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necessity for closer union. This jealousy was, at the beginning, paramount and extreme. It was not suppressed and overcome, but moderated until it stood in just equilibrium with the prevailing sense of the need and the good of a national existence and a national government. Then these two sentiments, or principles, met and co-operated; and the result was, the Constitution of the United States, formed in the manner to be stated in the next section. And this, I again declare, I regard not merely as the best which could then have been made, but as in itself good, and very good, and the best for the good of the whole nation which could have been made, by any men, under any circumstances.

I do not consider that this constitution came into being in itself perfect, and in itself able to go forward for ever, the instrument of a great nation's growth, prosperity, and happiness, with no more help, with no new influences to bear upon it and give to it added life and energy and efficiency. I mean no such thing. It needed more, a vast deal more, before it could become - what I think it is to be - a permanent instrument of the greatest, the highest, and the completest political good.

The problem to be solved in the establishment of this government, or, as it may be better said, in the formation of this nation, was to create the best possible form of a republican government by the perfect reconciliation of the two elements of central power and reserved rights.

In other words of the same meaning, the problem was to create a system of government which should arm the central power with all the force which it could usefully exert, and yet leave to all whom it gathered within its wide embrace, the utmost possible freedom for self-government, and the strongest assurance that this freedom should be guarded but not weakened, protected and not impaired.

This was done by the Constitution, as far as written words could do it. For after all our experience, at this day no words could mend that constitution in this respect; none could make this balance of forces more perfect. But another thing could be done, and remained to be done. It was to fix the meaning of this constitution by practical construction. To fasten on the public mind the conviction, and fill with it the public heart, that our constitution meant, on the one hand, a preservation of State rights, and on the other, indissoluble national unity; and to root this conviction into the public life firmly, 60 that no storm could shake it, and so that no devastating force could rend it away. It may not be possible to prevent these two elements from sometimes, during the ages that will come, rising separately into undue prominence. At one time, or by one body or class, the national unity may be urged until it threatens consolidation, and at another time the principle of State rights may again assert itself too strongly. But it may be hoped that their reconciliation is hereafter to be so established, not by the written constitution only, but by the constitution of the public sentiment and the public will, that it will stand, even as our continent stands upon its rocky base, no more to be moved from its foundation than our continent is moved by the two great oceans which beat upon its shores.



As the insufficiency of the Articles of Confederation became apparent, and the need of concerted action was felt, efforts were made in that direction. Thus, in 1785, Virginia and Maryland appointed commissioners to form some agreement concerning the navigation of the rivers Potomac and Pocomoke, and the Chesapeake Bay. These commissioners met at Alexandria, and found they could do little good unless some provision could be made for a general tariff of duties upon imports, and they reported the need of this to the legislature of Virginia. Whereupon that State, on the 21st of January, 1786, appointed commissioners, “ who were to meet such as might be appointed by the other States in the Union, at a time and place to be agreed on, to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situation and trade of the said States; to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial relations may be necessary to their common interest and their permanent harmony; and to report to the several States such an act relative to this great object as, when unanimously ratified by them, will enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the same."

The appointment of commissioners for this purpose was notified to the other States; but only four others, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, responded by the appointment of commissioners. In September, 1786, commissioners from these five States met at Annapolis. All that they did, however, was to lay before Congress and the several States a report, in which they recommend that all the States should appoint commissioners, to meet in convention at Philadelphia, on the second Monday of May, 1787,“ to take into consideration the situation of the United States; to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to by them, and afterwards confirmed by the legislature of every State, will effectually provide for the same."

The reasons assigned for bringing the subject before a conven. tion especially chosen for that purpose, rather than leaving it to Congress, were," that in the latter body it might be too much interrupted by the ordinary business before them, and would, besides, be deprived of the valuable counsels of sundry individuals who were disqualified by the constitution or laws of particular States, or restrained by peculiar circumstances from a seat in that assembly."

