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

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

20
The Quest for Congressional Power

THROUGHOUT THE Confederation, Congress needed and repeatedly asked for more power. Both the nationalists and the federalists agreed that the central government should be strengthened. There was a fundamental difference, however, between the demands of the two groups. The nationalists sought to change the essential character of the constitution through amendment, interpretation, and finally in 1783, some of them toyed with the desperate hope of uniting the army and the public creditors to acquire by force what the facts of wartime necessity and endless argument could not achieve. The basic nationalist argument that the war could not be won without creating a strong central government was discredited by the winning of the war, and the nationalist leaders left Congress in 1783, largely because most of them had served the three years allowed by the Confederation.

Their federalist opponents, most of whom had been ardent revolutionary leaders before 1776, were thoroughly aroused by nationalist schemes and they gained new confidence with the winning of the war. As they regained power in many of the states, they sent men of their own political convictions to Congress. Such men believed in retaining the essential character of the Articles of Confederation, yet they recognized that the problems that faced the new nation could be better solved by adding specific powers to Congress. Hence most of the men who opposed the nationalists' schemes now supported the various proposals to give Congress the power to regulate trade and to collect an independent income. But there was a profound difference between such proposals and those of the nationalists: most of them were grants of specific powers to

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