Lossing's Field Book of the War of 1812, Chapter I - Early Days of the Republic.







The hopes of the Americans not realized. – They were free, but not independent. – Reception of John Adams in England. – Why the Americans were not independent. – Articles of Confederation. – The League of States. – The States not sovereign. – The Public Debt. – Attempts to restore the Public Credit and establish Commercial Relations. – Attitude of the States. – Dissolution of the Liberal British Ministry. – The new Cabinet. – Its discordant Elements. – Expectations of British Statesmen. – Lord Sheffield’s Pamphlet. – British Legislation. – Public Dangers. – Weakness of the New Government made manifest. – Its Dissolution threatened. – Excuse for Dissatisfaction. – Washington’s Views of Public Affairs. – His Suggestions, and those of Alexander Hamilton. – Propositions of the latter. – Convention of Representatives of the States at Annapolis and Philadelphia. – William Jackson and Edmund Randolph. – Members of the Convention. – Attitude of Rhode Island. – Leading Members of the Convention. – Its Objects. – Its Proceedings. – Gouverneur Morris. – Signing the Constitution. – Hesitation on the part of some. – Patriotic Course of Franklin, Hamilton, and others. – Signatures to the National Constitution. – Resolutions sent to the State Legislatures. – Signatures to the National Constitution. – Conventions of the People. – The Federalist. – Signatures to the National Constitution. – Ratification of the Constitution. – Opposition to it. – The family and state Pride of the Virginians. – Dissolution of the Continental Congress. – Its Character, and that of the new Government.


"I see, I see,
Freedom’s established reign; cities, and men,
Numerous as sands upon the ocean shore,
And empires rising where the sun descends!
The Ohio soon shall glide by many a town
Of note; and where the Mississippi stream,
By forests shaded, now runs sweeping on,
Nations shall grow, and states not less in fame
Than Greece and Rome of old. We, too, shall boast
Our Scipios, Solons, Catos, sages, chiefs,
That in the lap of time yet dormant lie,
Waiting the joyous hour of life and light."


Such was the prophecy of an American poet when the war for his country’s independence had just been kindled; and similar were the prescient visions of the statesmen and sages of that hour, who, in the majesty of conscious rectitude, decreed the dismemberment of a mighty empire and the establishment of a nation of freemen in the New World. Their rebellion instantly assumed the dignity of a revolution, and commanded the respect and sympathy of the civilized nations. Their faith was perfect, and under its inspiration they contended gallantly for freedom, and won. We, their children, have seen the minstrel’s prophecy fulfilled, and all the bright visions of glory that gave gladness to our fathers paled by a splendor of reality that makes us proud of the title – AMERICAN CITIZEN.

When, on the 25th of November, 1783, John Van Arsdale, a sprightly sailor-boy of sixteen years, climbed the slushed flag-staff in Fort George, at the foot of Broadway, New York, pulled down the British ensign that for more than seven years had floated there, and unfurled in its place the banner of the United States, 1 the work of the Revolution was finished. As the white sails of the British squadron that bore away from our shores the last armed enemy to freedom in America became mere specks upon the horizon in the evening sun to the straining eyes of eager thousands gazing seaward beyond the Narrows, 2 the idea of absolute independence took possession of the mind and heart of every true American. He saw the visible bonds of British thraldom fall at his feet, and his pulse beat high with the inspiration of conscious freedom, and the full assurance that the power and influence of British sovereignty had departed from his country forever.

Alas! those natural, and generous, and patriotic, and hopeful emotions were fallacious. They were born of a beautiful theory, but derived no real sustenance from sober facts. They were the poetry of that hour of triumph, entrancing the spirit and kindling the imagination. They gave unbounded pleasure to a disenthralled people. But there were wise and thoughtful men among them who had communed with the teachers of the Past, and sought knowledge in the vigorous school of the Present. They diligently studied the prose chapters of the great volume of current history spread out before them, and were not so jubilant. They reverently thanked God for what had been accomplished, adored him for the many interpositions of his providence in their behalf, and rejoiced because of the glorious results of the struggle thus far. But they clearly perceived that the peace established by the decrees of high contracting parties would prove to be only a lull in the great contest – a truce soon to be broken, not, perhaps, by the trumpet calling armed men to the field, but by the stern behests of the inexorable necessities of the new-born republic. The revolution was accomplished, and the political separation from Great Britain was complete, but absolute independence was not achieved.

The experience of two years wrought a wonderful change in the public mind. The wisdom of the few prophetic sages who warned the people of dangers became painfully apparent. The Americans were no longer the legal subjects of a monarch beyond the seas, yet the power and influence of Great Britain were felt like a chilling, overshadowing cloud. In the presence of her puissance in all that constitutes the material strength and vigor of a nation, they felt their weakness; and from many a patriot heart came a sigh to the lips, and found expression there in the bitter words of deep humiliation – We are free, but not independent.

Why not? Had not a solemn treaty and the word of an honest king acknowledged the states to be free and independent?

Yes. The Treaty of Peace had declared the confederated colonies "to be free, sovereign, and independent states;" and that the King of Great Britain would treat them as such, and relinquish "all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same." 3 The king, in his speech from the throne, [December 5, 1783.] had said, "I have sacrificed every consideration of my own to the wishes and opinion of my people. I make it my humble and earnest prayer to Almighty God that Great Britain may not feel the evils which might result from so great a dismemberment of the empire, and that America may be free from those calamities which have formerly proved, in the mother country, how essential monarchy is to the enjoyment of constitutional liberty. Religion, language, interest, affections may, and I hope will, yet prove a bond of permanent union between the two countries: to this end neither attention nor disposition shall be wanting on my part." 4

This was all very kind, and yet the Americans were not independent.

Why not? Had not the representative of their independent sovereignty been appointed by the Congress to reside as the agent of the republic in the British capital, and been received with cordiality?

Yes. John Adams had been appointed [February 24, 1785.] minister plenipotentiary to the Court of Great Britain, and had been ordered to leave sunny France for foggy England. The Duke of Dorset, the British embassador at Paris, had treated him most kindly at Auteuil, and had as kindly prescribed a gay court-dress to be worn by the embassador at his first presentation to the king on his majesty’s birth-day. That plenipotentiary had been presented, [June 4, 1785.] most graciously received, and affected almost to tears by these honest words of good King George: "I was the last man in the kingdom, sir, to consent to the independence of America; but, now it is granted, I shall be the last man in the world to sanction a violation of it."

This reception was significant, and this declaration of his majesty was explicit and sincere. Yet the Americans were not independent.

