The anarchy succeeding the Revolution was as sad as the Revolution itself had been glorious. The Articles Of Confederation furnished practically no government with which foreign nations could deal; England still clung to the western posts, contrary to the treaty of peace, with no power anywhere on this side to do more than protest; the debt of the confederacy steadily piled up its unpaid interest; the land was flooded with irredeemable paper money, state and national; the confederacy's laws and constitution were ignored or trampled upon everywhere; and the arrogance and self-seeking of the several States surpassed everything but their own contemptible weakness.
In 1786 Shays' rebellion broke out in Massachusetts. Solid money was very scarce, and paper all but worthless, yet many debts contracted on a paper basis were pressed for payment in hard money. The farmers swore that the incidence of taxes upon them was excessive, and upon the merchants too light. But the all-powerful grievance was the sudden change from the distressing monetary injustice during the Revolution, with the consequent increase of debts, to a rigid enforcement of debtors' claims afterward. At this period men were imprisoned for debt, and all prisons were frightful holes, which one would as lief die as enter. Meetings were held to air the popular griefs, and grew violent.
In August the court-house at Northampton was seized by a body of armed men and the court prevented from sitting. Similar uprisings occurred at Worcester, Springfield, and Concord. The leader in these movements was Daniel Shays, a former captain in the continental army. Governor Bowdoin finally called for volunteers to put down the rebellion, and placed General Lincoln in command. After several minor engagements, in which the insurgents were worsted, the decisive action took place at Petersham, where, in February, 1787, the rebels were surprised by Lincoln. A large number were captured, many more fled to their homes, and the rest withdrew into the neighboring States. Vermont and Rhode Island alone offered them a peaceful retreat, the other States giving up the fugitives to Massachusetts.
[Illustration: Crowd watching two men fighting.] A Scene at Springfield, during Shays' Rebellion, when the mob attempted to prevent the holding of the Courts of Justice.
The Shays commotion, for a long time shaking one of the stanchest States in the Confederation, well showed the need of a far stronger central government than the old had been or could be made. Other influences concurred to the same conviction. Washington's influence, which took effect mainly through his inspired letter to the States on leaving the army, was one of these. National feeling was also furthered by the spread of two religious sects, the Baptists and the Methodists, up and down the continent, whose missionary preachers, ignoring State lines and prejudices, helped to destroy the latter in their hearers.
During the Revolution, American Methodism had been an appanage of England. Wesley had discountenanced our effort at independence, and when war broke out, all the Methodist preachers left the country, save Asbury, who secreted himself somewhere in Delaware, waiting for better days. But in 1784 this zealous body of Christians was organized as an American affair, its clergy and laity after this displaying loyalty of the most approved kind.
[Illustration: Portrait.] John Wesley.
Calls For Reform
Schemes had been mooted looking to a changed political order. A proposition for a convention of the States to reform the Confederation passed the New York Legislature in July, 1782, under the influence of Alexander Hamilton; another passed that of Massachusetts, July, 1784, urged by Governor Bowdoin; but because of too great love for state independence and too little appreciation as yet of the serious nature of the crisis, both motions failed of effect.
The idea of reform which found most favor, the only one which at first had any chance of getting itself realized, was that of giving Congress simply the additional power of regulating commerce. Even so moderate a proposal as this had many enemies, especially in the South. Greatly to her credit therefore as a Southern State, the purpose of amending the old Articles in the direction indicated was first taken up in earnest by Virginia. Her Legislature, soon after opening session in October, 1785, listened to memorials from Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, and Alexandria, upon the gloomy prospects of American trade, which led to a general debate upon the subject. In this, Mr. Madison, by a speech far exceeding in ability any other that was made, began that extended and memorable career of efforts for enlarged function in our central government which has earned him the title of the Father of the Constitution.
The result of this discussion was a bill directing the Virginia delegation in Congress to propose amendment to the constitution giving to Congress the needed additional power. The enemies of the bill, however, succeeded in so modifying it by limiting the proposed grant of power to a period of thirteen years, that Madison and its other abettors turned against it and voted to lay it on the table.
There was in existence at this very time a joint commission representing Virginia and Maryland, which had been raised for the purpose of determining what jurisdiction each of the two States had over the Potomac and in Chesapeake Bay. Madison was one of the Virginia commissioners. A meeting had been held on March 17, 1785, at which the commissioners agreed in their report to transcend their instructions and to recommend to the two States uniform monetary and commercial regulations entire, including common export and import duties. They thus reported, adding the still further recommendation that commissioners to work out the details of such a plan be appointed each year till it should be completed. The Maryland Legislature adopted the report, adding the proposition that Delaware and Pennsylvania also should be invited to enter the system and to send commissioners.
