In our day and age we tend to think that we have some sort of monopoly on short sighted politicians that believe that they are elected to represent a people who do not know what they want, or that can’t understand what is in their best interest. We complain about these leaders following their own agenda’s and their own interests, failing to necessarily represent the interest of those who elected them. Though this is not always the case with every elected official, it does seem to be a chief complaint we do have. Yet this isn’t reserved for our time. It has existed since the beginning of the Republic
Today, as we continue our ongoing series on the history of the Bill of Rights we continue with the Battle in Congress as men like James Madison, John Page and others seek to drag opponents to where they needed to be on the question now before them. With barriers in front of them, and powerful opponents rising to challenge them it would be apparent that it would not be a simple or an easy task. Facing off with differing agendas, and visions, with those arguing that there were more important matters before the House and that legislation would do as good of a job protecting the rights of the people as amendments to the Constitution, we see the arguments made by supporters and opponents to Madison’s effort.
Join host Wyatt McIntyre as he continues his journey deeper into the history of our great charter of individual rights, looking at the pure history behind this important declaration of our freedoms that was intended to guard our liberty, and see the battle within the government to see it fail even as soon as it was presented. A study into a contentious chapter in our history, it demonstrates why the lessons presented here are now as important as ever as we consider how and why it is necessary to elevate, entrench and protect our rights.
Last week I wrote a review of Harlow Giles Unger’s Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation. Normally, because of that, I would shy away from writing a review this week of another biography, let alone one of another famous Virginian. Yet, somehow, it seemed timely to discuss Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.
In terms of biographies of our third President, and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, this is hardly what would be considered the most comprehensive. That distinction would probably fall to Dumas Malone for his Pulitzer Prize winning, six volume series Jefferson and His Times. That shouldn’t be taken to say though that Meacham’s work shouldn’t be read, or that he treats the topic at hand curtly or glibly. Rather it should be taken to mean that he had a different purpose in writing then Malone did.
Fast paced, the book puts the reader right into the middle of the action. Perhaps realizing that he had just under 800 pages to tell the story that he wanted to Meacham wastes little to no time in trying to tell it. In that sense it doesn’t waste any time putting readers into the middle of the story, and the Jefferson experience itself.
More than a biography this is a character study into who Jefferson was, and the reasons why he acted in the manner that he did. Because of that readers may, at times, find themselves hungry for more, disappointed with the time that is spent on a particular aspect of his life, the infamous Sally Hemming, the Burr Conspiracy and the Embargo of 1807 only receiving little attention. It is true that the book may, at times seem like it skims over the details of his life, and the events in it. This is because it spends considerable time exploring the nature of who he was, and the sometimes inconsistent manner in which he acted. Offering insightful perspectives, he takes the man “Who stood out from the crowd without intimidating it”, who was, as one historian described, “Shy in manner, seeming cold; awkward in attitude, with little in his bearing that suggested command”, to put forward the idea of a man who was able “to bring reality and policy into the greatest possible accord with the ideal and the principled.”
Here we see the picture of a man who, by his very nature, seemed to despise confrontation, and yet who seemed to flourish in it. Though an idealist, one is given the image of Jefferson that understood the very basics of human nature, politics and power, an understanding that allowed him not only to overcome and to win, but that also allowed him to evolve beyond his mistakes, to inspire men, bring order and clarity to ideas, and eventually prevail in his vision for America. “Jefferson understood a timeless truth: that politics is a kaleidoscopic, constantly shifting, and that morning’s foe may well be the afternoon’s friend.” In this Meacham walks the reader through the world of the revolutionary statesman, that harsh political world that was ripping itself apart amidst the challenges of factionalism, economic uncertainty and foreign intrigue, and demonstrates how his unique style of leadership rose him to the forefront of his age.
