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Boldiery? As soon would a navy move from the forest, and an army spring from the earth, as such a confederacy, indebted, impoverished in its commerce, and destitute of men, could, for some years at least, provide an ainple defence for itself.
Let it not be forgotten that nations, which can enforce their rights, have large claims against the United States, and that the creditor may insist upon payment from any of them. Which of them would probably be the victim ? The most productive and the most exposed. When vexed by reprisals of war, the Southern States will sue for alliance on this continent or beyond the sea. If for the former, the necessity of a union of the whole is decided ; if for the latter, America will, I fear, react the scenes of confusion and bloodshed exhibited among most of those nations, which have, too late, repented the folly of relying on auxiliaries.
Two or more confederacies cannot but be competitors for power. The ancient friendship between the citizens of America being thus cut off, bitterness and hostility will succeed in its place. In order to prepare against surrounding danger, we shall be compelled to vest, somewhere or other, power approaching near to military government.
The annals of the world have abounded so much with instances of a divided people being a prey to foreign influence, that I shall not restrain my apprehensions of it, should our Union be torn asunder. The opportunity of insinuating it will be multiplied in proportion to the parts into which we may be broken.
In short, sir, I am fatigued with summoning up to my imagination the miseries which will harass the United States, if torn from each other, and which will not end until they are superseded by fresh mischiefs under the yoke of a tyrant.
I come, therefore, to the last, and perhaps only refuge in our difficulties, a consolidation of the Union, as far as circumstances will permit. To fulfil this desirable object, the Constitution was framed by the Federal Convention. A quorum of eleven states, and the only member from the twelfth, have subscribed it; Mr. Mason, of Virginia, Mr. Gerry, of Massachusetts, and myself, having refused to subscribe ; also Robert Yates, and John Lansing, of New York.
Why I refused will, I hope, be solved to the satisfaction of those who know me, by saying that a sense of duty commanded me thus to act. It commanded me, sir; for believe me, that no event of my life ever occupied more of my reflection. To subscribe seemed to offer no inconsiderable gratification, since it would have presented me to the world as a fellow-laborer with the learned and zealous statesmen of America.
But it was far more interesting to my feelings that I was about to differ from three of my colleagues, one of whom is, to the honor of the country which he has saved, embosomed in their affections, and can receive no praise from the highest lustre of language; the other two of whom have been long enrolled among the wisest and best lovers of the commonwealth ; and the unshaken and intimate friendship of all of whom I have ever prized, and still do prize, as among the happiest of all acquisitions. I was no stranger to the reigning partiality for the members who composed the Convention, and had not the smallest doubt, that from this cause, and from the ardor for a reform of government, the first applauses, at least, would be loud and profuse. I suspected, too, tha. there was something in the human breast which for a time would be apt to construe a temperateness in politics into an enmity to the Union.
Nay, I plainly foresaw that, in the dissensions of parties, a riddle lwa would probably be interpreted into a want of enterprise and decision. But these considerations, how seducing soever, were feeble opponents to the suggestion of my conscience. I was sent to exercise my judgment, and to exercise it was my fixed determination; being instructed by even an imperfect acquaintance with mankind, that self-approbation is the only true reward which a political career can bestow, and that popularity would have been but another narne for perfidy, if to secure it I had given up the freedom of thinking for myself.
It would have been a peculiar pleasure to me to have ascertained, before I left Virginia, the temper and genius of my fellow-citizens, considered relatively to a government so substantially differing from the Confederation as that which is now submitted. But this was, for niany obvious reasons, impossible; and I was thereby deprived of what I thought the necessary guides.
I saw, however, that the Confederation was tottering from its own weakness, and that the sitting of the Convention was a signal of its total insufficiency. I was, therefore, ready to assent to a scheme of government which was proposed, and which went beyond the limits of the Confederation, believing that, without being too extensive, it would have preserved our tranquillity until that temper and that genius should be collected.
