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DRIFTING TOWARD ANARCHY.
At the close of the eighteenth century the barbarous superstitions of the Middle Ages concerning trade between nations still flourished with scarcely diminished vitality. The epoch-making work of Adam Smith had been published in the same year in which the United States declared their independence. The one was the great scientific event, as the other was the great political event of the age; but of neither the one nor the other were the scope and purport fathomed at the time. Among the foremost statesmen, those who, like Shelburne and Gallatin, understood the principles of the "Wealth of Nations" were few indeed. The simple principle that when two parties trade both must be gainers, or one would soon stop trading, was generally lost sight of; and most commercial legislation proceeded upon the theory that in trade, as in gambling or betting, what the one party gains the other must lose. Hence towns, districts, and nations surrounded themselves with walls of legislative restrictions intended to keep out the monster Trade, or to admit him only on strictest proof that he could do no harm. On this barbarous theory, the use of a colony consisted in its being a customer which you could compel to trade with yourself, while you could prevent it from trading with anybody else; and having secured this point, you could cunningly arrange things by legislation so as to throw all the loss upon this enforced customer, and keep all the gain to yourself. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries all the commercial legislation of the great colonizing states was based upon this theory of the use of a colony. For effectiveness, it shared to some extent the characteristic features of legislation for making water run up hill. It retarded commercial development all over the world, fostered monopolies, made the rich richer and the poor poorer, hindered the interchange of ideas and the refinement of manners, and sacrificed millions of human lives in misdirected warfare; but what it was intended to do it did not do. The sturdy race of smugglers — those despised pioneers of a higher civilization — thrived in defiance of kings and parliaments; and as it was impossible to carry out such legislation thoroughly without stopping trade altogether, colonies and mother countries contrived to increase their wealth in spite of it. The colonies, however, understood the animus of the theory in so far as it was directed against them, and the revolutionary sentiment in America had gained much of its strength from the protest against this one-sided justice. In one of its most important aspects, the Revolution was a deadly blow aimed at the old system of trade restrictions. It was to a certain extent a step in realization of the noble doctrines of Adam Smith. But where the scientific thinker grasped the whole principle involved in the matter, the practical statesmen saw only the special application which seemed to concern them for the moment. They all understood that the Revolution had set them free to trade with other countries than England, but very few of them understood that, whatever countries trade together, the one cannot hope to benefit by impoverishing the other.
This point is much better understood in England today than in the United States; but a century ago there was little to choose between the two countries in ignorance of political economy. England had gained great wealth and power through trade with her rapidly growing American colonies. One of her chief fears, in the event of American independence, had been the possible loss of that trade. English merchants feared that American commerce, when no longer confined to its old paths by legislation, would somehow find its way to France and Holland and Spain and other countries, until nothing would be left for England. The Revolution worked no such change, however. The principal trade of the United States was with England, as before, because England could best supply the goods that Americans wanted; and it is such considerations, and not acts of Parliament, that determine trade in its natural and proper channels. In 1783 Pitt introduced into Parliament a bill which would have secured mutual unconditional free trade between the two countries; and this was what such men as Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison desired. Could this bill have passed, the hard feelings occasioned by the war would soon have died out, the commercial progress of both countries would have been promoted, and the stupid measures which led to a second war within thirty years might have been prevented. But the wisdom of Pitt found less favour in Parliament than the dense stupidity of Lord Sheffield, who thought that to admit Americans to the carrying trade would undermine the naval power of Great Britain. Pitt's measure was defeated, and the regulation of commerce with America was left to the king in council. Orders were forthwith passed as if upon the theory that America poor would be a better customer than America rich.
The carrying trade to the West Indies had been one of the most important branches of American industry. The men of New England were famous for seamanship, and better and cheaper ships could be built in the seaports of Massachusetts than anywhere in Great Britain. An oak vessel could be built at Gloucester or Salem for twenty-four dollars per ton; a ship of live-oak or American cedar cost not more than thirty-eight dollars per ton. On the other hand, fir vessels built on the Baltic cost thirty-five dollars per ton, and nowhere in England, France, or Holland could a ship be made of oak for less than fifty dollars per ton. Often the cost was as high as sixty dollars. It was not strange, therefore, that before the war more than one third of the tonnage afloat under the British flag was launched from American dock-yards. The war had violently deprived England of this enormous advantage, and now she sought to make the privation perpetual, in the delusive hope of confirming British trade to British keels, and in the belief that it was the height of wisdom to impoverish the nation which she regarded as her best customer. In July , 1783, an order in council proclaimed that henceforth all trade between the United States and the British West Indies must be carried on in British built ships, owned and navigated by British subjects. A serious blow was thus dealt not only at American shipping, but also at the interchange of commodities between the states and the islands, which was greatly hampered by this restriction. During the whole of the eighteenth century the West India sugar trade with the North American colonies and with Great Britain had been of immense value to all parties, and all had been seriously damaged by the curtailment of it due to the war. Now that the artificial state of things created by the war was to be perpetuated by legislation, the prospect of repairing the loss seemed indefinitely postponed. Moreover, even in trading directly with Great Britain, American ships were only allowed to bring in articles produced in the particular states of which their owners were citizens, — an enactment which seemed to add insult to injury, inasmuch as it directed especial attention to the want of union among the thirteen states. Great indignation was aroused in America, and reprisals were talked of, but efforts were first made to obtain a commercial treaty.
In 1785 Franklin returned from France, and Jefferson was sent as minister in his stead, while John Adams became the first representative of the United States at the British court, Adams was at first very courteously received by George III,; and presently set to work to convince Lord Carmarthen, the foreign secretary, of the desirableness of unrestricted intercourse between the two countries.
But popular opinion in England was obstinately set against him. But for the Navigation Act and the orders in council it was said, all ships would by and by come to be built in America, and every time a frigate was wanted for the navy the Lords of Admiralty would have to send over to Boston or Philadelphia and order one. Rather than do such a thing as this, it was thought that the British navy should content itself with vessels of inferior workmanship and higher cost, built in British dockyards. Thirty years after, England gathered an unexpected fruit of this narrow policy, when, to her intense bewilderment, she saw frigate after frigate outsailed and defeated in single combat with American antagonists. Owing to her exclusive measures, the rapid improvement in American shipbuilding had gone on quite beyond her ken, until she was thus rudely awakened to it. With similar short-sighted jealousy, it was argued that the American share in the whale-fishery and in the Newfoundland fishery should be curtailed as much as possible, Spermaceti oil was much needed in England: complaints were rife of robbery and murder in the dimly lighted streets of London and other great cities. But it was thought that if American ships could carry oil to England and salt fish to Jamaica, the supply of seamen for the British navy would be diminished; and accordingly such privileges must not be granted the Americans unless valuable privileges could be granted in return. But the government of the United States could grant no privileges because it could impose no restrictions. British manufactured goods were needed in America, and Congress, which could levy no duties, had no power to keep them out. British merchants and manufacturers, it was argued, already enjoyed all needful privileges in American ports, and accordingly they asked no favours and granted none.
Such were the arguments to which Adams was obliged to listen. The popular feeling was so strong that Pitt could not have stemmed it if he would. It was in vain that Adams threatened reprisals, and urged that the British measures would defeat their own purpose. "The end of the Navigation Act," said he, "as expressed in its own preamble, is to confine the commerce of the colonies to the mother country; but now we are become independent states, instead of confining our trade to Great Britain, it will drive it to other countries:" and he suggested that the Americans might make a navigation act in their turn, admitting to American ports none but American-built ships, owned and commanded by Americans. But under the articles of confederation such a threat was idle, and the British government knew it to be so thirteen separate state governments could never be made to adopt any such measure in concert. The weakness of Congress had been fatally revealed in its inability to protect the loyalists or to enforce the payment of debts, and in its failure to raise a revenue for meeting its current expenses. A government thus slighted at home was naturally despised abroad. England neglected to send a minister to Philadelphia, and while Adams was treated politely, his arguments were unheeded. Whether in this behaviour Pitt's government was influenced or not by political as well as economical reasons, it was certain that a political purpose was entertained by the king and approved by many people. There was an intention of humiliating the Americans, and it was commonly said that under a sufficient weight of commercial distress the states would break up their feeble union, and come straggling back, one after another, to their old allegiance. The fiery spirit of Adams could ill brook this contemptuous treatment of the nation which he represented. Though he favoured very liberal commercial relations with the whole world, he could see no escape from the present difficulties save in systematic retaliation. "I should be sorry," he said, "to adopt a monopoly, but, driven to the necessity of it, I would not do things by halves....If monopolies and exclusions are the only arms of defence against monopolies and exclusions, I would venture upon them without fear of offending Dean Tucker or the ghost of Dr. Quesnay." That is to say, certain commercial privileges must be withheld from Great Britain, in order to be offered to her in return for reciprocal privileges. It was a miserable policy to be forced to adopt, for such restrictions upon trade inevitably cut both ways. Like the non-importation agreement of 1768 and the embargo of 1808, such a policy was open to the objections familiarly urged against biting off one's own nose. It was injuring one's self in the hope of injuring somebody else. It was perpetuating in time of peace the obstacles to commerce generated by a state of war. In a certain sense, it was keeping up warfare by commercial instead of military methods, and there was danger that it might lead to a renewal of armed conflict. Nevertheless, the conduct of the British government seemed to Adams to leave no other course open. But such "means of preserving ourselves," he said, "can never be secured until Congress shall be made supreme in foreign commerce."
It was obvious enough that the separate action of the states upon such a question was only adding to the general uncertainty and confusion. In 1785 New York laid a double duty on all goods whatever imported in British ships. In the same year Pennsylvania duties passed the first of the long series of American tariff acts, designed to tax the whole community for the alleged benefit of a few greedy manufacturers. Massachusetts sought to establish committees of correspondence for the purpose of entering into a new non-importation agreement, and its legislature resolved that "the present powers of the Congress of the United States, as contained in the articles of confederation, are not fully adequate to the great purposes they were originally designed to effect." The Massachusetts delegates in Congress-Gerry, Holton, and King were instructed to recommend a general convention of the states for the purpose of revising and amending the articles of confederation; but the delegates refused to comply with their instructions, and set forth their reasons in a paper which was approved by Samuel Adams, and caused the legislature to reconsider its action. It was feared that a call for a convention might seem too much like an open expression of a want of confidence in Congress, and might thereby weaken it still further without accomplishing any good result. For the present, as a temporary expedient, Massachusetts took counsel with New Hampshire, and the two states passed navigation acts, prohibiting British ships from carrying goods out of their harbours, and imposing a fourfold duty upon all such goods as they should bring in. A discriminating tonnage duty was also laid upon all foreign vessels. Rhode Island soon after adopted similar measures. In Congress a scheme for a uniform navigation act, to be concurred in and passed by all the thirteen states, was suggested by one of the Maryland delegates; but it was opposed by Richard Henry Lee and most of the delegates from the far south. The southern states, having no ships or seamen of their own, feared that the exclusion of British competition might enable northern ship-owners to charge exorbitant rates for carrying their rice and tobacco, thus subjecting them to a ruinous monopoly; but the gallant Moultrie, then governor of South Carolina, taking a broader view of the case, wrote to Bowdoin, governor of Massachusetts, asserting the paramount need of harmonious and united action. In the Virginia assembly, a hot-headed member, named Thurston, declared himself in doubt "whether it would not be better to encourage the British rather than the eastern marine;" but the remark was greeted with hisses and groans, and the speaker was speedily put down. Amid such mutual jealousies and misgivings, during the year 1785 acts were passed by ten states granting to Congress the power of regulating commerce for the ensuing thirteen years. The three states which refrained from acting were Georgia, South Carolina, and Delaware. The acts of the other ten were, as might have been expected, a jumble of incongruities. North Carolina granted all the power that was asked, but stipulated that when all the states should have done likewise their acts should be summed up in a new article of confederation. Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maryland had fixed the date at which the grant was to take effect, while Rhode Island provided that it should not expire until after the lapse of twenty-five years. The grant by New Hampshire allowed the power to be used only in one specified way, — by restricting the duties imposable by the several states. The grants of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia were not to take effect until all the others should go into operation. The only thing which Congress could do with these acts was to refer them back to the several legislatures, with a polite request to try to reduce them to something like uniformity.
Meanwhile, the different states, with their different tariff and tonnage acts, began to make commercial war upon one another. No sooner had the other three New England states virtually closed their ports to British shipping than Connecticut threw hers wide open, an act which she followed up by laying duties upon imports from Massachusetts. Pennsylvania discriminated against Delaware, and New Jersey, pillaged at once by both her greater neighbours, was compared to a cask tapped at both ends. The conduct of New York became especially selfish and blameworthy. That rapid growth which was so soon to carry the city and the state to a position of primacy in the Union had already begun. After the departure of the British the revival of business went on with leaps and bounds. The feeling of local patriotism waxed strong, and in no one was it more completely manifested than in George Clinton, the Revolutionary general, whom the people elected governor for nine successive terms. From a humble origin, by dint of shrewdness and untiring push, Clinton had come to be for the moment the most powerful man in the state of New York. He had come to look upon the state almost as if it were his own private manor, and his life was devoted to furthering its interests as he understood them. It was his first article of faith that New York must be the greatest state in the Union. But his conceptions of statesmanship were extremely narrow. In his mind, tho welfare of New York meant the pulling down and thrusting aside of all her neighbours and rivals. He was the vigorous and steadfast advocate of every illiberal and exclusive measure, and the most uncompromising enemy to a closer union of the states. His great popular strength and the commercial importance of the community in which he held sway made him at this time the most dangerous man in America. The political victories presently to be won by Hamilton, Schuyler, and Livingston, without which our grand and pacific federal union could not have been brought into being, were victories won by most desperate fighting against the dogged opposition of Clinton. Under his guidance, the history of New York, during the five years following the peace of 1783, was a shameful story of greedy monopoly and sectional hate. Of all the thirteen states, none behaved worse except Rhode Island.
A single instance, which occurred early in 1787, may serve as an illustration. The city of New York, with its population of 30,000 souls, had long been supplied with firewood from Connecticut, and with butter and cheese, chickens and garden vegetables, from the thrifty farms of New Jersey. This trade, it was observed, carried thousands of dollars out of the city and into the pockets of detested Yankees and despised Jerseymen. It was ruinous to domestic industry, said the men of New York. It must be stopped by those effective remedies of the Sangrado school of economic doctors, a navigation act and a protective tariff. Acts were accordingly passed, obliging every Yankee sloop which came down through Hell Gate, and every Jersey market boat which was rowed across from Paulus Hook to Cortlandt Street, to pay entrance fees and obtain clearances at the custom-house, just as was done by ships from London or Hamburg; and not a cart-load of Connecticut firewood could be delivered at the back-door of a country-house in Beekman Street until it should have paid a heavy duty. Great and just was the wrath of the farmers and lumbermen. The New Jersey legislature made up its mind to retaliate. The city of New York had lately bought a small patch of ground on Sandy Hook, and had built a light-house there. This light-house was the one weak spot in the heel of Achilles where a hostile arrow could strike, and New Jersey gave vent to her indignation by laying a tax of $1,800 a year on it. Connecticut was equally prompt. At a great meeting of business men, held at New London, it was unanimously agreed to suspend all commercial intercourse with New York. Every merchant signed an agreement, under penalty of $250 for the first offence, not to send any goods whatever into the hated state for a period of twelve months. By such retaliatory measures, it was hoped that New York might be compelled to rescind her odious enactment. But such meetings and such resolves bore an ominous likeness to the meetings and resolves which in the years before 1775 had heralded a state of war; and but for the good work done by the federal convention another five years would scarcely have elapsed before shots would have been fired and seeds of perennial hatred sown on the shores that look toward Manhattan Island. To these commercial disputes there were added disputes about territory. The chronic quarrel between Connecticut and Pennsylvania over the valley of Wyoming was decided in the autumn of 1782 by a special federal court, appointed in accordance with the articles of confederation. The prize was adjudged to Pennsylvania, and the government of Connecticut submitted as gracefully as possible. But new troubles were in store for the inhabitants of that beautiful region. The traces of the massacre of 1778 had disappeared, the houses had been rebuilt, new settlers had come in, and the pretty villages had taken on their old look of contentment and thrift, when in the spring of 1784 there came an accumulation of disasters. During a very cold winter great quantities of snow had fallen, and lay piled in huge masses on the mountain sides, until in March a sudden thaw set in. The Susquehanna rose, and overflowed the valley, and great blocks of ice drifted here and there, carrying death and destruction with them. Houses, barns, and fences were swept away, the cattle were drowned, the fruit trees broken down, the stores of food destroyed, and over the whole valley there lay a stratum of gravel and pebbles. The people were starving with cold and hunger, and President Dickinson urged the legislature to send prompt relief to the sufferers. But the hearts of the members were as flint, another talk was incredibly wicked. Not a penny would they give to help the accursed Yankees. It served them right, If they had stayed in Connecticut, where they belonged, they would have kept out of harm's way. And with a blasphemy thinly veiled in phrases of pious unction, the desolation of the valley was said to have been contrived by the Deity with the express object of punishing these trespassers. But the cruelty of the Pennsylvania legislature was not confined to words. A scheme was devised for driving out the settlers and partitioning their lands among a company of speculators. A force of militia was sent to Wyoming, commanded by a truculent creature named Patterson. The ostensible purpose was to assist in restoring order in the valley, but the behaviour of the soldiers was such as would have disgraced a horde of barbarians. They stole what they could find, dealt out blows to the men and insults to the women, until their violence was met with violence in return. Then Patterson sent a letter to President Dickinson, accusing the farmers of sedition, and hinting that extreme measures were necessary. Having thus, as he thought, prepared the way, he attacked the settlement, turned some five hundred people out-of-doors, and burned their houses to the ground. The wretched victims, many of them tender women, or infirm old men, or little children, were driven into the wilderness at the point of the bayonet, and told to find their way to Connecticut without further delay. Heart-rending scenes ensued. Many died of exhaustion, or furnished food for wolves. But this was more than the Pennsylvania legislature had intended. Patterson's zeal had carried him too far. He was recalled, and the sheriff of Northumberland County was sent, with a posse of men, to protect the settlers. Patterson disobeyed, however, and withdrawing his men to a fortified lair in the mountains, kept up a guerilla warfare. All the Connecticut men in the neighbouring country flew to arms. Men were killed on both sides, and presently Patterson was besieged. A regiment of soldiers was then sent from Philadelphia, under Colonel Armstrong, who had formerly been on Gates's staff, the author of the incendiary Newburgh address. On arriving in the valley, Armstrong held a parley with the Connecticut men, and persuaded them to lay down their arms; assuring them on his honour that they should meet with no ill treatment, and that their enemy, Patterson, should be disarmed also. Having thus fallen into this soldier's clutches, they were forthwith treated as prisoners. Seventy-six of them were handcuffed and sent under guard, some to Easton and some to Northumberland, where they were thrown into jail.
Great was the indignation in New England when these deeds were heard of. The matter had become very serious. A war between Connecticut and Pennsylvania might easily grow out of it. But the danger was averted through a very singular feature in the Pennsylvania constitution. In order to hold its legislature in check, Pennsylvania had a council of censors, which was assembled once in seven years in order to inquire whether the state had been properly governed during the interval. Soon after the troubles in Wyoming the regular meeting of the censors was held, and the conduct of Armstrong and Patterson was unreservedly condemned. A hot controversy ensued between the legislature and the censors, and as the people set great store by the latter peculiar institution, public sympathy was gradually awakened for the sufferers. The wickedness of the; affair began to dawn upon people's minds, and they were ashamed of what had been done. Patterson and Armstrong were frowned down, the legislature disavowed their acts, and it was ordered that full reparation should be made to the persecuted settlers of Wyoming.1
In the Green Mountains and on the upper waters of the Connecticut there had been trouble for many years. In the course of the Revolutionary War, the fierce dispute between New York and New Hampshire for the possession of the Green Mountains came in from time to time to influence most curiously the course of events. It was closely connected with the intrigues against General Schuyler, and thus more remotely with the Conway cabal and the treason of Arnold. About the time of Burgoyne's invasion the association of Green Mountain Boys endeavoured to cut the Gordian knot by declaring Vermont an independent state, and applying to the Continental Congress for admission into the Union. The New York delegates in Congress succeeded in defeating this scheme, but the Vermont people went on and framed their constitution. Thomas Chittenden, a man of rough manners but very considerable ability, a farmer and innkeeper, like Israel Putnam, was chosen governor, and held that position for many years. New Hampshire thus far had not actively opposed these measures, but fresh grounds of quarrel were soon at hand. Several towns on the east bank of the Connecticut River wished to escape from the jurisdiction of New Hampshire. They preferred to belong to Vermont, because it was not within the Union, and accordingly not liable to requisitions of taxes from the Continental Congress. It was conveniently remembered that by the original grant, in the reign of Charles II. New Hampshire extended only sixty miles from the coast. Vermont was at first inclined to assent, but finding the scheme unpopular in Congress, and not wishing to offend that body, she changed her mind. The towns on both banks of the river then tried to organize themselves into a middle state, — a sort of Lotharingia on the banks of this New World Rhine, — to be called New Connecticut. By this time New Hampshire was aroused, and she called attention to the fact that she still believed herself entitled to dominion over the whole of Vermont. Massachusetts now began to suspect that the upshot of the matter would be the partition of the whole disputed territory between New Hampshire and New York, and, ransacking her ancient grants and charters, she decided to set up a claim on her own part to the southernmost towns in Vermont. Thus goaded on all sides, Vermont adopted an aggressive policy. She not only annexed the towns east of the Connecticut River, but also asserted sovereignty over the towns in New York as far as the Hudson. New York sent troops to the threatened frontier, New Hampshire prepared to do likewise, and for a moment war seemed inevitable. But here, as in so many other instances, Washington appeared as peacemaker, and prevailed upon Governor Chittenden to use his influence in getting the dangerous claims withdrawn. After the spring of 1784 the outlook was less stormy in the Green Mountains. The conflicting claims were allowed to lie dormant, but the possibilities of mischief remained, and the Vermont question was not finally settled until after the adoption of the Federal Constitution. Meanwhile, on the debatable frontier between Vermont and New York the embers of hatred smouldered. Barns and houses were set on fire, and belated wayfarers were found mysteriously murdered in the depths of the forest.
Incidents like these of Wyoming and Vermont seem trivial, perhaps, when contrasted with the lurid tales of border warfare in older times between half-civilized peoples of medieval Europe, as we read them in the pages of Froissart and Sir Walter Scott. But their historic lesson is none the less clear. Though they lift the curtain but a little way, they show us a glimpse of the untold dangers and horrors from which the adoption of our Federal Constitution has so thoroughly freed us that we can only with some effort realize how narrowly we have escaped them. It is fit that they should be borne in mind, that we may duly appreciate the significance of the reign of law and order which has been established on this continent during the greater part of a century. When reported in Europe, such incidents were held to confirm the opinion that the American confederacy was going to pieces. With quarrels about trade and quarrels about boundaries, we seemed to be treading the old-fashioned paths of anarchy, even as they had been trodden in other ages and other parts of the world. It was natural that people in Europe should think so, because there was no historic precedent to help them in forming a different opinion. No one could possibly foresee that within five years a number of gentlemen at Philadelphia, containing among themselves a greater amount of political sagacity than had ever before been brought together within the walls of a single room, would amicably discuss the situation and agree upon a new system of government whereby the dangers might be once for all averted. Still less could any one foresee that these gentlemen would not only agree upon a scheme among themselves, but would actually succeed, without serious civil dissension, in making the people of thirteen states adopt, defend, and cherish it. History afforded no example of such a gigantic act of constructive statesmanship. It was, moreover, a strange and apparently fortuitous combination of circumstances that were now preparing the way for it and making its accomplishment possible. No one could forecast the future.
When our ministers and agents in Europe raised the question as to making commercial treaties, they were disdainfully asked whether European powers were expected to deal with thirteen governments or with one. If it was answered that the United States constituted a single government so far as their relations with foreign powers were concerned, then we were forthwith twitted with our failure to keep our engagements with England with regard to the loyalists and the collection of private debts. Yes, we see, said the European diplomats; the United States are one nation to-day and thirteen to-morrow, according as may seem to subserve their selfish interests. Jefferson, at Paris, was told again and again that it was useless for the French government to enter into any agreement with the United States, as there was no certainty that it would be fulfilled on our part; and the same things were said all over Europe. Toward the close of the war most of the European nations had seemed ready to enter into commercial arrangements with the United States, but all save Holland speedily lost interest in the subject. John Adams had succeeded in making a treaty with Holland in 1782. Frederick the Great treated us more civilly than other sovereigns. One of the last acts of his life was to conclude a treaty for ten years with the United States; asserting the principle that free ships make free goods, taking arms and military stores out of the class of contraband, agreeing to refrain from privateering even in case of war between the two countries, and in other respects showing a liberal and enlightened spirit.
This treaty was concluded in 1786. It scarcely touched the subject of international trade in time of peace, but it was valuable as regarded the matters it covered, and in the midst of the general failure of American diplomacy in Europe it fell pleasantly upon our ears. Our diplomacy had failed because our weakness had been proclaimed to the world. We were bullied by England, insulted by France and Spain, and looked askance at in Holland. The humiliating position in which our ministers were placed by the beggarly poverty of Congress was something almost beyond credence; It was by no means unusual for the superintendent of finance, when hard pushed for money, to draw upon our foreign ministers, and then sell the drafts for cash. This was not only not unusual; it was an established custom. It was done again and again, when there was not the smallest ground for supposing that the minister upon whom the draft was made would have any funds wherewith to meet it. He must go and beg the money. That was part of his duty as envoy, — to solicit loans without security for a government that could not raise enough money by taxation to defray its current Failure of expenses. It was sickening work. Just before John Adams had been appointed minister to England, and while he was visiting in London, he suddenly learned that drafts upon him had been presented to his bankers in Amsterdam to the amount of more than a million florins. Less than half a million florins were on hand to meet these demands, and unless something were done at once the greater part of this paper would go back to America protested. Adams lost not a moment in starting for Holland. In these modern days of precision in travel, when we can translate space into time, the distance between London and Amsterdam is eleven hours. It was accomplished by Adams, after innumerable delays and vexations and no little danger, in fifty-four days. The bankers had contrived, by ingenious excuses, to keep the drafts from going to protest until the minister's arrival, but the gazettes were full of the troubles of Congress and the bickerings of the states, and everybody was suspicious. Adams applied in vain to the regency of Amsterdam. The promise of the American government was not regarded as valid security for a sum equivalent to about three hundred thousand dollars. The members of the regency were polite, but inexorable. They could not make a loan on such terms; it was unbusinesslike and contrary to precedent. Finding them immovable, Adams was forced to apply to professional usurers and Jew brokers, from whom, after three weeks of perplexity and humiliation, he obtained a loan at exorbitant interest, and succeeded in meeting the drafts. It was only too plain, as he mournfully confessed, that American credit was dead. Such were the trials of our American ministers in Europe in the dark days of the League of Friendship. It was not a solitary, but a typical, instance. John Jay's experience at the unfriendly court of Spain was perhaps even more trying.
European governments might treat us with cold disdain, and European bankers might pronounce our securities worthless, but there was one quarter of the world from which even worse measure was meted out to us. Of all the barbarous communities with which the civilized world has had to deal in modern times, perhaps none have made so much trouble as the Mussulman states on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. After the breaking up of the great Moorish kingdoms of the Middle Ages, this region had fallen under the nominal control of the Turkish sultans as lords paramount of the orthodox Mohammedan world. Its miserable populations became the prey of banditti. Swarms of half-savage chieftains settled down upon the land like locusts, and out of such a pandemonium of robbery and murder as has scarcely been equalled in historic times the pirate states of Morocco and Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, gradually emerged. Of these communities history has not one good word to say. In these fair lands, once illustrious for the genius and virtues of a Hannibal and the profound philosophy of St. Augustine, there grew up some of the most terrible despotisms ever known to the world. The things done daily by the robber sovereigns were such as to make a civilized imagination recoil with horror. One of these cheerful creatures, who reigned in the middle of the eighteenth century, and was called Muley Abdallah, especially prided himself on his peculiar skill in mounting a horse. Resting his left hand upon the horse's neck, as he sprang into the saddle he simultaneously swung the sharp scimiter in his right hand so deftly as to cut off the head of the groom who held the bridle. From his behaviour in these sportive moods one may judge what he was capable of on serious occasions. He was a fair sample of the Barbary monarchs. The foreign policy of these wretches was summed up in piracy and blackmail. Their corsairs swept the Mediterranean and ventured far out upon the ocean, capturing merchant vessel and murdering or enslaving their crews. Of the rich booty, a fixed proportion was paid over to the robber sovereign, and the rest was divided among the gang. So lucrative was this business that it attracted hardy ruffians from all parts of Europe, and the misery they inflicted upon mankind during four centuries was beyond calculation. One of their favourite practices was the kidnapping of eminent or wealthy persons, in the hope of extorting ransom. Cervantes and Vincent de Paul were among the celebrated men who thus tasted the horrors of Moorish slavery; but it was a calamity that might fall to the lot of any man or woman, and it was but rarely that the victims ever regained their freedom.
Against these pirates the governments of Europe contended in vain. Swift cruisers frequently captured their ships, and from the days of Joan of Arc down to the days of Napoleon their skeletons swung from long rows of gibbets on all the coasts of Europe, as a terror and a warning. But their losses were easily repaired, and sometimes they criticised in fleets of seventy or eighty sail, defying the navies of England and France. It was not until after England, in Nelson's time, had acquired supremacy in the Mediterranean that this dreadful scourge was destroyed. Americans, however, have just ground for pride in recollecting that their government was foremost in chastising these pirates in their own harbours. The exploits of our little navy in the Mediterranean at the beginning of the present century form an interesting episode in American history, but in the weak days of the Confederation our commerce was plundered with impunity, and American citizens were seized and sold into slavery in the markets of Algiers and Tripoli. One reason for the long survival of this villainy was the low state of humanity among European nations. An Englishman's sympathy was but feebly aroused by the plunder of Frenchmen, and the bigoted Spaniard looked on with approval so long as it was Protestants that were kidnapped and bastinadoed. In 1783 Lord Sheffield published a pamphlet on the commerce of the United States, in which he shamelessly declared that the Barbary pirates were really useful to the great maritime powers, because they tended to keep the weaker nations out of their share in the carrying trade. This, he thought, was a valuable offset to the Empress Catherine's device of the armed neutrality, whereby small nations were protected; and on this wicked theory, as Franklin tells us, London merchants had been heard to say that "if there were no Algiers, it would be worth England's while to build one." It was largely because of such feelings that the great states of Europe so long persisted in the craven policy of paying blackmail to the robbers, instead of joining in a crusade and destroying them.
