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by widely different motives. At the time of the beginning of their
resistance to the oppressive acts of their mother country, they were, in
their governments, entirely separate from and independent of each other.
"Though the colonies had a common origin, and owed a common allegiance
to England, and the inhabitants of each were British subjects, they had
no direct political connection with each other. Each in a limited sense,
was sovereign within its own territory.... The assembly of one province
could not make laws for another.... As colonists they were also excluded
from all connection with foreign states. They were known only as
dependencies. They followed the fate of their mother country both in
peace and war.... They could not form any treaty, even among themselves,
without the consent of England."[1]

[Footnote 1: Story's _Commentaries on the Constitution_, Vol. I, p.

All the colonies did not bear the same relation to the English
government. Owing to the different manner in which the right of
settlement, and occupancy of the soil had been obtained from the king,
the colonies had obtained different rights of government, and were
placed under different obligations to the crown. There came thus to be
three types of colonial governments; the provincial or royal, the
proprietary, and charter governments.

_#I. Provincial Colonies.#_ - Those colonies which possessed a provincial
form of government were royal colonies, being governed almost entirely
by England, as she governs many of her colonies to-day. At the head of
each was a Governor appointed by the King of England. He was assisted by
a council, also appointed by the king. The constitution and laws for
this form of government were contained in the commission and instruction
given to the Governor by the English government. By them the Governor
was empowered to summon a representative assembly. The legislative body
consisted, then, of the Governor, his council, appointed by the king,
and a lower house elected by the people. The Governor had the right of
veto, and the power to dissolve the assembly. The legislature could make
laws, provided they were not repugnant to the laws of England. These
laws were subject to the approval of the Crown. The governor, with the
advice of his council, could erect courts, appoint judges, levy forces,
etc. From the highest courts in all the colonies an appeal lay to the
English King in Council.

_#II. Proprietary Colonies.#_ - The English King often gave to
individuals large tracts of land in the New World. In addition to
ownership of the soil, was given in many cases the right to establish
civil government. These proprietors had all the inferior royalties and
subordinate powers of legislation. The proprietor could appoint or
dismiss the governor, he could invest him with the power to convene a
legislature, with power to veto its acts according to his wishes, and to
perform all other powers of a governor. All laws made, those of Maryland
excepted, were subject to the approval of the English Crown.

_#III. Charter Colonies.#_ - Colonies under this form of government were
so called from their possessing constitutions for their general
political government. These written constitutions were charters obtained
from the King, in which were granted to the people of the colony certain
privileges and rights of self-government which the English government
could not justly take away from them. One of the unjust acts that did
much to arouse the colonists to resistance, was the attempt of the
English government in 1774, to annul the charter of Massachusetts by the
Regulation Act. In this act was contained a precedent that (as Curtis
says) "justly alarmed the entire continent, and in its principle
affected all the colonies, since it assumed that none of them possessed
constitutional rights which could not be altered or taken away by an act
of Parliament." The charters were very liberal, granting almost entire
self-government. As in the royal colonies, the executive was a governor,
and the law-making branch a legislature of two houses.

In Massachusetts the governor was appointed by the Crown, and had a veto
power. The Council or upper branch of the legislature was chosen
annually by the lower house, but the governor had a right of veto on
their choice. The lower house was elected by the people. In Connecticut
and Rhode Island the governor, council, together with the assembly were
chosen annually by popular vote, and all officers were appointed by
them. In these two the governor had no right of veto, and the laws
before going into execution did not require the royal approval.

Seven of the original colonies began under proprietary governments - New
York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North and South Carolina, Maryland and
New Jersey. Of these, four - New York, New Jersey, North and South
Carolina - became eventually provincial colonies, and Maryland was at one
time a proprietary.

Three of the colonies, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, were
settled under charters that were never surrendered. Three others,
Virginia, Georgia and New Hampshire possessed charters for a while, but
eventually became royal colonies.

Notwithstanding these diversities of government that have been pointed
out, there were many features common to all the colonies. All considered
themselves dependencies of the British Crown. All the colonists claimed
the enjoyment of the privileges and rights of British-born subjects, and
the benefit of the common law of England. The laws of all were required
to be not repugnant to, but, as nearly as possible, in conformity with
the laws of England. In all the colonies local legislatures existed, at
least one branch of which consisted of representatives chosen by the

The general condition of the colonies at the time of the outbreak of the
Revolutionary War, so far at least as concerns their governments, has
now been given. What were the grounds upon which the colonists justified
their resistance to the acts of English government?

