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Mason and William Grayson; a combination of eloquence, vigor, and genius, not often surpassed and seldom equalled." ; Says George Ticknor Curtis in his account of the opposition to the Constitution in Virginia :
“ The State was to feel, it is true, the almost overshadowing influence of Washington in favor of the new system
. But it was to feel also the strenuous opposition of Patrick Henry, that great natural orator of the Revolution, whose influence over popular assemblies was enormous, and who added acuteness, subtility, and logic to the fierce sincerity of his unstudied harangues, and the not less strenuous or effective opposition of George Mason, who had little of the eloquence and passion of his renowned compatriot, but who was one of the most profound and able of all the American statesmen opposed to the Constitution, while he was inferior in general powers and resources to not more than two or three of those who framed and advocated it." 2
William Grayson, the least known of the great trio in opposition, was from George Mason's neighborhood, and they were doubtless intimate personal friends. Grayson's home was in Dumfries, and on his untimely death, in 1790, he was buried in the family vault at “ Belle Air," the seat of his brother, the Rev. Spence Grayson, rector of Dettingen parish, Prince William County, whose country place was near the county town. The Graysons, it is believed, were first or second cousins of James Monroe, whose father's Christian name was Spence.'
The Convention met in Richmond on the 2d of June, at the “ public buildings," or old Capitol, and Edmund Pendle
'Chief Justices of the United States," vol. ii., p. 328.
Constitutional History of the United States," vol. i., p. 63. 3 Mr. William Grayson Mann, whose maternal grandfather, Robert Carter, of 'Sabine Hall,” married William Grayson's only daughter, writes the author : “ I have at different times during the last thirty-five years attempted to collect materials for writing the life of this truly great man, but in vain. No state papers or speeches in extenso survived the destruction by fire of the old family mansion at Dumfries, a few miles south of Mount Vernon, on the Potomac. Col. Grayson had studied law at the Inner Temple, where I have found the chambers he once occupied.”
LEADERS OF THE TWO PARTIES.
ton was elected president. A committee of privileges and elections being appointed, Benjamin Harrison was named chairman, and George Mason came second on the list of members. After some preliminary business Colonel Mason moved an adjournment, the Convention to meet the next day at the “ New Academy on Schockoe Hill." This building, erected in 1786 for the promotion of the arts and sciences, was used also as a theatre. It was burned down later, and near it the new theatre was built, destroyed by fire in 1811, on the site of which now stands the Monumental Church. Here at the “New Academy "the Convention held their sessions after the first day, and their meetings were open to the public, visitors coming from all parts of the State to hear the important subject under discussion. And the assemblage was a most imposing one numerically. “It was," says Grigsby, “more than four times greater than the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution when that body was full, and it exceeded it, as it ordinarily was, more than six times.” It consisted, as this writer adds, “ of the public men of three generations. The army, the judiciary, the planters of the State, were the three interests most prominent in the representation, and the old soldiers were generally in favor of the Constitution, as the habits of the army officer naturally lead him to approve of the strong arm in government, while the lawyer looks more to the questions of principle that are involved, and is more jealous of liberty. Of all this assemblage of more or less prominent figures there were four, says our historian, who attracted the attention of strangers before all the rest. Pendleton and Wythe, leaders among the Federalists, “with George Mason and Patrick Henry, were those first sought by the spectator, as in a convention, forty years later, were Madison, Monroe, Marshall, and Fayette."? George Mason and Patrick Henry had rooms at the Swan, a famous tavern on Broad Street, still standing, and they were often seen together walking arm in
History of the Virginia Federal Convention," p. 34. Hugh Blair Grigsby. Ibid., note to p. 36.
arm on their way to the Convention. “George Mason was dressed in a full suit of black, and was remarkable for the urbanity and dignity with which he received and returned the courtesies of those who passed him."!
