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part 1: Apprehensions - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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In his first address to the first session of the first federal Congress (contemporaries were sharply conscious of that litany of firsts) George Washington remarked that “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Some eighteen months before, in the first number of The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton had said, “It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country … to decide the important question whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.” By April 1789, when Washington delivered his inaugural address, supporters of the infant Constitution could be hopeful that the recent reconstruction of the federal system would permit the nation to fulfill its revolutionary aspirations. Washington was the unanimous selection of the first electoral college, and Washington’s extraordinary reputation was sufficient by itself to assure the new government a fair trial by the people. Only two of twenty-two new senators had opposed the Constitution. Only ten of the newly chosen members of the House of Representatives had disapproved.
Letters from the Federal Farmer, No. 7 31 December 1787
Among the hundreds of pamphlets, newspaper articles, and published speeches opposing the new Constitution, a few were judged especially outstanding and have earned enduring fame. Among these, certainly, are the Letters from the Federal Farmer, which were widely read in pamphlet form after appearing initially in the Poughkeepsie Country Journal between November 1787 and January 1788. The seventh number developed one of the deepest concerns of many opponents of the Constitution: that the people could not be adequately represented in a single national legislature and, as power gravitated increasingly into federal hands, would end up being ruled by a few great men.
In viewing the various governments instituted by mankind, we see their whole force reducible to two principles— … force and persuasion. By the former men are compelled, by the latter they are drawn. We denominate a government despotic or free as the one or other principle prevails in it. Perhaps it is not possible for a government to be so despotic as not to operate persuasively on some of its subjects; nor is it in the nature of things, I conceive, for a government to be so free, or so supported by voluntary consent, as never to want force to compel obedience to the laws. In despotic governments one man, or a few men, independent of the people, generally make the laws, command obedience, and enforce it by the sword: one-fourth part of the people are armed and obliged to endure the fatigues of soldiers to oppress the others and keep them subject to the laws. In free governments the people, or their representatives, make the laws; their execution is principally the effect of voluntary consent and aid; the people respect the magistrate, follow their private pursuits, and enjoy the fruits of their labor with very small deductions for the public use. The body of the people must evidently prefer the latter species of government; and it can be only those few who may be well paid for the part they take in enforcing despotism that can, for a moment, prefer the former. Our true object is to give full efficacy to one principle, to arm persuasion on every side, and to render force as little necessary as possible. Persuasion is never dangerous, not even in despotic governments; but military force, if often applied internally, can never fail to destroy the love and confidence, and break the spirits, of the people, and to render it totally impracticable and unnatural for him or them who govern … to hold their places by the peoples’ elections… .
The plan proposed will have a doubtful operation between the two principles; and whether it will preponderate towards persuasion or force is uncertain.
Government must exist—If the persuasive principle be feeble, force is infallibly the next resort. The moment the laws of Congress shall be disregarded they must languish, and the whole system be convulsed—that moment we must have recourse to this next resort, and all freedom vanish.
It being impracticable for the people to assemble to make laws, they must elect legislators and assign men to the different departments of the government. In the representative branch we must expect chiefly to collect the confidence of the people, and in it to find almost entirely the force of persuasion. In forming this branch, therefore, several important considerations must be attended to. It must possess abilities to discern the situation of the people and of public affairs, a disposition to sympathize with the people, and a capacity and inclination to make laws congenial to their circumstances and condition; it must possess the confidence and have the voluntary support of the people… .
A fair and equal representation is that in which the interests, feelings, opinions and views of the people are collected in such manner as they would be were the people all assembled. … [But] there is no substantial representation of the people provided for in [the new] government, in which the most essential powers, even as to the internal police of the country, are proposed to be lodged. … There ought to be an increase of the numbers of representatives: And … the elections of them ought to be better secured.
The representation is insubstantial and ought to be increased. In matters where there is much room for opinion, you will not expect me to establish my positions with mathematical certainty; you must only expect my observations to be candid and such as are well founded in the mind of the writer. I am in a field where doctors disagree; and as to genuine representation, though no feature in government can be more important, perhaps no one has been less understood, and no one has received so imperfect a consideration by political writers. The ephori in Sparta and the tribunes in Rome were but the shadow [of representation]; the representation in Great Britain is unequal and insecure. In America we have done more in establishing this important branch on its true principles than, perhaps, all the world besides; yet even here, I conceive, that very great improvements in representation may be made. In fixing this branch, the situation of the people must be surveyed and the number of representatives and forms of election apportioned to that situation. When we find a numerous people settled in a fertile and extensive country, possessing equality, and few or none of them oppressed with riches or wants, it ought to be the anxious care of the constitution and laws to arrest them from national depravity and to preserve them in their happy condition. A virtuous people make just laws, and good laws tend to preserve unchanged a virtuous people. A virtuous and happy people, by laws uncongenial to their characters, may easily be gradually changed into servile and depraved creatures. Where the people, or their representatives, make the laws, it is probable they will generally be fitted to the national character and circumstances, unless the representation be partial and the imperfect substitute of the people. [Although] the people may be electors, if the representation be so formed as to give one or more of the natural classes of men in the society an undue ascendancy over the others, it is imperfect; the former will gradually become masters and the latter slaves. It is the first of all among the political balances to preserve in its proper station each of these classes. We talk of balances in the legislature and among the departments of government; we ought to carry them to the body of the people. … I have been sensibly struck with a sentence in the Marquis Beccaria’s treatise: this sentence was quoted by Congress in 1774, and is as follows:—“In every society there is an effort continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and happiness and to reduce the others to the extreme of weakness and misery; the intent of good laws is to oppose this effort and to diffuse their influence universally and equally.” Add to this Montesquieu’s opinion that “in a free state every man who is supposed to be a free agent ought to be concerned in his own government; therefore, the legislative should reside in the whole body of the people, or their representatives.” It is extremely clear that these writers had in view the several orders of men in society, which we call aristocratical, democratical, mercantile, mechanic, etc., and perceived the efforts they are constantly, from interested and ambitious views, disposed to make to elevate themselves and oppress others. Each order must have a share in the business of legislation actually and efficiently. It is deceiving a people to tell them they are electors and can choose their legislators if they cannot, in the nature of things, choose men from among themselves and genuinely like themselves. … To set this matter in a proper point of view, we must form some general ideas and descriptions of the different classes of men, as they may be divided by occupations and politically. The first class is the aristocratical. There are three kinds of aristocracy spoken of in this country. The first is a constitutional one, which does not exist in the United States in our common acceptation of the word. Montesquieu, it is true, observes, that where a part of the persons in a society, for want of property, age, or moral character, are excluded any share in the government, the others, who alone are the constitutional electors and elected, form this aristocracy; this, according to him, exists in each of the United States, where a considerable number of persons, as all convicted of crimes, under age, or not possessed of certain property, are excluded any share in the government. The second is an aristocratic faction: a junto of unprincipled men, often distinguished for their wealth or abilities, who combine together and make their object their private interests and aggrandizement. … The third is the natural aristocracy; this term we use to designate a respectable order of men, the line between whom and the natural democracy is in some degree arbitrary; we may place men on one side of this line which others may place on the other, and in all disputes between the few and the many, a considerable number are wavering and uncertain themselves on which side they are or ought to be. In my idea of our natural aristocracy in the United States, I include about four or five thousand men; and among these I reckon those who have been placed in the offices of governors, of members of Congress, and state senators generally, in the principal officers of Congress, of the army and militia, the superior judges, the most eminent professional men, etc., and men of large property. The other persons and orders in the community form the natural democracy; this includes in general the yeomanry, the subordinate officers, civil and military, the fishermen, mechanics and traders, many of the merchants and professional men. It is easy to perceive that men of these two classes, the aristocratical and democratical, with views equally honest, have sentiments widely different, especially respecting public and private expenses, salaries, taxes, etc. Men of the first class associate more extensively, have a high sense of honor, possess abilities, ambition, and general knowledge; men of the second class are not so much used to combining great objects; they possess less ambition and a larger share of honesty; their dependence is principally on middling and small estates, industrious pursuits, and hard labor, while that of the former is principally on the emoluments of large estates and of the chief offices of government. Not only the efforts of these two great parties are to be balanced, but other interests and parties also, which do not always oppress each other merely for want of power and for fear of the consequences. Though they, in fact, mutually depend on each other, yet such are their general views that the merchants alone would never fail to make laws favorable to themselves and oppressive to the farmers, etc. The farmers alone would act on like principles. The former would tax the land, the latter the trade. The manufacturers are often disposed to contend for monopolies, buyers make every exertion to lower prices, and sellers to raise them; men who live by fees and salaries endeavor to raise them, and the part of the people who pay them endeavor to lower them; the public creditors to augment taxes and the people at large to lessen them. Thus, in every period of society, and in all the transactions of men, we see parties verifying the observation made by the Marquis; and those classes which have not their sentinels in the government, in proportion to what they have to gain or lose, most infallibly [will] be ruined.
Efforts among parties are not merely confined to property; they contend for rank and distinctions; all their passions in turn are enlisted in political controversies. Men, elevated in society, are often disgusted with the changeableness of the democracy, and the latter are often agitated with the passions of jealousy and envy. The yeomanry possess a large share of property and strength, are nervous and firm in their opinions and habits. The mechanics of towns are ardent and changeable, honest and credulous; they are inconsiderable for numbers, weight and strength, not always sufficiently stable for the supporting free governments. The fishing interest partakes partly of the strength and stability of the landed and partly of the changeableness of the mechanic interest. As to merchants and traders, they are our agents in almost all money transactions, give activity to government, and possess a considerable share of influence in it. It has been observed by an able writer that frugal industrious merchants are generally advocates for liberty. It is an observation, I believe, well founded, that the schools produce but few advocates for republican forms of government; gentlemen of the law, divinity, physic, etc. probably form about a fourth part of the people; yet their political influence, perhaps, is equal to that of all other descriptions of men; if we may judge from the appointments to Congress, the legal characters will often, in a small representation, be the majority; but the more representatives are increased, the more of the farmers, merchants, etc. will be found to be brought into the government.
These general observations will enable you to discern what I intend by different classes and the general scope of my ideas when I contend for uniting and balancing their interests, feelings, opinions, and views in the legislature; we may not only so unite and balance these as to prevent a change in the government by the gradual exaltation of one part to the depression of others, but we may derive many other advantages from the combination and full representation. A small representation can never be well informed as to the circumstances of the people; the members of it must be too far removed from the people, in general, to sympathize with them, and too few to communicate with them. A representation must be extremely imperfect where the representatives are not circumstanced to make the proper communications to their constituents, and where the constituents in turn cannot, with tolerable convenience, make known their wants, circumstances, and opinions to their representatives. Where there is but one representative to 30,000 or 40,000 inhabitants, it appears to me, he can only mix and be acquainted with a few respectable characters among his constituents; even double the federal representation, and then there must be a very great distance between the representatives and the people in general represented. On the proposed plan, the state of Delaware, the city of Philadelphia, the state of Rhode Island, the province of Maine, the county of Suffolk in Massachusetts will have one representative each; there can be but little personal knowledge, or but few communications, between him and the people at large of either of those districts. It has been observed that mixing only with the respectable men, he will get the best information and ideas from them; he will also receive impressions favorable to their purposes particularly. Many plausible shifts have been made to divert the mind from dwelling on this defective representation… .
Could we get over all our difficulties respecting a balance of interests and party efforts to raise some and oppress others, the want of sympathy, information, and intercourse between the representatives and the people, an insuperable difficulty will still remain. I mean the constant liability of a small number of representatives to private combinations. The tyranny of the one or the licentiousness of the multitude are, in my mind, but small evils, compared with the factions of the few. It is a consideration well worth pursuing how far this house of representatives will be liable to be formed into private juntos, how far influenced by expectations of appointments and offices, how far liable to be managed by the president and senate, and how far the people will have confidence in them… .
“Brutus,” Essay II 1 November 1787
Addressed to “The People of the State of New York,” the essays of “Brutus” appeared in Thomas Greenleaf’s New York Journal between October 1787 and April 1788, contemporaneously with the appearance of The Federalist, whose authors sometimes engaged “Brutus” in direct debates. As is true of the “Federal Farmer,” the authorship remains in doubt, although the candidate most often mentioned is Robert Yates, one of New York’s three delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The second number was among the most able explanations of the most common anti-Federalist fear of all.
… When a building is to be erected which is intended to stand for ages, the foundation should be firmly laid. The constitution proposed to your acceptance is designed not for yourselves alone, but for generations yet unborn. The principles, therefore, upon which the social compact is founded, ought to have been clearly and precisely stated, and the most express and full declaration of rights to have been made—But on this subject there is almost an entire silence.
If we may collect the sentiments of the people of America from their own most solemn declarations, they hold this truth as self evident, that all men are by nature free. No one man, therefore, or any class of men, have a right, by the law of nature, or of God, to assume or exercise authority over their fellows. The origin of society then is to be sought, not in any natural right which one man has to exercise authority over another, but in the united consent of those who associate. The mutual wants of men at first dictated the propriety of forming societies; and when they were established, protection and defense pointed out the necessity of instituting government. In a state of nature every individual pursues his own interest; in this pursuit it frequently happened that the possessions or enjoyments of one were sacrificed to the views and designs of another; thus the weak were a prey to the strong, the simple and unwary were subject to impositions from those who were more crafty and designing. In this state of things, every individual was insecure; common interest therefore directed that government should be established, in which the force of the whole community should be collected, and under such directions as to protect and defend everyone who composed it. The common good, therefore, is the end of civil government, and common consent the foundation on which it is established. To effect this end, it was necessary that a certain portion of natural liberty should be surrendered, in order that what remained should be preserved. How great a proportion of natural freedom is necessary to be yielded by individuals, when they submit to government, I shall not now inquire. So much, however, must be given up as will be sufficient to enable those to whom the administration of the government is committed to establish laws for the promoting the happiness of the community, and to carry those laws into effect. But it is not necessary, for this purpose, that individuals should relinquish all their natural rights. Some are of such a nature that they cannot be surrendered. Of this kind are the rights of conscience, the right of enjoying and defending life, etc. Others are not necessary to be resigned in order to attain the end for which government is instituted. These, therefore, ought not to be given up. To surrender them would counteract the very end of government, to wit, the common good. From these observations it appears that, in forming a government on its true principles, the foundation should be laid in the manner I before stated, by expressly reserving to the people such of their essential natural rights as are not necessary to be parted with. The same reasons which at first induced mankind to associate and institute government will operate to influence them to observe this precaution. If they had been disposed to conform themselves to the rule of immutable righteousness, government would not have been requisite. It was because one part exercised fraud, oppression, and violence on the other that men came together and agreed that certain rules should be formed to regulate the conduct of all and the power of the whole community lodged in the hands of rulers to enforce an obedience to them. But rulers have the same propensities as other men; they are as likely to use the power with which they are vested for private purposes and to the injury and oppression of those over whom they are placed, as individuals in a state of nature are to injure and oppress one another. It is therefore as proper that bounds should be set to their authority as that government should have at first been instituted to restrain private injuries.
