Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

HIS MOTION IN REGARD TO NAVIGATION ACTS.

175

required expenses of this sort.” But in place of this right reserved the motion passed " that no State shall lay any duty on tonnage without the consent of Congress."! On the subject of the power of the Executive to grant reprieves and pardons, Edmund Randolph moved to except “cases of treason,” and Colonel Mason supported the motion. Madison thought the Senate should share this power with the President, if it was to be given to the latter. Colonel Mason replied “that the Senate has already too much power. There can be no danger of too much lenity in legislative pardons, as the Senate must concur; and the President moreover can require two thirds of both Houses.

The motion received the support of only two States, Virginia and Georgia. George Mason thought the plan of amending the Constitution “exceptionable and dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, and in the second ultimately, on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would be the case."

Returning for the last time to a subject which he considered of vital importance, Colonel Mason expressed “his discontent at the power given to Congress, by a bare majority to pass navigation acts, which he said would not only enhance the freight, a consequence he did not so much regard, but would enable a few rich merchants in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, to monopolize the staples of the Southern States, and reduce their value perhaps fifty per cent.” He then moved “ that no law in the nature of a navigation act be passed before the year 1808, without the consent of two thirds of each branch of the Legislature."

Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia were the only States that voted in the affirmative on this motion. North Carolina was absent, and South Carolina apparently regarded herself as pledged to Northern interests here. Edmund Randolph animadverted on the indefinite and dangerous power given by the Constitution to Congress, and he made a motion “that amendments to the plan might be offered by the State conventions, which should be submitted to, and finally decided on by, another general convention." George Mason seconded the motion, and followed Randoph in strictures on the dangerous power and structure of the government, concluding that it would end either in monarchy, or a tyrannical aristocracy; which, he was in doubt, but one or other, he was sure. This Constitution had been formed without the knowledge or idea of the people. A second convention will know more of the sense of the people, and be able to provide a system more consonant to it. It was improper to say to the people, Take this or nothing As the Constitution now stands, he could neither give it his support or vote in Virginia; and he could not sign here what he could not support there. With the expedient of another convention, as proposed, he could sign.” This was Colonel Mason's last utterance in the Federal Convention. He was followed by Elbridge Gerry, who stated briefly his objections to the proposed system. Then, on the proposition of Edmund Randolph for a second convention, all the States voted in the negative. This was on Saturday, the 15th of September. On Monday, the 17th, the engrossed Constitution was read and signed by all the members present except George Mason, Edmund Randolph, and Elbridge Gerry.

1 Ibid.,

p. 1586.

Ibid., p. 1588.

3 Ibid., p. 1591. 4 Ibid., p. 1593.

George Mason told Jefferson that the Constitution as agreed to only a fortnight before met with his approval. It was, however, somewhat earlier that the changes were made which so altered its character as to render it, in Mason's opinion, no longer a safe charter of government. Luther Martin, in answering an assertion of one of his political adversaries, in 1788, that he had cautioned certain members of the Convention to be on their guard against the wiles of Elbridge Gerry," for that he and Mason held private meet.

[blocks in formation]

PRIVATE MEETINGS OF STATES-RIGHTS MEMBERS. 177

ings, where the plans were concerted to aggrandize, at the expense of the small States, “Old Massachusetts and the Ancient Dominion,'” gives an account of the efforts of the States-rights party to restore the Constitution to the form first “ agreed to." “Some time in the month of August," he says, “a number of members who considered the system, as then under consideration, and likely to be adopted, extremely exceptionable, and of a tendency to destroy the rights and liberties of the United States, thought it advisable to meet together in the evenings, in order to have a communication of sentiments, and to concert a plan of conventional opposition to, and amendment of, that system, so as, if possible, to render it less dangerous. Mr. Gerry was the first who proposed this measure to me, and that before any meeting had taken place, and wished we might assemble at my lodgings; but not having a room convenient we fixed upon another place. There Mr. Gerry and Mr. Mason did hold meetings; but with them also met the delegates from New Jersey and Connecticut, a part of the delegation from Delaware, an honorable member from South Carolina, [Charles Pinckney?] one other from Georgia and myself. Those were the only private meetings' that ever I knew or heard to be held by Mr. Gerry and Mr. Mason-meetings at which I myself attended until I left the Convention and of which the sole object was not to aggrandize the great at the expense of the small, but to protect and preserve, if possible, the existence and essential rights of all the States, and the liberty and freedom of their citizens."

