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Mr. Ellsworth, not well pleased with this thrust at his slave-trading friends at the north, by a slave holder, tartly replied: "As I have never owned a slave, I can not judge of the effects of slavery on character; but if slavery is to be considered in a moral light, the convention ought to go further, and free those already in the country.” The opposition of Virginia and Maryland to the importation of slaves he attributed to the fact that, on account of their rapid increase in those states, “it was cheaper to raise them there than to import them, while in the sickly rice swamps foreign supplies were necessary. If we stop short with prohibiting their importation, we shall be unjust to South Carolina and Georgia. Let us not intermeddle. As population increases, poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country."
Delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, repeated the declaration, that, if the slave trade were prohibited, these states would not adopt the constitution. Virginia, it was said, would gain by stopping the importation, she having slaves to sell; but it would be unjust to South Carolina and Georgia, to be deprived of the right of importing. Besides, the importation of slaves would be a benefit to the whole union. The more slaves, the more produce, the greater carrying trade, the more consumption, the more revenue."
The injustice of exempting slaves from duty, while every other import was subject to it, having been urged by several members in the course of the debate, C. Pinckney expressed his consent to a tax not exceeding the same on other imports, and moved to refer the subject to a committee. The motion was seconded by Mr. Rutledge, and at the suggestion of G. Morris
, was so modified as to include the clauses relating to navigation laws and taxes on exports. The commitment was opposed by Messrs. Sherman and Ellsworth; the former on the ground that taxes on slaves imported implied that they were property; the latter from the fear of losing two states. Mr. Randolph was in favor of the motion, hoping to find some middle ground upon which they could unite. The motion prevailed, and the subject was referred to a committee of one from each state. The committee retained the prohibition of duties on exports; struck out the restriction on the enactment of navigation laws; and left the importation of slaves unrestricted, until the year 1800; permitting congress, however, to impose a duty upon the importation.
The debate upon this report of the grand committee, is condensed, by Hildreth, into the two following paragraphs:
“ Williamson declared himself, both in opinion and practice, against slavery; but he thought it more in favor of humanity, from a view of all circumstances, to let in South Carolina and Georgia on these terms,
than to exclude them from the union. Sherman again objected to the tas, as acknowledging men to be property. Gorham replied, that the duty ought to be considered, not as implying that men are property, but as a discouragement to their importation. Sherman said the duty was too small to bear that character. Madison thought it "wrong to admit, in the constitution, the idea that there could be property in man;" and the phraseology of one clause was subsequently altered to avoid any such implication. G. Morris objected that the clause gave congress power to tax freemen imported; to which Mason replied, that such a power was necessary to prevent the importation of convicts. A motion to extend the time from 1800 to 1808, made by C. C. Pinkney, and seconded by Gorham, was carried against New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia; Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire voting this time with Georgia and South Carolina. That part of the report which struck out the restriction on the enactment of navigation acts, was opposed by Charles Pinckney in a set speech, in which he enumerated five distinct commercial interests; the fisheries and West India trade, belonging to New England; the interest of New York in a free trade; wheat and flour, the staples of New Jersey and Pennsylvania; tobacco, the staple of Maryland and Virginia, and partly of North Carolina ; rice and indigo, the staples of South Carolina and Georgia. The same ground was taken by Williamson and Mason, and very warmly by Randolph, who declared that an unlimited power in congress to enact navigation laws, 'would complete the deformity of a system having already so many odious features, that he hardly knew if he could agree to it.' Any restriction of the power of congress over commerce was warmly opposed by Gouverneur Morris, Wilson and Gorham. Madison also took the same side. C. C. Pinckney did not deny that it was the true interest of the south to have no regulation of commerce; but considering the commercial losses of the eastern states during the revolution, their liberal conduct toward the views of South Carolina, (in the vote just taken, giving eight years' further extension to the slave trade,) and the interest of the weak southern states in being united with the strong eastern ones, he should go against any restriction on the power of commercial regulation. He had himself prejudices against the eastern states before he came here, but would acknowledge that he found them as liberal and candid as any men whatever.' Butler and Rutledge took the same ground, and the same report was adopted, against the votes of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.
“Thus, by an understanding, or, as Gouverneur Morris called it, 'a bargain,' between the commercial representatives of the northern states, and the delegates of South Carolina and Georgia, and in spite of the
opposition of Maryland and Virginia, the unrestricted power of congress to pass navigation laws was conceded to the northern merchants, and to the Carolina rice planters, as an equivalent, twenty years' continuance of the African slave-trade. This was the third great compromise of the constitution. The other two were the concessions to the smaller states of an equal representation in the senate, and, to the slaveholders, the counting of three-fifths of the slaves in determining the ratio of representation. If this third compromise differed from the other two by involving not only a political, but a moral sacrifice, there was this partial compensation about it, that it was not permanent, like the others, but expired at the end of twenty years by its own limitation."
