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pact between themselves and every one of their number. In this substitution of one supreme authority for another, some limitation of the mode in which the sovereign power was to act became the necessary consequence of the change; for as soon as the people had declared and established their own sovereignty, some declaration of the nature of that sovereignty, and some prescribed rules for its exercise, became immediately necessary, and that declaration and those rules became at once a limitation of power, extending to every citizen the protection of every principle involved in them, until the same authority which had established should change them.
Against the evils, too, that might arise from the unrestricted control of a majority of the people over the fundamental law, against the abuse of their power by frequent and passionate changes of the rules which limit its exercise for the time being, — they had discovered the possibility of limiting the mode in which the organic law itself was to be changed. By prescribing certain forms in which the change was to be made, and especially by requiring the fact, that a change had been decreed by those having a right to make it, to be clearly and carefully ascertained by a particular evidence, they guarded the fundamental law itself against usurpation and fraud, and greatly diminished the influences of haste, prejudice, and passion.
Such was the nature of American republican liberty; not then fully understood, not then fully
developed in all the States, but yet discovered, — a liberty more difficult of attainment, more elaborate in its structure, and therefore more needful of defence, than any of the other forms of constitutional freedom under which civilized man had hitherto been found.
Now, the fate of republican liberty in America, at that day, depended directly upon the preservation of some union of the States, and not simply upon the existing State institutions, or upon the desires of the people of each separate State. It is true, that their previous training and history, and their own intelligent choice, had made the States, in all their forms and principles, republican governments; and almost all of them had, at this period, written constitutions, in which the American ideal of such governments was aimed at, and more or less nearly reached. But how long were these constitutions, these republican forms, to exist? What was to secure them? Who was to stand as their guarantor and protector, and to vindicate the right of the majority to govern and alter and modify? Who was to enforce the rules which the people of a State had prescribed for their own action, when threatened by an insurgent and powerful minority? Who was to protect them against foreign invasion or domestic violence? There was no common sovereign, or supreme arbiter, to whom they could all alike appeal. There was no power upon this broad continent to whom the States could intrust the duty of preserving their institutions inviolate, except the people of the United
States in some united and sovereign capacity. No single State, however great its territory or its population, could have discharged these duties for itself by its unaided power; for no one of them could have repelled a foreign invasion alone, and the government of one of the most respectable and oldest of them, whose people had exhibited as much energy as any other community in America, had almost succumbed to the first internal disorder which it had been forced to encounter.
The preservation of the Union of the States was, therefore, essential to the continuance of their independence, and to the continuance of republican constitutional liberty, of that liberty which resides in law duly ascertained to be the authentic will of a majority. With this vastly important object before them, the people of the States of course could give to the Union no form that would not reflect the same spirit, and harmonize with the nature of their existing institutions. To have left their State governments resting upon the broad basis of popular freedom acting through republican forms, and to have framed, or to have attempted to frame, national institutions on any other model, would have been an act of political suicide. To enable the Union to preserve and uphold the authority of the people within the respective States, it must itself be founded on the same authority, must embody the same principles, spring from the same source, and act through similar institutions.
Accordingly, the student of this portion of our
history will find everywhere the clearest evidence that, so far as the purpose of forming a national government of a new character was entertained at the period when the Convention was assembled, a republican form for that government was a foregone conclusion. Not only did no State entertain any purpose but this, but no member of the Convention entered that body with any expectation of a different result. There is but one of the statesmen composing that assembly to whom a purpose of creating what has been called a monarchical government has ever been distinctly imputed; and with regard to him, as much as to every other person in the Convention, I shall show that the imputation is unjust. Hamilton, — for it is to him of course that I now allude, ― together with many others, believed that a failure, at that crisis, to establish a government of sufficient energy to pervade the whole Union with the necessary control, would bring on at once a state of things that must end in military despotism. Hence his efforts to give to the republican form, which he acknowledged to be the only one suited to the circumstances and condition of the country, the highest degree of vigor, stability, and power that could be attained.
Another very important fact, which the reader is to carry along with him into the examination of the proceedings of the Convention, is, that by the judgment of the old Congress, and of every State in the Union save one,1 the Confederation had been de
1 Rhode Island.
clared defective and inadequate to the exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union. That this declaration was expressly intended to embrace the principle of the Union, or looked to the substitution of a system of representative government, to which the people of the States should be the immediate parties, in the place of their State governments, does not appear from the proceedings which authorized and constituted the Convention. In substance, those proceedings ascertained that there were great defects in the existing Confederation; that there were important purposes of the federal Union which it had failed to secure; and that a Convention of all the States, for the purpose of revising and amending the Articles of Confederation, was the most probable means of establishing a firm general government, and was therefore to be held. But what were the original purposes of the Union, or what purposes had come to be regarded as essential to the public welfare, was not indicated in most of the acts constituting the Convention. Virginia, whose declaration preceded that of Congress and of the other States, and on whose recommendation they all acted, had made the commercial interests of the United States the leading object of the proposed assembly; but she had also declared the necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects, and had advised further concessions and provisions, in order to secure the great objects for which that system was originally instituted. These general and somewhat indefinite purposes were de