Monday 18 June 2018
Search - Content
Search SEO Glossary
PLG_SEARCH_JOOMBLOG
Contact Us

Introduction

    Confederacies -- Meeting of Colonial Deputies at Albany, in 1754 -- Congress of 1774 -- Declaration of Independence -- Articles of Confederation -- Difficulties arising from the public lands, and duties on foreign commerce -- Want of a permanent revenue -- Resolution of Virginia for a Convention -- Meeting of the Convention at Annapolis, in 1786 -- Recommends Federal Convention -- Proceedings of Virginia and other States -- Previous suggestions for a Convention by Pelatiah Webster, General Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton, Richard H. Lee, and Noah Webster -- Defects to be provided for by a Constitution -- Mr. MADISON's sketch -- Meeting of Federal Convention in 1787 -- Manner in which the Reports of the Debates were taken.

    As the weakness and wants of man naturally lead to an association of individuals under a common authority, whereby each may have the protection of the whole against danger from without, and enjoy in safety within the advantages of social intercourse, and an exchange of the necessaries and comforts of life; in like manner feeble communities, independent of each other, have resorted to a union, less intimate, but with common councils, for the common safety against powerful neighbours, and for the preservation of justice and peace among themselves.  Ancient history furnishes examples of these confederate associations, though with a very imperfect account of their structure, and of the attributes and functions of the presiding authority.  There are examples of modern date also, some of them still existing, the modifications and transactions of which are sufficiently known.

    It remained for the British Colonies, now United States of North America, to add to those examples, one of a more interesting character than any of them; which led to a system without an example ancient or modern.  A system founded on popular rights, and so combining a federal form with the forms of individual republics, as may enable each to Supply the defects of the other and obtain that advantage of both.

    Whilst the Colonies enjoyed the protection of the parent country, as it was called, against foreign danger, and were secured by its superintending control against conflicts among themselves, they continued independent of each other, under a common, though limited, dependence on the parental authority.  When, however, the growth of the offspring in strength and in wealth awakened the jealousy, and tempted the avidity of the parent, into schemes of usurpation and exaction, the obligation was felt by the former of uniting their counsels and efforts, to avert the impending calamity.

    As early as the year 1754, indications having been given of a design in the British government to levy contributions on the Colonies without their consent, a meeting of Colonial deputies took place at Albany, which attempted to introduce a compromising substitute, that might at once satisfy the British requisitions, and save their own rights from violation.  The attempt had no other effect, than, by bringing these rights into a more conspicuous view, to invigorate the attachment to them, on the one side; and to nourish the haughty and encroaching spirit on the other.

    In 1774, the progress made by Great Britain in the open assertion of her pretensions and the apprehended purpose of otherwise maintaining them by legislative enactments and declarations, had been such that the Colonies did not hesitate to assemble, by their deputies, in a formal Congress, authorized to oppose to the British innovations whatever measures might be found best adapted to the occasion; without, however, losing sight of an eventual reconciliation.

    The dissuasive measures of that Congress being without effect another Congress was held in 1775, whose pacific efforts to bring about a change in the views of the other party being equally unavailing, and the commencement of actual hostilities having at length put an end to all hope of reconciliation, the Congress finding, moreover, that the popular voice began to call for an entire and perpetual dissolution of the political ties which had connected them with Great Britain, proceeded on the memorable Fourth of July, 1776, to declare the thirteen Colonies Independent States.

    During the discussions of this solemn act, a Committee, consisting of a member from each Colony, had been appointed, to prepare and digest a form of Confederation for the future management of the common interests, which had hitherto been left to the discretion of Congress, guided by the exigencies of the contest, and by the known intentions or occasional instructions of the Colonial Legislatures.

    It appears that as early as the twenty-first of July, 1775, a plan, entitled "Articles of Confederation and perpetual union of the Colonies," had been sketched by Doctor Franklin, the plan being on that day submitted by him to Congress; and though not copied into their Journals, remaining on their files in his handwriting.  But notwithstanding the term "perpetual" observed in the title, the Articles provided expressly for the event of a return of the Colonies to a connection with Great Britain.

