The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

12
The Coxflict of Opinion

AMERICANS DURING the 1780's held a remarkable variety of opinions about the economic life of the times. Various groups had various notions as to what had happened, why it had happened, what should be done and who should do it. American merchants were faced with competition from British ships, American artisans by imports of British manufactured goods. Farmers and debtors were caught by the scarcity of money. Over them all hung the pall of post-war depression. Some blamed the governments, some blamed themselves, and almost everyone blamed the British.

The question of what the state and central governments should do, and which governments should do it, was the subject of endless debate. The merchants demanded navigation acts and they wanted Congress to have the power to pass them, but lacking that, they appealed to the state governments for immediate aid. The artisans were not interested in navigation acts. They wanted protective tariffs and got them from the states. Farmers and debtors wanted paper money that could be used to pay taxes and debts, and laws that would delay or ease legal proceedings for debt collection. They too appealed to the states for aid.1

Under the Articles of Confederation the states alone had the power to legislate on economic matters; yet throughout, one body of opinion insisted that the central government alone should have such power. This was the conviction of those who wanted a stronger central government and who looked with disfavor on any success of the states in the new nation. These nationalists swore that economic recovery was impossible without centralized con-

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1
See chs. xiv, xvi.

-245-

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