Having considered the nature of this bill with regard to civil government, I am next to examine it with relation to religion, and to endeavor to show that the Church of Rome has now the sanction of a legal establishment in the province of Quebec.
In order to do this the more satisfactorily I beg leave to adopt the definition given of an established religion by a certain writer who has taken great pains to evince the contrary. “An established religion,” says he, “is a religion which the civil authority engages not only to protect but to support.” This act makes effectual provision not only for the protection but for the permanent support of Popery, as is evident from the following clause: “And for the more perfect security and ease of the minds of the inhabitants of the said province, it is hereby declared that his Majesty's subjects, professing the religion of the Church of Rome, in the said province, may have, hold, and enjoy the free exercise of the religion of the Church of Rome, subject to the king's supremacy, etc., and that the clergy of the said Church may hold, receive, and enjoy their accustomed dues and rights,” etc.
This is represented as a bare permission to the clergy to enjoy the usual emoluments of their functions, and not as a legal provision for their support. Much stress seems to be laid on the word “may, “which is commonly italicized. But though the phraseology be artful, yet it is easy to perceive that it operates to the same effect as if it had been more positive and emphatical.
The clergy “may hold, receive, and enjoy their accustomed dues and rights.” They may if they please. It is at their option, and must depend upon their will; and, consequently, there must be a correspondent obligation upon their parishioners to comply with that will, and to pay those dues when required. What the law gives us an unconditional permission to enjoy, no person can legally withhold from us. It becomes our property, and we can enforce our right to it. If the Legislature of this colony were to decree that the clergy of the different denominations may hold, receive, and enjoy tithes of their respective congregations, we should soon find that it would have the same efficacy as if it were decreed that the several congregations should pay tithes to their respective clergy. For, otherwise, the Legislature might confer a right which had no correlative obligation, and which must, therefore, be void and inefficacious. But this is contradictory and impossible.
“Tithes in Canada,” it is said, “are the property of the Roman Church; and permitting a tolerated church to enjoy its own property, is far short of the idea of an establishment.” But I should be glad to know, in the first place, how tithes can be the property of any but of an established church? And in the next, how they came to be the property of the Romish Church in Canada, during the intermediate space between the surrender of that province to the English and the passing of this act? Nothing can be deemed my property, to which I have not a perfect and uncontrollable right by the laws. If a church have not a similar right to tithes, it can have no property in them; and if it have, it is plain the laws must have made provision for its support, or, in other words, must have established it.
Previous to the surrender of Canada the Catholic religion was established there by the laws of France; and tithes were, on that account, the legal property of the Church of Rome, and could not be withheld by the laity though ever so much disposed to it. But after the surrender this circumstance took a different turn. The French laws being no longer in force, the establishment of the Romish Church ceased of course, and with it the property which it before had in tithes.
It is true the clergy may have continued to receive and enjoy their customary dues, tithes, and other perquisites; but they were not for all that the property of the church, because it had lost its legal right to them, and it was at the discretion of the laity to withhold them, if they had thought proper, or to abridge them, and place them upon a more moderate footing. Their voluntary concurrence was necessary to give their priests a right to demand them as before. But by the late act this matter is again put into its former situation. Tithes are now become the property of the church as formerly, because it again has a legal claim to them, and the conditional consent of the people is set aside. Thus we see that this act does not, in fact, permit a tolerated church to enjoy “its own property,” but gives it a real and legal property in that which it before held from the bounty and liberality of its professors, and which they might withhold or diminish at pleasure; and this, in the most proper sense, converts it into an establishment.
The characteristic difference between a tolerated and established religion consists in this: With respect to the support of the former, the law is passive and improvident, leaving it to those who profess it to make as much, or as little, provision as they shall judge expedient; and to vary and alter that provision, as their circumstances may require. In this manner the Presbyterians and other sects are tolerated in England. They are allowed to exercise their religion without molestation, and to maintain their clergy as they think proper. These are wholly dependent upon their congregations, and can exact no more than they stipulate and are satisfied to contribute. But with respect to the support of the latter, the law is active and provident. Certain precise dues (tithes, etc.) are legally annexed to the clerical office, independent on the liberal contributions of the people; which is exactly the case with the Canadian priests; and, therefore, no reasonable, impartial man will doubt that the religion of the Church of Rome is established in Canada. While tithes were the free, though customary, gift of the people, as was the case before the passing of the act in question, the Roman Church was only in a state of toleration; but when the law came to take cognizance of them, and, by determining their permanent existence, destroyed the free agency of the people, it then resumed the nature of an establishment, which it had been divested of at the time of the capitulation.
As to the Protestant religion, it is often asserted that ample provision has been made by the act for its future establishment; to prove which the writer before mentioned has quoted a clause in the following mutilated manner: “It is provided,” says he, “that his Majesty, his heirs or successors, may make such provision out of the accustomed dues, or rights, for the encouragement of the Protestant religion, and for the maintenance of a Protestant clergy within the said province, as he or they shall, from time to time, think necessary and expedient.”
It must excite a mixture of anger and disdain to observe the wretched arts to which a designing administration and its abettors are driven in order to conceal the enormity of their measures. This whole clause, in its true and original construction, is destitute of meaning; and was evidently inserted for no other end than to deceive by the appearance of a provident regard for the Protestant religion. The act first declares: “That his Majesty's subjects professing the religion of the Church of Rome may have and enjoy the free exercise of their religion; and that the clergy of the said church may hold, receive, and enjoy their accustomed dues and rights.” Then follows this clause: “Provided, nevertheless, that it shall be lawful for his Majesty, his heirs and successors, to make such provision, out of the rest of the said accustomed dues and rights, for the encouragement of the Protestant religion, for the maintenance and support of a Protestant clergy within the said province, as he or they shall, from time to time, think necessary and expedient.”
Thus we see the Romish clergy are to have, hold, and enjoy their accustomed dues and rights, and the rest and remainder of them is to be applied toward the encouragement of the Protestant religion; but when they have had their wonted dues, I fancy it will puzzle the administration, by any effort of political chemistry, to produce the rest, or remainder. Suppose, for instance, A made an actual settlement of a hundred pounds on B; and, by a subsequent act, should declare that B should continue to hold and enjoy his accustomed and annual bounty; and that the rest of the said bounty should be given to C: it is evident that C would have nothing, because there would be no rest whatever. Exactly parallel and analogous is the case in hand. The Romish priests are to have their accustomed dues and rights; and the rest of the said dues and rights is to be dedicated to the encouragement of the Protestant religion. In the above-recited quotation there is a chasm, the words “the rest of” being artfully omitted, to give the passage some meaning which it has not in itself. With this amendment, the sense must be that his Majesty might appropriate what portion of the customary revenues of the Romish clergy he should think proper to the support and maintenance of Protestant churches. But, according to the real words of the act, he can only devote “the rest,” or remainder, of such revenues to that purpose, which, as I have already shown, is nothing. So that the seeming provision in favor of the Protestant religion is entirely verbal and delusory. Excellent must be the encouragement it will derive from this source. But this is not all. Had there been really provision made, to be applied at the discretion of his Majesty, I should still consider this act as an atrocious infraction on the rights of Englishmen, in a point of the most delicate and momentous concern. No Protestant Englishman would consent to let the free exercise of his religion depend upon the mere pleasure of any man, however great or exalted. The privilege of worshipping the Deity in the manner his conscience dictates, which is one of the dearest he enjoys, must in that case be rendered insecure and precarious. Yet this is the unhappy situation to which the Protestant inhabitants of Canada are now reduced.
The will of the king must give law to their consciences. It is in his power to keep them for ever dispossessed of all religious immunities, and there is too much reason to apprehend that the same motives which instigated the act would induce him to give them as little future encouragement as possible.
I imagine it will clearly appear, from what has been offered, that the Roman Catholic religion, instead of being tolerated, as stipulated by the treaty of peace, is established by the late act, and that the Protestant religion has been left entirely destitute and unbefriended in Canada. But if there should be any who think that the indulgence granted does not extend to a perfect establishment, and that it may be justified by the terms of the treaty and the subsequent conduct of the Canadians, and if they should also be at a loss to perceive the dangerous nature of the act, with respect to the other colonies, I would beg their further attention to the following considerations.
However justifiable this act may be in relation to the province of Quebec, with its ancient limits, it cannot be defended by the least plausible pretext, when it is considered as annexing such a boundless extent of new territory to the old.
If a free form of government had “been found by experience to be inapplicable to the state and circumstances of the province,” and if “a toleration less generous—although it might have fulfilled the letter of the articles of the treaty—would not have answered the expectations of the Canadians, nor have left upon their minds favorable impressions of British justice and honor,”—if these reasons be admitted as true, and allowed their greatest weight, they only prove that it might be just and politic to place the province of Quebec, alone, with its former boundaries, in the circumstances of civil and religious government which are established by this act. But when it is demanded, why it has also added the immense tract of country that surrounds all these colonies to that province, and has placed the whole under the same exceptionable institutions, both civil and religious, the advocates for administration must be confounded and silenced.
This act develops the dark designs of the ministry more fully than any thing they have done, and shows that they have formed a systematic project of absolute power.
The present policy of it is evidently this: By giving a legal sanction to the accustomed dues of the priests, it was intended to interest them in behalf of the administration; and by means of the dominion they possessed over the minds of the laity, together with the appearance of good-will toward their religion, to prevent any dissatisfaction which might arise from the loss of their civil rights, and to propitiate them to the great purposes in contemplation—first, the subjugation of the colonies, and afterward that of Great Britain itself. It was necessary to throw out some such lure to reconcile them to the exactions of that power which has been communicated to the king, and which the emergency of the times may require in a very extensive degree.
The future policy of it demands particular attention. The nature of its civil government will hereafter put a stop to emigrations from other parts of the British dominions thither, and from all other free countries. The preeminent advantages secured to the Roman Catholic religion will discourage all Protestant settlers, of whatever nation; and on these accounts, the province will be settled and inhabited by none but Papists. If lenity and moderation are observed in administering the laws, the natural advantages of this fertile infant country, united to the indulgence given to their religion, will attract droves of emigrants from all the Roman Catholic States in Europe, and these colonies, in time, will find themselves encompassed with innumerable hosts of neighbors, disaffected to them, both because of difference in religion and government. How dangerous their situation would be, let every man of commonsense judge.
What can speak in plainer language the corruption of the British Parliament than this act, which invests the king with absolute power over a little world (if I may be allowed the expression), and makes such ample provision for the Popish religion, and leaves the Protestant in such a dependent, disadvantageous situation, that he is like to have no other subjects in this part of his domain, than Roman Catholics, who, by reason of their implicit devotion to their priests, and the superlative reverence they bear those who countenance and favor their religion, will be the voluntary instruments of ambition, and will be ready, at all times, to second the oppressive designs of the administration against the other parts of the empire.
Hence, while our ears are stunned with the dismal sounds of New England's republicanism, bigotry, and intolerance, it behooves us to be upon our guard against the deceitful wiles of those who would persuade us that we have nothing to fear from the operation of the Quebec Act. We should consider it as being replete with danger to ourselves, and as threatening ruin to our posterity. Let us not, therefore, suffer ourselves to be terrified at the prospect of an imaginary and fictitious Scylla; and by that means, be led blindfold into a real and destructive Charybdis.
October 19, 1778.
There are abuses in the state which demand an immediate remedy. Important political characters must be brought upon the stage, and animadverted upon with freedom. The opinion I have of the independence of your spirit convinces me you will ever be a faithful guardian of the liberty of the press, and determines me to commit to you the publication of a series of letters, which will give you an opportunity of exemplifying it.
The following is by way of prelude. You may depend I shall always preserve the decency and respect due either to the Government of the United States, or to the government of any particular State; but I shall not conceive myself bound to use any extraordinary ceremony with the characters of corrupt individuals, however exalted their stations.
To the Printer of the New York “Journal.”
Sir—While every method is taken to bring to justice those men whose principles and practices have been hostile to the present revolution, it is to be lamented that the conduct of another class, equally criminal, and, if possible, more mischievous, has hitherto passed with impunity, and almost without notice. I mean that tribe who, taking advantage of the times, have carried the spirit of monopoly and extortion to an excess which scarcely admits of a parallel. Emboldened by the success of progressive impositions, it has extended to all the necessaries of life. The exorbitant price of every article, and the depreciation upon our currency, are evils derived essentially from this source. When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly the forerunner of its fall. How shocking is it to discover among ourselves, even at this early period, the strongest symptoms of this fatal disease.
There are men in all countries, the business of whose lives it is to raise themselves above indigence by every little art in their power. When these men are observed to be influenced by the spirit I have mentioned, it is nothing more than might be expected, and can only excite contempt. When others, who have characters to support, and credit enough in the world to satisfy a moderate appetite for wealth, in an honorable way, are found to be actuated by the same spirit, our contempt is mixed with indignation. But when a man, appointed to be the guardian of the state and the depositary of the happiness and morals of the people, forgetful of the solemn relation in which he stands, descends to the dishonest artifices of a mercantile projector, and sacrifices his conscience and his trust to pecuniary motives, there is no strain of abhorrence of which the human mind is capable, no punishment the vengeance of the people can inflict, which may not be applied to him with justice.
