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LAST YEAR IN THE VIRGINIA ASSEMBLY.
Washington notes in his journal September 17, 1787:
“Met in Convention, when the Constitution received the unanimous assent of eleven States, and of Col. Hamilton from New York, the only delegate from thence in Convention, and was subscribed to by every member present, except Governor Randolph and Colonel Mason from Virginia, and Mr. Gerry from Massachusetts. The business being thus closed the members adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other. After which I returned to my lodgings, did some business with and received the papers from the Secretary of the Convention, and retired to meditate on the momentous work, which had been executed, after not less than five, for a large part of the time six, and sometimes seven hours' sitting every day (except Sundays and the ten days' adjournment to give a committee an opportunity and time to arrange the business) for more than four months." |
We have no record of George Mason's last day in the Convention. But his meditations upon the “momentous work” there executed were, doubtless, of a very different nature from Washington's. He went home, perhaps, in company with his' neighbor of “ Mount Vernon,” and discussed by the way the Constitution and its shortcomings. Alexandria is said to have been strongly in favor of the new
Writings of Washington,” Sparks, vol. ix. (Appendix), p. 541.
EXPEDIENT SUGGESTED BY EDMUND RANDOLPH. 181
government. And such was certainly the bias of a Philadelphia paper, which published in its editorial columns a remarkable story purporting to be a veracious account of George Mason's reception in Alexandria on his return from the Convention. “We hear from Alexandria,” says this Baron Munchausen, “that on the arrival of Mr. Mason (one of the delegates in Convention) at Alexandria, he was waited on by the Mayor and Corporation of that town, who told him, they were not come to return him their thanks for his conduct in refusing to sign the Federal Constitution, but to express their abhorrence to it, and to advise him to withdraw from that town within an hour, for they could not answer for his personal safety from an enraged populace should he exceed that time.”? George Mason was too much respected by the mayor and corporation of Alexandria to have received from them any such treatment as is here described, even had the town been so foolish as to resent the action of their representative, which is by no means proved. And as neither Washington nor George Mason refer to any such incident, in their letters, it may well be dismissed as completely fictitious. Edmund Randolph, too, would most likely have reported it to Madison, if his “dissenting colleague” had met with such an experience, when he wrote from Bowling Green, September 30th :
“In Alexandria the inhabitants are enthusiastic [i. e. in favor of the Constitution], and instructions to force my dissenting colleague to assent to a convention ase on the anvil. I wrote to him yesterday suggesting to him this expedient: to urge the calling of a convention as the first act of the Assembly : if they should wish amendments let them be stated and forwarded to the States. Before the meeting of the convention an answer may be obtained. If the proposed amendments be rejected, let the constitution immediately operate : if approved by nine States, let the assent of our convention be given under the exceptions of the points amended. This will, I believe, blunt the opposition, which will be formidable, if they must take altogether or reject.”
1 The Pennsylvania Journal, October 17, 1787. ? “ Life of Edmund Randolph," M. D. Conway, p. 95.
This letter of Edmund Randolph to George Mason has been lost, and it is not very clear, partly owing to the fact that the sentence is not punctuated at all in the manuscript, what the Governor meant, as he described his scheme to Madison. On the subject of calling a convention, George Mason did not need any prompting, either from his Alexandria constituents or from Edmund Randolph. He had prepared, in the last days of the Convention, his “ Objections to the Constitution." These he enclosed to Washington, in a letter dated October 7th. He writes:
“ I take the liberty to enclose to you my objections, to the new constitution of government, which a little moderation and temper at the latter end of the Convention might have removed. am, however, most decidedly of opinion, that it ought to be submitted to the people for that special purpose, and should any attempt be made to prevent the calling of such a Convention here, such a measure shall have every opposition in my power to give it. You will readily observe that my objections are not numerous (the greater part of the enclosed paper containing reasonings upon the probable effects of the exceptionable parts), though in my mind some of them are capital ones.”
Colonel Mason in his letter then leaves politics for agriculture, and tells his correspondent of the failure of some of his crops, and that Dr. Williamson and Colonel Davie, of North Carolina, whom he had met at the Convention, had shown him letters mentioning large crops of corn in their State. He proposes to supply himself there, and will write to Dr. Williamson at Edenton for this purpose. And George Mason offers to make a contract for Washington also, should the latter desire it.'
George Mason wrote out his objections to the Constitution before leaving the Convention, apparently, as they are found on the edition of the Constitution printed for the benefit of the members, and given to them September 13th. This was the “Report” of the “ Committee on Style and Arrange
Washington MSS., State Department.
MASON'S “OBJECTIONS TO THE CONSTITUTION.” 183
ment." George Mason's copy,' which is among the few that have been preserved, is full of interlineations and marginal notes, having been used, no doubt, in Committee of the Whole. The “Objections," as they appeared afterwards in pamphlet form, were somewhat expanded, and there were changes in the style here and there. They were not a great many, as George Mason told Washington, but they covered the whole ground, and were dwelt upon fully in the debates of the Virginia Convention some months later. In the “ Address of the Sixteen Seceding Members of the Legislature of Pennsylvania,” September 29th,' as Washington wrote Madison, George Mason's objections are detailed, and no doubt he was in communication with the Antifederalists of Pennsylvania and gave them the benefit of his views. His objections were circulated among his friends in manuscript before they appeared in print, and Madison wrote a reply to them in a letter to Washington, October 18th. It is evident they excited a great deal of interest and no little alarm among the Federalists, though Madison affected to think them of small importance. They were published in Richmond, “ Addressed to the Citizens of Virginia," probably in November or December, 1787, and it is said they were also published in Boston, “mutilated of that which pointed at the regulation of commerce." An answer to them appeared in the Massachusetts Centinel of the 18th of December, copied from the Connecticut Courant, which was supposed to have been written by Ellsworth, or Sherman, or some equally able champion of the Constitution. The most elaborate reply to George Mason's “ Objections " was that made by James Iredell, of North Carolina, published in the biography of the latter, and reprinted among the pamphlets
* Owned by Mrs. St. George Tucker Campbell, of Philadelphia.
Writings of Washington," Sparks, vol. ix., App. vi.
collected by Mr. Ford. James Wilson, of Pennsylvania, was one of the most prominent advocates of the Constitution, in its unamended shape, and his pamphlet in its defence is considered the ablest on that side that appeared at this period. An amusing “Recipe for an anti-Federalist essay,” which was published in one of the newspapers of the day, brings Wilson and Mason together as typical men of the two parties. The phrase “ well-born," alluded to as a shibboleth of the Federalists, belonged to John Adams, and will be met with later in the debates of the Virginia Convention :
“ Take 'well-born' nine times ; 'aristocracy'nine times ; 'liberty of the press' thirteen times ; liberty of conscience' once ; 'negro slavery' once ; 'trial by jury'seven times ; 'great men six times; 'Mr. Wilson 'forty times; and lastly, ‘George Mason's right hand in a cutting-box ’nineteen times. Put all together, boil or roast or fry, and dish at pleasure. After being once used the remains of the same dish may be served a dozen times ad libitum."
Edmund Randolph published a letter embodying his objections to the Constitution, and Richard Henry Lee wrote very ably in advocacy of amendments to the charter of government as it then stood. As Mason and Randolph had been the Virginia Antifederalists of the Convention, so Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson were leaders of this party in Congress. The following letter from Richard Henry Lee to George Mason, written in reply to one from the latter, giving an account of the last days of the Convention, details the action of Lee in Congress in his efforts to advance the cause which he had at heart. Unfortunately, all the letters of Mason to Lee written at this period have been lost. Tradition says that the wife of Ludwell Lee, son of R. H. Lee, converted many of these letters into covers for her preserve-jars, and so like similar treasures among the Bland Papers, which served to line baskets of eggs, they perished ignobly.
1 Review in The Nation, January 17, 1889.