When the commissioners' report, with Maryland's action thereon, came before the Virginia Legislature, Madison moved, as a substitute for the mutilated bill which had been tabled previously, that the invitation to take part in the commission go to all the States. The motion passed by a large majority.
Thus originated the Annapolis Convention of 1786. Nine States appointed delegates; all but Connecticut, Maryland, and the two Carolinas; but of the nine only Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York actually sent them. As the powers granted the commissioners presupposed a deputation from each of the States, those present, after mature deliberation, deemed it inadvisable to proceed, drawing up instead an urgent address to the States to take "speedy measures" for another, fuller, convention to meet on the second Monday of May, 1787, for the same purposes as had occasioned this one. Such was the mode in which the memorable Federal Convention came about. Its seat was Philadelphia.
The Federal Convention
The second Monday of May, 1787, which should have witnessed the opening, was the 14th, but on that day too few deputies had assembled. So late as the 25th only nine States were represented. They, however, effected an organization on the 25th and chose officers. On the 28th eleven States were present, so that on the next day business began in earnest. Governor Randolph read and expounded the Virginia plan for a new government, and Charles Pinckney the South Carolina plan. Both of these were referred to a committee of the whole to sit next day.
This Virginia plan was substantially the work of Madison, and was the earliest sketch of the present Constitution of the United States. With the Pinckney plan, it was worked over, debated, and amended in the committee of the whole, until June 13th, on which day the committee rose and reported to the Convention nineteen resolutions based almost wholly upon the Virginia plan. These were the text for all the subsequent doings of the Convention.
The so-called New Jersey plan was brought forward on June 15th, the gist of it being a recurrence to the foolish idea of merely repairing the Confederation that then was. Its strength, which was slight, consisted in its accord with the letter of the credentials which the delegates had brought. It was, however, emphatically rejected, the Convention stretching instructions, ignoring the old government, and proceeding to build from the foundations. On July 24th and 26th the resolutions, now increased to twenty-three, were put in the hands of a committee of detail to be reported back in the form of a constitution. They reappeared in this shape on August 6th, and this new document was henceforth the basis of discussion. On September 8th a new committee was appointed to revise style and arrangement, and brought in its work September 13th, after which additions and changes were few. The Constitution received signature September 17th.
The Federal Convention of 1787 was the most remarkable gathering in all our national history thus far. Sixty-five delegates were elected, but as ten never attended, fifty-five properly made up the body. Even these were at no time all present together. From July 5th to August 13th New York was not represented. Rhode Island was not represented at all. Washington was President; Franklin, aged eighty-one, the oldest member; Gillman, of New Hampshire, aged twenty-five, the youngest. Each State sent its best available talent, so that the foremost figures then in American political life were present, the chief exceptions being John Adams, Jefferson--both abroad at the time--Samuel Adams, not favorable to the Convention, John Jay, and Patrick Henry. Eight of the members had signed the great Declaration, six the Articles of Confederation, seven the Annapolis appeal of 1786. Washington and a good half dozen others had been conspicuous military leaders in the Revolution. Five had been or still were governors of their respective States. Nearly all had held important offices of one sort or another. Forty of the fifty-five had been in Congress, a large proportion of them coming to the Convention directly from the congressional session just ended in New York.
It is interesting to note how high many from this Constituent Assembly rose after the adoption of the paper which they had indited. Washington and Madison became Presidents, Gerry Vice-President, Langdon senator and President of the Senate, with duty officially to notify him who was already First in War that the nation had made him also First in Peace. Langdon was candidate for Vice-President in 1809. Randolph was the earliest United States Attorney-General, Hamilton earliest Secretary of the Treasury, M'Henry third Secretary of War, succeeding General Knox. Dayton was a representative from New Jersey in the IId, IIId, IVth, and Vth Congresses, being Speaker during the last, then senator in the VIth, VIIth, and VIIIth. Ellsworth and Johnson were Connecticut's first pair of senators, Johnson passing in 1791 to the presidency of Columbia College, Ellsworth to the national chief-justiceship to succeed Jay. Rutledge was one of the first associate justices of the Supreme Court. Subsequently, in July, 1795, Washington nominated him for chief justice, and he actually presided over the Supreme Court at its term in that year; but, for his ill-mannered denunciation of Jay's treaty, the Senate declined to confirm him. Wilson and Patterson also each held the position of associate justice on the supreme bench of the nation.
