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ACTION OF NORTH CAROLINA AND RHODE ISLAND. · CONCLUSION.
THUS had eleven States, at the end of July, 1788, unconditionally adopted the Constitution; five of them proposing amendments for the consideration of the first Congress that would assemble under it, and one of the five calling for a second general convention to act upon the amendments desired. Two other States, however, North Carolina and Rhode Island, still remained aloof.
The legislature of North Carolina, in December, 1787, had ordered a State convention, which assembled July 21, 1788, five days before the convention of. New York ratified the Constitution. In this body the Anti-Federalists obtained a large majority. They permitted the whole subject to be debated until the 2d of August; still it had been manifest from the first that they would not allow of an unconditional ratification. They knew what had been the result in New Hampshire and Virginia; but the decision of New York had, of course, not reached them. Their determination was not, however, to be affected by the certainty that the new government
would be organized. Their purpose was not to enter the new Union, until the amendments which they desired had been obtained. They assumed that the Congress of the Confederation would not provide for the organization of the new government until another general convention had been held; or, if they did, that such a convention would be called by the new Congress; and it appeared to them to be the most effectual mode of bringing about one or the other of these courses, to remain for the present in an independent position. The inconvenience and hazard attending such a position do not seem to have had much weight with them, when compared with what they regarded as the danger of an unconditional assent to the Constitution as it then stood.
The Federalists contended strenuously for the course pursued by the other States which had proposed amendments, but they were overpowered by great numbers, and the convention was dissolved, after adopting a resolution declaring that a Bill of Rights, and certain amendments, ought to be laid before Congress and the convention that might be called for amending the Constitution, previous to its ratification by the State of North Carolina.1 But in order, if possible, to place the State in a position to accede to the Constitution at some future time, and to participate fully in its benefits, they also declared, that, having thought proper neither to ratify nor to reject it, and as the new Congress would probably
1 This resolution was adopted August 2, 1788, by 184 yeas to 84
nays. North Carolina Debates, Elliot, IV. 250, 251.
lay an impost on goods imported into the States which had adopted it, they recommended the legislature of North Carolina to lay a similar impost on goods imported into the State, and to appropriate the money arising from it to the use of Congress.1
The elements which formed the opposition to the Constitution in other States received in Rhode Island an intense development and aggravation, from the peculiar spirit of the people, and from certain local causes, the history of which has never been fully written, and is now only to be gathered from scattered sources. Constitutional government was exposed to great perils, in that day, throughout the country, in consequence of the false notions of State sovereignty and of public liberty which prevailed everywhere. But it seemed as if all these causes of opposition and distrust had centred in Rhode Island, and had there found a theatre on which to exhibit themselves in their worst form. Fortunately, this theatre was so small and peculiar, as to make the display of these ideas extremely conspicuous.
The Colony of Rhode Island was established upon the broadest principles of religious and civil freedom. Its early founders and rulers, flying from religious persecution in the other New England Colonies, had transmitted to their descendants a natural jealousy of other communities, and a high spirit of individual and public independence. In the progress of time, as not infrequently happens in such communities, the principles on which the State was founded were
1 North Carolina Debates, Elliot, IV. 250, 251.
falsely interpreted and applied, until, in the minds. of a large part of the people, they had come to mean a simple aversion to all but the most democratic form of government. No successful appeal to this hereditary feeling could be made during the early part of the Revolution, against the interests and influence of the confederacy, because the early and local effect of the Revolution in fact coincided with it. But when the Revolution was fairly accomplished, and the State had assumed its position of absolute sovereignty, what may be called the extreme individualism of the people, and their old unfortunate relations with the rest of New England, made them singularly reluctant to part with any power to the confederated States. The manifestations of this feeling we have seen all along, from the first establishment of the Confederation down to the period at which we are now arrived.
The local causes which gave to this tendency its utmost activity, at the time of the formation of the Constitution of the United States, were the following.
First, there had existed in the State, for a considerable period, a despotic and well-organized party, known as the paper-money party. This faction had long controlled the legislation of the State, by furnishing the agricultural classes, in the shape of paper money, with the only circulating medium they had ever had in any large quantity; and they were determined to extinguish the debt of the State by this species of currency, which the legislature could, and did, depreciate at pleasure.
Secondly, there existed, to a great and ludicrous extent, a constant antagonism between town and country,― between the agricultural and the mercantile or trading classes; and this hostility was especially violent and active between the people of the towns of Providence and Newport and the people of the surrounding and the more remote rural districts.1 The paper-money question divided the inhabitants of the State in the same way. The loss of this circulation would deprive the agricultural classes of their sole currency. They kept their paper-money party, therefore, in a state of constant activity; and when the Constitution of the United States appeared, this was an organized and triumphant party, ready for any new contest. Finally, there prevailed among the country party a notion that the maritime advantages of the State ought in some way to be made use of, for obtaining better terms with the general government than could be had under the Constitution, and that by some such means funds could be obtained for paying their most urgent debts.
If we may judge of the spirit and the acts of the majority of the people of Rhode Island, at this time, by the manner in which they were looked upon throughout the rest of the Union, no language of
1 The march of the country people upon Providence, on the 4th of July, 1788, and the manner in which they compelled the inhabitants of the town to abandon their purpose of celebrating the adoption of the Constitution by nine States, - dictating even their toasts and
salutes, reads more like a page in Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York than like anything else. But it is a veracious as well as a most amusing story. (See Staples's Annals of Providence, pp. 329-335.)