If it should have happened that a member of Congress has been this degenerate character, and has been known to turn the knowledge of secrets to which his office gave him access to the purposes of private profit, by employing emissaries to engross an article of immediate necessity to the public service, he ought to feel the utmost rigor of public resentment, and be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.
October 26, 1778.
Sir:—The honor of being a hero of a public panegyric is what you could hardly have aspired to, either from your talents, or from your good qualities. The partiality of your friends has never given you credit for more than mediocrity in the former; and experience has proved that you are indebted for all your consequence to the reverse of the latter. Had you not struck out a new line of prostitution for yourself, you might still have remained unnoticed and contemptible—your name scarcely known beyond the little circle of your electors and clients, and recorded only in the journals of C——ss. But you have now forced yourself into view, in a light too singular and conspicuous to be overlooked, and have acquired an undisputed title to be immortalized in infamy. I admire the boldness of your genius, and confess you have exceeded expectation. Though from your first appearance in the world you gave the happiest presages of your future life, and the plainest marks of your being unfettered by any of those nice scruples from which men of principle find so much inconvenience, yet your disposition was not understood in its full extent. You were thought to possess a degree of discretion and natural timidity which would restrain you from any hazardous extremes. You have the merit both of contradicting this opinion, and discovering that, notwithstanding our youth and inexperience as a nation, we begin to emulate the most veteran and accomplished states in the art of corruption. You have shown that America can already boast at least one public character as abandoned as any the history of past or present times can produce.
Were your associates in power of a congenial temper with yourself, you might hope that your address and dexterity upon a late occasion would give a new and advantageous impression of your abilities, and recommend you to employment in some important negotiation, which might afford you other opportunities of gratifying your favorite inclination at the expense of the public.
It is unfortunate for the reputation of Governor Johnston, and for the benevolent purposes of his royal master, that he was not acquainted with the frailties of your character before he made his experiment on men whose integrity was above temptation. If he had known you, and had thought your services worth purchasing, he might have played a sure game, and avoided the risk of exposing himself to contempt and ridicule. And you, sir, might have made your fortune at one decisive stroke.
It is matter of curious inquiry, what could have raised you in the first instance, and supported you since in your present elevation. I never knew a single man but was ready to do ample justice to your demerit. The most indulgent opinion of the qualifications of your head and heart could not offend the modest delicacy of your ear, or give the smallest cause of exultation to your vanity. It is your lot to have the peculiar privilege of being universally despised. Excluded from all resource to your abilities or virtues, there is only one way in which I can account for the rank you hold in the political scale. There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism. You prudently took advantage of the commencement of the contest, to ingratiate yourself in the favor of the people, and gain an ascendant in their confidence by appearing a zealous assertor of their rights. No man will suspect you of the folly of public spirit—a heart notoriously selfish exempts you from any charge of this nature, and obliges us to resolve the part you took into opposite principles. A desire of popularity and a rivalship with the ministry will best explain them. Their attempt to confine the sale of a lucrative article of commerce to the East India Company, must have been more unpardonable in the sight of a monopolist than the most daring attack upon the public liberty. There is a vulgar maxim which has pointed emphasis in your case, and has made many notable patriots in this dispute.
It sometimes happens that a temporary caprice of the people leads them to make choice of men whom they neither love nor respect; and that they afterward, from an indolent and mechanical habit natural to the human mind, continue their confidence and support merely because they had once conferred them. I cannot persuade myself that your influence rests upon a better foundation, and I think the finishing touch your have given to the profligacy of your character must rouse the recollection of the people, and force them to strip you of a dignity which sets so awkwardly upon you, and consign you to that disgrace which is due to a scandalous perversion of your trust. When you resolved to avail yourself of the extraordinary demand for the article of flour which the wants of the French fleet must produce, and which your official situation early impressed on your attention, to form connections for monopolizing that article, and raising the price upon the public more than one hundred per cent.; when by your intrigues and studied delays you protracted the determination of the C——tt—e of C——ss on the proposals made by Mr. W—sw—th, C—ss—y G——n——1, for procuring the necessary supplies for the public use, to give your agents time to complete their purchases;—I say when you were doing all this, and engaging in a traffic infamous in itself, repugnant to your station, and ruinous to your country, did you pause and allow yourself a moment's reflection on the consequences? Were you infatuated enough to imagine you would be able to conceal the part you were acting? Or had you conceived a thorough contempt of reputation, and a total indifference to the opinion of the world? Enveloped in the promised gratifications of your avarice, you probably forgot to consult your understanding, and lost sight of every consideration that ought to have regulated the man, the citizen, the statesman.
I am aware that you could never have done what you have without first obtaining a noble victory over every sentiment of honor and generosity. You have therefore nothing to fear from the reproaches of your own mind. Your insensibility secures you from remorse. But there are arguments powerful enough to extort repentance, even from a temper as callous as yours. You are a man of the world, sir; your self-love forces you to respect its decisions, and your utmost credit with it will not bear the test of your recent enormities, or screen you from the fate you deserve.
November 16, 1778.
Sir:—It may appear strange that you should be made a second time the principal figure of a piece intended for the public eye. But a character, insignificant in every other respect, may become interesting from the number and magnitude of its vices. In this view you have a right to the first marks of distinction, and I regret that I feel any reluctance to render you the liberal tribute you deserve. But I reverence humanity, and would not wish to pour a blush upon the cheeks of its advocates. Were I inclined to make a satire upon the species I would attempt a faithful description of your heart. It is hard to conceive, in theory, one of more finished depravity. There are some men whose vices are blended with qualities that cast a lustre upon them, and force us to admire while we detest! Yours are pure and unmixed, without a single solitary excellence even to serve for contrast and variety.
The defects, however, of your private character shall pass untouched. This is a field in which your personal enemies may expatiate with pleasure. I find it enough to consider you in a public capacity.
The station of a member of C——ss is the most illustrious and important of any I am able to conceive. He is to be regarded not only as a legislator, but as a founder of an empire. A man of virtue and ability, dignified with so precious a trust, would rejoice that fortune had given him birth at a time, and placed him in circumstances, so favorable for promoting human happiness. He would esteem it not more the duty than the privilege and ornament of his office to do good to all mankind. From this commanding eminence he would look down with contempt upon every mean or interested pursuit.
To form useful alliances abroad—to establish a wise government at home—to improve the internal resources and finances of the nation—would be the generous objects of his care. He would not allow his attention to be diverted from these to intrigue for personal connections to confirm his own influence; nor would he be able to reconcile it, either to the delicacy of his honor or to the dignity of his pride, to confound in the same person the representative of the commonwealth and the little member of a trading company. Anxious for the permanent power and prosperity of the state, he would labor to perpetuate the union and harmony of the several parts. He would not meanly court a temporary importance by patronizing the narrow views of local interest, or by encouraging dissensions either among the people or in C——ss. In council or debate he would discover the candor of a statesman zealous for truth, and the integrity of a patriot studious of the public welfare; not the cavilling petulance of an attorney contending for the triumph of an opinion, nor the perverse duplicity of a partisan devoted to the service of a cabal. Despising the affectation of superior wisdom, he would prove the extent of his capacity by foreseeing evils, and contriving expedients to prevent or remedy them. He would not expose the weak sides of the States to find an opportunity of displaying his own discernment by magnifying the follies and mistakes of others. In his transactions with individuals, whether foreigners or countrymen, his conduct would be guided by the sincerity of a man, and the politeness of a gentleman; not by the temporizing flexibility of a courtier, nor the fawning complaisance of a sycophant.
You will not be at a loss, sir, in what part of this picture to look for your own resemblance; nor have I the least apprehension that you will mistake it on the affirmative side. The happy indifference with which you view those qualities most esteemed for their usefulness to society will preserve you from the possibility of an illusion of this kind. Content with the humble merit of possessing qualities useful only to yourself, you will contemplate your own image on the opposite side with all the satisfaction of conscious deformity.
It frequently happens that the excess of one selfish passion either defeats its own end, or counteracts another. This, if I am not mistaken, is your case. The love of money and the love of power are the predominating ingredients of your mind; cunning, the characteristic of your understanding. This has hitherto carried you successfully through life, and has alone raised you to the exterior consideration you enjoy. The natural consequence of success is temerity. It has now proceeded one step too far, and precipitated you into measures from the consequence of which you will not easily extricate yourself. Your avarice will be fatal to your ambition. I have too good an opinion of the sense and spirit, to say nothing of the virtue, of your countrymen, to believe they will permit you any longer to abuse their confidence or trample upon their honor. Admirably fitted in many respects for the meridian of St. James, you might there make the worthy representative of a venal borough, but you ought not to be suffered to continue to sully the majesty of the people in an American C——ss.
It is a mark of comparison, to which you are not entitled, to advise you by a timely and voluntary retreat to avoid the ignominy of a formal dismission. Your career has held out as long as you could have hoped. It is time you should cease to personate the fictitious character you have assumed, and appear what you really are. Lay aside the mask of patriotism, and assert your station among the honorable tribe of speculators and projectors. Cultivate a close alliance with your——and your——,the accomplices and instruments of your guilt, and console yourself for the advantage you have lost, by indulging your genius without restraint in all the forms and varieties of fashionable peculation.
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE CONSTITUTION
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE CONSTITUTION
HAMILTON TO JAMES DUANE.
September 3, 1780.
Agreeably to your request, and my promise, I sit down to give you my ideas of the defects of our present system, and the changes necessary to save us from ruin. They may, perhaps, be the reveries of a projector, rather than the sober views of a politician. You will judge of them, and make what use you please of them.
The fundamental defect is a want of power in Congress. It is hardly worth while to show in what this consists, as it seems to be universally acknowledged; or to point out how it has happened, as the only question is how to remedy it. It may, however, be said, that it has originated from three causes: an excess of the spirit of liberty, which has made the particular States show a jealousy of all power not in their own hands,—and this jealousy has led them to exercise a right of judging in the last resort of the measures recommended by Congress, and of acting according to their own opinions of their propriety, or necessity; a diffidence, in Congress, of their own powers, by which they have been timid and indecisive in their resolutions, constantly making concessions to the States, till they have scarcely left themselves the shadow of power; a want of sufficient means at their disposal to answer the public exigencies, and of vigor to draw forth those means, which have occasioned them to depend on the States individually to fulfil their engagements with the army,—the consequence of which has been to ruin their influence and credit with the army, to establish its dependence on each State separately, rather than on them—that is, rather than on the whole collectively.
It may be pleaded that Congress had never any definite powers granted them, and of course could exercise none, could do nothing more than recommend. The manner in which Congress was appointed would warrant, and the public good required that they should have considered themselves as vested with full power to preserve the republic from harm. They have done many of the highest acts of sovereignty, which were always cheerfully submitted to: The declaration of independence, the declaration of war, the levying of an army, creating a navy, emitting money, making alliances with foreign powers, appointing a dictator, etc. All these implications of a complete sovereignty were never disputed, and ought to have been a standard for the whole conduct of administration. Undefined powers are discretionary powers, limited only by the object for which they were given; in the present case the independence and freedom of America. The Confederation made no difference, for as it has not been generally adopted, it had no operation. But from what I recollect of it, Congress have even descended from the authority which the spirit of that act gives them, while the particular States have no further attended to it than as it suited their pretensions and convenience. It would take too much time to enter into particular instances, each of which separately might appear inconsiderable, but united are of serious import. I only mean to remark, not to censure.
But the Confederation itself is defective, and requires to be altered. It is neither fit for war nor peace. The idea of an uncontrollable sovereignty in each State over its internal police will defeat the other powers given to Congress, and make our union feeble and precarious. There are instances without number where acts, necessary for the general good, and which rise out of the powers given to Congress, must interfere with the internal police of the States; and there are as many instances in which the particular States, by arrangements of internal police, can effectually, though indirectly, counteract the arrangements of Congress. You have already had examples of this, for which I refer you to your own memory.
The Confederation gives the States, individually, too much influence in the affairs of the army. They should have nothing to do with it. The entire formation and disposal of our military forces ought to belong to Congress. It is an essential cement of the union; and it ought to be the policy of Congress to destroy all ideas of State attachments in the army, and make it look up wholly to them. For this purpose all appointments, promotions, and provisions, whatsoever, ought to be made by them. It may be apprehended that this may be dangerous to liberty. But nothing appears more evident to me than that we run much greater risk of having a weak and disunited federal government, than one which will be able to usurp upon the rights of the people.
Already some of the lines of the army would obey their States in opposition to Congress, notwithstanding the pains we have taken to preserve the unity of the army. If any thing would hinder this it would be the personal influence of the General—a melancholy and mortifying consideration.
The forms of our State constitutions must always give them great weight in our affairs, and will make it too difficult to bend them to the pursuit of a common interest, too easy to oppose whatever they do not like, and to form partial combinations subversive of the general one. There is a wide difference between our situation and that of an empire under one simple form of government, distributed into counties, provinces, or districts, which have no Legislatures, but merely magistratical bodies to execute the laws of a common sovereign. Here the danger is that the sovereign will have too much power, and oppress the parts of which it is composed. In our case, that of an empire composed of confederated States, each with a government completely organized within itself, having all the means to draw its subjects to a close dependence on itself, the danger is directly the reverse. It is that the common sovereign will not have power sufficient to unite the different members together, and direct the common forces to the interest and happiness of the whole.
