« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
IN THE FEDERAL CONVENTION.
Of the Convention which framed the Constitution of the United States, Flanders says:
“Over its deliberations presided Washington; the genial wisdom of Franklin illustrated its debates; the trained mind, extensive information and reflective habits of Madison ; the fertile resources, the ready and trenchant talents of Gouverneur Morris; the liberal views and sound sense of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; the inflexible integrity and unbending republicanism of Colonel Mason; the penetrating mind and persuasive eloquence of Rufus King, were all displayed on this conspicuous theatre, and more or less determined the course and result of the Convention." 1
To this brilliant assemblage we now follow the subject of our memoir. Colonel Mason arrived in Philadelphia the 17th of May, and two letters of his to George Mason, Jr., and one to Arthur Lee, bring us to the threshold of the new scene in which he was to act such a 'conspicuous part.
PHILADELPHIA, May 20th, 1787. “ DEAR GEORGE :
“Upon our arrival here on Thursday evening, seventeenth May, I found only the States of Virginia and Pennsylvania fully represented ; and there are at this time only five-New York, the two Carolinas, and the two before mentioned. All the States, Rhode
1 “Chief Justices of the United States," vol. ii., p. 127.
LETTER TO HIS SON GEORGE.
Island excepted, have made their appointments; but the members drop in slowly ; some of the deputies from the Eastern States are here, but none of them have yet a sufficient representation, and it will probably be several days before the Convention will be authorized to proceed to business. The expectations and hopes of all the Union centre in this Convention. God grant that we may be able to concert effectual means of preserving our country from the evils which threaten us.
“The Virginia deputies (who are all here) meet and confer together two or three hours every day, in order to form a proper correspondence of sentiments; and for form's sake, to see what new deputies are arrived, and to grow into some acquaintance with each other, we regularly meet every day at three o'clock. These and some occasional conversations with the deputies of different States, and with some of the general officers of the late army (who are here upon a general meeting of the Cincinnati), are the only opportunities I have hitherto had of forming any opinion upon the great subject of our mission, and, consequently, a very imperfect and indecisive one. Yet, upon the great principles of it, I have reason to hope there will be greater unanimity and less opposition, except from the little States, than was at first apprehended. The most prevalent idea in the principal States seems to be a total alteration of the present federal system, and substituting a great national council or parliament, consisting of two branches of the legislature, founded upon the principles of equal proportionate representation, with full legislative powers upon all the subjects of the Union ; and an executive : and to make the several State legislatures subordinate to the national, by giving the latter the power of a negative upon all such laws as they shall judge contrary to the interest of the federal Union. It is easy to foresee that there will be much difficulty in organizing a government upon this great scale, and at the same time reserving to the State legislatures a sufficient portion of power for promoting and securing the prosperity and happiness of their respective citizens ; yet with a proper degree of coolness, liberality and candor (very rare commodities by the bye), I doubt not but it may be effected. There are among a variety some very eccentric opinions upon this great subject ; and what is a very extraordinary phenomenon, we are likely to find the republicans, on this occasion, issue from the Southern and Middle States, and the anti-republicans from the Eastern ; however extraordinary this may at first seem, it may, I think be accounted for from a very common and natural impulse of the human mind. Men disappointed in expectations too hastily and sanguinely formed, tired and disgusted with the unexpected evils they have experienced, and anxious to remove them as far as possible, are very apt to run into the opposite extreme ; and the people of the Eastern States, setting out with more republican principles, have consequently been more disappointed than we have been.
“We found travelling very expensive—from eight to nine dollars per day. In this city the living is cheap. We are at the old Indian Queen in Fourth Street, where we are very well accommodated, have a good room to ourselves, and are charged only twenty-five Pennsylvania currency per day, including our servants and horses, exclusive of club in liquors and extra charges ; so that I hope I shall be able to defray my expenses with my public allowance, and more than that I do not wish.”