Why not? Because they had not formed a nation, and thereby created a power to be respected; because British statesmen were wise enough to perceive this weakness, and sagacious enough to take advantage of it. Without the honesty of the king, misled by the fatal counsels of the refugee loyalists who swarmed in the British metropolis, and governed wholly by the maxims and ethics of diplomacy, the ministry cast embarrassments in the way of the Confederation, neglected to comply with some of the most important stipulations of the Treaty of Peace, maintained a haughty reserve, and waited with complacency and perfect faith to see the whole fabric of government in the United States, cemented by the bonds of common interest and common danger while in a state of war, crumble into fragments, and the people return to their allegiance as colonists of Great Britain. Their trade and commerce, their manufactures and arts, their literature, science, religion, and laws were yet largely tributary to the parent country, without a well-grounded hope for a speedy deliverance. To this domination was added a traditional contempt of the English for their transatlantic brethren as an inferior people, 5 and the manifestation of an illiberal and unfriendly spirit, heightened by the consciousness that the Americans were without a government sufficiently powerful to command the fulfillment of treaty stipulations, or an untrammeled commerce sufficiently important to attract the cupidity and interested sympathies of other nations.

Such is a general statement of reasons why the United States were not independent of Great Britain after their total political separation from her. These gave to Dr. Franklin and others the consciousness of the incompleteness of the struggle commenced in 1775. When a compatriot remarked that the war for independence was successfully closed, Franklin wisely replied, "Say, rather, the war of the Revolution. The war for independence is yet to be fought."

I have remarked that our fathers had not formed a NATION on the return of peace, and in that fact was the inherent weakness of their government, and the spring of all the hopes of the royalists for their speedy return to colonial dependency. To illustrate this, let us take a rapid survey of events from the ratification of the Treaty of Peace in the autumn of 1784, to the formation of the National Constitution in the autumn of 1787.

The Articles of Confederation, suggested by Dr. Franklin in the summer of 1775, adopted by the Continental Congress in November, 1777, and finally settled by the ratification of all the states in the spring of 1781, became the organic law of the great American League of independent commonwealths, which, by the first article of that Constitution, was styled "The United States of America." In behalf of this Confederacy, commissioners were appointed by the Continental Congress to negotiate for peace with Great Britain. That negotiation was successful, and, in September, 1783, a definitive treaty was signed at Paris [September 3, 1783.] by the respective commissioners 6 of the two governments. It was subsequently ratified by the Congress and the Crown. In the first article of the treaty all the states of the League were named, for the simple purpose of definitely declaring what provinces in the New World formed "The United States of America," as there were British, French, and Spanish provinces there not members of the League; and also because they were held to be, on the part of the English, independent republics, as they had been colonies independent of each other. 7

The League now assumed a national attitude, and the powers of the Confederacy were speedily tested. The bright visions of material prosperity that gladdened the hearts of the Americans at the close of the war soon faded, and others more sombre appeared when the financial and commercial condition of the forming republic was contemplated with candor. A debt of seventy millions of dollars lay upon the shoulders of a wasted people. About forty-four millions of that amount was owing by the Federal government (almost ten millions of it in Europe), and the remainder by the individual states. These debts had been incurred in carrying on the war. Even while issuing their paper money in abundance, the Congress had commenced borrowing; and when, in 1780, their bills of credit became worthless, borrowing was the chief monetary resource of the government. This, of course, could not go on long without involving the republic in embarrassments and accomplishing its final ruin. The restoration of the public credit or the downfall of the infant republic was the alternative presented to the American people.

With a determination to restore that public credit, the General Congress immediately put forth all its strength in efforts to produce such a result. A few weeks after the preliminary Treaty of Peace was signed, the Congress declared that "the establishment of permanent and adequate funds on taxes or duties, which shall operate generally, and, on the whole, in just proportion, throughout the United States, is indispensably necessary toward doing complete justice to the public creditors, for restoring public credit, and for providing for the future exigencies of the war." 8 Two months later [April 18, 1783.] the Congress recommended to the several states, as "indispensably necessary to the restoration of public credit, and to the punctual discharge of the public debts," to vest the Congress with power to levy, for a period of twenty-five years, specified duties on certain imported articles, and an ad valorem duty on all others, the revenue therefrom to be applied solely to the payment of the interest and principal of the public debt. It was also proposed that the states should be required to establish for the same time, and for the same object, substantial revenues for supplying each its proportion of one million five hundred thousand dollars annually, exclusive of duties on imports, the proportion of each state to be fixed according to the eighth article of the organic law of the League. 9 This financial system was not to take effect until acceded to by every state.

This proposition was approved by the leading men of the country, but it was not adopted by the several states. They all took action upon it in the course of the succeeding three years, but that action was rather in the form of overtures – indications of what each state was willing to do – not of positive law. All the states except two were willing to grant the required amount, but they were not disposed to vest the Congress with the required power. "It is money, not power, that ought to be the object," they said. "The former will pay our debts, the latter may destroy our liberties." 10

This first important effort of the Congress to assume the functions of sovereignty was a signal failure, and the beginning of a series of failures. It excited a jealousy between the state and general governments, and exposed the utter impotency of the latter, whose vitality depended upon the will of thirteen distinct legislative bodies, each tenacious of its own peculiar rights and interests, and miserly in its delegation of power. It was speedily made manifest that the public credit must be utterly destroyed by the inevitable repudiation of the public debt.

The League were equally unfortunate in their attempts to establish commercial relations with other governments, and especially with that of Great Britain. The Liberal ministry, under the Earl of Shelburne when the preliminary Treaty of Peace was signed, devised generous measures toward the Americans. Encouraged by a lively hope thereby engendered, American commerce began to revive. William Pitt, son of the eminent Earl of Chatham, then at the age of only twenty-four years, was Chancellor of the Exchequer. With a clear perception of the value to Great Britain of friendly relations between that government and the new republic, he introduced a bill into Parliament for the regulation of commerce between the two countries, by which trade with the British West India Islands and other colonial possessions of the crown was thrown open to the enterprise of the merchants of the United States.

In this proposed measure was involved a powerful element of solid peace and harmony between the two governments; but there seemed not to be wisdom enough among the statesmen of Great Britain for a practical perception of it. The shipping interest, then potential in Parliament, with strange blindness to its own welfare and that of the state, successfully opposed it; and the Liberal Shelburne ministry did not survive the proposition a month. It was dissolved, and, after a ministerial hiatus of several weeks, during which time faction threatened the peace if not the stability of the throne, a Cabinet was formed of materials the most discordant hitherto. North and Fox, Burke and Cavendish, Portland and Stormont, who had differed widely and debated bitterly on American affairs, coalesced, much to the astonishment of the simple, the scandal of political consistency, and the delight of satirists with pen and pencil. 11

