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   Chapter 45 1781).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4230

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Preliminaries of a constitution.]

[Sidenote: Articles submitted.]

One cause of the weakness of Congress and the disorders in the States was the want of a settled national government. The Continental Congress understood that it was but a makeshift, and on the day when a committee was formed to frame a Declaration of Independence, another committee was appointed to draw up Articles of Confederation. It reported July 12, 1776; but the moment discussion began, it was seen that there were almost insuperable difficulties. The first was the question whether each State should have one vote, as in the existing government, or whether each should cast a number of votes in proportion to its population; the second question was how revenue should be raised and assessed; the third was how the western country should be held; the fourth was what powers should be given to the general government, and what retained by the States; the fifth, how disputes within the Union should be settled. When, on Nov. 15, 1777, Congress had finally adopted a draft of Articles of Confederation, the decline of its power and influence was reflected in the proposed instrument of government. On the question of representation, the rule of vote by States was continued. The only taxation was a formal system of requisitions on the States. Here the question of slavery was unexpectedly brought in: the Northern States desired to apportion the taxes according to total population, including slaves. "Our slaves are our property" said Lynch, of South Carolina; "If that is debated, there is an end of the Confederation. Being our property, why should they be taxed more than sheep?" A compromise was reached, by which requisitions were to be assessed in proportion to the value of lands in the several States. The question of control of territory was not distinctly settled by the articles. The powers to be conferred upon the Confederation were practically limited to war, peace, and foreign affairs. A cumbrous system of arbitration courts was established for disputes between States, but there was no machinery for settli

ng quarrels between States and the national government.

[Sidenote: The Western lands.]

[Sidenote: Maryland will not ratify.]

[Sidenote: Articles in force.]

Congress had spent a year and a half in forming the Articles of Confederation. The States took three and a half years in ratifying them. Ten States early signified their willingness to adopt them. Three others stood out because the Western lands were left in dispute. In 1776 when the British authority had been declared no longer existent in the colonies, each of the new States considered itself possessed of all the British lands which at any time had been included within its boundary; and in 1778 Virginia had captured the few British posts northwest of the Ohio, and had shortly after created that immense region, now the seat of five powerful States, into the "County of Illinois." On the other hand, it was strongly urged that the Western territory had been secured through a war undertaken by all the colonies for the whole country, and that the lands ought to be reserved to reward the continental soldiers, and to secure the debt of the United States. For the sake of union, two of the three dissatisfied commonwealths agreed to the Articles of Confederation. One State alone stood firm: Maryland, whose boundaries could not be so construed as to include any part of the lands, refused to ratify unless the claims of Virginia were disallowed; Virginia and Connecticut proposed to close the Union without Maryland; Virginia even opened a land office for the sale of a part of the territory in dispute; but threats had no effect. New York, which had less to gain from the Western territory than the other claimants, now came forward with the cession of her claims to the United States; and Virginia, on Jan. 2, 1781, agreed to do the like. On March 1, 1781, it was announced that Maryland had ratified the Articles of Confederation, and they were duly put into force. From that date the Congress, though little changed in personnel or in powers, was acting under a written constitution, and the States had bound themselves to abide by it.

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