Rufus King, after the adoption of the Constitution, removed to New York. He was a senator from that State between 1789 and 1795, and again between 1813 and 1826; and Minister to England from 1796 to 1803, and again after 1826 till his failing health compelled his resignation. He was the federalist candidate for Vice-President in 1804 and 1808, and for President in 1816. Sherman of Connecticut, Gillman of New Hampshire, and Baldwin of Georgia, went into the House of Representatives and were promoted thence to the Senate. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, Gouverneur Morris, now again of New York, Caleb Strong of Massachusetts, William Patterson of New Jersey, Richard Bassett of Delaware, Alexander Martin and Blount of North Carolina, Charles Pinckney and Butler of South Carolina, and Colonel Few of Georgia, all became senators. Madison, Gerry, Fitzsimmons of Pennsylvania, Carroll of Maryland, and Spaight and Williamson of North Carolina, all wrought well in the House, but did not reach the Senate. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was nominated for the Presidency in 1800, on the ticket with John Adams, again in 1804, and still again in 1808.
Jared Ingersoll was the federalist candidate for Vice-President in 1812, on the ticket with De Witt Clinton, against Madison and Gerry. Yates rose to be Chief Justice of the State of New York, Lansing to be its Chancellor. Gerry and Strong of Massachusetts, Patterson of New Jersey, Bassett of Delaware, Spaight and Davie of North Carolina, and Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, became Governors of their States, as did Alexander Martin, of North Carolina, a second time.
Having received final revision and signature, the Constitution was transmitted, with a commendatory letter from Washington, to the old Congress. Suggestions were added relating to the mode of launching it. Congress was requested to lay the new Great Charter before the States, and, so soon as it should have been ratified by nine of them, to fix the date for the election by these of presidential electors, the day for the latter to cast their votes, and the time and place for commencing proceedings under the revised constitution. Congress complied. The debates of the Convention, only more hot, attended ratification, which was carried in several States only by narrow majorities.
Ratification of the U.S. Constitution
Delaware was the first to ratify, December 7, 1787. Pennsylvania and New Jersey soon followed, the one on the 12th of the same month, the other on the 18th. Delaware and New Jersey voted unanimously; Pennsylvania ratified by a vote of forty-six to twenty-three. During the first month of the new year, 1788, Georgia and Connecticut ratified, on the 2d and 9th respectively. New Hampshire next took up the question, but adjourned her convention to await the action of Massachusetts. In this great State the people were divided almost equally. Of the western counties the entire population that had sympathized or sided with Shays was bitter against the Constitution. The larger centres and in general the eastern part of the State favored it. The vote was had on February 6th, and showed a majority of only 19 out of 355 in favor of the Constitution.
[Illustration: Parade with a float shaped as a ship carrying a banner "Hamilton."] Celebrating the Adoption of the Constitution in New York.
The Federalist Papers
The good work still remained but half done. It was a crisis. Accordingly, early in this year, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay published their weighty articles, since collected in the immortal volume known as "The Federalist." These discussions seemed to have much effect. Maryland ratified on April 28th, and South Carolina on May 23d. New Hampshire fell into line, the necessary ninth State to ratify, June 21st. Thus the Constitution became binding, yet it was still painfully uncertain what the action of Virginia and New York would be. In both States the Constitution was opposed by many of the most influential men, and after a long and heated canvass adoption occurred in Virginia by a majority of only ten in a vote of 168; in New York by the narrow majority of two. Even now North Carolina and Rhode Island remained aloof. The former, not liking the prospect of isolation, came into the Union November 21, 1789, after the new government had been some time at work. Rhode Island, owing to her peculiar history in the matter of religious liberty, which she feared a closer union would jeopardize, as well as to the strength of the paper-money fanaticism within her borders, was more obdurate. The chief difficulty here was to get the legislature to call a convention. The New York Packet of February 20, 1790, in a letter from Rhode Island, tells how this was accomplished. Among the anti-adoptionists in the senate was a rural clergyman who, prompted by his conscience, or, as one account runs, by exhortation and the offer of a conveyance by an influential member of the adoption party, was, when Sunday came, absent upon his sacred work. The occasion was seized for a ballot. The senate was a tie, but the Governor threw the casting vote for a convention. This was called as soon as possible, and on May 29, 1790, Rhode Island, too, at the eleventh hour, made the National Constitution her own. Not only had a MORE PERFECT UNION been formed at last, but it included all the Old Thirteen States.