Page images
PDF
EPUB

66

missioners over to Trenton to show the Legislature the impropriety of such conduct, especially at such a precarious moment in national affairs. The great Legislature receded, but neglected to meet the requisitions, and so matters stood at the time of the meeting of the Convention. In a letter to Mr. Monroe Mr. Madison said:

ORANGE, April 9, 1786. “DEAR SIR,—The step taken by New Jersey was certainly a rash one, and will furnish fresh pretexts to unwilling States for withholding their contributions. In one point of view, however, it furnishes a salutary lesson. Is it possible with such an example before our eyes of impotency in the federal system, to remain skeptical with regard to the necessity of infusing more energy into it? A government can not long stand which is obliged, in the ordinary course of its administration, to court a compliance with its constitutional acts, from a member not of the most powerful order, situated within the immediate verge of authority, and apprised of every circumstance which should remonstrate against disobedience.

"The question whether it be possible and worth while to preserve the Union of the States must be speedily decided some way or other. Those who are indifferent to its preservation would do well to look forward to the consequences of its extinction. The prospect to my eye is a gloomy one indeed.”

Four States failed to appoint delegates to Annapolis, and even those that were appointed did not all attend, and when the 11th of September, the day for the meeting, arrived, the outlook was hopeless. A sufficiently minute account, perhaps, of this Convention may be found in a preceding volume of this work.

On the 11th of September, 1786, from Annapolis, Mr. Madison wrote to his friend Monroe :

“Our prospect here makes no amends for what is done with you. Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia, alone are on the ground; two commissioners attend from New York, and one from Pennsylvania. Unless the sudden attendance of a much more respectable number takes place it is proposed to break up the meeting, with a recommendation of another time and place, and an intimation of the expediency of extending the plan to other defects of the Confederation. In case of a speedy dispersion, I shall find it necessary to ride back as far as Philadelphia before I proceed to Virginia, from which place, if not from this, I will let you know the upshot here.”

In October, Mr. Madison was again in his seat in the Legislature; and greatly through his instrumentality, on the 9th of the following month, with entire unanimity, that body passed a bill accepting the report of the Convention at Annapolis, and, in accordance with its recommendation, providing for the appointment of delegates to the proposed Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. It was Mr. Madison's good fortune to write the bill adopted with this unusual display of unanimity. The preamble to this honorable performance was designed by him to express his own earnest convictions and act as a stimulus of first example to other States.

In joint ballot, the Legislature elected in the following order to represent Virginia at Philadelphia : General Washington, Patrick Henry, Edmund Randolph (the governor), John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, and George Wythe.

These were claimed to be the best men in the State for the important trust. The solemnity and importance which the Legislature attached to the whole matter were establishing an example which could not be readily surpassed in the other States.

New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Delaware soon followed the course of Virginia, and after the Congress had called upon the States to comply with the recommendation from the Convention at

Annapolis, the other States also appointed their delegates. No sooner was this important matter disposed of than the Legislature of Virginia turned its attention to the Mississippi River question, and after a long discussion, in which Mr. Madison took a leading part, the delegates to the Congress were instructed to oppose all steps looking to the abandonment of the country's natural rights.

Mr. Madison had the gratification, too, at this session, of seeing the effort to flood the country with paper money defeated, and the statement made by Virginia that “an emission of paper money would be unjust, impolitic, and destructive of public and private confidence, and of that virtue which is the basis of republican government.”

Notwithstanding that a great part of the session was taken up in an effort to dispose of the remaining bills of the revised code, and Mr. Madison had used every exertion to that end, much of it was left for the future. Through his perseverance, however, the remaining work was placed in the hands of a special committee, where he deemed it to be much safer than if left to the uncertain chances of the Legislature as a whole. Among the parts of the original one hundred and twenty-six bills which fell by the way, was Mr. Jefferson's remarkable public-school system, a scheme many years ahead of the age in Virginia, and in fact, one which its author should have known, never could gain the esteem of such a community. It does not appear that even Mr. Madison took any interest in it.

Although Mr. Madison's work during this busy year was mainly confined to the State, its general national bearing and importance can not be overestimated. And at the very favorable juncture, the good features of which he had been greatly instrumental in bringing about, he was on the point of being transferred to the wider field where he could watch every movement in the grand events he had been so instrumental in putting in the way of realization.

Many things now conspired to advance the interest in and exhibit the necessity for the proposed Constitutional Convention.

Among these were riots in Massachusetts, dignified by the name of “Shays' Rebellion,” from a Daniel Shays, a captain in the Revolution, who took the lead. The people in all the Eastern States regarded with jealousy the powers of the Congress, even while they regarded it as little else than an agent between the States, and the bare mention of assessments to defray public expenses or war debts was met with great disfavor. The Legislatures and Executives were, however, generally in harmony with the Congress. The close of the war left the country under a heavy debt, and the private individual embarrassments were more serious than those of State. Still it does not appear that the real taxpayers were at all disposed to resist the usual course of law and order. The main difficulty was confined to irresponsible men, who held that they had fought for the freedom of the country, and that it was a common inheritance which was conquered from Great Britain, and that this should actually be divided among the people. Such has always been the unreasonable line of argument among mobs. And men who could entertain such unjust, unmanly, and vile sentiments were the rioters in Massachusetts at this time. Meetings, called conventions, were held in various parts of the State, and such a condition of affairs organized as to demand general attention. Courts were broken up, and the laws set at defiance. And amidst all this anarchic clamor, there arose a cry from the same reckless throats for unlimited amounts of paper money, by which all obligations could be liquidated and the miserable rendered happy. Such has been the cry of all mobs, all irregular, unscrupulous, and selfish political movements. The Congress sent the Secretary of War, General Henry Knox, to Massachusetts to investigate affairs, and look after the arsenal at Springfield; and from his report it was determined to raise thirteen hundred men at the expense of the Congress, from a few of the States, to aid in reducing the mob. But this step on the part of the Congress had to be done under the pretext of increasing the army on account of threatened war with the Indians.

Governor Bowdoin soon had old General Lincoln in the field at the head of a picked militia force, which was actually attacked at Springfield by eleven hundred men under Shays. A few shots, however, put the brave mob to flight. At Pelham General Lincoln overhauled them, and after capturing a hundred or so, scattered the rest.

Thus ended “Shays' Rebellion.” Fourteen of the leaders were sentenced to be hanged, but were pardoned, and other just acts of the Legislature relating to this affair were never very rigidly carried out. But even this infamous business was not without benefit. It greatly increased the disposition in New England and, indeed, throughout the country to the scheme for a stronger and better form of government; and States that were tardy now hurried up their appoint

« PreviousContinue »