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CHAPTER XIV.

THE THIRTEEN STATES BECOME A NATION.

WASHINGTON saw from the beginning that his country was without a government. Congress was a mere name. There were still thirteen sovereign States, in league for the moment, but liable to be placed at variance by the differences which time would surely bring. Washington was satisfied that without a central government they could never be powerful or respected. Such a government, indeed, was necessary in order even to their existence. European powers would, in its absence, introduce dissensions among them. Men's minds would revert to that form of government with which they were familiar. Some ambitious statesman or soldier would make himself king, and the great experiment, based upon the equality of rights, would prove an ignominious failure.

The more sagacious Americans shared Washington's belief on this question. Conspicuous among these was Alexander Hamilton,-- perhaps, next to Washington, the greatest American of that age. Hamilton was a brave and skilful soldier, a brilliant debater, a persuasive writer, a wise statesman. In his nineteenth year he entered the army, at the very beginning of the war. The quick eye of Washington discovered the remarkable promise of the lad. He raised him to high command in the army, and afterwards to high office in the government. It was Hamilton who brought order out of the financial chaos which followed

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Constitutional Convention.

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the war.

It was Hamilton who suggested the convention to consider the framing of a new Constitution. Often, during the succeeding years, Hamilton's temperate and sagacious words calmed the storms which marked the infancy of the great republic. His career had a dark and bloody close. In his forty-seventh year he stood face to face, one bright July morning, with an ambitious politician named Aaron Burr. Burr had fastened a quarrel upon him, in the hope of murdering him in a duel. Hamilton had resolved not to fire. Burr fired with careful aim, and Hamilton fell, fatally wounded. One of the ablest men America has ever possessed was thus lost to her.

Immediately after the close of the war Hamilton began to discuss the weakness of the existing form of government. He was deeply convinced that the union of the States, in order to be lasting, must be established on a solid basis; and his writings did much to spread this conviction among his fellow-countrymen. Washington never ceased, from his retirement, to urge the same views. Gradually the urgent need of a better system was recognized. It indeed soon became too obvious to be denied. Congress found it utterly impossible to get money. Between 1781 and 1786, ten millions of dollars were called for from the States, but only two millions and a half were obtained. The interest on the debt was unpaid. The ordinary expenses of the government were unprovided for. The existing form of government was an acknowledged failure. Something better had to be devised, or the tie which bound the thirteen States would be severed.

Hamilton obtained the sanction of Congress to his proposal that a convention of delegates from the several States should be held. This convention was to review the whole subject of the governing arrangement, and to recommend such alterations as should be considered adequate to the exigencies of the time. Philadelphia, as usual, was the place of meeting. Thither, in the month of May, came the men who were charged with the weighty task of framing a government under which the thirteen States should become a nation.

Fifty-five men composed this memorable council. Among them were the wisest men of whom America, or perhaps any other country, could boast. Washington himself presided. Benjamin Franklin brought to this — his latest and his greatest task — the ripe experience of eighty-two years. New York sent Hamilton, regarding whom Prince Talleyrand said, long afterwards, that he had known nearly all the leading men of his time, but he had never known one on the whole equal to Hamilton. With these came many others whose names are held in enduring honor. Since the meeting of that first Congress which pointed the way to independence, America had seen no such assembly.

The convention sat for four months. The great work which occupied it divided the country into two parties. One party feared most the evils which arise from weakness of the governing power, and sought relief from these in a close union of the States under a strong government. Another party dwelt more upon the miserable condition of the overgoverned nations of Europe, and feared the creation of a government which might grow into a despotism. The aim of the one was to vest the largest possible measure of power in a central government. Hamilton, indeed, — to whom the British Constitution seemed the most perfect on earth, — went so far as to desire that the States should be merely great municipalities, attending only, like an English corporation, to their own local concerns. The aim of the other was to circumscribe the powers accorded to the gen. eral government, to vindicate the sovereignty of the individual States, and give to it the widest possible scope.

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