« EelmineJätka »
mercantile and manufacturing classes, who regarded its commercial and revenue powers with great fafor. Its adversaries were those who had always opposed any enlargement of the federal system; those whose consequence as politicians would be diminished by the establishment of a government able to attract into its service the highest classes of talent and character, and presenting a service distinct from that of the States; those who conscientiously believed its provisions and powers dangerous to the rights of the States and to public liberty; and, finally, those who were opposed to any government, whether State or national or federal, that would have vigor and energy enough to protect the rights of property, to prevent schemes of plunder in the form of paper money, and to bring about the discharge of public and private debts. The different opponents of the Constitution being animated by these various motives, great care should be taken by posterity, in estimating the conduct of individuals, not to confound these classes with each other, although they were often united in action.
As the Constitution presented itself to the people in the light of a proposal to enlarge and reconstruct the system of the Federal Union, its advocates became known as the "Federalists," and its adversaries as the "Anti-Federalists." This celebrated designation of Federalist, which afterwards became so renowned in our political history as the name of a party, signified at first nothing more than was implied in the title of the essays which passed under
that name, namely, an advocacy of the Constitution of the United States.1
Midway between the active friends and opponents
1 The history of the term "Federal," or "Federalist," offers a curious illustration of the capricious changes of sense which political designations often undergo, within a short period of time, according to the accidental circumstances which give them their application. During the discussions of the Convention which framed the Constitution of the United States, the term federal was employed in its truly philosophic sense, to designate the nature of the government established by the Articles of Confederation, in distinction from a national system, that would be formed by the introduction of the plan of having the States represented in the Congress in proportion to the numbers of their inhabitants. But when the Constitution was before the people of the States for their adoption, its friends and advocates were popularly called Federalists, because they favored an enlargement of the Federal government at the expense of some part of the State sovereignties, and its opponents were called the Anti-Federalists. In this use, the former term in no way characterized the nature of the system advocated, but merely designated a supporter of the Constitution. A few years later, when the first parties were formed, in the first term of Washington's Administration, it so happened that the leading men who gave a distinct
character to the development which the Constitution then received had been prominent advocates of its adoption, and had been known therefore as Federalists, as had also been the case with some of those who separated themselves from this body of persons and formed what was termed the Republican, afterwards the Democratic party. But the prominent supporters of the policy which originated in Washington's administration continued to be called Federalists, and the term thus came to denote a particular school of politics under the Constitution, although it previously signified merely an advocacy of its adoption. Thus, for example, Hamilton, in 1787, was no Federalist, because he was opposed to the continuance of a federal, and desired the establishment of a national government. In 1788, he was a Federalist, because he wished the Constitution to be adopted; and he afterwards continued to be a Federalist, because he favored a particular policy in the administration of the government, under the Constitution. It was in this latter sense that the term became so cel ebrated in our political history. The reader will observe that I use it, of course, in this work, only in the sense attached to it while the Constitution was before the people of the States for adoption.
of the Constitution lay that great and somewhat inert mass of the people, which, in all free countries, finally decides by its preponderance every seemingly doubtful question of political changes. It was composed of those who had no settled convictions or favorite theories respecting the best form of a general government, and who were under the influence of no other motive than a desire for some system that would relieve their industry from the oppressions under which it had long labored, and would give security, peace, and dignity to their country. Ardently attached to the principles of republican government and to their traditionary maxims of public liberty, and generally feeling that their respective States were the safest depositaries of those principles and maxims, this portion of the people of the United States were likely to be much influenced by the arguments against the Constitution founded on its want of what was called a Bill of Rights, on its omission to secure a trial by jury in civil cases, and on the other alleged defects which were afterwards corrected by the first ten Amendments. But they had great confidence in the principal framers of the instrument, an unbounded reverence for Washington and Franklin, and a willingness to try any experiment sanctioned by men so illustrious and so entirely incapable of any selfish or unworthy purpose.' There were, however, consider
1 A striking proof of the importance attached by the people to the opinions of Washington and Franklin may be found in a controversy carried on for a short time in the
newspapers of Philadelphia and New York, after the Constitution appeared, whether those distinguished persons really approved what they had signed.
able numbers of the people, in the more remote districts of several of the States, who had a very imperfect acquaintance, if they had any, with the details of the proposed system, at the time when their legislatures were called upon to provide for the assembling of conventions; for we are not to suppose that what would now be the general and almost instantaneous knowledge of any great political event or topic, could have taken place at that day concerning the proposed Constitution of the United States. Still it was quite generally understood before its final ratification in the States where its adoption was postponed to the following year, where information was most wanted, and where the chief struggles occurred; and it is doubtless correct to assert that its adoption was the intelligent choice of a majority of the people of each State, as well as the choice of their delegates, when their conventions successively acted upon it.
On the adjournment of the Convention, Madison, King, and Gorham, who held seats in the Congress of the Confederation, hastened to the city of New York, where that body was then sitting. They found eleven States represented.' But they found also that an effort was likely to be made, either to arrest the Constitution on its way to the people of the States, or to subject it to alteration before it should be sent to the legislatures. It was received by official communication from the Convention in about ten days after that assembly was dissolved. All that was asked of the Congress was, that they
1 All but Maryland and Rhode Island.
should transmit it to their constituent legislatures for their action. The old objection, that the Congress could with propriety participate in no measure designed to change the form of a government which they were appointed to administer, having been answered, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed to amend the instrument by inserting a Bill of Rights, trial by jury in civil cases, and other provisions in conformity with the objections which had been made in the Convention by Mr. Mason.
To the address and skill of Mr. Madison, I think, the defeat of this attempt must be attributed. If it had succeeded, the Constitution could never have been adopted by the necessary number of States; for the recommendation of the Convention did not make the action of the State legislatures conditional upon their receiving the instrument from the Congress; the legislatures would have been at liberty to send the document published by the Convention to the assemblies of delegates of the people, without adding provisions that might have been added by the Congress; some of them would have done so, while others would have followed the action of the Congress, and thus there would have been in fact two Constitutions before the people of the States, and their acts of ratification would have related to dissimilar instruments. This consideration induced the Congress, by a unanimous vote of the States present, to adopt a resolution which, while it contained no approval of the Constitution, abstained from interfering with it as it came from the Conven