The new Cabinet listened to other counsels than those of the sagacious Pitt, and, instead of acting liberally toward the United States, as friends and political equals, they inaugurated a restrictive commercial policy, and assumed the offensive hauteur of lord and master in the presence of vassals or slaves. Echoing the opinions of the acrimonious Silas Deane, the specious Tory, Joseph Galloway, and Peter Oliver, the refugee Chief Justice of Massachusetts, 12 English writers and English statesmen made public observations which indicated that they regarded the American League as only alienated members of the British realm. Lord Sheffield, in a formidable pamphlet, gave expressions to the views of the Loyalists and leading British statesmen, and declared his belief that ruin must soon overtake the League, because of the anarchy and confusion in which they were involved in consequence of their independence. He assumed that the New England States in particular would speedily become penitent suppliants at the foot of the king for pardon and restoration as colonies. He saw the utter weakness and consequent inefficiency of the League as a form of government, and advised his countrymen to consider them of little account as a nation. 13 "If the American states choose to send consuls, receive them, and send a consul to each state. Each state will soon enter into all necessary regulations with the consul, and this is the whole that is necessary." In other words, the League has no dignity above that of a fifth-rate power, and the states are still, in fact, only dislocated members of the British Empire. 14

In considering the more remote causes of the War of 1812, and the final independence of the United States achieved by that war, that pamphlet of Lord Sheffield, which gave direction to British legislation and bias to the English mind in reference to the American League, may be regarded as a most important one. It was followed by Orders in Council 15 by which American vessels were entirely excluded from the British West Indies; and some of the staple productions of the United States, such as fish, beef, pork, butter, lard, et cetera, were not permitted to be carried there except in British bottoms. These orders were continued by temporary acts until 1788, when the policy was permanently established as a commercial regulation by act of Parliament.

In view of this unfriendly conduct of Great Britain, the General Congress, in the spring of 1784, asked the several states to delegate powers to them for fifteen years, by which they might compel England to be more liberal by countervailing measures of prohibition. 16 Well would it have been for the people of the young republic had some restrictive measures been adopted, whereby British goods could have been kept from their ports, for in a very short time after the peace a most extravagant and ruinous trade with Great Britain was opened. Immense importations were made, and private indebtedness speedily added immensely to the evils which the war and an inadequate government had brought upon the people. But the appeal of the Congress was in vain. The states, growing more and more jealous of their individual dignity, would not invest the Congress with any such power; nor would they, even in the face of the danger of having their trade go into the hands of foreigners, make any permanent and uniform arrangements among themselves. Without public credit, with their commerce at the mercy of every adventurer, without respect at home or abroad, the League of States, free without independence, presented the sad spectacle of the elements of a great nation paralyzed in the formative process, and the coldness of political death chilling every developing function of its being.

Difficulties soon arose between the United States and Great Britain concerning the inexecution of the Treaty of Peace, each charging the other with infractions of that treaty, or neglect to comply with its requirements. 17 An open rupture was threatened, and John Adams was sent to England [February 24, 1785.], clothed with the full powers of a plenipotentiary, to arrange all matters in dispute.

But Mr. Adams could accomplish little. Indeed his mission was almost fruitless. He found the temper of the British people, from the peasant up to the monarch, cold, if not positively hostile, toward the United States. He was never insulted, yet the chilliness of the social atmosphere, and the studied neglect of his official representations, often excited hot indignation in his bosom. But his government was so weak and powerless that he was compelled to bite his lips in silence. When he proposed to have the navigation and trade between all the dominions of the British crown and all the territories of the United States placed upon a basis of perfect and liberal reciprocity, the offer was not only rejected with scorn, but the minister was given to understand that no other would be entertained by the British government. When he recommended his own government to pass countervailing navigation laws for the benefit of American commerce, he was met with the fact that it possessed no power to do so. At length, believing his mission to be useless, and the British government steadily refusing to send a minister to the United States, he asked and received permission to return home.

Meanwhile matters were growing infinitely worse in the United States. The Congress had become absolutely powerless, and almost a by-word among the people. The states had assumed the attitude of sovereign, each for itself; and their interests were too diversified, and in some instances too antagonistic, to allow them to work in harmony for the general good. The League was on the point of dissolution, and the fair fabric for the dwelling of liberty, reared by Washington and his compatriots, was tottering to its fall. The idea of forming two or three distinct confederacies took possession of the public mind. Western North Carolina revolted, and the new State of Franklin, 18 formed by the insurgents, endured several months. A portion of Southwestern Virginia sympathized in the movement. Insurrection against the authorities of Pennsylvania appeared in the Wyoming Valley. 19 A Convention deliberated at Portland on the expediency of erecting the Territory of Maine into an independent state. 20 An armed mob surrounded the New Hampshire Legislature, demanding a remission of taxes; 21 and in Massachusetts, Daniel Shays, who had been a captain in the Continental army, placed himself at the head of a large body of armed insurgents, and defied the government of that state. 22 There was resistance to taxation every where, and disrespect for law became the rule and not the exception.

There was reason for this state of things. The exhaustion of the people was great on account of the war, and poverty was wide-spread. The farmer found no remunerative market for his produce, and domestic manufactures were depressed by foreign competition. 23 Debt weighed down all classes, and made them feel that the burden which the tax-gatherer would lay upon them would be the "feather" that would "break the camel’s back." There was doubt, and confusion, and perplexity on every side; and the very air seemed thick with forebodings of evil. Society appeared to be about to dissolve into its original elements.

Patriots – men who had labored for the establishment of a wise government for a free people – were heart-sick. "Illiberality, jealousy, and local policy mix too much in all our public councils for the good government of the Union," wrote Washington. "The Confederation appears to me to be little better than a shadow without the substance, and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me it is a solecism in politics; indeed, it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation (who are the creatures of our own making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, and may be recalled at any moment, and are subject to all the evils they may be instrumental in producing) sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy as this the wheels of government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.

"That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable nations upon earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt, if we would but pursue a wise, just, and liberal policy toward one another, and keep good faith with the rest of the world. That our resources are ample and increasing, none can deny; but while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and shall sink, in the eyes of Europe, into contempt." 24

Other patriots uttered similar sentiments; and there was a feverish anxiety in the public mind concerning the future, destructive of all confidence, and ruinous to enterprises of every kind. Already grave discussions on the subject had occurred in the library at Mount Vernon, during which Washington had suggested the idea of a conjunction of the several states in arrangements of a commercial nature, over which the Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, had no control. The suggestion was luminous. It beamed out upon the surrounding darkness like a ray of morning light. It was the herald and harbinger of future important action – the key-note to a loud trumpet-call for the wise men of the nation to save the tottering republic. It was the electric fire that ran along the paralyzed nerves of the nation, and quickened into action a broader statesmanship, like that displayed by the youthful Hamilton, who, three or four years before, had induced the Legislature of New York to recommend the "assembling of a general Convention of the United States, specially authorized to revise and amend the Confederation, reserving the right to the respective Legislatures to ratify their determination." 25

This recommendation had been seriously pondered by thoughtful men throughout the League, but the public authorities were not then ready to adopt it. Washington’s proposition for a commercial Convention was favorably received, and in September, the following year [September 11, 1786.], five states were represented by delegates in such Convention, held at Annapolis, in Maryland. 26 Already a desire had been expressed in many parts of the country for a Convention having a broader field of consideration than commerce, only one of the elements of a nation’s prosperity. So thought and felt members of the Convention at Annapolis – a Convention that proved a failure in a degree, inasmuch as only five of the thirteen states were represented. They adjourned after a brief session, first recommending the several states to call another Convention in May following; and performing the momentous service of preparing a letter to the General Congress, in which the defects of the Articles of Confederation were set forth.

