CHAPTER IX. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.
It is, I presume, universally known that the citizens of the Western American colonies of Great Britain which revolted, declared themselves to be free from British dominion by an act which they called the Declaration of Independence. This was done on the 4th of July, 1776, and was signed by delegates from the thirteen colonies, or States as they then called themselves. These delegates in this document declare themselves to be the representatives of the United States of America in general Congress assembled. The opening and close of this declaration have in them much that is grand and striking; the greater part of it, however, is given up to enumerating, in paragraph after paragraph, the sins committed by George III. against the colonies. Poor George III.! There is no one now to say a good word for him; but of all those who have spoken ill of him, this declaration is the loudest in its censure.
In the following year, on the 15th of November, 1777, were drawn up the Articles of Confederation between the States, by which it was then intended that a sufficient bond and compact should be made for their future joint existence and preservation. A reference to this document will show how slight was the then intended bond of union between the States. The second article declares that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence. The third article avows that "the said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other for their common defense, the 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 whatever." And the third article, "the better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship," declares that the free citizens of one State shall be free citizens of another. From this it is, I think, manifest that no idea of one united nation had at that time been received and adopted by the citizens of the States. The articles then go on to define the way in which Congress shall assemble and what shall be its powers. This Congress was to exercise the authority of a national government rather than perform the work of a national parliament. It was intended to be executive rather than legislative. It was to consist of delegates, the very number of which within certain limits was to be left to the option of the individual States, and to this Congress was to be confided certain duties and privileges, which could not be performed or exercised separately by the governments of the individual States. One special article, the eleventh, enjoins that "Canada, acceding to the Confederation, and joining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into and entitled to all the advantages of this Union; but no other colony shall be admitted into the same unless such admission be agreed to by nine States." I mention this to show how strong was the expectation at that time that Canada also would revolt from England. Up to this day few Americans can understand why Canada has declined to join her lot to them.
But the compact between the different States made by the Articles of Confederation, and the mode of national procedure therein enjoined, were found to be inefficient for the wants of a people who to be great must be united in fact as well as in name. The theory of the most democratic among the Americans of that day was in favor of self-government carried to an extreme. Self-government was the Utopia which they had determined to realize, and they were unwilling to diminish the reality of the self-government of the individual States by any centralization of power in one head, or in one parliament, or in one set of ministers for the nation. For ten years, from 1777 to 1787, the attempt was made; but then it was found that a stronger bond of nationality was indispensable, if any national greatness was to be regarded as desirable. Indeed, all manner of failure had attended the mode of national action ordained by the Articles of Confederation. I am not attempting to write a history of the United States, and will not therefore trouble my readers with historic details, which are not of value unless put forward with historic weight. The fact of the failure is however admitted, and the present written Constitution of the United States, which is the splendid result of that failure, was "Done in Convention by the unanimous consent of the States present."* Twelve States were present - Rhode Island apparently having had no representative on the occasion - on the 17th of September, 1787, and in the twelfth year of the Independence of the United States.
* It must not, however, be supposed that by this "doing in convention," the Constitution became an accepted fact. It simply amounted to the adoption of a proposal of the Constitution. The Constitution itself was formally adopted by the people in conventions held in their separate State capitals. It was agreed to by the people in 1788, and came into operation in 1789.