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THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.
ORIGIN. AND ADOPTION OF THE CONSTITUTION.
§ 272. In this state of things, commissioners were appointed by the legislatures of Virginia and Maryland, early in 1785, to form a compact relative to the navigation of the rivers Potomac and Pocomoke, and the Chesapeake Bay. The commissioners having met at Alexandria in Virginia in March, in that year, felt the want of more enlarged powers, and particularly of powers to provide for a local naval force and a tariff of duties upon imports.1 Upon receiving their recommendation, the legislature of Virginia passed a resolution for laying the subject of a tariff before all the States composing the Union. Soon afterwards, in January, 1786, the legislature adopted another resolution, appointing commission"who were to meet such as might be appointed by the other States in the Union at a time and place to be agreed on, to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situation and trade of the States; to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial relations may be necessary to their common interest and their permanent harmony; and to report to the several States such an act, relative to this great object, as, when unanimously ratified by them, will enable the United States in Congress assembled to provide for the same." 2
§ 273. These resolutions were communicated to the States, and
1 [Rives, Life of Madison, I. 548; II. 57.]
2 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 90, 91; 1 Kent's Comm. 203; [Rives, Life of Madison, II. 60.]
a convention of commissioners from five States only, namely, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, met at Annapolis in September, 1786.1 After discussing the subject, they deemed more ample powers necessary, and as well from this consideration, as because a small number only of the States was represented, they agreed to come to no decision, but to frame a report to be laid before the several States, as well as before Congress.2 In this report they recommended the appointment of commissioners from all the States, "to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday of May, then next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States; to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as, when agreed to by them, and afterwards confirmed by the legislature of every State, will effectually provide for the same." 3
§ 274. On receiving this report, the legislature of Virginia passed an act for the appointment of delegates to meet such as
1 1 Amer. Museum, 267; 2 Pitk. Hist. 218; [Rives, Life of Madison, II. 98, 117, 125.]
2 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 97; 2 Pitk. 218; 1 U. S. Laws, (Bioren & Duane's edit. 1815), p. 55, &c. to 58.
3 1 Amer. Museum, 267, 268; [Rives, Life of Madison, II. 127. The preamble of this act is worthy of preservation as a recognition of the immediate and imperative necessity for radical changes in the bond of union. "Whereas the General Assembly of this Commonwealth, taking into view the actual situation of the confederacy, as well as reflecting on the alarming representations made, from time to time, by the United States in Congress, particularly in their act of the 15th day of February last, can no longer doubt that the crisis is arrived at which the good people of America are to decide the solemn question whether they will, by wise and magnanimous efforts, reap the just fruits of that independence which they have so gloriously acquired, and of that Union which they have cemented with so much of their common blood; or whether, by giving way to mutual jealousies and prejudices, or to partial and transitory interests, they will renounce the auspicious blessings prepared for them by the Revolution, and furnish to its enemies an eventual triumph over those by whose virtue and valor it has been accomplished and whereas the same noble and extended policy, and the same fraternal and affectionate sentiments which originally determined the citizens of this Commonwealth to unite with their brethren of the other States in establishing a Federal government, cannot but be felt with equal force now, as motives to lay aside every inferior consideration and to concur in such further concessions and provisions as may be necessary to secure the great object for which that government was established, and to render the United States as happy in peace as they have been glorious in war." The careful wording of this preamble was due to a desire, as Mr. Madison says, to give this subject a very solemn dress, and all the weight that could be derived from a single State." Letter to Washington, Rives's Life of Madison, II. 135.]
might be appointed by other States, at Philadelphia.1 The report was also received in Congress. But no step was taken until the legislature of New York instructed its delegation in Congress to move a resolution, recommending to the several States to appoint deputies to meet in convention for the purpose of revising and proposing amendments to the Federal Constitution.2 On the 21st of February, 1787, a resolution was accordingly moved and carried in Congress, recommending a convention to meet in Philadelphia, on the second Monday in May ensuing, "for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein, as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."3 The alarming insurrection then existing in Massachusetts, without doubt, had no small share in producing this result. The report of Congress on that subject at once demonstrates their fears and their political weakness.4
§ 275. At the time and place appointed, the representatives of twelve States assembled. Rhode Island alone declined to appoint any on this momentous occasion.5 After very protracted deliberations, the convention finally adopted the plan of the present Constitution on the 17th of September, 1787; and by a contemporaneous resolution, directed it to be "laid before the United States in Congress assembled," and declared their opinion, "that it should afterwards be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, under a recommendation of its legislature for their assent and ratification"; and that each convention assenting to and ratifying the same should give notice thereof to Congress. The convention, by a further resolution, declared their opinion, that as soon as nine States had ratified the Constitution, Congress should fix a day on which electors should be appointed by the States which should have ratified the same,
1 Marsh. Life of Wash. 98; [Rives, Life of Madison, II. 132.]
2 It was carried in the senate of the State by a majority of one only. 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 125.