In 1786 Congress felt it necessary to take measures for protecting the lives and liberties of American citizens. The person who called himself "Emperor" of Morocco at that time was different from most of his kind. He had a taste for reading, and had thus caught a glimmering of the enlightened liberalism which French philosophers were preaching. He wished to be thought a benevolent despot, and with Morocco, accordingly, Congress succeeded in making a treaty. But nothing could be done with the other pirate states without paying blackmail. Few scenes in our history are more amusing, or more irritating, than the interview of John Adams with an envoy from Tripoli in London. The oily-tongued barbarian, with his soft voice and his bland smile, asseverating that his only interest in life was to do good and make other people happy, stands out in fine contrast with the blunt, straightforward, and truthful New Englander; and their conversation reminds one of the old story of Cœur-de-Lion with his curtal-axe and Saladin with the blade that cut the silken cushion. Adams felt sure that the fellow was either saint or devil, but could not quite tell which. The envoy's love for mankind was so great that he could not hear the thought of hostility between the Americans and the Barbary States, and he suggested that everything might be happily arranged for a million dollars or so. Adams thought it better to fight than to pay tribute. It would be cheaper in the end, as well as more manly. At the same time, it was better economy to pay a million dollars at once than waste many times that sum in war risks and loss of trade. But Congress could do neither one thing nor the other. It was too poor to build a navy, and too poor to buy off the pirates; and so for several years to come American ships were burned and American sailors enslaved with utter impunity. With the memory of such wrongs deeply graven in his heart, it was natural that John Adams, on becoming president of the United States, should bend his energies toward founding a strong American navy.
A government touches the lowest point of ignominy when it confesses its inability to protect the lives and property of its citizens. A government which has come to this has failed in discharging the primary function of government, and forthwith ceases to have any reason for existing. In March, 1786, Grayson wrote to Madison that several members of Congress thought seriously of recommending a general convention for remodelling the government. "I have not made up my mind," says Grayson, "whether it would not be better to bear the ills we have than fly to those we know not of. I am, however, in no , doubt about the weakness of the federal government. If it remains much longer in its present state of imbecility, we shall be one of the most contemptible nations on the face of the earth." "It is clear to me as A, B, C," said Washington, "that an extension of federal powers would make us one of the most happy, wealthy, respectable, and powerful nations that ever inhabited the terrestrial globe. Without them we shall soon be everything which is the direct reverse. I predict the worst consequences from a half-starved, limping government, always moving upon crutches and tottering at every step."
There is no telling how long the wretched state of things which followed the Revolution might have continued, had not the crisis been precipitated by the wild attempts of the several states to remedy the distress of the people by legislation. That financial distress was widespread and deep-seated was not to be denied. At the beginning of the war the amount of accumulated capital in the country had been very small. The great majority of the people did little more than get from the annual yield of their farms or plantations enough to meet the current expenses of the year. Outside of agriculture the chief resources were the carrying trade, the exchange of commodities with England and the West Indies, and the cod and whale fisheries; and in these occupations many people had grown rich. The war had destroyed all these sources of revenue. Imports and exports had alike been stopped, so that there was a distressing scarcity of some of the commonest household articles. The enemy's navy had kept us from the fisheries. Before the war, the dockyards of Nantucket were ringing with the busy sound of adze and hammer, rope-walks covered the island, and two hundred keels sailed yearly in quest of spermaceti. At the return of peace, the docks were silent and grass grew in the streets. The carrying trade and the fisheries began soon to revive, but it was some years before the old prosperity was restored. The war had also wrought serious damage to agriculture, and in some parts of the country the direct destruction of property by the enemy's troops had been very great. To all these causes of poverty there was added the hopeless confusion due to an inconvertible paper currency. The worst feature of this financial device is that it not only impoverishes people, but be muddles their brains by creating a false and fleeting show of prosperity. By violently disturbing apparent values, it always brings on an era of wild speculation and extravagance in living, followed by sudden collapse and protracted suffering. In such crises the poorest people, those who earn their bread by the sweat of their brows and have no margin of accumulated capital, always suffer the most. Above all men, it is the labouring man who needs sound money and steady values. We have seen all these points amply illustrated since the War of Secession. After the War of Independence, when the margin of accumulated capital was so much smaller, the misery was much greater. While the paper money lasted there was marked extravagance in living, and complaints were loud against the speculators, especially those who operated in bread-stuffs. Washington said he would like to hang them all on a gallows higher than that of Haman; but they were, after all, but the inevitable products of this abnormal state of things, and the more guilty criminals were the demagogues who went about preaching the doctrine that the poor man needs cheap money. After the collapse of this continental currency in 1780, it seemed as if there were no money in the country, and at the peace the renewal of trade with England seemed at first to make matters worse. The brisk importation of sorely needed manufactured goods, which then began, would naturally have been paid for in the south by indigo, rice, and tobacco, in the middle states by exports of wheat and furs, and in New England by the profits of the fisheries, the shipping, and the West India trade. But in the southern and middle states the necessary revival of agriculture could not be effected in a moment, and British legislation against American shipping and the West India trade fell with crippling force upon New England. Consequently, we had little else but specie with which to pay for imports, and the country was soon drained of what little specie there was. In the absence of a circulating medium there was a reversion to the practice of barter, and the revival of business was thus further impeded. Whiskey in North Carolina, tobacco in Virginia, did duty as measures of value; and Isaiah Thomas, editor of the Worcester "Spy," announced that he would receive subscriptions for his paper in salt pork.
It is worth while, in this connection, to observe what this specie was, the scarcity of which created so much embarrassment. Until 1785 no national coinage was established, and none was issued until 1793. English, French, Spanish, and German coins, of various and uncertain value, passed from hand to hand. Beside the ninepences and fourpence-ha'-pennies, there were bits and half-bits, pistareens, picayunes, and tips. Of gold pieces there were the johannes, or joe, the doubloon, the moidore, and pistole, with English and French guineas, carolins, ducats, and chequins. Of coppers there were English pence and half-pence and French sous; and pennies were issued at local mints in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The English shilling had everywhere degenerated in value, but differently in different localities; and among silver pieces the Spanish dollar, from Louisiana and Cuba, had begun to supersede it as a measure of value. In New England the shilling had sunk from nearly one fourth to one sixth of a dollar; in New York to one eighth; in North Carolina to one tenth. It was partly for this reason that in devising a national coinage the more uniform dollar was adopted as the unit. At the same time the decimal system of division was adopted instead of the cumbrous English system, and the result was our present admirably simple currency, which we owe to Gouverneur Morris, aided as to some points by Thomas Jefferson. During the period of the Confederation, the chaotic state of the currency was a serious obstacle to trade, and it afforded endless opportunities for fraud and extortion. Clipping and counterfeiting were carried to such lengths that every moderately cautious person, in taking payment in hard cash, felt it necessary to keep a small pair of scales beside him and carefully weigh each coin, after narrowly scrutinizing its stamp and deciphering its legend.
