Page images
PDF
EPUB

amend, he thought that his signature woula preclude him from proposing the changes and additions which he deemed essential. This letter had attracted much attention both in and out of Virginia, and Randolph was consequently, up to this moment, regarded as a firm opponent of the Constitution. He chose, however, to incur the charge of that kind of inconsistency which a statesman should never hesitate to commit, when he finds that the public good is no longer consistent with his adherence to a former opinion. He declared that the day of previous amendments had passed. The ratification of the Constitution by eight States had placed Virginia and the country in a critical position. If the Constitution should not be adopted by the number of States required to put it into operation, there could be no Union; and if it were to be ratified by that number, and Virginia were to reject it, she would have at least two States at the south of her which would belong to a confederacy of which she would not be a member. He should, therefore, vote for the unconditional adoption of the Constitution, looking to future amendments, although he had little expectation that they would be made.

This announcement took the opposition by sur prise. But they relaxed none of their efforts. They subjected every part of the Constitution to a rigid scrutiny, and to the most subtle course of reasoning, as well as to one which addressed the prejudices of the common mind. Some of the most important only of the topics on which they enlarged can be noticed here.

Their first and chief object was to show that the Constitution presented a national and consolidated government, in the place of the Confederation, and that under such a government the liberties of the people of the States could not be secure. This character of the proposed government Mr. Mason deduced from the power of direct taxation, which, he contended, entirely changed the confederacy into one consolidated government. This power, being at discretion and unrestrained, must carry everything before it. The general government being paramount to, and in every respect more powerful than, the State governments, the latter must give way; for two concurrent powers of direct taxation cannot long exist together. Assuming that taxes were to be levied for the use of the general government, the mode in which they were to be assessed and collected was of the utmost consequence, and it ought not to be surrendered by the people of Virginia to those who had neither a knowledge of their situation nor a common interest with them. He would cheerfully acquiesce in giving an effectual alternative for the power of direct taxation. He would give the general government power to demand their quotas of the States, with an alternative of laying direct taxes in case of non-compliance. The certainty of this conditional power would, in all probability, prevent the application of it, and the sums necessary for the Union would then be raised by the States, and by those who would best know how they could be raised.

Mr. Henry took a broader ground. He argued

that the Constitution presented a consolidated government, because it spoke in the name of the People, and not in the name of the States. It was neither a monarchy like England, -a compact between prince and people, with checks on the former to secure the liberty of the latter; nor a confederacy like Holland, - an association of independent States, each retaining its individual sovereignty; nor yet a democracy, in which the people retain securely all their rights. It was an alarming transition from a confederacy to a consolidated government. It was a step as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, were rendered insecure, if not lost, by such a transition. It was said that eight States had adopted it. He declared that, if twelve States and a half had adopted it, he would, with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it. "You are not to inquire," said he, “how your trade may be increased, or how you are to become a great and prosperous people, but how your liberties may be secured";—and then, kindling with the old fire of his earlier days, and with the recollection of what he had done and suffered for the liberties of his country, he broke forth in one of his most indignant and impassioned moods.1

Madison, always cool, clear, and sensible, answered

1 It is said in the newspapers of that period that Henry was on his legs in one speech for seven hours. I think it must have been the one

from which I have made the abstract in the text. But he made a great many speeches, quite as ear

nest.

[ocr errors]

these objections. He described the new government as having a mixed character. It would be in some respects federal, in others consolidated. The manner in which it was to be ratified established this double character. The parties to it were to be the people, but not the people as composing one great society, but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties. If it were a purely consolidated government, the assent of a majority of the people would be sufficient to establish it. But it was to be binding on the people of a State only by their own separate consent; and if adopted by the people of all the States, it would be a government established, not through the intervention of their legislatures, but by the people at large. In this respect, the distinction between the existing and the proposed governments was very material.

[ocr errors]

The mode in which the Constitution was to be amended also displayed its mixed character. A majority of the States could not introduce amendments, nor yet were all the States required; three fourths of them must concur in alterations; and this constituted a departure from the federal idea. Again, the members of one branch of the legislature were to be chosen by the people of the States in proportion to their numbers; the members of the other were to be elected by the States in their equal and political capacities. Had the government been completely consolidated, the Senate would have been chosen in the same way as the House; had it been completely federal, the House would have been chosen in the

[ocr errors]

same way as the Senate. Thus it was of a complex nature; and this complexity would be found to exclude the evils of absolute consolidation and the evils of a mere confederacy. Finally, if Virginia were separated from all the States, her power and authority would extend to all cases; in like manner, were all powers vested in the general government, it would be a consolidated government; but the powers of the general government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.

With respect to the powers proposed to be conferred on the new government, he conceived that the question was whether they were necessary. If they were, Virginia was reduced to the dilemma of either submitting to the inconvenience which the surrender of those powers might occasion, or of losing the Union. He then proceeded to show the necessity for the power of direct taxation; and in answer to the apprehended danger arising from this power united with the consolidated nature of the government, thus giving it a tendency to destroy all subordinate or separate authority of the States, - he admitted that, if the general government were wholly independent of the governments of the States, usurpation might be expected to the fullest extent; but as it was not so independent, but derived its authority partly from those governments, and partly from the people,- the same source of power, there was no danger that it would destroy the State governments.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »