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RICHARD HENRY LEE TO GEORGE MASON.

185

NEW YORK, October ist, 1787. DEAR SIR :

I have waited until now to answer your favor of September 1oth from Philadelphia, that I might inform you how the Convention plan of government was entertained by Congress. Your prediction of what would happen in Congress was exactly verified. It was with us, as with you, this or nothing; and this urged with a most extreme intemperance. The greatness of the powers given, and the multitude to be created produces a coalition of monarchy men, military men, aristocrats and drones, whose noise, impudence and zeal exceeds all belief. Whilst the commercial plunder of the South stimulates the rapacious trader. In this state of things the patriot voice is raised in vain for such changes and securities as reason and experience prove to be necessary against the encroachments of power upon the indispensable rights of human nature. Upon due consideration of the Constitution under which we now act, some of us were clearly of opinion that the Thirteenth Article of the Confederation precluded us from giving an opinion concerning a plan subversive of the present system, and eventually forming a new Confederacy of nine instead of thirteen States. The contrary doctrine was asserted with great violence in expectation of the strong majority with which they might send it forward under terms of much approbation. Having procured an opinion that Congress was qualified to consider, to amend, to approve or disapprove, the next game was to determine that though a right to amend existed, it would be highly inexpedient to exercise that right, but merely to transmit it with respectful marks of approbation. In this state of things I availed myself of the right to

and moved the amendments, a copy of which I send herewith, and called the ayes and nays to fix them on the journal. This greatly alarmed the majority and vexed them extremely; for the plan is to push the business on with great dispatch, and with as little opposition as possible, that it may be adopted before it has stood the test of reflection and due examination. They found it most eligible at last to transmit it merely, without approving or disapproving, provided nothing but the transmission should appear on the journal. This compromise was settled and they took the opportunity of inserting the word

unanimously, which applied only to simple transmission, hoping to have it mistaken for an unanimous approbation of the thing. It states that Congress having received the Constitution unanimously transmit it, &c. It is certain that no approbation was given. This Constitution has a great many excellent regulations in it, and if it could be reasonably amended would be a fine system. As it is, I think 't is past doubt, that if it should be established, either a tyranny will result from it, or it will be prevented by a civil war. I am clearly of opinion with you that it should be sent back with amendments reasonable, and assent to it withheld until such amendments are admitted. You are well acquainted with Mr. Stone and others of influence in Maryland. I think it will be a great point to get Maryland and Virginia to join in the plan of amendments and return it with them. If you are in correspondence with our chancellor Pendleton it will be of much use to furnish him with the objections, and if he approves our plan, his opinion will have great weight with our Convention ; and I am told that his relation Judge Pendleton of South Carolina has decided weight in that State, and that he is sensible and independent. How important will it be then to procure his union with our plan, which might probably be the case if our chancellor was to write largely and pressingly to him on the subject, that if possible it may be amended there also. It is certainly the most rash and violent proceeding in the world to cram thus suddenly into men a business of such infinite moment to the happiness of millions. One of your letters will go by the packet and one by a merchant ship.

My compliments, if you please, to your lady and to the young ladies and gentlemen. I am, dear sir, affectionately yours,

RICHARD HENRY LEE.

Suppose when the Assembly recommended a Convention to consider this new Constitution they were to use some words like these: It is earnestly recommended to the good people of Virginia to send their most wise and honest men to this Convention that it may undergo the most intense consideration before a plan shall be without amendments, adopted that admits of abuses being practised by which the best interests of this country may be

WASHINGTON'S VIEW OF THE SITUATION.

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injured and civil liberty greatly endangered. This might perhaps give a decided tone to the business.

Please to send my son Ludwell a copy of the amendments proposed by me to the new Constitution sent herewith.'

These amendments correspond almost entirely with the “Objections" of George Mason. The chief variation is in the manner of composing the Executive Council. Washington wrote to Madison on the roth of October, soon after receiving George Mason's letter with his “ Objections to the Constitution":

“As far as accounts have been received from the southern and western counties, the sentiment with respect to the proceedings of the Convention is favorable. Whether the knowledge of this or a conviction of the impropriety of withholding the Constitution from the State conventions, has worked most in the breast of Col. Mason, I will not decide ; but the fact is, he has declared unequivocally, in a letter to me, for its going to the people. Had his sentiments, however, been opposed to the measure, his instructions (for the delegates of his county are so instructed) would compel him to vote for it. Yet I have no doubt, that his assent will be accompanied by the most tremendous apprehensions which the highest coloring can give to his objections. To alarm the people seems to be the groundwork of his plan. The want of a qualified navigation act is already declared to be a means by which the price of produce in the Southern States will be reduced to nothing, and will become a monopoly of the Eastern and Northern States. To enumerate the whole of his objections is unnecessary, because they are detailed in the address of the seceding members of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, which, no doubt, you have seen.”