The leagues among the old Grecian republics are a proof of this. They were continually at war with each other, and for want of union fell a prey to their neighbors. They frequently held general councils; but their resolutions were no further observed than as they suited the interests and inclinations of all the parties, and at length they sank entirely into contempt.
The Swiss Cantons are another proof of the doctrine. They have had wars with each other, which would have been fatal to them, had not the different powers in their neighborhood been too jealous of one another, and too equally matched, to suffer either to take advantage of their quarrels. That they have remained so long united at all, is to be attributed to their weakness, to their poverty, and to the causes just mentioned. These ties will not exist in America; a little time hence some of the States will be powerful empires; and we are so remote from other nations, that we shall have all the leisure and opportunity we can wish to cut each other's throats.
The Germanic corps might also be cited as an example in favor of the position.
The United Provinces may be thought to be one against it. But the family of the Stadtholders, whose authority is interwoven with the whole government, has been a strong link of union between them. Their physical necessities, and the habits founded upon them, have contributed to it. Each province is too inconsiderable, by itself, to undertake any thing. An analysis of their present constitutions would show that they have many ties which would not exist in ours, and that they are by no means a proper model for us.
Our own experience should satisfy us. We have felt the difficulty of drawing out the resources of the country, and inducing the States to combine in equal exertions for the common cause.
The ill success of our last attempt is striking. Some have done a great deal; others little, or scarcely any thing. The disputes about boundaries, etc., testify how flattering a prospect we have of future tranquillity, if we do not frame, in time, a confederacy capable of deciding the differences and compelling the obedience of the respective members.
The Confederation, too, gives the power of the purse too entirely to the State Legislatures. It should provide perpetual funds, in the disposal of Congress, by a land tax, poll tax, or the like. All imposts upon commerce ought to be laid by Congress, and appropriated to their use. For, without certain revenues, a government can have no power. That power which holds the purse - strings absolutely, must rule. This seems to be a medium which, without making Congress altogether independent, will tend to give reality to its authority.
Another defect in our system is want of method and energy in the administration. This has partly resulted from the other defect; but in a great degree from prejudice, and the want of a proper executive. Congress have kept the power too much in their own hands, and have meddled too much with details of every sort. Congress is, properly, a deliberative corps, and it forgets itself when it attempts to play the executive. It is impossible such a body, numerous as it is, and constantly fluctuating, can ever act with sufficient decision or with system. Two thirds of the members, one half the time, cannot know what has gone before them, or what connection the subject in hand has to what has been transacted on former occasions. The members who have been more permanent, will only give information that promotes the side they espouse in the present case, and will as often mislead as enlighten. The variety of business must distract, and the proneness of every assembly to debate must at all times delay.
Lately, Congress, convinced of these inconveniences, have gone into the measure of appointing Boards. But this is, in my opinion, a bad plan.
A single man in each department of the administration would be greatly preferable. It would give us a chance of more knowledge, more activity, more responsibility, and, of course, more zeal and attention. Boards partake of a part of the inconveniences of larger assemblies. Their decisions are slower, their energy less, their responsibility more diffused. They will not have the same abilities and knowledge as an administration by single men. Men of the first pretensions will not so readily engage in them, because they will be less conspicuous, of less importance, have less opportunity of distinguishing themselves. The members of Boards will take less pains to inform themselves and arrive to eminence, because they have fewer motives to do it. All these reasons conspire to give a preference to the plan of vesting the great executive departments of the State in the hands of individuals. As these men will be, of course, at all times under the direction of Congress, we shall blend the advantages of a monarchy and republic in our constitution.
A question has been made, whether single men could be found to undertake these offices. I think they could, because there would be then every thing to excite the ambition of candidates. But, in order to effect this, Congress, by their manner of appointing them, and the line of duty marked out, must show that they are in earnest in making these officers officers of real trust and importance.
I fear a little vanity has stood in the way of these arrangements, as though they would lessen the importance of Congress and leave them nothing to do. But they would have precisely the same rights and powers as heretofore, happily disencumbered of the detail. They would have to inspect the conduct of their ministers, deliberate upon their plans, originate others for the public good; only observing this rule—that they ought to consult their ministers, and get all the information and advice they could from them, before they entered into any new measures or made changes in the old.
A third defect is the fluctuating constitution of our army. This has been a pregnant source of evil; all our military misfortunes, three fourths of our civil embarrassments, are to be ascribed to it. The General has so fully enumerated the mischiefs of it, in a letter of 20 August, 1780, to Congress, that I could only repeat what he has said, and will therefore refer you to that letter.
The imperfect and unequal provision made for the army is a fourth defect, which you will find delineated in the same letter. Without a speedy change the army must dissolve. It is now a mob, rather than an army; without clothing, without pay, without provision, without morals, without discipline. We begin to hate the country for its neglect of us. The country begin to hate us for our oppressions of them. Congress have long been jealous of us. We have now lost all confidence in them, and give the worst construction to all they do. Held together by the slenderest ties, we are ripening for a dissolution.
The present mode of supplying the army, by State purchases, is not one of the least considerable defects of our system. It is too precarious a dependence, because the States will never be sufficiently impressed with our necessities. Each will make its own ease a primary object, the supply of the army a secondary one. The variety of channels through which the business is transacted will multiply the number of persons employed and the opportunities of embezzling public money. From the popular spirit on which most of the governments turn, the State agents will be men of less character and ability, nor will there be so rigid a responsibility among them as there might easily be among those in the employ of the Continent; of course, not so much diligence, care, or economy. Very little of the money raised in the several States will go into the Continental treasury, on pretence that it is all exhausted in providing the quotas of supplies; and the public will be without funds for the other demands of government. The expense will be ultimately much greater and the advantages much smaller. We actually feel the insufficiency of this plan, and have reason to dread under it a ruinous extremity of want.
These are the principal defects in the present system that now occur to me. There are many inferior ones in the organization of particular departments, and many errors of administration, which might be pointed out, but the task would be troublesome and tedious; and if we had once remedied those I have mentioned, the others would not be attended with much difficulty.
I shall now propose the remedies which appear to me applicable to our circumstances, and necessary to extricate our affairs from their present deplorable situation.
The first step must be to give Congress powers competent to the public exigencies. This may happen in two ways: one by resuming and exercising the discretionary powers I suppose to have been originally vested in them for the safety of the States, and resting their conduct on the candor of their countrymen and the necessity of the conjuncture; the other, by calling immediately a Convention of all the States, with full authority to conclude finally upon a General Confederation, stating to them beforehand, explicitly, the evils arising from a want of power in Congress, and the impossibility of supporting the contest on its present footing, that the delegates may come possessed of proper sentiments as well as proper authority to give efficacy to the meeting. Their commission should include a right of vesting Congress with the whole, or a proportion, of the unoccupied lands, to be employed for the purpose of raising a revenue; reserving the jurisdiction to the States by whom they are granted.
The first plan, I expect, will be thought too bold an expedient by the generality of Congress; and, indeed, their practice hitherto has so riveted the opinion of their want of power, that the success of this experiment may very well be doubted.
I see no objection to the other mode that has any weight in competition with the reasons for it. The Convention should assemble the first of November next. The sooner the better. Our disorders are too violent to admit of a common or lingering remedy. The reasons for which I require them to be vested with plenipotentiary authority are that the business may suffer no delay in the execution, and may, in reality, come to effect. A Convention may agree upon a Confederation; the States individually hardly ever will. We must have one at all events, and a vigorous one, if we mean to succeed in the contest and be happy hereafter. As I said before, to engage the States to comply with this mode Congress ought to confess to them, plainly and unanimously, the impracticability of supporting our affairs on the present footing and without a solid coercive union. I ask that the Convention should have a power of vesting the whole, or a part, of the unoccupied lands in Congress; because it is necessary that body should have some property as a fund for the arrangements of finance; and I know of no other kind that can be given them.
The Confederation, in my opinion, should give Congress complete sovereignty, except as to that part of internal police which relates to the rights of property and life among individuals, and to raising money by internal taxes. It is necessary that every thing belonging to this should be regulated by the State Legislatures. Congress should have complete sovereignty in all that relates to war, peace, trade, finance; and to the management of foreign affairs; the right of declaring war; of raising armies, officering, paying them, directing their motions in every respect; of equipping fleets, and doing the same with them; of building fortifications, arsenals, magazines, etc., etc.; of making peace on such conditions as they think proper; of regulating trade, determining with what countries it shall be carried on; granting indulgences; laying prohibitions on all the articles of export or import; imposing duties; granting bounties and premiums for raising, exporting or importing, and applying to their own use, the product of these duties—only giving credit to the States on whom they are raised in the general account of revenues and expenses; instituting Admiralty Courts, etc.; of coining money; establishing banks on such terms, and with such privileges as they think proper; appropriating funds, and doing whatever else relates to the operations of finance; transacting every thing with foreign nations; making alliances, offensive and defensive, treaties of commerce, etc., etc.
The Confederation should provide certain perpetual revenues, productive and easy of collection; a land tax, poll tax, or the like; which, together with the duties on trade, and the unlocated lands, would give Congress a substantial existence, and a stable foundation for their schemes of finance. What more supplies were necessary should be occasionally demanded of the States, in the present mode of quotas.
The second step I would recommend is, that Congress should instantly appoint the following great officers of State: A Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a President of War, a President of Marine, a Financier, a President of Trade. Instead of this last, a Board of Trade may be preferable, as the regulations of trade are slow and gradual, and require prudence and experience more than other qualities, for which Boards are very well adapted.
Congress should choose for these offices men of the first abilities, property, and character in the Continent, and such as have had the best opportunities of being acquainted with the several branches. General Schuyler, whom you mentioned, would make an excellent President of War; General M’Dougall a very good President of Marine. Mr. Robert Morris would have many things in his favor for the department of finance. He could, by his own personal influence, give great weight to the measures he should adopt. I dare say men, equally capable, may be found for the other departments.
I know not if it would not be a good plan to let the Financier be President of the Board of Trade; but he should only have a casting voice in determining questions there. There is a connection between trade and finance which ought to make the director of one acquainted with the other; but the Financier should not direct the affairs of trade, because, for the sake of acquiring reputation by increasing the revenues, he might adopt measures that would depress trade. In what relates to finance he should be alone.
These officers should have nearly the same powers and functions as those in France analogous to them; and each should be chief in his department, with subordinate Boards, composed of assistants, clerks, etc., to execute his orders.
In my opinion, a plan of this kind would be of inconceivable utility to our affairs; its benefits would be very speedily felt. It would give new life and energy to the operations of government. Business would be conducted with dispatch, method, and system. A million of abuses now existing would be corrected, and judicious plans would be formed and executed for the public good.
Another step of immediate necessity is to recruit the army for the war, or at least for three years. This must be done by a mode similar to that which is practised in Sweden. There the inhabitants are thrown into classes of sixteen, and when the sovereign wants men each of these classes must furnish one. They raise a fixed sum of money, and if one of the class is willing to become a soldier he receives the money and offers himself a volunteer. If none is found to do this a draught is made, and he on whom the lot falls receives the money and is obliged to serve.
The minds of the people are prepared for a thing of this kind. The heavy bounties they have been obliged to pay for men to serve a few months must have disgusted them with this mode, and made them desirous of another that will, once for all, answer the public purpose and obviate a repetition of the demand. It ought, by all means, to be attempted; and Congress should frame a general plan, and press the execution upon the States.
When the Confederation comes to be framed, it ought to provide for this by a fundamental law, and hereafter there would be no doubt of the success.
But we cannot now wait for this. We want to replace the men whose terms of service will expire the first of January; for then, without this, we shall have no army remaining, and the enemy may do what they please. The General, in his letter already quoted, has assigned the most substantial reasons for paying immediate attention to this point.
Congress should endeavor, both upon their credit in Europe and by every possible exertion in this country, to provide clothing for their officers, and should abolish the whole system of State supplies. The making good the depreciation of the currency, and all other compensations to the army, should be immediately taken up by Congress, and not left to the States. If they would have the accounts of depreciation liquidated, and governmental certificates given for what is due, in specie, or an equivalent to specie, it would give satisfaction; appointing periodical settlements for future depreciation.
The placing the officers upon half-pay during life would be a great stroke of policy, and would give Congress a stronger tie upon them than any thing else they can do. No man that reflects a moment but will prefer a permanent provision of this kind to any temporary compensation. Nor is it opposed to economy; the difference between this and between what has already been done will be insignificant. The benefit of it to the widows should be confined to those whose husbands die during the war. As to the survivors, not more than one half, on the usual calculation of men's lives, will exceed the seven years for which the half-pay is already established. Besides this, whatever may be the visionary speculations of some men at this time, we shall find it indispensable, after the war, to keep on foot a considerable body of troops, and all the officers, retained for this purpose must be deducted out of the half-pay list. If any one will take the pains to calculate the expense of these principles, I am persuaded he will find the addition of expense, from the establishment proposed, by no means a national object.
