CHAPTER VI. THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION (1787-1789).
In a few respects the Constitution was deficient. It did not profess to be all-comprehensive, for the details of the government were to be worked out in later statutes. There was, however, no provision for future annexations of territory. No safeguards were provided for the proper appointment and removal of public officers. The growth of corporations was not foreseen, and no distinct power was conferred upon Congress either to create or to regulate them. Above all, the convention was obliged to leave untouched the questions connected with slavery which later disrupted the Union.
[The work finished.]
On Sept. 17, 1787, the convention finished its work. To the eloquent and terse phraseology of Gouverneur Morris we owe the nervous English of the great instrument. As the members were affixing their signatures, Franklin remarked, pointing to the picture of a sun painted behind the President's chair: "I have often and often,... in the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears, looked ... without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."
65. DIFFICULTIES OF RATIFICATION (1787, 1788).
[Action of Congress.] [Action of legislatures.]
The text of the Constitution was printed and rapidly distributed throughout the Union. It was still but a lifeless draft, and before it could become an instrument of government the approving action of Congress, of the legislatures, and of State conventions was necessary. Congress, on Sept. 28, 1787, unanimously resolved that the Constitution be transmitted to State legislatures. The federal convention had determined that the consideration of its work should not depend, like the Articles of Confederation, upon the slow and unwilling humor of the legislatures, but that in each State a convention should be summoned solely to express the will of the State upon the acceptance of the Constitution. It had further avoided the rock upon which had been wrecked the amendments proposed by Congress; when nine State conventions should have ratified the Constitution, it was to take effect for those nine. On the same day that Congress in New York was passing its resolution, the Pennsylvania legislature in Philadelphia was fixing the day for the election of delegates; all the State legislatures followed, except in Rhode Island.
[The Constitution attacked.]
The next six months was a period of great anxiety and of national danger. The Constitution was violently attacked in every part of the Union: the President, it was urged, would be a despot, the House of Representatives a corporate tyrant, the Senate an oligarchy. The large States protested that Delaware and Rhode Island would still neutralize the votes of Virginia and Massachusetts in the Senate. The federal courts were said to be an innovation. It was known that there had been great divisions in the convention, and that several influential members had left, or at the last moment had refused to sign. "The people of this commonwealth," said Patrick Henry, "are exceedingly uneasy in being brought from that state of full security which they enjoyed, to the present delusive appearance of things." A special objection was made to the lack of a bill of rights, such as existed in State constitutions. The reply was that the framers of the Constitution had deliberately omitted it because Congress was in no case to have powers not conferred upon it by the Constitution. The argument was not conclusive: Rev. Mr. Caldwell, in the North Carolina convention, declared that "unalienable rights ought not to be given up if not necessary;" and another member of the same convention objected that "if there be no religious test required, Pagans, Deists, and Mahometans might obtain offices, And ... the senators and representatives might all be pagans." It was even suggested as a serious danger that the Pope of Rome might eventually be elected president.
[Federalists and Antifederalists.]
The friends of the measure, in order to deprecate the charge that they aimed at centralization, took upon themselves the name of Federalists. Their opponents called themselves antifederalists, corresponded with each other, and formed a short-lived national party. A shower of pamphlets on both sides fell upon the country. Of these the most famous and most efficacious was the "Federalist," successive numbers of which were contributed by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay. With a calmness of spirit, a lucidity of style, and a power of logic which make it to this day one of the most important commentaries on the Constitution, the "Federalist" strove to show that the Constitution was safe for the people and advantageous for the States.
66. STATE CONVENTIONS (1787, 1788).
[First nine states.]
As the State conventions assembled, the excitement grew more intense. Four States alone contained within a few thousands of half the population of the Union: they were Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, and North Carolina. In the convention of each of these States there was opposition strong and stubborn; one of them - North Carolina - adjourned without action; in the other three, ratification was obtained with extreme difficulty and by narrow majorities.