« EelmineJätka »
the middle of May, therefore, Hamilton arranged with Madison for the transmission of letters between Richmond and Poughkeepsie, by horse expresses; and by the 12th of June he had made a similar arrangement with Rufus King, General Knox, and other Federalists at the East, for the conveyance from Concord to Poughkeepsie of intelligence concerning the result in New Hampshire.
A very full convention of delegates of the people of Virginia assembled at Richmond on the 2d of June, embracing nearly all the most eminent public men of the State, except Washington and Jefferson. All parties felt the weight of responsibility resting upon the State. Every State that had hitherto acted finally on the subject had ratified the Constitution; in three of them it had been adopted unanimously; in several of the others it had been sanctioned by large majorities; and in those in which amendments had been proposed, they had not been made conditions precedent to the adoption. So far, therefore, as the voice of any State had pronounced the Constitution defective, or dangerous to any general or particular interest, the mode of amendment provided by it, to be employed after it had gone into operation, had been relied upon as sufficient and safe. The opposition in Virginia were consequently reduced to this dilemma; they must either take the responsibility of rejecting the Constitution entirely, or they must assume the equally hazardous responsibility of insisting that the ratification of the State should be given only upon the condition of previous
amendments. They were prepared to do both, or either, according to the prospects of success; for their convictions were fixed against the system proposed; their abilities, patriotism, courage, and personal influence were of a high order; and their devotion to what they deemed the interests of Virginia was unquestionable.
They were led, as I have already said they were to be, by Patrick Henry, whose reputation had suffered no abatement since the period when he blazed into the darkened skies of the Revolution, - when his untutored eloquence electrified the heart of Virginia, and became, as has been well said, even "a cause of the national independence." He had held the highest honors of the State, but had retired, poor, and worn down by twenty years of public service, to rescue his private affairs by the practice of a profession which, in some of its duties, he did not love, and for which he had, perhaps, a single qualification in his amazing oratorical powers. His popularity in Virginia was unbounded. It was the popularity that attends genius, when thrown with heart and soul, and with every impulse of its being, into the cause of popular freedom; and it was a popularity in which reverence for the stern independence and the self-sacrificing spirit of the patriot was mingled with admiration for the splendid gifts of oratory
1 Notice of Henry, in the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, Vol. II. Mr. Jefferson has said that Henry's power as a popular orator was
greater than that of any man he had ever heard, and that Henry "appeared to speak as Homer wrote." (Jefferson's Works, I. 4.)
which Nature, and Nature alone, had bestowed upon him. But Mr. Henry was rightly appreciated by his contemporaries. They knew that, though a wise man, his wisdom lacked comprehensiveness, and that the mere intensity with which he regarded the ends of public liberty was likely to mislead his judgment as to the means by which it was to be secured and upheld The chief apprehension of his opponents, on this important occasion, was lest the power of his eloquence over the feelings or prejudices of his auditory might lead the sober reflections of men astray.
He was at this time fifty-two years of age. Although feeling or affecting to feel himself an old and broken man, he was yet undoubtedly master of all his natural powers. Those powers he exerted to the utmost, to defeat the Constitution in the convention of Virginia. He employed every art of his peculiar rhetoric, every resource of invective, of sarcasm, of appeal to the fears of his audience for liberty; every dictate of local prejudice and State pride. But he employed them all with the most sincere conviction that the adoption of the proposed Constitution would be a wrong and dangerous step. Nor is it surprising that he should have so regarded it. He had formed to himself an ideal image which he was fond of describing as the American spirit. This national spirit of liberty, erring perhaps at times, but in the main true to right and justice as well as to freedom, was with him a kind of guardian angel of the republic. He seems to have considered it able to correct its own errors without the aid of
any powerful system of general government,-capable of accomplishing in peace all that it had unquestionably effected for the country in war. As he passed out of the troubles and triumphs of the Revolution into the calmer atmosphere of the Confederation, his reliance on this American spirit, and his jealousy for the maxims of public liberty, led him to regard that system as perfect, because it had no direct legislative authority. He could not endure the thought of a government, external to that of Virginia, and yet possessed of the power of direct taxation over the people of the State. He regarded with utter abhorrence the idea of laws binding the people of Virginia by the authority of the people of the United States; and thinking that he saw in the Constitution a purely national and consolidated government, and refusing to see the federal principle which its advocates declared was incorporated in its system of representation, he shut his eyes resolutely upon all the evils and defects of the Confederation, and denounced the new plan as a monstrous departure from the only safe construction of a Union. He belonged, too, to that school of public men — some of whose principles in this respect it is vain to question who considered a Bill of Rights essential in every republican government that is clothed with powers of direct legislation.
On the first day of the session, at the instance of Mr. Mason, the convention determined not to take a vote upon any question until the whole Constitution had been debated by paragraphs; but the discussions
in fact ranged over the whole instrument without any restriction. The opposition was opened by Henry, in a powerful speech of a general nature, in which he demanded the reasons for such a radical change in the character of the general government. That the new plan was a consolidated government, and not a confederacy, he held to be indisputable. The language of the preamble, which said We, the People, and not We, the States, made this perfectly clear. But States were the characteristics and the soul of a confederation. If States were not to be the agents of this new compact, it must be one great, consolidated, national government of the people of all the States. This perilous innovation, altogether beyond the powers of the Convention which had proposed it, had given rise to differences of opinion which had gone to inflammatory resentments in different parts of the country. He denied altogether the existence of any necessity for exposing the public peace to such a hazard.
As soon as Henry had sat down, the Governor, Edmund Randolph, rose, to place himself in a position of some apparent inconsistency. He had, as we have seen, refused to sign the Constitution. On his return to Virginia, he had addressed a long, exculpatory letter to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, giving his reasons for this refusal; which were, in substance, that he considered the Constitution required important amendments, and that, as it would go to the conventions of the States to be accepted or rejected as a whole, without power to