In view of all these complicated impediments to business on the morrow of a long and costly war, it was not strange that the whole country was in some measure pauperized. The cost of the war, estimated in cash, had been about $170,000,000 — a huge sum if we consider the circumstances of the country at that time. To meet this crushing indebtedness. Mr Hildreth reckons the total amount raised by the states, whether by means of repudiated paper or of taxes, down to 1784, as not more than $30,000,000. No wonder if the issue of such a struggle seemed quite hopeless. In many parts of the country, by the year 1786, the payment of taxes had come to be regarded as an amiable eccentricity. At one moment, early in 1782, there was not a single dollar in the treasury. That the government had in any way been able to finish the war, after the downfall of its paper money, was due to the gigantic efforts of one great man, — Robert Morris, of Pennsylvania. This statesman was born in England, but he had Come to Philadelphia in his boyhood, and had amassed an enormous fortune, which he devoted without stint to the service of his adopted Country. Though opposed to the Declaration of Independence as rash and premature, he had, nevertheless, signed his name to that document, and scarcely any one had contributed more to the success of the war. It was he who supplied the money which enabled Washington to complete the great campaign of Trenton and Princeton. In 1781 he was made superintendent of finance, and by dint of every imaginable device of hard-pressed ingenuity he contrived to support the brilliant work which began at the Cowpens and ended at Yorktown. He established the Bank of North America as an instrument by which government loans might be negotiated. Sometimes his methods were such as doctors call heroic, as when he made sudden drafts upon our ministers in Europe after the manner already described. In every dire emergency he was Washington's chief reliance, and in his devotion to the Common weal he drew upon his private resources until he became poor; and in later years — for shame be it said — an ungrateful nation allowed one of its noblest and most disinterested champions to languish in a debtor's prison. It was of ill omen for the fortunes of the weak and disorderly Confederation that in 1784, after three years of herculean struggle with impossibilities, this stout heart and sagacious head could no longer weather the storm. The task of creating wealth out of nothing had become too arduous and too thankless to be endured. Robert Morris resigned his place, and it was taken by a congressional committee of finance, under whose management the disorders only hurried to a crisis.
By 1786, under the universal depression and want of confidence, all trade had well-nigh stopped, and political quackery, with its cheap and dirty remedies, had full control of the field. In the very face of miseries so plainly traceable to the deadly paper currency, it may seem strange that people should now have begun to clamour for a renewal of the experiment which had worked so much evil. Yet so it was. As starving men are said to dream of dainty banquets, so now a craze for fictitious wealth in the shape of paper money ran like an epidemic through the country. There was a Barmecide feast of economic, vagaries; only now it was the several states that sought to apply the remedy, each in its own way. And when we have threaded the maze of this rash legislation, we shall the better understand that clause in our federal constitution which forbids the making of laws impairing the obligation of contracts. The events of 1786 impressed upon men's minds more forcibly than ever the wretched and disorderly condition of the country, and went far toward calling into existence the needful popular sentiment in favour of an overruling central government.
The disorders assumed very different forms in the different states, and brought out a great diversity of opinion as to the causes of the distress and the efficacy of the proposed remedies. Only two states out of the thirteen — Connecticut and Delaware — escaped the infection, but, on the other hand, it was only in seven states that the paper money party prevailed in the legislatures. North Carolina issued a large amount of paper, and, in order to get it into circulation as quickly as possible, the state government proceeded to buy tobacco with it, paying double the specie value of the tobacco. As a natural consequence, the paper dollar instantly fell to seventy cents, and went on declining. In South Carolina an issue was tried somewhat more cautiously, but the planters soon refused to take the paper at its face value. Coercive measures were then attempted. Planters and merchants were urged to sign a pledge not to discriminate between paper and gold, and if anyone dared refuse the fanatics forthwith attempted to make it hot for him. A kind of "Kuklux" society was organized at Charleston, known as the "Hint Club." Its purpose was to hint to such people that they had better look out. If they did not mend their ways, it was unnecessary to inform them more explicitly what they might expect. Houses were combustible then as now, and the use of firearms was well understood. In Georgia the legislature itself attempted coercion. Paper money was made a legal tender in spite of strong opposition, and a law was passed prohibiting any planter or merchant from exporting any produce without taking affidavit that he had never refused to receive this scrip at its full face value. But somehow people found that the more it was sought to keep up the paper by dint of threats and forcing acts, the faster its value fell. Virginia had issued bills of credit during the campaign of 1781, but it was enacted at the same time that they should not be a legal tender after the next January. The influence of Washington, Madison, and Mason was effectively brought to bear in favour of sound currency, and the people of Virginia were but slightly affected by the craze of 1786. In the autumn of that year a proposition from two counties for an issue of paper was defeated in the legislature by a vote of eighty-five to seventeen, and no more was heard of the matter. In Maryland, after a very obstinate fight, a rag money bill was carried in the house of representatives, but the senate threw it out; and the measure was thus postponed until the discussion over the federal constitution superseded it in popular interest. Pennsylvania had warily begun in May, 1785, to issue a million dollars in bills of credit, which were not made a legal tender for the payment of private debts. They were mainly loaned to farmers on mortgage, and were received by the state as an equivalent for specie in the payment of taxes. By August, 1786, even this carefully guarded paper had fallen some twelve cents below par, -not a bad showing for such a year as that. New York moved somewhat less cautiously. A million dollars were issued in bills of credit receivable for the custom-house duties, which were then paid into the state treasury; and these bills were made a legal tender for all money received in law-suits. At the same time the New Jersey legislature passed a bill for issuing half a million paper dollars, to be a legal tender in all business transactions. The bill was vetoed by the governor in council. The aged Governor Livingston was greatly respected by the people; and so the mob at Elizabethtown, which had duly planted a stake and dragged his effigy up to it, refrained from inflicting the last indignities upon the image, and burned that of one of the members of the council instead. At the next session the governor yielded, and the rag money was issued. But an unforeseen difficulty arose. Most of the dealings of New Jersey people were in the cities of New York and Philadelphia, and in both cities the merchants refused their paper, so that it speedily became worthless.
The business of exchange was thus fast getting into hopeless confusion. It has been said of Bradshaw's Railway Guide, the indispensable companion of the traveller in England, that no man can study it for an hour without qualifying himself for an insane asylum. But Bradshaw is pellucid clearness compared with the American tables of exchange in 1786, with their medley of dollars and shillings, moidores and pistareens. The addition of half a dozen different kinds of paper created such a labyrinth as no human intellect could explore. No wonder that men were counted wise who preferred to take whiskey and pork instead. Nobody who had a yard of cloth to sell could tell how much it was worth. But even worse than all this was the swift and certain renewal of bankruptcy which so many states were preparing for themselves. Nowhere did the warning come so quickly or so sharply as in New England. Connecticut, indeed, as already observed, came off scot-free. She had issued a little paper money soon after the battle of Lexington, but had stopped it about the time of the surrender of Burgoyne. In 1780 she had wisely and summarily adjusted all relations between debtor and creditor, and the crisis of 1786 found her people poor enough, no doubt, but able to wait for better times and indisposed to adopt violent remedies. It was far otherwise in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. These were preëminently the maritime states of the Union, and upon them the blows armed by England at American commerce had fallen most severely. It was these two maritime states that suffered most from the cutting down of the carrying trade and the restriction of intercourse with the West Indies. These things worked injury to shipbuilding, to the exports of lumber and oil and salted fish, even to the manufacture of Medford rum. Nowhere had the normal machinery of business been thrown out of gear so extensively as in these two states, and in Rhode Island there was the added disturbance due to a prolonged occupation by the enemy's troops. Nowhere, perhaps, was there a larger proportion of the population in debt, and in these preëminently commercial communities private debts were a heavier burden and involved more personal suffering than in the somewhat Patriarchal system of life in Virginia or South Carolina. In the time of which we are now treating, imprisonment for debt was common. High-minded but unfortunate men were carried to jail, and herded with thieves and ruffians in loathsome dungeons, for the crime of owing a hundred dollars which they could not promptly pay. Under such circumstances, a commercial disturbance, involving widespread debt, entailed an amount of personal suffering and humiliation of which, in these kinder days, we can form no adequate conception. It tended to make the debtor an outlaw, ready to entertain schemes for toe subversion of society. In the crisis of 1786, the agitation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts reached white heat, and things were done which alarmed the whole country. But the course of events was different in the two states. In Rhode Island the agitators obtained control of the government, and the result was a paroxysm of tyranny. In Massachusetts the agitators failed to secure control of the government, and the result was a paroxysm of rebellion.
