The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT IN NEW ENGLAND

THE government carried on under the new State Constitutions was better than their crudity might lead us to expect. Disastrous mistakes were made in many States in the issue of paper money, and made repeatedly in some; in nearly all States the Loyalists were treated too harshly; and in more than half of them the executive branch lacked the authority necessary to a vigorous administration. Party quarrels often generated excessive heat. The States which show the most shameful pages were Rhode Island, where a selfish and narrow-minded State Rights party plunged into deplorable financial heresies; Pennsylvania, where constant turmoil attended a long struggle over a wretched Constitution; North Carolina, where the government was largely in the hands of ignorant, unlettered men; and Georgia, where many in each of the two factions would rather have seen the British conquer than their rivals win. At a period when watchwords of democracy were glib on every tongue, in several States scheming cliques used the government for their special interest. But in general, though the new vehicles, moving on new roads, lurched from side to side, they recovered themselves buoyantly. It is sometimes said that the adoption of the Federal Constitution saved the States from ruin. It did save the Union from decay, but as for the States, they were better-governed in 1788 than ever before, and their financial position was steadily growing stronger. It must be reiterated that most of the governments were not so new as they seemed--they were old in their main principles; and we must also remember that in many States the property qualifications excluded the most irresponsible element from the polls.

Again, the headless nature of the State governments was sometimes more apparent than real. The ablest men of the States were as eager to serve them as to serve the nation. Jefferson forsook the Continental Congress after 1776 to return to Virginia, with the feeling that the nearer duty lay there. Cæsar Rodney, of Delaware

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