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title:“Edmund Randolph in the Virginia Convention”
authors:Edmund Randolph
date written:1788-6-4

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:09 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Oct. 2, 2023, 2:43 p.m. UTC

Randolph, Edmund. "Edmund Randolph in the Virginia Convention." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

Edmund Randolph in the Virginia Convention (June 4, 1788)

June 4, 1788.
I refused to sign, and if the same were to return, again would I refuse. Wholly to adopt or wholly to reject, as proposed by the convention, seemed too hard an alternative to the citizens of America, whose servants we were, and whose pretensions amply to discuss the means of their happiness, were undeniable. . . . When I withheld my subscription, I had not even the glimpse of the genius of America, relative to the principles of the new constitution. Who, arguing from the preceding history of Virginia, could have divined that she was prepared for the important change? In former times indeed, she transcended every colony in professions and practices of loyalty; but she opened a perilous war, under a democracy almost as pure as representation would admit: she supported it under a constitution which subjects all rule, authority and power, to the legislature: every attempt to alter it had been baffled: the increase of congressional power, had always excited an alarm. I therefore would not bind myself to uphold the new constitution, before I had tried it by the true touchstone; especially too, when I foresaw, that even the members of the general convention, might be instructed by the comments of those who were without doors. But I had moreover objections to the constitution, the most material of which, too lengthy in detail, I have as yet barely stated to the public, but shall explain when we arrive at the proper points. Amendments were consequently my wish; these were the grounds of my repugnance to subscribe, and were perfectly reconcileable with my unalterable resolution, to be regulated by the spirit of America, if after our best efforts for amendments, they could not be removed. . . .
. . . The members of the general convention were particularly deputed to meliorate the confederation. On a thorough contemplation of the subject, they found it impossible to amend that system: what was to be done? The dangers of America, which will be shewn at another time by particular enumeration, suggested the expedient of forming a new plan: . . . after meeting in convention the deputies from the states communicated their information to one another: on a review of our critical situation, and of the impossibility of introducing any degree of improvement into the old system; what ought they to have done? Would it not have been treason to have returned without proposing some scheme to relieve their distressed country? The honorable gentleman asks, why we should adopt a system, that shall annihilate and destroy our treaties with France, and other nations? I think, the misfortune is, that these treaties are violated already, under the honorable gentleman's favorite system. I conceive that our engagements with foreign nations are not all affected by this system, for the sixth article expressly provides, that 'all debts contracted, and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this constitution, as under the confederation,1' Does this system then, cancel debts due to or from the continent? Is it not a well known maxim that no change of situation can alter an obligation once rightly entered into? He also objects because nine states are sufficient to put the government in motion: what number of states ought we to have said? Ought we to have required the concurrence of all the thirteen? Rhode-Island, in rebellion against integrity; Rhode-Island plundered all the world by her paper money, and notorious for her uniform opposition to every federal duty, would then have it in her power to defeat the union; and may we not judge with absolute certainty from her past conduct, that she would do so? Therefore, to have required the ratification of all the thirteen states would have been tantamount to returning without having done any thing. What other number would have been proper? Twelve? The same spirit that has actuated me in the whole progress of the business, would have prevented me from leaving it in the power of any one state to dissolve the union: for would it not be lamentable, that nothing could be done for the defection of one state? A majority of the whole would have been two few. Nine states therefore seem to be a most proper number. . . . In the whole of this business, I have acted in the strictest obedience to the dictates of my conscience, in discharging what I conceive to be my duty to my country. I refused my signature, and if the same reasons operated on my mind, I would still refuse; but as I think that those eight states which have adopted the constitution will not recede, I am a friend to the union.

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