Though this book does, rightly give a lot of praise to Jefferson, it does not shy away from where he missed the mark. He was, after all, a man who espoused the principle of freedom and equality, of liberty and justice, and yet owned slaves. Meacham here points to the inherent contradiction:
In the end Jefferson could see slavery only as tragedy. He may have believed it to be “a hideous blot,” as he wrote in September 1823, but it was not a blot he felt capable of erasing… Slavery was the rare subject where Jefferson’s sense of realism kept him from marshaling his sense of hope in the service of the cause of reform. “There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity in 1814, but that was not true. He was not willing to sacrifice his own way of life, though he characteristically left himself a rhetorical escape by introducing the subjective standard of practicability.
It is a hard, and difficult topic to approach, and yet an important one to consider if we are to be honest with ourselves and our history.
Where this book does seem to stumble is in the fact that in most places Meacham tends to be an unapologetic Jefferson apologist. That is fine for me. I am a great admirer of our third President. Yet there were places where the author tends to allow his own bias to carry too much weight. The second term of Jefferson, for example, tends to be largely considered a bit of a failure by most historians. Recognizing that many might disagree with him, he interjects his own opinion that the moves during that were made by the President were practical, if not pragmatic, for the long term good of the country and, at least, delaying war. That tends to be a matter that would be up for debate.
Yet, it does offer terrific discussion, and insight into the discussion of some of Jefferson’s more controversial decisions, especially as he sought to bring America onto the World Stage, taking it from backward colonies to a continental power. These assessments allow the reader to overlook the weak arguments made to justify Jefferson’s place in the election against then political foe John Adams, in a race often argued to be the dirtiest and mist divisive in American history.
I would recommend Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, it is a great book to begin a more in depth look at the life of the man. Timely, with important lessons on politics, leadership and the nature of man, the story that this book tells is alas relevant today as they where when Jefferson lived. That said I just would not expect it to make you an expert on him or how life. For that you should turn to the previously mentioned Jefferson and His Time, as well as Malone’s published lectures on his leadership style. Those are probably the most comprehensive books written on him. Regardless this is a great primer that is worth the read, and is probably the best single volume book on his life. Well written, it is definitely a page turner that puts you in the middle of the story, offering critical insights that you aren’t going to find elsewhere. Just be certain that when you delve into Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power that you do so with eyes opened to what this book is, and what you are going to get out of it.
A solid read for someone delving into the life of Jefferson, one that is well worth the praise that it has received. If you have not read this book yet I would suggest picking up a copy and adding it to your weekend read list.
Among all forms of Patriotism that can be adopted by the American people, there can be none greater, or more inclined towards our natural state of being, than that Patriotism that inspires a sincere love and defense of liberty. It is, after all, a revelation, not only into the individual character of the people but also the true temperament of the nation itself. How? By exposing the nature of what lies behind our love of country, as well as the spirit in which we honor its institutions. In truth, our country, our great experiment in republican government, loses all meaning, and cannot long exist, except in the triumph of our devotion to the rights and the freedoms of the individual within that society.
To understand this definition of Patriotism one need only look to that first great struggle that bore this nation.
In that great crisis, what defined the American spirit, indomitable and unwavering, was not symbols, institutions or even national allegiance. In fact, these traditions, they had been cast off. No longer would allegiance be sworn to the Crown, nor would glasses raise to the chants of “God Save the King,” nor would Imperial flags raise over the governments of the colonies. Cast from these shores would be the cloak of British Nationalism, as the ties of union to the Mother Country were now severed. Amidst that Revolution, a redefining of patriotism was to occur.
Today we look back on that chapter in our history with a degree of reverence, draped in the institutions and the symbols that have been born out of our new national identity. Yet what we almost seem to forget that many of these did not exist, and those that were adopted within the time frame of those early days were not elevated to the status in which we hold them now until some generations later. No, what now bound them, united as Americans, with differing histories, traditions, and regional interests, was the desire for liberty, and a love of freedom. It called to them as they took to the countryside of Massachusetts, and the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. It cried out to them in the immortal words that dripped from Thomas Jefferson’s pen declaring our Independence. It was heard from Independence Hall through the battlefields where the blood and broken bodies of patriots stained the ground.