This principle, which seems so evidently founded in the reason and nature of things, is confirmed by universal experience. Those who have governed have been found in all ages ever active to enlarge their powers and abridge the public liberty. This has induced the people in all countries, where any sense of freedom remained, to fix barriers against the encroachments of their rulers. The country from which we have derived our origin is an eminent example of this. Their magna charta and bill of rights have long been the boast, as well as the security, of that nation. I need say no more, I presume, to an American, than that this principle is a fundamental one in all the constitutions of our own states; there is not one of them but what is either founded on a declaration or bill of rights or has certain express reservation of rights interwoven in the body of them. From this it appears that, at a time when the pulse of liberty beat high and when an appeal was made to the people to form constitutions for the government of themselves, it was their universal sense that such declarations should make a part of their frames of government. It is therefore the more astonishing that this grand security to the rights of the people is not to be found in this constitution.
It has been said, in answer to this objection, that such declaration of rights, however requisite they might be in the constitutions of the states, are not necessary in the general constitution, because, “in the former case, everything which is not reserved is given, but in the latter the reverse of the proposition prevails, and everything which is not given is reserved.” It requires but little attention to discover that this mode of reasoning is rather specious than solid. The powers, rights, and authority granted to the general government by this constitution are as complete, with respect to every object to which they extend, as that of any state government—It reaches to everything which concerns human happiness—Life, liberty, and property are under its control. There is the same reason, therefore, that the exercise of power in this case should be restrained within proper limits as in that of the state governments. To set this matter in a clear light, permit me to instance some of the articles of the bills of rights of the individual states, and apply them to the case in question.
For the security of life, in criminal prosecutions, the bills of rights of most of the states have declared that no man shall be held to answer for a crime until he is made fully acquainted with the charge brought against him; he shall not be compelled to accuse or furnish evidence against himself—The witnesses against him shall be brought face to face, and he shall be fully heard by himself or counsel. That it is essential to the security of life and liberty that trial of facts be in the vicinity where they happen. Are not provisions of this kind as necessary in the general government as in that of a particular state? The powers vested in the new Congress extend in many cases to life; they are authorized to provide for the punishment of a variety of capital crimes, and no restraint is laid upon them in its exercise, save only that “the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.” No man is secure of a trial in the county where he is charged to have committed a crime; he may be brought from Niagara to New York or carried from Kentucky to Richmond for trial for an offense supposed to be committed. What security is there that a man shall be furnished with a full and plain description of the charges against him? That he shall be allowed to produce all proof he can in his favor? That he shall see the witnesses against him face to face, or that he shall be fully heard in his own defense by himself or counsel?
For the security of liberty it has been declared, “that excessive bail should not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted—That all warrants, without oath or affirmation, to search suspected places or seize any person, his papers or property, are grievous and oppressive.”
These provisions are as necessary under the general government as under that of the individual states; for the power of the former is as complete to the purpose of requiring bail, imposing fines, inflicting punishments, granting search warrants, and seizing persons, papers, or property, in certain cases, as the other.
For the purpose of securing the property of the citizens, it is declared by all the states, “that in all controversies at law, respecting property, the ancient mode of trial by jury is one of the best securities of the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable.”
Does not the same necessity exist of reserving this right, under this national compact, as in that of this state? Yet nothing is said respecting it. In the bills of rights of the states it is declared that a well regulated militia is the proper and natural defense of a free government—That as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous, they are not to be kept up, and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to and controlled by the civil power.
The same security is as necessary in this constitution, and much more so; for the general government will have the sole power to raise and to pay armies, and are under no control in the exercise of it; yet nothing of this is to be found in this new system.
I might proceed to instance a number of other rights which were as necessary to be reserved, such as, that elections should be free, that the liberty of the press should be held sacred; but the instances adduced are sufficient to prove that this argument is without foundation.—Besides, it is evident that the reason here assigned was not the true one why the framers of this constitution omitted a bill of rights; if it had been, they would not have made certain reservations while they totally omitted others of more importance. We find they have, in the 9th section of the 1st article, declared that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in cases of rebellion—that no bill of attainder, or ex post facto law, shall be passed—that no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, etc. If everything which is not given is reserved, what propriety is there in these exceptions? Does this constitution anywhere grant the power of suspending the habeas corpus, to make ex post facto laws, pass bills of attainder, or grant titles of nobility? It certainly does not in express terms. The only answer that can be given is that these are implied in the general powers granted. With equal truth it may be said that all the powers which the bills of right guard against the abuse of are contained or implied in the general ones granted by this constitution.
So far it is from being true that a bill of rights is less necessary in the general constitution than in those of the states, the contrary is evidently the fact.—This system, if it is possible for the people of America to accede to it, will be an original compact; and being the last, will, in the nature of things, vacate every former agreement inconsistent with it. For it being a plan of government received and ratified by the whole people, all other forms which are in existence at the time of its adoption must yield to it. This is expressed in positive and unequivocal terms in the 6th article, “That this constitution and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution, or laws of any state, to thecontrary notwithstanding.
“The senators and representatives before-mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States, and of the several states, shall be bound, by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution.”
It is therefore not only necessarily implied thereby, but positively expressed, that the different state constitutions are repealed and entirely done away so far as they are inconsistent with this, with the laws which shall be made in pursuance thereof, or with treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States. Of what avail will the constitutions of the respective states be to preserve the rights of its citizens? Should they be pleaded, the answer would be, the Constitution of the United States, and the laws made in pursuance thereof, is the supreme law, and all legislatures and judicial officers, whether of the general or state governments, are bound by oath to support it. No privilege reserved by the bills of rights or secured by the state government can limit the power granted by this, or restrain any laws made in pursuance of it. It stands therefore on its own bottom, and must receive a construction by itself without any reference to any other—And hence it was of the highest importance that the most precise and express declarations and reservations of rights should have been made.
This will appear the more necessary when it is considered that not only the constitution and laws made in pursuance thereof, but all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, are the supreme law of the land, and supersede the constitutions of all the states. The power to make treaties is vested in the president, by and with the advice and consent of two thirds of the senate. I do not find any limitation, or restriction, to the exercise of this power. The most important article in any constitution may therefore be repealed, even without a legislative act. Ought not a government vested with such extensive and indefinite authority to have been restricted by a declaration of rights? It certainly ought.
So clear a point is this that I cannot help suspecting that persons who attempt to persuade people that such reservations were less necessary under this constitution than under those of the states are willfully endeavoring to deceive, and to lead you into an absolute state of vassalage.
Amendments Recommended by the Several State Conventions
In several of the largest states, the Federalists were able to secure approval of the Constitution only by accepting a procedure pioneered in Massachusetts, where a majority of delegates elected to the state convention initially opposed the plan. Working with Governor John Hancock, supporters of the document insisted that it must be ratified without condition, but agreed that subsequent amendments might be recommended to the first new Congress or the other states, two-thirds of which could constitutionally demand another Constitutional Convention.
Amendments Proposed by the Virginia Convention 27 June 1788
That there be a Declaration or Bill of Rights asserting and securing from encroachment the essential and unalienable Rights of the People in some such manner as the following:
First, That there are certain natural rights of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Second, That all power is naturally vested in and consequently derived from the people; that magistrates, therefore, are their trustees and agents and at all times amenable to them. Third, That government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people; and that the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind. Fourth, That no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive or separate public emoluments or privileges from the community but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator or judge, or any other public office to be hereditary. Fifth, That the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers of government should be separate and distinct, and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the public burdens, they should, at fixed periods be reduced to a private station, return into the mass of the people, and the vacancies be supplied by certain and regular elections; in which all or any part of the former members to be eligible or ineligible as the rules of the Constitution of Government and the laws shall direct. Sixth, That elections of representatives in the legislature ought to be free and frequent, and all men having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with and attachment to the community ought to have the right of suffrage; and no aid, charge, tax or fee can be set, rated, or levied upon the people without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor can they be bound by any law to which they have not in like manner assented for the public good. Seventh, That all power of suspending laws or the execution of laws by any authority without the consent of the representatives of the people in the legislature is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised. Eighth, That in all capital and criminal prosecutions, a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence and be allowed counsel in his favor, and to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty (except in the government of the land and naval forces) nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself. Ninth, That no freeman ought to be taken, imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold, liberties, privileges or franchises, or outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty or property but by the law of the land. Tenth, That every freeman restrained of his liberty is entitled to a remedy, to inquire into the lawfulness thereof, and to remove the same, if unlawful, and that such remedy ought not to be denied nor delayed. Eleventh, That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is one of the greatest securities to the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable. Twelfth, That every freeman ought to find a certain remedy by recourse to the laws for all injuries and wrongs he may receive in his person, property or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely without sale, completely and without denial, promptly and without delay, and that all establishments or regulations contravening these rights, are oppressive and unjust.
Thirteenth, That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Fourteenth, That every freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his papers, and his property; all warrants, therefore, to search suspected places or seize any freeman, his papers or property, without information upon oath (or affirmation of a person religiously scrupulous of taking an oath) of legal and sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive; and all general warrants to search suspected places, or to apprehend any suspected person, without specially naming or describing the place or person, are dangerous and ought not to be granted. Fifteenth, That the people have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for the common good, or to instruct their representatives; and that every freeman has a right to petition or apply to the legislature for redress of grievances. Sixteenth, That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments; but the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and ought not to be violated. Seventeenth, That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power. Eighteenth, That no Soldier in time of peace ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, and in time of war in such manner only as the laws direct. Nineteenth, That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an equivalent to employ another to bear arms in his stead. Twentieth, That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.
Amendments to the Body of the Constitution
First, That each State in the Union shall respectively retain every power, jurisdiction and right which is not by this Constitution delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of the Federal Government.
Second, That there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand, according to the enumeration or Census mentioned in the Constitution, until the whole number of representatives amounts to two hundred; after which that number shall be continued or increased as the Congress shall direct, upon the principles fixed by the Constitution, by apportioning the representatives of each state to some greater number of people from time to time as population increases. Third, When Congress shall lay direct taxes or excises, they shall immediately inform the executive power of each state of the quota of such state according to the Census herein directed, which is proposed to be thereby raised; And if the legislature of any state shall pass a law which shall be effectual for raising such quota at the time required by Congress, the taxes and excises laid by Congress shall not be collected, in such state. Fourth, That the members of the Senate and House of Representatives shall be ineligible to, and incapable of holding, any civil office under the authority of the United States, during the time for which they shall respectively be elected. Fifth, That the journals of the proceedings of the Senate and House of Representatives shall be published at least once in every year, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy.
Sixth, That a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published at least once in every year. Seventh, That no commercial treaty shall be ratified without the concurrence of two thirds of the whole number of the members of the Senate; and no treaty ceding, contracting, restraining or suspending the territorial rights or claims of the United States or any of them, or any of their rights or claims to fishing in the American Seas or navigating the American rivers shall be but in cases of the most urgent and extreme necessity, nor shall any such treaty be ratified without the concurrence of three fourths of the whole number of the members of both houses respectively.
Eighth, That no navigation law or law regulating commerce shall be passed without the consent of two thirds of the members present in both houses. Ninth, That no standing army or regular troops shall be raised or kept up in time of peace without the consent of two thirds of the members present in both houses. Tenth, That no soldier shall be enlisted for any longer term than four years, except in time of war, and then for no longer term than the continuance of the war. Eleventh, That each state respectively shall have the power to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining its own militia, whensoever Congress shall omit or neglect to provide for the same. That the militia shall not be subject to martial law except when in actual service in time of war, invasion, or rebellion; and when not in the actual service of the United States, shall be subject only to such fines, penalties, and punishments as shall be directed or inflicted by the laws of its own state. Twelfth, That the exclusive power of legislation given to Congress over the Federal Town and its adjacent District and other places purchased or to be purchased by Congress of any of the states shall extend only to such regulations as respect the police and good government thereof. Thirteenth, That no person shall be capable of being President of the United States for more than eight years in any term of sixteen years. Fourteenth, That the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such courts of Admiralty as Congress may from time to time ordain and establish in any of the different states: The judicial power shall extend to all cases in Law and Equity arising under treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other foreign ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more states, and between parties claiming lands under the grants of different states. In all cases affecting ambassadors, other foreign ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction; in all other cases before mentioned the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction as to matters of law only; except in cases of equity, and of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, in which the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction both as to law and fact, with such exceptions and under such regulations as the Congress shall make. But the judicial power of the United States shall extend to no case where the cause of action shall have originated before the ratification of this Constitution; except in disputes between states about their territory, disputes between persons claiming lands under the grants of different states, and suits for debts due to the United States. Fifteenth, That in criminal prosecutions no man shall be restrained in the exercise of the usual and accustomed right of challenging or excepting to the Jury. Sixteenth, That Congress shall not alter, modify or interfere in the times, places, or manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives or either of them, except when the legislature of any state shall neglect, refuse or be disabled by invasion or rebellion to prescribe the same. Seventeenth, That those clauses which declare that Congress shall not exercise certain powers be not interpreted in any manner whatsoever to extend the powers of Congress. But that they may be construed either as making exceptions to the specified powers where this shall be the case, or otherwise as inserted merely for greater caution. Eighteenth, That the laws ascertaining the compensation to Senators and Representatives for their services be postponed in their operation until after the election of Representatives immediately succeeding the passing thereof; that excepted, which shall first be passed on the subject. Nineteenth, That some tribunal other than the Senate be provided for trying impeachments of Senators. Twentieth, That the salary of a judge shall not be increased or diminished during his continuance in office otherwise than by general regulations of salary which may take place on a revision of the subject at stated periods of not less than seven years to commence from the time such salaries shall be first ascertained by Congress.
Ratification of the State of New York 26 July 1788
We, the delegates of the people of the state of New York, duly elected and met in Convention, having maturely considered the Constitution for the United States of America, agreed to on the 17th day of September, in the year 1787, by the Convention then assembled at Philadelphia, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (a copy whereof preceded these presents), and having also seriously and deliberately considered the present situation of the United States,—Do declare and make known,—
That all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people, and that government is instituted by them for their common interest, protection, and security.
That the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are essential rights, which every government ought to respect and preserve.
That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, to the departments of the government thereof, remains to the people of the several states, or to their respective state governments, to whom they may have granted the same; and that those clauses in the said Constitution which declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain powers do not imply that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the said Constitution; but such clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specified powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.
That the people have an equal, natural, and unalienable right freely and peaceably to exercise their religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.
That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state.
That the militia should not be subject to martial law, except in time of war, rebellion, or insurrection.
That standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in cases of necessity; and that at all times the military should be under strict subordination to the civil power.