    This sketch became a basis for the plan reported by the Committee on the twelfth of July, now also remaining on the files of Congress in the handwriting of Mr. Dickinson.  The plan, though dated after the Declaration of Independence, was probably drawn up before that event; since the name of Colonies, not States, is used throughout the draught.  The plan reported was debated and amended from time to time, till the seventeenth of November, 1777, when it was agreed to by Congress, and proposed to the Legislatures of the States, with an explanatory and recommendatory letter.  The ratifications of these, by their delegates in Congress, duly authorized, took place at successive dates; but were not completed till the first of March, 1781, when Maryland, who had made a prerequisite that the vacant lands acquired from the British Crown should be a common fund, yielded to the persuasion that a final and formal establishment of the Federal Union and Government would make a favorable impression, not only on other foreign nations, but on Great Britain herself.

    The great difficulty experienced in so framing the Federal system, as to obtain the unanimity required for its due sanction, may be inferred from the long interval, and recurring discussions, between the commencement and completion of the work; from the changes made during its progress; from the language of Congress when proposing it to the States, which dwelt on the impracticability of devising a system acceptable to all of them; from the reluctant assent given by some; and the various alterations proposed by others; and by a tardiness in others again, which produced a special address to them from Congress, enforcing the duty of sacrificing local considerations and favorite opinions to the public safety, and the necessary harmony; nor was the assent of some of the States finally yielded without strong protests against particular Articles, and a reliance on future amendments removing their objections.  It is to be recollected, no doubt, that these delays might be occasioned in some degree by an occupation of the public councils, both general and local, with the deliberations and measures essential to a voluntary struggle; but there must have been a balance for these causes in the obvious motives to hasten the establishment of a regular and efficient government; and in the tendency of the crisis to repress opinions and pretensions which might be inflexible in another state of things.

    The principal difficulties which embarrassed the progress, and retarded the completion, of the plan of Confederation, may be traced to -- first, the natural repugnance of the parties to a relinquishment of power; secondly, a natural jealousy of its abuse in other hands than their own; thirdly, the rule of suffrage among parties whose inequality in size did not correspond with that of their wealth, or of their military or free population; fourthly, the selection and definition of the powers, at once necessary to the federal head, and safe to the several members.

    To these sources of difficulty, incident to the formation of all such confederacies, were added two others, one of a temporary, the other of a permanent nature.  The first was the case of the Crown lands, so called because they had been held by the British Crown, and being ungranted to individuals when its authority ceased, were considered by the States within whose charters or asserted limits they lay, as devolving on them; whilst it was contended by the others, that being wrested from the dethroned authority by the equal exertions of all, they resulted of right and in equity to the benefit of all.  The lands being of vast extent, and of growing value, were the occasion of much discussion add heartburning; and proved the most obstinate of the impediments to an earlier consummation of the plan of federal government.  The State of Maryland, the last that acceded to it, held out as already noticed, till the first of March, 1781; and then yielded only to the hope that, by giving a stable and authoritative character to the Confederation, a successful termination of the contest might be accelerated.  The dispute was happily compromised by successive surrenders of portions of the territory by the States having exclusive claims to it, and acceptances of them by Congress.

    The other source of dissatisfaction was the peculiar situation of some of the States, which, having no convenient ports for foreign commerce, were subject to be taxed by their neighbours, through whose ports their commerce was carried on.  New Jersey, placed between Philadelphia and New York, was likened to a cask tapped at both ends; and North Carolina, between Virginia and South Carolina, to a patient bleeding at both arms.  The Articles of Confederation provided no remedy for the complaint; which produced a strong protest on the part of New Jersey, and never ceased to be a source of dissatisfaction and discord, until the new Constitution superseded the old.

     But the radical infirmity of the "Articles of Confederation" was the dependence of Congress on the voluntary and simultaneous compliance with its requisitions by so many independent communities, each consulting more or less its particular interests and convenience, and distrusting the compliance of the others.  Whilst the paper emissions of Congress continued to circulate, they were employed as a sinew of war, like gold and silver.  When that ceased to be the case, and the fatal defect of the political system was felt in its alarming force, the war was merely kept alive, and brought to a successful conclusion, by such foreign aids and temporary expedients as could be applied; a hope prevailing with many, and a wish with all, that a state of peace, and the sources of prosperity opened by it, would give to the Confederacy, in practice, the efficiency which had been inferred from its theory.