Comparing George Mason and Richard Henry Lee, Washington adds :

“ The political tenets of Col. M. and Colonel R. H. L. are always in unison. It may be asked which of them gives the tone ? Without hesitation I answer the latter because I believe the latter will receive it from no-one. He has, I am informed, rendered himself obnoxious in Philadelphia by the pains he took to disseminate his objections among some of the leaders of the seceding members of the legislature of that State. His conduct is not less reprobated in this country. How it will be relished generally is yet to be learned by me.” i

| Mason Papers.

The late commander-in-chief clearly belongs to the " military men " of whom Richard Henry Lee speaks in his letter to Mason. He advocated a strong government, and could see no need for bills of rights. He was not in a temper to appreciate the motives of the opposition leaders. But it is difficult to see why he should think it necessary to take from George Mason the credit of originality, on a subject which had been so thoroughly canvassed by him in the Federal Convention, and to suppose that Lee gave the “ tone " to his “political tenets." Two independent thinkers may be

always in unison,” it has been often seen, upon principles which each one has arrived at by his own method. So the mere fact that Mason's “Objections" antedated Lee's “Amendments " would not be an argument against Lee's originality, though his paper closely resembled that of his friend. Five days later Washington wrote to Henry Knox:

“ It is highly probable that the refusal of our Governor and Colonel Mason to subscribe to the proceedings of the Convention will have a bad effect in this State ; for as you well observe, they must not only assign reasons for the justification of their own conduct, but it is highly probable that these reasons will be clothed in most terrific array for the purpose of alarming."

The Virginia Assembly met on the 15th of October. It was the last Assembly under the old freer life of the Confederation; and it was to be Colonel Mason's last session in the Virginia Legislature. Besides the regular business of the Assembly, the all-important question of the new Federal Constitution was to come up, incidentally, in the recommendation of a

1 Bancroft's “ History of the Constitution," vol. ii., p. 443 (Appendix). 3“ Writings of Washington,” Sparks, vol. ix., p. 270.

APPREHENSIONS OF THE FEDERALISTS.

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convention. ' Madison wrote from Congress to Washington on the 28th, expressing his anxiety as to the attitude on this point of George Mason and Patrick Henry. He had heard from one of his correspondents in the Assembly “that Colonel Mason had not got down, and it appears that Mr. Henry is not at bottom a friend." He is therefore “not without fears that their combined influence and management may yet create difficulties.": The resolution of Congress transmitting the Constitution to the several State legislatures came under consideration on the 19th, when Patrick Henry declared that it must go before a convention of the people, as the Assembly had no power to decide the matter. George Mason must have arrived in the Assembly by the 23d, as on this day Edmund Randolph wrote to Madison from Richmond : Mr. Mason has declared in Assembly that although he is for amendments, he will not quit the Union even if they should not be made.” Then follows a phrase in this letter showing that there had been some display of feeling on Mason's part, apparently, against Madison, which is not to be wondered at under the circumstances. The indistinct manuscript reads : “ Colonel Mason has said nothing good [sic] and you may rest yourself in safety in my hands, for I will certainly repel the smallest insinuation."? If Madison feared the influence of Mason, it might well be that Mason returned the compliment. Already the Federalist had begun its work, in which Madison's pen was to be so potent. And George Mason must have viewed with chagrin a publication which was to do so much towards establishing political views of which he emphatically disapproved. However, as will be seen subsequently, the two statesmen, if estranged for a short period, renewed later their former friendly relations.

On the 25th of October the House debated the question of calling a convention, and the following account is given of the proceedings in a letter from Petersburg to a Phila

Correspondence of the American Revolution," Sparks, vol. iv., p. 185. 9 “Life of Edmund Randolph,” M. D. Conway, p. 97.

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