporary arrangements. In November, 1775, it encouraged the colonies to form permanent organizations, and on May 10, 1776, it advised them all to "adopt such governments as shall … best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in gener

al."

[Sidenote: State constitutions.]

Acting under these suggestions, the colonies had already begun before July 4, 1776, to draw up written instruments of government. In two States, Connecticut and Rhode Island, the old charters were so democratic that with a few slight changes of phraseology they were sufficient for the new conditions. In all other colonies the opportunity was taken to alter the familiar machinery. The Provincial Conventions, or, in one case, a special Constitutional Convention, drew up a constitution and put it into force. Since the governor had been unpopular, in several cases his place was supplied by an executive council. The courts were reorganized on the old basis, and the judges were left appointive. The first constitution to be formed was that of New Hampshire. January 5, 1776, the Provincial Congress voted "to take up civil government as follows." By 1777, nine other new constitutions had thus been provided. They mark an epoch in the constitutional history of the world. The great English charters and the Act of Settlement were constitutional documents; but they covered only a small part of the field of government. Almost for the first time in history, representatives of the people were assembled to draw up systematic and complete constitutions, based on the consent of the governed.

[Sidenote: Constitution of Massachusetts.]

Singularly enough, the last State to form a definite constitution was Massachusetts. Till 1776, that colony claimed to be acting under a charter which England was ignoring. The General Court then chose councillors of its own to act as an executive. Dissensions broke out, and a considerable body of the people of Berkshire County repudiated this government and demanded a new constitution. In 1780 a constitution was drafted by a convention assembled solely for that purpose, and, for the first time in the history of America, the work of a convention was submitted for ratification by a popular vote.

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