« AnteriorContinuar »
1787, was a composite instrument. To attempt to trace all its provisions to their sources would carry us back into a remote past and bring us to constitutions of government in force at various times from the dawn of history: for all governments which men have established possess qualities in common. It is not my purpose to pursue so hopeless a search, but rather to trace the provisions of the Constitution to those immediate sources which may be clearly established by the records, and which, it may be said, are chiefly American. The immediate source of the Constitution was the fifteen articles of the Virginia Plan read to the Federal Convention by Governor Randolph on the twenty-ninth of May, 1787, of the origin of which plan we are not directly informed, but are doubtless justified in attributing it to James Madison. Its essential points had been advocated by him in a letter to Jefferson in March, and in another to Washington in April, preceding; both written from New York, where Madison was in attendance on Congress. His thought was repeated by Washington in letters to intimate and influential friends, and, through them, was spread more or less broadcast over the land.2 Yet, long before this, Washington had written that without an alteration in our political creed, the superstructure which had been seven years in raising, at the expense of so much treasure and blood, must fall, as the country was fast verging to anarchy and confusion. But this confession of the need of a National Government was not the first; for Hamilton in 1780, in a letter to James Duane, then a member to Congress from New York, had shown the defects of the Articles of Confederation, and the absolute
1 Madison to Jefferson, March 9, 1787: Works, I, 285; Madison to Washington, April 16: Id. p. 287.
2 See Washington to Madison, March 31, 1787; Ford's Washington, XI, 130; to David Stuart, July 1st; Id. p. 159.
3 Washington to Madison, November 5, 1786; Ford, XI, 80.
necessity of clothing the General Government with sovereign powers. Nor did Hamilton's efforts cease with the writing of this letter, for two years later he was instrumental in bringing about the adoption of resolutions, by the New York legislature, which declared the essential defects of the Articles, and recommended a general convention of the States to revise and amend them.2 All these suggestions point to a growing conviction in the country that a more perfect Union was necessary. The conviction was expressed in the letters of other, though less distinguished, men, such as Webster and Drayton. The essential character of Chief-Justice Drayton's idea of a General Government may be inferred from a passage in his speech, delivered January twentieth, 1778, before the assembly of South Carolina on the adoption of the Articles of Confederation that "the sovereignty of the States should be restricted only in case of absolute necessity, and that Congress has no power is clearly defined in the nature of its operation." Undoubtedly the reform of the Union was a theme of common discussion among thoughtful Americans. “The design and end of government,” wrote Thomas Paine, in 1776, “is freedom and security," and the famous essay, in which the words occur, written at the instigation of Franklin, may justly be said to bear scarcely less close relations to the Constitution than it bore to the Declaration of Independence. It expressed the longing of the country, and its humane philosophy was at last incorporated in our supreme law.
The fifteen articles of the Virginia Plan were probably worked out by Madison and his colleagues in the Virginia
1 Hamilton to Duane, September, 1780; Hamilton's Hamilton, I, 284-305.
2 New York Journals of the Senate and Assembly, July 20-21, 1782; Kent's Commentaries, 12th Edition, I, 218.
3 Principles and Acts of the Revolution; Niles, 101-104,
THE VIRGINIA PLAN.
delegation, with the aid of early arriving delegates from other States, in their informal meetings at Francis's Hotel, after the tenth of May and before the meeting of the Convention on the twenty-fifth, and while yet a quorum of the delegates had not arrived. The Virginia Plan was discussed in Committee of the Whole till the thirteenth of June, when it was reported in nineteen articles. On the fifteenth, Paterson of New Jersey, submitted a General Plan in nine articles, and, three days later, Hamilton read his Sketch of a plan in eleven. On the twenty-ninth of May, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina is credited with having submitted a Plan the contents of which are not known, for, as remarked by Madison, the Plan attributed to him contains some provisions of which he highly disapproved and others which were not worked out by the Convention until toward its close. The Committee of the Whole continued the discussion of the Virginia Plan till the twenty-sixth of July, when the twenty-three resolutions into which that plan had expanded, together with Patterson and Pinckney's drafts, were referred to the Committee of Detail, called also the Committee of Five, chosen by ballot and consisting of Rutledge, Randolph, Gorham, Ellsworth and Wilson, who appointed on the twenty-fourth of July, were instructed to consider all the provisions thus far worked out, excepting those relating to the Executive.2
This committee, on the sixth of August, reported a draft of a Constitution, in twenty-three articles. Many clauses had provoked long discussion and developed such differences of opinion that their consideration had been postponed. They involved the fate of the whole work, and, together with such parts of reports as had not been acted on, they were referred, on the last day of August, to a
1 Elliot, V, 578.
Committee of Eleven, one from each State, also chosen by ballot. This committee, of which Brearly of New Jersey was chairman, first reported on the first of September, and made the last of its suggestions on the fifth. On the eighth was chosen the Committee of Revision, consisting of Johnson, Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Madison and King, who turned the work before it over to Morris, and on the twelfth reported the Constitution.
It will soon be seen that not only the arrangement and language but many of the provisions of the Constitution are to be attributed to these three committees.
The articles and clauses of the Constitution were not worked out in the order in which they now stand. Both the order and much of the phraseology were given by the Committee on Revision and Style. The Preamble, which by party policy and administrative necessity soon became an important index to the scope and meaning of the Constitution, seems not to have been the subject of much discussion. It first appeared in the report of the Committee of Detail on the sixth of August, and was agreed to without opposition on the following day. Its opening phrase then read: “We the people of the States,” which was changed to "the People of the United States,” by the Committee on Arrangement and Style, September twelfth. It does not appear that a preamble such as was found to the
1 The members of this committee were Gilman, King, Sherman, Brearly, Gouverneur Morris, Dickinson, Carroll, Madison, Williamson, Butler and Baldwin. Elliot, V, 503.
2 The text of the Constitution here reprinted follows the original in the State Department: We, the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.
3 Elliot, V, 376.
Articles of Confederation and to several of the State constitutions in the eighteenth century was considered then as anything more than an introduction to the instrument proper.
The phrases which have made the Preamble historic, had long been current when Gouverneur Morris arranged them. The first Virginia charter spoke of "the liberties of natural born Englishmen;" and the Mayflower Compact provided for laws that should be "for the general good of the colony. The New England Union of 1643 purported to be "a firme perpetuall league of friendship and amytie.”3 Penn's plan of 1696 for colonial union declared that the purpose of the gathering of the deputies would be for "the public tranquillity and safety,"4 and the plan of the Lords of Trade of the same year proposed a union "for mutual defence and common security." The plan of union proposed by "a Virginian” in 1701, was based on “the public welfare" and in the same year William Penn confirmed the liberty of the freemen, planters and adventurers of Delaware "for the further well-being and good government of the province.” Daniel Cox, twenty-one years later, advocated a general council for America, consisting of two deputies from each province “to consult and advise for the good of the whole." And for “the union, stability and good of the whole,” Doctor Samuel Johnson, in 1760, advocated his ecclesiastical plan for the government of the colonies.8
It is, however, in Franklin's plan of July, 1775, that we find a surer parentage for the best known clause of the Preamble. The States, he said, should form a "firm
1 Charter of 1605.
5 Article II, Ib. 451,