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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 5152

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: American union.]

Thus in seven years America had advanced from the condition of a body of subordinate colonies to that of a nation. Furthermore, the people, who at the beginning of the struggle were scattered and separated, and who scarcely knew each other, were now united under a government; the Confederation, however weak, was the strongest federation then in existence. The people had learned the lesson of acting together in a great national crisis, and of accepting the limitations upon their governments made necessary by the central power.

[Sidenote: Union not perfected.]

The spirit of the new nation was now to be subjected to a test more severe than that of the Revolution. Danger banded the colonies together during the war. Would they remain together during peace? Sectional jealousies had broken out in Congress and in camp; and in the crisis of 1777 an effort had been made to displace Washington. There had been repeated instances of treachery among military officers and among foreign envoys. The States were undoubtedly much nearer together than the colonies had been; they had accepted a degree of control from the general government which they had refused from England; but they were not used to accept the resolutions of Congress as self-operative. Their conception of national government was still that national legislation filtrated from Congress to the State legislatures, and through that medium to the people.

[Sidenote: Frontier difficulties.]

The interior of the country was in a confused and alarming state. The territorial settlement with the States had only begun, and was to be the work of years. The Indians were a stumbling-block which must be removed from the path of the settlers. Within the States there were poverty, taxation, and disorder, and a serious discontent.

[Sidenote: Common institutions.]

Nevertheless, the system of the colonies was a system of union. The State governments all rested on the same basis of revolution and defiance of former established law; but when they separated from England they preserved those notions of English private and public law which had distinguished the colonies. The laws and the governments of the States were everywhere similar. The States were one in language, in religion, in traditions, in the memories of a common struggle, and in political and economic interests.

[Sidenote: Trade hampered.]

Commercially, however, the situation of the country was worse than it had been in three quarters of a century. Though the fisheries had been saved by the ef

forts of Adams, the market for the surplus fish was taken away. As colonies they had enjoyed the right to trade with other British colonies; as an independent nation they had only those rights which England chose to give. For a time the ministry seemed disposed to make a favorable commercial treaty; but in 1783 an Order in Council was issued cutting off the Americans from the West Indian trade; and it was not until 1818 that they recovered it.

[Sidenote: Republican government encouraged.] A great political principle had been strengthened by the success of the Revolution: republican government had been revived in a fashion unknown since ancient times. The territory claimed by Virginia was larger than the island of Great Britain. The federal republic included an area nearly four times as large as that of France. In 1782 Frederick of Prussia told the English ambassador that the United States could not endure, "since a republican government had never been known to exist for any length of time where the territory was not limited and concentred." The problem was a new one; but in communities without a titled aristocracy, which had set themselves against the power of a monarch, and which had long been accustomed to self-government, the problem was successfully worked out. The suffrage was still limited to the holders of land; but the spirit of the Revolution looked towards abolishing all legal distinctions between man and man; and the foundation of later democracy, with its universal suffrage, was thus already laid.

[Sidenote: Influence of rights of man.]

The influence of the republican spirit upon the rest of the world was not yet discerned; but the United States had established for themselves two principles which seriously affected other nations. If English colonies could by revolution relieve themselves from the colonial system of England, the French and Spanish colonies might follow that example; and forty years later not one of the Spanish continental colonies acknowledged the authority of the home government. The other principle was that of the rights of man. The Declaration of Independence contained a list of rights such as were familiar to the colonists of England, but were only theories elsewhere. The success of the Revolution was, therefore, a shock to the system of privilege and of class exemptions from the common burdens, which had lasted since feudal times. The French Revolution of 1789 was an attempt to apply upon alien ground the principles of the American Revolution.

CHAPTER V.

THE CONFEDERATION (1781-1788)

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