The debates over paper money in the Rhode Island legislature began in 1785, but the advocates of a sound currency were victorious. These men were roundly abused in the newspapers, and in the next spring election most of them lost their seats. The legislature of 1786 showed an overwhelming majority in favor of paper money. The farmers from the inland towns were unanimous in supporting the measure. They could not see the difference between the state making a dollar out of paper and a dollar out of silver. The idea that the value did not lie in the government stamp they dismissed as an idle crotchet, a wire-drawn theory, worthy only of "literary fellows." What they could see was the glaring fact that they had no money, hard or soft; and they wanted something that would satisfy their creditors and buy new gowns for their wives, whose raiment was unquestionably the worse for wear. On the other hand, the merchants from seaports like Providence, Newport, and Bristol understood the difference between real money and the promissory notes of a bankrupt government, but they were in a hopeless minority. Half a million dollars were issued in scrip, to be loaned to the farmers on a mortgage of their real estate. No one could obtain the scrip without giving a mortgage for twice the amount, and it was thought that this security would make it as good as gold. But the depreciation began instantly. When the worthy farmers went to the store for dry goods or sugar, and found the prices rising with dreadful rapidity, they were at first astonished, and then enraged. The trouble, as they truly said, was with the wicked merchants, who would not take the paper dollars at their face value. These men were thus thwarting the government, and must be punished. An act was accordingly hurried through the legislature, commanding everyone to take paper as an equivalent for gold, under penalty of five hundred dollars fine and loss of the right of suffrage. The merchants in the cities thereupon shut up their shops. During the summer of 1786 all business was at a standstill in Newport and Providence, except in the bar-rooms. There and about the market-places men spent their time angrily discussing politics, and scarcely a day passed without street-fights, which at times grew into riots. In the country, too, no less than in the cities, the goddess of discord reigned. The farmers determined to starve the city people into submission, and they entered into an agreement not to send any produce into the cities until the merchants should open their shops and begin selling their goods for paper at its face value. Not wishing to lose their pigs and butter and grain, they tried to dispose of them in Boston and New York, and in the coast towns of Connecticut. But in all these places their proceedings had awakened such lively disgust that placards were posted in the taverns warning purchasers against farm produce from Rhode Island. Disappointed in these quarters, the farmers threw away their milk, used their corn for fuel, and let their apples rot on the ground, rather than supply the detested merchants. Food grew scarce in Providence and Newport, and in the latter city a mob of sailors attempted unsuccessfully to storm the provision stores. The farmers were threatened with armed violence. Town-meetings were held all over the state, to discuss the situation, and how long they might have talked to no purpose none can say, when all at once the matter was brought into court. A cabinet-maker in Newport named Trevett went into a meat-market kept by one John Weeden, and selecting a joint of meat, offered paper in payment. Weeden refused to take the paper except at a heavy discount. Trevett went to bed supperless; and next morning informed against the obstinate butcher for disobedience to the forcing act. Should the court find him guilty, it would be a good speculation for Trevett, for half of the five hundred dollars fine was to go to the informer. Hard-money men feared lest the court might prove subservient to the legislature, since that body possessed the power of removing the five judges. The case was tried in September amid furious excitement. Huge crowds gathered about the court-house and far down the street, screaming and cheering like a crowd on the night of a presidential election. The judges were clear-headed men, not to be brow-beaten. They declared the forcing act unconstitutional, and dismissed the complaint. Popular wrath then turned upon them. A special session of the legislature was convened, four of the judges were removed, and a new forcing-act was prepared. This act provided that no man could vote at elections or hold any office without taking a test oath promising to receive paper money at par. But this was going too far. Many soft-money men were not wild enough to support such a measure; among the farmers there were some who had grown tired of seeing their produce spoiled on their hands; and many of the richest merchants had announced their intention of moving out of the state. The new forcing act accordingly failed to pass, and presently the old one was repealed. The paper dollar had been issued in May; in November it passed for sixteen cents.
These outrageous proceedings awakened disgust and alarm among sensible people in all the other states, and Rhode Island was everywhere reviled and made fun of. One clause of the forcing act had provided that if a debtor should offer paper to his creditor and the creditor should refuse to take it at par, the debtor might carry his rag money to court and deposit it with the judge; and the judge must thereupon issue a certificate discharging the debt. The form of certificate began with the words "Know Ye," and forthwith the unhappy little state was nicknamed Rogues' Island, the home of Know Yemen and Know Ye measures.
While the scorn of the people was thus poured out upon Rhode Island, much sympathy was felt for the government of Massachusetts, which was called upon thus early to put down armed rebellion. The pressure of debt was keenly felt in the rural districts of Massachusetts. It is estimated that the private debts in the state amounted to some $7,000,000, and the state's arrears to the federal government amounted to some $7,000,000 more. Adding to these sums the arrears of bounties due to the soldiers, and the annual cost of the state, county, and town governments, there was reached an aggregate equivalent to a tax of more than $50 on every man, woman, and child in this population of 379,000 souls. Upon every head of a family the average burden was some $200 at a time when most farmers would have thought such a sum yearly a princely income. In those days of scarcity most of them did not set eyes on so much as $50 in the course of a year, and happy was he who had tucked away two or three golden guineas or moidores in an old stocking, and sewed up the treasure in his straw mattress or hidden it behind the bricks of the chimney-piece. Under such circumstances the payment of debts and taxes was out of the question; and as the same state of things made creditors clamorous and ugly, the courts were crowded with lawsuits. The lawyers usually contrived to get their money by exacting retainers in advance, and the practice of champerty was common, whereby the lawyer did his work in consideration of a percentage on the sum which was at last forcibly collected. Homesteads were sold for the payment of foreclosed mortgages, cattle were seized in distrainer, and the farmer himself was sent to jail. The smouldering fires of wrath thus kindled found expression in curses aimed at lawyers, judges, and merchants. The wicked merchants bought foreign goods and drained the state of specie to pay for them, while they drank Madeira wine and dressed their wives in fine velvets and laces. So said the farmers; and city ladies, far kinder than these railers deemed them, formed clubs, of which the members pledged themselves to wear homespun, — a poor palliative for the deep-seated ills of the time. In such mood were many of the villagers when in the summer of 1786 they were overtaken by the craze for paper money. At the meeting of the legislature in May, a petition came in from Bristol County, praying for an issue of paper. The petitioners admitted that such money was sure to deteriorate in value, and they doubted the wisdom of trying to keep it up by forcing acts. Instead of this they would have the rate of its deterioration regulated by law, so that a dollar might be worth ninety cents to-day, and presently seventy cents, and by and by fifty cents, and so on till it should go down to zero and be thrown overboard. People would thus know what to expect, and it would be all right. The delicious naiveté of this argument did not prevail with the legislature of Massachusetts, and soft money was frowned down by a vote of ninety-nine to nineteen. Then a bill was brought in seeking to re-establish in legislation the ancient practice of barter, and make horses and cows legal tender for debts; and this bill was crushed by eighty-nine votes against thirty-five. At the same time this legislature passed a bill to strengthen the federal government by a grant of supplementary funds to Congress, and thus laid a further burden of taxes upon the people.
