When the Convention met in the afternoon, His Excellency the PRESIDENT observed, that a motion had been made and seconded, that this Convention do assent to, and ratify the Constitution which had been under consideration—and that he had in the former part of the day intimated his intention of submitting proposition to the consideration of the Convention. My motive, says he, arises from my earnest desire to this Convention, my fellow-citizens and the publick at large, that this Convention may adopt such a form of government, as may extend its good influences to every part of the United States, and advance the prosperity of the whole world. His situation, his Excellency said, had not permitted him to enter into the debates of this Convention—It however appeared to him necessary from what had been advanced in them, to adopt the form of government proposed; but, observing diversity of sentiment in the gentlemen of the Convention, he had frequently had conversation with them on the subject; and from this conversation, he was induced to propose to them, whether the introduction of some general amendments would not be attended with the happiest consequences: For that purpose he should, with the leave of the Hon. Convention, submit to their consideration a proposition, in order to remove the doubts, and quiet the apprehensions of gentlemen; and if in any degree the object should be acquired, he should feel himself perfectly satisfied. He should therefore, submit them—for he was, he said, unable to go more largely intothe subject, if his abilities would permit him, relying on the candour of the Convention to bear him witness, that his wishes for a good constitution were sincere. (His Excellency then read his proposition.) This gentlemen, concluded his Excellency is the proposition which I had to make; and I submit it to your consideration, with the sincere wish, that it may have a tendency to promote a spirit of union.
(The proposition submitted by his Excellency having been committed to a large committee who reported some amendments—we think it expedient to refer the reader to the form of Ratification for it.)
Hon. Mr. ADAMS. Mr President—I feel myself happy in contemplating the idea, that many benefits will result from your Excellency's conciliatory proposition, to this commonwealth and to the United States; and I think it ought to precede the motion made by the gentleman from Newbury-Port and to be at this time considered by the Convention. I have said, that I have had my doubts of this Constitution—I could not digest every part of it, as readily as some gentlemen; but this, sir is my misfortune, not my fault. Other gentlemen have had their doubts, but, in my opinion the proposition submitted, will have a tendency to remove such doubts, and to conciliate the minds of the convention, and the people without doors. This subject, sir is of the greatest magnitude, and has employed the attention of every rational man in the United States: but the minds of the people are not so well agreed on it as all of us could wish. A proposal, of this sort, coming from Massachusetts, from her importance, will have its weight.
Four or five states have considered and ratified the constitution as it stands; but we know there is a diversity of opinion even in these states, and one of them is greatly agitated. If this Convention should particularize the amendments necessary to be proposed, it appears to me it must have weight in other States where Conventions have not yet met. I have observed the sentiments of gentlemen on the subject, as far as Virginia; and I have found that the objections were similar in the news papers, and in some of the Conventions—Considering these circumstances, it appears to me that such a measure will have the most salutary effect throughout the union—It is of the greatest importance, that America should still be united in sentiment. I think I have not been heretofore unmindful of the advantage of such an union. It is essential that the people should be united in the federal government, to withstand the common enemy and to preserve their valuable rights and liberties. We find in the great State of Pennsylvania, one third of the Convention are opposed to it: (should there then be large minorities in the several states, I should fear the consequences of such disunion.)1
Sir there are many parts of it I esteem as highly valuable, particularly the article which empowers Congress to regulate commerce, to form treaties &c. For want of this power in our national head, our friends are grieved, and our enemies insult us. Our ambassadour at the court of London is considered as a mere cypher instead of the representative of the United States.—Therefore it appears to me, that a power to remedy this evil should be given to Congress, and the remedy applied as soon as possible.
The only difficulty on gentlemen's minds is, whether it is best to accept this Constitution on conditional amendments, or to rely on amendments in future, as the Constitution provides. When I look over the article which provides for a revision, I have my doubts. Suppose, sir nine states accept the Constitution without any conditions at all; and the four states should wish to have amendments, where will you find nine States to propose, and the legislatures of nine States to agree, to the introduction of amendments—Therefore it seems to me, that the expectation amendments taking place at some future time, will be frustrated. This method, if we take it, will be the most likely to bring about the amendments, as the Conventions of New-Hampshire, Rhode-Island, New-York, Maryland, Virginia, and South-Carolina, have not yet met. I apprehend, sir that these States will be influenced by the proposition which your Excellency has submitted, as the resolutions of Massachusetts have ever had their influence. If this should be the case, the necessary amendments would be introduced more early and more safely.3
From these considerations, (as your Excellency did not think it proper to make a motion, with submission, I move) that the paper read by your Excellency be now taken under consideration, by the Convention.
The motion being seconded, the proposition was read by the secretary at the table.
Dr. TAYLOR liked the idea of amendments—but, he said, he did not , see any constitutional door open for the introduction of them by the Convention. He read the several authorities which provided for the meeting of Conventions; but did not see in any of them, any power given to propose amendments—we are, he said, therefore, treading on unsafe ground to propose them—we must take the whole—or reject the whole.4
The Hon. Gentleman was in favour of the adjournment; and in a speech of some length, deprecated the consequences, which, he said, must arise, if the Constitution was adopted or rejected by a small majority; and that the expenses which would accrue from the adjournment, would not exceed 4d. per poll throughout the commonwealth.
Hon. Mr. CABOT rose and observed on what fell from the hon. gentleman last speaking—that the reason why no provision for the introduction amendments was made in the authorities quoted by the Hon. Gentleman, was, that they were provided for in the 5th art. of the Constitution.