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views, and in his perception of the necessities of the country, he was not their inferior, and he was throughout one of their most efficient and best informed coadjutors.
He had to encounter, in the convention of the State, a body of men, a majority of whom were not unfriendly to the Constitution, but among whom there was a minority very hard to be conciliated. In the counties which lay west of the Susquehanna, the same region which afterwards, in Washington's administration, became the scene of an insurrection against the authority of the general government, — there was a rancorous, active, and determined opposition. Mr. Wilson, being the only member of the State convention who had taken part in the framing of the Constitution, was obliged to take the lead in explaining and defending it. His qualifications for this task were ample. He had been a very important and useful member of the national Convention; he had read every publication of importance, on both sides of the question, that had appeared since the Constitution was published, and his legal and historical knowledge was extensive and accurate. No man succeeded better than he did, in his arguments on that occasion, in combating the theory that a State government possessed the whole political sovereignty of the people of the State. However true it might be, he said, in England, that the Parlia ment possesses supreme and absolute power, and can make the constitution what it pleases, in America it has been incontrovertible since the Revolu
tion, that the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power is in the people, before they make a constitution, and remains in them after it is made. To control the power and conduct of the legislature by an overruling constitution, was an improvement in the science and practice of government reserved to the American States; and at the foundation of this practice lies the right to change the constitution at pleasure, -a right which no positive institution can ever take from the people. When they have made a State constitution, they have bestowed on the government created by it a certain portion of their power; but the fee simple of their power remains in themselves.
Mr. Wilson was equally clear in accounting for the omission to insert a bill of rights in the Constitution of the United States. In a government, he observed, consisting of enumerated powers, such as was then proposed for the United States, a bill of rights, which is an enumeration of the powers reserved by the people, must either be a perfect or an imperfect statement of the powers and privileges reserved. To undertake a perfect enumeration of the civil rights of mankind, is to undertake a very difficult and hazardous, and perhaps an impossible task; yet if the enumeration is imperfect, all implied power seems to be thrown into the hands of the government, on subjects in reference to which the authority of government is not expressly restrained, and the rights of the people are rendered less secure than they are under the silent operation of the maxim
that every power not expressly granted remains in the people. This, he stated, was the view taken by a large majority of the national Convention, in which no direct proposition was ever made, according to his recollection, for the insertion of a bill of rights. There is, undoubtedly, a general truth in this argument, but, like many general truths in the construction of governments, it may be open to exceptions when applied to particular subjects or interests. It appears to have been, for the time, successful; probably because the opponents of the Constitution, with whom Mr. Wilson was contending, did not bring forward specific propositions for the declaration of those particular rights which were made the subjects of special action in other State conventions.
Besides a very thorough discussion of these great subjects, Mr. Wilson entered into an elaborate examination and defence of the whole system proposed in the Constitution. He was most ably seconded in his efforts by Thomas McKean, then Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and afterwards its Governor, the greater part of whose public life had been passed in the service of Delaware, his native State, and who had always been a strenuous advocate of the interests of the smaller States, but who found himself satisfied with the provision for them made by the Constitution for the construction of the Senate of
1 This was a mistake. On the 12th of September, Messrs. Gerry and Mason moved for a committee
to prepare a bill of rights, but the motion was lost by an equal division of the States. Elliot, V. 538.
the United States. "I have gone," said he, "through the circle of office, in the legislative, executive, and judicial departments of government; and from all my study, observation, and experience, I must declare, that, from a full examination and due consideration of this system, it appears to me the best the world has yet seen. I congratulate you on the fair prospect of its being adopted, and am happy in the expectation of seeing accomplished what has long been my ardent wish, that you will hereafter have a salutary permanency in magistracy and stability in the laws."
The result of the discussion in the convention of Pennsylvania was the ratification of the Constitution. The official ratification sent to Congress was signed by a very large majority of the delegates, and contains no notice of any dissent. But the representatives of that portion of the State which lay west of the Susquehanna generally refused their assent, and their district afterwards became the place in which the proposition was considered whether the government should be allowed to be organized.3
The convention of New Jersey was in session at the time of the ratification by Pennsylvania. Mr. Madison had passed through the State, in the au
1 Mr. McKean, although his residence was at Philadelphia, represented the lower counties of Delaware in Congress from 1774 to 1783. In 1777 he was made Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, being at the same time a member of Con
gress and President of the State of Delaware.
2 The Constitution was ratified by a vote of 46 to 23.
3 This was at a meeting held at Harrisburg, September 3d, 1788.
tumn, on his way to the Congress, then sitting in the city of New York, and could discover no evidence of serious opposition to the Constitution. Lying between the States of New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey was closely watched by the friends and the opponents of the Constitution in both of those States, and was likely to be much influenced by the predominating sentiment in the one that should first act.1 But the people of New Jersey had, in truth, fairly considered the whole matter, and had found what their own interests required. They alone, of all the States, when the national Convention was instituted, had expressly declared that the regulation of commerce ought to be vested in the general government. They had learned that to submit longer to the diverse commercial and revenue systems in force in New York on the one side of them, and in Pennsylvania on the other side, would be 'like remaining between the upper and the nether millstone. Their delegates in the national Convention had, it is true, acted with those of New York, in the long contest concerning
1 The opposite parties were so much excited against each other, and the course of New Jersey was viewed with so much interest at Philadelphia among the "Federalists," that a story found currency and belief there, to the effect that Clinton, the Governor of New York, had offered the State of New Jersey, through one of its influential citizens, one half of the
impost revenue of New York, if she would reject the Constitution. The preposterous character of such a proposition stamps the rumor with gross improbability. But its circulation evinces the anxiety with which the course of New Jersey was regarded in the neighboring States, and it is certain that the opposition in New York made great efforts to influence it.