The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789

By John Fiske | Go to book overview
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THAT some kind of union existed between the states was doubted by no one. Ever since the assembling of the first Continental Congress in 1774 the thirteen commonwealths had acted in concert, and sometimes most generously, as when Maryland and South Carolina had joined in the Declaration of Independence without any crying grievances of their own, from a feeling that the cause of one should be the cause of all. It has sometimes been said that the Union was in its origin a league of sovereign states, each of which surrendered a specific portion of its sovereignty to the federal government for the sake of the common welfare. Grave political arguments had been based upon this alleged fact, but such an account of the matter is not historically true. There never was a time when Massachusetts or Virginia was an absolutely sovereign state like Holland or France. Sovereign over their own internal affairs they are to-day as they were at the time of the Revolution, but there was never a time when they presented themselves before other nations as sovereign, or were recognized as such. Under the government of England before the Revolution the thirteen commonwealths were independent of one another, and were held together, juxtaposed rather than united, only through their allegiance to the British crown. Had that allegiance been maintained there is no telling how long they might have gone on thus disunited; and this, it seems, should be one of our chief reasons for rejoicing that the political connection with England was dissolved when it was. A permanent redress of grievances, and even virtual independence such as

The sev­ eral states have never enjoyed complete sovereignty


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