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Grigsby explains the story of the cat and the fine lady as having reference to a class of men in Virginia favorable to the new Constitution, who had been disaffected throughout the Revolution, who had “hung on the rear of the friends of freedom, and sought to obstruct their progress when they could effect their object safely and without suspicion.” From their high positions and wide family connections it was difficult to assail-them, yet Mason had the courage to denounce their course.
Henry Lee of Westmoreland, a gallant and skilful soldier, but no match for George Mason in statesmanship, censured “the honorable gentleman last up” for his endeavor “ to draw our attention from the merits of the question, by jocose observations and satirical allusions." Grigsby thinks it evident from Lee's remarks, that the story of the cat was “not the only piece of fun with which Mason relieved one of his ablest arguments," but, he adds, “there is not a shadow of humor in any other part of the reported speech [?]. But to continue General Lee's remarks : “He [Mason] ought to know that ridicule is not the test of truth. Does he imagine that he that can raise the loudest laugh is the soundest reasoner? Sir, the judgments and not the risibility of gentlemen are to be consulted." He also found fault with Mason for showing the letter of Robert Morris, whose proposed scheme of taxation he professed to consider as merely the opinion of a private gentleman, though Morris was the financial agent of Congress. But the same principle,” he added, “has also governed the gentleman when he mentions the expressions of another private gentlemanthe well-born—that our federal representatives are to be chosen from the higher orders of the people—from the wellborn. Is there a single expression like this in the Constitution ?
This insinuation is totally unwarrantable. Is it proper that the Constitution should be thus attacked with the opinions of every private gentleman ? I hope we shall have no more of such groundless assertions. Raising a laugh, sir, will not prove the merits, nor expose the defects
SPEECH OF WILLIAM GRAYSON.
of this system
Evidently the Convention had shown its appreciation of Mason's shafts of satire. And they must in turn have been amused by this solemn rebuke of his levity administered to such a master of sound reasoning as George Mason.
William Grayson made his first speech in the Convention at this time, concluding his argument on the following day, and his voice was a great accession to the strength of the opposition. He too ridiculed the imaginary dangers suggested by Edmund Randolph as the alternative of rejection. And he saw evils in a Constitution where the executive was “ fettered in some parts, and as unlimited in others as a Roman dictator," and where there was “an inequality of representation and want of responsibility” in the legislature. Grayson thought, with Mason and Henry, that the power of direct taxation should remain with the States : “Give up this and you give up everything, as it is the highest act of sovereignty ; surrender up this inestimable jewel, and you throw a pearl away richer than all your tribe." And he made the prophecy that “this government will operate as a faction of seven States to oppress the rest of the Union." In the further consideration of this subject Grayson said :
“ An observation came from an honorable gentleman (Mr. Mason) when speaking of the propriety of the general government exercising this power, that according to the rules and doctrine of representation, the thing was entirely impracticable. agreed with him in sentiments. I waited to hear the answer from the admirers of the new Constitution. What was the answer ? Gentlemen were obliged to give up the point with respect to general uniform taxes. They have the candor to acknowledge that taxes on slaves would not affect the Eastern States, and that taxes on fish or pot-ash would not affect the Southern States. They are then reduced to this dilemma. In order to support this part of the system, they are obliged to controvert the first maxims of representation. The best writers on this subject, lay it down as a fundamental principle, that he who lays a tax, should bear his proportion of paying it.”
I“ Debates of the Virginia Convention, 'Robertson, p. 197.