That, in time of peace, no soldier ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, and in time of war only by the civil magistrate, in such manner as the laws may direct.
That no person ought to be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, or be exiled, or deprived of his privileges, franchises, life, liberty, or property, but by due process of law.
That no person ought to be put twice in jeopardy of life or limb for one and the same offense; nor, unless in case of impeachment, be punished more than once for the same offense.
That every person restrained of his liberty is entitled to an inquiry into the lawfulness of such restraint, and to a removal thereof if unlawful; and that such inquiry or removal ought not to be denied or delayed, except when, on account of public danger, the Congress shall suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.
That (except in the government of the land and naval forces, and of the militia when in actual service, and in cases of impeachment) a presentment or indictment by a grand jury ought to be observed as a necessary preliminary to the trial of all crimes cognizable by the judiciary of the United States; and such trial should be speedy, public, and by an impartial jury of the county where the crime was committed; and that no person can be found guilty without the unanimous consent of such jury. But in cases of crimes not committed within any county of any of the United States, and in cases of crimes committed within any county in which a general insurrection may prevail or which may be in the possession of a foreign enemy, the inquiry and trial may be in such county as the Congress shall by law direct; which county, in the two cases last mentioned, should be as near as conveniently may be to that county in which the crime may have been committed;—and that, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused ought to be informed of the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with his accusers and the witnesses against him, to have the means of producing his witnesses, and the assistance of counsel for his defense; and should not be compelled to give evidence against himself.
That the trial by jury, in the extent that it obtains by the common law of England, is one of the greatest securities to the rights of a free people, and ought to remain inviolate.
That every freeman has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches and seizures of his person, his papers, or his property; and therefore, that all warrants to search suspected places, or seize any freeman, his papers, or property, without information, upon oath or affirmation, or sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive; and that all general warrants (or such in which the place or person suspected are not particularly designated) are dangerous, and ought not to be granted.
That the people have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for their common good, or to instruct their representatives, and that every person has a right to petition or apply to the legislature for redress of grievances.
That the freedom of the press ought not to be violated or restrained.
That there should be, once in four years, an election of the President and Vice-President, so that no officer who may be appointed by the Congress to act as President, in case of the removal, death, resignation, or inability of the President and Vice-President, can in any case continue to act beyond the termination of the period for which the last President and Vice-President were elected.
That nothing contained in the said Constitution is to be construed to prevent the legislature of any state from passing laws at its discretion, from time to time, to divide such state into convenient districts, and to apportion its representatives to and amongst such districts.
That the prohibition contained in the said Constitution against ex post facto laws extends only to laws concerning crimes.
That all appeals in causes determinable according to the course of the common law ought to be by writ of error, and not otherwise.
That the judicial power of the United States, in cases in which a state may be a party, does not extend to criminal prosecutions, or to authorize any suit by any person against a state.
That the judicial power of the United States, as to controversies between citizens of the same state, claiming lands under grants from different states, is not to be construed to extend to any other controversies between them, except those which relate to such lands, so claimed, under grants of different states.
That the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States, or of any other court to be instituted by the Congress, is not in any case to be increased, enlarged, or extended by any faction, collusion, or mere suggestion; and that no treaty is to be construed so to operate as to alter the Constitution of any state.
Under these impressions, and declaring that the rights aforesaid cannot be abridged or violated, and that the explanations aforesaid are consistent with the said Constitution, and in confidence that the amendments which shall have been proposed to the said Constitution will receive an early and mature consideration,—We, the said delegates, in the name and in the behalf of the people of the state of New York, do, by these presents, assent to and ratify the said Constitution. In full confidence, nevertheless, that until a convention shall be called and convened for proposing amendments to the said Constitution, the militia of this state will not be continued in service out of this state for a longer term than six weeks, without the consent of the legislature thereof; that the Congress will not make or alter any regulation in this state respecting the times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators or representatives, unless the legislature of this state shall neglect or refuse to make laws or regulations for the purpose, or from any circumstance be incapable of making the same; and that, in those cases, such power will only be exercised until the legislature of this state shall make provision in the premises; that no excise will be imposed on any article of the growth, production, or manufacture of the United States, or any of them, within this state, ardent spirits excepted; and when the Congress will not lay direct taxes within this state, but when the moneys arising from the impost and excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then, until Congress shall first have made a requisition upon this state to assess, levy, and pay the amount of such requisition, made agreeably to the census fixed in the said Constitution, in such way and manner as the legislature of this state shall judge best; but that in such case, if the state shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion, pursuant to such requisition, then the Congress may assess and levy this state’s proportion, together with interest, at the rate of six per centum per annum, from the time at which the same was required to be paid.
And the Convention do, in the name and behalf of the people of the state of New York, enjoin it upon their representatives in Congress to exert all their influence, and use all reasonable means, to obtain a ratification of the following amendments to the said Constitution, in the manner prescribed therein; and in all laws to be passed by the Congress in the meantime, to conform to the spirit of the said amendments, as far as the Constitution will admit.
That there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand inhabitants, according to the enumeration or census mentioned in the Constitution, until the whole number of representatives amounts to two hundred, after which that number shall be continued or increased, but not diminished, as the Congress shall direct, and according to such ratio as the Congress shall fix, in conformity to the rule prescribed for the apportionment of representatives and direct taxes.
That the Congress do not impose any excise on any article (ardent spirits excepted) of the growth, production, or manufacture of the United States, or any of them.
That Congress do not lay direct taxes but when the moneys arising from the impost and excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then, until Congress shall first have made a requisition upon the states to assess, levy, and pay their respective proportions of such requisition, agreeably to the census fixed in the said Constitution, in such way and manner as the legislatures of the respec-tive states shall judge best; and in such case, if any state shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion, pursuant to such requisition, then Congress may assess and levy such state’s proportion, together with interest at the rate of six per centum per annum, from the time of payment prescribed in such requisition.
That the Congress shall not make or alter any regulation, in any state, respecting the times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, unless the legislature of such state shall neglect or refuse to make laws or regulations for the purpose, or from any circumstance be incapable of making the same, and then only until the legislature of such state shall make provision in the premises; provided that Congress may prescribe the time for the election of representatives.
That no persons, except natural-born citizens, or such as were citizens on or before the 4th day of July 1776, or such as held commissions under the United States during the war, and have at any time since the 4th day of July 1776, become citizens of one or other of the United States, and who shall be freeholders, shall be eligible to the places of President, Vice-President, or members of either House of the Congress of the United States.
That the Congress do not grant monopolies, or erect any company with exclusive advantages of commerce.
That no standing army or regular troops shall be raised, or kept up, in time of peace, without the consent of two thirds of the senators and representatives present in each house.
That no money be borrowed on the credit of the United States without the assent of two thirds of the senators and representatives present in each house.
That the Congress shall not declare war without the concurrence of two thirds of the senators and representatives present in each house.
That the privilege of the habeas corpus shall not, by any law, be suspended for a longer term than six months, or until twenty days after the meeting of the Congress next following the passing the act for such suspension.
That the right of Congress to exercise exclusive legislation over such district, not exceeding ten miles square, as may, by cession of a particular state and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States, shall not be so exercised as to exempt the inhabitants of such district from paying the like taxes, imposts, duties, and excises as shall be imposed on the other inhabitants of the state in which such district may be; and that no person shall be privileged within the said district from arrest for crimes committed, or debts contracted, out of the said district.
That the right of exclusive legislation with respect to such places as may be purchased for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings shall not authorize the Congress to make any law to prevent the laws of the states, respectively, in which they may be, from extending to such places in all civil and criminal matters, except as to such persons as shall be in the service of the United States; nor to them with respect to crimes committed without such places.
That the compensation for the senators and representatives be ascertained by standing laws; and that no alteration of the existing rate of compensation shall operate for the benefit of the representatives until after a subsequent election shall have been had.
That the Journals of the Congress shall be published at least once a year, with the exception of such parts, relating to treaties or military operations, as, in the judgment of either house, shall require secrecy; and that both houses of Congress shall always keep their doors open during their sessions, unless the business may, in their opinion, require secrecy. That the yeas and nays shall be entered on the Journals whenever two members in either house may require it.
That no capitation tax shall ever be laid by Congress.
That no person be eligible as a senator for more than six years in any term of twelve years; and that the legislatures of the respective states may recall their senators, or either of them, and elect others in their stead, to serve the remainder of the time for which the senators so recalled were appointed.
That no senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any office under the authority of the United States.
That the authority given to the executives of the states to fill up the vacancies of senators be abolished, and that such vacancies be filled by the respective legislatures.
That the power of Congress to pass uniform laws concerning bankruptcy shall only extend to merchants and other traders; and the states respectively may pass laws for the relief of other insolvent debtors.
That no person shall be eligible to the office of President of the United States a third time.
That the executive shall not grant pardons for treason, unless with the consent of the Congress; but may, at his discretion, grant reprieves to persons convicted of treason, until their cases can be laid before the Congress.
That the President, or person exercising his powers for the time being, shall not command an army in the field in person without the previous desire of the Congress.
That all letters patent, commissions, pardons, writs, and processes of the United States shall run in the name of the people of the United States, and be tested in the name of the President of the United States, or the person exercising his powers for the time being, or the first judge of the court out of which the same shall issue, as the case may be.
That the Congress shall not constitute, ordain, or establish, any tribunals or inferior courts with any other than appellate jurisdiction, except such as may be necessary for the trial of cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas; and in all other cases to which the judicial power of the United States extends, and in which the Supreme Court of the United States has not original jurisdiction, the causes shall be heard, tried, and determined in some one of the state courts, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, or other proper tribunal, to be established for that purpose by the Congress, with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the Congress shall make.
That the court for the trial of impeachments shall consist of the Senate, the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the first or senior judge, of the time being, of the highest court of general and ordinary common-law jurisdiction in each state; that the Congress shall, by standing laws, designate the courts in the respective states answering this description, and, in states having no courts exactly answering this description, shall designate some other court, preferring such, if any there be, whose judge or judges may hold their places during good behavior; provided, that no more than one judge, other than judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, shall come from one state.
That the Congress be authorized to pass laws for compensating the judges for such services, and for compelling their attendance; and that a majority, at least, of the said judges shall be requisite to constitute the said court. That no person impeached shall sit as a member thereof; that each member shall, previous to the entering upon any trial, take an oath or affirmation honestly and impartially to hear and determine the cause; and that a majority of the members present shall be necessary to a conviction.
That persons aggrieved by any judgment, sentence, or decree of the Supreme Court of the United States, in any cause in which that court has original jurisdiction, with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the Congress shall make concerning the same, shall, upon application, have a commission, to be issued by the President of the United States to such men learned in the law as he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate appoint, not less than seven, authorizing such commissioners, or any seven or more of them, to correct the errors in such judgment, or to review such sentence and decree, as the case may be, and to do justice to the parties in the premises.
That no judge of the Supreme Court of the United States shall hold any other office under the United States, or any of them.
That the judicial power of the United States shall extend to no controversies respecting land, unless it relate to claims of territory or jurisdiction between states, and individuals under the grants of different states.
That the militia of any state shall not be compelled to serve without the limits of the state, for a longer term than six weeks without the consent of the legislature thereof.
That the words without the consent of the Congress in the seventh clause of the ninth section of the first article of the Constitution be expunged.
That the senators and representatives, and all executive and judicial officers of the United States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation not to infringe or violate the constitutions or rights of the respective states.
That the legislatures of the respective states may make provision, by law, that the electors of the election districts, to be by them appointed, shall choose a citizen of the United States, who shall have been an inhabitant of such district for the term of one year immediately preceding the time of his election, for one of the representatives of such state.
The Circular Letter from the Ratification Convention of the State of New York to the Governors of the Several States in the Union 28 July 1788
We, the members of the Convention of this state, have deliberately and maturely considered the Constitution proposed for the United States. Several articles in it appear so exceptionable to a majority of us that nothing but the fullest confidence of obtaining a revision of them by a general convention, and an invincible reluctance to separating from our sister states, could have prevailed upon a sufficient number to ratify it, without stipulating for previous amendments. We all unite in opinion that such a revision will be necessary to recommend it to the approbation and support of a numerous body of our constituents.
We observe that amendments have been proposed, and are anxiously desired, by several of the states, as well as by this; and we think it of great importance that effectual measures be immediately taken for calling a convention to meet at a period not far remote; for we are convinced that the apprehensions and discontents which those articles occasion cannot be removed or allayed unless an act to provide for it be among the first that shall be passed by the new Congress.
As it is essential that an application for the purpose should be made to them by two thirds of the states, we earnestly exhort and request the legislature of your state to take the earliest opportunity of making it. We are persuaded that a similar one will be made by our legislature at their next session; and we ardently wish and desire that the other states may concur in adopting and promoting the measure.
It cannot be necessary to observe that no government, however constructed, can operate well unless it possesses the confidence and good will of the body of the people; and as we desire nothing more than that the amendments proposed by this or other states be submitted to the consideration and decision of a general convention, we flatter ourselves that motives of mutual affection and conciliation will conspire with the obvious dictates of sound policy to induce even such of the states as may be content with every article in the Constitution to gratify the reasonable desires of that numerous class of American citizens who are anxious to obtain amendments of some of them.
Our amendments will manifest that none of them originated in local views, as they are such as, if acceded to, must equally affect every state in the Union. Our attachment to our sister states, and the confidence we repose in them, cannot be more forcibly demonstrated than by acceding to a government which many of us think very imperfect, and devolving the power of determining whether that government shall be rendered perpetual in its present form or altered agreeably to our wishes and a minority of the states with whom we unite.
We request the favor of your excellency to lay this letter before the legislature of your state; and we are persuaded that your regard for our national harmony and good government will induce you to promote a measure which we are unanimous in thinking very conducive to those interesting objects.
We have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your excellency’s most obedient servants.
By the unanimous order of the Convention,
George Clinton, President
James Madison to George Washington New York, 11 August 1788
You will have seen the circular letter from the convention of this state. It has a most pestilent tendency. If an early General Convention cannot be parried, it is seriously to be feared that the system which has resisted so many direct attacks may be at last successfully undermined by its enemies. It is now perhaps to be wished that Rhode Island may not accede till this new crisis of danger be over. Some think it would have been better if even N. York had held out till the operation of the government could have dissipated the fears which artifice had created and the attempts resulting from those fears & artifices. We hear nothing yet from N. Carolina more than comes by the way of Petersburg.
