Page images

But it is bound, as it

with the interests of man. makes up the record of events which involve the destinies and welfare of different races, to look at the aggregate of human happiness. It is not to rest, for its final conclusions, in seeming or in real inconsistencies; in real or apparent conflicts between opposite principles; or in the mere letter of those adjustments by which such conflicts have been avoided, or reconciled, or acknowledged. It is to arrive at results. It is to draw the wide deduction which will show whether human nature has lost or gained by the conditions and forms of national existence which it undertakes to describe. As the question should always be, in such inquiries, whether any different and better result was attainable under all the circumstances of the case, a question to which a calm and dispassionate examination will generally find an answer, - the amount of positive good that has been gained for all, or of positive evil that has been averted from all, is the true justification of existing institutions.

- ·

The Convention, when fully organized, embraced a representation from all the States, with the single exception of Rhode Island.

Connecticut, which had steadily opposed the measure of a Convention,1 came into it at a late period, and did not send a delegation until a fortnight after the time appointed for its session. It had always been the inclination of that State to retain in her

1 Madison, Elliot, V. 96.

2 Ibid. 124.

own hands the regulation of commerce; she had taxed imports from some of her neighbors, and this advantage, as it was considered, had made her reluctant to enlarge the powers of the Union. Her delegation appeared on the 28th of May.

That of New Hampshire was not appointed until the latter part of June,1 and did not appear until the 23d of July.2

Rhode Island, small in territory and in numbers, but favorably situated for the pursuits of commerce, had strenuously resisted every effort to enlarge the powers of the Union. Ever since the Declaration of Independence, the people of that State had clung to the opportunity, afforded by their situation, of taxing the contiguous States, through their consumption of commodities brought into its numerous and convenient ports. For this object they had refused their assent to the revenue system of 1783; and as the failure of that system had prevented an exhibition of some of the benefits to be derived from uniform fiscal regulations, the local government of Rhode Island adhered, in 1786-7, to what they had always regarded as the true interest of their State. They did, it is true, appoint delegates to the commercial convention at Annapolis, but the persons appointed did not attend; and when the resolve which sanctioned the Convention of 1787 was adopted in Congress, Rhode Island was not represented in that body.

1 Elliot, I. 126.

2 Ibid. 351.

When the recommendation of the Congress came before the legislature of the State, there appears to have been a strong party in favor of making an appointment of delegates to the Convention. The mercantile part of the population had come to entertain more liberal and far-seeing notions of their true interests; and the views of some of the more intelligent of the farmers and mechanics had been much modified. But by far the larger portion of the people-wedded to a system of paper money, which furnished almost their sole currency, and vaguely apprehending that a new government for the Union would destroy it, seeking the abolition of debts, public and private, and jealous of all influence from without were were in a condition to be ruled by their demagogues, rather than to be enlightened and aided by their statesmen. In May, the legislature rejected a proposition to appoint delegates to the Federal Convention; and in June, although the upper house, or Governor and Council, embraced the measure, it was again negatived in the House of Assembly by a large majority. The minority then formed an organization, which never lost sight of the national relations of the State, and which finally succeeded in bringing her into the Union under the new Constitution, in 1790.

Immediately after the first rejection of the proposal to unite with the other States in reforming the Confederation, a body of commercial persons in Providence addressed a letter to the Convention, expressing the opinion that full power for the regu


lation of the commerce of the United States, both foreign and domestic, ought to be vested in the national council, and that effectual arrangements should also be made for giving operation to the existing powers of Congress in their requisitions for national purposes. Their object in this communication was to prevent an impression among the other States, unfavorable to the commercial interests of Rhode Island, from growing out of the circumstance of their being unrepresented in the Convention. Expressing the hope that the result of its deliberations would be to "strengthen the Union, promote the commerce, increase the power, and establish the credit of the United States," they pledged their influence and best exertions to secure the adoption of that result by the State of Rhode Island. The signers of this letter formed the nucleus of that party which afterwards fulfilled the pledge thus given to the Convention.

The absence of Rhode Island did not occasion a serious embarrassment. The resolve of Congress recommending the Convention did not expressly require the presence of all the States; and the commissions given by each of the States which adopted the recommendation clearly implied that their delegates were to meet and act with the delegations of such other States as might see fit to be represented. The communication of the minority party in Rhode Island was received and read, and the interests of that State were attended to throughout the proceedings.

We are now carefully to observe the position of the States when thus assembled in Convention. Their meeting was purely voluntary; they met as equals; and they were sovereign political communities, whom no power could rightfully coerce into a change of their condition, and with whom such a change must be the result of their own free and intelligent choice, governed by no other than the force of circumstances. That they were independent of foreign control was ascertained by the Declaration of Independence, by the war, and by the Treaty of Peace. That they were independent of each other, except so far as they had made certain mutual stipulations in the Articles of Confederation, was the necessary result of the events which had made the people of each State its rightful and exclusive sovereigns. We must recur, therefore, to the Articles of Confederation for the purpose of determining the nature of the position in which the States now stood.

When the States, in 1781, entered into the confederacy then established, they reserved their freedom, sovereignty, and independence, and every jurisdiction, power, and right not expressly delegated to the United States. By the provisions of the federal compact, these separate and sovereign communities committed to a general council the management of certain interests common to them all; in that council they were represented equally, each State having one vote; but as neither the powers conferred upon that body, nor the restraints

« EelmineJätka »