    The close of the war, however, brought no cure for the public embarrassments.  The States, relieved from the pressure of foreign danger, and flushed with the enjoyment of independent and sovereign power, instead of a diminished disposition to part with it, persevered in omissions and in measures incompatible with their relations to the Federal Government, and with those among themselves.

    Having served as a member of Congress through the period between March, 1780, and the arrival of peace, in 1783, I had become intimately acquainted with the public distresses and the causes of them.  I had observed the successful opposition to every attempt to procure a remedy by new grants of power to Congress.  I had found, moreover, that despair of success hung over the compromising principle of April, 1783, for the public necessities, which had been so elaborately planned and so impressively recommended to the States.  Sympathizing, under this aspect of affairs, in the alarm of the friends of free government at the threatened danger of an abortive result to the great and perhaps last, experiment in its favor, I could not be insensible to the obligation to aid as far as I could in averting the calamity.  With this view I acceded to the desire of my fellow citizens of the County, that I should be one of its representatives in the Legislature, hoping that I might there best contribute to inculcate the critical posture to which the Revolutionary cause was reduced, and the merit of a leading agency of the State in bringing about a rescue of the Union, and the blessings of liberty staked on it, from an impending catastrophe.

    It required but little time after taking my seat in the House of Delegates in May, 1784, to discover, that, however favorable the general disposition of the State might be towards the Confederacy, the Legislature retained the aversion of its predecessors to transfers of power from the State to the Government of the Union; notwithstanding the urgent demands of the Federal Treasury, the glaring inadequacy of the authorized mode of supplying it, the rapid growth of anarchy in the Federal system, and the animosity kindled among the States by their conflicting regulations.

    The temper of the Legislature, and the wayward course of its proceedings, may be gathered from the Journals of its sessions in the years 1784 and 1785.

    The failure, however, of the varied propositions in the Legislature, for enlarging the powers of Congress; the continued failure of the efforts of Congress to obtain from them the means of providing for the debts of the Revolution, and of countervailing the commercial laws of Great Britain, a source of much irritation, and against which the separate efforts of the States were found worse than abortive; these considerations, with the lights thrown on the whole subject by the free and full discussion it had undergone, led to a general acquiescence in the Resolution passed on the twenty-first of January, 1786, which proposed and invited a meeting of Deputies from all the States, as follows:

    "Resolved, that Edmund Randolph, James MADISON, Jr., Walter Jones, St.  George Tucker, and Meriwether Smith, Esquires, be appointed Commissioners, who, or any three of whom, shall meet such Commissioners as may be appointed in the other States of the Union, at a time and place to be agreed on, to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situations and trade of said States; to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest and their permanent harmony; and to report to the several States such an act, relative to this great object, as, when unanimously ratified by them, will enable the United States in Congress, effectually to provide for the same."

    The Resolution had been brought forward some weeks before, on a failure of a proposed grant of power to Congress to collect a revenue from commerce, which had been abandoned by its friends in consequence of material alterations made in the grant by a Committee of the Whole.  The Resolution, though introduced by Mr. Tyler, an influential member, who, -- having never served in Congress, had more the ear of the House than those whose services there exposed them to an imputable bias, -- was so little acceptable that it was not then persisted in.  Being now revived by him, on the last day of the session, and being the alternative of adjourning without any effort for the crisis in the affairs of the Union, it obtained a general vote; less, however, with some of its friends, from a confidence in the success of the experiment than from a hope that it might prove a step to a more comprehensive and adequate provision for the wants of the Confederacy.

    It happened also, that Commissioners, appointed by Virginia and Maryland to settle the jurisdiction on waters dividing the two States, had, apart from their official reports, recommended a uniformity in the regulations of the two States on several subjects, and particularly on those having relation to foreign trade.  It appeared at the same time, that Maryland had deemed a concurrence of her neighbours Delaware and Pennsylvania indispensable in such a case; who, for like reasons, would require that of their neighbours.  So apt and forcible an illustration of the necessity of an uniformity throughout all the States could not but favor the passage of a resolution which proposed a Convention having that for its object.