For them, when no national unity could be found, when no national identity could be considered, it was ultimately forged through a greater, more profound understanding of what it meant to be citizens of this new republic. So jealously did they guard that idea that to be American meant to be free that a complete Union could not be achieved until steps were taken to entrench the rights of the individual, the rights endowed upon us by nature and our Creator, in the charter of our political freedom. This is what, in the long course of human events, set this nation apart as different.
Now, over 200 years later, we cannot simply look to this early understanding of Patriotism, of love of country as just a matter of history. We must take the deeper lessons that were taught and consider for ourselves the more profound application that they can have for our lives, and for the strengthening of our country today. It is only in that way that we are then capable of expanding the scope and the meaning of liberty within the framework that had been clearly established for us.
In a sense, in a very real sense, this represents a challenge for us. We have grown accustomed to the symbols that represent our nation, while taking for granted what ultimately lies behind them. We have, in many ways, failed to realize that all else is meaningless unless our first allegiance is to liberty, that without liberty, or the rights that accompany it, we have no national identity to pledge our spirit of patriotism to. It allows us, in defense of country, to silence opposition, to question the love of country, and infringe upon the rights of the individual in the name of country and the spirit of unity. It allows us, in the name of the republic, to protect the symbols of it, while failing to afford to individuals the rights that those symbols are intended to represent.
It isn’t to say that our national symbols are not important. Absolutely they are. In our greatest victories, they have stood shimmering in the golden sun, in our darkest days, they have been a symbol of hope, and strength. In the grim, bleak days of Civil War that gripped our nation, our flag stood as a defiant show of union even as the bonds of nationhood laid tattered on the ground. For almost 100 years we have, through incredible challenges, found the courage to move forward as we sang the words to the Star-Spangled Banner. For over 100 years before that, it stood as a defiant reminder of the indomitable American Spirit, one that would triumph over all adversity.
These have power and significance. That is undeniable. Yet the inherent danger is that, in this, the symbol, though important to national identity, becomes more important than what it intended to represent, and thus the actual meaning is lost.
We have seen this in our society when, for example, the right of the individual or the group to protest, becomes secondary to what some would consider honoring our national symbols. Patriotism, respect for country, even the love of liberty, is called into question. By wrapping ourselves in the flag alone we fail to wrap ourselves in the rights and the freedom that it is intended to represent. It is what causes us to reprimand, seeking to silence voices that are doing nothing more than exercising the liberties that we, at one point, recognized as existing long before there was a nation and a people that upheld them as their own.
Yet more patriotic than a basic adherence to any national symbol, or institution is the free exercise of an individual’s liberty. For though our brave men and women may have fallen under our flag, or were buried in a flag-covered coffin, giving to their country and its people “the last full measure of their devotion,” it was not for these symbols that they sacrificed for, but rather what these symbols embodied. The question then becomes how do we truly honor their sacrifice? By venerating the symbol alone, or by venerating the rights preserved under that symbol? What we must, after all, remember is that it is the values, the principles and the ideals that lie beneath that offer the true meaning of these symbols. Without them, they hold no significance.
We may not like how one exercises their liberties. It can even make us uncomfortable. Yet, as it does, it gives purpose and meaning to the way we understand our national symbol, stirring us amidst our own complacency. It forces us to ask tough questions and to challenge ourselves in the reverence that we do have for these institutions. In these moments it should cause us to question the cause and the source of our Patriotism, and what it is intended to mean for us.
In this, we must have the proper form of Patriotism, the kind of Patriotism that calls us to be better citizens. It is the kind that demands of us that we extend our understanding of equality, and the bounds of freedom, evolving to a deeper understanding of what liberty means, not just in our lives, but in the lives of all Americans. We must have the proper form of Patriotism that honors and values our fellow citizen, upholding and uplifting their independence, even when, in applying their rights, we find that we hate how they utilize them.
