« AnteriorContinuar »
the two States alone could not carry out the plan reported, much less the large ideas suggested by Washington. Other States must co-operate.
167. The Virginia Resolution.-On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, after considering the subject discussed at Alexandria, adopted a resolution naming eight commissioners who, or any five of whom, should meet such commissioners as might be appointed by the other States, at any time and place to be agreed upon, to take into consideration the trade of the United States ; to consider how far uniformity in their commercial regulations might 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, would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the same. The commissioners were instructed immediately to transmit to the several States copies of this resolution, with a circular letter requesting their concurrence therein, and proposing a time and place for meeting.
168. Convention at Annapolis.-Twelve commissioners, representing the States of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, in pursuance of this call, convened at Annapolis, September 11, 1786. Some other States appointed commissioners who failed to appear. The twelve commissioners saw clearly that nothing effectual could be accomplished in the line marked out by the Virginia resolution, without a fuller representation of the States. They saw, too, that trade was intimately connected with other subjects, and could not be regulated without setting them in order. Fortunately, New Jersey had empowered her commissioners to consider “other important matters as well as trade ; and the convention, catching at the phrase, adopted a report, drawn by Alexander Hamilton, recommending a general convention of the States to digest a plan for strengthening the General Government. This recommendation was, that a convention should meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May, 1787, “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."
1“ In the last and best history of the Constitution, in its more than a thousand pages, only a single phrase, and that in three words, is printed wholly in capital letters. It is OTHER IMPORTANT MATTERS."-President Austin Scott.
This report was addressed to the Legislatures of the five States, but copies of it were also sent to Congress and to the Governors of the eight States that were not represented.
169. The Action of Congress.-The Articles of Confederation could be altered only by the joint action of Congress and of every one of the thirteen States. They made no provision for a convention as a part of the machinery for effecting such alteration. Had the convention at Annapolis recommended changes in the Articles, it would have submitted them to the States appointing its members. Congress would naturally be jealous of any convention that, uninvited, should recommend such changes. The convention had sent its report to Congress for its information, from motives of respect, but it had not asked that body to take any action in the premises. Congress adopted, however, as of its own motion, the idea of holding a general convention. On February 21, 1787, studiously avoiding any reference to the proceedings at Annapolis, but referring to similar recommendations made by individual States, that body adopted, with a suitable preamble, this resolution :
"Resolved, That, in the opinion of Congress, it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next, a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several States, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several Legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when ageed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."
170. The Action of the States.-In pursuance of the foregoing resolution, the Legislatures of twelve States elected such number of delegates to the convention at Philadelphia as they severally chose. The Rhode Island Legislature was opposed to the whole movement and took no action whatever.
NOTE.—The foregoing recital shows that the master cause of the Convention of 1787 was the commercial derangement of the country. Reviewing this ground, Mr. Justice Miller has said :
“It is not a little remarkable that the suggestion which finally led to the relief, without which as a nation we must soon have perished, strongly supports the philosophical maxim of modern times—that of all the agencies of civilization and progress of the human race, commerce is the most efficient. What our deranged finances, our discreditable failure to pay our debts, and the sufferings of our soldiers could not force the several States of the American Union to attempt, was brought about by a desire to be released from the evils of an unregulated and burdensome commercial intercourse, both with foreign nations and between the several States."— Memorial Oration at the Centennial Celebration of the Constitution, Philadelphia, September 17, 1887.
WORK BEFORE THE CONVENTION.
1. GENERAL.--Elliot's Debates, Vol. I. (containing Journal of the Convention) and Vol. V.(containing Madison's reports of the debates). Also Papers of James Madison, Vol. III. (Debates in the Federal Convention, etc.)
II. SPECIAL.--Bancroft, Vol. VI., (The Formation of the Constitution, 3), and History of the Constitution ; Hildreth, Fiske, Johnston, Cooley, same as last chapter; Von Holst, Chap. I.; Story, Book III., Chap. I.; Frotbingham, Chap. XII.; Winsor, Vol. VII., Chap. IV., Pitkin, Chaps. XVIII., XIX.; Hart, Chap. VI.; Schouler, History of the U.S., Chap. I., Sec. 2; MacMaster, same reference as last chapter; Burgess, Political Science, etc., Book III., Chap. II.
For a popular purpose, the best book that deals with the Constitutional era is Fiske's Critical Period of American History.
171. Meeting and Organization.-On the day fixed, May 14, 1787, a number of delegates to the Federal Convention met at the State House in Philadelphia, but a majority of the States was not present until the 25th, when an organization was effected. Washington was unanimously chosen President and William Jackson Secretary.
172. Groups of Questions. When the Convention came to debate and to vote, it was discovered that the members differed widely in opinion on many subjects. Still, the multitude of issues that arose, first and last, can be divided into three groups: (1) Questions relating to the organic nature of the government, or to the source of its powers and the mode of its operation. (2) Questions relating to the internal construction of the government considered as an organism or machine, its model or framework. (3) Questions relating to the powers of the government, or the functions that it should perform.
173. Relations of the Questions.—These groups of questions were at once closely related, and yet quite distinct. The National Government could be based directly on the people rather than on the States, and at the same time consist of a congress of one house and be limited to a narrow field of operations; or a congress of one house, elected by the States, could be clothed with ample powers and act immediately on the people through its agents; or a government of three departments, with a congress of two houses could be organized. At the same time, the strong" elements tended to affiliate, and so did the “weak” ones. Mr. Dickinson said.to Mr, Madison : “ Some of the members from the small States wish for two branches in the general legislature, and are friends to a good National government; but we would sooner subunit to a foreign power than submit to being deprived of an equality of suffrage and thereby be thrown under the domination of the larger
Nature of the Government.- In the discussions of the Articles of Confederation in 1776-1777, an issue had arisen involving the large and the small States. Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, which together had about one-half the population of the Union, were dissatisfied with the rule adopted in 1774, giving the States an equal suffrage in Congress. They strove to seeure the adoption of a new rule which should give the States power in proportion to their importance, and proposed population as the basis of representation. This plan the other States defeated. But out of this feeling, which had grown with the growth of State power, sprang the question that most troubled the Convention of 1787. It was simply whether the Federal Government should spring directly from the States as political corporations, or directly from the people of the States. Should representation be equal, or be according to the importance of the States as measured by their population, or some other standard to be agreed upon?
1 Elliot's Debates, Vol. V., P 191, Note.