Madison to Washington New York, 24 August 1788
… The circular letter from this state is certainly a matter of as much regret as the unanimity with which it passed is matter of surprise. I find it is everywhere, and particularly in Virginia, laid hold of as the signal for united exertions in pursuit of early amendments. In Pennsylva. the antifederal leaders are, I understand, soon to have a meeting at Harrisburg in order to concert proper arrangements on the part of that state. I begin now to accede to the opinion, which has been avowed for some time by many, that the circumstances involved in the ratification of New York will prove more injurious than a rejection would have done. The latter would have rather alarmed the well meaning Antifederalists elsewhere, would have had no ill effect on the other party, and would have been necessarily followed by a speedy reconsideration of the subject. I am not able to account for the concurrence of the federal part of the Convention in the circular address on any other principle than the determination to purchase an immediate ratification in any form and at any price rather than disappoint this City of a chance for the new Congress. This solution is sufficiently justified by the eagerness displayed on this point, and the evident disposition to risk and sacrifice everything to it. Unfortunately, the disagreeable question continues to be undecided, and is now in a state more perplexing than ever. By the last vote taken, the whole arrangement was thrown out, and the departure of Rho. Island & the refusal of N. Carolina to participate further in the business has left eleven states only to take it up anew. In this number there are not seven states for any place, and the disposition to relax, as usually happens, decreases with the progress of the contest. What and when the issue is to be is really more than I can foresee. It is truly mortifying that the outset of the new government should be immediately preceded by such a display of locality as portends the continuance of an evil which has dishonored the old, and gives countenance to some of the most popular arguments which have been inculcated by the Southern Antifederalists.
New York has appeared to me extremely objectionable on the following grounds. It violates too palpably the simple and obvious principle that the seat of public business should be made as equally convenient to every part of the public as the requisite accommodations for executing the business will permit. This consideration has the more weight as well on account of the catholic spirit professed by the Constitution as of the increased resort which it will require from every quarter of the continent. It seems to be particularly essential that an eye should be had in all our public arrangements to the accommodation of the Western Country, which perhaps cannot be sufficiently gratified at any rate, but which might be furnished with new fuel to its jealousy by being summoned to the sea-shore & almost at one end of the continent. There are reasons, but of too confidential a nature for any other than verbal communication, which make it of critical importance that neither cause nor pretext should be given for distrusts in that quarter of the policy towards it in this. I have apprehended also that a preference so favorable to the Eastern States would be represented in the Southern as a decisive proof of the preponderance of that scale, and a justification of all the antifederal arguments drawn from that danger. Adding to all this the recollection that the first year or two will produce all the great arrangements under the new system, and which may fix its tone for a long time to come, it seems of real importance that the temporary residence of the new Congress, apart from its relation to the final residence, should not be thrown too much towards one extremity of the Union. It may perhaps be the more necessary to guard against suspicions of partiality in this case as the early measures of the new government, including a navigation act, will of course be more favorable to this extremity.
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson 21 September 1788
… The Circular Letter from the New York Convention has rekindled an ardor among the opponents of the Federal Constitution for an immediate revision of it by another General Convention. You will find in one of the papers enclosed the result of the consultations in Pennsylvania on that subject. Mr. Henry and his friends in Virginia enter with great zeal into the scheme. Governor Randolph also espouses it; but with a wish to prevent if possible danger to the article which extends the power of the government to internal as well as external taxation. It is observable that the views of the Pennsylva. meeting do not rhyme very well with those of the Southern advocates for a Convention; the objects most eagerly pursued by the latter being unnoticed in the Harrisburg proceedings. The effect of the circular letter on other states is less known. I conclude that it will be the same everywhere among those who opposed the Constitution or contended for a conditional ratification of it. Whether an early Convention will be the result of this united effort is more than can at this moment be foretold. The measure will certainly be industriously opposed in some parts of the Union, not only by those who wish for no alterations, but by others who would prefer the other mode provided in the Constitution as most expedient at present for introducing those supplemental safeguards to liberty against which no objections can be raised, and who would moreover approve of a Convention for amending the frame of the government itself, as soon as time shall have somewhat corrected the feverish state of the public mind and trial have pointed its attention to the true defects of the system.
You will find also by one of the papers enclosed that the arrangements have been completed for bringing the new government into action. The dispute concerning the place of its meeting was the principal cause of delay, the Eastern States with N. Jersey and S. Carolina being attached to N. York, and the others strenuous for a more central position. Philadelphia, Wilmington, Lancaster and Baltimore were successively tendered without effect by the latter before they finally yielded to the superiority of [numbers?] in favor of this City. I am afraid the decision will give a great handle to the Southern Antifederalists who have inculcated a jealousy of this end of the continent. It is to be regretted also as entailing this pernicious question on the new Congress who will have enough to do in adjusting the other delicate matters submitted to them. Another consideration of great weight with me is that the temporary residence here will probably end in a permanent one at Trenton, or at the farthest on the Susquehannah. A removal in the first instance beyond the Delaware would have removed the alternative to the Susquehannah and the Potomac. The best chance of the latter depends on a delay of the permanent establishment for a few years, until the Western and South Western population comes more into view. This delay cannot take place if so eccentric a place as N. York is to be the intermediate seat of business.
Madison to Jefferson 8 December 1788
… Notwithstanding the formidable opposition made to the new federal government, first in order to prevent its adoption, and since in order to place its administration in the hands of disaffected men, there is now both a certainty of its peaceable commencement in March next and a flattering prospect that it will be administered by men who will give it a fair trial. General Washington will certainly be called to the executive department. Mr. Adams who is pledged to support him will probably be the vice president. The enemies to the government, at the head and the most inveterate of whom is Mr. Henry, are laying a train for the election of Governor Clinton, but it cannot succeed unless the federal votes be more dispersed than can well happen. Of the seven states which have appointed their Senators, Virginia alone will have antifederal members in that branch. Those of N. Hampshire are President Langdon and Judge Bartlett, of Massachusetts Mr. Strong and Mr. Dalton, of Connecticut Dr. Johnson and Mr. Ellsworth, of N. Jersey Mr. Patterson and Mr. Elmer, of Penna. Mr. R. Morris and Mr. McClay, of Delaware Mr. Geo. Reed and Mr. Bassett, of Virginia Mr. R. H. Lee and Col. Grayson. Here is already a majority of the ratifying states on the side of the Constitution. And it is not doubted that it will be reinforced by the appointments of Maryland, S. Carolina and Georgia. As one branch of the Legislature of N. York is attached to the Constitution, it is not improbable that one of the Senators from that state also will be added to the majority.
In the House of Representatives the proportion of antifederal members will of course be greater, but cannot if present appearances are to be trusted amount to a majority or even a very formidable minority. The election for this branch has taken place as yet nowhere except in Penna. and here the returns are not yet come in from all the counties. It is certain however that seven out of the eight, and probable that the whole eight representatives will bear the federal stamp. Even in Virginia where the enemies to the government form 2/3 of the legislature it is computed that more than half the number of Representatives, who will be elected by the people, formed into districts for the purpose, will be of the same stamp. By some it is computed that 7 out of the 10 allotted to that state will be opposed to the politics of the present legislature.
The questions which divide the public at present relate 1. to the extent of the amendments that ought to be made to the Constitution, 2. to the mode in which they ought to be made. The friends of the Constitution, some from an approbation of particular amendments, others from a spirit of conciliation, are generally agreed that the system should be revised. But they wish the revisal to be carried no farther than to supply additional guards for liberty, without abridging the sum of power transferred from the states to the general government or altering previous to trial the particular structure of the latter and are fixed in opposition to the risk of another Convention whilst the purpose can be as well answered by the other mode provided for introducing amendments. Those who have opposed the Constitution are, on the other hand, zealous for a second Convention, and for a revisal which may either not be restrained at all or extend at least as far as alterations have been proposed by any state. Some of this class are, no doubt, friends to an effective government, and even to the substance of the particular government in question. It is equally certain that there are others who urge a second Convention with the insidious hope of throwing all things into confusion, and of subverting the fabric just established, if not the Union itself. If the first Congress embrace the policy which circumstances mark out, they will not fail to propose of themselves every desirable safeguard for popular rights; and by thus separating the well meaning from the designing opponents fix on the latter their true character, and give to the government its due popularity and stability.
The Bill of Rights
Although he was a staunch opponent of the anti-Federalist demand for a second federal convention—and of any amendments that would substantially reduce the powers of the new regime—Madison had said at the Virginia Ratifying Convention that he would not oppose amendments that might provide additional securities for liberty. During the first federal elections, in which he overcame a formidable challenge for a seat in the House, he announced that he was positively committed to such amendments, though still convinced that these could be secured most speedily, with the greatest security against damaging alterations in the substance of the Constitution, and with the greatest likelihood of general acceptance, if they were prepared by Congress rather than another general convention. Over the succeeding months, he took it on himself to lead this effort, combing through the many amendments recommended by the states, together with the states’ declarations of rights, for such additions and changes as he considered advisable and safe. Public assurances of speedy action on the subject were inserted in Washington’s inaugural address and in the House of Representatives’ reply, both of which Madison drafted. On 4 May 1789, he announced to the House that he would introduce amendments on 25 May. The press of other business forced him to accept a postponement on that date. But on 8 June he interrupted other business to introduce some nineteen propositions.
Proceedings in the House of Representatives 8 June 1789
Madison moved that the House resolve itself into a committee of the whole to consider amendments to the Constitution.
William Loughton Smith (S.C.)
was not inclined to interrupt the measures which the public were so anxiously expecting by going into a committee of the whole at this time. He observed there were two modes of introducing this business to the house: one by appointing a select committee to take into consideration the several amendments proposed by the state conventions; this he thought the most likely way to shorten the business. The other was that the gentleman should lay his propositions on the table for the consideration of the members; that they should be printed and taken up for discussion at a future day. Either of these modes would enable the house to enter upon the business better prepared than could be the case by a sudden transition from other important concerns to which their minds were strongly bent. He therefore hoped the honorable gentleman would consent to bring the subject forward in one of those ways, in preference to going into a committee of the whole. For, he said, it must appear extremely impolitic to go into the consideration of amending the government before it is organized, before it has begun to operate; certainly, upon reflection, it must appear to be premature… .
James Jackson (Ga.)
I am of opinion we ought not to be in a hurry with respect to altering the Constitution. For my part I have no idea of speculating in this serious matter on theory; if I agree to alterations in the mode of administering this government, I shall like to stand on the sure ground of experience, and not be treading air. What experience have we had of the good or bad qualities of this Constitution? Can any gentleman affirm to me one proposition that is a certain and absolute amendment? I deny that he can. Our Constitution, sir, is like a vessel just launched and lying at the wharf, she is untried, you can hardly discover any one of her properties; it is not known how she will answer her helm or lay her course; whether she will bear in safety the precious freight to be deposited in her hold. But, in this state, will the prudent merchant attempt alterations? Will he employ two thousand workmen to tear off the planking and take asunder the frame? He certainly will not. Let us gentlemen, fit out our vessel, set up her masts, and expand her sails, and be guided by the experiment in our alterations. If she sails upon an uneven keel, let us right her by adding weight where it is wanting. In this way, we may remedy her defects to the satisfaction of all concerned; but if we proceed now to make alterations, we may deface a beauty or deform a well proportioned piece of workmanship. In short, Mr. Speaker, I am not for amendments at this time, but if gentlemen should think it a subject deserving of attention, they will surely not neglect the more important business which is now unfinished before them. Without we pass the collection bill, we can get no revenue, and without revenue the wheels of government cannot move. I am against taking up the subject at present and shall therefore be totally against the amendments if the government is not organized, that I may see whether it is grievous or not.
When the propriety of making amendments shall be obvious from experience, I trust there will be virtue enough in my country to make them… .
Let the Constitution have a fair trial, let it be examined by experience, discover by that test what its errors are, and then talk of amending; but to attempt it now is doing it at risk, which is certainly imprudent. I have the honor of coming from a state that ratified the Constitution by the unanimous vote of a numerous convention: the people of Georgia have manifested their attachment to it, by adopting a state constitution framed upon the same plan as this. But although they are thus satisfied, I shall not be against such amendments as will gratify the inhabitants of other states, provided they are judged of by experience and not theory. For this reason I wish the consideration of the subject postponed until the first of March, 1790.
Benjamin Goodhue (Mass.)
I believe it would be perfectly right in the gentleman who spoke last to move a postponement to the time he has mentioned, because he is opposed to the consideration of amendments altogether. But I believe it will be proper to attend to the subject earlier, because it is the wish of many of our constituents that something should be added to the Constitution to secure in a stronger manner their liberties from the inroads of power. Yet I think the present time premature, inasmuch as we have other business before us, which is incomplete, but essential to the public interest; when that is finished, I shall concur in taking up the subject of amendments.
Aedenus Burke (S.C.)
thought amendments to the Constitution necessary, but this was not the proper time to bring them forward; he wished the government completely organized before they entered upon the ground. The law for collecting the revenue was immediately necessary, the treasury department must be established; till these and other important subjects were determined, he was against taking this up. He said it might interrupt the harmony of the house, which was necessary to be preserved to dispatch the great objects of legislation. He hoped it would be postponed for the present, and pledged himself to bring it forward again, if nobody else would.
James Madison (Va.)
The gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Jackson) is certainly right in his opposition to my motion for going into a committee of the whole, because he is unfriendly to the object I have in contemplation; but I cannot see that the gentlemen who wish for amendments being proposed at the present session stand on good ground when they object to the house going into committee on this business.
When I first hinted to the house my intention of calling their deliberations to this object, I mentioned the pressure of other important subjects and submitted the propriety of postponing this till the more urgent business was dispatched; but finding that business not dispatched, when the order of the day for considering amendments arrived, I thought it a good reason for a farther delay. I moved the postponement accordingly. I am sorry the same reason still exists in some degree; but operates with less force when it is considered that it is not now proposed to enter into a full and minute discussion of every part of the subject, but merely to bring it before the house, that our constituents may see we pay a proper attention to a subject they have much at heart; and if it does not give that full gratification which is to be wished, they will discover that it proceeds from the urgency of business of a very important nature. But if we continue to postpone from time to time, and refuse to let the subject come into view, it may occasion suspicions which, though not well founded, may tend to inflame or prejudice the public mind against our decisions: they may think we are not sincere in our desire to incorporate such amendments in the Constitution as will secure those rights which they consider as not sufficiently guarded. The applications for amendments come from a very respectable number of our constituents, and it is certainly proper for Congress to consider the subject, in order to quiet that anxiety which prevails in the public mind: Indeed I think it would have been of advantage to the government, if it had been practicable, to have made some propositions for amendments the first business we entered upon; it would stifle the voice of complaint and make friends of many who doubted its merits. Our future measures would then have been more universally agreeable and better supported; but the justifiable anxiety to put the government in operation prevented that; it therefore remains for us to take it up as soon as possible. I wish then to commence the consideration at the present moment; I hold it to be my duty to unfold my ideas and explain myself to the house in some form or other without delay. I only wish to introduce the great work, and as I said before, I do not expect it will be decided immediately; but if some step is taken in the business it will give reason to believe that we may come at a final result. This will inspire a reasonable hope in the advocates for amendments that full justice will be done to the important subject; and I have reason to believe their expectation will not be defeated. I hope the house will not decline my motion for going into a committee.
Roger Sherman (Conn.)
