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It must be allowed that there had been much in the history of this matter on which harsh reflections could be made by both sections of the Union. But it was not correct to represent the Eastern and Middle States as animated by a desire to prevent the settlement of the Western country, or to say that they would be ready at any time to barter away the right in the Mississippi. Seven of the States had consented, in a time of war and of great peril, to the proposal of a temporary surrender of the right to Spain, just when it was supposed that negotiations between Spain and Great Britain might result in a coalition which would deprive us of the river for ever, and when it was thought that a temporary cession would fix the permanent right in our favor.1 This was undoubtedly an error; but it was one from which the country had been saved, by the disputes which arose respecting the constitutional power of seven States to give instructions for a treaty, and by the prospect of a reconstruction of the general government. Now, therefore, that an entirely new constitutional system had been prepared, the real question, in relation to this very important subject, was one of a twofold character. It involved, first, the moral probabilities respecting the wishes and policy of a majority of the States; and, secondly, a comparison of the means afforded by the Constitution for protecting the national right to the Mississippi, with those afforded by the Confederation, —
1 See Mr. Madison's explanation in the convention of Virginia. Elliot, III. 346.
2 Ante, Book III. Chap. V., Vol. I. pp. 324-327.
assuming that any State or States might wish to surrender it.
Upon this question Mr. Madison made an answer to the opposition, which shows how accurately he foresaw the relations between the western and the eastern portions of the Union, and how justly he estimated the future working of the Constitution with respect to the preservation of the Mississippi, or any other national right.
If interest alone, he said, were to govern the Eastern States, they must derive greater advantage from holding the Mississippi than even the Southern States; for if the carrying trade were their natural province, it must depend mainly on agriculture for its support, and agriculture was to be the great employment of the Western country. But in addition to this security of local interest, the Constitution would make it necessary for two thirds of all the Senators present and those present would represent all the States, if all attended to their duty -to concur in every treaty. The President, who would represent the people at large, must also concur. In the House of Representatives, the landed, rather than the commercial interest, would predominate; and the House of Representatives, although not to be directly concerned in the making of treaties, would have an important influence in the government. A weak system had produced the project of surrendering the Mississippi; a strong one would remove the inducement.1
1 Debates in the Virginia Convention, Elliot, III. 344–347.
In the midst of these discussions, and while the opposition were making every effort to protract them until the 23d of June, when the assembling of the legislature would afford a colorable pretext for an adjournment,-Colonel Oswald of Philadelphia arrived at Richmond, with letters from the AntiFederalists of New York and Pennsylvania to the leaders of that party at Richmond, for the purpose of concerting a plan for the postponement of the decision of Virginia until after the meeting of the convention of New York. It was supposed that, if this could be effected, the opponents of the Constitution in New York would be able to make some overture to the opposition in Virginia, for the same course of action in both States. If this could not be brought about, it was considered by the opposition at Richmond that the chances of obtaining a vote for previous amendments would be materially increased by delay. The parties in their convention were nearly balanced, at this time. Mr. Madison estimated the Federal majority at not more than three or four votes, if indeed the Federalists had a majority, on the 17th of June, the day on which the convention of New York was to meet.1
But we must now leave the convention of Virginia, and turn our eyes to the pleasant village on the banks of the Hudson, where the convention of New York was already assembling. Hamilton was
1 He thought at this moment that, if the Constitution should be lost, the Mississippi question would be the cause. The members from
Kentucky were then generally hos-
there, and was its leading spirit. How vigilant and thoughtful he was, we know; -sometimes watching for the messenger who might descend the eastern hills with reports from New Hampshire, times turning to the South and listening for the footfall of his couriers from Virginia; - but always preparing to meet difficulties, always ready to contest every inch of ground, and never losing sight of the great end to be accomplished. The hours were slow and heavy to him. The lines of horse-expresses which he had so carefully adjusted, and at whose intersection he stood to collect the momentous intelligence they would bring him, were indeed a marvel of enterprise at that day; but how unlike were they to the metallic lines that now daily gather for us, from all the ends of the land and with the speed of lightning, minute notices of the most trivial or the most important events! Still, such as his apparatus was, it was all that could be had; and he awaited, alike with a firm patience and a faithful hope, for the decisive results. Even at this distance of time, we share the fluctuations of his anxious spirit, and our patriotism is quickened by our sympathy.
Rarely, indeed, if ever, was there a statesman haying more at stake in what he could not personally control, or greater cause for solicitude concerning the public weal of his own times or that of future ages, than Hamilton now had. His own prospects of usefulness, according to the principles which had long guided him, and the happiness or the misery of his country, were all, as he was deeply convinced,
involved in what might happen within any hour of those few eventful days. The rejection of the Constitution by Virginia would, in all probability, cause its rejection by New York. Its rejection by those States would, as he sincerely believed, be followed by eventual disunion and civil war. But if the Constitution could be established, he could see the way open to the happiness and welfare of the whole Union; for although it was not in all respects the system that he would have preferred, he had shown, in the Federalist, how profoundly he understood its bearing upon the interests of the country, into what harmony he could bring its various provisions, and what powerful aid he could give in adjusting it into its delicate relations to the States. He had, too, already conceived the hope that its early administration might be undertaken by Washington; and with the government in the hands of Washington, Hamilton could foresee the success which to us is now historical.
To say that Hamilton was ambitious, is to say that he was human; and he was by no means free from human imperfections. But his was the ambition of a great mind, regulated by principle, and made incapable, by the force and nature of his convictions, of seeking personal aggrandizement through any course of public policy of which those convictions were not the mainspring and the life. In no degree is the character of any other American statesman undervalued or disparaged, when I insist on the importance to all America, through all time, of Hamil