The advantages of securing the attachment of the army to Congress, and binding them to the service by substantial ties, are immense. We should then have discipline,—an army in reality as well as in name. Congress would then have a solid basis of authority and consequence; for, to me, it is an axiom, that in our constitution an army is essential to the American Union.
The providing of supplies is the pivot of every thing else (though a well-constituted army would, not in a small degree, conduce to this by giving consistency and weight to government). There are four ways, all of which must be united: a foreign loan; heavy pecuniary taxes; a tax in kind; a bank founded on public and private credit.
As to a foreign loan, I dare say Congress are doing every thing in their power to obtain it. The most effectual way will be to tell France that without it we must make terms with Great Britain. This must be done with plainness and firmness, but with respect, and without petulance; not as a menace, but as a candid declaration of our circumstances.
We need not fear to be deserted by France. Her interest and honor are too deeply involved in our fate, and she can make no possible compromise. She can assist us if she is convinced it is absolutely necessary, either by lending us herself, or by becoming our surety, or by influencing Spain. It has been to me astonishing how any man could have doubted, at any period of our affairs, of the necessity of a foreign loan. It was self-evident that we had not a fund of wealth in this country capable of affording revenues equal to the expenses. We must then create artificial revenues, or borrow. The first was done; but it ought to have been foreseen that the expedient could not last, and we should have provided in time for its failure.
Here was an error of Congress. I have good reason to believe that measures were not taken in earnest early enough to procure a loan abroad. I give you my honor that from our first outset. I thought as I do now, and wished for a foreign loan, not only because I foresaw it would be essential, but because I considered it as a tie upon the nation from which it was derived, and as a means to prop our cause in Europe.
Concerning the necessity of heavy pecuniary taxes, I need say nothing, as it is a point in which everybody is agreed. Nor is there any danger that the product of any taxes raised in this way will over-burthen the people or exceed the wants of the public. Indeed, if all the paper in circulation were drawn annually into the treasury, it would neither do one nor the other.
As to a tax in kind, the necessity of it results from this principle: that the money in circulation is not a sufficient representative of the productions of the country, and consequently no revenues raised from it as a medium can be a competent representative of that part of the products of the country which it is bound to contribute to the support of the public. The public, therefore, to obtain its due, or satisfy its just demands and its wants, must call for a part of those products themselves. This is done in all those countries which are not commercial,—in Russia, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, etc., and is peculiarly necessary in our case.
Congress, in calling for specific supplies, seem to have had this in view, but their intention has not been answered. The States in general have undertaken to furnish supplies by purchase, a mode, as I have observed, attended with every inconvenience, and subverting the principle on which the supplies were demanded—the insufficiency of our circulating medium as a representative for the labor and commodities of the country. It is therefore necessary that Congress should be more explicit, should form the outlines of a plan for a tax in kind, and recommend it to the States as a measure of absolute necessity.
The general idea I have of a plan is, that a respectable man should be appointed by the State, in each county, to collect the taxes and form magazines; that Congress should have, in each State, an officer to superintend the whole; and that the State collectors should be subordinate and responsible to them. This Continental superintendent might be subject to the general direction of the Quarter-master-General, or not, as might be deemed best; but if not subject to him, he should be obliged to make monthly returns to the President of War, who should instruct him what proportion to deliver to the Quartermaster-General. It may be necessary that the superintendents should sometimes have power to dispose of the articles in their possession, on public account; for it would happen that the contributions in places remote from the army could not be transported to the theatre of operations without too great expense, in which case it would be eligible to dispose of them, and purchase, with the money so raised, in the countries near the immediate scene of war.
I know the objections which may be raised to this plan,—its tendency to discourage industry, and the like. But necessity calls for it. We cannot proceed without it; and less evils must give place to greater. It is, besides, practiced with success in other countries, and why not in this? It may be said, the examples cited are from nations under despotic governments, and that the same would not be practicable with us. But I contend, where the public good is evidently the object more may be effected in governments like ours, than in any other. It has been a constant remark that free countries have ever paid the heaviest taxes. The obedience of a free people to general laws, however hard they bear, is ever more perfect than that of slaves to the arbitrary will of a prince. To this may be added, that Sweden was always a free government, and is so now, in a great degree, notwithstanding the late revolution.
How far it may be practicable to erect a bank on the joint credit of the public and of individuals can only be certainly determined by the experiment. But it is of so much importance, that the experiment ought to be fully tried. When I saw the subscriptions going on to the bank established for supplying the army, I was in hopes it was only the embryo of a more permanent and extensive establishment. But I have reason to believe I shall be disappointed. It does not seem to be at all conducted on the true principles of a bank.
The directors of it are purchasing with their stock instead of bank-notes, as I expected, in consequence of which it must turn out to be a mere subscription of a particular sum of money for a particular purpose.
Paper credit never was long supported in any country, on a national scale, where it was not founded on a joint basis of public and private credit. An attempt to establish it on public credit alone in France, under the auspices of Mr. Law, had nearly ruined the kingdom. We have seen the effects of it in America, and every successive experiment proves the futility of the attempt. Our new money is depreciating almost as fast as the old, though it has, in some States, as real funds as paper-money ever had. The reason is that the moneyed men have not an immediate interest to uphold its credit. They may even, in many ways, find it their interest to undermine it. The only certain manner to obtain a permanent paper credit is to engage the moneyed interest immediately in it, by making them contribute the whole or part of the stock, and giving them the whole or part of the profits.
The invention of banks on the modern principle, originated in Venice. There the public and a company of moneyed men are mutually concerned. The Bank of England unites public authority and faith with private credit, and hence we see what a vast fabric of paper credit is raised on a visionary basis. Had it not been for this, England would never have found sufficient funds to carry on her wars; but with the help of this, she has done, and is doing, wonders. The Bank of Amsterdam is on a similar foundation.
And why can we not have an American Bank? Are our moneyed men less enlightened to their own interest, or less enterprising in the pursuit? I believe the fault is in government, which does not exert itself to engage them in such a scheme. It is true the individuals in America are not very rich, but this would not prevent their instituting a bank; it would only prevent its being done with such ample funds as in other countries. Have they not sufficient confidence in the government, and in the issue of the cause? Let the government endeavor to inspire that confidence, by adopting the measures I have recommended, or others equivalent to them. Let it exert itself to procure a solid confederation; to establish a good plan of executive administration; to form a permanent military force; to obtain, at all events, a foreign loan. If these things were in a train of vigorous execution, it would give a new spring to our affairs; government would recover its respectability, and individuals would renounce their diffidence.
The object I should propose to myself, in the first instance, from a bank, would be an auxiliary mode of supplies, for which purpose contracts should be made between government and the bank, on terms liberal and advantageous to the latter. Every thing should be done, in the first instance, to encourage the bank. After it gets well established it will take care of itself, and government may make the best terms it can for itself.
The first step to establishing the bank will be to engage a number of moneyed men of influence to relish the project and make it a business. The subscribers to that lately established are the fittest persons that can be found, and their plan may be interwoven.
The outlines of my plan would be to open subscriptions in all the States, for the stock, which we will suppose to be one million of pounds. Real property of every kind, as well as specie, should be deemed good stock, but at least a fourth part of the subscription should be in specie or plate. There should be one great company, in three divisions: in Virginia, Philadelphia, and at Boston; or two, at Philadelphia and Boston. The Bank should have a right to issue bank-notes, bearing two per cent. interest, for the whole of their stock, but not to exceed it. These notes may be payable every three months or oftener, and the faith of government must be pledged for the support of the bank. It must therefore have a right, from time to time, to inspect its operations, and must appoint inspectors for the purpose.
The advantages of the bank may consist in this: in the profits of the contracts made with government, which should bear interest to be annually paid in specie; in the loan of money at interest, say six per cent.; in purchasing lives by annuities, as practised in England, etc. The benefit resulting to the company is evident from the consideration, that they may employ in circulation a great deal more money than they have specie in stock, on the credit of the real property which they will have in other use. This money will be employed either in fulfilling their contracts with the public, by which also they will gain a profit, or in loans at an advantageous interest, or in annuities.
The bank may be allowed to purchase plate and bullion, and coin money, allowing government a part of the profit. I should make the bank-notes bear interest, in order to obtain a readier currency, and to induce the holders to prefer them to specie, so as to prevent too great a run upon the bank, at any time, beyond its ability to pay.
If government can obtain a foreign loan, it should lend to the bank, on easy terms, to extend its influence and facilitate a compliance with its engagements. If government could engage the States to raise a sum of money in specie, to be deposited in bank in the same manner, it would be of the greatest consequence. If government could prevail on the enthusiasm of the people to make a contribution in plate for the same purpose, it would be a masterstroke. Things of this kind sometimes succeed in popular contests, and if undertaken with address I should not despair of its success, but I should not be sanguine.
The bank may be instituted for a term of years by way of trial, and the particular privilege of coining money be for a term still shorter. A temporary transfer of it to a particular company can have no inconvenience, as the government are in no condition to improve this resource, nor could it in our circumstances be an object to them, though with the industry of a knot of individuals it might be a valuable one to them.
A bank of this kind, even in its commencement, would answer the most valuable purposes to government and to the proprietors; in its progress, the advantages will exceed calculation. It will promote commerce by furnishing a more extensive medium, which we greatly want in our circumstances. I mean a more extensive valuable medium. We have an enormous nominal one at this time, but it is only a name.
In the present unsettled state of things in this country we can hardly draw inferences from what has happened in others, otherwise I should be certain of the success of this scheme, but I think it has enough in its favor to be worthy of trial.
I have only skimmed the surface of the different subjects I have introduced. Should the plans recommended come into contemplation in earnest, and you desire my further thoughts, I will endeavor to give them more form and particularity. I am persuaded a solid confederation, a permanent army, and a reasonable prospect of subsisting it, would give us treble consideration in Europe, and produce a peace this winter.
If a Convention is called, the minds of all the States and the people ought to be prepared to receive its determinations by sensible and popular writings, which should conform to the views of Congress. There are epochs in human affairs when novelty even is useful. If a general opinion prevails that the old way is bad, whether true or false, and this obstructs or relaxes the operations of the public service, a change is necessary, if it be but for the sake of change. This is exactly the case now. It is a universal sentiment that our present system is a bad one, and that things do not go right on this account. The measure of a Convention would revive the hopes of the people and give a new direction to their passions, which may be improved in carrying points of substantial utility. The Eastern States have already pointed out this mode to Congress; they ought to take the hint and anticipate the others.
And, in future, my dear sir, two things let me recommend as fundamental rules for the conduct of Congress: to attach the army to them by every motive; to maintain an air of authority (not domineering) in all their measures with the States. The manner in which a thing is done has more influence than is commonly imagined. Men are governed by opinion; this opinion is as much influenced by appearances as by realities. If a government appears to be confident of its own powers, it is the surest way to inspire the same confidence in others. If it is diffident, it may be certain there will be a still greater diffidence in others; and that its authority will not only be distrusted, controverted, but contemned.
I wish, too, Congress would always consider that a kindness consists as much in the manner as in the thing. The best things done hesitatingly and with an ill grace lose their effect, and produce disgust rather than satisfaction or gratitude. In what Congress have at any time done for the army, they have commonly been too late. They have seemed to yield to importunity rather than to sentiments of justice or to a regard to the accommodation of their troops. An attention to this idea is of more importance than it may be thought. I, who have seen all the workings and progress of the present discontents, am convinced that a want of this has not been among the most inconsiderable causes.
You will perceive, my dear sir, this letter is hastily written and with a confidential freedom; not as to a member of Congress whose feelings may be sore at the prevailing clamors, but as to a friend who is in a situation to remedy public disorders, who wishes for nothing so much as truth, and who is desirous of information even from those less capable of judging than himself. I have not even time to correct and copy, and only enough to add that I am, very truly and affectionately, dear sir,
Your most obedient servant,
Published by Loudon's New York Packet Company
July 12, 1781.
I send you the first number of a series of papers which I intend to publish on matters of the greatest importance to these States. I hope they will be read with as much candor and attention as the object of them deserves, and that no conclusions will be drawn till these are fully developed.
I am sir,
Your most ob’t humble servant,
It would be the extreme of vanity in us not to be sensible that we began this revolution with very vague and confined notions of the practical business of government. To the greater part of us it was a novelty; of those who under the former constitution had had opportunities of acquiring experience, a large proportion adhered to the opposite side, and the remainder can only be supposed to have possessed ideas adapted to the narrow colonial sphere in which they had been accustomed to move, not of that enlarged kind suited to the government of an independent nation.
There were, no doubt, exceptions to these observations,—men in all respects qualified for conducting the public affairs with skill and advantage. But their number was small; they were not always brought forward in our councils; and when they were, their influence was too commonly borne down by the prevailing torrent of ignorance and prejudice.
On a retrospect, however, of our transactions, under the disadvantages with which we commenced, it is perhaps more to be wondered at that we have done so well than that we have not done better. There are, indeed, some traits in our conduct as conspicuous for sound policy as others for magnanimity. But, on the other hand, it must also be confessed, there have been many false steps, many chimerical projects and utopian speculations, in the management of our civil as well as of our military affairs. A part of these were the natural effects of the spirit of the times, dictated by our situation. An extreme jealousy of power is the attendant on all popular revolutions, and has seldom been without its evils. It is to this source we are to trace many of the fatal mistakes which have so deeply endangered the common cause; particularly that defect which will be the object of these remarks—a want of power in Congress.