In the first place, they claimed that their rights were received from,
and their allegiance was due to the King, not to the Parliament. The
colonists said the King was the only tie that bound them to England;
that Parliament was composed of representatives from England alone, and
therefore had powers of legislation only for England. Later, however, it
was conceded that in matters of general interest to the whole United
Kingdom, Parliament might exercise control, but that concerning all
matters of domestic and internal interest, and of concern only to
themselves, it was the right of their own legislatures to legislate, and
that under this head came taxation.

Says Story:[1] "Perhaps the best summary of the rights and liberties
asserted by all the colonies is contained in the celebrated declaration
drawn up by the Congress of nine colonies assembled at New York in
October, 1765 (Stamp Act Congress). That declaration asserted that the
colonists 'owe the same allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain that is
owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination
to that august body, the parliament of Great Britain,' That the
colonists 'are entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of his
(the King's) natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.
That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the
undoubted rights of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them but
with their own consent given personally or by their representatives.'
That the 'people of the colonies are not, and from their local
circumstances cannot be represented in the House of Commons of Great
Britain. That the only representatives of these colonies are persons
chosen by themselves therein; and that no taxes ever have been or can be
constitutionally imposed upon them but by their respective legislatures,
and that trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every
British subject in these colonies.'"

[Footnote 1: _Commentaries_, Vol. I, p. 175.]

In opposition to these views, the English government held that
Parliament had the authority to bind the colonies in all matters
whatsoever, and that there were no vested rights possessed by the
colonies, that could not be altered or annulled if Parliament so

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, complete independence was not
claimed by the colonies. It was not until July 4, 1776, that they were
driven to a declaration of full and entire independence and
self-government. By this declaration the colonies threw off their
colonial character, and assumed the position of states. This they did by
simply taking into their own hands the powers previously exercised by
the English King and Parliament. In the state constitutions which many
colonies formed during the year, their old colonial forms of government
were closely followed. Connecticut and Rhode Island, in fact, merely
declared their allegiance to England absolved, and retained unchanged
their old charters as their fundamental law. In Connecticut no other
state constitution was adopted until 1818, nor in Rhode Island until


Steps Toward Union. - Articles of Confederation.

Previous to 1774 the thirteen English colonies in America had had no
political or governmental connection with each other. Any attempt on
their part to unite without the consent of the English King or
Parliament would have been considered an act beyond their powers and as
insubordination towards the English government.

_#New England Confederation.#_ - In 1643 there was formed a union of the
four colonies of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Plymouth, and Massachusetts
Bay, termed the "New England Confederation," which lasted forty years;
but this was merely a union for mutual protection against their common
foes, the French, the Dutch, and the Indians, and not for joint
legislation or government. It was a defensive alliance.

_#The Albany Convention._# - (Franklin's Plan.) In 1754, however, there
was held a meeting of the colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, called
the "Albany Convention," in which was proposed a union of all the
colonies under one government. Benjamin Franklin, the chief promoter of
this scheme, drew up an elaborate constitution which was to be adopted.
According to this plan there was to be a chief executive, elected by the
king, and a council of 48 members, to be chosen by the legislatures of
the several colonies. This scheme failed to obtain either the consent of
the king or of the colonies themselves. It was too much of a union to
suit the king, and not enough for the colonies. _#The Stamp Act
Congress.#_ - The indignation aroused by the attempt of England to tax
her colonies without allowing them a voice in the Parliament which
imposed such taxes, gave rise in 1765 to a meeting of delegates from
eight of the colonies. This assembly was called the "Stamp Act
Congress." The obnoxious Stamp Act was repealed, but England continued
to impose other taxes.

_#First Continental Congress.#_ - An invitation was sent out by Virginia
to all the colonies, calling a meeting of delegates to consider what
could be done by their united action to resist their common grievance.
Thus met the "First Continental Congress" in 1774, in which all the
colonies but Georgia were represented. This Congress adopted a
declaration of rights and grievances. The colonies maintained that as
long as they were unrepresented in the English legislature (Parliament),
taxes should be imposed only by their own legislatures; also, that they
were entitled to the rights, liberties, and immunities of free,
natural-born subjects within the realm of England.

_#The Second Continental Congress.#_ - On May 10, 1775, assembled the
Second Continental Congress, in which all the thirteen colonies were
represented. The battle of Lexington had then been fought, and blood had
been shed. Though the colonies had as yet no intention of throwing off
all connection with England, they were now prepared to resist with arms
any invasion of their rights. The work performed by this body has been
concisely and forcibly stated by Schouler.[1] He says: "Thus originated
that remarkable body known as the Continental Congress, which, with its
periodical sessions and frequent changes of membership, bore for fifteen
years the symbols of Federal power in America; which, as a single house
of deputies acting by Colonies or States, and blending with legislative
authority, imperfect executive and judicial functions, raised armies,
laid taxes, contracted a common debt, negotiated foreign treaties, made
war and peace; which, in the name and with the assumed warrant of the
thirteen colonies, declared their independence of Great Britain, and by
God's blessing accomplished it; which, having framed and promulgated a
plan of general confederation, persuaded these same thirteen republics
to adopt it, each making a sacrifice of its sovereignty for the sake of
establishing a perpetual league, to be known as the United States of
America, a league preserved until in the fullness of time came a more
perfect Union."

