Page images
PDF
EPUB

the monarchical tendencies of Alexander Hamilton ; from the state rights jealousy, which impelled Luther Martin and Judge Yates to retire from the assembly, to the extreme of consolidation and centralism in the person of Governeur Morris. Yet, strange as it may seem, these apparent causes of dissension proved in the end highly beneficial to a harmonious termination of the labors of the convention. For being nearly all of them guided by the right spirit, these differences of opinion were fused into the common result, in such a manner as to perfect the compound far beyond the point, to which it is likely that it would have been perfected, had a single ingredient mentioned been onitted.

It was unquestionably very proper for the convention to decide, in the peculiar circumstances of their case, upon closing their doors and forbidding any divulging of their proceedings. And it was very well that no report should be given of these to the world, for some time after the Constitution had become the guide of national government. But we confess we see no reason why the same injunction of secrecy should for ever be maintained, or why Chief Justice Yates or Mr. Madison should incur any censure by retaining in their hands, for ultimate publication, the notes they had taken of the debates. We should not have noticed this point, if it were not that we had perceived, in a lately published volume of the Life of Hamilton, some attempt to blamie Mr. Madison for his conduct in this particular. How far the judgment of the writer may have been biased to favor this opinion, by certain passages deemed unjust to and misrepresenting the sentiments of Mr. Hamilton, we will not undertake to say. There doubtless must be some allowance made in this case for the errors which reporters always commit, by misunderstanding the meaning or spirit of the words they hear from others. And if the reports of Mr. Madison of the debate in the Federal Convention, so far as they affect the partners of his labors, were, like his reports of the Congressional debates under the Confederation, the only testimony extant respecting them, we should feel an inclination to enter a caveat against placing full dependence upon them. Fortunately, however, the unintentional and inevitable errors which he might have committed can be subjected to a tolerable test, by comparison with the notes of the other reporters, with the speeches made by members of the Federal Convention in the assemblies afterwards held to approve or condemn their work, and with the numbers of “ The Federalist.” Those who take de. light in tracing discrepancies will find a few by following the mode here pointed out. Mr. Gilpin has done all that an editor should do to facilitate such investigations. Yet, after all, they establish nothing of importance against the general credibility of either reporter.

So far from it, the coincidence in the adoption of particular phrases or modes of speech, which is often discovered to exist in the pages of Madison and Yates, is hardly so convincing a proof to us of the genuineness of their reports, as the instances that can be found of casual disagreement between them. The well-known law of evidence on this point will dispense us from pursuing the subject, further than to exonerate Mr. Madison from all suspicion of design to misrepresent the sentiments of any of his colleagues.

Let us now turn our attention to the great points of interest in these volumes. The first in time, as in importance, relates to the principle at the bottom of the change in government about to be carried into effect. Scarcely had the Convention become organized, before Mr. Edmund Randolph, one of the delegates from Virginia, brought forward the doctrines advocated by his State as a basis of the new system, embodied in a series of fifteen resolutions. Mr. Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, followed him with a regular form of a constitution. We do not believe ( by the way) that the paper which appears as his in the Journal was that form as he first presented it, for it bears too many marks of the maturing wisdom of an advanced stage in the sessions. However, that is not material to the present purpose. The great feature of reform of the vicious principle that dictated the articles of Confederation, was the same in both of the propositions, made on this day. There was no longer to be a federal compact between States, but a compact between the people of those States. The intervention of sovereignties between the individual citizen and the national power, was to be done away with. This was a proposition very broadly laid down by various members coming from opposite sections of the country, the acknowledgment of which was indispensable to progress in the new undertaking. That it might be most distinctly presented, Mr. Randolph, on the day after his first movement, concentrated the spirit of it into three resolutions. These were as follows;

1. “ That a union of the States, merely Federal, will not accomplish the object proposed by the articles of Confederation, namely, common defence, security of liberty, and general welfare.

2. “ That no treaty or treaties among the whole or part of the States as individual Sovereignties would be sufficient.

3. “ That a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary.”