The other speakers on the 12th were Pendleton and Madison for the Constitution and Henry in reply. The latter said of taxation : “This government subjects everything to the Northern majority. Is there not then a settled purpose to check the Southern interest ? We thus put unbounded power over our property in hands not having a common interest with us.” The navigation of the Mississippi was made the theme of discussion for the following day. And General Lee, Monroe, Grayson, Henry, Nicholas, Randolph, and Corbin all spoke. Mr. Corbin had scarcely commenced his speech, however, when a violent storm arose which compelled him to close abruptly, and the Convention then adjourned for the day. The subject of debate on the 13th was one of great interest, as it affected Virginia and the whole South, and as a result of the eloquence and reasoning of the Antifederalists, on the danger of losing the Mississippi, ten out of the fourteen delegates to the Convention from Kentucky voted with the opposition.' Theodoric Bland, one of the Antifederalists, wrote on this day to Arthur Lee, giving an account of the position of parties and of the progress of the discussion. Bland was a personal friend of George Mason's and there was some correspondence between them, doubtless, of which there remains now no record. In one of George Mason's letters written in 1791, he alludes to the death of his “worthy friend, Col. Bland.” The following extracts from Theodoric Bland's letter to Lee express the sentiments of the Antifederalists at this juncture:
“RICHMOND, June 13th, 1788. “ DEAR ARTHUR, I was yesterday favored with yours, and assure you I am in doubt whether the pleasure or the pain on the subject of your congratulation, affects me at this time most heavily. On the one hand I see my country on the point of embarking and launching into a troubled ocean, without chart or compass to direct her; one half of her crew hoisting sail for the land of energy, and the other looking with a longing aspect on the
260. ? “History of the Virginia Federal Convention," p. 247.
COLONEL BLAND TO ARTHUR LEE.
shore of liberty. I have but one ray of hope, and that arises from an observation that they are yet in perfectly good humour with each other. I have as yet sat as a speechless spectator, nor shall I be induced to alter that character but as a mediator, and with a view of concentrating the two parties now (after twelve days' session) almost equally divided ; each side boasting by turns of a majority of from 3 to 8, on the general question, of adopting or rejecting, although I really at this time think there is a decided majority for anterior amendments, that is who do not think it prudent to mount a high-blooded, fiery steed, without a bridle. The amendments which will be proposed will contain simple propositions guarding the rights of the States, &c. . The strongest efforts are made here to inculcate the absolute necessity of posterior amendments, or unconditional submission, for fear of losing, as it is called, the government, and strong dispositions are shown to precipitate the Convention into that measure,
but hitherto the fear of miscarrying altogether, has restrained the gentlemen on the side of the new Constitution.
“We object not against any powers which shall not be hurtful. That the government shall want no aids for its own support or execution, provided that such restraints shall be imposed upon it as shall support and ensure the State privileges, and the liberty of the individual against oppression. We have yet proceeded no farther in the discussion than the article of direct taxation, on which point they have collected all their force, and I think they have left hitherto the advantage considerably on our side."
Colonel Bland then tells of a duel that had just taken place in Richmond, but the principals were not members of the Convention. He adds :
“I mention this to show you that the heats have not yet entered that body, although the thunders roll, and the lightnings flash every day, both in the natural and political atmosphere. [There had been danger of a duel, however, between Henry and Randolph.] Our chief-magistrate has at length taken his party, and appears to be reprobated by the honest of both sides, but this is too precious a morsel to be left out. Although lukewarm, he has openly declared for posterior amendments, or in other words, unconditional submission."
On the evening of the 13th Madison wrote his version of affairs to Washington, from the standpoint of federalism.
Appearances at present are less favorable than at the date of my last. Our progress is slow, and every advantage is taken of the delay to work on the local prejudices of particular sets of members. British debts, the Indiana claim, and the Mississippi are the principal topics of private discussion and intrigue, as well as of public declamation.
The business is in the most ticklish state that can be imagined.
Oswald of Philadelphia has been here with letters for the anti-federal leaders from New York, and probably Philadelphia. He staid a very short time here during which he was occasionally closeted with H-y, M-s-n, &c." :
On the 14th of June the president was ill and unable to attend the Convention, and John Tyler, an Antifederalist, was unanimously elected vice-president to preside during the inability of the executive officer. The subject of the Mississippi was postponed, the Convention deciding to discuss the Constitution clause by clause. But William Grayson had something to say on the question of the great river before the matter was dropped. He thought its possession deeply concerned the Southern States. Without it there could be no expansion westward. And he reiterated his argument as to the “national contest "—that is, whether one part of the continent should govern the other. “The Northern States have the majority and will endeavor to retain it. This is therefore a contest for dominion, for empire. I apprehend that God and nature have intended, from the extent of territory and fertility of soil, that the weight of population should be on this side of the continent. At present, for various reasons, it is on the other side.": The 1 “Life of Arthur Lee,” Richard H. Lee, vol. ii., p.
Writings of Madison," vol. i., p. 399. 3“ Debates of the Virginia Convention,” Roberston.