The present Congress, respectable for abilities and integrity, by experience convinced of the necessity of change, are preparing several important articles, to be submitted to the respective States, for augmenting the powers of the Confederation. But though there is hardly at this time a man of information in America who will not acknowledge, as a general proposition, that in its present form it is unequal either to a vigorous prosecution of the war or to the preservation of the Union in peace; yet when the principle comes to be applied to practice, there seems not to be the same agreement in the modes of remedying the defect; and it is to be feared, from a disposition which appeared in some of the States on a late occasion, that the salutary intentions of Congress may meet with more delay and opposition than the critical posture of the States will justify.
It will be attempted to show, in a course of papers, what ought to be done, and the mischiefs of a contrary policy.
In the first stages of the controversy, it was excusable to err. Good intentions, rather than great skill, were to have been expected from us. But we have now had sufficient time for reflection, and experience as ample as unfortunate, to rectify our errors. To persist in them becomes disgraceful, and even criminal, and belies that character of good sense, and a quick discernment of our interests, which, in spite of our mistakes, we have been hitherto allowed. It will prove that our sagacity is limited to interests of inferior moment, and that we are incapable of those enlightened and liberal views necessary to make us a great and a flourishing people.
History is full of examples where, in contests for liberty, a jealousy of power has either defeated the attempts to recover or preserve it, in the first instance, or has afterward subverted it by clogging government with too great precautions for its felicity, or by leaving too wide a door for sedition and popular licentiousness. In a government framed for durable liberty, not less regard must be paid to giving the magistrate a proper degree of authority to make and execute the laws with rigor, than to guard against encroachments upon the rights of the community. As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both, eventually, to the ruin of the people. These are maxims well known, but never sufficiently attended to, in adjusting the frames of governments. Some momentary interest or passion is sure to give a wrong bias, and pervert the most favorable opportunities.
No friend to order or to rational liberty can read without pain and disgust the history of the Commonwealths of Greece. Generally speaking, they were a constant scene of the alternate tyranny of one part of the people over the other, or of a few usurping demagogues over the whole. Most of them had been originally governed by kings, whose despotism (the natural disease of monarchy) had obliged their subjects to murder, expel, depose, or reduce them to a nominal existence, and institute popular governments. In these governments, that of Sparta excepted, the jealousy of power hindered the people from trusting out of their own hands a competent authority to maintain the repose and stability of the Commonwealth; whence originated the frequent revolutions and civil broils with which they were distracted. This, and the want of a solid federal union to restrain the ambition and rivalship of the different cities, after a rapid succession of bloody wars, ended in their total loss of liberty, and subjugation to foreign powers.
In comparison of our governments with those of the ancient republics, we must, without hesitation, give the preference to our own; because every power with us is exercised by representation, not in tumultuary assemblies of the collective body of the people, where the art or impudence of the Orator or Tribune, rather than the utility or justice of the measure, could seldom fail to govern. Yet, whatever may be the advantage on our side in such a comparison, men who estimate the value of institutions, not from prejudices of the moment, but from experience and reason, must be persuaded that the same jealousy of power has prevented our reaping all the advantages from the examples of other nations which we ought to have done, and has rendered our constitutions in many respects feeble and imperfect.
Perhaps the evil is not very great in respect to our State constitutions; for, notwithstanding their imperfections, they may for some time be made to operate in such a manner as to answer the purposes of the common defence and the maintenance of order and they seem to have, in themselves, and in the progress of society among us, the seeds of improvement.
But this is not the case with respect to the Federal Government; if it is too weak at first, it will continually grow weaker. The ambition and local interests of the respective members will be constantly undermining and usurping upon its prerogatives till it comes to a dissolution, if a partial combination of some of the more powerful ones does not bring it to a more speedy and violent end.
July 19, 1781.
In a single state where the sovereign power is exercised by delegation, whether it be a limited monarchy or a republic, the danger most commonly is, that the sovereign will become too powerful for his constituents. In federal governments, where different states are represented in a general council, the danger is on the other side—that the members will be an overmatch for the common head; or, in other words, that it will not have sufficient influence and authority to secure the obedience of the several parts of the confederacy.
In a single state the sovereign has the whole legislative power as well as the command of the national forces—of course an immediate control over the persons and property of the subjects; every other power is subordinate and dependent. If he undertakes to subvert the constitution, it can only be preserved by a general insurrection of the people. The magistrates of the provinces, counties, or towns into which the State is divided, having only an executive and police jurisdiction, can take no decisive measures for counteracting the first indications of tyranny; but must content themselves with the ineffectual weapon of petition and remonstrance. They cannot raise money, levy troops, nor form alliances. The leaders of the people must wait till their discontents have ripened into a general revolt, to put them in a situation to confer the powers necessary for their defence. It will always be difficult for this to take place; because the sovereign, possessing the appearance and forms of legal authority, having the forces and revenues of the state at his command, and a large party among the people besides,—which with those advantages he can hardly fail to acquire—he will too often be able to baffle the first motions of the discontented, and prevent that union and concert essential to the success of their opposition.
The security, therefore, of the public liberty must consist in such a distribution of the sovereign power, as will make it morally impossible for one part to gain an ascendency over the others, or for the whole to unite in a scheme of usurpation.
In federal governments, each member has a distinct sovereignty, makes and executes laws, imposes taxes, distributes justice, and exercises every other function of government. It has always within itself the means of revenue; and on an emergency, can levy forces. If the common sovereign should meditate or attempt any thing unfavorable to the general liberty, each member, having all the proper organs of power, can prepare for defence with celerity and vigor. Each can immediately sound the alarm to the others, and enter into leagues for mutual protection. If the combination is general, as is to be expected, the usurpers will soon find themselves without the means of recruiting their treasury or their armies; and for want of continued supplies of men and money, must, in the end, fall a sacrifice to the attempt. If the combination is not general, it will imply that some of the members are interested in that which is the cause of dissatisfaction to others, and this cannot be an attack upon the common liberty, but upon the interests of one part in favor of another part; and it will be a war between the members of the federal union with each other, not between them and the federal government. From the plainest principles of human nature, two inferences are to be drawn: one, that each member of a political confederacy will be more disposed to advance its own authority upon the ruins of that of the confederacy, than to make any improper concession in its favor, or support it in unreasonable pretensions; the other, that the subjects of each member will be more devoted in their attachments and obedience to their own particular governments, than to that of the union.
It is the temper of societies as well as of individuals to be impatient of constraint, and to prefer partial to general interest. Many cases may occur where members of a confederacy have, or seem to have, an advantage in things contrary to the good of the whole, or a disadvantage in others conducive to that end. The selfishness of every part will dispose each to believe that the public burdens are unequally apportioned, and that itself is the victim. These and other circumstances will promote a disposition for abridging the authority of the federal government; and the ambition of men in office in each state will make them glad to encourage it. They think their own consequence connected with the power of the government of which they are a part; and will endeavor to increase the one as the means of increasing the other.
The particular governments will have more empire over the minds of their subjects than the general one, because their agency will be more direct, more uniform, and more apparent. The people will be habituated to look up to them as the arbiters and guardians of their personal concerns, by which the passions of the vulgar, if not of all men, are most strongly affected; and in every difference with the confederated body, will side with them against the common sovereign.
Experience confirms the truth of these principles. The chief cities of Greece had once their council of Amphyctions, or States-general, with authority to decide and compose the differences of the several cities, and to transact many other important matters relative to the common interest and safety. At their first institution, they had great weight and credit; but never enough to preserve effectually the balance and harmony of the confederacy; and in time their decrees only served as an additional pretext to that side whose pretensions they favored. When the cities were not engaged in foreign wars, they were at perpetual variance among themselves. Sparta and Athens contended twenty-seven years for the precedence, or rather dominion, of Greece, till the former made herself mistress of the whole; and till, in subsequent struggles, having had recourse to the pernicious expedient of calling in the aid of foreign enemies, the Macedonians first and afterward the Romans became their masters.
The German Diet had formerly more authority than it now has, though like that of Greece never enough to hinder the great potentates from disturbing the repose of the empire, and mutually wasting their own territories and people.
The Helvetic League is another example. It is true it has subsisted nearly five hundred years; but in that period the cantons have had repeated and furious wars with each other, which would have made them an easy prey to their more powerful neighbors, had not the reciprocal jealousy of these prevented either from taking advantage of their dissensions. This and their poverty have hitherto saved them from total destruction, and kept them from feeling the miseries of foreign conquest, added to those of civil war. The federal government is too weak to hinder their renewal, whenever the ambition or fanaticism of the principal cantons shall be disposed to rekindle the flame. For some time past, indeed, it has been in a great measure nominal; the Protestants and Catholics have had separate diets, to manage almost all matters of importance; so that in fact, the general diet is only kept up to regulate the affairs of the common bailliages and preserve a semblance of union; and even this, it is probable would cease, did not the extreme weakness of the cantons oblige them to a kind of coalition.
If the divisions of the United Provinces have not proceeded to equal extremities, there are peculiar causes to be assigned. The authority of the Stadt-holder pervades the whole frame of the republic, and is a kind of common link by which the provinces are bound together. The jealousy of his progressive influence, in which more or less they all agree, operates as a check upon their ill-humors against one another. The inconsiderableness of each province separately, and the imminent danger to which the whole would be exposed of being overrun by their neighbors in case of disunion, is a further preservative against the phrensy of hostility; and their importance and even existence depending entirely upon frugality, industry, and commerce, peace both at home and abroad is of necessity the predominant object of their policy.
August 9, 1781.
The situation of these States is very unlike that of the United Provinces. Remote as we are from Europe, in a little time we should fancy ourselves out of the reach of attempts from abroad, and in full liberty, at our leisure and convenience, to try our strength at home. This might not happen at once, but if the Federal Government should lose its authority it would certainly follow. Political societies in close neighborhood must either be strongly united under one government, or there will infallibly exist emulations and quarrels; this is in human nature, and we have no reason to think ourselves wiser or better than other men. Some of the larger States, a small number of years hence, will be in themselves populous, rich, and powerful in all those circumstances calculated to inspire ambition and nourish ideas of separation and independence. Though it will ever be their true interest to preserve the Union, their vanity and self-importance will be very likely to overpower that motive, and make them seek to place themselves at the head of particular confederacies independent of the general one. A schism once introduced, competitions of boundary and rivalships of commerce will easily afford pretexts for war.
European powers may have many inducements for fomenting these divisions and playing us off against each other; but without such a disposition in them, if separations once take place we shall, of course, embrace different interests and connections. The particular confederacies, leaguing themselves with rival nations, will naturally be involved in their disputes, into which they will be the more readily tempted by the hope of making acquisitions upon each other and upon the colonies of the powers with whom they are respectively at enmity.
We already see symptoms of the evils to be apprehended. In the midst of a war for our existence as a nation—in the midst of dangers too serious to be trifled with, some of the States have evaded or refused compliance with the demands of Congress in points of the greatest moment to the common safety. If they act such a part at this perilous juncture, what are we to expect in a time of peace and security? Is it not to be feared that the resolutions of Congress would soon become like the decisions of the Greek Amphyctions, or like the edicts of a German Diet?
But as these evils are at a little distance, we may perhaps be insensible and short-sighted enough to disregard them. There are others that threaten our immediate safety. Our whole system is in disorder; our currency depreciated, till in many places it will hardly obtain a circulation at all; public credit at its lowest ebb; our army deficient in numbers, and unprovided with every thing; the Government, in its present condition, unable to command the means to pay, clothe, or feed their troops; the enemy making an alarming progress in the Southern States, lately in complete possession of two of them, though now in part rescued by the genius and exertions of a general without an army; a force under Cornwallis still formidable to Virginia.
We ought to blush to acknowledge that this is a true picture of our situation, when we reflect that the enemy's whole force in the United States, including their American levies and the late reinforcements, is little more than fourteen thousand effective men; that our population, by recent examination, has been found to be greater than at the commencement of the war; that the quantity of our specie has also increased; that the country abounds with all the necessaries of life, and has a sufficiency of foreign commodities, with a considerable and progressive commerce; that we have, beyond comparison, a better stock of warlike materials than when we began the contest, and an ally as willing as able to supply our further wants; and that we have on the spot five thousand auxiliary troops, paid and subsisted by that ally, to assist in our defence.
Nothing but a general disaffection of the people or mismanagement in their rulers can account for the figure we make, and for the distresses and perplexities we experience contending against so small a force.
Our enemies themselves must now be persuaded that the first is not the cause, and we know it is not. The most decided attachment of the people could alone have made them endure, without a convulsion, the successive shocks in our currency, added to the unavoidable inconveniences of war. There is perhaps not another nation in the world that would have shown equal patience and perseverance in similar circumstances. The enemy have now tried the temper of almost every part of America, and they can hardly produce in their ranks a thousand men who, without their arts and seductions, have voluntarily joined their standard. The miseries of a rigorous captivity may perhaps have added half as many more to the number of the American levies at this time in their armies. This small accession of force is the more extraordinary, as they have at some periods been apparently in the full tide of success, while every thing wore an aspect tending to infuse despondency into the people of this country. This has been remarkably the case in the Southern States.