It is then that we honor what this country means, and those ideals in which it was founded.
Before I even get started, I should probably admit that I have a bias. I have a sincere and profound admiration for Patrick Henry, a sometimes contradictory, often times fiery man who, for his place in history, could be called the first among Patriots. Even the other day, when I found myself in a Barnes and Noble, I contemplated taking copies of the latest biography of the man and placing them on top of the ones about Alexander Hamilton. Alas, I found that better judgment, at least for a moment, took over and I did not. Still, I found myself thinking I wish that he was given the same treatment as John Adams or Alexander Hamilton in being introduced to a new generation of Americans. After all, it seems, for all his contributions, for the power he once held in Virginia and the Revolution he helped spur on he is largely remembered for little else than a line or two from a speech here or there that he gave
Needless to say that Harlow Giles Unger had his work cut out for him if he wanted to impress me (which we know he did when he set out) as I picked up a copy of Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation. Yet, having read a few of the other biographies he wrote about the Founding Fathers and early American Leaders (John Hancock, John Marshall, Henry Clay, etc, some of which I will probably offer a review of later) I knew if there was a man up to the task he would be it. Once again, he does not disappoint.
A well-researched, well-written biography, Unger avoids the common pitfalls of heaping too much praise or too much scorn on Henry. Leaning heavily on papers, speeches, private letters and the relationships that he had, both good and bad, he strives to paint a complete picture of this man who, in many instances, could easily be branded as an extremist in his day. He was, after all, the first to call for independence, and a revolution, he fought tirelessly against the Constitution as a vast overreach and for a Bill of Rights as necessary to protect the liberties of the people. With this in mind Unger is careful to point out how it wasn’t just British encroachments Henry worried about, but ones by the government of his new nation as well, an idea that wasn’t necessary adopted by other fellow revolutionaries. After all, it was Samuel Adams who argued during Shays’ Rebellion that one had no right to rebel against a representative republican government. As Unger would point out of Henry though, “A bitter foe of the Constitution, he predicted that its failure to limit federal government powers would restore the very tyranny that had provoked the revolution against Britain.” But then he was
A prototype of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American frontiersman, Henry claimed that free men had a “natural right” to live free of “the tyranny of rulers” — American, as well as British. A student of the French political philosopher Montesquieu, Henry believed that individual rights were more secure in small republics, where governors live among the governed, than in large republics where “the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views.
Yet it is not all a rosy picture, and that isn’t shied away from. Even as I began writing this I made note of the contradictory nature that the Henry himself could take on. Unger works this into his book, perhaps most notably, on the question of slavery. A product of his era, and error, he shows the complexity of a man who is, at times, at war with himself on this question. Opposing it as an unjustifiable evil, he would battle to end the slave trade. Yet, in the end, his professed abhorrence to slavery was not enough to compel him to free the slaves that he himself owned
Regardless, what makes this book stand apart, aside from the level of work that Unger puts into it, adding to our general knowledge and understanding of the man, and that the story begins in 1763 as a young Patrick Henry gave his first appearance arguing in Court as a lawyer, is the fact that it reads not like a biography, but a political drama better written than most that you will see on television today. It covers the story of a man who had, in many instances early in life, found that things didn’t come easy or simple to him, yet who found his bearings, and, quite literally, his voice, to become one of the greatest voices for liberty and freedom, against tyranny and oppression in those early days of our history. Though the famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech is covered, and covered beautifully in this book as Unger delves deeper into it, the truth is that there is much more to Henry’s life than that single moment that has defined him to subsequent generations
Taking the time to explain to readers, without letting it get dry or boring, he goes into the development and the methodology of Henry’s legendary oratory style, the pain and struggle that defined such a large chapter of his story with his first wife, and the chasm that laid between the political divide of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. It offers not only a compelling look at the time in which he lived in, or the present struggles of that age, but also lessons that can still be drawn upon today. Covering the triumphs and the successes, as well as the deeper tragedies, and the failures, it will grip you, much like it did with me, and you will not want to put it down
Well worth the read I would recommend Lion of Liberty to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. It will open your eyes to one of the most important Founding Father, a man who, sheer force of will, brought changed the course of the world, and yet who is so often forgotten, or mentioned only in the light of a single speech given.
