Page images
PDF
EPUB

requiring for acts of legislation a majority of the states and a majority of the representatives of the people had prevailed through its own delegates.

In January 1788, the convention, having been organized in the state-house in Hartford, moved immediately to the North Meeting House, where, in the presence of a multitude, the constitution was read and debated section by section, under an agreement that no vote should be taken till the whole of it should have been considered.*

On the fourth, Oliver Ellsworth explained the necessity of a federal government for the national defence, for the management of foreign relations, for preserving peace between the states, for giving energy to the public administration. He pointed out that a state like Connecticut was specially benefited by the restraint on separate states from collecting duties on foreign importations made through their more convenient harbors.

Johnson added: While under the confederation states in their political capacity could be coerced by nothing but a military force; the constitution introduces the mild and equal energy of magistrates for the execution of the laws. "By a signal intervention of divine providence, a convention from states differing in circumstances, interests, and manners, have harmoniously adopted one grand system; if we reject it, our national existence must come to an end." +

The grave and weighty men who listened to him approved his words; but when the paragraph which gave to the general government the largest powers of taxation was debated, James Wadsworth, who had served as a general officer in the war, objected to duties on imports as partial to the southern states. "Connecticut," answered Ellsworth, "is a manufacturing state; it already manufactures its implements of husbandry and half its clothes." Wadsworth further objected, that authority which unites the power of the sword to that of the purse is despotic. Ellsworth replied: "The general legislature ought to have a revenue; and it ought to have power to defend the state against foreign enemies; there can be no government without the power of the purse and the sword." "So well guarded is this constitution," observed Oliver Wolcott, then lieutenant-gov*Penn. Packet for 18 January 1788. + Penn. Packet, 24 January 1788.

ernor, "it seems impossible that the rights either of the states or of the people should be destroyed." When on the ninth the vote was taken, one hundred and twenty-eight appeared for the constitution; forty only against it.*

The people received with delight the announcement of this great majority of more than three to one; at the next election. the "wrong-headed" James Wadsworth was left out of the government; and opposition grew more and more faint till it wholly died away.

The country from the St. Croix to the St. Mary's now fixed its attention on Massachusetts, whose adverse decision would inevitably involve the defeat of the constitution. The representatives of that great state, who came together on the seventeenth of October, had been chosen under the influence of the recent insurrection; and the constitution, had it been submitted to their judgment, would have been rejected. In communicating it to the general court, the governor most wisely avoided provoking a discussion on its merits, and simply recommended its reference to a convention from regard to the worth of its authors and their unanimity on questions affecting the prosperity of the nation and the complicated rights of each separate state.

Following his recommendation with exactness, the senate, of which Samuel Adams was president, promptly adopted a resolve to refer the new constitution to a convention of the commonwealth. On motion of Theophilus Parsons, of Newburyport, a lawyer destined to attain in his state the highest professional honors, the resolve of the senate was opened in the house. Spectators crowded the galleries and the floor.

* Penn. Packet, 24 January 1788.

B. Lincoln to Washington, Boston, 19 March 1788.

The conduct of Hancock in support of the constitution was from beginning to end consistent; and so wise that the afterthought of the most skilful caviller can not point out where it could be improved. Nathaniel Gorham, who had known Hancock long and well, in a letter to Madison of 27 January 1788, the darkest hour, places Hancock and Bowdoin foremost in the list of the managers of the cause of the constitution, naming them with equal confidence. Hancock, who was not wanting in sagacity, may have seen, and others may have let him know that they too saw, how much the support of the constitution would strengthen his position in public life; but at that time he had nothing to fear from the rivalry of Bowdoin, who had definitively retired.

VOL. VI.-27

Signs of a warm opposition appeared; the right to supersede the old confederation was denied alike to the convention and to the people; the adoption of a new constitution by but nine of the thirteen states would be the breach of a still valid compact. An inalienable power, it was said in reply, resides in the people to amend their form of government. An array of parties was avoided; and with little opposition a convention was ordered.