In February following, the Congress took the proceedings of the Convention into consideration, and recommended a meeting of delegates from the several states, to be held at Philadelphia on the second Monday in the ensuing May; not, however, for the regulation of commerce, but really for the reconstruction of the national government. 27

On the 4th of July, 1776, a Congress of representatives of thirteen colonies met in the great room of the State House in Philadelphia, since known as Independence Hall, and declared those colonies free and independent states. On Monday, the 14th of May, 1787, a Congress of representatives of the same colonies, then become free and independent states, assembled in the same hall for the purpose of establishing the validity and power of that declaration, by dissolving the inefficient political League of the states, and constituting the inhabitants of all the states one great and indissoluble nation.


There were few delegates present on the appointed day of meeting; and it was not until the 25th that representatives from seven states (the prescribed quorum) appeared. Then Washington, a delegate from Virginia, was chosen president of the Convention, and William Jackson secretary. 28 On the 28th, Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, 29 at the request of his colleagues, opened the business of the Convention in a carefully considered speech, in which he pointed out the serious defects in the Articles of Confederation, illustrated their utter inadequacy to secure the dignity, peace, and safety of the republic, and asserted the absolute necessity of a more energetic government. At the close of his speech he offered to the Convention fifteen resolutions, in which were embodied the leading principles whereon to form a new government according to his views.

I do not propose to consider in detail, nor even in a synoptical manner, the proceedings of that Convention, which occupied several hours each day for four months. I will merely direct attention to the really great men who composed it, and the measures that were adopted, and leave the reader to seek in other sources the interesting information concerning the events in the daily sessions of that remarkable congress of wise men, whose efforts bore noble fruit for the political sustenance of mankind. 30

The venerable Dr. Franklin, then near the close of a long and useful life, was the most conspicuous member of that Convention next to Washington. Thirty-three years before he had elaborated a plan of union for the colonies, to which neither the crown nor the provinces would listen; 31 now he came to revive that plan, with full hope of success. Johnson, Rutledge, and Dickinson had been members of the Stamp-act Congress in 1765, and the last two had been compatriots of Washington in the Congress of 1774. Livingston, Sherman, Read, and Wythe had shared the same honors. The last two, with Franklin, Sherman, Gerry, Clymer, Morris, and Wilson, had signed the Declaration of Independence. The Continental army was represented by Washington, Mifflin, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Hamilton. The younger members, who had become conspicuous in public life after the Declaration of Independence, were Hamilton, Madison, and Edmund Randolph. The latter was then Governor of Virginia, having succeeded Patrick Henry, the "trumpet of sedition" when the states were British provinces.

The Convention was marked by long and warm debates, and with dignity suited to the occasion. The most prominent speakers were King, Gerry, and Gorham, of Massachusetts; Hamilton and Lansing, of New York; Ellsworth, Johnson, and Sherman, of Connecticut; Paterson, of New Jersey; Franklin, Wilson, and Morris, of Pennsylvania; Dickinson, of Delaware; Martin, of Maryland; Randolph, Mason, and Madison, of Virginia; Williamson, of North Carolina, and the Pinckneys, of South Carolina.

Such were the men, all conspicuous in the history of the republic, who assembled for the purpose of laying the broad foundations of a nation. They had scarcely a precedent in history for their guide. The great political maxim established by the Revolution was, that the original residence of all human sovereignty is in THE PEOPLE: it was for these founders of a great state to parcel out from the several commonwealths of which the new nation was composed, so much of their restricted power as the people of the several states should be willing to dismiss from their local political institutions, in making a strong and harmonious republic that should be at the same time harmless toward reserved state rights. This was the great problem to be solved. "At that time," says a recent writer, "the world had witnessed no such spectacle as that of the deputies of a nation, chosen by the free action of great communities, and assembled for the purpose of thoroughly reforming its Constitution, by the exercise and with the authority of the national will. All that had been done, both in ancient and in modern times, in forming, moulding, or modifying Constitutions of government, bore little resemblance to the present undertaking of the states of America. Neither among the Greeks nor the Romans was there a precedent, and scarcely an analogy." 32

Randolph suggested the chief business of the Convention in his proposition "that a NATIONAL government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme legislative, executive, and judiciary." Upon this broad proposition all future action was based; and they had not proceeded far before it was clearly perceived that the Articles of Confederation were too radically defective to be the basis of a stable government. Therefore, instead of trying to amend them, the Convention went diligently at work to form an entirely new Constitution. In this they made slow progress, opinions were so conflicting. Plans and amendments were offered, and freely discussed. Day after day, and week after week, the debates continued, sometimes with great courtesy, and sometimes with great acrimony, until the 10th of September, when all plans and amendments which had been adopted by the Convention were placed in the hands of a committee for revision and arrangement. 33 By this committee a Constitution was reported to the Convention. It was taken up and considered clause by clause, discussed, slightly amended, and then engrossed. On the 15th it was agreed to by the delegates of all the states present. On the 17th a fair copy on parchment was brought in to receive the signatures of the members – an act far more important in all its bearings than the signing of the Declaration of Independence, eleven years before. 34

In the performance of that act, as in the former, there was some hesitation on the part of a few. There had been serious differences of opinion during the whole session – so serious that at times there seemed a probability that the Convention would be an utter failure. There were still serious differences of opinion when the instrument was adopted, and delicate questions arose about signing it. A large majority of the members wished it to go forth to the people, not only as the act of the Convention collectively, but with the individual sanction and signature of each delegate. This was the desire of Dr. Franklin, and, with pleasant words, he endeavored to allay all irritation and bring about such a result. It was finally agreed, on the suggestion of Gouverneur Morris, that it might be signed, without implying personal sanction, in these closing words: "Done by consent of the states present. In testimony whereof, we have subscribed," etc.

Hamilton patriotically seconded the efforts of Franklin, notwithstanding the instrument did not have his approval, because it did not give power enough to the national government. "No man’s ideas," he said, "are more remote from the plan than my own; but is it possible to deliberate between anarchy and confusion on one side, and the chance of good on the other?"

The appeals of Franklin and Hamilton, and the example of Madison and Pinckney, secured the signatures of several dissatisfied members; and all present, excepting Mason and Randolph, of Virginia, 35 and Gerry, of Massachusetts, 36 signed the Constitution. 37 While this important work was in progress, Franklin looked toward the chair occupied by Washington, at the back of which a sun was painted, and observed, "I have often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising sun."


The Convention, by a carefully worded resolution, recommended the Congress to lay the new Constitution before the people (not the states), and ask them, the source of all sovereignty, to ratify or reject it. The views of the great majority of the members of Congress were concurrent, and on the 28th of September that body

"Resolved unanimously, That the said report [of the Convention to the Congress], with the resolutions and letters accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several Legislatures, in order to be submitted to a Convention of Delegates chosen in each state BY THE PEOPLE THEREOF, in conformity to the resolves of the Convention made and provided in that case."

Conventions of the people were accordingly held in the several states to consider the Constitution. Long and stirring debates occurred in these Conventions, and at every public gathering and private hearth-stone in the land. Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and others fed the public understanding with able essays on government and in favor of the new Constitution. 38 That instrument was read and discussed every where. But it was nine months after its adoption by the Convention, before the people of nine states ratified it – that number being necessary to make it the organic law of the land. That ninth state was New Hampshire, and the momentous act of the people occurred on the 21st of June, 1788. The General Congress was then in session, and, on the 2d of July, adopted measures "for putting the said Constitution into operation." They appointed the first Wednesday of the ensuing March as the day when the functions of the new government should commence their action. The people in the states that had ratified the Constitution chose their presidential electors in compliance with its provisions. These met on the first Wednesday in February, 1789, and elected George Washington chief magistrate of the new republic, and John Adams Vice-President. Washington was inaugurated on the 30th of April, and before the close of the year the inhabitants of all the states but one had ratified the National Constitution. 39

After earnest deliberation – after the free discussion of every principle of government involving state rights and state sovereignty – after a careful comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of a consolidated nation and the confederacy they had fairly tried, it was solemnly declared that "WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America." 40

With the birth of the nation on the 4th of March, 1789, the Continental Congress, the representative of the League, expired. Its history is one of the most remarkable on record. It was first an almost spontaneous gathering of patriotic men, chosen by their fellow-citizens in a time of great perplexity, to consult upon the public good. They represented different provinces extending a thousand miles along the Atlantic coast, with interests as diversified as the climate and geography. With boldness unequaled and faith unexampled, they snatched the sceptre of rule over a vast dominion from imperial England, of whose monarch they were subjects, and assumed the functions of sovereignty by creating armies, issuing bills of credit, declaring the provinces free and independent states, negotiating treaties with foreign governments, and, finally, after eight long years of struggle, wringing from their former sovereign his acknowledgment of the independence of the states which they represented. The career of the Congress was meteor-like, and astonished the world with its brilliancy. It was also short. Like a half-developed giant exhausted by mighty efforts, it first exhibited lassitude, then decrepitude, and at last hopeless decay. Poor and weak, its services forgotten by those who should have been grateful for them, it lost the respect of all mankind, and died of political marasmus.

Out of its remains, phœnix-like, and in full vigor and grand proportions, arose a nation whose existence had been decreed by the will of true sovereignty - THE PEOPLE – and whose perpetuity depends upon that will. It immediately arrested the profound attention of the civilized world. It was seen that its commerce, diplomacy, and dignity were no longer exposed to neglect by thirteen distinct and clashing legislative bodies, but were guarded by a central power of wonderful energy. The prophecy of Bishop Berkeley was on the eve of fulfillment. 41 England, France, Spain, and Holland placed their representatives at the seat of the new government, and the world acknowledged that the new-born nation was a power – positive, tangible, indubitable.



1 Before the British left Fort George they nailed their colors to the summit of the flag-staff, knocked off the cleets, and "slushed" the pole from top to bottom, to prevent its being climbed. Van Arsdale (who died in 1836) ascended by nailing on cleets, and applying sand to the greased flag-staff. In this way he reached the top, hauled down the British flag, and placed that of the United States in its position. It is believed by some that the nailing of the flag there by the British had a higher significance than was visible in the outward act, namely, a compliance with orders from the imperial government not to strike the flag, as in a formal surrender, but to leave it flying, in token of the claim of Great Britain to the absolute proprietorship of the country then abandoned. It was believed that the absence of British authority in the United States would be only temporary.

2 The passage from New York Harbor to the sea, between Long Island and Staten Island.

3 See Article I. of the Treaty of Peace between the United States and Great Britain, signed at Paris on the 3d of September, 1783, by David Hartley in behalf of Great Britain, and Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay for the United States.

4 This acknowledgment was wrung from the king. He had long detested the very name of every thing American; and this feeling was strengthened by his intense personal hatred of Dr. Franklin, whose coolness and adroitness had given him the distinction of Arch-rebel. The king carried his prejudices so far that Sir John Pringle was driven to resign his place as President of the Royal Society in this wise: The king urgently requested the society to publish, with the authority of its name, a contradiction of a scientific opinion of the rebellious Franklin. Pringle replied that it was not in his power to reverse the order of nature, and resigned. The pliant Sir Joseph Banks, with the practice of a true courtier, advocated the opinion which was patronized by his majesty, and was appointed President of the Royal Society. See Wright’s England under the House of Hanover, ii., 63.

5 "Even the chimney-sweepers on the streets," said Pitt, in a speech in the House of Commons in 1763, "talk boastingly of their subjects in America."

6 See note 2, page 18.

7 The advocates of the mischievous political doctrine known as supreme state sovereignty, whose fundamental dogma is that the states then forming the inchoate republic were absolutely independent sovereignties, have cited this naming of the several states in that treaty in support of their views. The states were independent commonwealths, but not sovereignties. That term implies no superior. The colonies and states had never been in that exalted position. They were dependencies of Great Britain until the Declaration of Independence was promulgated, when they immediately assumed the position of equals in a National League, acknowledging the general government which they thus established as the supreme controlling power, having a broad signet for the common use, bearing the words, "Seal of the United States," as its insignia of authority.


When a treaty of peace was to be negotiated, the states did not each choose a commissioner for the purpose, but these agents were appointed by the General Congress, as representatives of the nationality of the Confederation, without reference to any particular states. And when, a few years later, the people ("We the PEOPLE" is the phrase) formed and ratified a National Constitution, they disowned all independent state sovereignty, and reserved to the states only municipal rights, the exercise of which should not be in contravention of the organic law of the land.

* For a history (with illustrations) of this first Great Seal of the United States, see a paper in Harper’s Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 178, written by the author of this work.

8 Journal of Congress, February 12, 1783. The last clause was necessary, because only preliminary articles of peace had been signed, and the war might continue.

9 The following was the proposed apportionment: New Hampshire, $52,708; Massachusetts, $224,427; Rhode Island, $32,318; Connecticut, $132,091; New York, $128,243; New Jersey, $83,358; Pennsylvania, $205,189; Delaware, $22,443; Maryland, $141,517; Virginia, $256,487; North Carolina, $109,006; South Carolina, $96,183; Georgia, $16,030.

