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4119 HISTORIC DOCUMENTS

CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

{Editor's Note: In the Revolutionary War the United States won independence,

but in doing so the new nation passed to the very brink of ruin. Commerce,

manufactures, trade, and industry had been destroyed; the currency was worth

no more than the flimsy paper upon which the crude design was stamped; the

gaunt, ragged soldiers, who tottered to their desolate homes, had not been paid,

even in the miserable currency, for many months; thousands of hearthstones

were darkened by the shadow which could never be lifted in this life; the future

seemed to offer little or no hope, and anarchy and destruction impended.

A common aim and common peril held the States together during the Revolution,

and no real authority existed anywhere. All that the Continental Congress

could do was to recommend certain specified legislation to the States; the States

did as they chose about following the advice and quite often disregarded it altogether. In 1776, each State formed its own government, and on March 1, 1781,

adopted the Articles of Confederation. These authorized Congress to declare

war, make peace, issue money, and maintain an army, but that body had no

power to levy a single tax or enforce a single law. Any company of men can

frame laws without limit, but when they have no means of enforcing them, legislation becomes a farce. The Articles of Confederation soon proved to be absolutely

worthless.

The States were jealous of one another and all dreaded a strong, central government, without which national existence must come to an end. In their desperation

some of the States began issuing paper money, as if the mere printing of promises

to pay, gave any real value to such slips of paper. Rhode Island prescribed

severe penalties for all who refused to accept such stuff in payment of debts.

The merchants were defiant, and throughout the summer of 1786, the State was

a vast, silent workshop, where all business was dead. Massachusetts, having

defeated the proposed paper money law, Daniel Shays, who had been a Captain

in the Continental army, placed himself at the head of two thousand indignant

farmers, dispersed the supreme court sitting at Springfield, attacked the arsenal,

and demanded the abolishment of taxes and a general issuance of paper money.

Congress sent a strong military force to the disaffected section, and the revolt

was suppressed after slight bloodshed.

These and other acts of disorder roused the thoughtful people of the country

to the gravity of the danger which threatened the national existence. Washington,

Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, and other able patriots gave many anxious hours

to a consideration of the great problem. Virginia, in January, 1786, had invited

commissioners from all the States to meet at Annapolis in September to consider

the necessary legislation regarding trade. Only five States sent commissioners.

They, however, adopted an address, urging all the States to name new commissioners to meet in Philadelphia in the following May, to consider, not only

the commercial situation, but to "devise such further provisions as shall appear

to them necessary to render the constitution of the federal government adequate

to the exigencies of the Union".

It was a notable body of men that came together in the same room in Independence Hall, where the immortal Declaration of Independence had been signed.

Washington was the presiding officer, and among the members were Franklin,

Madison, Randolph, Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution, Gouverneur

Morris, author of our decimal coinage, and others of great ability. The masterful

personality of Washington did more than anything else to bring the deliberations

of the convention to a successful issue. There was seemingly no end to the

conflicting views, and time and again the convention was on the eve of hopeless

adjournment. But, slowly and carefully the great work was forged into definite

form, and at the end of four months, was evolved the Constitution of the United