Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 36.djvu/51

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35
The Virginia Convention of 1788.

up the complement of its members. All added the luster of their names, their experiences and talents to this illustrious body. Paul Carrington nominated Edmund Pendleton as President, and notwithstanding the fact that the opposition to the adoption of the Constitution was strong, and it was known that Pendleton was its warmest advocate, he was elected not only without opposition, but as though his eminent fitness for the position was generally recognized. It may have been, and doubtless was, owing to the sagacity of the opposition in not caring to risk the chances of defeat at the start – an unwillingness to test their strength. The chief advocates of the Constitution were Edmund Randolph, George Nicholas, Edmund Pendleton, James Madison and John Marshall. The opponents were Patrick Henry, George Mason, William Grayson, James Monroe. These were the principal debaters. For the first week Henry stood pretty much alone in opposition to the solid phalanx of its advocates, except for a short speech by George Mason. Henry was the orator of the people – the great objector. He fought the Constitution, line by line, clause by clause, article by article, section by section – in detail and as a whole. The chief objections raised by Mr. Henry, and sustained by his side, were that the Constitution was a consolidated government and subversive of the rights of the people, a surrender of the sovereignty of the States. He objected strenuously to the expression in the preamble, "We, the people," instead of "We, the States." He plead for the rights and liberties of the people; contended for amendments before ratification. He grew eloquent on the Bill of Rights; denounced the tax-gathers under the proposed Federal law; he brought up the navigation of the Mississippi; dwelt on the dangers of the system; objected to the powers of the judiciary, the authority of Congress. In fact, Mr. Henry raised every objection to real and imaginary dangers that a fervid imagination and a patriotic heart could devise. The other side, of course, took the opposite view, depreciated the cry of alarm, urged the necessity for the Constitution. Pointed out in forceful language, and with telling effect, the imbecility of the confederation; defined, with logical force, the difference between the Federal and State governments, the autonomy of the State and the defined powers granted by the General Government.