I am willing that this matter should be brought before the house at a proper time. I suppose a number of gentlemen think it their duty to bring it forward; so that there is no apprehension it will be passed over in silence. Other gentlemen may be disposed to let the subject rest until the more important objects of government are attended to; and I should conclude from the nature of the case that the people expect the latter of us in preference of altering the Constitution, because they have ratified that instrument in order that the government may begin to operate. If this was not their wish, they might well have rejected the Constitution, as North Carolina has done, until the amendments took place. The state I have the honor to come from adopted this system by a very great majority, because they wished for the government; but they desired no amendments. I suppose this was the case in other states; it will therefore be imprudent to neglect much more important concerns for this. The executive part of the government wants organization; the business of the revenue is incomplete, to say nothing of the judiciary business. Now, will gentlemen give up these points to go into a discussion of amendments when no advantage can arise from them? For my part, I question if any alteration which can be now proposed would be an amendment in the true sense of the word; but nevertheless I am willing to let the subject be introduced; if the gentleman only desires to go into committee for the purpose of receiving his propositions, I shall consent; but I have strong objections to being interrupted in completing the more important business, because I am well satisfied it will alarm the fears of twenty of our constituents where it will please one.
Alexander White (Va.)
I hope the house will not spend much time on this subject till the more pressing business is dispatched, but, at the same time, I hope we shall not dismiss it altogether, because I think a majority of the people who have ratified the Constitution did it under an expectation that Congress would, at some convenient time, examine its texture and point out where it is defective, in order that it might be judiciously amended. Whether, while we are without experience, amendments can be digested in such a manner as to give satisfaction to a constitutional majority of this house, I will not pretend to say, but I hope the subject may be considered with all convenient speed. I think it would tend to tranquilize the public mind; therefore I shall vote in favor of going into a committee of the whole, and after receiving the subject shall be content to refer it to a special committee to arrange and report… .
thought the gentleman who brought forward the subject had done his duty: He had supported his motion with ability and candor, and if he did not succeed he was not to blame. On considering what had been urged for going into a committee, he was induced to join the gentleman; but it would be merely to receive his propositions; after which he would move something to this effect: That however desirous this house may be to go into the consideration of amendments to the Constitution, in order to establish the liberties of the people of America on the securest foundation, yet the important and pressing business of the government prevents their entering upon that subject at present.
John Page (Va.)
My colleague tells you he is ready to submit to the committee of the whole his ideas on this subject; if no objection had been made to his motion, the whole business might have been finished before this. He has done me the honor of showing me certain propositions which he has drawn up. They are very important, and I sincerely wish the house may receive them. After they are published, I think the people will wait with patience till we are at leisure to resume them; but it must be very disagreeable to them to have it postponed from time to time, in the manner it has been, for six weeks past; they will be tired out by a fruitless expectation. Putting myself into the place of those who favor amendments, I should suspect Congress did not mean seriously to enter upon the subject; that it was vain to expect redress from them; I should begin to turn my attention to the alternative contained in the fifth article, and think of joining the legislatures of those states which have applied for calling a new convention. How dangerous such an expedient would be, I need not mention, but I venture to affirm that unless you take early notice of this subject, you will not have power to deliberate. The people will clamor for a new convention, they will not trust the house any longer; those, therefore, who dread the assembling of a convention will do well to acquiesce in the present motion and lay the foundation of a most important work. I do not think we need consume more than half an hour in the committee of the whole; this is not so much time but we may conveniently spare it, considering the nature of the business. I do not wish to divert the attention of Congress from the organization of the government, nor do I think it need be done, if we comply with the present motion… .
I am sorry to be accessory to the loss of a single moment of time by the house. If I had been indulged in my motion, and we had gone into a committee of the whole, I think we might have rose and resumed the consideration of other business before this time. … As that mode seems not to give satisfaction, I will withdraw the motion and move you, sir, that a select committee be appointed to consider and report such amendments as are proper for Congress to propose to the legislatures of the several states, conformably to the Fifth Article of the Constitution. I will state my reasons why I think it proper to propose amendments; and state the amendments themselves, so far as I think they ought to be proposed. If I thought I could fulfill the duty which I owe to myself and my constituents, to let the subject pass over in silence, I most certainly should not trespass upon the indulgence of this house. But I cannot do this; and am therefore compelled to beg a patient hearing to what I have to lay before you. And I do most sincerely believe that if Congress will devote but one day to this subject, so far as to satisfy the public that we do not disregard their wishes, it will have a salutary influence on the public councils and prepare the way for a favorable reception of our future measures. It appears to me that this house is bound by every motive of prudence not to let the first session pass over without proposing to the state legislatures some things to be incorporated into the Constitution as will render it as acceptable to the whole people of the United States as it has been found acceptable to a majority of them. I wish, among other reasons why something should be done, that those who have been friendly to the adoption of this Constitution may have the opportunity of proving to those who were opposed to it that they were as sincerely devoted to liberty and a republican government as those who charged them with wishing the adoption of this Constitution in order to lay the foundation of an aristocracy or despotism. It will be a desirable thing to extinguish from the bosom of every member of the community any apprehensions that there are those among his countrymen who wish to deprive them of the liberty for which they valiantly fought and honorably bled. And if there are amendments desired of such a nature as will not injure the Constitution, and they can be engrafted so as to give satisfaction to the doubting part of our fellow citizens, the friends of the federal government will evince that spirit of deference and concession for which they have hitherto been distinguished.
It cannot be a secret to the gentlemen in this house that, notwithstanding the ratification of this system of government by eleven of the thirteen United States, in some cases unanimously, in others by large majorities; yet still there is a great number of our constituents who are dissatisfied with it; among whom are many respectable for their talents, their patriotism, and respectable for the jealousy they have for their liberty, which, though mistaken in its object, is laudable in its motive. There is a great body of the people falling under this description who, at present, feel much inclined to join their support to the cause of federalism, if they were satisfied in this one point: We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes, and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this Constitution. The acquiescence which our fellow citizens show under the government calls upon us for a like return of moderation. But perhaps there is a stronger motive than this for our going into a consideration of the subject; it is to provide those securities for liberty which are required by a part of the community. I allude in a particular manner to those two states who have not thought fit to throw themselves into the bosom of the confederacy; it is a desirable thing, on our part as well as theirs, that a reunion should take place as soon as possible. I have no doubt, if we proceed to take those steps which would be prudent and requisite at this juncture, that in a short time we should see that disposition prevailing in those states that are not come in that we have seen prevailing in those states which are.
But I will candidly acknowledge that, over and above all these considerations, I do conceive that the Constitution may be amended; that is to say, if all power is subject to abuse, that then it is possible the abuse of the powers of the general government may be guarded against in a more secure manner than is now done, while no one advantage arising from the exercise of that power shall be damaged or endangered by it. We have in this way something to gain and, if we proceed with caution, nothing to lose; and in this case it is necessary to proceed with caution; for while we feel all these inducements to go into a revisal of the Constitution, we must feel for the Constitution itself, and make that revisal a moderate one. I should be unwilling to see a door opened for a reconsideration of the whole structure of the government, for a reconsideration of the principles and the substance of the powers given; because I doubt, if such a door was opened, if we should be very likely to stop at that point which would be safe to the government itself: But I do wish to see a door opened to consider, so far as to incorporate those provisions for the security of rights, against which I believe no serious objection has been made by any class of our constituents. Such as would be likely to meet with the concurrence of two-thirds of both houses and the approbation of three-fourths of the state legislatures. I will not propose a single alteration which I do not wish to see take place, as intrinsically proper in itself, or proper because it is wished for by a respectable number of my fellow citizens; and therefore I shall not propose a single alteration but is likely to meet the concurrence required by the Constitution.
There have been objections of various kinds made against the Constitution: Some were leveled against its structure, because the president was without a council; because the senate, which is a legislative body, had judicial powers in trials on impeachments; and because the powers of that body were compounded in other respects in a manner that did not correspond with a particular theory; because it grants more power than is supposed to be necessary for every good purpose; and controls the ordinary powers of the state governments. I know some respectable characters who opposed this government on these grounds; but I believe that the great mass of the people who opposed it disliked it because it did not contain effectual provision against encroachments on particular rights, and those safeguards which they have been long accustomed to have interposed between them and the magistrate who exercised the sovereign power: nor ought we to consider them safe, while a great number of our fellow citizens think these securities necessary.
It has been a fortunate thing that the objection to the government has been made on the ground I stated; because it will be practicable on that ground to obviate the objection, so far as to satisfy the public mind that their liberties will be perpetual, and this without endangering any part of the Constitution which is considered as essential to the existence of the government by those who promoted its adoption.
The amendments which have occurred to me, proper to be recommended by Congress to the state legislatures, are these:
The first of these amendments relates to what may be called a bill of rights; I will own that I never considered this provision so essential to the federal constitution as to make it improper to ratify it until such an amendment was added; at the same time, I always conceived that, in a certain form and to a certain extent, such a provision was neither improper nor altogether useless. I am aware that a great number of the most respectable friends to the government and champions for republican liberty have thought such a provision not only unnecessary, but even improper, nay, I believe some have gone so far as to think it even dangerous. Some policy has been made use of perhaps by gentlemen on both sides of the question: I acknowledge the ingenuity of those arguments which were drawn against the Constitution by a comparison with the policy of Great Britain, in establishing a declaration of rights; but there is too great a difference in the case to warrant the comparison; therefore the arguments drawn from that source were in a great measure inapplicable. In the declaration of rights which that country has established, the truth is, they have gone no farther than to raise a barrier against the power of the crown; the power of the legislature is left altogether indefinite. Altho’ I know whenever the great rights, the trial by jury, freedom of the press, or liberty of conscience, came in question in that body, the invasion of them is resisted by able advocates, yet their Magna Charta does not contain any one provision for the security of those rights respecting which the people of America are most alarmed. The freedom of the press and rights of conscience, those choicest privileges of the people, are unguarded in the British constitution.
But altho’ the case may be widely different, and it may not be thought necessary to provide limits for the legislative power in that country, yet a different opinion prevails in the United States. The people of many states have thought it necessary to raise barriers against power in all forms and departments of government, and I am inclined to believe, if once bills of rights are established in all the states as well as the federal constitution, we shall find that altho’ some of them are rather unimportant, yet, upon the whole, they will have a salutary tendency.
It may be said, in some instances they do no more than state the perfect equality of mankind; this to be sure is an absolute truth, yet it is not absolutely necessary to be inserted at the head of a constitution.
In some instances they assert those rights which are exercised by the people in forming and establishing a plan of government. In other instances, they specify those rights which are retained when particular powers are given up to be exercised by the legislature. In other instances, they specify positive rights which may seem to result from the nature of the compact. Trial by jury cannot be considered as a natural right, but a right resulting from the social compact which regulates the action of the community, but is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature. In other instances they lay down dogmatic maxims with respect to the construction of the government: declaring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches shall be kept separate and distinct: Perhaps the best way of securing this in practice is to provide such checks as will prevent the encroachment of the one upon the other.
But whatever may be the form which the several states have adopted in making declarations in favor of particular rights, the great object in view is to limit and qualify the powers of government, by excepting out of the grant of power those cases in which the government ought not to act, or to act only in a particular mode. They point these exceptions sometimes against the abuse of the executive power, sometimes against the legislative, and, in some cases, against the community itself; or, in other words, against the majority in favor of the minority.
In our government it is, perhaps, less necessary to guard against the abuse in the executive department than any other; because it is not the stronger branch of the system, but the weaker: It therefore must be leveled against the legislative, for it is the most powerful, and most likely to be abused, because it is under the least control; hence, so far as a declaration of rights can tend to prevent the exercise of undue power, it cannot be doubted but such declaration is proper. But I confess that I do conceive that, in a government modified like this of the United States, the great danger lies rather in the abuse of the community than in the legislative body. The prescriptions in favor of liberty ought to be leveled against that quarter where the greatest danger lies, namely, that which possesses the highest prerogative of power: But this is not found in either the executive or legislative departments of government, but in the body of the people, operating by the majority against the minority.
It may be thought all paper barriers against the power of the community are too weak to be worthy of attention. I am sensible they are not so strong as to satisfy gentlemen of every description who have seen and examined thoroughly the texture of such a defense; yet as they have a tendency to impress some degree of respect for them, to establish the public opinion in their favor, and rouse the attention of the whole community, it may be one mean to control the majority from those acts to which they might be otherwise inclined.
It has been said by way of objection to a bill of rights, by many respectable gentlemen out of doors, and I find opposition on the same principles likely to be made by gentlemen on this floor, that they are unnecessary articles of a republican government, upon the presumption that the people have those rights in their own hands, and that is the proper place for them to rest. It would be a sufficient answer to say that this objection lies against such provisions under the state governments as well as under the general government; and there are, I believe, but few gentlemen who are inclined to push their theory so far as to say that a declaration of rights in those cases is either ineffectual or improper. It has been said that in the federal government they are unnecessary because the powers are enumerated, and it follows that all that are not granted by the Constitution are retained: that the Constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum being the rights of the people; and therefore a bill of rights cannot be so necessary as if the residuum was thrown into the hands of the government. I admit that these arguments are not entirely without foundation; but they are not conclusive to the extent which has been supposed. It is true the powers of the general government are circumscribed, they are directed to particular objects; but even if government keeps within those limits, it has certain extraordinary powers with respect to the means, which may admit of abuse to a certain extent, in the same manner as the powers of the state governments under their constitutions may to an indefinite extent; because in the Constitution of the United States there is a clause granting to Congress the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof; this enables them to fulfill every purpose for which the government was established. Now, may not laws be considered necessary and proper by Congress, for it is them who are to judge of the necessity and propriety to accomplish those special purposes which they may have in contemplation, which laws in themselves are neither necessary or proper; as well as improper laws could be enacted by the state legislatures for fulfilling the more extended objects of those governments. I will state an instance which I think in point, and proves that this might be the case. The general government has a right to pass all laws which shall be necessary to collect its revenue; the means for enforcing the collection are within the direction of the legislature: may not general warrants be considered necessary for this purpose, as well as for some purposes which it was supposed at the framing of their constitutions the state governments had in view? If there was reason for restraining the state governments from exercising this power, there is like reason for restraining the federal government.
It may be said, because it has been said, that a bill of rights is not necessary because the establishment of this government has not repealed those declarations of rights which are added to the several state constitutions: that those rights of the people, which had been established by the most solemn act, could not be annihilated by a subsequent act of that people, who meant, and declared at the head of the instrument, that they ordained and established a new system for the express purpose of securing to themselves and posterity the liberties they had gained by an arduous conflict.
I admit the force of this observation, but I do not look upon it to be conclusive. In the first place, it is too uncertain ground to leave this provision upon, if a provision is at all necessary to secure rights so important as many of those I have mentioned are conceived to be, by the public in general, as well as those in particular who opposed the adoption of this Constitution. Beside some states have no bills of rights, there are others provided with very defective ones, and there are others whose bills of rights are not only defective, but absolutely improper; instead of securing some in the full extent which republican principles would require, they limit them too much to agree with the common ideas of liberty.