    The Commissioners appointed by the Legislature, and who attended the Convention, were Edmund Randolph, the Attorney of the State, St.  George Tucker and James MADISON.  The designation of the time and place to be proposed for its meeting, and communicated to the States, having been left to the Commissioners, they named, for the time the first Monday in September, and for the place the city of Annapolis, avoiding the residence of Congress, and large commercial cities, as liable to suspicions of an extraneous influence.

    Although the invited meeting appeared to be generally favored, five States only assembled; some failing to make appointments, and some of the individuals appointed not hastening their attendance; the result in both cases being ascribed mainly to a belief that the time had not arrived for such a political reform as might be expected from a further experience of its necessity.

    But in the interval between the proposal of the Convention and the time of its meeting, such had been the advance of public opinion in the desired direction, stimulated as it had been by the effect of the contemplated object of the meeting, in turning the general attention to the critical state of things, and in calling forth the sentiments and exertions of the most enlightened and influential patriots, that the Convention, thin as it was, did not scruple to decline the limited task assigned to it, and to recommend to the States a Convention with powers adequate to the occasion.  Nor had it been unnoticed that the commission of the New Jersey deputation had extended its object to a general provision for the exigencies of the Union.  A recommendation for this enlarged purpose was accordingly reported by a committee to whom the subject had been referred.  It was drafted by Col. Hamilton, and finally agreed to in the following form:

     "To the Honorable, the Legislatures of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, the Commissioners from the said States, respectively, assembled at Annapolis, humbly beg leave to report:

    "That, pursuant to their several appointments, they met at Annapolis, in the State of Maryland, on the eleventh day of September instant; and having proceeded to a communication of their powers, they found that the States of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, had, in substance, and nearly in the same terms, authorized their respective Commissioners `to meet such commissioners as were, or might be, appointed by the other States of the Union, at such time and place as should be agreed upon by the said Commissioners, to take into consideration the trade and commerce of the United States; to consider how far an uniform system in their commercial intercourse and regulations might be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony; and to report to the several States such an act, relative to this great object, as, when unanimously ratified by them, would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the same.'

    "That the State of Delaware had given similar powers to their Commissioners, with this difference only, that the act to be framed in virtue of these powers is required to be reported `to the United States in Congress assembled, to be agreed to by them, and confirmed by the Legislature of every State.'

    "That the State of New Jersey had enlarged the object of their appointment, empowering their commissioners, `to consider how far an uniform system in their commercial regulations, and other important matters, might be necessary to the common interest and permanent harmony of the several States;' and to report such an act on the subject, as, when ratified by them, `would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the exigencies of the Union.'

    "That appointments of Commissioners have also been made by the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina, none of whom, however, have attended; but that no information has been received by your Commissioners of any appointment having been made by the States of Maryland, Connecticut, South Carolina or Georgia.

    "That the express terms of the powers to your Commissioners supposing a deputation from all the States, and having for object the trade and commerce of the United States, your Commissioners did not conceive it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission under the circumstances of so partial and defective a representation.

    "Deeply impressed, however, with the magnitude and importance of the object confided to them on this occasion, your Commissioners cannot forbear to indulge an expression of their earnest and unanimous wish, that speedy measures may be taken to effect a general meeting of the States in a future Convention, for the same and such other purposes, as the situation of public affairs may be found to require.

    "If, in expressing this wish, or in intimating any other sentiment, your Commissioners should seem to exceed the strict bounds of their appointment, they entertain a full confidence, that a conduct dictated by an anxiety for the welfare of the United States will not fail to receive an indulgent construction.

    "In this persuasion, your Commissioners submit an opinion, that the idea of extending the powers of their Deputies to other objects than those of commerce, which has been adopted by the State of New Jersey, was an improvement on the original plan, and will deserve to be incorporated into that of a future Convention.  They are the more naturally led to this conclusion, as, in the course of their reflections on the subject, they have been induced to think that the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general system of the Federal Government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other parts of the Federal system.

    "That there are important defects in the system of the Federal Government, is acknowledged by the acts of all those States which have concurred in the present meeting.  That the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous than even these acts imply, is at least so far probable, from the embarrassments which characterize the present state of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid discussion, in some mode which will unite the sentiments and councils of all the States.  In the choice of the mode, your Commissioners are of opinion, that a Convention of deputies from the different States, for the special and sole purpose of entering into this investigation, and digesting a plan for supplying such defects as may be discovered to exist, will be entitled to a preference, from considerations which will occur without being particularized.

    "Your Commissioners decline an enumeration of those national circumstances on which their opinion, respecting the propriety of a future Convention with more enlarged powers, is founded; as it would be an useless intrusion of facts and observations, most of which have been frequently the subject of public discussion, and none of which can have escaped the penetration of those to whom they would in this instance be addressed.  They are, however, of a nature so serious, as, in the view of your Commissioners, to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the united virtue and wisdom of all the members of the Confederacy.

    "Under this impression, your Commissioners, with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction, that it may essentially tend to advance the interests of the Union, if the States by whom they have been respectively delegated would themselves concur, and use their endeavours to procure the concurrence of the other States, in the appointment of Commissioners, to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States; to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an act for that purpose, to the United States in Congress assembled, as, when agreed to by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, will effectually provide for the same.

    "Though your Commissioners could not with propriety address these observations and sentiments to any but the States they have the honor to represent, they have nevertheless concluded, from motives of respect, to transmit copies of this Report to the United States in Congress assembled, and to the Executives of the other States."

    The recommendation was well received by the Legislature of Virginia, which happened to be the first that acted on it; and the example of her compliance was made as conciliatory and impressive as possible.  The Legislature were unanimous, or very nearly so, on the occasion.  As a proof of the magnitude and solemnity attached to it, they placed General Washington at the head of the deputation from the State; and as a proof of the deep interest he felt in the case, he overstepped the obstacles to his acceptance of the appointment.

    The law complying with the recommendation from Annapolis was in the terms following:

    "Whereas, the Commissioners who assembled at Annapolis, on the fourteenth day of September last, for the purpose of devising and reporting the means of enabling Congress to provide effectually for the commercial interests of the United States, have represented the necessity of extending the revision of the Federal system to all its defects; and have recommended that deputies for that purpose be appointed by the several Legislatures, to meet in Convention in the City of Philadelphia, on the second Monday of May next, a provision which seems preferable to a discussion of the subject in Congress, where it might be too much interrupted by the ordinary business before them, and where it would, besides, be deprived of the valuable counsels of sundry individuals who are disqualified by the constitution or laws of particular States, or restrained by peculiar circumstances, from a seat in that Assembly:

    "And whereas, the General Assembly of this Commonwealth, taking into view the actual situation of the Confederacy, as well as reflecting on the alarming representations made from time to time, by the United States in Congress, particularly in their act of the fifteenth day of February last, can no longer doubt that the crisis is arrived at which the good people of America are to decide the solemn question, whether they will, by wise and magnanimous efforts, reap the just fruits of that independence which they have so gloriously acquired, and of that union which they have cemented with so much of their common blood; or whether, by giving way to unmanly jealousies and prejudices, or to partial and transitory interests, they will renounce the auspicious blessings prepared for them by the Revolution, and furnish to its enemies an eventual triumph over those, by whose virtue and valour, it has been accomplished:

    "And whereas, the same noble and extended policy, and the same fraternal and affectionate sentiments, which originally determined the citizens of this Commonwealth to unite with their brethren of the other States, in establishing a federal government, cannot but be felt with equal force now, as motives to lay aside every inferior consideration, and to concur in such farther concessions and provisions, as may be necessary to secure the great objects for which that government was instituted, and to render the United States as happy in peace, as they have been glorious in war.

    "Be it, therefore, enacted, by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, That seven Commissioners be appointed by joint ballot of both Houses of Assembly, who, or any three of them, are hereby authorized as Deputies from this Commonwealth, to meet such Deputies as may be appointed and authorized by other States, to assemble in Convention at Philadelphia, as above recommended, and to join with them in devising and discussing all such alterations and farther provisions, as may be necessary to render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and in reporting such an act for that purpose, to the United States in Congress, as when agreed to by them, and duly confirmed by the several States, will effectually provide for the same.

