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   Chapter 56 1788). No.56

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3713

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Relations with England.]

In no respect, not even in finance, was the weakness of the Confederation so evident as in the powerlessness of Congress to pass commercial laws, and its consequent inability to secure commercial treaties. In 1785 John Adams was sent as minister to Great Britain, and was received with civility by the sovereign from whom he had done so much to tear the brightest jewel of his crown; but when he endeavored to come to some commercial arrangement, he could make no progress. It is easy now to see that the best policy for Great Britain would have been in every way to encourage American commerce; the Americans were accustomed to trade with England; their credits and business connections were established with English merchants; the English manufactured the goods most desired by America. When the Whigs were driven out of power in 1783, the last opportunity for such an agreement was lost. July 2, 1783, an Order in Council was issued, restraining the West India trade to British ships, British built; and on March 26, 1785, the Duke of Dorset replied to the American commissioners who asked for a treaty: "The apparent determination of the respective States to regulate their own separate interests renders it absolutely necessary, towards forming a permanent system of commerce, that my court should be informed how far the commissioners can be duly authorized to enter into any engagement with Great Britain which it may not be in the power of any one of the States to render totally useless and inefficient."

[Sidenote: Loyalists.]

[Sidenote: British debts.]

[Sidenote: Posts.]

There were other reasons why the British continued to subject American ships in English ports to discriminations and duties from which the vessels of most other powers were exempt. The treaty of 1783 had provided that Cong

ress would recommend to the States just treatment of the loyalists; the recommendation was made. Most of the States declined to comply; men who had been eminent before the Revolution returned to find themselves distrusted, and sometimes were mobbed; their estates, which in most cases had been confiscated, were withheld, and they could obtain no consideration. This was unfriendly, but not a violation of any promise. The action of the States in placing obstacles in the way of collecting debts due to British merchants before the Revolution was a vexatious infraction of the treaty. Five States had passed laws for the partial or complete confiscation of such debts, and even after the treaty Pennsylvania and Massachusetts passed similar Acts. As an offset, the British minister in 1786 declared that the frontier posts would not be surrendered so long as the obstacles to the collection of British debts were left standing.

[Sidenote: The Spanish treaty.]

The only other power with which the United States desired commercial relations without possessing them was Spain. The Eastern States were very anxious to obtain privileges of trade. The Spanish were willing to grant them, but made it a condition that the Americans should not have the right of free navigation of the lower Mississippi. Jay, acting under the instruction of Congress, in 1786 negotiated a treaty in which he agreed to the Spanish conditions. Instantly the West was aroused, and violent threats were made by the people of Kentucky and the adjacent region that if that treaty went into effect they would withdraw from the Union. "The tendency of the States," said Madison, a few months later, "to violations of the laws of nations and treaties … has been manifest…. The files of Congress contain complaints already from almost every nation with which treaties have been formed."

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