If “Congress will devote but one more day to the subject, so far as to satisfy the public that we do not disregard their wishes, it will have a salutary influence.” Those would be the words of James Madison as he rose, despite the apathy and the opposition faced to the amendments that he was now proposing to the House of Representatives.
As promised, in this episode we take the Bill of Rights to the floor of the Congress for the reaction of those Representatives to James Madison’s proposal. Already having faced considerable opposition from both sides, those who believed the Constitution was fine the way it was, and those who believed it encroached on the rights and the freedoms of the people, many had waited to see what the Virginia Congressman was going to propose. Now it was becoming abundantly clear that a fight was brewing not just between the Federalists and the Antifederalists, but the interests and the agendas of politicians united for one reason or another in their opposition to what was being proposed. Yet, regardless of it all, slowly but surely the road to a Bill of Rights was being paved as he worked tirelessly to drag that first Congress, those one time allies and long time opponents, to where they needed to be.
A brief word of apology. When recording this episode I was a bit under the weather, battling a cold and a sore throat. Because of that it is perhaps not the most lively of episodes as talking, at times, as I am sure you will hear, was a bit difficult. That said, I wanted to continue this series, and hope you will find it as informative as other episodes have been.
So I look forward to you joining with me as we continue our journey with this, the sixth episode, and the first part on the floor fight for the Amendments that would eventually become our Bill of Rights.
There is little doubt that Robert Middlekauff had his work cut out for him when he set out to write The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763 – 1789 for the Oxford History of the United States. A broad period that covered that began with the end of French and Indian Wars and ended with the ratification of the new Constitution, it is difficult to cover in only one volume. It creates considerable difficulty even for a history of the caliber of Professor Middlekauff, because ultimately you are going to have to pick and choose, focusing on certain areas while only doing a service to others. Even in a book as long as this is (some 750 pages long) it is invariably the problem that he runs up against.
Yet largely where other works might falter, Middlekauff tends to, by and large, succeed in his work. Offering a comprehensive overview that seamlessly flows across a vast political, social, economic and militaristic timeline, he tries to balance the education of both those unfamiliar with the period and those seeking greater insight into the period. Hardly to be considered the most in depth book to be written on the subject, it does offer considerable detail and thought in a single volume for what should, for all intents and purposes, be broken into two or three.
What is perhaps the most surprising is in where this book really succeeds, that is namely in the lead up to the Revolutionary War. In exploring this period in its greatest detail he works his way through the mechanics that worked behind the scene to slowly, but surely move America to open rebellion. Looking not only to the changes that occurred in the thinking of the American people, but the root, underlying causes, it weaves a compelling story that spans the course of 25 years, and countless men, sometimes long forgotten by history.
This, in turns, let Middlekauff show the reader how a group of small colonies at the edge of the world, on the frontier of the British Empire, evolved and grew into a cohesive force. Yet it is not an easy or a simple story of union and unity. Even among the colonies regional, and sectional fissures would begin to show, and, within them, political divides between different factions promoting different interests. Here, though it is perhaps easy or simple to just fall into the trap of writing solely a military or a political history, he weaves it all together in a way that is both easy to understand and simple to read. In that the reader is introduced to the Tory Junto faction in the fiercely independent Rhode Island, the River Gods who dominated life in Western Massachusetts, and a host of other figures and factions that shaped both the Loyalist and Patriot thinking.