    "And be it further enacted, That in case of the death of any of the said deputies, or of their declining their appointments, the Executive are hereby authorized to supply such vacancies; and the Governor is requested to transmit forthwith a copy of this act to the United States in Congress, and to the Executives of each of the States in the Union."

    A resort to a General Convention, to remodel the Confederacy, was not a new idea.  It had entered at an early date into the conversations and speculations of the most reflecting and foreseeing observers of the inadequacy of the powers allowed to Congress.  In a pamphlet published in May, 1781, at the seat of Congress, Pelatiah Webster, an able though not conspicuous citizen, after discussing the fiscal system of the United States, and suggesting, among other remedial provisions, one including a national bank, remarks, that "the authority of Congress at present is very inadequate to the performance of their duties; and this indicates the necessity of their calling a Continental Convention for the express purpose of ascertaining, defining, enlarging and limiting, the duties and powers of their Constitution."

    On the first day of April, 1783, Colonel Hamilton, in a debate in Congress, observed, "that he wished, instead of them (partial Conventions), to see a general Convention take place; and that he should soon, in pursuance of instructions from his constituents, propose to Congress a plan for that purpose, the object of which would be to strengthen the Federal Constitution." He alluded probably, to the resolutions introduced by General Schuyler in the Senate, and passed unanimously by the Legislature of New York in the summer of 1782, declaring, that the Confederation was defective, in not giving Congress power to provide a revenue for itself, or in not investing them with funds from established and productive sources; and that it would be advisable for Congress to recommend to the States to call a general Convention to revise and amend the Confederation." It does not appear, however, that his expectation had been fulfilled.

    In a letter to James MADISON from R. H. Lee, then President of Congress, dated the twenty-sixth of November, 1784, he says: "It is by many here suggested as a very necessary step for Congress to take, the calling on the States to form a Convention for the sole purpose of revising the Confederation, so far as to enable Congress to execute with more energy, effect and vigor the powers assigned to it, than it appears by experience that they can do under the present state of things." The answer of Mr. MADISON remarks: "I hold it for a maxim, that the union of the States is essential to their safety against foreign danger and internal contention; and that the perpetuity and efficacy of the present system cannot be confided in.  The question, therefore, is, in what mode, and at what moment, the experiment for supplying the defects ought to be made."

    In the winter of 1784-5, Noah Webster, whose political and other valuable writings had made him known to the public, proposed, in one of his publications, "a new system of government which should act, not on the States, but directly on individuals, and vest in Congress full power to carry its laws into effect."

     The proposed and expected Convention at Annapolis, the first of a general character that appears to have been realized, and the state of the public mind awakened by it, had attracted the particular attention of Congress, and favored the idea there of a Convention with fuller power for amending the Confederacy.

    It does not appear that in any of these cases the reformed system was to be otherwise sanctioned than by the Legislative authority of the States; nor whether, nor bow far, a change was to be made in the structure of the depository of Federal powers.

    The act of Virginia providing for the Convention at Philadelphia was succeeded by appointments from the other States as their Legislatures were assembled, the appointments being selections from the most experienced and highest standing citizens.  Rhode Island was the only exception to a compliance with the recommendation from Annapolis, well known to have been swayed by an obdurate adherence to an advantage which her position gave her, of taxing her neighbours through their consumption of imported supplies, an advantage which it was foreseen would be taken from her by a revisal of the Articles of Confederation.

    As the public mind had been ripened for a salutary reform of the political system, in the interval between the proposal and the meeting of the Commissioners at Annapolis, the interval between the last event and the meeting of deputies at Philadelphia had continued to develop more and more the necessity and the extent of a systematic provision for the preservation and government of the Union.  Among the ripening incidents was the insurrection of Shays, in Massachusetts, against her government; which was with difficulty suppressed, notwithstanding the influence on the insurgents of an apprehended interposition of the Federal troops.