The choice took place at a moment when the country people of Massachusetts were bowed down by cumulative debts, and quivering in the agonies of a suppressed insurrection; the late disturbers of the peace were scarcely certain of amnesty; and they knew that the general government, if established, must array itself against violence. The election resulted in the choice of at least eighteen of the late insurgents. The rural population were disinclined to a change. The people in the district of Maine, which in territory far exceeded Massachusetts, had never willingly accepted annexation; the desire for a government of their own outweighed their willingness to enter into the union as a member of Massachusetts; and one half of their delegates were ready to oppose the constitution. On the other hand, the commercial towns of Maine, all manufacturers, men of wealth, the lawyers, including the judges of all the courts, and nearly all the officers of the late army, were in favor of the new form of general government. The voters of Cambridge rejected Elbridge Gerry in favor of Francis Dana; in Beverly, Nathan Dane was put aside for George Cabot; the members from Maine were exactly balanced; but of those from Massachusetts proper a majority of perhaps ten or twelve was opposed to the ratification of the constitution. Among the elected were King, Gorham, and Strong, who had been of the federal convention; the late and present governors, Bowdoin and Hancock; Heath and Lincoln of the army; of rising statesmen, John Brooks and Christopher Gore; The ophilus Parsons, Theodore Sedgwick, John Davis, and Fisher Ames; and about twenty ministers of various religious de nominations. So able a body had never met in Massachusetts. Full of faith that the adoption of the constitution was the *Ind. Gazetteer, 8, 9 January 1788.

greatest question of the age, the federalists were all thoroughly in earnest, and influenced by no inferior motives; so that there could be among them neither cabals in council nor uncertainty in action. They obeyed an immovable determination to overcome the seemingly adverse majority. As a consequence, they had discipline and concerted action.

It was consistent with the whole public life of Samuel Adams, the helmsman of the revolution at its origin, the truest representative of the home rule of Massachusetts in its townmeetings and general court, that he was startled when, on entering the new "building, he met with a national government instead of a federal union of sovereign states;" but, in direct antagonism to George Mason and Richard Henry Lee, he had always approved granting to the general government the power of regulating commerce.* Before he had declared his intentions, perhaps before they had fully ripened, his constituents of the industrial classes of Boston, which had ever been his main support, came together, and from a crowded hall a cry went forth that on the rejection of the constitution "navigation" would languish and "skilful mechanics be compelled to emigrate," so that "any vote of a delegate from Boston against adopting it would be contrary to the interests, feelings, and wishes of the tradesmen of the town."

The morning betokened foul weather, but the heavy clouds would not join together. The enterprising and prosperous men of Maine, though they desired separation from Massachusetts, had no sympathy with the late insurrection; and the country people, though they could only by slow degrees accustom their minds to untried restraints on their rustic liberty, never wavered in their attachment to the union. The convention was organized with the governor of the commonwealth as its president. The federalists of Philadelphia had handled their opponents roughly; the federalists of Massachusetts re

*The activity and wise and efficient support of the constitution by Samuel Adams I received from my friend John Davis, who was a member of the convention, and who was singularly skilful in weighing evidence. The account which he gave me is thoroughly supported by the official record.

+ Debates and Proceedings in the Convention, etc., published by the legislature of Massachusetts, edited by B. K. Peirce and C. Hale. The best collection on the subject.

solved never in debate to fail in gentleness and courtesy. A motion to request Elbridge Gerry to take a seat in the convention, that he might answer questions of fact, met no objection; and he was left to grow sick of sitting in a house to which he had failed of an election, and in whose debates he could not join. On motion of Caleb Strong, no vote was to be taken till the debate, which assumed the form of a free conversation, should have gone over the several paragraphs of the constitution.*

Massachusetts had instructed its delegates in the federal convention to insist on the annual election of representatives; Samuel Adams asked why they were to be chosen for two years. Strong explained that it was a necessary compromise among so many states; and Adams answered: "I am satisfied." This remark the federal leaders entreated him to repeat; all the house gave attention as he did so, and the objection was definitively put to rest.

Referring to the power of congress to take part in regulating the elections of senators and representatives, Phineas Bishop of Rehoboth proclaimed "the liberties of the yeomanry at an end." It is but "a guarantee of free elections," said Cabot. "And a security of the rights of the people," added Theophilus Parsons. "Our rulers," observed Widgery of Maine, "ought to have no power which they can abuse.” ‡ "All the godly men we read of," added Abraham White of Bristol, "have failed; I would not trust a flock, though every one of them should be a Moses."

On the seventeenth an official letter from Connecticut announced the very great majority by which it had adopted the constitution; but its enemies in Massachusetts were unmoved. Samuel Thompson of Maine condemned it for not requiring of a representative some property qualification, saying: "Men who have nothing to lose have nothing to fear." "Do you wish to exclude from the federal government a good man because he is not rich?" asked Theodore Sedgwick. "The men who have most injured the country," said King, "have commonly been rich men."

On the eighteenth the compromise respecting the taxation
From John Davis.
+ Elliot, ii., 28.

* Elliot, ii., 3.

« PreviousContinue »