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failed, and this opened the eyes of the American people to the necessity of a more efficient government. * Congress in the year 1784, passed resolutions, which recommended it to the several states, “to vest the United States, in Congress assembled, for the term of fifteen years, with power to prevent any goods, wares, or merchandise from being imported into, or exported from, any of the states, in vessels belonging to, or navigated by the subjects of any power with whom these United States shall not have formed treaties of commerce.” Also prohibiting “ the subjects of any foreign state, kingdom, or empire, unless authorised by treaty, from importing into the United States, any goods, wares, or merchandise, which are not the produce or manufacture of the dominions of the sovereign, whose subjects they are.” In February 1785, Congress elected John Adams, Esq. as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Great-Britain, for the express purpose of negociating a commercial treaty. Mr. Adams repaired to the court of London, and used his influence to effect the object of his mission, but failed, upon the ground that Congress possessed no powers to enforce the due observance of any such treaty. The failure of Mr. Adams shewed to America and the world, the contempt Great-Britain both felt and expressed towards the powers of Congress, when applied to commercial regulations, and opened the eyes of the nation to a true sense of their situation, and led them to see the necessity of a more efficient government. No one in America saw and felt the immediate necessity of such a govern. ment more than Gen. Washington, and no one strove more than he did, both by his letters and conversation, to impress this upon his friends, and through them upon the public mind. At this eventful period Gen. Washington received a long and effectionate letter from the Marquis De La Fayette, who had then returned to France from a tour through the north of Europe ; who, aster recapitulating the handsome
e * *
compliments the old king of Prussia had, with delight bestow
ed upon the hero of America,(Washington,)proceeded to say, —“I wish I could say, that the other sentiments I have had occasion to discover, with regard to America, were equally satisfactory with those that are personal to yourself. I need not say that the spirit, the firmness with which the revolution
was conducted, has excited universal admiration. That every.
friend to the rights of mankind is an enthusiast for the principles on which those constitutions are built; but I have often had the mortification to hear, that the want of powers in Congress; union in the states, and energy in their government would make the confederation very insignificant. By their conduct, (adds the marquis,) the citizens of America have commanded the respect of the world; but it grieves me to think, they will in a measure loose it unless they strengthen the confederation, give Congress power to regulate trade, pay off their debt, or at least the interest of it, establish a well regulated militia, and in a word, complete all those measures which you have recommended to them.”— To which Gen. Washington made the following reply.—“Unhappily for us, though the reports you mention are greatly exaggerated, our conduct has laid the foundation for them. It is one of the evils of democratic governments, that the people, not always seeing, and often misled, must often feel before they act right: but evils of this nature seldom fail to work their own cure. It is to be lamented nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those who wish to apply them seasonably, are not attended to, before they suffer in person, in reputation, and in interest. I am not without hopes, that matters will soon take a favourable turn in the Federal Constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate powers to Wor,. III. AA
Congress, for national purposes, and those of a different description must yield to it ere long.” When it was known in America that the mission of Mr. Adams had failed, a spirit of discontent burst forth in Boston, and filled their gazettes with warm resolutions of the citizens of Boston, which resulted in addresses to their legislature, and a petition to Congress, and a circular letter te the merchants of all the trading towns upon the sea coast, in the United States. In their petition to Congress, they enumerate pointedly, all the embarrassments of trade, and then add.—“Impressed with these ideas, your petitioners beg leave to request of the very august body they now have the honor to address, that the numerous impositions of the British, on the trade, and exports of these states, may be forthwith contravened, by similar expedients on our part, else may it please your excellency and honors, the commerce of this country, and of consequence its wealth, and perhaps the union itself, may become victims to the artifice of a nation, whose arms have been in vain exerted to accomplish the American ruin.” This memorial was backed by another of similar purport, from the citizens of Philadelphia. The subject was felt throughout the nation, and the alarm became general. Gen. Washington, whose watchful guardian care had never slumbered, nor ceased for a moment to exercise the same vigilance over the destinies of his beloved country, in time of peace, that he had manifested in time of war; in a letter to a friend,” thus expressed himself.
“The information you have given me concerning the dispositions of a certain court, (England,) coincides precisely with the sentiments I have formed of it from my own observations, on many late occurrences. With respect to ourselves, I wish I could add, that as
*Mr. Fairfax in England.
much wisdom had pervaded our councils, as reason and common policy most evidently dictated. But the truth is, the people must feel before they will see : consequently they are brought slowly into measures of public utility. Past experience, or the admonitions of a few, have but little weight. But evils of this nature work their own cure, though the remedy comes slower than comports with the wishes of those who foresee, or think they foresce, the danger. “With respect to the commercial system which GreatBritain are pursuing with this country, the ministers, in this as in other matters, are defeating their own end, by facilitating the grant of those powers to Congress, which will produce a counteraction of their plans, and with which, but for those plans, half a century would not have vested that body.”
Congress met the petitions by originating several resolutions, wherein they recommended it to the several states, to vest in Congress full authority, under certain himitations and restrictions, to regulate their commerce, both internal and external. But such was the jealousy and opposition, that these resolutions were never agreed to, and the discontent of the people became more and more alarming. The infraction of the treaty on the part of GreatBritain, in withholding the western posts, was also another part of the subject attached to the mission of Mr. Adams. This minister presented a memorial to the British minister, complaining of the infraction of the treaty on the part of Great-Britain, and pressing her immediate compliance. This was met by Lord Camarthen with an explicit acknowledgment of the fact, but with a declaration at the same time, “that America had violated the 4th article, in
withholding the payment of such bona fide debts as were embraced by that article, and that whenever this embarrassment should be removed, the seventh article should be fulfilled, and the posts delivered up. That all treaties ought to be equally, and mutually binding; and that whenever America should shew a disposition to fulfil on her part, Great-Britain would not hesitate to shew her sincerity, and co-operate in whatever points depended upon her for carrying the treaty into complete effect.” This declaration opened the eyes of the Congress to a true sense of their situation, and shewed the governmentto be nothing more than a rope of sand, and without the power to enforce the observance of the treaty, in its most important points. The recommendations, and even remonstrances of Congress to the several states, who had by their legislative acts contravened the treaty, were altogether fruitless, and ineffectual. Gen. Washington, ever anxious for the best good of his. country, exerted his influence, by his letters to his most influential friends, in the several states, but without effect; the war was over, and avarice, and ambition, had become regardless of moral obligation, and men were bent on the gratification of the corruptest passions, at the expence of the honor, peace, virtue, prosperity, and even good faith of their country. In this state of things no provision was made for the payment of public, or private debts, and the credit of the nation as well as individuals was low. In the midst of this general depreciation of public, and private credit, a vile system of speculation sprang up that spread through the nation. This had for its object to engross, as far as possible, the evidences of public debt which were afloat in market; and in connection with this, extended into the national councils; here it produced confusion for a time, but ultimately resulted in the general good.