     At the date of the Convention, the aspect and retrospect of the political condition of the United States could not but fill the public mind with a gloom which was relieved only by a hope that so select a body would devise an adequate remedy for the existing and prospective evils so impressively demanding it.

    It was seen that the public debt, rendered so sacred by the cause in which it had been incurred, remained without any provision for its payment.  The reiterated and elaborate efforts of Congress to procure from the States a more adequate power to raise the means of payment, had failed.  The effect of the ordinary requisitions of Congress had only displayed the inefficiency of the authority making them, none of the States having duly complied with them, some having failed altogether, or nearly so; while in one instance, that of New Jersey, a compliance was expressly refused; nor was more yielded to the expostulations of members of Congress depused to her Legislature, than a mere repeal of the law, without a compliance.  The want of authority in Congress to regulate commerce had produced in foreign nations, particularly Great Britain, a monopolizing policy, injurious to the trade of the United States, and destructive to their navigation; the imbecility, and anticipated dissolution, of the Confederacy extinguishing all apprehensions of a countervailing policy on the part of the United States.  The same want of a general power over commerce led to an exercise of the power, separately, by the States, which not only proved abortive, but engendered rival, conflicting and angry regulations.  Besides the vain attempts to supply their respective treasuries by imposts, which turned their commerce into the neighbouring ports, and to coerce a relaxation of the British monopoly of the West India navigation, which was attempted by Virginia, the States having ports for foreign commerce, taxed and irritated the adjoining States, trading through them, as New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina.  Some of the States, as Connecticut, taxed imports from others, as from Massachusetts, which complained in a letter to the Executive of Virginia, and doubtless to those of other States.  In sundry instances, as of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, the navigation laws treated the citizens of other States as aliens.  In certain cases the authority of the Confederacy was disregarded, as in violation, not only of the Treaty of Peace, but of treaties with France and Holland; which were complained of to Congress.  In other cases the Federal authority was violated by treaties and war with Indians, as by Georgia; by troops raised and kept up without the consent of Congress, as by Massachusetts; by compacts without the consent of Congress, as between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and between Virginia and Maryland.  From the Legislative Journals of Virginia it appears, that a vote refusing to apply for a sanction of Congress was followed by a vote against the communication of the compact to Congress.  In the internal administration of the States, a violation of contracts had become familiar, in the form of depreciated paper made a legal tender, of property substituted for money, of instalment laws, and of the occlusions of the courts of justice, although evident that all such interferences affected the rights of other States, relatively creditors, as well as citizens creditors within the State.  Among the defects which had been severely felt was want of an uniformity in cases requiring it, as laws of naturalization and bankruptcy, a coercive authority operating on individuals, and a guarantee of the internal tranquillity of the States.

    As a natural consequence of this distracted and disheartening condition of the Union, the Federal authority had ceased to be respected abroad, and dispositions were shown there, particularly in Great Britain, to take advantage of its imbecility, and to speculate on its approaching downfall.  At home it had lost all confidence and credit; the unstable and unjust career of the States had also forfeited the respect and confidence essential to order and good government, involving a general decay of confidence and credit between man and man.  It was found, moreover, that those least partial to popular government, or most distrustful of its efficacy, were yielding to anticipations, that from an increase of the confusion a government might result more congenial with their taste or their opinions; whilst those most devoted to the principles and forms of Republics were alarmed for the cause of liberty itself, at stake in the American experiment, and anxious for a system that would avoid the inefficacy of a mere confederacy, without passing into the opposite extreme of a consolidated government.  It was known that there were individuals who had betrayed a bias towards monarchy, and there had always been some not unfavorable to a partition of the Union into several confederacies; either from a better chance of figuring on a sectional theatre, or that the sections would require stronger governments, or by their hostile conflicts lead to a monarchical consolidation.  The idea of dismemberment had recently made its appearance in the newspapers.

    Such were the defects, the deformities, the diseases and the ominous prospects for which the Convention were to provide a remedy, and which ought never to be overlooked in expounding and appreciating the constitutional charter, the remedy that was provided.