8 2 Pitk. Hist. 219; 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 124, 125; 12 Journ. of Congress, 12, 13, 14; 2 Pitk. Hist. 219, 220, 222.
42 Pitk. Hist. 220, 221; Journ. of Congress, Oct. 1786; 1 Secret Journ. 268.
5 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 128; [Arnold, Hist. of Rhode Island, II. 537.]
6 5 Marsh. Life of Washington, 128, 129; Journal of Convention, 370; 12 Journ.
of Congress, 109; 2 Pitk. Hist. 224, 264; [Rives, Life of Madison. II. 477.]
and a day on which the electors should assemble and vote for the president, and time and place of commencing proceedings under the Constitution; and that after such publication the electors should be appointed and the senators and representatives elected. The same resolution contained further recommendations for the purpose of carrying the Constitution into effect.
§ 276. The convention at the same time addressed a letter to Congress, expounding their reasons for their acts, from which the following extract cannot but be interesting: "It is obviously impracticable (says the address) in the Federal government of these States, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all. Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was increased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests. In all our deliberations on this subject, we kept steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude than might have been otherwise expected. And thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable."1
§ 277. Congress, having received the report of the convention on the 28th of September, 1787, unanimously resolved, "that the said report, with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several legislatures in order to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, in conformity to the resolves of the convention, made and provided in that case." 2
1 12 Journ. of Congress, 109, 110; Journ. of Convention, 367, 368; 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 129.
2 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 128; 12 Journ. of Congress, 99, 110; Journ. of Convention, App. 391; [Rives, Life of Madison, II. 480.]
§ 278. Conventions in the various States which had been represented in the general convention were accordingly called by their respective legislatures; and the Constitution having been ratified by eleven out of the twelve States, Congress, on the 13th of September, 1788,1 passed a resolution appointing the first Wednesday in January following for the choice of electors of president; the first Wednesday of February following, for the assembling of the electors to vote for a president; and the first Wednesday of March following, at the then seat of Congress [New York], the time and place for commencing proceedings under the Constitution. Electors were accordingly appointed in the several States, who met and gave their votes for a president; and the other elections for senators and representatives having been duly made, on Wednesday, the 4th of March, 1789, Congress assembled and commenced proceedings under the new Constitution. A quorum of both houses, however, did not assemble until the 6th of April, when, the votes for president being counted, it was found that George Washington was unanimously elected president, and John Adams was elected vice-president. On the 30th of April President Washington was sworn into office, and the government then went into full operation in all its departments.
§ 279. North Carolina had not, as yet, ratified the Constitution. The first convention called in that State, in August, 1788, refused to ratify it without some previous amendments and a declaration of rights. In a second convention, however, called in November, 1789, this State adopted the Constitution. The State of Rhode Island had declined to call a convention; but, finally, by a convention held in May, 1790, its assent was obtained; and thus all the thirteen original States became parties to the new government.4
1 Journ. of Convention, App. 449, 450, 451; 2 Pitk. Hist. 291.
2 5 Marsh. Life of Wash. 133, 151, 152; 2 Pitk. Hist. 317, 318; 1 Lloyd's Debates, 3, 4, 5, 6.
8 2 Pitk. Hist. 283; Journ. of Convention, App. 452; 1 Kent's Comm. 204, 205. 4 2 Pitk. Hist. 265; Journ. of Convention, App. 452, 458. [By setting aside the Articles of Confederation, which by their terms were to be articles of "perpetual union,” and by substituting instead thereof a Constitution to which two of the States had not assented, those States were at once and effectually excluded from the Union, by a revolution in the government, which, though peaceful, was only to be justified on grounds similar to those on which any revolution can be defended when the established government has ceased to accomplish the purposes of its creation. But though these States were thus cut off from constitutional affiliation, they were not put, in their intercourse with the government and in commercial regulations, on the footing of foreign nations; but, on the other hand, the utmost kindness and forbearance was exercised in the expecta