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the unexpected evils we had experienced from the democratic principles of our governments, we should be apt to run into the opposite extreme, and in endeavoring to steer too far from Scylla, we might be drawn into the vortex of Charybdis, of which I still think there is some danger, though I have the pleasure to find in the convention, many men of fine republican principles. America has certainly, upon this occasion, drawn forth her first characters; there are upon this Convention many gentlemen of the most respectable abilities, and so far as I can discover, of the purest intentions. The eyes of the United States are turned upon this assembly, and their expectations raised to a very anxious degree.
May God grant, we may be able to gratify them, by establishing a wise and just government. For my own part, I never before felt myself in such a situation ; and declare I would not, upon pecuniary motives, serve in this convention for a thousand pounds per day. The revolt from Great Britain and the formations of our new governments at that time, were nothing compared to the great business now before us: there was then a certain degree of enthusiasm, which inspired and supported the mind ; but to view, through the calm, sedate medium of reason the influence which the establishment now proposed may have upon the happiness or misery of millions yet unborn, is an object of such magnitude, as absorbs, and in a manner suspends the operations of the human understanding.
Remember me kindly to Betsy and all the family ; let me know from time to time how they do. I am, dear George, Your affectionate father,
G. MASON. P. S. All communications of the proceedings are forbidden during the sitting of the Convention ; this I think was a necessary precaution to prevent misrepresentations or mistakes ; there being a material difference between the appearance of a subject in its first crude and undigested shape, and after it shall have been properly matured and arranged.
I would thank you to desire Thomson to send me, if he can find it, the plan I drew, two or three years ago, for equalizing the Virginia land tax, which I have promised a copy of to the North Carolina delegates ; I believe he will find it among the loose
papers on the right hand division of the second drawer in my desk and bookcase in the little parlor ; and I should be glad to have the strictures I wrote some time ago, upon the port bill; but where it is I don't remember; it lay among the loose papers in one of the dining-room windows, which a little before I left home I tied up in a bundle and I believe put into one of the pigeon-holes in the bookcase in the dining-room, but am not certain. Pray desire him in looking over the papers, not to dissort them, but make them up again together, in the same separate bundles, and where any of the bundles are endorsed, to make them up again with the endorsations on the outside.
G. M.' George Mason to Hon. Beverley Randolph :
PHILADELPHIA, June 30th, 1787. DEAR SIR :
The Convention having resolved that none of their proceedings should be communicated during their sitting, puts it out of my power to give you any particular information upon the subject. Festina lente seems hitherto to have been our maxim. Things, however, are now drawing to that point on which some of the fundamental principles must be decided, and two or three days will probably enable us to judge—which is at present very doubtful-whether any sound and effectual system can be established or not. If it cannot, I presume we shall not continue here much longer ; if it can, we shall probably be detained 'til September
I feel myself disagreeably circumstanced in being the only member of the Assembly in the Virginia delegation, and, consequently, if any system shall be recommended by the Convention that the whole weight of explanation must fall upon me; and if I should be prevented by sickness or accident from attending the Assembly, that it will be difficult for the Assembly to obtain such information as may be necessary upon the subject, as I presume that in the progress through the legislature many questions may be asked and inquiries made, in which satisfactory information, from time to time, can hardly be given but by a member of the House in his place.
Mason Papers ; Niles' “ Principles and Acts of the Revolution,” p. 128 ; Bancroft's “ History of the Constitution,” vol. ii., p. 424.
We have just received information here that Mr. Wythe has made a resignation, and does not intend to return. Under these circumstances I would beg leave to submit it to the consideration of the Executive, whether it might not be proper to fill the vacancy in the delegation, occasioned by Mr. Wythe's resignation, with some member of the Assembly. Mr. Corbin being here, his appointment, if it shall be judged proper, would occasion little additional charge to the State, if the Convention should, unfortunately, break up without adopting any substantial system—that event will happen, I think—before the appointment can reach this place; if the Convention continues to proceed on the business, with a prospect of success, Mr. Corbin is on the spot; and I doubt it may be difficult to prevail on any member of the Assembly, now in Virginia, to come hither at this late stage of the business.
I beg you will do me the favor to lay this subject before the Council, and believe me, with the greatest esteem and regard,
The report of the grand committee, which was made on the 5th of July, consisted of two propositions made mutually conditional. The compromise consisted in giving the first branch of the legislature the power of originating money bills, a concession, as it was maintained, made by the small States in order that the large States should concede the equal vote in the Senate. There had been hot and hasty words in the Convention, and threats of secession, and of looking to foreign countries for assistance. And it was felt that a crisis had come and a determined effort must be made to meet it. In reply to animadversions on the report, George Mason explained that it “was meant not as a specific proposition to be adopted, but merely as a general ground of accommodation. There must be some accommodation on this point, or we shall make little further progress in the work. Accommodation was the object of the House in the
YATES AND LANSING LEAVE THE CONVENTION.
appointment of the committee, and of the committee in the report they had made. And however liable the report might be to objections, he thought it preferable to an appeal to the world by the different sides, as had been talked of by some gentlemen. It could not be more inconvenient to any gentleman to remain absent from his private affairs, than it was for him, but he would bury his bones in this city, rather than expose his country to the consequences of a dissolution of the Convention without anything being done."! A motion was made to put restrictions upon the representation of the Western States, when Colonel Mason said “the case of new States was not unnoticed in the committee; but it was thought, and he was himself decidedly of opinion, that if they made a part of the Union, they ought to be subject to no unfavorable discriminations. Obvious considerations required it."
And in this opinion Edmund Randolph concurred.
The minutes of Judge Yates cease at this time, as he and his colleague, Mr. Lansing, left the Convention on the 6th of July, thoroughly dissatisfied with the course matters were taking. The first proposition in the report was under discussion on this day. This fixed the representation in the first branch as one member for every forty thousand inhabitants.” It was moved by Gouverneur Morris to refer this to a select committee of five. With it went the clause relating to money bills, and Dr. Franklin thought they could not be voted for separately. George Mason then suggested a reference of the rest of the report to the committee just appointed. He urged that "the consideration which weighed with the committee (the grand committee that reported on the 5th] was, that the first branch would be the immediate representatives of the people; the second would not ; should the latter have the power of giving away the people's money, they might soon forget the source from whence they received it. We might soon have an aristocracy. He had been much
Madison Papers," vol. ii., p. 1033. ? Ibid., p. 1035.
concerned at the principles which had been advanced by some gentlemen, but had the satisfaction to find they did not generally prevail. He was a friend to proportional representation in both branches, but supposed that some points must be yielded for the sake of accommodation." The clause allowing each State one vote in the second branch was taken up and agreed to on the 7th. And on the 9th the report of the committee of five on the clause fixing representation in the first branch of the legislature was given to the Convention. This altered the representation from “one member to every forty thousand inhabitants," and gave fifty-six members for the first Congress, and this number to be augmented from time to time. The change did not give satisfaction, and the first part of the report was then put into the hands of another grand committee, Madi. son this time being the member selected from Virginia. And here the representation was augmented to sixty-five members. But it was becoming more and more apparent that the question of the balance of power was not so much between the large and small States as between the Northern and Southern States, and the Southern members contended that the changes made in the representation of the House were unfavorable to the South. Mr. Madison proposed to double the number from each State; some of the Northern members were for a reduction, urging the expensė. Mr. Gerry, however, proposed to increase the number. George Mason "admitted that the objection drawn from the consideration of expense had weight both in itself and as the people might be affected by it. But he thought it outweighed by the objections against the smallness of the number. Thirty-eight will, he supposes, as being a majority of sixty-five, form a quorum. Twenty will be a majority of thirty-eight. This was certainly too small a number to make laws for America. They would neither bring with them all the necessary information relative to local interests, nor possess the necessary confidence of the people. After
i Ibid., pp. 1040-1042.