It has been objected also against a bill of rights that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration, and it might follow by implication that those rights which were not singled out were intended to be assigned into the hands of the general government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the 4th resolution.
It has been said that it is unnecessary to load the Constitution with this provision, because it was not found effectual in the constitutions of the particular states. It is true, there are a few particular states in which some of the most valuable articles have not, at one time or other, been violated; but it does not follow but they may have, to a certain degree, a salutary effect against the abuse of power. If they are incorporated into the Constitution, independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of those rights; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the Constitution by the declaration of rights. Beside this security, there is a great probability that such a declaration in the federal system would be enforced; because the state legislatures will jealously and closely watch the operations of this government and be able to resist with more effect every assumption of power than any other power on earth can do; and the greatest opponents to a federal government admit the state legislatures to be sure guardians of the people’s liberty. I conclude from this view of the subject that it will be proper in itself, and highly politic, for the tranquility of the public mind, and the stability of the government, that we should offer something in the form I have proposed, to be incorporated in the system of government as a declaration of the rights of the people.
In the next place I wish to see that part of the constitution revised which declares that the number of representatives shall not exceed the proportion of one for every thirty thousand persons, and allows one representative to every state which rates below that proportion. If we attend to the discussion of this subject which has taken place in the state conventions, and even in the opinion of the friends to the Constitution, an alteration here is proper. It is the sense of the people of America that the number of representatives ought to be increased, but particularly that it should not be left in the discretion of the government to diminish them below that proportion which certainly is in the power of the legislature as the Constitution now stands; and they may, as the population of the country increases, increase the House of Representatives to a very unwieldy degree. I confess I always thought this part of the Constitution defective, though not dangerous; and that it ought to be particularly attended to whenever Congress should go into the consideration of amendments.
There are several lesser cases enumerated in my proposition in which I wish also to see some alteration take place. That article which leaves it in the power of the legislature to ascertain its own emolument is one to which I allude. I do not believe this is a power which, in the ordinary course of government, is likely to be abused, perhaps of all the powers granted it is least likely to abuse; but there is a seeming impropriety in leaving any set of men without control to put their hand into the public coffers, to take out money to put in their pockets; there is a seeming indecorum in such power, which leads me to propose a change. We have a guide to this alteration in several of the amendments which the different conventions have proposed. I have gone therefore so far as to fix it that no law varying the compensation shall operate until there is a change in the legislature; in which case it cannot be for the particular benefit of those who are concerned in determining the value of the service.
I wish also, in revising the Constitution, we may throw into that section which interdicts the abuse of certain powers in the state legislatures some other provisions of equal if not greater importance than those already made. The words, “No state shall pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, etc.” were wise and proper restrictions in the Constitution. I think there is more danger of those powers being abused by the state governments than by the government of the United States. The same may be said of other powers which they possess, if not controlled by the general principle that laws are unconstitutional which infringe the rights of the community. I should therefore wish to extend this interdiction, and add, as I have stated in the 5th resolution, that no state shall violate the equal right of conscience, freedom of the press, or trial by jury in criminal cases; because it is proper that every government should be disarmed of powers which trench upon those particular rights. I know in some of the state constitutions the power of the government is controlled by such a declaration, but others are not. I cannot see any reason against obtaining even a double security on those points; and nothing can give a more sincere proof of the attachment of those who opposed this constitution to these great and important rights, than to see them join in obtaining the security I have now proposed; because it must be admitted on all hands that the state governments are as liable to attack these invaluable privileges as the general government is, and therefore ought to be as cautiously guarded against.
I think it will be proper, with respect to the judiciary powers, to satisfy the public mind on those points which I have mentioned. Great inconvenience has been apprehended to suitors from the distance they would be dragged to obtain justice in the Supreme Court of the United States upon an appeal on an action for a small debt. To remedy this, declare that no appeal shall be made unless the matter in controversy amounts to a particular sum: This, with the regulations respecting jury trials in criminal cases and suits at common law, it is to be hoped will quiet and reconcile the minds of the people to that part of the Constitution.
I find, from looking into the amendments proposed by the state conventions, that several are particularly anxious that it should be declared in the Constitution that the powers not therein delegated should be reserved to the several states. Perhaps words which may define this more precisely than the whole of the instrument now does may be considered as superfluous. I admit they may be deemed unnecessary; but there can be no harm in making such a declaration, if gentlemen will allow that the fact is as stated; I am sure I understand it so, and do therefore propose it.
These are the points on which I wish to see a revision of the Constitution take place. How far they will accord with the sense of this body, I cannot take upon me absolutely to determine; but I believe every gentleman will readily admit that nothing is in contemplation, so far as I have mentioned, that can endanger the beauty of the government in any one important feature, even in the eyes of its most sanguine admirers. I have proposed nothing that does not appear to me as proper in itself, or eligible as patronized by a respectable number of our fellow citizens; and if we can make the Constitution better in the opinion of those who are opposed to it, without weakening its frame, or abridging its usefulness, in the judgment of those who are attached to it, we act the part of wise and liberal men to make such alterations as shall produce that effect.
Having done what I conceived was my duty in bringing before this house the subject of amendments, and also stated such as I wish for and approve, and offered the reasons which occurred to me in their support; I shall content myself for the present with moving that a committee be appointed to consider of and report such amendments as ought to be proposed by Congress to the legislatures of the states, to become, if ratified by three-fourths thereof, part of the Constitution of the United States. By agreeing to this motion, the subject may be going on in the committee while other important business is proceeding to a conclusion in the house. I should advocate greater dispatch in the business of amendments if I was not convinced of the absolute necessity there is of pursuing the organization of the government; because I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government.
The more I consider the subject of amendments, the more, Mr. Speaker, I am convinced it is improper. I revere the rights of my constituents as much as any gentleman in Congress, yet I am against inserting a declaration of rights in the Constitution, and that upon some of the reasons referred to by the gentleman last up. If such an addition is not dangerous or improper, it is at least unnecessary; that is a sufficient reason for not entering into the subject at a time when there are urgent calls for our attention to important business… .
Elbridge Gerry (Mass.)
I do not rise to go into the merits or demerits of the subject of amendments, nor shall I make any other observations on the motion for going into a committee of the whole, … which is now withdrawn, than merely to say that referring the subject to that committee is treating it with the dignity its importance requires. But I consider it improper to take up this business at this time, when our attention is occupied by other important objects. We should dispatch the subjects now on the table and let this lie over until a period of more leisure for discussion and attention. … I would not have it understood that I am against entering upon amendments when the proper time arrives. I shall be glad to set about it as soon as possible, but I would not stay the operation of the government on this account… .
I say, sir, I wish as early a day as possible may be assigned for taking up this business in order to prevent the necessity which the states may think themselves under of calling a new convention. … I think, if it is referred to a new convention, we run the risk of losing some of its best properties; this is a case I never wish to see. Whatever might have been my sentiments of the ratification of the Constitution without amendments, my sense now is that the salvation of America depends upon the establishment of this government, whether amended or not. If the Constitution which is now ratified should not be supported, I despair of ever having a government of these United States.
I wish the subject to be considered early for another reason: There are two states not in the union; it would be a very desirable circumstance to gain them. I should therefore be in favor of such amendments as might tend to invite them and gain their confidence; good policy will dictate to us to expedite that event… .
I have another reason for going early into this business: It is necessary to establish an energetic government. But … we appear afraid to exercise the constitutional powers of the government, which the welfare of the state requires, lest a jealousy of our power be the consequence. What is the reason of this timidity? Why, because we see a great body of our constituents opposed to the Constitution as it now stands, who are apprehensive of the enormous powers of governments. But if this business is taken up and it is thought proper to make amendments, it will remove this difficulty. Let us deal fairly and candidly with our constituents, and give the subject a full discussion; after that I have no doubt but the decision will be such as, upon examination, we shall discover to be right… .
I am against referring the subject to a select committee, because I conceive it would be disrespectful to those states which have proposed amendments. The conventions of the states consisted of the most wise and virtuous men of the community; they have ratified this Constitution in full confidence that their objections would at least be considered; and shall we, sir, preclude them by the appointment of a special committee to consider of a few propositions brought forward by an individual gentleman. … The ratification of the Constitution in several states would never have taken place had they not been assured that the objections would have been duly attended to by Congress… .
I do not suppose the Constitution to be perfect, nor do I imagine if Congress and all the legislatures on the continent were to revise it, that their united labors would make it perfect. I do not expect any perfection on this side the grave in the works of man; but my opinion is that we are not at present in circumstances to make it better. It is a wonder that there has been such unanimity in adopting it, considering the ordeal it had to undergo; and the unanimity which prevailed at its formation is equally astonishing; amidst all the members from the twelve states present at the federal convention, there were only three who did not sign the instrument to attest their opinion of its goodness. Of the eleven states who have received it, the majority have ratified it without proposing a single amendment; this circumstance leads me to suppose that we shall not be able to propose any alterations that are likely to be adopted by nine states; and gentlemen know before the alterations take effect, they must be agreed to by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states in the union. Those states that have not recommended alterations will hardly adopt them, unless it is clear that they tend to make the Constitution better; now how this can be made out to their satisfaction I am yet to learn; they know of no defect from experience. It seems to be the opinion of gentlemen generally that this is not the time for entering upon the discussion of amendments; our only question, therefore, is how to get rid of the subject; now for my own part I would prefer to have it referred to a committee of the whole rather than a special committee, and therefore shall not agree to the motion now before the house.
Proceedings in the House of Representatives 13 August 1789
Madison’s propositions of 8 June were referred to a select committee of eleven, which reported them out without substantial change. After further debate about delaying the subject, the House finally went into committee of the whole to consider the amendments. The debates on the Bill of Rights were too extensive to be presented here in full, but Congress added nothing that Madison had not initially proposed and defeated him, in substance, on only two important points. The House approved, but (in debates that were not recorded) the Senate defeated Madison’s proposal to guarantee the freedoms of religion and the press against infringements by the states as well as against infringements by the federal government. And, led by Roger Sherman, a stubborn minority compelled Madison to forgo his original idea that the changes ought to be interwoven into the body of the Constitution, not tacked onto the end.
I believe, Mr. Chairman, this is not the proper mode of amending the Constitution. We ought not to interweave our propositions into the work itself, because it will be destructive of the whole fabric. We might as well endeavor to mix brass, iron, and clay as to incorporate such heterogeneous articles, the one contradictory to the other. Its absurdity will be discovered by comparing it with a law: would any legislature endeavor to introduce into a former act a subsequent amendment, and let them stand so connected. When an alteration is made in an act, it is done by way of supplement; the latter act always repealing the former in every specified case of difference.
Beside this, sir, it is questionable whether we have the right to propose amendments in this way. The Constitution is the act of the people, and ought to remain entire. But the amendments will be the act of the state governments; again, all the authority we possess is derived from that instrument; if we mean to destroy the whole and establish a new Constitution, we remove the basis on which we mean to build. For these reasons I will move to strike out that paragraph and substitute another.
The paragraph proposed was to the following effect: Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, That the following articles be proposed as amendments to the Constitution; and when ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures shall become valid to all intents and purposes as part of the same.
Under this title, the amendments might come in nearly as stated in the report, only varying the phraseology so as to accommodate them to a supplementary form.
Form, sir, is always of less importance than the substance; but on this occasion, I admit that form is of some consequence, and it will be well for the house to pursue that which, upon reflection, shall appear to the most eligible. Now it appears to me that there is a neatness and propriety in incorporating the amendments into the Constitution itself; in that case the system will remain uniform and entire; it will certainly be more simple when the amendments are interwoven into those parts to which they naturally belong than it will if they consist of separate and distinct parts; we shall then be able to determine its meaning without references or comparison; whereas, if they are supplementary, its meaning can only be ascertained by a comparison of the two instruments, which will be a very considerable embarrassment; it will be difficult to ascertain to what parts of the instrument the amendments particularly refer; they will create unfavorable comparisons, whereas, if they are placed upon the footing here proposed, they will stand upon as good foundation as the original work.
Nor is it so uncommon a thing as gentlemen suppose; systematic men frequently take up the whole law and, with its amendments and alterations, reduce it into one act. I am not, however, very solicitous about the form, provided the business is but well completed.
Mr. Smith [S.C.]
did not think the amendment proposed by the honorable gentleman from Connecticut was compatible with the Constitution, which declared that the amendments recommended by Congress and ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states should be part of this Constitution; in which case it would form one complete system; but according to the idea of the amendment, the instrument is to have five or six suits of improvements. Such a mode seems more calculated to embarrass the people than anything else, while nothing in his opinion was a juster cause of complaint than the difficulties of knowing the law, arising from legislative obscurities that might easily be avoided. He said that it had certainly been the custom in several of the state governments to amend their laws by way of supplement; but South Carolina has been an instance of the contrary practice, in revising the old code; instead of making acts in addition to acts, which is always attended with perplexity, she has incorporated them, and brought them forward as a complete system, repealing the old. This is what he understood was intended to be done by the committee: the present copy of the Constitution was to be done away and a new one substituted in its stead.
Samuel Livermore (N.H.)
was clearly of opinion that whatever amendments were made to the Constitution, that they ought to stand separate from the original instrument. We have no right, said he, to alter a clause any otherwise than by a new proposition. We have well-established precedents for such a mode of procedure in the practice of the British Parliament and the state legislatures throughout America. I do not mean, however, to assert that there has been no instance of a repeal of a whole law on enacting another; but this has generally taken place on account of the complexity of the original, with its supplements. Were we a mere legislative body, no doubt it might be warrantable in us to pursue a similar method, but it is questionable whether it is possible for us, consistent with the oath we have taken, to attempt a repeal of the Constitution of the United States, by making a new one to substitute in its place. The reason of this is grounded on a very simple consideration. It is by virtue of the present Constitution, I presume, that we attempt to make another; now, if we proceed to the repeal of this, I cannot see upon what authority we shall erect another; if we destroy the base, the superstructure falls of course. At some future day it may be asked upon what authority we proceeded to raise and appropriate public monies. We suppose we do it in virtue of the present Constitution; but it may be doubted whether we have a right to exercise any of its authorities while it is suspended, as it will certainly be, from the time that two-thirds of both houses have agreed to submit it to the state legislatures; so that unless we mean to destroy the whole Constitution, we ought to be careful how we attempt to amend it in the way proposed by the committee. From hence I presume it will be more prudent to adopt the mode proposed by the gentleman from Connecticut, than it will be to risk the destruction of the whole by proposing amendments in the manner recommended by the committee… .
I do not like to differ with gentlemen about form, but as so much has been said, I wish to give my opinion … that the original Constitution ought to remain inviolate, and not be patched up from time to time with various stuffs resembling Joseph’s coat of many colors… .