[Footnote 1: _Hist. U.S._, Vol. I, p. 13.]

The acts of this Congress were the _first legislative acts by the joint
action of the colonies_.

The Second Continental Congress was essentially a revolutionary body.
That is to say, the authority for its acts rested upon no definite grant
of powers by the colonies, but was assumed by it to meet the crisis of
war. Properly speaking, it could hardly be called a government. It was
more in the nature of a directing advisory committee. Its commands
possessed a recommendatory character only, and it was entirely without
executive officers, or legal control over either individuals or the

_#The Articles of Confederation.#_ - A stronger central power than that
afforded by the Continental Congress was seen to be a necessity.
Accordingly, in 1777, there was drawn up a scheme of union embraced in a
paper termed "The Articles of Confederation." These articles, though
adopted as early as 1777, did not go into effect until 1781, the
provision being that they should not be considered as in force until
ratified by _all_ the colonies, and several refused to ratify until all
state claims to western territory were relinquished in favor of the
National Government.

_#Elements Tending to Separation and Those Tending to Union.#_ - We must
remember that this was a union of thirteen previously separate colonies.
The facts which had tended to keep them apart had been the difficulty of
travel and communication between the colonies, the lack of commercial
intercourse, but more than all, their local jealousies. The small States
feared the larger; commercial jealousies were very keen. In 1756 Georgia
and South Carolina actually came to blows over a dispute as to the
navigation of the Savannah river. Other disputes about boundaries were
frequent. Colonies with good harbors and seaports desired to keep the
benefits of them exclusively to themselves. At that time, too, the
people of the thirteen colonies were far more widely separated in their
forms of government, their industrial habits and social customs than
they now are. On the other hand, the old facts which tended to urge on a
common union between them were common race, language, and nationality,
many similar political institutions, and, most of all, common interests
and a common peril.

_#The Purposes of the Confederation.#_ - The purposes of this
Confederation are best stated by giving Article III of the Articles:

"The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship
with each other for their common defense and security of their liberties
and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each
other against all force offered to or attacks made upon them, or any of
them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretext

_#Scheme of Government under the Articles of Confederation.#_ - The
Articles of Confederation established a framework of government for the
confederated colonies, which government was to control those matters
that experience had shown could be executed only by united action. As a
scheme of government it was no better than a makeshift. It was an effort
to form a federal power without diminishing the powers of the States - an
effort "to pare off slices of state government without diminishing the
loaf." That such a union could be perpetual, as the scheme professed,
was impossible.

Under these Articles of Confederation the sole functions of the federal
authority, legislative, executive, and judicial, were vested in a
Continental Congress, consisting of a single house of delegates, who
voted by States, and were appointed annually in such a manner as the
respective States directed. Each State was entitled to not less than two
nor more than seven delegates, a majority of whom decided the vote of
the State in question. The executive functions were largely performed by
a Committee of States, which was empowered to sit during recesses. For
all important measures the vote of every State was required. The vote of
all thirteen was required for an amendment.

_#Defects of the Articles of Confederation.#_ - In this scheme of union
there were many fatal defects. The principal of these defects were -

1. The want of some compulsory means of enforcing obedience to the acts
of Congress. The articles provided neither an executive power nor a
national judiciary worth mentioning. As one writer has said: "Congress
could declare everything, but do nothing." A single colony could with
impunity disregard any decree of the Congress.

2. The large vote required to pass all important measures.

3. The absence of the right to regulate foreign commerce, and make
duties uniform, and to collect those duties. This defect, as we shall
find, was one of the most vital, and more than any thing else decreed
the failure of the practical working of the Confederation, and showed
the necessity of a better and stronger National government.

4. The virtual impossibility of amendment. Since a unanimous vote was
required, the selfish interest of one State could, and did, stand in the
way of an amendment beneficial and necessary to the other twelve.

5. There was no power to enforce treaties. Foreign countries recognized
this, and therefore refused to enter into any treaties with us.
Washington said: "We are one nation to-day, and thirteen to-morrow. Who
will treat with us on such terms."

England refused to carry out the conditions of the treaty of 1783, and
continued to keep troops on our Western borders.

