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SPEECH OF PATRICK HENRY.

ON THE EXPEDIENCY OF ADOPTING THE

FEDERAL CONSTITUTION,

DELIVERED IN THE CONVENTION OF VIRGINIA, JUNE 4th, 1788

The preamble and the two first sections of the first article of the

constitution being under consideration, Mr. Henry thus addressed the convention.

MR. CHAIRMAN, THE public mind, as well as my own, is extremely uneasy at the proposed change of government. Give me leave to form one of the number of those, who wish to be thoroughly acquainted with the reasons of this perilous and uneasy situation, and why we are brought hither to decide on this great national question. I consider myself as the servant of the people of this commonwealth, as a centinel over their rights, liberty and happiness. I represent their feelings when I say, that they are exceedingly uneasy, being brought from that state of full security, which they enjoy, to the present delusive appearance of things. Before the meeting of the late federal convention at Philadelphia, a general peace, and an universal tranquillity prevailed in this country, and the minds of our citizens were at perfect repose ; but since that period, they are exceedingly uneasy and disquieted. When I wished for an appointment to this convention, my mind was extremely agitated for the situation of public affairs. I conceive

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VOL. I

the republic to be in extreme danger. If our situation be thus uneasy, whence has arisen this fearful jeopardy? It arises from this fatal system; it arises from a proposal to change our government-a proposal that goes to the utter annihilation of the most solemn engagements of the states—a proposal of establishing nine states into a confederacy, to the eventual exclusion of four states. It goes to the annihilation of those solemn treaties we have formed with foreign nations. The present circumstances of France, the good offices rendered us by that kingdom, require our most faithful and most punctual adherence to our treaty with her. We are in alliance with the Spaniards, the Dutch, the Prussians: those treaties bound us as thirteen states, confederated together. Yet here is a proposal to sever that confederacy. Is it possible that we shall abandon all our treaties and national engagements ? And for what? I expected to have heard the reasons of an event so unexpected to my mind, and many others. Was our civil polity, or public justice, endangered or sapped? Was the real existence of the country threatened, or was this preceded by a mournful progression of events? This proposal of altering our federal ernment is of a most alarming nature: make the best of this new government-say it is composed by any thing but inspiration-you ought to be extremely cauvious, watchful, jealous of your liberty; for instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever. If a wrong step be now made, the republic may be lost forever. If this new government will not come up to the expectation of the people, and they should be disappointed, their liberty will be lost, and tyranny must and will arise. I repeat it again, and I beg gentlemen to consider, that a wrong step, made now, will plunge us into misery, and our republic will be lost. It will be necessary for this convention to have a faithful historieal detail of the facts, that preceded the session of the federal convention, and the reasons that actuated its members in proposing an entire alteration of govern

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ment—and to demonstrate the dangers that awaited us. If they were of such awful magnitude, as to warrant a proposal so extremely perilous as this, I must assert, that this convention has an absolute right to a thorough discovery of every circumstance relative to this great event. And here I would make this inquiry

of those worthy characters who composed a part of the late federal convention. I am sure they were fully impressed with the necessity of forming a great consolidated government, instead of a confederation. That this is a consolidated government is demonstrably clear; and the danger of such a government is, to my mind, very striking. I have the highest veneration for those gentlemen; but, sir, give me leave to demand, what right had they to say, “We, the People ?” My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask, who authorized them to speak the language of, “We, the People,” instead of We, the States? States are the characteristics, and the soul of a confederation. If the states be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great consolidated national government of the people of all the states. I have the highest respect for those gentlemen who formed the convention; and were some of them not here, I would express some testimonial of esteem for them. America had on a former occasion put the utmost confidence in them; a confidence which was well placed; and I am sure, sir, I would give up any thing to them; I would cheerfully confide in them as my representatives. But, sir, on this great occasion, I would demand the cause of their conduct. Even from that illustrious man, who saved us by his valor, I would have a reason for his conduct; that liberty which he has given us by his valor, tells me to ask this reason, and sure I am, were he here, he would give us that reason: but there are other gentlemen here, who can give us this information. The people gave them no power to use their name. That they exceeded their power is perfectly clear. It is not mere curiosity that

actuates me; I wish to hear the real, actual, existing danger, which should lead us to take those steps so dangerous in my conception. Disorders have arisen in other parts of America, but here, sir, no dangers, no insurrection or tumult, has happened ; every thing has been calm and tranquil

. But notwithstanding this, we are wandering on the great ocean of human affairs. I see no land mark to guide us. We are running we know not whither:

Difference in opinion las gone to a degree of inflammatory resentment, in different parts of the country, which has been occasioned by this perilous innovation. The federal convention ought to have amended the old system; for this purpose, they were solely delegated: the object of their mission extended to no other consideration. You must therefore forgive the solicitation of one unworthy member, to know what danger. could have arisen under the present confederation, and what are the causes of this proposal to change our government.

Some of the advocates of the proposed constitution, having replied to the preceding remarks of Mr. Henry, on the 5th, he continued his speech as follows.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I am much obliged to the very worthy gentleman* for his encomium. I wish I were possessed of talents, or possessed of any thing, that might enable me to elucidate this great subject. I am not free from suspicion: I am apt to entertain doubts: I rose yesterday to ask a question, which arose in my own mind. When I asked that question, I thought the meaning of my interrogation was obvious: the fate of this question and of America, may depend on this. Have they said, we, the states? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation : it is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing--the expression, We, the people, in

* Mr. Lee, of Westmoreland.

stead of the states of America. I need not take much pains to show, that the principles of this system, are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous.) Is this a monarchy, like England-a compact between prince and people; with checks on the former to secure the liberty of the latter? Is this a confederacy, like Holland an association of a number of independent states, each of which retains its individual sovereignty? It is not a democracy, wherein the people retain all their rights securely. Had these principles been adhered to, we should not have been brought to this alarming transition, from a confederacy to a consolidated government. We have no detail of those great considerations which, in my opinion, ought to have abounded before we should recur to a government of this kind. Here is a revolution as radical as that, which separated us from Great Britain." It is as radical, if in this transition, our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states relinquished. And cannot we plainly see, that this is actually the case? The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost, by this change so loudly talked of by some, and inconsiderately by others. Is this tame relinquishment of rights worthy of freemen? Is it worthy of that manly fortitude that ought to characterize republicans? It is said eight states have adopted this plan. I declare that if twelve states and an half had adopted it, I would, with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it. You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased,' nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government, Having premised these things, I shall, with the aid of my judgment and information, which I confess are not extensive, go into the discussion of this system more minutely.) Is it necessary for your liberty, that you should

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