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REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF DETAIL.
HAVING now reached that stage in the process of framing the Constitution at which certain principles were confided to a committee of detail, the reader will now have an opportunity to observe the farther development and application of those principles, the mode in which certain chasms in the system were supplied, and the final arrangements which produced the complete instrument that was submitted to the people of the United States for their adoption.
Great power was necessarily confided to a committee, to whom was intrusted the first choice of means and of terms that were to give practical effect to the principles embraced in the resolutions of the Convention. There might be a substantial compliance with the intentions previously indicated by the debates and votes of the Convention, and at the same time the mode in which those intentions should be carried out by the committee might require a new consideration of the subjects involved. Hence it is important to pursue the growth of the Constitution through the entire proceedings.
The committee of detail presented their report on the 6th of August, in the shape of a Constitution divided into three-and-twenty Articles. It is not my purpose to examine this instrument in the precise order of its various provisions, or to describe all the discussions which took place upon its minute details. It is more consonant with the general purpose of this history, to group together the different features of the Constitution which relate to the structure and powers of the different departments and to the fundamental purposes of the new government.1
In accordance with the previous decisions of the Convention, the committee of detail had provided that the legislative power of the United States should be vested in a Congress, to consist of two branches, a House of Representatives and a Senate, each of which should have a negative on the other. But as to the persons by whom the members of the national legislature were to be appointed, no decision had been made in the Convention, excepting that the members of the House were to be chosen by the people of the States, and the members of the Senate by their legislatures. Nothing had been settled respecting the qualifications of the electors of representatives; nor had the qualifications of the members of either branch been determined. Two
The first draft of the Constitution, reported by the committee of detail, will be found in the Appendix.
2 A general instruction had been
given to report "certain qualifications of property and citizenship," for the executive, the judiciary, and the members of both houses of Congress.
great questions, therefore, remained open; first, with what class of persons was the election of members of the popular branch of the legislature to be lodged; secondly, what persons were to be eligible to that and to the other branch. In substance, these questions resolved themselves into the inquiry, in whom was the power of governing America to be vested; for it is to be remembered that, according to a decision of the Convention not yet reversed, the national executive was to be chosen by the national legislature.
So far as the people of the United States had evinced any distinct purpose, at the time when this Convention was assembled, it appeared to be well settled that the new system of government, whatever else it might be, should be republican in its form and spirit. When the States had assembled in Convention, it became the result of a necessary compromise between them, that the appointment of one branch of the legislature should be vested in the people of the several States. But who were to be regarded as the people of a State, for this purpose, was a question of great magnitude, now to be considered.
The situation of the country, in reference to this as well as to many other important questions, was peculiar. The streams of emigration, which began to flow into it from Europe at the first settlement of the different Colonies, had been interrupted only by the war of the Revolution. On the return of peace, the tide of emigration again began to set towards the new States, which had risen into independent
existence on the western shores of the Atlantic by a struggle for freedom that had attracted the attention of the whole civilized world; and when the Constitution of the United States was about to be framed, large and various classes of individuals in the different countries of Europe were eagerly watching the result of the experiment. It appeared quite certain that great accessions of population would follow the establishment of free institutions in America, if they should be framed in a liberal and comprehensive spirit. It became necessary, therefore, to meet and provide for the presence in the country of great masses of persons not born upon the soil, who had not participated in the efforts by which its freedom had been acquired, and who would bring with them widely differing degrees of intelligence and of fitness to take part in the administration of a free government. The place that was to be assigned to these persons in the political system of the country was a subject of much solicitude to its best and most thoughtful statesmen.
On the one hand, all were aware that there existed among the native populations of the States a very strong American feeling, engendered by the war, and by the circumstances attending its commencement, its progress, and its results. It was a war begun and prosecuted for the express purpose of obtaining and securing, for the people who undertook it, the right of self-government. It necessarily created a great jealousy of foreign influence, whether exerted by governments or individuals, and a strong
fear that individuals would be made the agents of governments in the exercise of such influence. The political situation of the country under the Confederation had increased rather than diminished these apprehensions. The relations of the States with each other and with foreign nations, under a system which admitted of no efficient national legislation binding upon all alike, afforded, or were believed to afford, means by which the policy of other countries could operate on our interests with irresistible force.
There was, therefore, among the people of the United States, and among their statesmen who were intrusted with the formation of the Constitution, a firmly settled determination, that the institutions and legislation of the country should be effectually guarded against foreign control or interference.
On the other hand, it was extremely important that nothing should be done to prevent the immigration from Europe of any classes of men who were likely to become useful citizens. The States which had most encouraged such immigration had advanced most rapidly in population, in agriculture, and the arts. There were, too, already in the country many persons of foreign birth, who had thoroughly identified themselves with its interests and its fate, who had fought in its battles, or contributed of their means to the cause of its freedom; and some of these men were at this very period high in the councils of the nation, and even occupied places of great importance in the Convention itself.
1 It is only necessary to mention the names of Hamilton, Wilson, Rob