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   Chapter 58 1787).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3607

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Five percent scheme.]

[Sidenote: Revenue scheme.]

Before the Articles of Confederation had gone into effect, Congress had already proposed a radical amendment; and within three years it suggested two others. The first proposition, made February 3, 1781, was that the States allow Congress to levy an import duty of five per cent, the proceeds to be applied "to the discharge of the principal and interest of the debts already contracted … on the faith of the United States for supporting the present war." In the course of about a year twelve States had complied with this reasonable request. Rhode Island alone stood out, and the plan failed. Forthwith Congress presented another financial scheme, which was called a "general revenue plan." April 12, 1783, it asked the States to allow Congress to lay low specific import duties for twenty-five years, to be collected by officers appointed by the States. The States were further recommended to lay some effective taxes, the proceeds to be set aside for government requisitions. The effect was precisely the same as before. Twelve States agreed; but the opposition of New York prevented the first part of the plan from being carried out. Not a single State had condescended to pay attention to the second request.

[Sidenote: Commerce amendment.]

Apparently abandoning any hope of an adequate revenue, Congress, on April 30, 1784, proposed a third amendment, that the States should permit it to pass commercial laws discriminating against foreign powers which refused to make commercial treaties. This was aimed at Great Britain. Washington urged the measure in vigorous language. "We are," said he, "either a united people, or we are not so. If the former, let us in all matters of national concern act as a nation which has a nati

onal character to support." Yet he could not bring even Virginia to agree to the plan, and it quickly failed.

[Sidenote: Schemes of revision.]

A poor constitution, which could be amended only by unanimous vote, was likely to stifle the nation. A few feeble suggestions were heard that the experiment of republican government be given over; others urged that the Americans be brought within one centralized government. Alexander Hamilton would have established a government "controlling the internal police of the States, and having a federal judiciary." Upon the last of his three schemes, dated 1783, is written: "Intended to be submitted to Congress, but abandoned for want of support." Even Washington's vastly greater influence had no effect. In a circular letter to the governors, dated June, 1783, he says: "It is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States that there should be lodged somewhere a supreme power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated republic." Yet not a State would take the initiative in reforming the constitution.

From 1784 to 1786 pamphlets began to appear in which more definite suggestions were made for a new government. Pelatiah Webster proposed a government with enlarged powers, and a legislature of two houses. "If they disagree," said he, "let them sit still until they recover their good humor." The method in which the new government was to enforce its powers was put in a quaint and incisive form. "My principle is," said Webster, "the soul that sinneth, it shall die. Every person … who shall disobey the supreme authority shall be answerable to Congress." The idea that the constitution needed radical amendment had at last found a lodgment in the public mind.

CHAPTER VI.

THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION (1787-1789).

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