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ABSTRACT OF THE ARTICLES
It may be well here to review the principal features of the Articles of Confederation.
In the first place, they were an agreement entered into, not by the people at large, but by the state governments. The state governments confided certain powers with which they were invested, to a congress of delegates to be chosen by themselves. These delegates represented, not the people of the states, but the state sovereignties. This will be the more evident, if we observe, that the votes in congress were to be taken by states. The states might have not less than two, nor more than seven delegates. But no state had more than one vote. Rhode Island on the floor of congress was as great as New York. This was, most clearly, on the principle that sovereigns, whatever be the number of their subjects, or the extent of their territory, are all equal.
The powers confided to congress, related to foreign intercourse, to peace and war, and to certain domestic concerns of common interest. By comparing the Articles
of Confederation with the present Constitution of the United States, we shall perceive that the objects aimed at in the two instruments, are essentially the same.
The members of congress constituted one single house, over which one of their number, chosen by themselves, presided. He was styled the President of Congress.
For the decision of certain questions, the votes of nine states were requisite. For the decision of other questions, less important, the votes of a majority of the states were sufficient.
For settling disputes between the states, a court was always constituted for the occasion. The state governments were directed by congress to appear by their agents and to appoint commissioners or judges. If they could not agree, the judges were appointed by congress itself.
The money necessary for paying the expenses of the government was to be drawn from a common treasury. This treasury, the states were under obligation to supply, each one contributing its share, as determined by congress, according to a certain
rule. The states agreed to abide by the determinations of congress on all questions which were, by the terms of their agreement, submitted to them. Such is the substance of the Articles of Confederation.
The congress which framed them, seem to have been aware that they constituted a union far from perfect. When they were submitted to the state legislatures "they were declared to be the result of impending necessity." They were agreed to, not for their "intrinsic excellence," but as the best system which could under the circumstances be adopted. Any union was better than no union.
The framers in executing their task were not without examples. The Amphictyonic Council and the Achæan League in ancient Greece, the Confederacy of the Lycian cities in Asia Minor, the Confederacies of Poland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany in Europe, were all before them, either on the page of, History or in actual, though disordered and feeble existence. They all possessed on paper powers sufficient for their purposes. But they
proved in operation to be very imperfect. They presented a melancholy spectacle of great promise and little performance. There was no want of authority, but there was a great want of the means of maintaining it. It was not to be supposed that the Confederacy of the United States, formed, as it was, on the same general plan, could escape their fate. It was even more imperfect than some of them. Congress had power to decide, and their decisions were binding on the states. But in case the states should not like their decisions, and should not choose to obey them, what was to be done? That was the question. It soon proved to be a most serious question.
The decrees of congress for raising men and money, the two things most essential to maintain their authority, were sent to the legislatures of thirteen different states. The legislatures were bound to execute them, provided they were agreeable to the Articles of Confederation. But who was to judge of that? Manifestly in the absence of any court to decide the question, the state legislatures were to judge for them
selves. The state legislatures were bound to execute them. But suppose they did not. What was to be done? You will answer, compel them. But no power of compulsion was given to congress. It was not agreed by the states in the Articles of Confederation, that congress should have any such power. If it had been granted, how was it to be made effectual? without money, the raising of which depended on the state legislatures, would have been a shadow. Congress soon found their decrees at the mercy of thirteen different sovereigns. They could issue their commands, but like those of the maniac who fancies himself the commander of armies, they were lost upon the winds. Their authority was a mock authority. All the Confederacies which the world had ever seen, had proved entirely inefficient, or had been obliged to enforce their decisions by civil war. Our congress had no authority to attempt to execute their decisions. They could make them, and then they must sit still and wait the result.
Almost as soon as the Articles of Con