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and in replying to this letter, under date of February 20, 1788, Mr. Madison said :
“I have given notice to my friends in Orange that the County may command my services in the Convention if it pleases. I can say with great truth, however, that in this overture I sacrifice every private inclination to considerations not of a selfish nature. I foresee that the undertaking will involve me in very laborious and irksome discussions; that public opposition to several very respectable characters, whose esteem and friendship I greatly prize, may unintentionally endanger the subsisting connection; and that disagreeable misconstructions, of which samples have been already given, may be the fruit of those exertions which fidelity will impose. But I have made up my determination on the subject; and if I am informed that my presence at the election in the county be indispensable, shall submit to that condition also; although it is my particular wish to decline it, as well to avoid apparent solicitude on the occasion as a journey of such length at a very unpleasant season."
On the following day he wrote to Edmund Pendleton in these words:
“NEW YORK, Feb. 21st, 1788. “ DEAR SIR, –
Your representation of the politics of the State coincides with the information from every other quarter. Great fluctuations and divisions of opinion naturally result in Virginia from the causes which you describe, but they are not the less ominous on that account. I have, for some time, been persuaded that the question on which the proposed Constitution must turn is the simple one, whether the Union shall or shall not be continued. There is, in my opinion, no middle ground to be taken. The opposition with some has disunion assuredly for its object, and with all for its real tendency.
Events have demonstrated that no coalition can ever take place in favor of a new plan among the adversaries to the proposed one. The grounds of objection among the non-signing members of the Convention are by no means the same. The disapproving members who were absent, but who have since published their objections, differ irreconcilably from each of them. The writers against the Constitution are as little agreed with one another; and the principles which have been disclosed by the several
minorities, where the Constitution has not been unanimously adopted, are as heterogeneous as can be imagined. That of Massachusetts, as far as I can learn, was averse to any government that deserved the nanię, and, it is certain, looked no farther than to reject the Constitution in toto, and return home in triumph. The men of abilities, of property, of character, with every judge, lawyer of eminence, and the clergy of all sects, were, with scarce an exception deserving notice, as unanimous in that State as the same description of characters are divided and opposed to one another in Virginia."
William Moore wrote to Mr. Madison at this juncture :
“I must, therefore, entreat and conjure you, nay, command you, if it were in my power, to be here in February, or the first of March next. Pray do n't disappoint the wishes of your friends, and many others who are wavering on the Constitution, and anxiously waiting for an explanation from you. In short, they want your sentiments from your own mouth, which, they say, will convince them of the necessity of adopting it. I repeat, again, come."
But Mr. Madison did not leave New York until the 4th of March, and did not reach home until the day before the election of delegates for the convention, but he was chosen to represent his county.
Although the friends of the Constitution were by no means idle, really working with greater energy the more resistance was met from the opposition, yet General Washington became impatient and complained that only bad men and bad causes were worked for with zeal, and the friends of the Constitution were quiet and inactive.
Although not on the ground until too late to render much service before the election, Mr. Madison had not been idle. To Kentucky, which was to be represented in the Virginia convention, he had written his views fully; to leading men at home he had written freely; to friends in Maryland and South Carolina, whence he knew Virginia would receive no little influence, he also wrote urging his views in support of the Constitution ; and now until the meeting of the Convention, occupied his time in the same way.
In a letter to Mr. Jefferson, dated Montpelier, April 22, 1788, he wrote:
“The adversaries take very different grounds of opposition. Some are opposed to the substance of the plan; others, to particular modifications only. Mr. Henry is supposed to aim at disunion. Colonel Mason is growing every day more bitter and outrageous in his efforts to carry his point, and will probably, in the end, be thrown by the violence of his passions, into the politics of Mr. Henry. The preliminary question will be, whether previous alterations shall be insisted on or not. Should this be carried in the affirmative, either a conditional ratification or a proposal for a new Convention will ensue. In either event, I think the Constitution and Union will be both endangered. It is not to be expected that the States which have ratified will reconsider their determinations, and submit to the alterations prescribed by Virginia. And if a second Convention should be formed, it is little to be expected that the same spirit of compromise will prevail in it as produced an amicable result to the first.”
During the interval of waiting, he also made farther notes concerning ancient and existing European governments, and otherwise prepared himself for the contest which awaited him.
On the 2d of June the ratifying convention met at Richmond, but, as was usual in such cases with him, Mr. Madison was not in his place.
On the 4th he wrote to General Washington that the Federalists were somewhat elated, that an organization had already been effected with Mr. Pendleton in the chair, that the Constitution was to be investigated, item by item, before any other step would be
taken, that Governor Randolph had unequivocally placed himself in the Federal scale, that Henry and Mason were beside themselves, but that Kentucky was tainted and doubtful.
The contest was, however, one of the most remarkable in the early history of the country, only equaled by that going on in New York.
Although Mr. Randolph had placed himself on the Federal side, and many able members of the convention were on the same side, yet there can be little doubt that Mr. Madison was at the head of the supporters of the Constitution.
Among his aids were John Marshall, George Nicholas, and “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, with a considerable display of other public characters better known to the country. The unaccountable strength which Patrick Henry had gained in the State was displayed to great advantage in this assembly, and never, perhaps, excepting in the succeeding session of the Legislature, did he show, in his conduct, so many reasons why the public estimate of him was entirely erroneous. His opposition to the Constitution was based not only upon some respectable grounds deserving a passing consideration, but also and mainly upon all conjectural, unreasonable, and trifling ones that could be devised.
One of his first assaults was upon the preamble “We the people," etc., asserting that it should be “We the States,” and asking, foolishly, what right they had to say “We the people.” It was the day of beginnings, an occasion of searching for and devising what was thought to be wisest and best, and the members of the Constitutional Convention had no established rules of right to guide them, no masters to dictate
their course, and their rights were limited only by their consciences and sense of the necessities of the times. Henry declared that the object of this innovation, “ We the people,” was to destroy the principles of true democracy and establish a consolidated government in which all individual and local rights would be swallowed up. His speeches were filled with this sort of extravagance, were ranting, raving unreasonableness, hardly deserving the name of demagoguery, and at this day would be deemed unworthy of notice, other than contempt and ridicule. He said :
“I would rather infinitely, and I am sure most of this committee are of the same opinion, have a king, lords, and commons, than a government replete with such insupportable evils. Away with your President! We shall have a king. The army will salute him monarch. Your militia will leave you, and assist in making him king, and fight against you; and what have you to oppose this force ?
“We are come here to preserve the poor commonwealth of Virginia, if it can possibly be done. Something must be done to preserve your liberty and mine.
“ Whither is the spirit of America gone? Whither is the genius of America fled ? . . . To that illustrious spirit I address my most fervent prayer to prevent our adopting a system so de structive to liberty.”
Such was the tenor of his efforts before the convention ; and in every possible way did he try to prevent the ratification. Nor did his efforts stop here. Unfortunately he had been elected to the Legislature, and there he did his best to obstruct and thwart the introduction of the new government. For scenes of calm, deliberate judgment, and deep, close, just, discriminating thought, Mr. Henry never was suited. It was utterly impossible for such a character to be a wise and reliable legislator. Mr. Henry was worth