« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
LETTER FROM RICHARD HENRY LEE.
French market will be as good a one, at least, as any that we can send to.
Give me leave now, dear sir, to make a few observations on the important business that will call you to Richmond next month. It seems pretty clear at present, that four other States, viz., North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, will depend much upon Virginia for their determination on the Convention project of a new constitution ; therefore it becomes us to be very circumspect and careful about the conduct we pursue, as, on the one hand, every possible exertion of wisdom and firmness should be employed to prevent danger to civil liberty, so, on the other hand, the most watchful precaution should take place to prevent the foes of union, order, and good government, from succeeding so far as to prevent our acceptance of the good part of the plan proposed. I submit to you, sir, whether, to form a consistent union of conduct, it would not be well for six or eight leading friends to amendments to meet privately, and, having formed the best possible judgment of the members' sentiments from knowledge of the men, to see how far it may be safe to press either for modes of amendment or the extent of amendments, and to govern accordingly. But, certainly, the firmest stand should be made against the very arbitrary mode that has been pursued in some States, that is, to propose a question of absolute rejection or implicit admission. For though it is true that the Convention plan looks something like this, yet I think every temperate man must agree that neither the Convention, nor any set of men upon earth, have or had a right to insist upon such a question of extremity. To receive the good and reject the bad is too necessary and inherent a right to be parted with. As some subtle managers will be upon the Convention, I believe you will find entrapping questions proposed at first as a ground-work of proceeding, which will hamper, confine, and narrow all attempts to proper investigation or necessary amendment, and this will be done under the plausible pretext of losing all by attempting any change. I judge that it will be so here, because I observe a similar conduct has been pursued in other places, as in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I trust that such uncandid and dangerous stratagems will be opposed and prevented in the Convention of Virginia, and a
thorough, particular, and careful examination be first made into all its parts as a previous requisite to the formation of any question upon it. During this process a tolerable judgment may be formed of the sentiments of the generality, and a clue furnished for forming successful propositions for amendment, as the candid friends to this system admit that amendments may be made to improve the plan, but say that these amendments ought to be made, and may be obtained from the new Congress without endangering a total loss of the proposed Constitution. I say that those who talk thus, if they are sincere, will not object to this plan which, as I propose it, is something like the proceeding of the Convention Parliament of 1688 ; in the form of ratification, insert plainly and strongly such amendments as can be agreed upon, and say, that the people of Virginia do claim, demand and insist upon these as their undoubted rights and liberties which they mean not to part with, and if these are not obtained and secured by the mode pointed out in the fifth article of the Convention plan, in two years after the meeting of the new Congress, that Virginia shall, in that case, be considered as disengaged from this ratification. Under this proposition a development will be made of the sincerity of those who advocate the new plan, the beneficial parts of it retained, and a just security given to civil liberty. In the fifth article it is stated that two-thirds of Congress may propose amendments, which, being approved by three-fourths of the legislatures, become parts of the Constitution. By this mode, the new Congress may obtain our amendments without risking the convulsion of conventions, and the friends of the plan will be gratified in what they say is necessary, the putting the government in motion, when, as they again say, amendments may and ought to be obtained. By this mode, too, in all probability, the undetermined States, may be brought to harmonize, and the formidable minorities, in the assenting States, may be quieted. By this friendly and reasonable accommodation, the perpetual distrust and opposition, that will inevitably follow the total adoption of the plan, from the State legislatures, may be happily prevented, and friendly united exertions take place. Much reflection has convinced me that this mode is the best that I have had an opportunity of cultivating. I have, therefore, taken the liberty of recommending it to your serious
SAMUEL ADAMS AND GEORGE MASON.
and patriotic attention ; in the formation of these amendments localities ought to be avoided as much as possible.
The danger of monopolized trade may be prevented by calling for the consent of three-fourths of the United States on regulations of trade. The trial by jury, in this State, to be insisted on, as it is used under our present government, and confining the supreme federal court to the jurisdiction of law, excluding fact. The Massachusetts amendments, except the second, and extending the seventh to foreigners as well as citizens of other States, appear to me to be very good, and for their adoption the aid of that powerful State may be secured. The freedom of the press is, by no means, sufficiently attended to by Massachusetts, nor have they remedied the want of responsibility by the impolitic combination of president and senate. It does appear to me, that, in the present temper of America, if the Massachusetts amendments, with those suggested by me, being added, and inserted in our ratification as before stated, we may easily agree, and I verily believe that the most essential good consequences would be the result.
RICHARD HENRY LEE. George Mason, Esq.:
A curious mention is made of George Mason in a letter of Samuel Adams to Richard Henry Lee, showing that he had been, apparently, defending Mason against the strictures of the Boston Federalists. Adams writes to his Virginia correspondent on the 3d of December, 1787, discussing the new Constitution, and he adds, in a postscript: “As I have thought it a piece of justice, I have ventured to say, that I had often heard from the best patriots from Virginia, that Mr. G. Mason was an early, active, and able advocate for the liberties of America.” : There had been no opportunity for personal acquaintance between these two representative men of their sections, it would seem. Yet we can fancy they would have had much sympathy in
I“Life of R. H. Lee," vol. ii., p. 88. By Richard H. Lee.
. Ibid., p. 130.
their tastes and convictions, for in the characteristics of independence, public spirit, and absence of personal ambition there is great resemblance between them. And on the political question of the hour, Samuel Adams and George Mason held the same just views, as to the distinction, as Adams phrased it, “between the federal powers vested in Congress and the sovereign authority belonging to the several States, which is the palladium of the private and personal rights of the citizens."
Virginia had assembled in her Convention of 1788, a remarkable body of men, the flower of her statesmen, sages, patriots. It may fairly be affirmed that no other commonwealth on the continent could have called together as great an array of abilities. And yet Virginia had not exhausted her resources; Washington, Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, were not included in this famous Convention. William Wirt, in his rhetorical manner, has given a characterization of the most conspicuous members. There were, among the younger generation Madison, Marshall, Monroe; there were “those sages of other days, Pendleton and Wythe; there was seen displayed the Spartan vigor and compactness of George Nicholas; and there shone the radiant genius and sensibility of Grayson; the Roman energy and the Attic wit of George Mason was there; and there also the classic taste and harmony of Edmund Randolph ; "the splendid conflagration of the high-minded Innes; and the matchless eloquence of the immortal Henry." }
On the one side were ranged Madison, Marshall, Pendleton, George Nicholas, Innes, and Edmund Randolph; on the other George Mason, Patrick Henry, William Grayson, James Monroe, Benjamin Harrison, and John Tyler. “Conspicuous among those who opposed the ratification of the constitution," writes Flanders, “were Patrick Henry, George
1 Wirt's “Life of Patrick Henry," p. 263.