A question had been decided on the 2d of June, the first day of the Convention, of which we have an account in a contemporary newspaper, with the arguments of George Mason on the subject. This was, whether Robertson (with his assistants), to whom we are indebted for our reports of the Convention, should be employed by this assembly to take down their speeches. George Mason opposed it firstly as contrary to parliamentary usage, and secondly because he believed Robertson to be a Federal partisan and, therefore, not likely to do justice to the arguments of the opposition members. A correspondent of the Fredericksburg Virginia Herald, one of the interested throng of spectators in attendance on the Convention in Richmond, wrote June 2d :
" It was to-day agitated whether the short-hand gentlemen should be suffered to take down the business of the house for public information. Opposed by Henry, Mason, Grayson and White with success. Mr. Mason rested his opposition upon this ground, that these gentlemen were strangers—that it was an important trust for anyone-for not only the people at large might be misinformed, but a fatal stab might be given to a gentleman of the house from a perversion of his language—that it was a breach of privilege, and had been frequently determined so by the House of Commons; that to show the member who moved the question, that his objections proceeded from those principles, and not from a wish to be again a member of another Conclave, he had given his voice for an adjournment to the Theatre, where, surrounded by his countrymen, he would endeavor to speak the language of his soul. Mr. Nicholas was up several times upon this subject, and had been the first mover of it, but at last relinquished it as not tenable.
George Mason refers to this matter of the short-hand writer in one of his letters to his son to be given later. The 1 Ibid., p. 4 (note).
Maryland Journal, June 10, 1788.
MASON'S APPEARANCE DESCRIBED.
prejudice against reporters lingered long in the House of Commons, and was shared, it seems, by these eighteenthcentury Americans.
On the 3d of June, after the resolution of Congress on the subject of the Constitution, the report of the Federal Convention, and the resolutions of the General Assembly were read, George Mason addressed the Convention. Grigsby pictures the scene:
“In an instant the insensible hum of the body was hushed, and the eyes of all were fixed upon him. How he appeared that day as he rose in that large assemblage, his once raven hair white as snow, his stalwart figure, attired in deep mourning, still erect, his black eyes fairly flashing forth the flame that burned in his bosom, the tones of his voice deliberate and full as when, in the first House of Delegates, he sought to sweep from the statute book those obliquities which marred the beauty of the young republic, or uttered that withering sarcasm which tinges his portrait by the hand of Jefferson, we have heard from the lips, and seen reflected from the moistened eyes, of trembling age. His reputation as the author of the Declaration of Rights and of the first Constitution of a free Commonwealth ; as the responsible director of some of the leading measures of general legislation during the war and after its close ; his position as a prominent member of the General Convention that framed the Constitution, which had been adopted under his solemn protest, and his well-known resolve to oppose the ratification with all his acknowledged abilities, were calculated to arrest attention. He was sixty-two years old, and had not been more than twelve years continuously in the public councils, but from his entrance into public life he was confessedly the first man in every assembly of which he was a member, though rarely seen on the floor except on great occasions. But the interest with which he was now watched was heightened by another cause. From his lips was anxiously awaited by all parties the programme of the war which was to be waged against the new system.”
There was a division among the Antifederalists as to the line of policy to be pursued. Patrick Henry considered that
History of the Virginia Federal Convention," p. 70.
the General Convention had usurped powers not bestowed upon them in overthrowing the Articles of Confederation, George Mason could not take this ground as he had been a member of the Convention and approved of the change, though he was not satisfied as to the final result. And he urged now a discussion of the Constitution, clause by clause, before any general previous question be put. He wished for a full and free investigation of the subject, since they sought to secure, “as far as possible, to the latest generation, the happiness and liberty of the people."! This mode of discussion proved eventually of great disservice to his own party, while it helped the Federalists. But as Grigsby says:
“ The main object of Mason was to prevent a premature committal of the House by a vote on any separate part of the Constitution ; for he well knew that an approval of one part would be urged argumentatively to obtain the approval of another part, and that, if the Constitution were approved in detail, it would be approved as a whole ; and so far as his motion postponed immediate voting, it was wise and well-timed.'
Yet, to restrict the discussion of the general tendency of the Constitution and confine the debate to single clauses gave the Federalists an advantage, as the historian of the Convention points out. However, the Antifederalists, who were fully persuaded of the injurious scope of the whole instrument, were not to be restrained from dwelling upon this fact. Tyler, in the interests of the opposition, then moved that a committee of the whole Convention should take into consideration the proposed form of government.
Madison signified his assent to this arrangement, and George Mason moved his resolution, which was agreed to by the Convention.
Thus was the plan of campaign laid down at the outset by the two protagonists of the Convention, Mason and Madison. They had waged a war of principle in the Federal Convention which had been merely adjourned, as to its final issue, to the soil of their native State. Though the
Appendix iii. ? " History of the Virginia Federal Convention," p. 72.