Imatges de pàgina

to adjourning, they agreed to a report to be made to their respective states, and transmitted to Congress, representing the necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects, and recommending to the several legislatures to appoint deptipries to meet for that purpose, in convention, at Philadelphia, on the second of the ensuing May.

Ön receiving this report, the Legislature of Virginia immediately appointed delegates for the object specified in the recommendation ; and within the year every state except Rhode Island had acceded to the proposal, and elected delegates with power to carry that object into full effect. The Gen. eral Convention, thus constituted and empowered, met at Philadelphia on the day appointed; and hav. ing chosen General Washington (whose name was first on the list of the deputies from his native state) for their president, proceeded, with closed doors, to deliberate on the momentous and extensive subjects submitted to their consideration. The crisis was most important in respect to the welfare and prosperity of America, if not of the whole civilized world. The fruits of our glorious Revolution, and, perhaps, the final destiny of Republicanism itself, were involved in the issue of this experiment to reform the system of our national government; and, happily for the people of America-auspiciously for the liberties of mankind-the Federal Convention comprised a rare assemblage of the best experience, talents, character, and information which this country afforded, and it commanded that universal public confidence at home and abroad which such qualifications were calculated to inspire. With regard to the great principles which should constitute the basis of their system, not much contrariety of opinion is understood to have prevailed; but on the application of those principles, in their various forms and intricate modifications, an equal degree of harmony was not to have been expected. Eventually, however, the high importance attached to the preservation of the Union triumphed over local interests and personal feelings; and after several months of arduous deliberation, the Convention final-, ly agreed, with unexpected and unexampled unanimity, on that plan of government which is contained in the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.*

The new system was directed by the Convention to be laid before Congress, to be by them transmitted to conventions to be chosen by the people in each state, for their assent and ratification. It was, moreover, provided in the Constitution itself, that, as soon as it should be ratified by nine states, it should be carried into operation among them, in a mode prescribed by a separate act of the Federal Convention ; and in their letter transmitting it to Congress, they declared the Constitution to be “the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of their political system rendered indispensable.”

The course pointed out by the Convention was pursued by Congress, and the request formally communicated to the state legislatures. The people were, accordingly, invited to choose delegates to meet in each state, for the purpose of deliberating and deciding on the national constitution. Besides the solemn and authoritative examination of the subject in those assemblies, the new scheme of government was subjected to severe scrutiny and animated discussion, both in private circles and in the public prints But neither the intrinsic merits of the Constitution itself, nor the preponderating weight of argument and character by which it was supported, gave assurance

* Vide Appendix C.

to its advocates that it would be eventually accepted. It contained provisions for the preservation of the public faith and the support of private credit which interfered with the views, and counteracted the interests and designs, of those by whom public and private credit were equally disregarded ; and against the jealous opposition of such objectors the powers of reason were exerted in vain, because their real motives could not be avowed. There were, however, among the opponents of the new Constitution individuals of a different character, upon whom the force of argument, it was hoped, might make its due impression. Men of influence and authority were to be found in every state, who, from an honest conviction of its justice and policy, were desirous of retaining unimpaired the sovereignty of the states, and reducing the Union to a mere alliance between kindred nations. Others supposed that an irreconcilable opposition of interests existed between different parts of the Continent, and that the claims of that portion to which they themselves belonged had been surrendered without an equivalent: while a more numerous class, who felt themselves identified with the state institutions, and thought their ambition restrained to state objects, considered the government now proposed for the United States, in some respects, a foreign one ; and were, consequently, disposed to measure out power to the National Legislature with the same sparing hand with which they would confer authority on agents neither chosen by themselves nor accountable to them for its exercise.

The friends and opponents of the Federal Constitution were therefore stimulated in their exertions by motives equally powerful; and during the interval between its publication and adoption, every faculty of the superior minds of both the parties was strained to secure the acceptance or rejection of the new system.

The result was for some time ex. tremely doubtful.

The amendments proposed by several of the states as conditions of their accession show with what reluctance their assent was given, and clearly evince that the dread of dismemberment, rather than sincere approbation of the Constitution, had in many instances induced its adoption. Nevercheless, the cause of political wisdom and justice at length prevailed. Within one year from its promulgation the new government was assented to by eleven of the states, and ratified by Congress. Delaware was the first to accede to it; and the assent of NewHampshire, as the ninth state, rendered it certain that the Constitution would be carried into effect by the states which had already adopted it. The important states of Virginia and New-York, in each of which its fate remained uncertain, were probably determined in its favour by the previous ratification of New-Hampshire :* so that, by the spring of 1789, the Federal Government was duly organized under the new Constitution, and went immediately into full and successful operation, without the concurrence of Rhode Island or North Carolina, who were afterward admitted, in succession, to the Union.

The final establishment of this admirable system of government, so well adapted to the genius, character, and circumstances of the people, and to the situation and extent of the country; so skilfully ingrafted upon the pre-existing institutions, amid all the difficulties and impediments which have been exhibited, affords a signal example of the benignant influence of peaceful deliberation and calm decision, combined with a spirit of moderation and mutual conciliation, not only beyond all precedent, but, when we reflect on the fate of similar attempts in other countries, beyond the hope of imitation. And while the felici. tous issue of this experiment, and the universal acknowledgment of its hitherto successful results, constitute lasting proofs of the wisdom and patriotism of the founders of our government, we must ever venerate their names, adhere to their principles, and cherish their remembrances of services, which are entitled equally to the gratitude and admiration of their posterity. We shall never, I trust, disregard or undervalue the blessings which, under Providence, they secured to us, nor forget the dangers and evils wich were averted by their persevering and devoted efforts—dangers and evils to which the people of til de states would again be exposed, in every degree and form of aggravation, should the wisdom and energy of the fathers of our country be rendered abortive by the madness and folly of their sons. If threatened with such a reverse, we shall, I trust, ever be ready to respond to the sentiments called forth in a happy hour from one of our late chief magistrates, that at every sacrifice, except of the inalienable rights and liberties which the Constitution was intended to perpetuate, “ THE UNION MUST BE PRESERVED."*

* Vide Appendix D.



Having in the former lecture presented a rapid sketch of the origin and progress of the American Confederation down to the establishment of the present Constitution, I now propose to treat more partic

* Vide Appendix E.


« AnteriorContinua »