Yet, he is not content to leave the story as an American story alone. Taking readers across the Atlantic he journeys to the Court of Saint James, home of King George III, distant, removed, often subjected to parents who favored his brother over him, where he offers some insight into British policies and the figures that played into it. John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute, rigid and unyielding, Charles Townsend, disinterested and pushed into politics by his family, and a host of other players, bound by their inability to understand colonial interests, their unwillingness to listen to their concerns and their complaints and their fundamental belief that they were to rule over, not necessarily govern the colonies, are brought into the story to understand why the Americans would and did believe they were exploited by a far distant capital. Perhaps one of my favorite passages in explaining the British system would come when, in trying to explain the complexity of the system of patronage that would grip British thinking and put them so far out of touch, Middlekauff would offer this assessment:
With most members animated by purposes so limited and with the nation agreed that no fundamental issues existed, it is not surprising politics usually came down to the question Charles Dickens puts in the mouth of Lord Boodle in Bleak House: “What are you going to do with Lord Noodle?” Bewildered by the shifting alignments of the day and solely put to find a place for every deserving man, Lord Boodle saw the awful choices facing the crown in forming a new ministry should the present government be overthrown, choices which “would lie between Lord Goodle and Sir Thomas Doodle – supposing it be impossible for the Duke of Foodle to act with Goodle, which may be assumed to be the case arising out of the affair with Hoodle. Then, giving the Home Department and the Leadership of the House of Commons to Joodle, the Exchequer to Koodle, the Colonies to Loodle, and the Foreign Office to Moodle, whar are you to do with Noodle? You can’t offer him the Presidency of the Council: that is reserved for poodle. You can’t put him in the Woods and Forests, that is hardly good enough for Quoodle. What Fools? That the country is shipwrecked, lost and gone to pieces…. Because you can’t provide for Noodle!”
The Lord Boodles of the Political order rightfully attributed great importance to the distribution of offices: the system after all depended upon providing for one’s friends and followers.
Yet, one cannot mistake this for a comprehensive look at British policies in the America’s. If anything, like most else in the book, it is a brief overview. It is largely a starting point to give those who might want to delve deeper into the topic a place to begin.
Still, what Middlekauff does, and does well, is write a readable book that is neither dry or boring. Thought provoking, it shines as it offers its analysis of characters who comprise the numerous different stories, and span the numerous different landscapes in this book. This allows readers to have a deeper understanding of what drove them to act, and react in the ways that they did, and is key to getting a fuller view of events that not only surrounded them but that they also impacted. In that sense, it offers a deeper insight than one might expect for the length it does cover.
The word of warning I will offer is that in picking up The Glorious Cause do not necessarily expect your outlook to necessarily change. It is not that sort of book, and if you are looking for something that is going to challenge your thinking on the American Revolution, this book is not going to do that unless you tend to side with the British in the Revolution. Though, at times, a bit philosophical, it is the story of the American Revolution that is told from an American history point of view for American readers, and that is where it ultimately begins and ends. It isn’t a bad thing, it is just the territory that Middlekauff covers in this book. The truth is that though we may want it to cover other territory, we can’t be surprised that it doesn’t from its’s very title. At any rate, in an age where we tend to re-write our own history to fit our own purposes and agendas, it is an important story to be told.
For anyone looking to learn about the American Revolution, and are searching for a starting point, or for anyone who is looking for a refresher, one that will perhaps add a little more knowledge to their study of the Revolution, I would recommend The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763 – 1789. Even knowing many of the stories, names, and events contained in its pages, I found it a great read I had trouble putting down. It is a good read from start to finish.
History is more than just trivia. It is more than just names or places or events. Because of that it is important to dig deeper in order to find the answers that we are looking for, in order to truly understand and draw from that knowledge. It is about cultivating a greater comprehension so that we are capable of utilizing the lessons of our past as building blocks for the future.
For this episode of Fragile Freedom we are doing something a little different. Before our next episode on the Battle in Congress, we are going back to the source: James Madison’s Speech which presents his Amendments to the House of Representatives.