The Constitution of the Union has been ratified and established by the people, let their act remain inviolable; if anything we can do has a tendency to improve it, let it be done, but without mutilating and defacing the original.
If I had looked upon this question as mere matter of form, I should not have brought it forward or troubled the committee with such a lengthy discussion. But, sir, I contend that amendments made in the way proposed by the committee are void: No gentleman ever knew an addition and alteration introduced into an existing law, and that any part of such law was left in force; but if it was improved or altered by a supplemental act, the original retained all its validity and importance in every case where the two were not incompatible. But if these observations alone should be thought insufficient to support my motion, I would desire gentlemen to consider the authorities upon which the two constitutions are to stand. The original was established by the people at large by conventions chosen by them for the express purpose. The preamble to the Constitution declares the act: But will it be a truth in ratifying the next constitution, which is to be done perhaps by the state legislatures and not conventions chosen for the purpose? Will gentlemen say it is “We the people” in this case; certainly they cannot, for by the present constitution, we nor all the legislatures in the union together do not possess the power of repealing it: All that is granted us by the 5th article is that, whenever we shall think it necessary, we may propose amendments to the Constitution; not that we may propose to repeal the old and substitute a new one.
Gentlemen say it would be convenient to have it in one instrument that people might see the whole at once; for my part I view no difficulty on this point. The amendments reported are a declaration of rights; the people are secure in them whether we declare them or not; the last amendment but one provides that the three branches of government shall each exercise its own rights, this is well secured already; and in short, I do not see that they lessen the force of any article in the Constitution; if so, there can be little more difficulty in comprehending them whether they are combined in one or stand distinct instruments.
The honorable gentleman from Connecticut, if I understand him right, says that the words “We the people” cannot be retained if Congress should propose amendments, and they be ratified by the state legislatures: Now if this is a fact, we ought most undoubtedly adopt his motion; because if we do not, we cannot obtain any amendment whatever. But upon what ground does the gentleman’s position stand? The Constitution of the United States was proposed by a convention met at Philadelphia, but with all its importance it did not possess as high authority as the President, Senate, and House of Representatives of the union: For that convention was not convened in consequence of any express will of the people, but an implied one, through their members in the state legislatures. The Constitution derived no authority from the first convention; it was concurred in by conventions of the people, and that concurrence armed it with power and invested it with dignity. Now the Congress of the United States are expressly authorized by the sovereign and uncontrollable voice of the people to propose amendments whenever two-thirds of both houses shall think fit: Now if this is the fact, the propositions of amendment will be found to originate with a higher authority than the original system. The conventions of the states respectively have agreed for the people that the state legislatures shall be authorized to decide upon these amendments in the manner of a convention. If these acts of the state legislatures are not good because they are not specifically instructed by their constituents, neither were the acts calling the first and subsequent conventions.
Does he mean to put amendments on this ground, that after they have been ratified by the state legislatures they are not to have the same authority as the original instrument; if this is his meaning, let him avow it, and if it is well founded, we may save ourselves the trouble of proceeding in the business. But for my part I have no doubt but a ratification of the amendments, in any form, would be as valid as any part of the Constitution. The legislatures are elected by the people; I know no difference between them and conventions, unless it be that the former will generally be composed of men of higher characters than may be expected in conventions; and in this case, the ratification by the legislatures would have the preference.
Now if it is clear that the effect will be the same in either mode, will gentlemen hesitate to approve the most simple and clear? It will undoubtedly be more agreeable to have it all brought into one instrument than have to refer to five or six different acts.
Much of the resistance to Madison’s insistence on amendments came from Federalists who sharply disapproved of any action that would tend to reopen the debate about the Constitution. Anti-Federalists in Congress did attempt, without success, to add substantive amendments to the ones the Virginian introduced. Federalist resentment was well expressed in an essay signed by “Pacificus,” who was, in fact, Noah Webster. On the other side, Virginia’s anti-Federalist senators complained that none of the amendments actually approved truly addressed the substantive concerns of the opponents of the Constitution. One further episode from the congressional debates about amendments, the argument about popular instruction of representatives, helps us grasp the depth of feeling on both sides; and few incidents during the first session of the First Congress were more suggestive of the members’ consciousness that they were making precedents for ages to come—or of the sharpness of persistent fears about the new regime—than the debate on titles for executive officials.
On the Constitutional Amendments
“Pacificus” to James Madison
New York Daily Advertiser
14 August 1789
In a debate upon the Impost Bill, you declared yourself an enemy to local attachments and said you considered yourself not merely the representative of Virginia, but of the United States. This declaration was liberal, and the sentiment just. But Sir, does this accord with the interest you take in amending the Constitution? You now hold out in justification of the part you take in forwarding amendments that you have pledged yourself in some measure to your constituents. But, Sir, who are your constituents? Are they the electors of a small district in Virginia? These indeed gave you a place in the federal legislature; but the moment you were declared to be elected, you became the representative of three millions of people, and you are bound, by the principles of representation and by your own declaration, to promote the general good of the United States. You had no right to declare that you would act upon the sentiments and wishes of your immediate constituents, unless you should be convinced that the measures you advocate coincide with the wishes and interest of the whole Union. If I have any just ideas of legislation, this doctrine is incontrovertible; and if I know your opinions, you believe it to be so.
Permit me, then, with great respect to ask, Sir, how you can justify yourself in the eyes of the world for espousing the cause of amendments with so much earnestness? Do you, Sir, believe, that the people you represent generally wish for amendments? If you do Sir, you are more egregiously mistaken than you ever were before. I know from the unanimous declaration of men in several states, through which I have lately traveled, that amendments are not generally wished for; on the other hand, amendments are not mentioned but with the most pointed disapprobation.
The people, Sir, admit what the advocates of amendments in Congress generally allow, that the alterations proposed can do very little good or hurt as to the merits of the Constitution; but for this very reason they reprobate any attempt to introduce them. They say, and with great justice, that, at the moment when an excellent government is going into operation; when the hopes of millions are revived, and their minds disposed to acquiesce peaceably in the federal laws; when the demagogues of faction have ceased to clamor and their adherents are reconciled to the Constitution—Congress are taking a step which will revive the spirit of party, spread the causes of contention through all the states, call up jealousies which have no real foundation, and weaken the operations of government, when the people themselves are wishing to give it energy. We see, in the debates, it is frequently asserted that some amendments will satisfy the opposition and give stability to the government.
The people, Sir, in the northern and middle states do not believe a word of this—they do not see any opposition—they find information and experience everywhere operating to remove objections, and they believe that these causes will, though slowly, produce a change of conduct in North Carolina and Rhode Island. Is it not better to wait for this event than risk the tumults that must grow out of another debate upon the Constitution in every one of the United States.
It seems to be agreed on all hands that paper declarations of rights are trifling things and no real security to liberty. In general they are a subject of ridicule. In England, it has been necessary for parliament to ascertain and declare what rights the nation possesses in order to limit the powers and claims of the crown; but for a sovereign free people, whose power is always equal, to declare, with the solemnity of a constitutional act, We are all born free, and have a few particular rights which are dear to us, and of which we will not deprive ourselves, altho’ we leave ourselves at full liberty to abridge any of our other rights, is a farce in government as novel as it is ludicrous.
I am not disposed to treat you, Sir, with disrespect; many years acquaintance has taught me to esteem your virtues and respect your abilities. No man stands higher in my opinion, and people are everywhere willing to place you among the most able, active and useful representatives of the United States. But they regret that Congress should spend their time in throwing out an empty tub to catch people, either factious or uninformed, who might be taken more honorably by reason and equitable laws. They regret particularly that Mr. Madison’s talents should be employed to bring forward amendments which, at best can have little effect upon the merits of the Constitution, and may sow the seeds of discord from New Hampshire to Georgia.
Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson to the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates 28 September 1789
We have now the honor of enclosing the propositions of Amendments to the Constitution of the United States that has been finally agreed upon by Congress. We can assure you Sir that nothing on our part has been omitted to procure the success of those radical amendments proposed by the convention and approved by the legislature of our country, which as our constituent, we shall always deem it our duty with respect and reverence to obey. The Journal of the Senate herewith transmitted will at once show how exact and how unfortunate we have been in this business. It is impossible for us not to see the necessary tendency to consolidate empire in the natural operation of the Constitution if no further amended than now proposed. And it is equally impossible for us not to be apprehensive for civil liberty when we know no instance in the records of history that show a people ruled in freedom when subject to an undivided government and inhabiting a territory so extensive as that of the United States, and when, as it seems to us, the nature of man and things join to prevent it. The impracticability in such case of carrying representation sufficiently near to the people for procuring their confidence and consequent obedience compels a resort to fear resulting from great force and excessive power in government. Confederated republics, when the federal hand is not possessed of absorbing power, may permit the existence of freedom, whilst it preserves union, strength, and safety. Such amendments therefore as may secure against the annihilation of the state government we devoutly wish to see adopted.
If a persevering application to Congress from the states that have desired such amendments should fail of its object, we are disposed to think, reasoning from causes to effects, that unless a dangerous apathy should invade the public mind it will not be many years before a constitutional number of legislatures will be found to demand a Convention for the purpose.
William Grayson to Patrick Henry 29 September 1789
With respect to amendments matters have turned out exactly as I apprehended from the extraordinary doctrine of playing the after game: the lower house sent up amendments which held out a safeguard to personal liberty in a great many instances, but this disgusted the Senate, and though we made every exertion to save them, they are so mutilated & gutted that in fact they are good for nothing, & I believe as many others do, that they will do more harm than benefit: The Virginia amendments were all brought into view, and regularly rejected. Perhaps they may think differently on the subject the next session, as Rhode Island has refused for the present acceding to the Constitution… .
Popular Instruction of Representatives 15 August 1789
During the House discussion of the first amendments, Thomas Tudor Tucker, a South Carolina anti-Federalist, moved to insert a declaration of the people’s right “to instruct their representatives.” This led to a longer discussion than the House devoted to freedom of the press or freedom of religious conscience. Only snippets are presented here, but they include a sharp exchange between Madison and Aedanus Burke over whether Madison’s amendments would allay the public’s fears.
Thomas Hartley (Pa.)
… Representation is the principle of our government; the people ought to have confidence in the honor and integrity of those they send forward to transact their business; their right to instruct them is a problematical subject. We have seen it attended with bad consequences both in England and America. When the passions of the people were excited, instructions have been resorted to and obtained to answer party purposes; and although the public opinion is generally respectable, yet at such moments it has been known to be often wrong; and happy is that government composed of men of firmness and wisdom to discover and resist the popular error… .
John Page (Va.)
… The people have a right to consult for the common good; but to what end will this be done if they have not the power of instructing their representatives? Instruction and representation in a republic appear to me to be inseparably connected. … Every friend of mankind, every well-wisher of his country will be desirous of obtaining the sense of the people on every occasion of magnitude; but how can this be so well expressed as in instructions to their representatives?…
George Clymer (Pa.)
… If they have a constitutional right to instruct us, it infers that we are bound by those instructions… ; this is a most dangerous principle, utterly destructive of all ideas of an independent and deliberative body… .
… When the people have chosen a representative, it is his duty to meet others from the different parts of the union, and consult, and agree with them to such acts as are for the general benefit of the whole community; if they were to be guided by instructions, there would be no use in deliberation. … From hence I think it may be fairly inferred that the right of the people to consult for the common good can go no further than to petition to legislature or apply for a redress of grievances.
… Let the people consult and give their opinion, let the representative judge of it, and if it is just, let him govern himself by it as a good member ought to do; but if it is otherwise, let him have it in his power to reject their advice.
… I think the representative, notwithstanding the insertion of these words, would be at liberty to act as he pleased; … yet I think the people have a right both to instruct and bind them. … The sovereignty resides in the people, and … they do not part with it on any occasion. … But much good may result from a declaration in the Constitution that they possess this privilege; the people will be encouraged to come forward with their instructions, which will form a fund of useful information for the legislature. … I hope we shall never shut our ears against that information which is to be derived from the petitions and instructions of our constituents… .
… If we confine ourselves to an enumeration of simple acknowledged principles, the ratification will meet with but little difficulty. Amendments of a doubtful nature will have a tendency to prejudice the whole system; the proposition now suggested partakes highly of this nature. … In one sense this declaration is true, in many others it is certainly not true; … if we mean nothing more than this, that the people have a right to express and communicate their sentiments and wishes, we have provided for it already. … If gentlemen mean to go further and to say that the people have a right to instruct their representatives in such a sense as that the delegates were obliged to conform to those instructions, the declaration is not true. Suppose they instruct a representative by his vote to violate the Constitution, is he at liberty to obey such instructions? Suppose he is instructed to patronize certain measures, and from circumstances known to him but not to his constituents, he is convinced that they will endanger the public good, is he obliged to sacrifice his own judgment to them? Suppose he refuses, will his vote be the less valid. … What sort of a right is this in the Constitution to instruct a representative who has a right to disregard the order if he pleases? …
Michael Jenifer Stone (Md.)
I think the clause would change the government entirely; instead of being a government founded upon representation, it would be a democracy of singular properties.
I differ from the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Madison) if he thinks this clause would not bind the representative; in my opinion it would bind him effectually, and I venture to assert without diffidence that any law passed by the legislature would be of no force if a majority of the members of this house were instructed to the contrary, provided the amendment become part of the Constitution …
Aedanus Burke (S.C.)
I am not positive with respect to the particular expression in the declaration of rights of the people of Maryland, but the constitutions of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina all of them recognize, in express terms, the right of the people to give instructions to their representatives. I do not mean to insist particularly upon this amendment, but I am very well satisfied that those that are reported and likely to be adopted by this house are very far from giving satisfaction to our constituents; they are not those solid and substantial amendments which the people expect; they are little better than whip-syllabub, frothy and full of wind, formed only to please the palate, or they are like a tub thrown out to a whale to secure the freight of the ship and its peaceable voyage. … I think it will be found that we have done nothing but lose our time, and that it will be better to drop the subject now and proceed to the organization of the government.
was unwilling to take up any more of the time of the committee, but on the other hand, he was not willing to be silent after the charges that had been brought against the committee and the gentleman who introduced the amendments by the honorable members on each side of him (Mr. Sumter and Mr. Burke). Those gentlemen say that we are precipitating the business and insinuate that we are not acting with candor; I appeal to the gentlemen who have heard the voice of their country, to those who have attended the debates of the state conventions, whether the amendments now proposed are not those most strenuously required by the opponents to the constitution? It was wished that some security should be given for those great and essential rights which they had been taught to believe were in danger. I concurred, in the convention of Virginia, with those gentlemen, so far as to agree to a declaration of those rights which corresponded with my own judgment, and [to] the other alterations which I had the honor to bring forward before the present Congress. I appeal to the gentlemen on this floor who are desirous of amending the Constitution whether these proposed are not compatible with what are required by our constituents. Have not the people been told that the rights of conscience, the freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and trial by jury were in jeopardy; that they ought not to adopt the Constitution until those important rights were secured to them?
