Page images

Ramsay, and many other gentlemen. At length, on the 19th of January, a resolution was passed, directing a convention of the people to assemble on the 12th of May. The debate in the legislature had tended to diffuse information respecting the system, but it had also produced a formidable minority throughout the State. Mr. Lowndes had employed, with a good deal of skill, the local arguments which would be most likely to form the objections of a citizen of South Carolina. He inveighed against the regulation of commerce, the power over the slave-trade that was to belong to Congress at the end of twenty years, and the preponderance which he contended would be given to the Eastern States by the system of representation in Congress; and although he was ably answered on all points, the effect of the discussion was such, that a large minority was returned to the Convention having a strong hostility to the proposed system.1

The legislature of Maryland assembled in December, and directed the delegates who had represented the State in the national Convention to attend and give an account of the proceedings of that assembly.

1 This debate of three days in the South Carolina legislature was one of the most able of all the discussions attending the ratification of the Constitution. Mr. Lowndes was overmatched by his antagonists, but he resisted with great spirit, and finally closed with the declaration that he saw dangers in the proposed government so great, that he could wish, when dead, for no

other epitaph than this: "Here lies the man that opposed the Constitution, because it was ruinous to the liberty of America." He lived to find his desired epitaph a false prophecy. He was the father of the late William Lowndes, who represented the State of South Carolina in Congress, with so much honor and distinction, during the administration of Mr. Madison.

It was in compliance with this direction that Luther Martin laid before the legislature that celebrated communication which embodied not only a very clear statement of the mode in which the principal compromises of the Constitution were framed, as seen from the point of view occupied by one who resisted them at every step, but also an exceedingly able argument against the fundamental principle of the proposed government. It was a paper, too, marked throughout with an earnestness almost amounting to fanaticism. Repelling, with natural indignation and dignity, the imputation that he was influenced by a State office which he then held, he referred to the numerous honors and emoluments which the Constitution of the United States would create, and suggested-what his abilities and reputation well justified -that his chance of obtaining a share of them was as good as most men's. "But this," was his solemn conclusion, "I can say with truth, that so far was I from being influenced in my conduct by interest, or the consideration of office, that I would cheerfully resign the appointment I now hold; I would bind myself never to accept another, either under the general government or that of my own State; I would do more, sir; so destructive do I consider the present system to the happiness of my country, I would cheerfully sacrifice that share of property with which Heaven has blessed a life of industry; I would reduce myself to indigence and poverty; and those who are dearer to me than my own existence, I would in

[ocr errors]

trust to the care and protection of that Providence who hath so kindly protected myself, if on those terms only I could procure my country to reject those chains which are forged for it."

Such a strength of conviction as this, on the part of a man of high talent, was well calculated to produce an effect. No document that appeared anywhere, against the Constitution, was better adapted to rouse the jealousy, to confirm the doubts, or to decide the opinions, of a certain class of minds. But it was an argument which reduced the whole question substantially to the issue, whether the principle of the Union could safely be changed from that of a federal league, with an equality of representation and power as between the States, to a system of national representation in a legislative body having cognizance of certain national interests, in one branch of which the people inhabiting the respective States should have power in proportion to their numbers.1 This was a question on which men would naturally and honestly differ; but it was a question which a majority of reflecting men, in almost every State, were likely, after due inquiry, to decide against the views of Mr. Martin, because it was clear that the Confederation had failed, and had failed chiefly by reason of the peculiar and characteristic nature of its representative system, and because the represent

1 Mr. Martin's objections extended to many of the details of the Constitution, but his great argument was that directed against



its system of representation, which he predicted would destroy the State governments.

ative system proposed in the Constitution was the only one that could be agreed upon as the alternative. Mr. Martin's objections, however, like those of other distinguished men who took the same side in other States, were of a nature to form the creed of an earnest, conscientious, and active minority. They had this effect in the State of Maryland. The legislature ordered a State convention, to consider the proposed Constitution, and directed it to meet on the 21st of April, 1788.

The convention of New Hampshire was to assemble in February. A large portion of the State lay remote from the channels of intelligence, and a considerable part of the people in the interior had not seen the Constitution, when they were called upon to elect their delegates. The population, outside of two or three principal places, was a rural one, thinly scattered over townships of large territorial extent, lying among the hills of a broken and rugged country, extending northerly from the narrow strip of sea-coast towards the frontier of Canada. It was easy for the opposition to persuade such a people that a scheme of government had been prepared which they ought to reject; and the consequence of their efforts was that the State convention assembled, probably with a majority, certainly with a strong minority, of its members bound by positive instructions to vote against the Constitution which they were to consider.

I have thus, in anticipation of the strict order of events, given a general account of the position of

this great question in six of the States, down to the time of the meeting of their respective conventions, because when the session of the convention of Massachusetts commenced, in January, 1788, the people of the five States of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut had successively ratified the Constitution without proposing any amendments, and because the action of the others, extending through the six following months, embraced the real crisis to which the Constitution was subjected, and developed what were thereafter to be considered as its important defects, according to the view of a majority of the States, and probably also of a majority of the people of all the States. For although the people of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut ratified the Constitution without insisting on previous or subsequent amendments, it is certain that some of the same topics were the causes of anxiety and objection in those States, which occasioned so much difficulty, and became the grounds of special action, in the remaining States.

In coming, however, to the more particular description of the resistance which the Constitution encountered, it will be necessary to discriminate between the opposition that was made to the general plan of the government, or to the particular features of it which it was proposed to create, and that which was founded on its omission to provide for certain things that were deemed essential. Of what may be called the positive objections to the Constitution, it may be said,

« EelmineJätka »