Page images

Major William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia, left pen pictures of most of his associates in the Convention, which were printed first in the Savannah Georgian, April, 1828. His characterizations of Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, and Madison follow :


Gen' Washington is well known as the Commander in chief of the late American army. Having conducted these States to independence and peace, he now appears to assist in framing a Government to make the People happy. Like Gustavus Vasa, may be said to be the deliverer of his Country; like Peter the great he appears as the politician and the States-man; and like Cincinnatus he returned to his farm perfectly contented with being only a plain Citizen, after enjoying the highest honor of the confederacy, and now only seeks for the approbation of his Country-men by being virtuous and useful: The General was conducted to the Chair as President of the Convention by the unanimous vote of its Members. He is in the 52d year of his age.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Col Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents. He is a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished Scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence the Heart and Head sympathize in approving him. Yet there is something too feeble in his voice to be equal to the strains of oratory; - it is my opinion that he is rather a convincing Speaker, than a blazing Orator. Col° Hamilton requires time to think, he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of phylosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on. - His language is not always equal, sometimes didactic like Bolingbroke's, at others light and tripping like Stern's. His eloquence is not so defusive [diffusive] as to trifle with the senses, but he rambles just enough to strike and keep up the attention. He is about 33 years old, of small stature, and lean. His manners

[ocr errors]

are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreable.

Dr Franklin is well known to be the greatest phylosopher of the present age; all the operations of nature he seems to understand,- the very heavens obey him, and the Clouds yield up their Lightning to be imprisoned in his rod. But what claim he has to the politician, posterity must determine. It is certain that he does not shine much in public Council, - he is no Speaker, nor does he seem to let politics engage his attention. He is, however, a most extraordinary Man, and tells a story in a style more engaging than anything I ever heard. Let his Biographer finish his character. He is 82 years old, and possesses an activity of mind, equal to a youth of 25 years of age.

Mr. Maddison [Madison] is a character who has long been in public life; and what is very remarkable every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness. He blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar. In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention, and tho' he cannot be called an Orator, he is a most agreable, eloquent, and convincing Speaker. From a spirit of industry and application, which he possesses in a most eminent degree, he always comes forward the best informed Man of any point in debate. The affairs of the United States, he perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of, of any Man in the Union. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and was always thought one of the ablest Members that ever sat in that Council. Mr. Maddison is about 37 years of age, a Gentleman of great modesty,- with a remarkably sweet temper. He is easy and unreserved among his acquaintance, and has a most agreable style of conversation.

Passions often rose high during the stormy debates in the Convention, and it looked several times as though the assembly might break up in irreconcilable discord. The Constitution which resulted from its labors was not altogether acceptable to the leaders; but Franklin, with his rare good sense and quiet reasonableness, pleaded for harmony in the closing session,

September 17 [1787]. ... The engrossed Constitution being read, —— DÅ FRANKLIN rose with a speech in his hand, which .. Mr. Wilson read in the words following:

"Mr. President:—I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. . .

[ocr errors]

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government, but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered. . . I doubt, too, whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For, when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded, like those of the builders of Babel; and that our states are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us, in returning to our constituents, were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partisans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign nations, as well

as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion — on the general opinion of the goodness of the government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope, therefore, that for our own sakes, as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress and confirmed by the conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavors to the means of having it well administered.

On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention, who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.".

Whilst the last members were signing, Dr FRANKLIN, looking towards the president's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish, in their art, a rising from a setting sun. I have," he said, " often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun."


The labors of the Convention being finished, its president sent the engrossed and signed copy of the Constitution to Congress with the following letter:


September 17, 1787

We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States, in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable. The friends of our country have long seen and desired that the power of making

war, peace, and treaties; that of levying money, and regulating commerce; and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union. . .

It is obviously impracticable, in the federal government of these states, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all. Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. . . .

In all our deliberations on this subject, we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the Convention to be less rigid, on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every state, is not perhaps to be expected; but each will doubtless consider that, had her interest alone been consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish. With great respect, we have the honor to be, sir, your Excellency's most obedient and humble servants. By the unanimous order of the Convention. Go WASHINGTON, President

His Excellency, the President of Congress

argument against rati

Only three of the delegates present at the closing ses- 43. Mason's sion of the Convention refused to sign the ConstitutionElbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Edmund Randolph fication, 1788


« PreviousContinue »