Join host Wyatt McIntyre in this extra long episode between episodes where he presents it in its entirety.
I am sorry to be accessary 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; that is, so far as it depended upon what I proposed to bring forward. 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 fulfil 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, that 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 ingrafted 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 and patriotism, and respectable for the jealousy they have for their liberty, which, though mistaken in its object, is honorable 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 on 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 acceptance 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 that 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 re-union 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 which have not come in, that we have seen prevailing in those States which have embraced the constitution.
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 re-consideration of the principles and the substance of the powers given; because I doubt, if such a door were opened, 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 levelled 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 provisions against encroachments on particular rights, and those safeguards which they have been long accustomed to have interposed between them and the magistrate who exercises the sovereign power; nor ought we to consider them safe, while a great number of our fellow-citizens think these securities necessary.
It is 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:
First, That there be prefixed to the constitution a declaration, that all power is originally rested in, and consequently derived from, the people.
That Government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their Government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.
Secondly, That in article 1st, section 2, clause 3, these words be struck out, to wit:
“The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative, and until such enumeration shall be made;” and that in place thereof be inserted these words, to wit: “After the first actual enumeration, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number amounts to —, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that the number shall never be less than —, nor more than —, but each State shall, after the first enumeration, have at least two Representatives; and prior thereto.”
Thirdly, That in article 1st, section 6, clause 1, there be added to the end of the first sentence, these words, to wit: “But no law varying the compensation last ascertained shall operate before the next ensuing election of Representatives.”
Fourthly, That in article 1st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit: The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.
The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.
The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the Legislature by petitions, or remonstrances, for redress of their grievances.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.
No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment or one trial for the same offence; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The rights of the people to be secured in their persons; their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.
The exceptions here or elsewhere in the constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.
Fifthly, That in article 1st, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit:
No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.
Sixthly, That, in article 3d, section 2, be annexed to the end of clause 2d, these words, to wit:
But no appeal to such court shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to — dollars: nor shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise re-examinable than may consist with the principles of common law.
Seventhly, That in article 3d, section 2, the third clause be struck out, and in its place be inserted the clauses following, to wit:
The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachments, and cases arising in the land or naval forces, or the militia when on actual service, in time of war or public danger) shall be by an impartial jury of freeholders of the vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right of challenge, and other accustomed requisites; and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, presentment or indictment by a grand jury shall be an essential preliminary, provided that in cases of crimes committed within any county which may be in possession of an enemy, or in which a general insurrection may prevail, the trial may by law be authorized in some other county of the same State, as near as may be to the seat of the offence.
In cases of crimes committed not within any county, the trial may by law be in such county as the laws shall have prescribed. In suits at common law, between man and man, the trial by jury, as one of the best securities to the rights of the people, ought to remain inviolate.
Eighthly, That immediately after article 6th, be inserted, as article 7th, the clauses following, to wit:
The powers delegated by this constitution are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the legislative department shall never exercise the powers vested in the executive or judicial nor the executive exercise the powers vested in the legislative or judicial, nor the judicial exercise the powers vested in the legislative or executive departments.
The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively.
Ninthly, That article 7th be numbered as article 8th.
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. Although I know whenever the great rights, the trial by jury, freedom of the press, or liberty of conscience, come 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 although 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 although 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 a 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 levelled 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 levelled against that quarter where the greatest danger lies, namely, that which possesses the highest prerogative of power. But it 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 that 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 defence; 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 means 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 call 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 discretionary 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 fulfil every purpose for which the Government was established. Now, may not laws be considered necessary and proper by Congress, for it is for them 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 nor 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, indeed 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. Besides, 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 it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution.
It has been said, that it is unnecessary to load the constitution with this provision, because it was not found effectual in the constitution 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. Besides 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 tranquillity 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 minor 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 interdict 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,” &c. 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 the 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 of 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 superflous. 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 despatch in the business of amendments, if I were 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.