Page:American Historical Review, Volume 12.djvu/545

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Sovereignty in the American Revolution

ministerial errors so embittered the colonists against the mother-country that Americans changed the banner under which they were fighting, and in place of liberty merely they were aiming at liberty and independence. They had used the word "union" and the expression "united colonies"[1] a great deal during the earlier struggle, when they simply meant united efforts for the attainment of concessions[2] which no one colony singly could hope to wrest from the powerful British government. Now they continued the struggle for independence with the same general idea of united effort, no longer of colonies, but of states independent and sovereign in all governmental matters, but leagued to overthrow the power of England, and to command the respect of other world-powers. To attempt united action by a clumsy system of correspondence was impracticable, and the Continental Congress, in which were assembled representatives of the sovereign states, was a convenient centre of intelligence and a source of advice which would keep their forces united.[3] As the Maryland convention expressed it, "the best and only proper exercise [of the powers of Congress] can be in adopting the wisest measures for equally securing the rights and liberties of each of the United States, which was the principle of their union."[4] To Congress was yielded a temporary and indefinite authority for war purposes, but its permanent relation with the states was to be determined by future agreement.[5]

In thus unifying the councils and action of thirteen colonies at first and states later, Congress did many things that seem at first view the acts of a national government, but an analysis of some of these more deceptive actions will clear our understanding of their character. There are instances of dissensions between colonies being referred to Congress to settle, but, since nothing would weaken the colonies' military efficiency as would intercolonial quarrels, it

  1. The use of the word "colony" had significance too, and the retaining it showed how men clung to the idea of preserving the empire. As late as November, 1775, Adams could not get "colony" struck out of a report though the committee "were as high Americans as any in the house". Works of John Adams, III. 21, 22.
  2. Note the distinction in the "Declaration on Taking Arms." They assure all subjects "that we mean not to dissolve that Union [i. e., the national union] . . . which we sincerely wish to see restored," but in the same document "Our Union [i. e., for the purpose of getting concessions] is perfect." July 6, Journals, II. 154, 155. See also II. 87–88, 198, 217; III. 321, 477, 488; IV. 142, 146.
  3. Note, for example, ibid., II. 60, 74, 85, 183, 188, 189, 192, 212; III. 278, 279, 323, 363; IV. 21, etc.
  4. Scharf, Maryland, II. 273–277.
  5. Note that North Carolina and Pennsylvania provide in their constitutions for delegates as long as it shall be necessary. Poore. Constitutions, North Carolina, xxxvii.; Pennsylvania, sect. 11.