Of the important subjects remaining to be disposed of, that of the executive department was, perhaps, the most difficult. The modified plan of Mr. Randolph left the executive to be elected by the legislature for a single term of seven years. The election was subsequently given to a college of electors, to be chosen in the states in such manner as the legislatures of the states should direct. The term of service was reduced from seven to four years; and the restriction of the office to a single term was removed. Numerous other amendments and additions were made in going through with the draft. This amended draft was referred, for final revision, to a committee consisting of Messrs. Hamilton, Johnson, G. Morris, Madison, and King. Several amendments were made even after this revision ;. one of which was the substitution of a twothirds for the three-fourths majority required to pass bills against the veto of the president. Another was a proposition of Mr. Gorham, to reduce the minimum ratio of representation from 40,000, as it stood, to 30,000, intended to conciliate certain members who thought the house too small. This was offered the day on which the constitution was signed. Gen. Washington having briefly addressed the convention in favor of the proposed amendment, it was carried almost unanimously.
The whole number of delegates who attended the convention, was fifty-five, of whom thirty-nine signed the constitution. Of the remaining sixteen, some had left the convention before its close; others refused to give it their sanction. Several of the absentees were known to be in favor of the constitution.
Some, as has been observed, were opposed to the plan of a national government, contending for the preservation of the confederation, with a mere enlargement of its powers; others, though in favor of the plan adopted, believed too much power had been given to the general government. Some thought that not only the powers of congress, but those of the executive, were too extensive; others, that the executive was " weak and contemptible," and without sufficient power to defend him.
self against encroachments, by the legislature: others still, that the executive power of the nation ought not to be intrusted in a single person. Although some deprecated the extensive powers of the federal government as dangerous to the rights of the states, “ultra democracy" seems to have had no representatives in the convention; while, on the other hand, there were not a few who thought it unsafe to trust the people with a direct exercise of power in the general government. Sherman and Gerry were opposed to the election of the first branch of the legislature by the people; as were some of the southern delegates. Others, among whom were Madison, Mason, and Wilson, thought no republican government could be permanent in which the people were denied a direct voice in the election of their representatives. Hamilton, though in favor of making the first branch elective, proposed that the senate should be chosen by electors chosen by the people, and the executive by electors chosen by electors, who were to be chosen by the people in districts ; senators and the president both to hold their offices during good behavior. He was also, as were a few others, in favor of an absolute executive veto on acts of the legislature. He, however, signed the constitution, and urged others to do the same, as the only means of preventing anarchy and confusion. While the proposed constitution was in every particular satisfactory to none, very few were disposed to jeopard the union by the continuance of a system which all admitted to be inadequate to the objects of the union. To the hope, therefore, of finding the new plan an improvement on the old, and of amending its defects if any should appear, is to be attributed the general sanction which it received.
It is indeed remarkable, that a plan of government, containing so many provisions to which the most strenuous opposition was maintained to the end, should have received the signatures of so large a majority of the convention. Perhaps there never was another political body, in which views and interests more varied and opposite have been represented, or a greater diversity of opinion has prevailed.
Nor is it less remarkable, that a system deemed so imperfect, not only by the mass of its framers, but by a large portion of the eminent men who composed the state conventions that ratified it, should have been found to answer so fully the purpose of its formation, as to require, dur. ing an experiment of more than sixty years, no essential alteration; and that it should be esteemed as a model form of republican government by the enlightened friends of freedom in all countries. Not a single provision of the constitution, as it came from the hands of the framers, except that which prescribed the mode of electing a president and vice-president, has received the slightest amendment. Of the twelve articles styled amendments, the first eleven are merely additions ; some of which were intended to satisfy the scruples of those who objected to the constitution as incomplete without a bill of rights, supposing their common law rights would be rendered more secure by an express guaranty; others are explanatory of certain provisions of the constitution which were considered liable to misconstruction. The twelfth article is the amendment changing the mode of electing the president and vice-president.
In the differences of opinion between the friends and opponents of the constitution, originated the two great political parties into which the people were divided during a period of about thirty years. It is generally supposed that the term “ Federalist” was first applied to those who advocated the plan of the present constitution. This opinion, however, is not correct. Those members of the convention who were in favor of the old plan of union, which was a simple confederation or federal alliance of equal independent states, were called federalists, and their opponents anti-federalists. After the new constitution had been submitted to the people for ratification, its friends, regarding its adoption indispensable to union, took the name of federalists, and bestowed upon the other party that of anti-federalists, intimating that to oppose the adoption of the constitution was to oppose any union of the states.
The new constitution bears date the 17th of September, 1787. It was immediately transmitted to congress, with a recommendation to that body to submit it to state conventions for ratification, which was accord. ingly done. It was adopted by Delaware, December 7; by Pennsylvania, December 12; by New Jersey, December 18; by Georgia, January 2, 1788 ; by Connecticut, January 9; by Massachusetts, February 7; by Maryland, April 28; by South Carolina, May 23; by New Hampshire, June 21; which, being the ninth ratifying state, gave effect to the constitution. Virginia ratified June 27; New York, July 26; and North
arolina, conditionally, August 7. Rhode Island did not call a convention.
In Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York, the new constitution encountered a most formidable opposition, which rendered its adoption by these states for a time extremely doubtful. In their conventions were men on both sides who had been members of the national convention, associated with others of distinguished abilities. In Massachusetts there were several adverse influences which would probably have defeated the ratification in that state, had it not been accompanied by certain proposed amendments to be submitted by congress to the several states for ratification. The adoption of these by the convention gained for the constitution the support of Hancock and Samuel Adams; and the question on ratification was carried by one hundred and eighty-seven against one hundred and sixty-eight.