There was an outburst of popular wrath. A convention at Hatfield in August decided that the court of common pleas ought to be abolished, that no funds should be granted to Congress, and that paper money should be issued at once. Another convention at Lenox denounced such incendiary measures, approved of supporting the federal government, and declared that no good could come from the issue of paper money. But meanwhile the angry farmers had resorted to violence. The legislature, they said, had its sittings in Boston, under the influence of wicked lawyers and merchants, and thus could not be expected to do the will of the people. A cry went up that henceforth the law-makers must sit in some small inland town, where jealous eyes might watch their proceedings. Meanwhile the lawyers must be dealt with; and at Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, and Concord the courts were broken up by armed mobs. At Concord one Job Shattuck brought several hundred armed men into the town and surrounded the court-house, while in a fierce harangue he declared that the time had come for wiping out all debts. "Yes," squeaked a nasal voice from the crowd, — "yes, Job, we know all about them two farms you can't never pay for!" But this repartee did not save the judges, who thought it best to flee from the town. At first the legislature deemed it wise to take a lenient view of these proceedings, and it even went so far as to promise to hold its next session out of Boston. But the agitation had reached a point where it could not be stayed. In September the supreme court was to sit at Springfield, and Governor Bowdoin sent a force of 600 militia under General Shepard to protect it. They were confronted by some 600 insurgents, under the leadership of Daniel Shays. This man had been a captain in the Continental army, and in his force were many of the penniless veterans whom Gates would fain have incited to rebellion at Newburgh. Shays seems to have done what he could to restrain his men from violence, but he was a poor creature, wanting alike in courage and good faith. On the other hand the militia were lacking in spirit. After a disorderly parley, with much cursing and swearing, they beat a retreat, and the court was prevented from sitting. Fresh riots followed at Worcester and Concord. A regiment of cavalry, sent out by the governor, scoured Middlesex County, and, after a short fight in the woods near Groton, captured Job Shattuck and dispersed his men. But this only exasperated the insurgents. They assembled in Worcester to the number of 1,200 or more, where they lived for two months at free quarters, while Shays organized and drilled them.
Meanwhile the habeas corpus act was suspended for eight months, and Governor Bowdoin called out an army of 4,400 men, who were placed under command of General Lincoln. As the state treasury was nearly empty, some wealthy gentlemen in Boston subscribed the money needed for equipping these troops, and about the middle of January, 1787, they were collected at Worcester. The rebels had behaved shamefully, burning barns and seizing all the plunder they could lay hands on. As their numbers increased they found their military stores inadequate, and accordingly they marched upon Springfield, with the intent to capture the federal arsenal there, and provide themselves with muskets and cannon. General Shepard held Springfield with 1,200 men, and on the 25th of January Shays attacked him with a force of somewhat more than 2,000, hoping to crush him and seize the arsenal before Lincoln could come to the rescue. But his plan of attack was faulty, and as soon as his men began falling under Shepard's fire a panic seized them, and they retreated in disorder to Ludlow, and then to Amherst, setting fire to houses and robbing the inhabitants. On the approach of Lincoln's army, three days later, Shays retreated to Pelham, and planted his forces on two steep hills protected at the bottom by huge snowdrifts. Lincoln advanced to Hadley and sought to open negotiations with the rebels. They were reminded that a contest with the state government was hopeless, and that they had already incurred the penalty of death; but if they would now lay down their arms and go home, a free pardon could be obtained for them. Shays seemed willing to yield, and Saturday, the 3d of February, was appointed for a conference between some of the leading rebels and some of the officers. But this was only a stratagem. During the conference Shays decamped and marched his men through Prescott and North Dana to Petersham. Toward nightfall the trick was discovered, and Lincoln set his whole force in motion over the mountain ridges of Shutesbury and New Salem. The day had been mild, but during the night the thermometer dropped below zero and an icy, cutting snow began to fall. There was great suffering during the last ten miles, and indeed the whole march of thirty miles in thirteen hours over steep and snow-covered roads was a worthy exploit for these veterans of the Revolution. Shays and his men had not looked for such a display of energy, and as they were getting their breakfast on Sunday morning at Petersham they were taken by surprise. A few minutes sufficed to scatter them in flight. A hundred and fifty, including Shays himself, were taken prisoners. The rest fled in all directions, most of them to Athol and Northfield, whence they made their way into Vermont. General Lincoln then marched his troops into the mountains of Berkshire, where disturbances still continued. On the 26th of February one Captain Hamlin, with several hundred insurgents, plundered the town of Stockbridge and carried off the leading citizens as hostages. He was pursued as far as Sheffield, defeated there in a sharp skirmish, with a loss of some thirty in killed and wounded, and his troops scattered. This put an end to the insurrection in Massachusetts.
During the autumn similar disturbances had occurred in the states to the northward. At Exeter in New Hampshire and at Windsor and Rutland in Vermont the courts had been broken up by armed mobs, and at Rutland there had been bloodshed. When the Shays rebellion was put down, Governor Bowdoin requested the neighbouring states to lend their aid in bringing the insurgents to Justice, and all complied with the request except Vermont and Rhode Island. The legislature of Rhode Island sympathized with the rebels, and refused to allow the governor to issue a warrant for their arrest. On the other hand, the governor of Vermont issued a proclamation out of courtesy toward Massachusetts, but he caused it to be understood that this was but an empty form, as the state of Vermont could not afford to discourage immigration! A feeling of compassion for the insurgents was widely spread in Massachusetts. In March the leaders were tried, and fourteen were convicted of treason and sentenced to death; but Governor Bowdoin, whose term was about to expire, granted a reprieve for a few weeks. At the annual election in April the candidates for the governorship were Bowdoin and Hancock, and it was generally believed that the latter would be more likely than the former to pardon the convicted men. So strong was this feeling that, although much gratitude was felt toward Bowdoin, to whose energetic measures the prompt suppression of the rebellion was due, Hancock obtained a large majority. When the question of a pardon came up for discussion, Samuel Adams, who was then president of the senate, was strongly opposed to it, and one of his arguments was very characteristic. "In monarchies," he said, "the crime of treason and rebellion may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished; but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death." This was Adams's sensitive point. He wanted the whole world to realize that the rule of a republic is a rule of law and order, and that liberty does not mean license. But in spite of this view, for which there was much to be said, the clemency of the American temperament prevailed, and Governor Hancock pardoned all the prisoners.
Nothing in the history of these disturbances is more instructive than the light incidentally thrown upon the relations between Congress and the state government. Just before the news of the rout at Petersham, Samuel Adams had proposed in the senate that the governor should be requested to write to Congress and inform that body of what was going on in Massachusetts, stating that "although the legislature are firmly persuaded that . . . in all probability they will be able speedily and effectively to suppress the rebellion, yet, if any unforeseen event should take place which may frustrate the measures of government, they rely upon such support from the United States as is expressly and solemnly stipulated by the articles of confederation." A resolution to this effect was carried in the senate, but defeated in the house through the influence of western county members in sympathy with the insurgents; and incredible as it may seem, the argument was freely used that it was incompatible with the dignity of Massachusetts to allow United States troops to set foot upon her soil. When we reflect that the arsenal at Springfield, where the most considerable disturbance occurred, was itself federal property, the climax of absurdity might seem to have been reached.
It was left for Congress itself, however, to cap that climax. The progress of the insurrection in the autumn in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, as well as the troubles in Rhode Island, had alarmed the whole country. It was feared that the insurgents in these states might join forces, and in some way kindle a flame Congress that would run through the land. Accordingly Congress in October called upon the states for a continental force, but did not dare to declare openly what it was to be used for. It was thought necessary to say that the troops were wanted for an expedition against the north-western Indians! National humiliation could go no further than such a confession, on the part of our central government, that it dared not use force in defence of those very articles of confederation to which it owed its existence. Things had come to such a pass that people of all shades of opinion were beginning to agree upon one thing, — that something must be done, and done quickly.________________
1 A very interesting account of these troubles may be found in the first volume of Professor McMaster's History of the People of the United States.