10 The resolutions of Congress, and the proceedings of the several State Legislatures, with remarks thereon by "A Republican," were published in the New York Gazetteer, and afterward in pamphlet form, in the autumn of 1786, by Carroll & Patterson, 32 Maiden Lane, New York.

11 The political satires and caricatures of the day indicate the temper of the people. Of these the war in America formed the staple subject at the time in question. The conduct of that war, its cessation or continuance, formed the topic of violent debates in Parliament, caused rancor among politicians, was the basis of new party organizations, and a source of great anxiety among the people. Among those who employed caricatures in the controversies Sayer and Gillray were the chief. The latter soon outstripped all competitors, and gave to the world more than twelve hundred caricatures, chiefly political. One of his earliest productions was issued at the period in question, in which the original positions of the different leaders of the coalition were exhibited in compartments.


In one, entitled "War," Fox and Burke, in characteristic attitudes, are seen thundering against the massive Lord North. In another compartment, called "Neither Peace nor War," the three orators are, in the same attitudes, attacking the preliminary Treaty of Peace with the United States. Under them are the words "The Astonishing Coalition." Another caricature was called "The Loves of the Fox and the Badger; or, The Coalition Wedding." This popular caricature was a burlesque pictorial history of the sudden friendship between Fox and North. The latter was commonly known in political circles as "the badger." In another print Fox and North were represented under one coat, standing on a pedestal, and called "The State Idol." This the king (who detested the whole affair) was expected to worship. In another, the two are seen approaching Britannia (or the people) to claim her sanction. She rejects them, and their attention is directed to a gallows and block in the distance as their proper destination.


The coalition finally became unpopular, and Gillray, in a caricature entitled "Britannia Aroused; or, The Coalition Monsters Destroyed," represents her in a fury, grasping one of the leaders by the neck and the other by the leg, and hurling them from her as enemies to liberty. I have copied from Wright’s England under the House of Hanover the most forcible portions of the two caricatures named.

12 Silas Deane had been an active supporter of the American cause, and was sent to France, as an agent of the Continental Congress, early in 1776. In the autumn of that year he was associated with Dr. Franklin and Arthur Lee as commissioners to the French Court. Deane’s unfitness for his station was soon made apparent, and he was recalled at the close of 1777. He went to England at the close of the war, and there vented his spleen against his countrymen.

Joseph Galloway was a Pennsylvanian, who espoused the republican cause, and was a member of the first Congress in 1774, but soon afterward abandoned his countrymen and went to England. He first joined the royal army in New York, and did not leave the country until 1778. He was a ready writer, and wrote much against the American cause in England, where he died in 1803.

Peter Oliver was past middle life when the Revolution broke out. He was appointed Chief Justice of Massachusetts in 1769, when his brother-in-law, Hutchinson, became governor of that province. He was impeached by the Massachusetts Assembly in 1774, and soon afterward went to England, where he died in 1791, aged 79 years.

13 "It will not be an easy matter," he said (and he no doubt spoke the language of the English people in general), "to bring the American states to act as a nation; they are not to be feared as such by us. It will be a long time before they can engage or will concur in any material expenses. A stamp act, a tea act, or such act that can never again occur, would alone unite them. Their climate, their staples, their manners are different; their interests opposite; and that which is beneficial to one is destructive to the other. We might as reasonably dread the effects of combinations among the German as among the American states, and deprecate the resolves of the Diet as those of the Congress. In short, every circumstance proves that it will be extreme folly to enter into any engagements by which we may not wish to be bound hereafter. It is impossible to name any material advantage the American states will or can give us in return more than what we of course shall have. No treaty can be made with the American states that can be binding on the whole of them. The Act of Confederation does not enable Congress to form more than general treaties." – SHEFFIELD’S Observations on the Commerce of the American States, London, 1783.

14 The estimation in which the League was held by the British government may be inferred by an inquiry of the Duke of Dorset, in reply to a letter from Messrs. Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, on the subject of a commercial treaty, in March, 1785. His grace inquired "whether they were commissioned by Congress or their respective states, for it appeared to him that each state was determined to manage its own matters in its own way." It could not be expected that England would be in haste to form any important commercial relations with a government so uncertain in its character, for a league of independent governments was liable to dissolution at any moment.

15 July, 1783. The British Privy Council consists of an indefinite number of gentlemen, chosen by the sovereign, and having no direct connection with the Cabinet ministers. The sovereign may, under the advice of this council, issue orders or proclamations, which, if not contrary to existing laws, are binding upon the subjects. These are for temporary purposes, and are called Orders in Council.

16 See Journal of Congress, April 30, 1784.

17 Against Great Britain It was charged that slaves had been carried away by her military and naval commanders subsequent to the signing of the treaty, and on their departure from the country. * It was also complained that the Western military posts had not been surrendered to the United States according to Article VII. of the treaty. Against the United States it was charged that legal impediments had been interposed to prevent the collection of debts due British merchants by Americans, and that the stipulations concerning the property of Loyalists, found in Articles V. and VI. of the treaty, had not been complied with. These criminations and recriminations were fair, for it has been justly remarked, "America could not, and Great Britain would not, because America did not, execute the treaty." – Life and Works of John Adams, i., 424.

* See Article VII. of the treaty.

18 See Ramsey’s History of Tennessee; Harper’s Magazine for March, 1862.

19 See Lossing’s Field-Book of the Revolution.

20 See Williamson’s History of Maine.

21 See Coolidge and Mansfield’s History of New Hampshire.

22 See Bradford’s History of Massachusetts; Harper’s Magazine for April, 1862.

23 The idea was prevalent, at the close of the war, that the United States ought to be an exclusively agricultural nation, and that the old policy of purchasing all fabrics in Europe, to be paid for by the productions of the soil, would be the wiser one. Acting upon the belief that this would be the policy of the new government, the merchants imported largely, and, there being very little duty to be paid, domestic manufactures could not compete with those of Great Britain. The fallacy of the idea that exports would pay for the imports was soon made manifest, and almost universal bankruptcy occurred among the importing merchants. The imports from Great Britain during the years 1784 and 1785 amounted in value to $30,000,000, while the exports thither did not exceed $9,000,000.

24 Letter to James Warren, October 7, 1785.

25 So early as 1780, Alexander Hamilton, then only twenty-three years of age, thoroughly analyzed the defects of the Articles of Confederation, in a long letter to James Duane, member of Congress from New York. It was dated, "Liberty Pole, September 3, 1780." He discussed the subject at great length, gave an outline sketch of a Federal Constitution, and suggested the calling of a Convention to frame such a system of government. * During the following year he published in the New York Packet, printed at Fishkill, Duchess County, a series of papers under the title of The Constitutionalist, which were devoted chiefly to the discussion of the defects in the Articles of Confederation. They excited great local interest; and Hamilton succeeded, in the summer of 1782, in having the subject brought before the Legislature of the State of New York while in session at Poughkeepsie. It was favorably received, and on Sunday, the 21st of July, that body passed a series of resolutions, in the last of which occurred the sentence above quoted.