But when the plan which is now before the General Assembly was on its passage through the Convention, I moved that the state conventions should be at liberty to amend, and that a second General Convention should be holden, to discuss the amendments which should be suggested by them. This motion was in some measure justified by the manner in which the Confederation was forwarded originally, by Congress, to the state legislatures, in many of which amendments were proposed; and those ainendments were afterwards examined in Congress. such a motion was, then, doubly expedient here, as the delegation of so much more power was sought for. But it was negatived. I then expressed my unwillingness to sign. My reasons were the following:
1. It is said, in the resolutions which accompany the Constitution, that it is to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, for their assent and ratification. The meaning of these terms is universally allowed to be, that the convention must either adopt the Constitution in the whole, or reject it in the whole, and is positively forbidden to amend. If, therefore, I had signed, I should have felt myself bound to be silent as to amendments, and to endeavor to support the Constitution without the correction of a letter. With this consequence before my eyes, and with a determination to attempt an amendment, I was taught by a regard for consistency not to sign.
2. My opinion always was, and still is, that every citizen of America, let the crisis be what it may, ought to have a full opportunity to propose, through his representatives, any amendment which, in his apprehension, tends to the public welfare. By signing, I should have contradicted this sentiment.
3. A constitution ought to have the hearts of the people on its side. Biit il, at a future day, it should become burdensome after having been adopted in the whole, and they should insinuate that it was in some measure forced upon them by being confined to the single alternative of
taking or rejecting it altogether, - under my impressions, and with my opinions, I should not be able to justify myself, had I signed.
4. I was always satisfied, as I have now experienced, that this great subject would be placed in new lights and attitudes by the criticism of the world, and that no man can assure himself how a constitution will work for a course of years, until at least he shall have the observations of the people at large. I also fear more from inaccuracies in a constitution, than from gross errors in any other composition; because our dearest interests are to be regulated by it, and power, if loosely given, especially where it will be interpreted with great latitude, may bring sorrow in its execution. Had I signed with these ideas, I should have virtually shut my ears againsi the information which I ardently desired.
5. I was afraid that, if the Constitution was to be submitted to the people, to be wholly adopted or wholly rejected by them, they would not only reject it, but bid a lasting farewell to the Union. This formidable event I wished to avert, by keeping myself free to propose amendments, and thus, if possible, to remove the obstacles to an effectual government. But it will be asked whether all these arguments were not well weighed in Convention. They were, sir, with great candor. Nay, when I called to mind the respectability of those with whom I was associated, I almost lost confidence in these principles. On other occasions, I should cheerfully have yielded to a majority; on this, the fate of thousands yet unborn enjoined me not to yield until I was convinced.
Again, may I be asked why the mode pointed out in the Constitution, for its amendment, may not be sufficient security against its imperfections, without now arresting its progress ? My answers are - 1. That it is better to amend, while we have the Constitution in our power, while the passions of designing men are not yet enlisted, and while a bare majority of the states may amend, than to wait for the uncertain assent of three fourths of the states. 2. That a bad feature in government becomes more and more fixed every day. 3. That frequent changes of a constitution, even if practicable, ought not to be wished, but avoided as much as possible. And, 4. That in the present case, it may be questionable whether, after the particular advantages of its operation shall be discerned, three fourths of the states can be induced to amend.
I confess that it is no easy task to devise a scheme which shall be suitable to the views of all. Many expedients have occurred to me, but none of them appear less exceptionable than this; that if our convention should choose to amend, another federal convention be recommended; that, in that federal convention, the amendments proposed by this or any other state be discussed ; and if incorporated in the Constitution, or rejected, or if a proper number of the other states should be unwilling to accede to a second convention, - the Constitution be again laid before the same state conventions, which shall again assemble on the summons of the executives, and it shall be either wholly adopted, or wholly rejected, without a further power of amendment. I count such a delay as nothing, in comparison with so grand an object; especially, too, as the privilege of amending must terminate after the use of it once.
I should now conclude this letter, which is already too long, were it not incumbent on me, from having contended for amendments, to set forth the particulars which I conceive to require correction. I undertake this with reluctance, because it is remote from my intentions to catch the prejudices or prepossessions of any man. But as I mean only to manifest
that I have not been actuated by caprice, and now to explain every objection at full length would be an immense labor, I shall content myself with enumerating certain heads in which the Constitution is most repugnant to my wisbes :
The two first points are the equality of suffrage in the Senate, and the subinission of commerce to a mere majority in the legislature, with no other check than the revision of the President. I conjecture that neither of these things can be corrected, and particularly the former, without which we must have risen perhaps in disorder.
