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London is a cipher. A power to remedy this evil should be given to congress, and applied as soon as possible. I move that the paper read by your Excellency be now taken into consideration.” *
Samuel Adams, on the first day of February, invited members to propose still further amendments; but Nason of Maine, the foremost in opposition, stubbornly refused to take part in supporting a constitution which, they said, “destroyed the sovereignty of Massachusetts." +
The measure was referred to a committee formed on the principle of selecting from each county one of its friends and one of its opponents; but, as both of the two delegates from Dukes county were federalists, only one of them took a place in the committee. Thirteen of its members were federalists from the beginning. At the decision, the committee consisted of twenty-four members; one absented himself and one declined to vote; so that in the afternoon of Monday, the fourth of February, Bowdoin as chairman of the committee could report its approval of the constitution with the recommendation of amendments by a vote of fifteen to seven.
At this result opposition flared anew. Thomas Lusk of West Stockbridge revived complaints of the slave-trade, and of opening the door to popery and the inquisition by dispensing with a religious test. But Isaac Backus, the Baptist minister of Middleborough, one of the most exact of New England historians, replied : “In reason and the holy scriptures religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world.” Rebuking the importation of slaves with earnestness, he trusted in the passing away of slavery itself, saying: “Slavery grows more and more odious to the world.” i “This constitution,” said Fisher Ames, on the fifth
Elliot, ii., 123-125. Let no one be misled by the words "conditional amendments” in the report of Mr. Adams's speech. He spoke not of amend. ments offered as the condition of the acceptance of the constitution by Massachusetts, but advised that Massachusetts should connect with its ratification a recommendation of amendments; the ratification to be valid whatever fate might await the amendments. This is exactly the proposition concerted between Par. sons, Hancock, and himself. Rufus King to Knox, in Drake's Knox, 98. Elliot, ii., 133, 134.
| Elliot, ii., 148–161.
day, “is comparatively perfect; no subsisting government, no government which I have ever heard of, will bear a comparison with it. The state government is a beautiful structure, situated, however, upon the naked beach; the union is the dike to fence out the flood.” *
John Taylor of Worcester county objected that the amendments might never become a part of the system, and that there was no bill of rights. “No power," answered Parsons, “is given to congress to infringe on any one of the natural rights of the people; should they attempt it without constitutional authority, the act would be a nullity and could not be enforced.” Gilbert Dench of Middlesex, coinciding with the wishes of the opposition in Virginia, and with a motion of Whitehill in the convention of Pennsylvania, proposed an adjournment of the convention to some future day. A long and warm contest ensued; but Samuel Adams skilfully resisted the motion, and of the three hundred and twenty-nine members who were present, it obtained but one hundred and fifteen votes.t
On the sixth the office of closing the debate was by common consent assigned to Samuel Stillman, a Baptist minister of Boston. Recapitulating and weighing the arguments of each side, he said, in the words of a statesman of Virginia: “Cling to the union as the rock of our salvation,” and he summoned the state of Massachusetts “to urge Virginia to finish the salutary work which hath been begun.”[
Before putting the question, Hancock spoke words that were remembered: “I give my assent to the constitution in full confidence that the amendments proposed will soon become a part of the system. The people of this commonwealth will quietly acquiesce in the voice of the majority, and, where they see a want of perfection in the proposed form of government, endeavor, in a constitutional way, to have it amended.”
The question being taken, the counties of Dukes, Essex, Suffolk, and Plymouth, and, in Maine, of Cumberland and Lincoln, all counties that touched the sea, gave majorities in favor of the constitution ; Middlesex and Bristol, the whole of Massachusetts to the west of them, and the county of York in * Elliot, ii., 154-159. | Elliot, ii., 161, 162. | Elliot, ii., 162, 170.
Maine, gave majorities against it. The majority of Maine for the constitution was in proportion greater than in Massachusetts.
The motion for ratifying the constitution was declared to be in the affirmative by one hundred and eighty-seven votes against one hundred and sixty-eight.* The bells and artillery announced the glad news to every part of the town.