On the 1st of April, 1783, Hamilton, in a debate in Congress, expressed an earnest desire for a general Convention, and the subject was much talked of among the members of Congress in 1784. In the same year Thomas Paine and Pelatiah Webster wrote on that subject. In the spring of 1784, Noah Webster, the lexicographer, in a pamphlet which he says he "took the pains to carry in person to General Washington," suggested 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." This pamphlet is entitled, "Sketches of American Policy." Thus thinking men all lamented the weakness of the general government, and foresaw the dangers of the doctrine of supreme state sovereignty, which has wrought so much mischief in our day.

* See The Works of Alexander Hamilton, i., 150.

26 The following are the names of the representatives: New York – Alexander Hamilton, Egbert Benson; New Jersey – Abraham Clarke, William C. Houston; Pennsylvania – Tenche Coxe, James Schureman; Delaware – George Read, John Dickinson, Richard Bassett; Virginia – Edmund Randolph, James Madison, Jr., St. George Tucker.

27 This action of the Congress took place on the 21st of February, 1781. The resolution (which was submitted by the delegates from Massachusetts) was as follows:

"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 agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."

28 William Jackson was an eminent patriot, and one of Washington’s most intimate personal friends. He entered the Continental army at the age of sixteen years, and served his country faithfully during the whole war for independence. He became an aid to the commander-in-chief, with the rank of major. In 1781 he accompanied his friend, Colonel John Laurens, on a diplomatic mission to France. At the close of the war he visited Europe, and on his return was appointed, on the nomination of Washington, secretary to the Convention that formed the National Constitution. His private record of the proceedings and debates is in the hands of his family. He became the private secretary of President Washington, and accompanied him on his tour through the Southern States in 1791. He held the office of surveyor of the port of Philadelphia and inspector of customs there until removed, for political causes, by Mr. Jefferson. He then started a daily newspaper, called "The Political and Commercial Register."


Major Jackson lived a life of unsullied honor, and at his death was buried in Christ Church yard, on Fifth Street, Philadelphia. A plain slab about three feet high marks the spot, and bears the following inscription: "Sacred to the memory of Major William Jackson: born March the 9th, 1759; departed this life December the 17th, 1828. Also to Elizabeth Willing, his relict: born March the 27th, 1768; departed this life August the 5th, 1858." Mrs. Jackson was ninety years of age at the time of her death.

I am indebted to Miss Ann Willing Jackson, daughter of Major Jackson, for the portrait given on the preceding page. It is copied from a miniature in her possession, painted by Trumbull. She also has a silhouette profile of her father, cut by Mrs. Mayo, of Richmond, Virginia, the mother of the late Mrs. General Winfield Scott.

The signature of Secretary Jackson is with those of the other signers of the Constitution, on page 32.

29 Edmund Randolph was a son of an attorney general of Virginia before the Revolution. He was an eminent lawyer, and a warm patriot throughout the old war for Independence. He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1779 until 1782. He was active in the Convention that formed the Constitution. He was elected Governor of Virginia in 1788, and Washington chose him for his first attorney general of the United States in 1789. He was secretary of state in 1794, but, in consequence of being engaged in an intrigue with the French minister, he retired from public life. He died in December, 1813.

30 Rhode Island was not represented in the Convention. Ignorant and unprincipled men happened to control the Assembly of the state at that time, and they refused to elect delegates to the Convention. But some of the best and most influential men in Rhode Island joined in sending a letter to the Convention, in which they expressed their cordial sympathy with the objects of the movement, and promised their acquiescence in whatsoever measures the majority might adopt. The following were the names of the delegates from the several states:

New Hampshire. – John Langdon, John Pickering, Nicholas Gilman, and Benjamin West.

Massachusetts. – Francis Dana, Elbridge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, and Caleb Strong.

Connecticut. – William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman, and Oliver Ellsworth.

New York.—Robert Yates, John Lansing, Jr., and Alexander Hamilton.

New Jersey. – David Brearley, William Churchill Houston, William Paterson, John Neilson, William Livingston, Abraham Clark, and Jonathan Dayton.

Pennsylvania. – Thomas Mifflin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, Jared Ingersoll, Thomas Fitzsimmons, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, and Benjamin Franklin.

Delaware. – George Read, Gunning Bedford, Jr., John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, and Jacob Brown.

Maryland. – James M‘Henry, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Daniel Carroll, John Francis Mercer, and Luther Martin.

Virginia. – George Washington, Patrick Henry, Edmund Randolph, John Blair, James Madison, Jr., George Mason, and George Wythe. Patrick Henry having declined his appointment, James M‘Clure was nominated to supply his place.

North Carolina. – Richard Caswell, Alexander Martin, William Richardson Davie, Richard Dobbs Spaight, and Willie Jones. Richard Caswell having resigned, William Blount was appointed as deputy In his place. Willie Jones having also declined his appointment, his place was supplied by Hugh Williamson.

South Carolina. – John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, Charles C. Pinckney, and Pierce Butler.

Georgia. – William Few, Abraham Baldwin, William Pierce, George Walton, William Houston, and Nathaniel Pendleton.

31 "The Assemblies did not adopt it," said Franklin, "as they all thought there was too much prerogative in it; and in England it was judged to have too much of the democratic."

32 Curtis’s History of the Origin, Formation, and Adoption of the Constitution of the United States.

33 This committee, appointed on the 8th, consisted of Messrs. Madison, Hamilton, King, Johnson, and Gouverneur Morris. They were directed to "revise the style of, and arrange, the articles agreed to by the House." They placed the matter in the hands of Gouverneur Morris for the purpose. In language and general arrangement, the National Constitution was the work of that eminent man. *

* Gouverneur Morris was born near the Westchester shore of the Harlem River, New York, at the close of January, 1752. He was educated at King’s (now Columbia) College, in the city of New York, studied law under the eminent William Smith, of that city, and was licensed to practice in 1771. He was an active patriot during the war, serving in the Continental Congress, on committees of safety, etc. He resided some time in Philadelphia. He was sent abroad on a diplomatic mission, and resided for a while in Paris. He afterward went to London on public business, and was finally appointed minister plenipotentiary at the French Court. He returned to America in 1798, was elected to the Senate of the United States, and was active in public and private life until his death in 1816.

34 For a full account in detail of all the proceedings in relation to the Constitution see the History of the Origin, Formation, and Adoption of the Constitution of the United States, with Notices of its Principal Framers, by George Ticknor Curtis, in two volumes: New York, Harper & Brothers.

35 George Mason was Washington’s neighbor and early personal friend. He was a statesman of the first order among those of his associates in Virginia, and a thorough republican. He was the framer of the Constitution of Virginia, and was active in the Convention that formed the National Constitution. He was so imbued with the state pride for which Virginians have always been noted, that he would not agree to that Constitution because it did not recognize individual state sovereignty – the very rock on which the new republic was then in danger of being wrecked. In conjunction with Patrick Henry, he opposed its adoption in the Virginia Convention, professing to believe that it would be the instrument for converting the government into a monarchy. He died at his seat on the Potomac (Gunston Hall) in the autumn of 1792, at the age of sixty-seven years.

36 We shall have occasion to consider the public character of Mr. Gerry hereafter. He was Vice-President of the United States in 1812.

37 The names of the delegates have been given in note 2, page 27. The names of those who signed the Constitution are given in our fac-similes of their signatures, which have been engraved from the original parchment in the State Department at Washington. It will be seen that Alexander Hamilton’s name stands alone. His colleagues from New York (Yates and Lansing) had left the Convention in disgust on the 1st of July, and New York was considered not officially represented. But Hamilton, who had not swerved from duty, was there. The weight of his name was important, and in the place that should have been filled with the names of delegates from his state was recited, "Mr. Hamilton, of New York." It will be observed that the hand-writing of all seems defective, the lines appearing irregular. This is owing to the parchment on which their names are written, which did not receive the ink as freely as paper would have done. These irregularities have all been carefully copied, so as to give a perfect fac-simile of the originals.

38 The essays of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were published under the general title of The Federalist. It was originally designed to comprise the series within twenty, or, at most, twenty-five numbers, but they extended to eighty-five. Of these Hamilton wrote sixty-five. The first number, written by Hamilton in the cabin of a Hudson River sloop, was published on the 27th of October, 1787, a little more than a month after the adjournment of the National convention. They were published four times a week in a New York daily paper. Of these essays Washington wrote to Hamilton in August, 1788: "When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances which attend this crisis shall have disappeared, that work [The Federalist] will merit the notice of posterity, because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind, so long as they shall be connected in civil society."

39 That state was Rhode Island, which held out until the spring of 1790. The people in the several states ratified the Constitution in the following order: Delaware, December 7, 1787; Pennsylvania, December 12, 1787; New Jersey, December 18, 1787; Georgia, January 2, 1788; Connecticut, January 9, 1788; Massachusetts, February 6, 1788; Maryland, April 28, 1788; South Carolina, May 23, 1788; New Hampshire, June 21, 1788; Virginia, June 26, 1788; New York, July 26, 1788; North Carolina, November 21, 1788: Rhode Island, May 29, 1790. During the recess of Congress, in the autumn of 1789, President Washington visited the New England States. As Rhode Island yet remained a kind of foreign state, he avoided it.

40 The Constitution was violently assailed by the "State Rights" or state sovereignty men – men who regarded allegiance to a state as paramount to that due to the national government. Their chief objection was that it destroyed (as it was intended to do) the alleged sovereignty of the several states, and constituted a consolidated nation. In Virginia, especially, such a result was looked upon by the proud aristocracy with great disfavor. Virginia was then the ruling state in the League, and her political power was swayed by a few families. These were exceedingly proud, and, down to the breaking out of the war for independence, they looked with disdain upon the people of the other colonies. * This feeling was somewhat modified by the operations of the war, and new men were found at the helm of the vessel of state. Yet much of the old pride remained, and the leading Virginians, with a few honorable exceptions, could not bear the thought of having the "Old Dominion," as they were proud to call the commonwealth, stripped of her independent sovereignty. The new leaders seized upon this dominant state pride and made it subservient to their wishes. Patrick Henry violently denounced the Constitution because of its destructive effects upon state sovereignty. He clearly understood its character when, with a loud voice, in the Virginia Convention, he demanded, "Who authorized the Convention to speak the language ‘We, the people,’ instead of ‘We, the states?’ Even from that illustrious man who saved us by his valor, I would have a reason for his conduct." George Mason, in the same Convention, denounced the Constitution because, as he asserted, it "changed the confederation of states into a consolidation, and would annihilate the state governments."

The opposition in several other states was very powerful, for various reasons, and the Constitution and the friends of the Constitution were assailed with the most outrageous misrepresentations. Of the opponents in Virginia Washington wrote: "Their strength, as well as those of the same class in other states, seems to lie in misrepresentation, and a desire to inflame the passions and alarm the fears by noisy declamation, rather than to convince the understanding by sound arguments, or fair and impartial statements. Baffled in their attacks upon the Constitution, they have attempted to vilify and debase the characters who formed it, but I trust they will not succeed."

The papers, by Colonel Byrd (who was a member of the Colonial Council), above referred to, afford a glimpse of the sense of superiority to all the other colonists entertained by the leading families in Virginia, which was always the bane of progress and national feeling, and made large numbers of the politicians of that state disunionists from the beginning. In these papers the New Englanders were spoken of as "a puritanical sect, with pharisaical peculiarities in their worship and behavior." Trade was an unfit calling, and a trade eluding laws, though pronounced void, was justly regarded as demoralizing. Such, they charged, was much of the trade of the Eastern provinces. The dwellers of New York had not more favor. The Dutch were also traders – a "slippery people" – intruders on Virginia – encroachers and reformers. New Jersey, in a religious aspect, was not less obnoxious, peopled by "a swarm of Scots Quakers, who were not tolerated to exercise the gifts of the spirit in their own country;" by "Anabaptists," too, and some "Swedes." The merits of Penn were equivocal – he was not immaculate; but, though "Quakers had flocked to Pennsylvania in shoals," they had the virtues of "dilligence and frugality," and the "prudence" which became non-combatants. Maryland was a commodious retreat for Papists, for whom "England was too hot," and to whom, as a neighbor, Virginia was a little cold. The Carolinas, left "derelict by the French and Sapaniards," were the regions of pines and serpents – dismal in their swamps, and deadly in their malaria. "Thus, in the eyes of her favored few," says a late writer, "Virginia was the paradise of the New World." For a farther illustration of this subject, see History of the Republic of the United States of America, as traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and his Contemporaries, by John C. Hamilton.

* See Byrd’s Westover Papers.

41 When inspired with his transatlantic mission, Bishop Berkeley wrote his six "Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," In which he predicted the rising greatness of the New World, and employed the oft-quoted line,

"Westward the course of empire takes its way.



Transcription and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 10/20/2001.

Please provide me with any feedback you may have concerning errors in the transcription or any supplementary information concerning the contents. [email protected]

Copyright Notice: Copyright 2001. All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without the specific permission of their creator. Although public information is not in and of itself copyrightable, the format in which it is presented, the notes and comments, etc., are. It is, however, quite permissible to print or save the files to a personal computer for personal use ONLY.