They for a time had almost undisturbed possession of two of them, and Cornwallis, after over-running a great part of a third, after two victorious battles, only brought with him into Virginia about two hundred Tories;—in the State where he thought himself so well established, that he presumptuously ventured to assure the minister there was not a rebel left, a small body of continental troops have been so effectually seconded by the militia of that vanquished country as to have been able to capture a number of his troops more than equal to their own, and to repossess the principal part of the State.
As in the explanation of our embarrassments nothing can be alleged to the disaffection of the people, we must have recourse to the other cause—of impolicy and mismanagement in their rulers.
Where the blame of this may lie is not so much the question as what are the proper remedies, yet it may not be amiss to remark that too large a share has fallen upon Congress. That body is no doubt chargeable with mistakes, but perhaps its greatest has been too much readiness to make concessions of the powers implied in its original trust. This is partly to be attributed to an excessive complaisance to the spirit which has evidently actuated a majority of the States, a desire of monopolizing all power in themselves. Congress has been responsible for the administration of affairs, without the means of fulfilling that responsibility.
It would be too severe a reflection upon us to suppose that a disposition to make the most of the friendship of others, and to exempt ourselves from a full share of the burthens of the war, has had any part in the backwardness which has appeared in many of the States to confer powers and adopt measures adequate to the exigency. Such a sentiment would neither be wise, just, generous, nor honorable; nor do I believe the accusation would be well founded, yet our conduct makes us liable to a suspicion of this sort. It is certain, however, that too sanguine expectations from Europe have unintentionally relaxed our efforts by diverting a sense of danger, and begetting an opinion that the inequality of the contest would make every campaign the last.
We did not consider how difficult it must be to exhaust the resources of a nation circumstanced like that of Great Britain; whose government has always been distinguished for energy, and its people for enthusiasm. Nor did we in estimating the superiority of our friends make sufficient allowance for that want of concert which will ever characterize the operations of allies, or for the immense advantage to the enemy of having their forces, though inferior, under a single direction.
Finding the rest of Europe either friendly or pacific, we never calculated the contingencies which might alter that disposition; nor reflected that the death of a single prince, the change or caprice of a single minister, was capable of giving a new face to the whole system.
We are at this time more sanguine than ever. The war with the Dutch, we believe, will give such an addition of force to our side as will make the superiority irresistible. No person can dispute this, if things remain in their present state; but the extreme disparity of the contest is the very reason why this cannot be the case. The neutral powers will either effect a particular or a general accommodation, or they will take their sides. There are three suppositions to be made: one, that there will be a compromise between the United Provinces and England, for which we are certain the mediation of Austria and Russia has been offered; another, a pacification between all the belligerent powers, for which we have reason to believe the same mediation has been offered; the third, a rejection of the terms of mediation and a more general war.
Either of these suppositions is a motive for exertion. The first will place things in the same, probably in a worse, situation than before the declaration of the war against Holland. The composing of present differences may be accompanied with a revival of ancient connections; and at least would be productive of greater caution and restraint in a future intercourse with us.
The second, it is much to be dreaded, would hazard a dismemberment of a part of these States; and we are bound in honor, in duty, and in interest, to employ every effort to dispossess the enemy of what they hold. A natural basis of the negotiation with respect to this continent will be, that each party shall retain what it possesses at the conclusion of the treaty, qualified perhaps by a cession of particular points for an equivalent elsewhere. It is too delicate to dwell on the motives to this apprehension; but if such a compromise sometimes terminates the disputes of nations originally independent, it will be less extraordinary where one party was originally under the dominion of the other.
August 30, 1781
The preceding numbers are chiefly intended to confirm an opinion, already pretty generally received, that it is necessary to augment the powers of the Confederation. The principal difficulty yet remains to fix the public judgment definitely on the points which ought to compose that augmentation.
It may be pronounced with confidence that nothing short of the following articles can suffice.
1st.—The Power of Regulating Trade, comprehending a right of granting bounties and premiums by way of encouragement, of imposing duties of every kind as well for revenue as regulation, of appointing all officers of the customs, and of laying embargoes in extraordinary emergencies.
2d.—A moderate-levied tax, throughout the United States, of a specific rate per pound or per acre, granted to the Federal Government in perpetuity, and, if Congress think proper, to be levied by their own collectors.
3d.—A moderate capitation-tax on every male inhabitant above fifteen years of age, exclusive of common soldiers, common seamen, day laborers, cottagers, and paupers, to be also vested in perpetuity, and with the same condition of collection.
4th.—The disposal of all unlocated land for the benefit of the United States (so far as respects the profits of the first sale and the quit-rents), the jurisdiction remaining to the respective States in whose limits they are contained.
5th.—A certain proportion of the product of all mines discovered, or to be discovered, for the same duration, and with the same right of collection as in the second and third articles.
6th.—The appointment of all land (as well as naval) officers of every rank.
The three first articles are of IMMEDIATE NECESSITY; the three last would be of great present, but of much greater future, utility; the whole combined would give solidity and permanency to the Union.
The great defect of the Confederation is, that it gives the United States no property; or, in other words, no revenue, nor the means of acquiring it, inherent in themselves and independent on the temporary pleasure of the different members. And power without revenue, in political society, is a name. While Congress continue altogether dependent on the occasional grants of the several States, for the means of defraying the expenses of the Federal Government, it can neither have dignity, vigor, nor credit. Credit supposes specific and permanent funds for the punctual payment of interest, with a moral certainty of the final redemption of the principal.
In our situation it will probably require more, on account of the general diffidence which has been excited by the past disorders in our finances. It will perhaps be necessary, in the first instance, to appropriate funds for the redemption of the principal in a determinate period, as well as for the payment of interest.
It is essential that the property in such funds should be in the contractor himself, and the appropriation dependent on his own will. If, instead of this, the possession or disposal of them is dependent on the voluntary or occasional concurrence of a number of different wills not under his absolute control, both the one and the other will be too precarious to be trusted. The most wealthy and best established nations are obliged to pledge their funds to obtain credit, and it would be the height of absurdity in us, in the midst of a revolution, to expect to have it on better terms. This credit being to be procured through Congress, the funds ought to be provided, declared, and vested in them. It is a fact that verifies the want of specific funds that the circumstance which operates powerfully against our obtaining credit abroad is, not a distrust of our becoming independent, but of our continuing united, and with our present Confederation the distrust is natural. Both foreigners and the thinking men among ourselves would have much more confidence in the duration of the Union, if they were to see it supported on the foundation here proposed.
There are some among us ignorant enough to imagine that the war may be carried on without credit, defraying the expenses of the year with what may be raised within the year. But this is for want of a knowledge of our real resources and expenses.
It may be demonstrated that the whole amount of the revenue which these States are capable of affording will be deficient annually five or six millions of dollars for the support of civil government and of the war.
This is not a conjecture hazarded at random, but the result of experiment and calculation; nor can it appear surprising, when it is considered that the revenues of the United Provinces, equal to these States in population, beyond comparison superior in industry, commerce, and riches, do not exceed twenty-five millions of guilders, or about nine millions and a half of dollars. In times of war they have raised a more considerable sum, but it has been chiefly by gratuitous combinations of rich individuals, a resource we cannot employ, because there are few men of large fortunes in this country, and these for the most part are in land. Taxes in the United Provinces are carried to an extreme which would be impracticable here. Not only the living are made to pay for every necessary of life, but even the dead are tributary to the public for the liberty of interment at particular hours. These considerations make it evident that we could not raise an equal amount of revenue in these States. Yet, in ’76, when the currency was not depreciated, Congress emitted, for the expenses of the year, fourteen millions of dollars. It cannot be denied that there was a want of order and economy in the expenditure of public money, nor that we had a greater military force to maintain at that time than we now have; but, on the other hand, allowing for the necessary increase in our different civil lists, and for the advanced prices of many articles, it can hardly be supposed possible to reduce our annual expense very much below that sum. This simple idea of the subject, without entering into details, may satisfy us that the deficiency which has been stated is not to be suspected of exaggeration.
Indeed, nations the most powerful and opulent are obliged to have recourse to loans in time of war, and hence it is that most of the states of Europe are deeply immersed in debt. France is among the number, notwithstanding her immense population, wealth, and resources. England owes the enormous sum of two hundred millions sterling. The United Provinces, with all their prudence and parsimony, owe a debt of the generality of fifty millions, besides the particular debts of each province. Almost all the other powers are more or less in the same circumstances.
While this teaches us how contracted and uninformed are the views of those who expect to carry on the war without running in debt,—it ought to console us with respect to the amount of that which we now owe, or may have occasion to incur in the remainder of the war. The whole, without burthening the people, may be paid off in twenty years after the conclusion of peace.
The principal part of the deficient five or six millions must be procured by loans from private persons at home and abroad. Every thing may be hoped from the generosity of France which her means will permit, but she has full employment for her revenues and credit in the prosecution of the war on her own part. If we judge of the future by the past, the pecuniary succors from her must continue to be far short of our wants, and the contingency of a war on the continent of Europe makes it possible they may diminish rather than increase.
We have in a less degree experienced the friendship of Spain in this article.
The Government of the United Provinces, if disposed to do it, can give us no assistance. The resources of the republic are chiefly mortgaged for former debts. Happily, it has extensive credit, but it will have occasion for the whole to supply its own exigencies.
Private men, either foreigners or natives, will not lend to a large amount, but on the usual security of funds properly established. This security Congress cannot give till the several States vest them with revenue, or the means of revenue, for that purpose.
Congress have wisely appointed a superintendent of their finances,—a man of acknowledged abilities and integrity, as well as of great personal credit and pecuniary influence.
It was impossible that the business of finance could be ably conducted by a body of men however well composed or well intentioned. Order in the future management of our moneyed concerns, a strict regard to the performance of public engagements, and of course the restoration of public credit may be reasonably and confidently expected from Mr. Morris’ administration if he is furnished with materials upon which to operate—that is, if the Federal Government can acquire funds as the basis of his arrangements. He has very judiciously proposed a National Bank, which, by uniting the influence and interest of the moneyed men with the resources of government, can alone give it that durable and extensive credit of which it stands in need. This is the best expedient he could have devised for relieving the public embarrassments, but to give success to the plan it is essential that Congress should have it in their power to support him with unexceptionable funds. Had we begun the practice of funding four years ago, we should have avoided that depreciation of the currency which has been pernicious to the morals and to the credit of the nation, and there is no other method than this to prevent a continuance and multiplication of the evils flowing from that prolific source.
April 18, 1782.
The vesting Congress with the power of regulating trade ought to have been a principal object of the Confederation for a variety of reasons. It is as necessary for the purposes of commerce as of revenue. There are some who maintain that trade will regulate itself, and is not to be benefited by the encouragements or restraints of government. Such persons will imagine that there is no need of a common directing power. This is one of those wild speculative paradoxes, which have grown into credit among us, contrary to the uniform practice and sense of the most enlightened nations.
Contradicted by the numerous institutions and laws that exist everywhere for the benefit of trade, by the pains taken to cultivate particular branches and to discourage others, by the known advantages derived from those measures, and by the palpable evils that would attend their discontinuance, it must be rejected by every man acquainted with commercial history. Commerce, like other things, has its fixed principles, according to which it must be regulated. If these are understood and observed, it will be promoted by the attention of government; if unknown, or violated, it will be injured—but it is the same with every other part of administration.
To preserve the balance of trade in favor of a nation ought to be a leading aim of its policy. The avarice of individuals may frequently find its account in pursuing channels of traffic prejudicial to that balance, to which the government may be able to oppose effectual impediments. There may, on the other hand, be a possibility of opening new sources, which, though accompanied with great difficulties in the commencement, would in the event amply reward the trouble and expense of bringing them to perfection. The undertaking may often exceed the influence and capitals of individuals, and may require no small assistance, as well from the revenue as from the authority of the state.
The contrary opinion, which has grown into a degree of vogue among us, has originated in the injudicious attempts made at different times to effect a regulation of prices. It became a cant phrase among the opposers of these attempts, that trade must regulate itself; by which at first was only meant that it had its fundamental laws, agreeable to which its general operations must be directed, and that any violent attempts in opposition to these would commonly miscarry. In this sense the maxim was reasonable, but it has since been extended to militate against all interference by the sovereign; an extreme as little reconcilable with experience or common sense as the practice it was first framed to discredit.
The reasonings of a very ingenious and sensible writer, by being misapprehended, have contributed to this mistake. The scope of his argument is not, as by some supposed, that trade will hold a certain invariable course independent on the aid, protection, care, or concern of government; but that it will, in the main, depend upon the comparative industry, moral and physical advantages of nations; and that though, for a while, from extraordinary causes, there may be a wrong balance against one of them, this will work its own cure, and things will ultimately return to their proper level. His object was to combat that excessive jealousy on this head, which has been productive of so many unnecessary wars, and with which the British nation is particularly infected; but it was no part of his design to insinuate that the regulating hand of government was either useless or hurtful. The nature of a government, its spirit, maxims, and laws, with respect to trade, are among those constant moral causes which influence its general results, and when it has by accident taken a wrong direction, assist in bringing it back to its natural course. This is everywhere admitted by all writers upon the subject; nor is there one who has asserted a contrary doctrine.
