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easily, unless supported by powerful states, make any important struggle, even though her citizens were unanimous, which is by no means the case. Parties there are nearly balanced. If the assent, or dissent, of the New York legislature were to decide on the fate of America, there would still be a chance, though I believe the force of government would preponderate, and effect a rejection. But the legislature cannot assign to the people any good reason for not trusting them with a decision on their own affairs, and must therefore agree to a convention. In the choice of convention, it is not improbable that the federal party will prove strongest; for persons of very distinct and opposite interests have joined on this subject.
With respect to this state, I am far from being decided in my opinion that they will consent. True it is, that the city and its neighborhood are enthusiastic in the cause; but I dread the cold and sour temper of the back counties, and still more the wicked industry of those who have long habituated themselves to live on the public, and cannot bear the idea of being removed from the power and profit of state government, which bas been, and still is, the means of supporting themselves, their families, and dependants, and (which is perhaps equally grateful) of depressing and humbling their political adversaries. What opinions prevail more southward, I cannot guess. You are in a better condition than any other person to judge of a great and important part of that country.
I have observed that your name to the new Constitution has been of infinite service. Indeed, I am convinced that, if you had not attended that Convention, and the same paper had been handed out to the world, it would have met with a colder reception, with fewer and weaker ad. vocates, and with more, and more strenuous, opponents. As it is, should the idea prevail that you will not accept the Presidency, it would prore fatal in many parts. The truth is, that your great and decided superiority leads men willingly to put you in a place which will not add to your personal dignity, nor raise you higher than you already stand. But they would not readily put any other person in the same situation, because they feel the elevation of others as operating, by comparison, the degradation of themselves; and, however absurd this idea may be, yet you will agree with me, that men must be treated as men, and not as machines, much less as philosophers, and least of all things as reasonable creatures, seeing that, in effect, they reason not to direct, but to excuse their conduct. Thus much for the public opinion on these subjects, which is not to be neglected in a country where opinion is every thing.
I am, &c.,
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS TO TIMOTHY PICKERING,
Dated, MORRISANIA, December 22, 1914. My Dear Sir: What can a history of the Constitution avail towards interpreting its provisions ? This must be done by comparing the plain import of the words with the general tenor and object of the instrument
That instrument was written by the fingers which write this letter. Having rejected redundant and equivocal terms, I believed it to be as clear as our language would permit; excepting, nevertheless, a part of what relates to the judiciary. On that subject, conflicting opinions had been maintained with so much professional astuteness, that it became necessary to select phrases which, expressing my own notions, would not alarm others, nor shock their self-love; and to the best of my recollection, this was the only part which passed without cavil.
But, after all, what does it signify that men should have a written constitution, containing unequivocal provisions and limitations? The legislative lion will not be entangled in the meshes of a logical net. The legislature will always make the power which it wishes to exercise, unless it be so organized as to contain within itself the sufficient check. Attempts to restrain it from outrage, by other means, will only render it more outrageous. The idea of binding legislators by oaths is puerile. Having sworn to exercise the powers granted, according to their true intent and meaning, they will, when they feel a desire to go farther, avoid the shame, if not the guilt, of perjury, by swearing the true intent and meaning to be, according to their comprehension, that which suits their purpose.
JAMES MADISON TO MR. SPARKS.
Dated, MONTPELLIER, April 8, 1831. Dear Sir: I have duly received your letter of March 30th. In answer to your inquiries “ respecting the part acted by Gouverneur Morris in the Federal Convention of 1787, and the political doctrines maintained by him," it may be justly said that he was an able, an eloquent, and an active member, and shared largely in the discussions succeeding the 1st of July, previous to which, with the exception of a few of the early days, he was absent.
Whether he accorded precisely with the “political doctrines of Hamilton," I cannot say. He certainly did not “incline to the democratic side," and was very frank in avowing his opinions, when most at variance with those prevailing in the Convention. He did not propose any outline of a constitution, as was done by Hamilton ; but contended for certain articles (a Senate for life particularly) which he held essential to the stability and energy of a government capable of protecting the rights of property against the spirit of democracy. He wished to make the weight of wealth balance that of numbers, which he pronounced to be the only effectual security to each, against the encroachments of the other.
The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris; the task having, probably, been handed over to him by the chairman of the committee, himself a highly respectable member, and with the ready concurrence of the others. A better choice could not have been made, as the performance of the task proved. It is true that the state of the materials, consisting of a reported draft in detail, and subsequent resolutions accurately penned, and falling easily
into their proper places, was a good preparation for the symmetry and phraseology of the instrument; but there was sufficient room for the talents and taste stamped by the author on the face of it. The alterations made by the committee are not recollected. They were not such as to impair the merit of the composition. Those, verbal and others, made in the Convention, may be gathered from the Journal, and will be found also to leave that merit altogether unimpaired.
The anecdote you mention may not be without a foundation, but not in the extent supposed. It is certain that the return of Mr. Morris to the Convention was at a critical stage of its proceedings. The knot, felt as the Gordian one, was, the question between the larger and the smaller states, on the rule of voting in the senatorial branch of the legislature; the latter claiming, the former opposing, the rule of equality. Great zeal and pertinacity had been shown on both sides, and an equal division of votes on the question had been reiterated and prolonged, till it had become not only distressing, but seriously alarming. It was during that period of gloom that Dr. Franklin made the proposition for a religious service in the Convention, an account of which was so erroneously given, with every semblance of authenticity, through the National Intelligencer, several years ago. The crisis was not over, when Mr. Morris is said to have had an interview and conversation with General Washington and Mr. Robert Morris, such as may well have occurred. But it appears that, on the day of his reëntering the Convention, a proposition had been made from another quarter to refer the knotty question to a committee, with a view to some compromise, the indications being manifest that sundry members from the larger states were relaxing in their opposition, and that some ground of compromise was contemplated, such as finally took place, and as may be seen in the printed Journal. Mr. Morris was in the deputation from the large state of Pennsylvania, and combated the compromise throughout. The tradition is, however, correct, that, on the day of his resuming his seat, he entered with anxious feelings into the debate, and in one of his speeches painted the consequences of an abortive result to the Convention, in all the deep colors suited to the occasion. But it is not believed that any material influence on the turn which things took could be ascribed to his efforts; for, besides the mingling with them some of his most disrelished ideas, the topics of his eloquent appeals to the members had been exhausted during his absence, and their minds were too much made up to be susceptible of new impressions.
It is but due to Mr. Morris to remark, that to the brilliancy of his genius he added - what is too rare — a candid surrender of his opinions when the lights of discussion satisfied him that they had been too hastily formed; and a readiness to aid in making the best of measures in which he had been overruled.
In making this communication, I have more confidence in the discretion with which it will be used, than in its fulfilment of your anticipations. I hope it will, at least, be accepted as a proof of my respect for your object, and of the sincerity with which I tender to you a reassurance of my cordial esteem and good wishes.