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On the other hand, Washington, in his circular letter to the governors of the several States just before he retired from the army, had strongly urged that the States should yield to the General Government the powers necessary to provide against anarchy and confusion." It is indispensable,” he said, “to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere a supreme power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated republic.
.Whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen its sovereign authority, ought to be considered hostile to the liberty and independence of America, and the authors of them treated accordingly.'
Happily for the preservation of that liberty and independence, the outbreak of rebellion put an end to the scheme of independent State sovereignties, even in Massachusetts, where, perhaps, the feeling against a strong national government was most jealous and active. The armed resistance of Shays and his followers, in 1786, to the collection of taxes, and the enforcement of private claims, found much sympathy among the people; and, in some cases, town-officers went so far as to order their militia to co-operate with the rebels. The civil courts were declared to be “engines of destruction," and were broken up by an armed mob; the State Senate was denounced as a "needless and aristocratic branch of the government;” 3 the tax-gatherers were forcibly resisted; the Federal arsenal at Springfield was attacked by a force of two thousand men: in a word, there was an attempt to resolve society into its original elements, and to clothe the local democracy with absolute and final sovereignty. The government of Massachusetts succeeded in suppressing the rebellion by its own arm, but not until it had invoked the aid of the Federal Congress, and Congress had raised a body of troops for that purpose. A skirmish at Springfield, and the capture of the main body of the rebels at Petersham, brought the affair to an end, with no great loss of life; but the horror of anarchy and civil war produced a strong re-action from the scheme of confederated democracies, and strengthened the movement for a vigorous national government. Washington wrote to Madison, “How melancholy is the reflection, that, in so short a time, we should have made such large strides towards fulfilling the predictions of our transatlantic foes !—Leave them to themselves, and their government will soon dissolve.' Will not the wise and good strive hard to avert this evil? or will their supineness suffer ignorance, and the arts of selfinterested, designing, disaffected, and desperate characters, to involve this great country in wretchedness and contempt? What stronger evidence can be given of the want of energy in our government than these disorders? If there is not power in it to check them, what security has a man for life, liberty, or property ?”i
1 Letter of 8th June, 1784: Sparks's Collection. 2 Wells's Life of Samuel Adanis, iii. 229.
3 Ibid., 223. 4 See Washington to Madison of Nov. 5, 1786, in Sparks, vol. ix., and Rives's Madison, ii. 175.
5 Secret Journals of Congress, i. 267-270.
That was in November, 1786. The twenty-fifth day of May, 1787, witnessed the dawn of hope. On that day a convention of the States for revising the Federal Government was organized ? in Philadelphia, with Washington as its president. The convention sat till the 17th September, when it signed, and sent forth for the approval of the nation, that Constitution under which the people of the United States have lived to this day. At the opening of the convention, when a diversity of views had provoked some warmth of feeling, Dr. Franklin said, “We are sent here to consult, not to contend, with each other; and declarations of a fixed opinion, and of determined resolution never to change it, neither enlighten nor convince us.” At the close, when the deputies had signed the new Constitution, Franklin pointed to the president's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, and said that “ painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun.
Often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of
my hopes and fears as to its issue, I have 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
1 Nov. 5, 1786: see in Sparks, ix. 207.
2 The convention met on Monday, May 14, but, for lack of a quorum, did not organize till the 25th.
to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun." Let us hope the sun that rose that day shall never set !
Never man did better service for his country than James Madison in keeping a record of the sayings and doings of that remarkable convention, that embraced such men as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Roger Sherman, the two Pinckneys, Robert Morris, Governeur Morris, Rufus King, and James Madison himself. The convention sat with closed doors, and no report of its debates was allowed to be published; but Madison, who was a ready penman, and perfectly conversant with the topics handled in the convention, took copious notes of the speeches, and, in the more important cases, submitted these to the revision of the speakers. On the death of Mr. Madison, these invaluable reports were purchased for the department of state; and in 1840 they were published under authority of Congress, as a legacy to the nation. The testimony of Madison to his colleagues in the convention is now the recognized voice of history: “ Whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the convention collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787 to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which should best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country.
From Friday the 25th of May, when it was duly organized, till Monday the 17th of September, when the deputies of twelve States signed the completed Constitution, through all the summer heats, the convention sat continuously, with no interruption except for the Sunday rest, and an occasional day for committees to finish their work. No committee was allowed to sit when the convention was in session, nor was any member suffered to be absent from his place so as to interrupt the representation of his State. The convention felt that it had to do with questions of equal and momentous concern to each and every State, and therefore all the States must be present in their deputies during the whole discussion. Not even the work of committees should be an excuse for absence. Those men knew their duty, and did it.
1 Introduction to Debates in the Convention: Madison Papers, ii. 718.
One rule of the convention affords a glimpse at the manners of the times, and shows how far the fathers were from the levelling practice of democracy: it reads, “ When the house shall adjourn, every member shall stand in his place until the president pass him,” - a practice that existed in the chapel of Yale College in my student days. Washington himself was a master of etiquette, and stood upon it, not only in his famous rejection of Lord Howe's letter to “ George Washington, Esq.,” but in official intercourse with his own countrymen.
Senator Hillhouse used to give a picture of the change of manners from Washington to Jefferson by showing two dinner invitations: the first, “ The President of the United States requests the company of the senator of Connecticut;" the second, "Mr. Jefferson requests the company of Mr. Hillhouse." The senator could never reconcile himself to that change of dispensation.
A radical German of Berlin wondered that I halted, and lifted my hat to the late queen-dowager as she drove by on the Linden. I answered, “A republican should be first among gentlemen.” It may suit “ Young America” to drop the handles of names, and push and elbow where the fathers used to stand and wait ; but from my deepest soul do I respect an assembly in which Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Ellsworth, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, stood silent with uncovered heads till George Washington passed by.
Precious as was the work of the convention “ for the liberty and happiness of the country,” it can be best appreciated by contrast with the measures that they canvassed and rejected. In those four months of daily debate, every theory of government was ventilated, every form of constitution tested in the light of history, philosophy, and experience. As many an inventor might save himself years of toil and trouble by visiting the Patent Office, and seeing how often his machine has come to grief, so many a “rising statesman” might spare himself and the country his patent schemes of government if he should study the de bates in the Federal Convention of 1787. Only I suppose that while the world stands, both in mechanics and in government, there will be ever-recurring devices for perpetual motion. Every presidential election starts up some crotchet for a better way of getting presidents, or a way of getting better presidents. Horace Greeley, for instance, was prolific of such crotchets; the latest being to run himself as the candidate of two parties that disliked him almost as much as they distrusted one another. It is an infelicity of the "selfmade ” man that he imagines every thing to be as crude as the material of which he fashioned himself, and, having “made himself,” feels equal to making or remaking every thing else, not excepting the universe and its Maker.
There are schemes for extending the term of the presidency, for limiting the office to a single term, for electing the President directly by the people, &c. All these projects, and others also, were fully discussed, and finally set aside, by the wisdom and weight of the convention. At one time, the formal draught of the Constitution provided that the President “shall be elected by ballot by the legislature. He shall hold his office during the term of seven years, but shall not be elected a second time.” Amendments were proposed, on the one hand, to the extreme of a direct popular choice, like Louis Napoleon's plébiscite; on the other, to the extreme of an appointment, by the national legislature, “ during good behavior,”
a quality that we should be glad to predicate of the legislature itself. After days of discussion, and much elaboration in committees, the convention settled upon the plan, which, with some slight amendments to prevent confusion and rivalry between the offices of President and Vice-President, has worked so long and so well, - a President chosen by popular electors for the term of four years, the question of re-election being left to the circum