Trade may be said to have taken its rise in England under the auspices of Elizabeth, and its rapid progress there is in a great measure to be ascribed to the fostering care of government in that and succeeding reigns.
From a different spirit in the government, with superior advantages, France was much later in commercial improvements; nor would her trade have been at this time in so prosperous a condition, had it not been for the abilities and indefatigable endeavors of the great Colbert. He laid the foundation of the French commerce, and taught the way to his successors to enlarge and improve it. The establishment of the woollen manufacture in a kingdom where nature seemed to have denied the means, is one, among many proofs, how much may be effected in favor of commerce by the attention and patronage of a wise administration.
The number of useful edicts passed by Louis XIV., and since his time, in spite of frequent interruptions from the jealous enmity of Great Britain, has advanced that of France to a degree which has excited the envy and astonishment of its neighbors.
The Dutch, who may justly be allowed a preeminence in the knowledge of trade, have ever made it an essential object of state. Their commercial regulations are more rigid and numerous than those of any other country; and it is by a judicious and unremitted vigilance of government that they have been able to extend their traffic to a degree so much beyond their natural and comparative advantages.
Perhaps it may be thought that the power of regulation will be best placed in the governments of the several States, and that a general superintendence is unnecessary. If the States had distinct interests, were unconnected with each other, their own governments would then be the proper, and could be the only, depositories of such a power; but as they are parts of a whole, with a common interest in trade, as in other things, there ought to be a common direction in that as in all other matters. It is easy to conceive that many cases may occur in which it would be beneficial to all the States to encourage or suppress a particular branch of trade, while it would be detrimental to either to attempt it without the concurrence of the rest, and where the experiment would probably be left untried for fear of a want of that concurrence.
No mode can be so convenient as a source of revenue to the United States. It is agreed that imposts on trade, when not immoderate, or improperly laid, are one of the most eligible species of taxation. They fall in a great measure upon articles not of absolute necessity, and being partly transferred to the price of the commodity, are so far imperceptibly paid by the consumer. It is therefore that mode which may be exercised by the Federal Government with least exception or disgust. Congress can easily possess all the information necessary to impose the duties with judgment, and the collection can without difficulty be made by their own officers.
They can have no temptation to abuse this power, because the motive of revenue will check its own extremes. Experience has shown that moderate duties are more productive than high ones. When they are low, a nation can trade abroad on better terms, its imports and exports will be larger, the duties will be regularly paid, and arising on a greater quantity of commodities, will yield more in the aggregate than when they are so high as to operate either as a prohibition, or as an inducement to evade them by illicit practices.
It is difficult to assign any good reason why Congress should be more liable to abuse the powers with which they are entrusted than the State Assemblies. The frequency of the election of the members is a full security against a dangerous ambition, and the rotation established by the Confederation makes it impossible for any state, by continuing the same men, who may put themselves at the head of a prevailing faction, to maintain for any length of time an undue influence in the national councils. It is to be presumed that Congress will be in general better composed for abilities, as well as for integrity, than any assembly on the continent.
But to take away any temptation from a cabal to load particular articles, which are the principal objects of commerce to particular States, with a too great proportion of duties, to ease the others in the general distribution of expense, let all the duties, whether for regulation or revenue, raised in each State, be credited to that State, and let it, in like manner, be charged for all the bounties paid within itself for the encouragement of agriculture, manufactures, or trade. This expedient will remove the temptation; for as the quotas of the respective States are to the determined by a standard of land, agreeable to the eighth article of the Confederation, each will have so much the less to contribute otherwise, as it pays more on its commerce. An objection, has been made in a late instance to this principle. It has been urged that as the consumer pays the duty, those States which are not equally well situated for foreign commerce, and which consume a great part of the imports of their neighbors, will become contributors to a part of their taxes. This objection is rather specious than solid.
The maxim, that the consumer pays the duty, has been admitted in theory with too little reserve; frequently contradicted in practice. It is true, the merchant will be unwilling to let the duty be a deduction from his profits, if the state of the market will permit him to incorporate it with the price of his commodity. But this is often not practicable. It turns upon the quantity of goods at market in proportion to the demand. When the latter exceeds the former, and the competition is among the buyers, the merchant can easily increase his price, and make his customers pay the duty. When the reverse is the case, and the competition is among the sellers, he must then content himself with smaller profits and lose the value of the duty, or at least a part of it. When a nation has a flourishing and well-settled trade, this more commonly happens than may be imagined, and it will, many times, be found that the duty is divided between the merchant and the consumer.
Besides this consideration which greatly diminishes the force of the objection, there is another which entirely destroys it. There is a strong reciprocal influence between the prices of all commodities in a State, by which they, sooner or later, attain a pretty exact balance and proportion to each other. If the immediate productions of the soil rise, the manufacturer will have more for his manufacture, the merchant for his goods; and the same will happen with whatever class the increase of price begins. If duties are laid upon the imports in one State, by which the prices of foreign articles are raised, the products of land and labor within that State will take a proportionate rise; and if a part of those articles are consumed in a neighboring State, it will have the same influence there as at home. The importing State must allow an advanced price upon the commodities which it receives in exchange from its neighbor, in a ratio to the increased price of the article it sells. To know, then, which is the gainer or loser, we must examine how the general balance of trade stands between them. If the importing State takes more of the commodities of its neighbor than it gives in exchange, that will be the loser by the reciprocal augmentation of prices; it will be the gainer if it takes less, and neither will gain or lose if the barter is carried on upon equal terms. The balance of trade, and consequently the gain, or loss, in this respect, will be governed more by the relative industry and frugality of the parties than by their relative advantages for foreign commerce.
Between separate nations this reasoning will not apply with full force, because a multitude of local and extraneous circumstances may counteract the principle; but from the intimate connections of these States, the similitude of governments, situations, customs, manners, political and commercial causes will have nearly the same operation in the intercourse between the States, as in that between the different parts of the same State. If this should be controverted, the objection drawn from the hypothesis of the consumer paying the duty must fall at the same time; for as far as this is true it is as much confined in its application to a State within itself as the doctrine of a reciprocal proportion of prices.
General principles in subjects of this nature ought always to be advanced with caution; in an experimental analysis there are found such a number of exceptions as tend to render them very doubtful; and in questions which affect the existence and collective happiness of these States, all nice and abstract distinctions should give way to plainer interests, and to more obvious and simple rules of conduct.
But the objection which has been urged ought to have no weight on another account. Which are the States that have not sufficient advantages for foreign commerce, and that will not in time be their own carriers? Connecticut and Jersey are the least maritime of the whole; yet the Sound which washes the coast of Connecticut has an easy outlet to the ocean, affords a number of harbors and bays very commodious for trading vessels. New London may be a receptacle for merchantmen of almost any burthen; and the fine rivers with which the State is intersected, by facilitating the transportation of commodities to and from every part, are extremely favorable both to its domestic and foreign trade.
Jersey, by way of Amboy, has a shorter communication with the ocean than the city of New York. Prince's Bay, which may serve as an outport to it, will admit and shelter in winter and summer vessels of any size. Egg Harbor, on its southern coast, is not to be despised. The Delaware may be made as subservient to its commerce as to that of Pennsylvania, Gloucester, Burlington, and Trenton, being all conveniently situated on that river. The United Provinces, with inferior advantages of position to either of these States, have for centuries held the first rank among commercial nations.
The want of large trading cities has been sometimes objected as an obstacle to the commerce of these States; but this is a temporary deficiency that will repair itself with the increase of population and riches. The reason that the States in question have hitherto carried on little foreign trade, is that they have found it equally beneficial to purchase the commodities imported by their neighbors. If the imposts on trade should work an inconvenience to them, it will soon cease by making it their interest to trade abroad.
It is too much characteristic of our national temper to be ingenious in finding out and magnifying the minutest disadvantages, and to reject measures of evident utility, even of necessity, to avoid trivial and sometimes imaginary evils. We seem not to reflect that in human society there is scarcely any plan, however salutary to the whole and to every part, by the share each has in the common prosperity, but in one way, or another, and under particular circumstances, will operate more to the benefit of some parts than of others. Unless we can overcome this narrow disposition and learn to estimate measures by their general tendencies, we shall never be a great or a happy people, if we remain a people at all.
July 4, 1782.
Let us see what will be the consequences of not authorizing the Federal Government to regulate the trade of these States. Besides the want of revenue and of power, besides the immediate risk to our independence and the dangers of all the future evils of a precarious Union, besides the deficiency of a wholesome concert and provident superintendence to advance the general prosperity of trade, the direct consequence will be that the landed interest and the laboring poor will in the first place fall a sacrifice to the trading interest, and the whole eventually to a bad system of policy made necessary by the want of such regulating power.
Each State will be afraid to impose duties on its commerce, lest the other States, not doing the same, should enjoy greater advantages than itself, by being able to afford native commodities cheaper abroad and foreign commodities cheaper at home.
A part of the evils resulting from this would be a loss to the revenue of those moderate duties which, without being injurious to commerce, are allowed to be the most agreeable species of taxes to the people. Articles of foreign luxury, while they would contribute nothing to the income of the State, being less dear by an exemption from duties, would have a more extensive consumption.
Many branches of trade, hurtful to the common interest, would be continued for want of proper checks and discouragements. As revenues must be found to satisfy the public exigencies in a peace and in war, too great a proportion of taxes will fall directly upon land, and upon the necessaries of life—the produce of that land. The influence of these evils will be to render landed property fluctuating and less valuable; to oppress the poor by raising the prices of necessaries; to injure commerce by encouraging the consumption of foreign luxuries, by increasing the value of labor, by lessening the quantity of home productions, enhancing their prices at foreign markets, of course obstructing their sale, and enabling other nations to supplant us.
Particular caution ought at present to be observed in this country not to burthen the soil itself and its productions with heavy impositions, because the quantity of unimproved land will invite the husbandman to abandon old settlements for new, and the disproportion of our population for some time to come will necessarily make labor dear, to reduce which, and not to increase it, ought to be a capital object of our policy.
Easy duties, therefore, on commerce, especially on imports, ought to lighten the burthens which will unavoidably fall upon land. Though it may be said that, on the principle of a reciprocal influence of prices, whereon the taxes are laid in the first instance, they will in the end be borne by all classes, yet it is of the greatest importance that no one should sink under the immediate pressure. The great art is to distribute the public burthens well, and not suffer them, either first or last, to fall too heavily on parts of the community, else distress and disorder must ensue; a shock given to any part of the political machine vibrates through the whole.
As a sufficient revenue could not be raised from trade to answer the public purposes, other articles have been proposed. A moderate land and poll tax, being of easy and unexpensive collection, and leaving nothing to discretion, are the simplest and best that could be devised.
It is to be feared that the avarice of many of the landholders will be opposed to a perpetual tax upon land, however moderate. They will ignorantly hope to shift the burthens of the national expense from themselves to others—a disposition as iniquitous as it is fruitless. The public necessities must be satisfied; this can only be done by the contributions of the whole society. Particular classes are neither able nor will they be willing to pay for the protection and security of the others, and where so selfish a spirit discovers itself in any member, the rest of the community will unite to compel it to do its duty.
Indeed, many theorists in political economy have held that all taxes, wherever they originate, fall upon land, and have therefore been of opinion that it would be best to draw the whole revenue of the state immediately from that source, to avoid the expense of a more diversified collection, and the accumulations which will be heaped, in their several stages, upon the primitive sums, advanced in those stages, which are imposed on our trade. But though it has been demonstrated that this theory has been carried to an extreme impracticable in fact, yet it is evident, in tracing the matter, that a large part of all taxes, however remotely laid, will, by an insensible circulation, come at last to settle upon land—the source of most of the materials employed in commerce.
It appears, from calculation made by the ablest master of political arithmetic, about sixty years ago, that the yearly product of all the lands in England amounted to £42,000,000 sterling, and the whole annual consumption at that period, of foreign as well as domestic commodities, did not exceed £49,000,000, and the surplus of the exportation above the importation £2,000,000, on which sums arise all the revenues, in whatever shape, which go into the Treasury. It is easy to infer from this how large a part of them must, directly or indirectly, be derived from land.
Nothing can be more mistaken than the collision and rivalship which almost always subsist between the landed and trading interests, for the truth is they are so inseparably interwoven that one cannot be injured without injury nor benefited without benefit to the other. Oppress trade, lands sink in value; make it flourish, their value rises. Incumber husbandry, trade declines; encourage agriculture, commerce revives. The progress of this mutual reaction might be easily delineated, but it is too obvious to every man who turns his thoughts, however superficially, upon the subject to require it. It is only to be regretted that it is too often lost sight of when the seductions of some immediate advantage or exemption tempt us to sacrifice the future to the present.