But I am sanguine in hoping that, in every other justly obnoxious cause, Virginia will be seconded by a majority of the states. I hope that she will be seconded; 1. In causing all ambiguities of expression to be precisely explained ; 2. In rendering the President ineligible after a given number of years; 3. In taking from him the power of nominating to the judiciary offices, or of filling up vacancies which may there happer during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session; 4. In taking from him the power of pardoning for treason, at least before conviction ; 5. In drawing a line between the powers of Congress and individual states; and in defining the former, so as to leave no clashing of jurisdictions nor dangerous deputies; and to prevent the one from being swallowed up by the other, under cover of general words and implication ; 6. In abridging the power of the Senate to make treaties supreme laws of the land; 7. In incapacitating the Congress to determine their own salaries; and, 8. In limiting and defining the judicial power.
The proper remedy must be consigned to the wisdom of the Convention; and the final step which Virginia shall pursue, if her overtures shall be discarded, must also rest with them.
You will excuse me, sir, for having been thus tedious. My feelings and duty demanded this exposition ; for through no other channel could I rescue my omission to sign from misrepresentation, and in no more effectual way could I exhibit to the General Assembly an unreserved history of my conduct. I have the honor, sir, to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
LETTER FROM THE HON. ROGER SHERMAN, AND
THE HON. OLIVER ELLSWORTH, ESQUIRES,
DELEGATES FROM THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT, IN THE LATE FEDERAL CONVENTION,
TO HIS EXCELLENCY, THE GOVERNOR OF SAID STATE.
New LONDON, September 26, 1787. Sır: We have the honor to transmit to your excellency a printed copy of the Constitution formed by the Federal Convention, to be laid before the legislature of the state.
The general principles which governed the Convention in their deliber ations on the subject, are stated in their address to Congress.
We think it may be of use to make some further observations on par. :icular parts of the Constitution.
The Congress is differently organized; yet the whole number of mem bers, and this state's proportion of suffrage, remain the same as before.
The equal representation of the states in the Senate, and the voice of that branch in the appointment to offices, will secure the rights of the lesser, as well as of the greater states.
Some additional powers are vested in Congress, which was a principal object that the states had in view in appointing the Convention. Those powers extend only to matters respecting the common interests of the Union, and are specially defined, so that the particular states retain their sovereignty in all other matters.
The objects for which Congress may apply moneys are the same mentioned in the eighth article of the Confederation, viz., for the common defence and general welfare, and for payment of the debts incurred for those purposes. It is probable that the principal branch of revenue will be duties on imports. What may be necessary to be raised by direct taxation is to be apportioned on the several states, according to the number of their inhabitants; and although Congress may raise the money by their own authority, if necessary, yet that authority need not be exercised, if each state will furnish its quota.
The restraint on the legislatures of the several states respecting emitting bills of credit, making any thing but money a tender in payment of debts, or impairing the obligation of contracts by ex post facto laws, was thought necessary as a security to commerce, in which the interest of foreigners, as well as of the citizens of different states, may be affected.
The Convention endeavored to provide for the energy of government on the one hand, and suitable checks on the other hand, to secure the rights of the particular states, and the liberties and properties of the citizens.
We wish it may meet the approbation of the several states, and be a means of securing their rights, and lengthening out their tranquillity.
With great respect, we are, sir, your excellency's obedient, humble servants,
OLIVER ELLSWORTH. His Excellency, Governor HUNTINGTON.
LETTER CONTAINING THE REASONS OF THE
HON. ELBRIDGE GERRY, ESQ.,
FOR NOT SIGNING THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.
GENTLEMEN: I have the honor to enclose, pursuant to my commission, the Constitution proposed by the Federal Convention.
To this system I gave my dissent, and shall submit my objections to the honorable legislature.
It was painful for me, on a subject of such national importance, to differ from the respectable members who signed the Constitution ; but