« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Madison had taken a lively interest in all these events, but, perhaps, in nothing more so than the course matters had taken in the management of his own State. With Mr. Jefferson he had regretted, and strongly set his face against the temporary folly about the Virginia Dictator. While he saw no need of such a step in Virginia, he was greatly annoyed by the weakness of the Congress and the dastardly conduct of some of the States, a matter about which he wrote to Mr. Jefferson in the following terms :
“The necessity of arming Congress with coercive powers arises from the shameful deficiency of some of the States, which are most capable of yielding their apportioneri supplies, and the military exactions to which others, already exhausted by the enemy and our own troops, are in consequence exposed. Without such powers, too, in the general government, the whole confederacy may be insulted, and the most salutary measures frustrated by the most inconsiderable State in the Union. At a time when all the other States were submitting to the loss and inconvenience of an embargo on their exports, Delaware absolutely declined coming into the measure, and not only defeated the general object of it, but enriched herself at the expense of those who did their duty.
“It may be asked, perhaps, by what means Congress could exercise such a power, if the States were to invest them with it. As long as there is a regular army on foot, a small detachment from it, acting under civil authority, would at any time render a voluntary contribution of supplies due from a State an eligible alternative. But there is a still more easy and efficacious mode. The situation of most of the States is such that two or three vessels of force, employed against their trade, will make it their interest to yield prompt obedience to all just requisitions on them. With respect to those States that have little or no foreign trade of their own, it is provided that all inland trade with such States as supply them with foreign merchandise may be interdicted, and the concurrence of the latter may be enforced, in case of refusal, by operations on their foreign trade.”
Mr. Jefferson also believed then, and years afterwards, that the Congress had the right, the power, “by the law of nature," to compel the States to carry out any conditions of the Confederation, as the contributions of money for the common defense, and other purposes of government. He said that compulsion in the hands of the Congress was proper and safe, and easily executed when a single frigate could levy on a stubborn State for its deficiency in the revenues.
There was great rejoicing over the result at Yorktown; the Continental Congress had, in a stately sort of humility given thanks to Him who rules the destinies of nations; amen and amen had been honestly echoed, and the general shout of triumph had died away
from one end to the other of the thirteen States; and everywhere it was felt that the work was substantially done. Still wary members of the Congress did not feel so confident in the final issue of negotiations for peace, and too much had been lost and gained in the great contest to relax their efforts at a moment when so much might be accomplished by a vigorous display of determination and strength in hastening a favorable end.
On the urgent recommendation of General Washington the Congress at once set about fixing the military establishment, and completing arrangements for another campaign on a scale commensurate with the capacity extravagantly borrowed from the last great successes. More than ever now was that body ready to comply with the requests of the General of the army, and few of the members disagreed with him in the opinion as to their weakness, even under the new assurances given by the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. Even Mr. Jefferson was saying from Europe that the Congress would really have to use the rod. Before this period, before the surrender of Cornwallis, Mr. Madison had favored an amendment to the plan of the Confederation which should enable the Congress to enforce the obligations of States.
While Mr. Madison was, from the first and always, a republican, and in view of the mania which then existed against a government of any degree of authority, a state of folly yet surviving, the quotation from his letter dated April 16, 1781, will not be found uninteresting
But all remedies failed, and even the right or authority of the Congress to lay a five per cent tax on foreign goods imported into the States was denied and resisted. Through the influence of Mr. Madison and others the Virginia Legislature gave the privilege to the Congress to send a collecting officer to her ports, but she soon repented of this piece of charity, and declared that when the other States complied with the request of the agent of the Confederacy it would be time enough for the execution of her liberal intentions.
Sir Guy Carleton (called also Lord Dorchester) succeeded Clinton in command of the British forces in America, and through him some pretense of adjustment was made which Washington wisely rejected, and the mediation of Russia and Germany was declined by England, unwilling to have any nation come between her and her “revolted colonies.” If difficulties with France had only been in question, England would have accepted Russia's proffer, even with a better grounded hope of retaining her former dominion unbroken. France's pecuniary bankruptcy
especially would have dictated her acquiescence in a negotiation on her own account, and it is by no means beyond dispute that she deemed her pledges in behalf of American independence above her ambition to break and humble the power of England. Still, with all the appearances of a genuine faith, she creditably took the stand that she was in duty bound to take no step which did not look to the national independence of America, and in which her transatlantic ally could not be a participant. France was then no patron of republics, and not her friendship for America, but her hatred for England, and strong desire to dismember her empire and degrade her among nations, led her to espouse the American cause.
On the 4th of October, 1782, the Congress adopted the following declaration :
“It appears that the British court still flatters itself with the vain hope of prevailing on the United States to agree to some terms of dependence upon Great Britain, or at least to a separate peace; and there is reason to believe that commissioners may be sent to America to offer propositions of that nature to the United States, or that secret emissaries may be employed to delude and deceive. In order, therefore, to extinguish ill-founded hopes, to frustrate insidious attempts, and to manifest to the whole world the purity of the intentions, and the fixed and unalterable determination of the United States,
“ Resolved, unanimously, that Congress are sincerely desirous of an honorable and permanent peace; that, as the only means of obtaining it, they will inviolably adhere to the treaty of alliance with his Most Christian Majesty, and conclude neither a separate peace nor truce with Great Britain ; that they will prosecute the war with vigor until, by the blessing of God on the united arms, a peace shall be happily accomplished, by which, the full and absolute sovereignty and independence of these United States having been duly assured, their rights and interests, as well as those of their allies, shall be effectually provided for and secured.”
MR. MADISON IN THE CONGRESS-AGAIN IN THE VIRGINIA
R. MADISON'S standing was now quite high
and gratifying, and perhaps no delegate in the Congress took a more active and praiseworthy part in its work during the long period of negotiations for peace than did he. He was a member of most of the committees on important subjects, and whether in relation to the reasonable demands of the disbanding army, or the duties, needs, and obligations of the States and the Confederacy, he made alike a wise and honorable record. His main instrument yet was his pen. His tongue was not at this date a wholly reliable force.
He made quite a thorough report of the debates in the Congress; and this self-imposed task he executed in the most laborious ways. His notes, made in the day, were written out fully in the night, and in some cases subsequently submitted to members most concerned, so that his reports of the proceedings of the Congress during the last years of the war became the standard history of that body. By his industry, too, were authentic records made of other important matters in the early political annals of the country, as will be seen hereafter.
As the certainty of peace became more apparent, provision became necessary for the accumulated obli