But perhaps the class is more numerous of those who, not unwilling to bear their share of public burthens, are yet averse to the idea of perpetuity, as if there ever would arrive a period when the state would cease to want revenues and taxes become unnecessary. It is of importance to unmask this delusion, and open the eyes of the people to the truth. It is paying too great a tribute to the idol of popularity, to flatter so injurious and so visionary an expectation. The error is too gross to be tolerated anywhere but in the cottage of the peasant. Should we meet with it in the Senate-house, we must lament the ignorance or despise the hypocrisy on which it is ingrafted. Expense is in the present state of things entailed upon all governments; though, if we continue united, we shall be hereafter less exposed to wars by land than most other countries; yet while we have powerful neighbors on either extremity, and our frontier is embraced by savages whose alliance they may without difficulty command, we cannot, in prudence, dispense with the usual precautions for our interior security. As a commercial people, maritime power must be a primary object of our attention, and a navy cannot be created or maintained without ample revenues. The nature of our popular institutions requires a numerous magistracy, for whom competent provision must be made, or we may be certain our affairs will always be committed to improper hands, and experience will teach us that no government costs so much as a bad one.
We may preach, till we are tired of the theme, the necessity of disinterestedness in republics, without making a single proselyte. The virtuous declaimer will neither persuade himself nor any other person to be content with a double mess of pottage, instead of a reasonable stipend for his services. We might as soon reconcile ourselves to the Spartan community of goods and wives, to their iron coin, their long beards, or their black broth. There is a total dissimilarity in the circumstances as well as the manners of society among us, and it is as ridiculous to seek for models in the small ages of Greece and Rome, as it would be to go in quest of them among the Hottentots and Laplanders.
The public, for the different purposes that have been mentioned, must always have large demands upon its constituents, and the only question is, whether these shall be satisfied by annual grants perpetually renewed, by a perpetual grant once for all, or by a compound of permanent and occasional supplies. The last is the wisest course. The Federal Government should neither be independent nor too much dependent. It should neither be raised above responsibility or control, nor should it want the means of maintaining its own weight, authority, dignity, and credit. To this end, permanent funds are indispensable, but they ought to be of such a nature and so moderate in their amount as never to be inconvenient. Extraordinary supplies can be the objects of extraordinary emergencies, and in that salutary medium will consist our true wisdom.
It would seem as if no mode of taxation could be relished but the worst of all modes, which now prevails,—by assessment. Every proposal for a specific tax is sure to meet with opposition. It has been objected to a poll tax at a fixed rate, that it will be unequal, and the rich will pay no more than the poor. In the form in which it has been offered in these papers, the poor, properly speaking, are not comprehended, though it is true that beyond the exclusion of the indigent the tax has no reference to the proportion of property, but it should be remembered that it is impossible to devise any specific tax that will operate equally on the whole community. It must be the province of the Legislature to hold the scales with a judicious hand and balance one by another. The rich must be made to pay for their luxuries, which is the only proper way of taxing their superior wealth.
Do we imagine that our assessments operate equally? Nothing can be more contrary to the fact. Wherever a discretionary power is lodged in any set of men over the property of their neighbors, they will abuse it; their passions, prejudices, partialities, dislikes, will have the principal lead in measuring the abilities of those over whom their power extends; and assessors will ever be a set of petty tyrants, too unskilful, if honest, to be possessed of so delicate a trust, and too seldom honest to give them the excuse of want of skill.
The genius of liberty reprobates every thing arbitrary or discretionary in taxation. It exacts that every man, by a definite and general rule, should know what proportion of his property the state demands; whatever liberty we may boast in theory, it cannot exist in fact while assessments continue.
The admission of them among us is a new proof how often human conduct reconciles the most glaring opposites; in the present case, the most vicious practice of despotic governments with the freest constitutions and the greatest love of liberty.
The establishment of permanent funds would not only answer the public purposes infinitely better than temporary supplies, but it would be the most effectual way of easing the people.
With this basis for procuring credit, the amount of present taxes might be greatly diminished. Large sums of money might be borrowed abroad at a low interest, and introduced into the country, to defray the current expenses and pay the public debts; which would not only lessen the demand for immediate supplies, but would throw more money into circulation, and furnish the people with greater means of paying the taxes.
Though it be a just rule that we ought not to run in debt to avoid present expense, so far as our faculties extend, yet the propriety of doing it cannot be disputed when it is apparent that these are incompetent to the public necessities. Efforts beyond our abilities can only tend to individual distress and national disappointment. The product of the three foregoing articles will be as little as can be required to enable Congress to pay their debts and restore order into their finances. In addition to them:
The disposal of the unlocated lands will hereafter be a valuable source of revenue and an immediate one of credit. As it may be liable to the same condition with the duties on trade—that is, the product of the sales within each State to be credited to that State,—and as the rights of jurisdiction are not infringed, it seems to be susceptible of no reasonable objection.
Mines in every country constitute a branch of revenue. In this, where nature has so richly impregnated the bowels of the earth, they may in time become a valuable one; and as they require the care and attention of government to bring them to perfection, this care and a share in the profits of it will very properly devolve upon Congress. All the precious metals should absolutely be the property of the Federal Government, and with respect to the others it should have a discretionary power of reserving, in the nature of a tax, such part as it may judge not inconsistent with the encouragement due to so important an object. This is rather a future than a present resource.
The reason of allowing Congress to appoint its own officers of the customs, collectors of the taxes, and military officers of every rank, is to create in the interior of each State a mass of influence in favor of the Federal Government. The great danger has been shown to be that it will not have power enough to defend itself and preserve the Union, not that it will ever become formidable to the general liberty; a mere regard to the interests of the Confederacy will never be a principle sufficiently active to crush the ambition and intrigues of different members. Force cannot effect it. A contest of arms will seldom be between the common sovereign and a single refractory member, but between distinct combinations of the several parts against each other. A sympathy of situations will be apt to produce associates to the disobedient. The application of force is always disagreeable—the issue uncertain. It will be wise to obviate the necessity of it, by interesting such a number of individuals in each State in support of the Federal Government as will be counterpoised to the ambition of others, and will make it difficult for them to unite the people in opposition to the first and necessary measures of the Union.
There is something noble and magnificent in the perspective of a great Federal Republic, closely linked in the pursuit of a common interest, tranquil and prosperous at home, respectable abroad; but there is something proportionably diminutive and contemptible in the prospect of a number of petty States, with the appearance only of union, jarring, Jealous, and perverse, without any determined direction, fluctuating and unhappy at home, weak and insignificant by their dissensions in the eyes of other nations.
Happy America, if those to whom thou hast intrusted the guardianship of thy infancy know how to provide for thy future repose, but miserable and undone, if their negligence or ignorance permits the spirit of discord to erect her banner on the ruins of thy tranquillity!
RESOLUTIONS FOR A GENERAL CONVENTION OF THE STATES
RESOLUTIONS FOR A GENERAL CONVENTION OF THE STATES
- Passed by the Legislature of New York,
Sunday, July 21, 1782.
Resolved, That it appears to this Legislature—after full and solemn consideration of the several matters communicated by the Honorable the Committee of Congress relative to the present posture of our affairs, foreign and domestic, and contained in a letter from the Secretary for Foreign Affairs respecting the former, as well as of the representations from time to time made by the Superintendent of the Finances of the United States relative to his particular department—that the situation of these States is in a peculiar manner critical, and affords the strongest reason to apprehend, from a continuance of the present constitution of the Continental Government, a subdivision of the public credit, and consequences highly dangerous to the safety and independence of these States.
Resolved, That, while this Legislature are convinced by the before-mentioned communications that, notwithstanding the generous intentions of an ally from whom we have experienced and doubtless shall still experience all possible support, exigencies may arise to prevent our receiving pecuniary succors hereafter in any degree proportioned to our necessities; they are also convinced, from facts within their own knowledge, that the provisions made by the respective States for carrying on the war are not only inadequate to the end, but must continue to be so while there is an adherence to the principles which now direct the operation of public measures.
Resolved, That it is also the opinion of this Legislature, that the present plan instituted by Congress for the administration of their finances is founded in wisdom and sound policy; that the salutary effects of it have already been felt in an extensive degree; and that after so many violent shocks sustained by the public credit, a failure in this system, for want of the support which the States are able to give, would be productive of evils too pernicious to be hazarded.
Resolved, That it appears to this Legislature, that the present British ministry, with a disposition not less hostile than that of their predecessors, taught by experience to avoid their errors, and assuming the appearance of moderation are pursuing a scheme calculated to conciliate in Europe and seduce in America; that the economical arrangements they appear to be adopting are adapted to enlarging the credit of their government, and multiplying its resources, at the same time that they serve to confirm the prepossessions and confidence of the people; and that their plan of a defensive war on this continent, while they direct all their attention and resources to the augmentation of their navy, is that which may be productive of consequences ultimately dangerous to the United States.
Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Legislature, that the present system of these States exposes the common cause to a precarious issue, and leaves us at the mercy of events over which we have no influence,—a conduct extremely unwise in any nation and at all times, and to a change of which we are impelled at this juncture by reasons of peculiar and irresistible weight; and that it is the natural tendency of the weakness and disorders in our national measures to spread diffidence and distrust among the people, and prepare their minds to receive the impressions the enemy wish to make.
Resolved, That the general state of European affairs, as far as they have come to the knowledge of this Legislature, affords, in their opinion, reasonable ground of confidence, and assures us that with judicious, vigorous exertion on our part we may rely on the final attainment of our object; but far from justifying indifference and security, calls upon us by every motive of honor, good faith, and patriotism, without delay, to unite in some system more effectual for producing energy, harmony, and consistency of measures than that which now exists, and more capable of putting the common cause out of the reach of contingencies.
Resolved, That in the opinion of this Legislature the radical source of most of our embarrassments is the want of sufficient power in Congress to effectuate that ready and perfect co-operation of the different States on which their immediate safety and future happiness depend; that experience has demonstrated the Confederation to be defective in several essential points, particularly in not vesting the Federal Government either with a power of providing revenue for itself, or with ascertained and productive funds, secured by a sanction so solemn and general as would inspire the fullest confidence in them and make them a substantial basis of credit—that these defects ought to be without loss of time repaired, the powers of Congress extended, a solid security established for the payment of debts already incurred, and competent means provided for future credit and for supplying the current demands of the war.
Resolved, That it appears evident to this Legislature, that the annual income of these States, admitting the best means were adopted for drawing out their resources, would fall far short of the annual expenditure, and that there would be a large deficiency to be supplied on the credit of the States, which, if it should be inconvenient for those powers to afford on whose friendship we justly rely, must be sought for from individuals, to engage whom to lend, satisfactory securities must be pledged for the punctual payment of interest and the final redemption of the principal.
Resolved, That it appears to this Legislature, that the foregoing important ends can never be attained by partial deliberations of the States separately, but that it is essential to the common welfare that there should be as soon as possible a conference of the whole on the subject, and that it would be advisable for this purpose to propose to Congress to recommend, and to each State to adopt, the measure of assembling a General Convention of the States, specially authorized to revise and amend the Confederation, reserving a right to the respective Legislatures to ratify their determinations.
SPEECHES AND RESOLUTIONS IN CONGRESS
SPEECHES AND RESOLUTIONS IN CONGRESS
January 27, 1783.
MR. HAMILTON went extensively into the subject; the sum of it was as follows: He observed that funds considered as permanent sources of revenue were of two kinds: first, such as would extend generally and uniformly throughout the United States, and would be collected under the authority of Congress; secondly, such as might be established separately within each State, and might consist of any objects which were chosen by the States, and might be collected either under the authority of the States or of Congress. Funds of the first kind, he contended, were preferable; as being, first, more simple, the difficulties attending the mode of fixing the quotas laid down in the Confederation rendering it extremely complicated, and in a manner insuperable; secondly, as being more certain, since the States, according to the said plan, would probably retain the collection of the revenue, and a vicious system of collection prevailed generally throughout the United States,—a system by which the collectors were chosen by the people, and made their offices more subservient to their popularity than to the public revenue; thirdly, as being more economical, since the collection would be effected with fewer officers under the management of Congress than under that of the States.
Tuesday, January 28th.
Mr. Hamilton, in reply to Mr. Ellsworth, dwelt long on the inefficacy of State funds. He supposed, too, that greater obstacles would arise to the execution of the plan than to that of a general revenue. As an additional reason for the latter to be collected by officers under the appointment of Congress, he signified that as the energy of the Federal Government was evidently short of the degree necessary for pervading and uniting the States, it was expedient to introduce the influence of officers deriving their emoluments from, and consequently interested in supporting the power of, Congress.
Wednesday, January 29th.
Mr. Hamilton disliked every plan that made but partial provision for the public debts, as an inconsistent and dishonorable departure from the declaration made by Congress on that subject. He said the domestic creditors would take the alarm at any distinctions unfavorable to their claims; that they would withhold their influence from any such measures recommended by Congress; and that it must be principally from their influence on their respective Legislatures that success could be expected to any application from Congress for a general revenue.
February 12, 1783.
Resolved, That it is the opinion of Congress that complete JUSTICE cannot be done to the creditors of the United States, nor the restoration of PUBLIC CREDIT be effected, nor the future exigencies of the war provided for, but by the establishment of permanent and adequate funds to operate generally throughout the United States, to be collected by Congress.