Little do the people of this country know, difficult will it be for them to believe, the condition of public affairs and public opinion at that time. But all of us ought to know it, for it may help us to value more that constitution, which, under Divine Providence, was the instrument by which safety from these perils was at last attained. That we may better understand what these perils were, let me give extracts from some of the letters written at that time by some of our ablest and wisest men. John Jay writes to Washington, on the 16th March, 1786: “Experience has pointed out errors in our national government which call for correction, and which threaten to blast the fruit we expected from our tree of liberty. The convention proposed by Virginia may do some good, and would perhaps do more, if it comprehended more objects. An opinion begins to prevail that a general convention for revising the Articles of Confederation would be expedient. Whether the people are yet ripe for such a measure, or whether the system proposed to be attained by it is only to be expected from calamity and commotion, is difficult to ascertain. I think we are in a delicate situation, and a variety of considerations and circumstances give me uneasiness. It is in contemplation to take measures for forming a general convention. The plan is not matured. If it should be well considered, and take effect, I am fervent in my wishes that it may comport with the line of life you have marked out for yourself, - to favor your country with your councils on such an important and single occasion. I suggest this merely as a hint for consideration.”

On the 27th of June he writes: “Our affairs seem to lead to some crisis, some revolution, - something that I cannot foresee or conjecture. I am uneasy and apprehensive, more so than during the

Then, we had a fixed obje and though the means and time of obtaining it were often problematical, yet I did firmly believe that we should ultimately succeed, because I did firmly believe that justice was with us. The case is now altered, we are going and doing wrong, and therefore I look forward to evils and calamities, but without being able to guess at the instrument, nature, or measure of them. That we shall again recover, and things again go well, I have no doubt. Such a variety of circumstances would not, almost miraculously, have combined to liberate and make us a nation, for transient and unimportant purposes. I therefore believe we are yet to become a great and respectable people, – but when, or how, only the spirit of prophecy can discern.


“What I most fear is, that the better kind of people (by which I mean the people who are orderly and industrious, who are content with their situations, and not uneasy in their circumstances) will be led by the insecurity of property, the loss of confidence in their rulers, and the want of public faith and rectitude, to consider the charms of liberty as imaginary and delusive. A state of uncertainty and fluctuation must disgust and alarm such men, and prepare their minds for almost any change that may promise them quiet and security."

To this letter Washington replies as follows: "Your sentiments that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct; we have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation, without lodging somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the State governments extends over the several States. To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the people, without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion?. Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents ? By the rotation of appointment, must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them, on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously, for fear of losing their popularity and future election ? we must take human nature as we find it: perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant humble tone of requisition in applications to the States, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity, and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nullity, where thirteen sovereign, indepen dent, disunited States are in the habit of discussing, and refusing

or complying with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a byword throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the game train for ever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgusted with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We

e are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingencies would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.

“What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking, thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.”

Congress did nothing about the matter. The best men there were deeply impressed with the necessity of taking some measures which might prevent the threatened disintegration of the country; but they were aware of the unpopularity of Congress, and apprehended that their manifesting any desire for the convention would tend rather to defeat than promote it. It must be difficult for us, enjoying as we do all the benefits of union, to understand the very general opposition to it. I will presently endeavor to exhibit the state of the country, by extracts from the letters most likely to understand it thoroughly. Some of these letters refer to the discontents which prevailed throughout New England, and broke out into insurrection in Massachusetts, and with less violence in New Hampshire. The enormous exertions of those States during the war had accumulated a great debt. Their fisheries, which were then their principal reliance, had been neglected and had become unproductive. The taxes were very burdensome. General Lincoln was sent with a body of troops into the west of Massachusetts, in the depths of winter, and pressed upon the rebels, until, after a few had been killed and more made prisoners, the rebellion there was subdued. In other places where courts were to be held, mobs succeeded in preventing the judges from holding court, that judgments and executions might not issue against debtors. In Taunton, General

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