the quartet orchestrating the second american revolution 1783 1789.pdf

1 nevertheless washingtons description of the dilemma

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1 Nevertheless, Washington’s description of the dilemma facing prospective reformers of the Articles was quite accurate, and it was just the latest installment in a long-standing pattern of frustration almost as old as the Articles themselves. As we have seen, the first reform proposal to find its way into the historical record came from Alexander Hamilton in July 1783, when he was serving as a delegate in the Confederation Congress. A few weeks later, with time on his hands while waiting for a quorum to arrive at Princeton, Hamilton decided to draft a resolution calling for a convention to amend the Articles. Characteristically, it was the political equivalent of a cavalry change against impossible odds in which even assessing the risk was regarded as a form of cowardice. Hamilton’s list of defects in the Articles began with the basic flaw: namely, that they were less a government than a league of nations lacking even a mandate to govern. (The fact that you had to use the plural rather than the singular to describe the Articles provided a grammatical clue to the deeper problem.) There needed to be stronger executive and judicial branches; the legislature should be empowered to tax and not just request money from the states; and foreign policy, especially the treaty- making power, must become a federal responsibility immune to meddling by the states. Finally, the nine- vote requirement for principal legislation was a recipe for stalemate and had to be scaled back. Early on, then, Hamilton had created a generic blueprint for what would eventually, four years later, become the Constitution. But in the current context, Hamilton’s version of political leadership was so far ahead of both public and political opinion that it was never even debated by the Congress. “Resolutions intended to be submitted to the Congress at Princeton,” he scribbled at the end of his draft, “but abandoned for want of support.” 2 Over the course of the next two years, several proposals calling for a convention to revise the Articles floated through the Congress, one by Madison emphasizing the need for federal control over commerce, another by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina prompted by the sectional split over the Mississippi Question. None of these proposals were as specific or sweeping as Hamilton’s, but all met the same fatal fate. It was an eighteenth-century version of Catch-22 . The moribund character of the Confederation Congress required reform by a separate and independent body, but such an effort could not muster support within the Congress unless or until it was reformed. 3 Finally, a breakthrough of sorts came in January 1786, when Congress approved a convention at Annapolis to discuss the rules governing interstate commerce. This was hardly a mandate for sweeping
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reform in the Hamiltonian mode, but rather an effort at incremental improvement by establishing federal authority over the commerce of the states, which were currently in the process of passing tariffs restricting trade with one another. Madison saw it as a small-scale experiment in political reform. “If it succeeds,”
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  • Fall '16
  • Chemistry, pH, American Revolution, Second Continental Congress, American Revolution, Continental Army

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