But while I approve of these amendments, I should oppose the consideration at this time of such as are likely to change the principles of the government, or that are of a doubtful nature; because I apprehend there is little prospect of obtaining the consent of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, and three-fourths of the state legislatures, to ratify propositions of this kind; therefore, as a friend to what is attainable, I would limit it to the plain, simple, and important security that has been required. If I was inclined to make no alteration in the constitution I would bring forward such amendments as were of a dubious cast, in order to have the whole rejected.
never entertained an idea of charging gentlemen with the want of candor, but he would appeal to any man of sense and candor whether the amendments contained in the report were anything like the amendments required by the states of New York, Virginia, New Hampshire and Carolina, and having these amendments in his hand, he turned to them to show the difference, concluding that all the important amendments were omitted in the report… .
The question was now called for from several parts of the house, but a desultory conversation took place before the question was put; at length the call becoming very general, it was stated from the chair and determined in the negative, 10 rising in favor of it and 41 against it.
As Madison remarked in a letter to his father, the members of the First Federal Congress were “in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us.” Everything was new, and every action likely to establish precedents for all the Congresses to come. Hardly had its serious business begun before the legislature had to pause to settle the first disagreement between its two houses. As Madison reported to Jefferson, the House of Representatives, in its reply to Washington’s inaugural address, had included no “degrading appendages of Excellency, Esquire,” or the like. But on 9 May, a committee of the Senate, where the matter had preoccupied the members for a week, recommended that the president should be addressed as His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties. The reaction in the House, together with letters by Madison and Massachusetts congressman Fisher Ames, are among the finest sources for an understanding of the temperament in which much of the session’s business was conducted.
Proceedings in the House of Representatives 11 May 1789
Josiah Parker (Va.) moved to disagree with the Senate and insist, as the House had already done implicitly in its reply to the inaugural address, “That it is not proper to annex any style or title” to the constitutional titles of federal officials.
John Page (Va.)
seconded the motion, observing that in his opinion the House had no right to interfere in the business; the Constitution expressly prescribed the power of Congress as to bestowing titles. He did not conceive the real honor or dignity of either of those situations to consist in high sounding titles. The House had, on a former occasion, expressed their disapprobation of any title being annexed to their own members, and very justly too. After having soulfully and explicitly declared their sentiments against such measures, he thought it behooved them to be explicit with the Senate. Indeed, he felt himself a good deal hurt that gentlemen on this floor, after having refused their permission to the clerk to enter any more than their plain names on the journal, should be standing up and addressing one another by the title of “the honorable gentleman.” He wished the practice could be got over, because it added neither to the honor nor dignity of the House.
Richard Bland Lee (Va.)
approved of the appointment of a committee to confer with a committee of the Senate, as the mode due to the occasion, but he was against adding any title.
Thomas Tudor Tucker (S.C.)
When this business was first brought before the House, I objected to the appointment of a committee to confer with a committee of the Senate; because I thought it a subject which this House had no right to take into consideration. I then stood single and unsupported in my opinion, but have had the pleasure to find since that some gentlemen on this floor agree that I was right. If I was then right, I shall, from stronger reasoning, be right now in opposing the appointment of another committee on the same subject. The joint committee reported that no titles ought to be given; we agreed to the report, and I was in hopes we should have heard no more of the matter. The Senate rejected the report and have now sent us a resolution expressive of a determination to give a title, to which they desire our concurrence. I am still of opinion, that we were wrong in appointing the first committee and think that we shall be guilty of greater impropriety if we now appoint another. What, sir, is the intention of this business? will it not alarm our fellow-citizens? will it not give them just cause of alarm? will they not say that they have been deceived by the Convention that framed the Constitution? that it has been contrived with a view to lead them on by degrees to that kind of government which they have thrown off with abhorrence? Shall we not justify the fears of those who were opposed to the Constitution, because they considered it as insidious and hostile to the liberties of the people? One of its warmest advocates, one of the framers of it (Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania), has recommended it by calling it a pure democracy. Does this look like a democracy, when one of the first acts of the two branches of the Legislature is to confer titles? surely not. To give dignity to our government we must give a lofty title to our chief magistrate. Does the dignity of a nation consist in the distance betwixt the first magistrate and his citizens? does it consist in the exaltation of one man and the humiliation of the rest? if so, the most despotic government is the most dignified; and to make our dignity complete we must give a high title, an embroidered robe, a princely equipage, and finally a crown and hereditary succession. Let us, Sir, establish tranquility and good order at home and wealth, strength, and national dignity will be the infallible result. The aggregate of dignity will be the same, whether it be divided amongst all or centered in one. And whom, Sir, do we mean to gratify? Is it our present President? Certainly, if we expect to please him we shall be greatly disappointed. He has a real dignity of character and is above such little vanities. We shall give him infinite pain; we shall do him an essential injury; we shall place him in a most delicate and disagreeable situation; we shall reduce him to the necessity of evincing to the world his disapprobation of our measures or of risking some diminution of that high reputation for disinterested patriotism which he has so justly acquired. If it is not for his gratification, for whose then are we to do this? Where is the man amongst us who has the presumption and vanity to expect it? Who is it that shall say: for my aggrandizement three millions of people have entered into a calamitous war, they have persevered in it for eight long years, they have sacrificed their property, they have spilt their blood, they have rendered thousands of families wretched by the loss of their only protectors and means of support? This spirit of imitation, Sir, this spirit of mimicry and apery will be the ruin of our country. Instead of giving us dignity in the eyes of foreigners, it will expose us to be laughed at as apes. They gave us credit for our exertions in effecting the Revolution, but they will say that we want independence of spirit to render it a blessing to us. I hope, sir, that we shall not appoint a committee. I thought it improper before, and I still think that we cannot be justified in doing it.
Jonathan Trumbell, Jr. (Conn.)
moved for the appointment of a committee of conference to consider on the difference which appeared in the votes of the two houses upon the report of the joint committee.
Aedanus Burke (S.C.)
hoped the House would express their decided disapprobation of bestowing titles in any shape whatever; it would be an indignity in the House to countenance any measures of this nature. Perhaps some gentlemen might think the subject was a matter of indifference, but it did not appear to him in that light; the introduction of two words which he could mention into the title of these officers would alter the Constitution itself; but he would forbear to say anything farther, as he had a well grounded expectation that the House would take no further notice of the business… .
I may be well disposed to concur in opinion with gentlemen that we ought not to recede from our former vote on this subject, yet at the same time I may wish to proceed with due respect to the Senate, and give dignity and weight to our own opinion so far as it contradicts theirs by the deliberate and decent manner in which we decide. For my part, Mr. Speaker, I do not conceive titles to be so pregnant with danger as some gentlemen apprehend. I believe a President of the United States clothed with all the powers given in the Constitution would not be a dangerous person to the liberties of America if you were to load him with all the titles of Europe or Asia. We have seen superb and august titles given without conferring power and influence or without even obtaining respect; one of the most impotent sovereigns in Europe has assumed a title as high as human invention can devise; for example, what words can imply a greater magnitude of power and strength than that of high mightiness; this title seems to border almost upon impiety; it is assuming the pre-eminence and omnipotency of the deity; yet this title and many others cast in the same mold have obtained a long time in Europe, but have they conferred power? Does experience sanctify such opinion? Look at the republic I have alluded to and say if their present state warrants the idea.
I am not afraid of titles because I fear the danger of any power they could confer, but I am against them because they are not very reconcilable with the nature of our government or the genius of the people; even if they were proper in themselves, they are not so at this juncture of time. But my strongest objection is founded in principle; instead of increasing they diminish the true dignity and importance of a republic, and would in particular, on this occasion, diminish the true dignity of the first magistrate himself. If we give titles, we must either borrow or invent them—if we have recourse to the fertile fields of luxuriant fancy and deck out an airy being of our own creation, it is a great chance but its fantastic properties renders the empty fanthom ridiculous and absurd. If we borrow, the servile imitation will be odious, not to say ridiculous also—we must copy from the pompous sovereigns of the East or follow the inferior potentates of Europe; in either case, the splendid tinsel or gorgeous robe would disgrace the manly shoulders of our Chief. The more truly honorable shall we be, by showing a total neglect and disregard to things of this nature; the more simple, the more republican we are in our manners, the more rational dignity we acquire; therefore I am better pleased with the report adopted by the House, than I should have been with any other whatsoever.
The Senate, no doubt, entertain different sentiments on this subject. I would wish therefore to treat their opinion with respect and attention, I would desire to justify the reasonable and republican decision of this house to the other branch of Congress, in order to prevent a misunderstanding. But that the motion of my worthy colleague (Mr. Parker) has possession of the house, I would move a more temperate proposition, and I think it deserves some pains to bring about that good will and urbanity which, for the dispatch of public business, ought to be kept up between the two houses. I do not think it would be a sacrifice of dignity to appoint a committee of conference, but imagine it would tend to cement that harmony which has hitherto been preserved between the Senate and this House—therefore, while I concur with the gentlemen who express in such decided terms their disapprobation of bestowing titles, I concur also with those who are for the appointment of a committee of conference, not apprehending they will depart from the principles adopted and acted upon by the House… .
Josiah Parker (Va.)
wanted to know what was the object of gentlemen in the appointment of a committee of conference. The committee could only say that the House had refused their consent to annexing any titles whatever to the President and Vice President; for certainly the committee would not descend into the merits of a question already established by the House. For his part he could not see what purpose was to be answered by the appointment of such a committee. He wished to have done with the subject, because while it remained a question in the House, the people’s minds would be much agitated; it was impossible that a true republican spirit could remain unconcerned when a principle was under consideration so repugnant to the principles of equal liberty.
thought it was pretty plain that the House could not comply with the proposition of the Senate. The appointment of a committee on the part of the House to consider and determine what stile or titles will be proper to annex to the President and Vice-President would imply that the House meant that some stile or title should be given; now this, they never could intend, because they have decided that no stile or title ought to be given—it will be sufficient to adduce this reason for not complying with the request of the Senate.
wondered what title the Senate had in contemplation to add dignity or luster to the person that filled the presidential Chair. For his part he could conceive none. Would it add to his fame to be called after the petty and insignificant princes of Europe? Would styling him his Serene Highness, His Grace, or Mightiness add one tittle to the solid properties he possessed? He thought it would not; and therefore conceived the proposition to be trifling with the dignity of the government. As a difference had taken place between the two Houses, he had no objection to a conference taking place, he hoped it might be productive of good consequences and the Senate be induced to follow the laudable example of the House.
was of opinion that the House might appoint a committee of conference without being supposed to countenance the measure. The standing rule of the House declared that, in case of disagreeing votes, a committee of conference should be appointed; now, the case provided for in the rule had actually happened, he inferred that it was proper to proceed in the manner directed by the rules of the House; the subject was still open to discussion, but there was little probability that the House would rescind their adoption of the report. I presume gentlemen do not intend to compel the Senate into their measures; they should recollect that the Senate stand upon independent ground and will do nothing but what they are convinced of the propriety of; it would be better, therefore, to treat them with delicacy and offer some reasons to induce them to come into our measure. He expected this would be the result of a conference and therefore was in favor of such a motion… .
George Clymer (Pa.)
thought there was little occasion to add any title to either the President or Vice-President. He was very well convinced by experience that titles did not confer power; on the contrary, they frequently made their possessors ridiculous. The most impotent potentates, the most insignificant powers, generally assumed the highest and most lofty titles. That they do not indicate power and prerogative is very observable in the English history; for when the chief magistrate of that nation wore the simple stile of his Grace or Highness, his prerogatives were much more extensive than since he has become His Most Sacred Majesty.
Titular distinctions are said to be unpopular in the United States, yet a person would be led to think otherwise from the vast number of honorable gentlemen we have in America. As soon as a man is selected for the public service, his fellow citizens with liberal hand shower down titles on him—either excellency or honorable. He would venture to affirm there were more honorable esquires in the United States than all the world beside. He wished to check a propensity so notoriously evidenced in favor of distinctions, and hoped the example of the House might prevail to extinguish what predilection that appeared in favor of titles.
… I must tell gentlemen I differ from them when they think titles can do no harm. Titles I say, Sir, may do harm and have done harm. If we contend now for a right to confer titles, I apprehend the time will come when we shall form a reservoir for honor and make our President the fountain of it; in such case, may not titles do an injury to the union? They have been the occasion of an eternal faction in the kingdom we were formerly connected with, and may beget like inquietude in America; for, I contend, if you give the title, you must follow it with the robe and the diadem, and then the principles of your government are subverted.
Richard Bland Lee (Va.)
moved the previous question, as the best mode of getting rid of the motion before the House. He was supported by a sufficient number. And on the question, Shall the main question be now put? it passed in the negative; and so the motion was lost.
On motion, it was resolved, that a committee be appointed to join with such committee as the Senate may appoint to confer on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses upon the report of their joint committee, appointed to consider what titles shall be given to the President and Vice President of the United States, if any other than those given in the Constitution. Messrs. Madison, Page, Benson, Trumbull, and Sherman were the committee elected.
Fisher Ames to George Richards Minot 14 May 1789
… It is not easy to write the transactions of the House, because I forget the topics which do not reach you by the newspaper. A committee of both Houses had reported that it is not proper to address the President by any other title than that in the Constitution. The House agreed to the report without debate. But the Senate rejected it and notified the House that they had nonconcurred. The House was soon in a ferment. The antispeakers edified all aristocratic hearts by their zeal against titles. They were not warranted by the Constitution; repugnant to republican principles; dangerous, vain, ridiculous, arrogant, and damnable. Not a soul said a word for titles. But the zeal of these folks could not have risen higher in case of contradiction. Whether the arguments were addressed to the galleries or intended to hurry the House to a resolve censuring the Senate, so as to set the two Houses at odds, and to nettle the Senate to bestow a title in their address, is not clear. The latter was supposed, and a great majority agreed to appoint a committee of conference. The business will end here. Prudence will restrain the Senate from doing anything at present, and they will call him President, etc., simply.
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson 23 May 1789
… My last enclosed copies of the President’s inauguration speech and the answer of the House of Representatives. I now add the answer of the Senate. It will not have escaped you that the former was addressed with a truly republican simplicity to G. W., President of the U.S. The latter follows the example, with the omission of the personal name but without any other than the constitutional title. The proceeding on this point was in the House of Representatives spontaneous. The imitation by the Senate was extorted. The question became a serious one between the two houses. J. Adams espoused the cause of titles with great earnestness. His friend R. H. Lee, altho elected as a republican enemy to an aristocratic constitution, was a most zealous second. The projected title was—His Highness the President of the U.S. and protector of their liberties. Had the project succeeded it would have subjected the President to a severe dilemma and given a deep wound to our infant government.