PHILADELPHIA, May 21, 1787. DEAR SIR :
I take the opportunity by Col. Carrington of returning the papers you left in my hands, when I had the pleasure of your company at Gunston Hall.
I arrived in this city on Thursday evening last, but found so few of the deputies here from the several States that I am unable to form any certain opinion on the subject of our mission. The most prevalent idea I think at present is a total change of the federal system, and instituting a great national council or parliament upon the principles of equal, proportionate representation, consisting of two branches of the legislature invested with full legislative powers upon the objects of the Union ; and to make the State legislatures subordinate to the national by giving to the latter a negative upon all such laws as they judge contrary to the principles and interest of the Union ; to establish also a national executive, and a judiciary system with cognizance of all such matters as depend upon the law of nations, and such other objects as the local courts of justice may be inadequate to.
1 Bancroft's “ History of the Constitution," vol. ii., Appendix, p. 421.
LETTER TO ARTHUR LEE.
I shall do myself the honor of corresponding with you from time to time, and shall be much obliged to you for your sentiments upon the important subjects that will be agitated in this Convention, upon which the prosperity and the safety of our country will so materially depend.
I have received your favor by Major Jackson ; nothing that I have heard has yet been mentioned upon this subject among the deputies now here ; though I understand there are several candidates, which I am surprised at, as the office will be of so short duration, and merely honorary, or possibly introductory to something more substantial. I am with the greatest esteem and regard
G. Mason. The Honorable Arthur Lee, Esq:
PHILADELPHIA, May 27, 1787. DEAR GEORGE :
I wrote you by the post a few days after my arrival in this city. I shall be glad to know whether my letter has come safe to hand, as also the letters I wrote from Baltimore to your brothers William and Thomson, to which I have not yet received any answer. I wish to be informed also whether you have had any good rains and what prospect of the crops of wheat and tobacco. It is impossible to judge how long we shall be detained here, but from present appearances I fear until July, if not later. I begin to grow heartily tired of the etiquette and nonsense so fashionable in this city. It would take me some months to make myself master of them, and that it should require months to learn what is not worth remembering as many minutes, is to me so discouraging a circumstance as determines me to give myself no manner of trouble about them. I have not yet been able to do anything respecting your brother John, and fear I shall meet with much difficulty on that subject.
1 MS. Letter (published in Life of A. Lee," vol. ii., p. 319). On the same sheet of the original are given seven amendments to the Constitution in the handwriting of Arthur Lee. See Appendix ii. The biographer of Arthur Lee regrets the loss of the residue of the valuable letters of G. Mason."
We had yesterday, for the first time, a representation of seven States—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and the two Carolinas, and it is expected that the deputies from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia will be here by Monday or Tuesday. The State of Rhode Island has refused to appoint deputies, and although New Hampshire has appointed it is thought we shall be deprived of their representation by no provision having been made for defraying their expenses. The State of Delaware has tied up the hands of her deputies by an express direction to retain the principle in the present Confederation of each State having the same vote ; no other State, so far as we have yet seen, hath restrained its deputies on any subject.
Nothing was done yesterday but unanimously appointing General Washington President ; Major Jackson (by a majority of five States to two) Secretary ; reading the credentials from the different States on the floor, and appointing a committee to draw up and report the rules of proceeding. It is expected our doors will be shut, and communications upon the business of the Convention be forbidden during its sitting. This I think myself a proper precaution to prevent mistakes and misrepresentation until the business shall have been completed, when the whole may have a very different complexion from that in which the several crude and indigested parts might in their first shape appear if submitted to the public eye.
Present me kindly to Betsy, to the family at Gunston, to Mr. McCarty and Sallie, and to all our friends.
I am, dear George,
Richard Henry Lee had declined a seat in the Convention, wishing to leave himself free to act in Congress as his convictions should determine. He wrote to George Mason, giving his views in regard to the changes to be desired, knowing that Colonel Mason would be likely to forward them.
1 Mason Papers.