These three propositions contain an explicit renunciation of all the false doctrine of the articles of Confederation, and contemplate the change from federation to union. Yet singular as it may seem, we do not perceive in the discussion of them that took place, a single sentiment in direct opposition. The only objection raised against them was made by Mr. Charles Pinckney, who had shown himself, on the previous day, very far froin dissentient to the principle involved. Such had been the jealousy of power in several of the States when giving instructions to their delegates, that he appears to bave apprehended some danger, lest the adoption of such decided resolutions might be construed as a dissolution of the under which the body was acting. These powers, in a few instances, extended only to the revisal of the old system, and not to its total subversion. Neither the Journal nor Mr. Madison explains the action had in the premises so clearly as Chief Justice Yates. According to him, Mr. Pinckney considered the adoption of the first resolution as tantamount to destroying the Convention. A fear lest it might be so construed by the States, led to the tacit postponement of the two first resolutions. The third, which provided a new disposition of the powers of government, was discussed more particularly upon the use of the words supreme and national ; words, it should be observed, that conveyed in an indirect form the sense of the preceding resolutions. Mr. Read, of Delaware, proposed a substitute omitting those very significant words. But so decided was the opinion of the Convention upon the point, that his change met with no favor at all, and the original resolution was adopted, six States voting for it ; one only, Connecticut, againsi it ; and New York being equally divided.

Such was the first decision of the Convention ; a recognition, by most of its members, of the position, that the new system, though not intended to annihilate the state sovereignties, was

powers nevertheless in all cases of collision to be of superior obligation. From the unanimity with which it was voted we ought not however to infer, that there was no disposition in many members of the body to resist it. Most probably there was somewhat of legislative tactics used, in order to avoid fighting the real battle upon unfavorable ground. The naked declaration, that a supreme national government of three branches ought to be established, could not present points half so advantageous for attack, as the question, that must necessarily grow out of its adoption ; the distribution of power among the departinents thus to be organized, as well as the share of it which it was advisable to grant at all. Upon these it was that the true contest was decided. The articles of Confederation had recognised the sovereignty of every State, by giving to each an equal share of weight in the national councils so that the small communities of Delaware and Rhode Island were exercising under them a control over the public affairs in all respects as great as Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Massachusetts. They had wrung this equal privilege from the necessities of the country during the war ; and it was from sear lest they should lose it by a change, that they manifested great aversion to any stronger measure than a mere revision of the old system. On the other hand, the large States were determined to do away with that unequal feature in the previous government first of all.

An ardent struggle ensued. On the 1st of June, Mr. Patterson, of New Jersey, brought forward a string of propositions, understood by the Convention to be the ultimatum of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, five out of the twelve States represented. These propositions contained a substantial enlargement of the national power, and a distribution of it into three branches, instead of the old form of a single assembly ; but they went no further. The radical error of the system was sedulously preserved, by which the States were made the superior, and the federal government subordinate. The great question was thus brought fully before the Convention, and was discussed on both sides with all the ability which distinguished it. Judge Patterson, Mr. Lansing, of New York, and Luther Martin exerted themselves to the utmost to sustain the parts of the old fabric which had not actually crumbled into dust, whilst Judge Wilson, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Madison, as strenuously contended for their demolition.

The vote however proved that seven States, among which Connecticut ranged herself, were resolved 10 adhere to the new system of Mr. Randolph and of Virginia, whilst only three continued their faith in the old one, as revised by Mr. Patterson on behalf of New Jersey. That this State and Delaware and Maryland should have clung with tenacity to a plan of government, by which they enjoyed a degree of power entirely disproportioned to their population or resources, is not at all surprising. But it denotes a singular want of foresight in the delegates from New York, that the earnest and eloquent remonstrances of Hamilton could not avail to prevent their casting their weight into the scale of the small States.

It has been frequently the misfortune of that great State, to be embarrassed by the threads which even lilliputian politicians can wind about the stoutest frame. But although in a minority which neutralized his vote, Mr. Hamilton was nevertheless of very great service to her by labors in the Convention, for which New York owes bim a debt she never has been magnanimous enough to acknowledge. Although the decisive vote upon the resolutions of Mr. Patterson put an end to all hope of retaining the distinctive principle of the old system, a confederation of sovereign States, ihere was yet room to engraft upon the new one such features of it as the lovers of State sovereignty were most unwilling to see destroyed. Among these none was considered of more consequence, than the right of every State to an equal vote in the legislative branch of the government. The attempt to insist upon it, gave rise to the most vehement contesi that occurred during the session of the body. On the one hand, Wilson, Madison, and Rufus King, each representing a large State, advocated a representa ion proportioned to numbers, wbilst, on the other, Judge Ellsworth, Mr. Lansing, and Luther Martin sustained the old practice of voting by States, each of them having but a single vote. The dispute upon this question threatened at one moment to break sembly. It was at the close of one day of the warmest discussion, the 28th of June, that Dr. Franklin was induced by the hopeless aspect of their aliairs to make a motion that “prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on the deliberations be held every morning.” The movement, though doubtless sincere, bad, considering the source VOL. LUT. - NO. 112.

8

up

the as

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »