The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787/Volume 3/Appendix A/XL

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XL. Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson[1]

New York June 9. 1787

The proposed scheme of a convention has taken more general effect, and promises more solid advantages than was at first hoped for. all the States have elected representatives except Rhode Island, whose apostasy from every moral, as well as political, obligation, has placed her perfectly without the views of her confederates; nor will her absence, or nonconcurrence, occasion the least impediment in any stage of the intended business. on friday the 25th. Ult. seven States having assembled, at Philadelphia, the Convention was formed by the election of General Washington President, and Major W. Jackson Secretary — the numbers have since encreased to 11 States — N. Hampshire has not yet arrived, but is daily expected.

The Commissions of these Gentlemen go to a thorough reform of our confederation—some of the States, at first, restricted their deputies to commercial objects, but have since liberated them. the latitude thus given, together with the generality of the Commission from the States, have doubtless operated to bring Genl. Washington forward, contrary to his more early determination — his conduct in both instances indicate a deep impression upon his mind, of the necessity of some material change — …

Men are brought into action who had consigned themselves to an eve of rest, and the Convention, as a Beacon, is rousing the attention of the Empire.

The prevailing impression as well in, as out of, Convention, is, that a fœderal Government adapted to the permanent circumstances of the Country, without respect to the habits of the day, be formed, whose efficiency shall pervade the whole Empire: it may, and probably will, at first, be viewed with hesitation, but, derived and patronsed as it will be, its influence must extend into a general adoption as the present fabric gives way. that the people are disposed to be governed is evinced in their turning out to support the shadows under which they now live, and if a work of wisdom is prepared for them, they will not reject it to commit themselves to the dubious issue of Anarchy.

The debates and proceedings of the Convention are kept in profound secrecy — opinions of the probable result of their deliberations can only be formed from the prevailing impressions of men of reflection and understanding — these are reducible to two schemes — the first, a consolidation of the whole Empire into one republic, leaving in the states nothing more than subordinate courts for facilitating the administration of the Laws — the second an investiture of of a fœderal sovereignty with full and independant authority as to the Trade, Revenues, and forces of the Union, and the rights of peace and War, together with a Negative upon all the Acts of the State legislatures. the first idea, I apprehend, would be impracticable, and therefore do not suppose it can be adopted — general Laws through a Country embracing so many climates, productions, and manners, as the United States, would operate many oppressions, & a general legislature would be found incompetent to the formation of local ones, as a majority would, in every instance, be ignorant of, and unaffected by the objects of legislation — the essential rights, as well as advantages, of representation would be lost, and obedience to the public decrees could only be ensured by the exercise of powers different from those derivable from a free constitution — such an experiment must therefore terminate in a despotism, or the same inconveniencies we are now deliberating to remove. Something like the second will probably be formed — indeed I am certain that nothing less than what will give the fœderal sovereignty a compleat controul over the State Governments, will be thought worthy of discussion—such a scheme constructed upon well adjusted principles would certainly give us stability and importance as a nation, and if the Executive powers can be sufficiently checked, must be eligible—unless the whole has a decided influence over the parts, the constant effort will be to resume the delegated powers, and there cannot be an inducement in the fœderal sovereignty to refuse its assent to an innocent Act of a State. the negative which the King of England had upon our Laws was never found to be materially inconvenient

  1. Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 189–195.