« EelmineJätka »
report.1 All but two of them were certain to remain slaveholding States; but in the adoption of numbers as the basis of representative influence in the government, they all had a common interest, which led them for the present to act together.2
At the head of the minority, or the States which desired a government of federal equality, stood the State of New York, then the fifth State in the Union. She was represented by Alexander Hamilton, Robert Yates, and John Lansing, Junior. The two latter uniformly acted together, and of course controlled the vote of the State. Hamilton's vote being thus neutralized, his influence on the action of the Convention extended no farther than the weight and importance attached to his arguments by those who listened to them.
Occupying at that period nearly a middle rank between the largest and the smallest of the States with respect to population, New York had not yet grasped, or even perceived, the wonderful elements of her future imperial greatness. Her commerce was not inconsiderable; but it had hitherto been the disposition of those who ruled her counsels to retain its regulation in their own hands, and to subject it to no imposts in favor of the general interests of the Union. Most of her public men, also,3 held it to be impracticable to establish a general government of
1 Rhode Island was never represented in the Convention, and the delegation of New Hampshire had not yet attended.
2 In all these statements of the
relative rank of the States, I compare the census of 1790 and that of 1850.
3 The two great exceptions of course were Hamilton and Jay.
sufficient energy to pervade every part of the United States, and to carry its appropriate benefits equally to all, without sacrificing the constitutional rights of the States to an extent that would ultimately prove to be dangerous to the liberties of their people. Their view of the subject was, that the uncontrolled ers and sovereignties of the States must be reserved; and that, consistently with the reservation of these, a mode might be devised of granting to the confederacy the moneys arising from a general system of revenue, some power of regulating commerce and enforcing the observance of treaties, and other necessary matters of less moment. This was the opinion of Yates, the Chief Justice of the State, who may be taken as a fair representative of the sentiments of a large part, if not of a majority, of its people at this time.' But neither he, nor any of those who concurred with him, succeeded in pointing out the mode in which the power to collect revenues, to regulate commerce, and to enforce the observance of treaties, could be conferred on the confederacy, without impairing the sovereignties of the States. It does not appear whether this class of statesmen contemplated a grant of full and unrestrained power over these subjects to a federal government, or whether they designed only a qualified grant, capable of being recalled or controlled by the parties to the confederacy, for reasons and upon occasions of
1 See the candid and moderate letter of Messrs. Yates and Lansing to the legislature of the State, giv
ing their reasons for not signing the Constitution. (Elliot, I. 480.)
which those parties were to judge. From the general course of their reasoning on the nature of a federal government, it might seem that the latter was their intention. It is not difficult to understand how these gentlemen may have supposed that an irrevocable grant of powers to a general government might be dangerous to the liberties of the people of the States, because such a grant would involve a surrender of more or less of the original State sovereignties to a legislative body external to the State itself. But if they supposed that a grant of such powers could be made to a "federal" government, or a political league of the States, acting through a single body in the nature of a diet, and to be exercised when necessary by the combined military power of the whole, and yet be any less dangerous to liberty, it is difficult to appreciate their fears or to perceive the consistency of their plan. If the liberties of the people were any the less exposed under their system, than under that of a "national" government, it must have been because their system was understood by them to involve only a qualified and revocable surrender of State sovereignty.
But however this may have been, there was un
1 In the New Jersey plan, which the New York gentlemen (Hamilton excepted) supported, although the power to levy duties and the regulation of commerce were to be added to the existing powers of the old Congress, yet as these powers were to be exerted against the
States, in the last resort, by force, it would only have been necessary for a State to place itself in an attitude of resistance, by a public act, and then the grant of power might have been considered to be revoked by the very act of resisting its execution.
doubtedly a settled conviction on the part of the two delegates of New York who controlled the vote of the State in the Convention, that they had not received the necessary authority from their own State to go beyond the principle of the Confederation; that it would be impracticable to establish a general government, without impairing the State constitutions and endangering the liberties of the people; and that what they regarded as a "consolidated" government was not in the remotest degree within the contemplation of the legislature of New York when they were sent to take their seats in the Convention.
The same sentiments, with far greater zeal, with intense feeling and some acrimony, were held and acted upon by Luther Martin of Maryland, a very eminent lawyer, and at that time Attorney-General of the State, who sometimes had it in his power, from the absence of his colleagues, to cast the vote of his State with the minority, and who generally divided it on all critical questions that touched the nature of the government. The State itself, with a population but a little less than that of New York, had no great reason to regard itself as peculiarly exposed to the dangers to be apprehended from combinations among the larger States to oppress the smaller; and it does not appear that these apprehensions were strongly felt by any of her representatives excepting Mr. Martin.1 The great energy and earnestness,
1 Three of the delegates of the State, James McHenry, Daniel of
St. Thomas Jenifer, and Daniel
however, of that distinguished person, prevented a concurrence of the State with the purposes and objects of the majority.
Connecticut might reasonably consider herself as one of the smaller States, and her vote was steadily given for an equality of suffrage in both branches of the national legislature, down to the time of the final division upon the Senate. The States of New Jersey and Delaware formed the other members of the minority, upon this general question.
On the one side, therefore, of what would have been, but for the great inequalities among the States, almost a purely speculative question, we find a strong determination, the result of an apparent necessity, to establish a government in which the democratic majority of the whole people of the United States should be the ruling power; and in which, so far as State influence was to be felt at all, it should be felt only in proportion to the relative numbers of the people composing each separate community. It was considered by those who embraced this side of the question, that, when the great States were asked to perpetuate the system of federal equality on which the Confederation had been founded, they were asked to submit to mere injustice, on account of an imaginary danger to their smaller confederates. They held it to be manifestly wrong, that a State fourteen times as large as Delaware should have only the same number of votes in the national legislature. Whether the States were now met as