With the declaration of the vote, every symptom of persistent opposition vanished. No person even wished for a protest. The convention, after dissolving itself, partook of a modest collation in the senate-chamber, where, merging party ideas in mutual congratulations, they all “smoked the calumet of love and union.” “The Boston people," wrote Knox to Livingston, “have lost their senses with joy.” + The Long Lane by the meeting-house, in which the convention held its sessions, took from that time the name of Federal street. The prevailing joy diffused itself through the commonwealth. In New York, at noon, men hoisted the pine-tree flag with an appropriate inscription. Six states had ratified, and six salutes, each of thirteen guns, were fired.
The example of Massachusetts was held worthy of imitation. “A conditional ratification or a second convention," so wrote Madison to Randolph in April," appears to me utterly irreconcilable with the dictates of prudence and safety. Recommendatory alterations are the only ground for a coalition among the real federalists.” 7
Jefferson, while in congress as the successor of Madison, had led the way zealously toward rendering the American constitution more perfect. “The federal convention," so he wrote to one correspondent on hearing who were its members, “is really an assembly of demigods;” and to another: “It consists of the ablest men in America.” He hoped from it a broader reformation, and saw with satisfaction “a general disposition through the states to adopt what it should propose." To Washington he soberly expressed the opinions from which during his long life he never departed: “To make our states one as to all foreign concerns, preserve them several as to all
* Elliot, ii., 174-176, 181.
merely domestic, to give to the federal head some peaceable mode of enforcing its just authority, to organize that head into legislative, executive, and judiciary departments, are great desiderata." *
Early in November Jefferson received a copy of the new constitution, and approved the great mass of its provisions. But once he called it a kite set up to keep the hen-yard in order;ť and with three or four new articles he would have preserved the venerable fabric of the old confederation as a sacred relic.
To Madison # he explained himself in a long and deliberate letter. A house of representatives elected directly by the people he thought would be far inferior to one chosen by the state legislatures; but he accepted that mode of election from respect to the fundamental principle that the people are not to be taxed but by representatives chosen immediately by themselves. He was captivated by the compromise between the great and smaller states, and the method of voting in both branches of the legislature by persons instead of voting by states; but he utterly condemned the omission of a bill of rights, and the abandonment of the principle of rotation in the choice of the president. I own, he added of himself, “I am not a friend to a very energetic government;" for he held that it would be “always oppressive." He presumed that Virginia would reject the new constitution;| for himself he said: “It is my principle that the will of the majority should prevail; if they approve, I shall cheerfully concur in the proposed constitution, in hopes they will amend it whenever they shall find that it works wrong.” A In February 1788 he wrote to Madison, and at least one more of his correspondents: “I wish with all my soul that the nine first conventions may accept the new constitution, to secure to us the good it contains; but I equally wish that the four latest, whichever they may be, may refuse to accede to it till a declaration of rights be annexed; but no objection to the new form must produce a schism in
* Jefferson, i., 349, 260, 149, 264, 250, 251.
A Jefferson, ii., 332. # Jefferson, ii., 328–331.
Jefferson to Madison, 6 February 1788.
This was the last word from him which reached America in time to have any influence. But in May of that year, so soon as he heard of the method adopted by Massachusetts, he declared that it was far preferable to his own, and wished it to be followed by every state, especially by Virginia.* To Madison he wrote in July: “The constitution is a good canvas on which some strokes only want retouching." + In 1789 to a friend in Philadelphia he wrote with perfect truth : "I am not of the party of federalists; but I am much further from that of the anti-federalists.” 7
The constitution was to John Adams more of a surprise than to Jefferson; but at once he formed his unchanging judgment, and in December 1787 he wrote of it officially to Jay: “The public mind cannot be occupied about a nobler object than the proposed plan of government. It appears to be admirably calculated to cement all America in affection and interest as one great nation. A result of compromise cannot perfectly coincide with every one's ideas of perfection; but, as all the great principles necessary to order, liberty, and safety are respected in it, and provision is made for amendments as they may be found necessary, I hope to hear of its adoption by all the states.” #
* Jefferson, ii., 398, 399, 404. + Jefferson, ii., 445. † Jefferson, ii., 585, 586. * John Adams's Works, viii., 467; Diplomatic Correspondence, 1783–1789,