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stitution always had a power of adaptation; an elasticity which enabled it to take, slowly perhaps, the shape and form of the English character, as it changed from day to day, and so to grow up to be a tolerably perfect representation of English civilization. The framers of our constitution had the address and the wisdom, which enabled them to create ont of the elements, for America, what the silent growth of ages had given birth to for England. The history of our constitution is then the history of the social and moral growth of the American people. It is in vain 10 expect to trace its whole growth in the journals of a convention. You might as well seek to trace every change which the majestic oak has undergone, since its embryo first appeared in the acorn, till its roots have been thrust deep into the earth and its branches have spread above, victorious over a thousand storms.
It is for this reason, that, he who seeks in the "Madison Papers,” for a complete illustration of the origin and growth of the constitution, will be disappointed. But he will not therefore slight what he can get, because he cannot get all. A moment's reflection will satisfy him, that the small period in its history which these documents embrace is a period of intense interest, and worthy of his profound consideration.
The declaration of independence was the first decided step. What had gone before had been the essays of childhood, seebly endeavoring to advance, tottering and weak. The declaration of independence was the stride of early manhood, planting its foot firmly, never to be driven back. It was indeed a bold step; it succeeded because it was in harmony with the wishes of the American people. It was argued in favor of the “declaration, that it was the will of the people, that they were the strength of the congress, and their will must be the law.
Mr. Madison has given us, by the help of Mr. Jefferson, a copy of the original draft of this famous document, together with the alterations and emendations which were made before its final adoption by congress. It has been said that Mr. Jefferson rather winced under the discussion which his handiwork underwent in congress before it finally took the shape in which it went forth to the world. In its first form, as it came from Mr. Jefferson's hands, it was doubtless a magnificent production of genius; but we cannot help thinking that the alterations which it underwent were also improvements. The paper, as it came from the hands of its original author, has not so much of the dignity of a great state paper as that which came from congress, and in several instances its comprehensiveness and force were improved by slight alterations in the modes of expression.
But it was not enough to have declared themselves independent. The people of the British colonies had something farther to do. It is said that it takes two to make a bargain. There was another party to be consulted now. While the colonists were declaring themselves independent, the king of the most powerful nation in the world was calling them his subjects; and the people of England, indulging in a fancied superiority over provincials, seemed ready to join their rulers in riveting the chains of their brethren. Independence was not to be secured by word alone. There were blows to be given and taken too. It was seen that nothing but union of efforts could enable the colonists to sustain themselves on the ground they had taken, and accordingly the views of the leaders were immediately directed towards a confederation. The outlines of a plan had indeed long before been drawn and submitted to the consideration of the continental congress, by Dr. Franklin. His scheme embraced a plan of perpetual confederation for national purposes. These may perhaps be called the two fundamental principles of American union. It was to be for national objects, and it was to be perpetual.
Dr. Franklin's scheme was not immediately adopted. But as soon as the determination to form a separate nation had been adopted, the idea was again taken up, and a confederation, based upon the plan of Dr. Franklin, was proposed and finally adopted. It is worthy of remark, that up to the adoption of the articles of confederation, each of the colonies or states seemed by tacit consent to be considered as sovereign and independent. Whatever may be said in the way of reasoning on this matter, this seems to have been at the time admitted as a fact. In the continental congress, the votes were, as a matter of course, taken by states, and not per capita. It was never for a moment pretended that there was then any national power over-riding the whole. The continental congress was a revolutionary institution deriving its authority from the assent of the several states, and pretending to nothing more. But the articles of confederation were perpetual and for national purposes. If we can understand the effect of this union, it was to make the thirteen united colonies one nation. The confederation was perpetual, and nothing but the ultima ratio of revolution or conquest could ever sever any portion of the nation from the rest. The letters and debates in the first volume of the Madison papers are full of interesting matter on the subject of the confederation. The grand difficulties were representation and taxation. The small states were afraid to give up their separate nationality and to be merged in the whole nation, and desired that their independence might be recognised and secured by an equal vote in congress; while the larger states maintained, and with no small show of reason, that representation and taxation ought to go together, and that if the states voted equally they ought to pay equally. The matter of representation was finally settled by giving to each state an equal vote. But the matter of taxes was not so easily arranged. It was finally settled by the articles of the confederation, that the respective proportions of each state should be adjusted by a valuation of the lands. Many a long and weary debate did congress have in endeavoring to reduce to practice this impracticable scheme. It was certain that such a valuation could not be obtained without the intervention of the state authorities, and it was taken for granted that the state authorities could never be relied on to execute the task honestly if they undertook it. On one occasion, when congress had been discussing the proposition for referring the valuation to the states, Mr. Dyer proposed that a proviso should be added, "that the states should cheat equally.” It is not too much to say that the conduct of many of the states, when, at the close of the war, congress endeavored to provide for the fulfilment of the national obligations and the payment of the national creditors, by means of requisitions and schemes of permanent revenue, fully justifies all the fears of a want of good faith, which were so strongly expressed by many of the members of congress. The same mean spirit of sectional jealousy, which still so often shows itself and seems to pervert the conscience and sense of justice of the states, was, if possible, still stronger then than now. In fact there was more then to justify-we should rather say excuse and extenuate it. But even now, when the experience of half a century has so largely shown that the great interests of the union are and ever must be identified with the welfare of all the parts, there are still not wanting small politicians, who seek, by their affected jealousy in behalf of local interests, to secure to themselves a small popularity among small men.
The letters of Mr. Madison, written at this time, are all inspired by the spirit of true patriotism. He had been so long a participator in the national councils, — had so long viewed the united colonies as one nation, — had identified himself so completely with the national interests, and saw so clearly how dependent each of the states must ever be for protection and support upon a union of the whole, that his predominant feeling was a large and liberal nationality. True, he never for a moment forgot that he was a delegate from Virginia, and true to his democratic principles, he was ever conscientious in his endeavor to follow and obey the instructions of his constituents; but he would never sacrifice on the altar of personal popularity, and sectional interest, the faith and honor of the statesman.
It is not, however, our present purpose to indulge in speculations and theories. Our readers can speculate and theorize for themselves, but they cannot all have access to the Madison Papers, and we are sure that we cannot do a more acceptable service to them, than by presenting them with a few extracts from different portions of the work. The first letter is dated March 27, 1780. Nearly four years had passed since the declaration of independence, and the war was yet raging, the national resources apparently exhausted, and the prospect dark and cheerless. Listen to the calm, clear, but not despairing voice, of the patriotstatesman.
" To Thomas Jefferson.' “Dear Sir - Nothing under the title of news has occurred since I wrote last week by express, except that the enemy on the first of March remained in the neighborhood of Charleston, in the same posture as when the preceding account came away. From the best intelligence from that quarter, there seems to be great encouragement to hope that Clinton's operations will be again frustrated. Our great apprehensions at present flow from a very different quarter. Among the various conjunctures of alarm and distress which have arisen in the course of the revolution, it is with pain I affirm to you, sir, that no one can be singled out more truly critical than the present. Our army threatened with an immedi. ate alternative of disbanding or living on free quarter; the public
i Then Governor of Virginia.