Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

sioners from these met with the Virginia commission at Annapolis on the 11th of September, 1786, and remained in session till the 14th of the same month, when they made a joint report to their several legislatures. They set forth that they had felt it to be unadvisable to proceed with the business of their mission with so partial and defective a representation of the States as had assembled, a circumstance the more important as it appeared that commissioners had been appointed from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina, though they had not attended at Annapolis. They nevertheless expressed an earnest and unanimous wish that speedy measures might be taken to effect a general meeting of the States in a future convention for the same and such other purposes as the situation of public affairs might be found to require. They also suggested that the commissioners to be appointed should be clothed with somewhat larger powers than had at first--except in the instance of New Jersey-been confided to them. The commissioners from New Jersey had been empowered" to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations and other important matters might be necessary to the common interest and permanent harmony of the several States ;' and the convention urged the States to issue similar commissions to their representatives. The reason of this recommendation they gave in these words : “ That there are important defects in the system of the federal government is acknowledged by the acts of all those States which have convened in the present meeting; that the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous than even these acts imply, is at least so far probable from the embarrassments which characterize the present state of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid discussion in some mode which will unite the sentiments and councils of all the States. In the choice of the mode, your commissioners are of opinion that a convention of deputies from the different States, for the special and sole purpose of entering into this investigation, and digesting a plan for supplying such defects as may be discovered to exist, will be entitled to a preference, from considerations which will occur without being particularized. Your commissioners decline an enumeration of those national circumstances on which their opinion respecting the propriety of a future convention with more enlarged powers is founded; as it would be a useless intrusion of facts and observations, most of which have been subjects of public discussion, and none of which can have escaped the penetration of those to whom they would in this instance be addressed. They are, however, of a nature so serious as, in the view of your commissioners, to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the united virtue and wisdom of all the members of the confederacy."

On the 21st of Febuary, 1787, Congress resumed the consideration of this weighty matter, and the following preamble and resolution was adopted :

“Whereas there is provision in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, for making alterations therein, by the assent of a Congress of the United States, and of the legislatures of the several States; and whereas experience hath evinced that there are defects in the present confederation; as a mean to remedy which, several of the States, and particularly the State of New York, by express instructions to their delegates in Congress, have suggested a convention for the purpose expressed in the following resolution; and such convention appearing to be the most probable means of establishing in these States a firm national government,

Resolved, That, in the opinion of Congress, it is expedient that, on the second Monday in May next, a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several States, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.”

The language of the foregoing preamble and resolution is important to be observed, as showing at once what was and what was not contemplated in the proposed convention. The object was to “establish in these States a firm national government" by “revising" and making "alterations” in the existing Articles of Confederation. Clearly, it was not intended to change the form of government, nor the terms of union; but simply to render the Federal Constitution, then existing, "adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union." Before the adoption of the Constitution then to be revised, the States had been united only by alliance as independent foreign states. By its adoption they had been combined into a federal union of states which, though still, except in a few trifling matters, independent, were no longer foreign to each other. Having in specified particulars a common administration of the affairs of government, they had a quasi nationality in common; and in treaties with foreign powers, they were in fact held to be a nation. But from the independent action of the States the Union was in danger of complete dissolution; and its character of nationality was being rapidly obliterated. Congress, therefore, wisely contemplated—not the dissolution, but--the strengthening of the existing federal bond; and the object of the convention was not to create a nationality which already existed, but to establish and confirm it.

Scarcely, however, had the convention assembled, as they did on the 2d Monday in May, 1787 (though from the absence of a quorum it was not organized by the election of Washiugton as president until the 25th of May), when it appeared that very radical changes in the whole form and structure of the Union were contemplated by different parties in the convention. From Mr. Luther Martin we learn that there were in fact “three parties among the delegates, of very different sentiments and views.” There was, he says, one party, whose object and wish it was to abolish and annihilate all State governments, and to bring forward one general government over all this extensive continent, of a monarchical nature, under certain restrictions and limitations. Those who openly avowed this sentiment were, it is true, but few; yet it is equally true that there was a considerable number who did not openly avow it, who were by myself and many others of the convention considered as being in reality favorers of that sentiment and acting upon those principles, covertly endeavoring to carry into effect what they well knew openly and avowedly could not be accomplished.

[ocr errors]

"The second party was not for the abolition of State governments, nor for the introduction of a monarchical government under any form ; but they wished to establish such a system as could give their own States undue power and influence in the government, over the other States.

"A third party was what I considered truly federal and republican. This party was nearly equal in numbers with the other two, and was composed of the delegations froin Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and in part from Maryland ; also of some individuals from other representations. This party was for proceeding upon terms of federal equality ; they were for taking our present federal system as the basis of their proceedings, and, as far as experience had shown us that there were defects, to remedy those defects; as far as experience had shown that other powers were necessary to the Federal government, to give them those powers. They considered this the object for which they were sent by their States, and what their States expected from them.

“But the favorers of monarchy, and those who wished the total abolition of State governments-well knowing that a government founded on truly federal principles, the bases of which were the thirteen State governments preserved in full force and energy, would be destructive of their views; and knowing they were too weak in numbers openly to bring forward their system ; conscious, also, that the people of America would reject it if proposed to them— joined their interest with that party who wished a system giving particular States the power and influence over the others, procuring, in return, mutual sacrifices from them in giving the government great and undefined powers as to its legislative and executive; well knowing that by departing from a federal system they paved the way for their favorite object, the destruction of the State governments and the introduction of monarchy. And hence, I apprehend, in a great measure arose the objections of those honorable members, Mr. Mason and Mr. Gerry. In everything which tended to give the large States power over the smaller, the first of those gentlemen could not forget he belonged to the Ancient Dominion; nor could the latter forget that he represented old Massachusetts; that part of the system which tended to give those States power over the others met with their perfect approbation. But when they viewed it charged with such powers as would destroy all State governments, their own as well as the rest—when they saw a president so constituted as to differ from a monarch scarcely but in name, and having it in his power to become such when he pleased they being republicans and federalists as far as an attachment to their own States would permit them, warmly and zealously opposed those parts of the system.”

Such were the elements of which the Federal Convention was composed :-a party purely monarchical in its aims, an opposite party as purely republican, aiming at the freedom and equality not only of the individual citizens, but of the States in whose trust were placed all the rights of their respective citizens; and a party which, while it did not favor monarchy, desired an inequality of States, which should give greater power and influence to the larger than to the smaller.

As carly as the 29th of May, Mr. Randolph laid before the convention a series of resolutions as to the best plan of amending the Constitution; and his second resolution showed the purpose of the larger States to insist upon a greater influence than should be conceded to the smaller. Under the confederation every State voted as a unit, and consequently there was perfect equality of States in the national council. Mr. Randolph's second resolution declared that, instead of an equal vote by States," the right of suffrage in the national legislature ought to be proportioned to the quotas of contribution or to the number of free inhabitants.” In order to carry this principle into complete operation, he, after proposing in the third resolution that the national legislature should consist of two branches, a house of representatives and a senate, insisted in the fifth that the members of the senate should be elected by the house; thus, in effect, giving to the larger States power to construct the senate as they chose, without consulting the wishes of the smaller. The only other important point in Mr. Randolph's resolutions was contained in the seventh, which proposed a limited term of office for an executive, who should be chosen by the national legislature. Had this resolution been adopted, the president, like the senate, would have been a mere appointee of the

« ForrigeFortsett »