Page images
PDF
EPUB

In this manner, extending to all the details of the Constitution, the discussion proceeded for nearly a week, the opposition aiming to show that at every point it exposed the liberties of the people to great hazards; Henry sustaining nearly the whole burden of the argument on that side, and fighting with great vigor against great odds. At length, finding himself sorely pressed, he took advantage of an allusion made by his opponents to the debts due from the United States to France, to introduce the name of Jefferson.

"I might," said he, "not from public authority, but from good information, tell you that his opinion is that you reject this government. His character and abilities are in the highest estimation; he is well acquainted in every respect with this country; equally so with the policy of the European nations. This illustrious citizen advises you to reject this government till it be amended. His sentiments. coincide entirely with ours. His attachment to, and services done for, this country are well known. At a great distance from us, he remembers and studies our happiness. Living in splendor and dissipation, he thinks yet of Bills of Rights, thinks of those little, despised things called maxims. Let us follow

1 There has been, I am aware, a modern scepticism concerning Patrick Henry's abilities; but I cannot share it. He was not a man of much information, and he had no great breadth of mind. But he must have been, not only a very able debater, but a good parlia

VOL. II.

71

-

mentary tactician. The manner in which he carried on the opposition to the Constitution in the convention of Virginia, for nearly a whole month, shows that he possessed other powers besides those of great natural eloquence.

the sage advice of this common friend of our happiness."1

At the time when Mr. Henry made this statement, he had seen a letter written by Mr. Jefferson from Paris, in the preceding February, which was much circulated among the opposition in Virginia, and in which Mr. Jefferson had expressed the hope that the first nine conventions might accept the Constitution, and the remaining four might refuse it, until a Declaration of Rights had been annexed to it. Mr. Henry chose to construe this into an advice to Virginia to reject the Constitution. But this use of Mr. Jefferson's opinion was not strictly justifiable, since Virginia, in the actual order of events, might be the ninth State to act; for the convention of New Hampshire was not to reassemble until nearly three weeks after the first meeting of that of Virginia, in which Mr. Henry was then speaking. The

1 Elliot, III. 152, Debates in the Virginia Convention.

2 Under date of February 7, 1788, Mr. Jefferson wrote from Paris, in a private letter to a gentleman in Virginia, as follows:- "I wish, with all my soul, that the nine first conventions may accept the new Constitution, because this will secure to us the good it contains, which I think great and important. But I equally wish that the four latest conventions, whichever they be, may refuse to accede to it till a Declaration of Rights be annexed. This would probably command the offer of such a Declaration, and thus give to the whole fabric, perhaps, as

much perfection as any one of that kind ever had. By a Declaration of Rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus, no standing armies. These are fetters against doing evil, which no honest government should decline. There is another strong feature in the new Constitution which I as strongly dislike. That is, the perpetual reeligibility of the President. Of this, I expect no amendment at present, because I do not see that anybody has objected to it on your

friends of the Constitution, therefore, became somewhat restive under this attempt to employ the influence of Jefferson against them. Without saying anything disrespectful of him, but, on the contrary, speaking of him in the highest terms of praise and honor, they complained of the impropriety of introducing his opinion, saying that, if the opinions of important men not within that convention were to govern its deliberations, they could adduce a name at least equally great on their side;' and they then contended that Mr. Jefferson's letter did not admit of the application that had been given to it. But the truth was, that the assertions of his opponents respecting New Hampshire, and the ambiguous form of Mr. Jefferson's opinion, gave Henry all the opportunity he wanted to employ that opinion for the purpose for which he introduced it. "You say," said he, "that you are absolutely certain New

side the water. But it will be productive of cruel distress to our country, even in your day and mine. The importance to France and England to have our government in the hands of a friend or foe, will occasion their interference by money, and even by arms. Our President will be of much more consequence to them than a king of Poland. We must take care, however, that neither this nor any other objection to the new form produces a schism in our Union. That would be an incurable evil, because near friends falling out never reunite cordially; whereas, all of us going together, we shall be

sure to cure the evils of our new Constitution before they do great harm." (Jefferson's Works, II. 355.) That Mr. Jefferson intended this letter should be used as it was in the convention of Virginia, is not probable; but it would seem from the care he took to state a plan of proceeding in the adoption of the Constitution, that he intended his suggestions should be known. His subsequent opinion will be found in a note below.

1 Alluding, evidently, to Washington.

2 See the speeches of Pendleton and Madison, in reply to Henry. Elliot, III. 304, 329.

Hampshire will adopt this government. Then she will be the ninth State; and if Mr. Jefferson's advice is of any value, and this system requires amendments, we, who are to be one of the four remaining States, ought to reject it until amendments are obtained."1

Notwithstanding the efforts of Madison to counteract this artifice, it gave the opposition great strength, because it enabled them to throw the whole weight of their arguments against the alleged defects and dangers of the Constitution into the scale of an absolute rejection. Mr. Jefferson's subsequent opinion, formed after he had received intelligence of the course of Massachusetts, had not then been received, and indeed did not reach this country until after the convention of Virginia had acted. The opposition went on, therefore, with renewed vigor, to attack the Constitution in every part which they considered vulnerable.

1 Elliot, III. 314.

2 On the 27th of May, 1788, Mr. Jefferson wrote from Paris to Colonel Carrington, as follows:"I learn with great pleasure the progress of the new Constitution. Indeed, I have presumed it would gain on the public mind, as I confess it has on my own. At first, though I saw that the great mass and groundwork was good, I disliked many appendages. Reflection and discussion have cleared off most of those. You have satisfied me as to the query I had put to you about the right of direct taxation. My first wish was that nine States

would adopt it, and that the others might, by holding off, produce the necessary amendments. But the plan of Massachusetts is far preferable, and will, I hope, be followed by those who are yet to decide," &c. (Jefferson's Works, II. 404.) Colonel Carrington, the person to whom this letter was addressed, was a member of Congress, and received it at New York, about the 2d of July, when it was seen by Madison. (See a letter from Madison to E. Randolph of that date, among the Madison papers. Elliot, V. 573.)

Among the topics on which they expended a great deal of force was that of the navigation of the Mississippi. They employed this subject for the purpose of influencing the votes of members who represented the interests of that part of Virginia which is now Kentucky. They first extorted from Madison and other gentlemen, who had been in the Congress of the Confederation, a statement of the negotiations which had nearly resulted in a temporary surrender of the right in the Mississippi to Spain. They then made use of the following argument. It had appeared, they said, from those transactions, that the Northern and Middle States, seven in number,2 were in favor of bartering away this great interest for commercial privileges and advantages; that those States, particularly the Eastern ones, would be influenced further by a desire to supress the growth of new States in the Western country, and to prevent the emigration of their own people thither, as a means of retaining the power of governing the Union; and that the surrender of the Mississippi could be made by treaty, under the Constitution, by the will of the President and the votes of ten Senators,3 whereas, under the Confederation, it never could be done without the votes of nine States in Congress.

1 See an account of this matter, ante, Vol. I. Book III. Chap. V. pp. 309-327.

2 They meant the four New England States and New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. New Jersey and Delaware were sup

posed to be with the four Southern States on this question.

3 Ten would be two thirds of the constitutional quorum of fourteen; so that the argument supposed only a quorum to be pres

ent.

« EelmineJätka »