Hoping against hope and vigilant to the end, Colonel Mason is to be seen at his post in the last weeks of the Convention, striving to bring about alterations of more or less signficance and value. The vote of the 29th of August had been a great disappointment to him, but he still sought to reverse its decision. Among his manuscripts is to be found a paper showing the points of the Constitution to which he

| Maryland Fournal and Baltimore Advertiser, March 18, 1788. Letter of Luther Martin.

Vol. II-12

took exception and the amendments designed by him at this time.

Opposite most of these notes, of which there are twenty in all, George Mason has marked in the margin “agreed" or “refused," as the case might be. One of them, endorsed as "not proposed,” is as follows:

“ Sect. 2–Art. 4. The citizens of one State having an estate in another, have not secured to them the right of removing their property as in the Fourth Article of the Confederation. Amend by adding the following clause: And every citizen having an estate in two or more States shall have a right to remove his property from one State to another."

George Mason's reference to Article V fixes the date of the manuscript to some extent.

He says:

"By this article Congress only have the power of proposing amendments at any future time to this Constitution, and should it prove ever so oppressive the whole people of America can't make, or even propose alterations to it; a doctrine utterly subversive of the fundamental principles of the rights and liberties of the people."

Here Colonel Mason's watchfulness was of great service in detecting and bringing to light a device of Gouverneur Morris to prevent the States from having the power to propose amendments. George Mason gave an account of the circumstance to Jefferson, who thus reports it :

“ One morning Gouverneur Morris moved an instrument for certain alterations (not one half the members yet come in). In a hurry and without understanding, it was agreed to.

The committee [on style] reported so that Congress should have the exclusive power of proposing amendments. George Mason observed it on the report and opposed it. King denied the construction. Mason demonstrated it, and asked the committee by what authority they had varied what had been agreed. Gouverneur Morris then imprudently got up and said, By authority of the Convention, and produced the blind instruction before men

FRUSTRATION OF AN ADVERSARY'S SCHEME.

179

tioned, which was unknown by one half the house, and not till then understood by the other. They then restored it as it originally stood," :

Morris was not scrupulous, as his own admissions show, in his desire to secure a centralized government. He tells how, in his capacity of draftsman for the committee on style, he sought by the wording of another portion of the Constitution, the article on the judiciary, to give it a more decided bias in the desired direction. Mason and Morris were types of opposing political views, and it is noticeable in the debates of the Convention how often they engaged one another in combat. They were strongly contrasted in character also, which made the antagonism more complete.

George Mason's last and cardinal amendment is given in this manuscript as originally proposed by him:

“No law in the nature of a Navigation Act shall be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members present in each House."

In another hand, the qualifying phrase is inserted which it was believed might make it more acceptable—“ before the year 1808.”. Among George Mason's manuscripts, relating to the period of the Federal Convention, is a draft of a constitution in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph. It is discussed at length by Mr. Moncure D. Conway in his biography of Randolph. This paper, full of details, and with marginal notes by John Rutledge, was evidently used in one of the Convention committees. Other manuscripts, chips preserved by George Mason from the Convention workshop, are a fragment of a speech of his, and some suggestions, in an unknown hand, on the subject of the judiciary.'

3

Jefferson's Works." vol. ix., Anas, p. 119. 9 "Life and Writings of Gouverneur Morris,” Sparks, vol. iii., p. 323. Appendix ii.

Life of Edmund Randolph," p. 73. * Appendix ii.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »