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MR. MADISON IN THE CONGRESS—THE VIRGINIA CONSTITU.
THEN Mr. Madison again took his seat in the
Congress he found that no little opposition had already arisen to the Constitution, but mainly on trifling, technical, and other unjustifiable grounds. Among the most persistent of the factious individuals was his colleague, Richard Henry Lee. Still this irresponsible body, seeing that its own dissolution was inevitable, finally, on the 28th of September, submitted the Constitution to the State Legislatures to be placed before the people. And, perhaps, no man in the Congress contributed more to this expected and necessary result than Mr. Madison.
A torrent of newspaper articles against the Constitution now swept over the country, and especially was New York bitter in her opposition to the new plan of government. Governor Clinton proposed another Constitutional Convention, and was determined that his kingly democracy should not be shorn of any of its sovereignty.
Alexander Hamilton and John Jay undertook to write a series of articles for the New York papers in defense of the principles of the Constitution and the character of the government it proposed, and invited Mr. Madison to join them in the work. Indeed, the greater part of the work was to fall to him. The first papers were addressed to the people of New York, where the main seat of the contest was to be located, but subsequently they were directed to the people of the whole country. They were uniformly signed “Publius,” but the entire collection was fortunately styled “The Federalist,” and constituting a work of about five hundred pages, octavo, is still considered one of the most ably written and best of all the writings on the Constitution and Government of this country
In this important work the positions of Mr. Madison and Mr. Hamilton were very different. He was a warm supporter of the Constitution, arguing for a thing of his own choice, and, in part, of his own creation, and his personal feelings were at stake; while Mr. Hamilton had been the advocate of a strong, non-elective government, and now wrote and labored under the impression that it was wise for him to give his aid to a scheme which really might furnish a satisfactory solution of the difficulties about to cover the country with shame and ruin. He was more the attorney for the country than for his own will; and hence his wonderful success became a remarkable and interesting feature of the wonderful struggle. Mr. Adams's “Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America” also had some influence in shaping public sentiment in favor of the Constitution. Innumerable other writers likewise came out for the work in various channels, as well as against it.
On the 7th of December, 1787, Delaware ratified the Constitution without comment, and was the first State to take this action. Five days later Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution in the same unqualified way; and New Jersey on the 18th. On the 2d of January, 1788, Connecticut, and, on the 4th, Georgia followed suit. The contest in Pennsylvania had been severe, but the greatest opposition was displayed by professional politicians, and in the Legislature, in an attempt to prevent the Constitution going before the people.
The attempt on the part of members to break a quorum in the Legislature was finally resisted by the people outside, and factious absentees arrested and carried into their seats, and the Legislature compelled to call the ratifying convention.
In all of the States the opponents of the Constitution were mainly from the class of more ignorant and extreme of the democrats. In Massachusetts the men identified with Shays's “Rebellion," or riots, were the enemies of the proposed new government; and everywhere men of riotous passions and unfriendly to all governmental restraints were mainly on the same side. Still it must not be forgotten that in every State there were men of first-rate circumstances and abilities who fought to the last against the new government. Generally, however, men of wealth, lawyers, courts, clergymen, and educated people of every sort, were friends of the Constitution; and this fact really became an argument against it among some of its enemies. Little less in this country than in France and other nations has the radical, Jacobinic democracy been the enemy of these classes of society. In the Southern States, perhaps, a more respectable body of men was found as leaders of the opposition. Luther Martin and Samuel Chase in Maryland; Rawlins Lowndes in South Carolina ; and in Virginia, George Mason, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, and James Monroe were opposed to the Constitution, and singularly enough the courts and most of the bar. But in the latter State the names of Washington, Madison, Wythe, Pendleton, Blair, and, in fact, Governor Randolph and others, were more than a match for the antis.
On the 6th of February, 1788, the Massachusetts convention by a majority of nineteen ratified the Constitution, after a long and ridiculous contest, and after the friends of the Government had submitted to a recommendation of a list of amendments to be made by Congress.
On the 28th of April, the Maryland convention adopted the Constitution without recommendations; and on the 23d of the succeeding month South Carolina followed.
The necessary nine States were about to be obtained without either Virginia or New York.
Patrick Henry exhibited most of his qualities, which were always enough unstatesman-like, and with Lee and others made an attempt to “fire the Southern heart,” or as Washington said in one of his letters: “ The unfair (I might without much impropriety have made use of a harsher expression) conduct practised by the opposition here, to rouse the fears and inflame the minds of the people.”
Men of equal strength were here pitted against one another in a desperate struggle. If Mr. Henry could be aroused himself he was the very man for such an occasion. He was never stable and great enough to be à statesman, and was really too lazy to be a demagogue, if he was not too honest.
On the 19th of February, 1788, while yet in New York, Mr. Madison wrote as follows to his friend, Jefferson :
“The temper of Virginia, as far as I can learn, has undergone but little change of late. At first there was an enthusiasm for the Constitution. The tide next took a sudden and strong turn in the opposite direction. The influence and exertions of Mr. Henry and Colonel Mason, and some others, will account for this. Subsequent information again represented the Constitution as regaining, in some degree, its lost ground. The people at large have been uniformly said to be more friendly to the Constitution than the Assembly. But it is probable that the disposition of the latter will have a considerable influence on the opinions of the former. The previous adoption of nine States must have a very persuasive effect on the minds of the opposition, though I am told that a very bold language is held by Mr. Henry and some of his partisans. Great stress is laid on the self-sufficiency of that State, and the prospect of external props is alluded to.”
Friends of the Constitution, as the time approached for the election for the convention, began to think Mr. Madison's presence in Virginia necessary to the success of the cause. No man knew better than he the scope and purpose of every part of the Constitution, and the character and designs of the men who framed it, and no one was so well qualified to explain and defend it. His timidity and slowness of speech had, to a great extent, passed away by long service in bodies well adapted for the training he needed. While he was not an orator, perhaps, he had become a clear, extremely logical, and satisfactory speaker, and the occasion was now of supreme importance. Even General Washington wrote to him at this critical time to recommend the propriety of his returning to Virginia,