    As a sketch on paper, the earliest, perhaps, of a Constitutional Government for the Union (organized into the regular departments, with physical means operating on individuals) to be sanctioned by the people of the States, acting in their original and sovereign character, was contained in the letters of James MADISON to Thomas Jefferson of the nineteenth of March; to Governor Randolph of the eighth of April; and to General Washington of the sixteenth of April, 1787, for which see their respective dates.

    The feature, in these letters which vested in the general authority a negative on the laws of the States, was suggested by the negative in the head of the British Empire, which prevented collisions between the parts and the whole, and between the parts themselves.  It was supposed that the substitution of an elective and responsible authority, for an hereditary and irresponsible one, would avoid the appearance even of a departure from Republicanism.  But although the subject was so viewed in the Convention, and the votes on it were more than once equally divided, it was finally and justly abandoned, as, apart from other objections, it was not practicable among so many States, increasing in number, and enacting, each of them, so many laws.  Instead of the proposed negative, the objects of it were left as finally provided for in the Constitution.

    On the arrival of the Virginia Deputies at Philadelphia, it occurred to them, that, from the early and prominent part taken by that State in bringing about the Convention, some initiative step might be expected from them.  The Resolutions introduced by Governor Randolph were the result of consultation on the subject, with an understanding that they left all the Deputies entirely open to the lights of discussion, and free to concur in any alterations or modifications which their reflections and judgments might approve.  The Resolutions, as the Journals show, became the basis on which the proceedings of the Convention commenced, and to the developements, variations and modifications of which the plan of government proposed by the Convention may be traced.

    The curiosity I had felt during my researches into the history of the most distinguished confederacies, particularly those of antiquity, and the deficiency I found in the means of satisfying it, more especially in what related to the process, the principles, the reasons, and the anticipations, which prevailed in the formation of them, determined me to preserve, as far I could, an exact account of what might pass in the Convention while executing its trust; with the magnitude of which I was duly impressed, as I was by the gratification promised to future curiosity by an authentic exhibition of the objects, the opinions, and the reasonings, from which the system of government was to receive its peculiar structure and organization.  Nor was I unaware of the value of such a contribution to the fund of materials for the history of a Constitution on which would be staked the happiness of a people great even in its infancy, and possibly the cause of liberty throughout the world.

    In pursuance of the task I had assumed, I chose a seat in front of the presiding member, with the other members on my right and left hands.  In this favorable position for hearing all that passed, I noted, in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself, what was read from the Chair or spoken by the members; and losing not a moment unnecessarily between the adjournment and reassembling of the Convention, I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session, or within a few finishing days after its close, in the extent and form preserved in my own hand on my files.

    In the labor and correctness of this I was not a little aided by practice, and by a familiarity with the style and the train of observation and reasoning which characterized the principal speakers.  It happened, also, that I was not absent a single day, nor more than a casual fraction of an hour in any day, so that I could not have lost a single speech, unless a very short one.

    It may be proper to remark, that, with a very few exceptions, the speeches were neither furnished, nor revised, nor sanctioned, by the speakers, but written out from my notes, aided by the freshness of my recollections.  A further remark may be proper, that views of the subject might occasionally be presented, in the speeches and proceedings, with a latent reference to a compromise on some middle ground, by mutual concessions.  The exceptions alluded to were, -- first, the sketch furnished by Mr. Randolph of his speech on the introduction of his propositions on the 29th day of May; secondly, the speech of Mr. Hamilton, who happened to call on me when putting the last hand to it, and who acknowledged its fidelity, without suggesting more than a very few verbal alterations which were made; thirdly, the speech of Gouverneur Morris on the second day of May, which was communicated to him on a like occasion, and who acquiesced in it without even a verbal change.  The correctness of his language and the distinctness of his enunciation were particularly favorable to a reporter.  The speeches of Doctor Franklin, excepting a few brief ones, were copied from the written ones read to the Convention by his colleague, Mr. WILSON, it being inconvenient to the Doctor to remain long on his feet.

    Of the ability and intelligence of those who composed the Convention the debates and proceedings may be a test; as the character of the work which was the offspring of their deliberations must be tested by the experience of the future, added to that of nearly half a century which has passed.

    But whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which should best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country.