Page:American Historical Review, Volume 12.djvu/549

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Sovereignty in the American Revolution

pose. The agreement of the states to any kind of confederation seemed at times almost desperate, and after all a league of sovereign states was all men would concede.[1]

The articles as finally adopted furnish us with an admirable measure of the depths or rather shallows of national feeling and of the intensity or rather weakness of the contemporary desire for a state. We cannot discuss the character of the Confederation here, but it is a common judgment among political scientists and historians that there was less national unity after its adoption than before it.[2] As Professor Burgess expresses it, "the American [national] state ceased to exist in objective organization." The subjective existence, the "idea in the consciousness of the people"[3] which he declares to have remained, is just what I believe that the facts here submitted show not to have existed. Though the whole logic of the situation seems to us now, and seemed to a few leaders then, to point to the necessity of the formation of a national state, yet the vast majority of men refused to see it,[4] and hugged the delusive phantom of independent and of sovereign statehood for each of the thirteen colonies. Individual interests might be sunk temporarily in order to accomplish by military union a great individual desire, but the affections and the impulses of obedience centred in the state governments.

However dependent the states might be upon each other for military strength to meet the assaults of England, facts, too numerous to be gainsaid, can be cited to show the opinion of state legislatures, state conventions, and individuals in the states as to the actual political independence and sovereignty of the state. To mere assertions in state constitutions that the state is independent and sovereign[5] we need give little attention, but powers granted in constitutional conventions and acts of sovereignty done by state governments have greater importance. South Carolina specifically endowed its

  1. In this connection it is important to note the contemporary conception of a confederation. Franklin's plan of confederation provided for a league even though the colonies remained part of the British Empire. Bringing about reconciliation was one of the functions of his confederation, and of course the organ of united action, the Congress, could not have sovereign powers if it existed within the British Empire. Journals of Congress, II. 195. 198; III. 301; IV. 149. The Rhode Island assembly instructed its delegates to promote a confederation at a time when it would not instruct for independence. Ibid., 353.
  2. Pomeroy, Von Holst, Burgess, Lieber, et al.
  3. Burgess, Political Science and Constitutional Law, I. 101.
  4. Fisher Ames, Works, I. 113. "Instead of feeling as a nation, a state is our country." See also Austin's Gerry, I. 407–415, quoted by Von Holst, I. 29, and Rives, Madison, II. 177.
  5. Poore, Constitutions: Connecticut, I. 257; New Hampshire, II. 1281, art. VII.; Massachusetts, I. 958, art. IV.