6. The central authority had insufficient power to control disputes
arising between the States.

7. The lack of a Federal judiciary.

8. Lack of power to collect taxes, or to raise revenue to defray even
the ordinary expenses of government. This was the most striking and
important defect of them all. The whole power given to Congress under
this head was the power "to ascertain the sum necessary to be raised for
the service of the United States, and apportion the rate or proportion
on each State." The collection of such taxes was left to the States
themselves, and if they refused (as they frequently did) the Federal
Government had no power to compel them.

Our present better government was "wrung from the grinding necessities
of a reluctant people."

_#Adoption of the Constitution.#_ - Actual hostilities ceased in 1781. In
1783 peace with England was declared, and the independence of the
colonies was achieved. The war left the American people with an empty
treasury, and a country drained of its wealth and impoverished by the
exhaustive struggle. It left us with a large national debt, both to our
own citizens and friends abroad, and most of all, left us with an army
of unpaid patriotic soldiers. And no sooner had foreign danger been
removed than domestic troubles arose which filled all with gloomy
forebodings for the future. With the loss of that cohesive principle
which common danger supplied them, the colonies now began to fall apart.
Even during the progress of the war the weakness of the Union had shown
itself. Washington unhesitatingly declared that it was the lack of
sufficient central authority that caused the prolongation of the war.
One instance will show how weak was the Federal authority. During the
summer of 1783, when Congress was at Philadelphia, some eighty deserters
from the army so threatened Congress as to force a removal of our
Federal capital from that place to Princeton. The Continental finances
were in a deplorable condition. Congress could not even collect
sufficient taxes for the payment of the interest on the public debt. The
States could, and often did, refuse to pay their proportion of taxes
imposed upon them by Congress. Congress made a last attempt, in 1785, to
raise a revenue by a tax on imported goods, but this measure failed, New
York refusing to ratify. Congress, indeed, did not collect one-fourth of
her demands. Commerce was going to ruin. England refused to allow our
country the rich trade with the West Indies. To these troubles were
added the mutual jealousies and selfishness of the States. Each of them
tried to attract commerce to itself, and passed laws hurtful to the
other States.

The people in Massachusetts were in insurrection. The French minister
wrote to his country: "There is now no general government in America - no
head, no Congress, no administrative departments."

For all these evils the limited and imperfect powers conferred upon the
Federal Government by the articles of Confederation afforded no adequate
remedy. Even the Constitutional Congress was now in danger of breaking
up. States, to save expense, neglected to send delegates, and repeated
appeals had to be made to get representation from nine States so as to
pass important measures. A better union was seen by all thoughtful
citizens to be necessary, but very difficult to obtain, owing to
inter-state differences. The idea of having a convention separate from
the Congress, whose work should be the framing of a stronger government,
gradually gained ground.

The Constitutional Convention was obtained in a roundabout way, and only
after repeated failures. The first attempt to obtain an assembly of
representatives was made at Annapolis, Maryland. Only five States sent
representatives, and the convention accordingly adjourned to
Philadelphia, where in May, 1778, delegates from all the States, except
Rhode Island, finally assembled.


Adoption of the Constitution.

_#The Constitutional Convention.#_ - Fifty-five delegates were present.
With scarcely an exception they were all clearheaded, able, and moderate
men. Virginia sent Washington, Madison, Edmund Randolph; Pennsylvania
sent Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, and James Wilson; New York sent
Alexander Hamilton; New Jersey, Patterson; and South Carolina, the two
Pinckneys. Washington was chosen President of the Convention. Two rules
were adopted: 1st, proceedings were to be secret, and 2d, one vote was
to be given to each State, thus making it of no importance whether a
State had a large or small delegation.

Though the delegates had thus assembled to form a better and new union,
they differed widely in their views as to what changes were necessary,
and as to what powers should be given to the Federal Government, and
what retained by the States. Some desired merely a change of the
existing Articles of Confederation, more power being granted, however,
to the Federal Government; while others wished for an entirely new

The convention at once divided into two parties. The one representing
the small States, such as New Jersey and Delaware; and the other, the
larger States, such as Virginia, New York and Massachusetts. The plan
brought forward by the party of the large States was that presented to
the convention by Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, and generally known as
the National or Large State Plan. This plan proposed a congress of two
houses, having power to legislate on all National matters, and to compel
obedience on the part of the States. Representation in both houses was
to be based on population, thus giving to the larger, and more populous,
States the control of both branches of the legislature; and, also, since
by this scheme the president, executive officers, and judges were to be
appointed by Congress, control of the whole administration of the new

On behalf of the small States, Patterson, of New Jersey, introduced what

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Online LibraryWilliam F. WilloughbyGovernment and Administration of the United States → online text (page 2 of 11)