After the 5th article was read, at the table, The Hon. Mr KING observed that he believed gentlemen had not, in their objections to the Constitution, recollected that this article was a part of it, for many of the arguments of gentlemen were founded on the idea of future amendments being impracticable. The Hon. Gentleman observed on the superiour excellence of the proposed Constitution, in this particular and called upon gentlemen to produce an instance in any other national constitution, where the people had so fair an opportunity to correct any abuse which might take place in the future administration of the government under it.
Dr JARVIS. Mr President—
I cannot suffer the present article to be passed, without rising to express my entire and perfect approbation of it—Whatever may have been my private opinion of any other part, or whatever faults or imperfections I have remarked, or fancied I have seen, in any other instance, here, sir I have found complete satisfaction—this has been a resting place, on which I have reposed myself in the fullest security whenever a doubt has occurred, in considering any other passage in the proposed Constitution. The Hon. Gentleman last speaking, has called upon those persons who are opposed to our receiving the present system, to show another government in which such a wise precaution has been taken, to secure to the people the right of making such alterations and amendments in a peaceable way as experience shall have proved to be necessary.—Allow me to say sir as far as the narrow limits of my own information extend, I know of no such example—In other countries, sir unhappily for mankind, the history of their respective revolutions have been written in blood; and it is in this only that any great or important change in our political situation, has been effected, without publick commotions—When we shall have adopted the Constitution before us, we shall have in this article an adequate provision for all the purposes of political reformation. If in the course of its operation, this government shall appear to be too severe, here are the means by which this severity may be attempered and corrected;—if, on the other, it shall become too languid in its movements, here again we have a method designated, by which a new portion of health and spirit may be infused in the Constitution.1
There is, sir another view which I have long since taken of this subject, which has produced the fullest conviction in my own mind, in favour of our receiving the government which we have now in contemplation—Should it be rejected, I beg gentlemen would observe, that a concurrence of all the States must be had before a new Convention can be called to form another Constitution:—But the present article provides, upon nine States concurring in any alteration or amendment to be proposed, either by Congress, or any future Convention, that this alteration shall be a part of the Constitution, equally powerful and obligatory with any other part. If it be alledged that this union is not likely to happen, will it be more likely that an union of a greater number of concurring sentiments may be had, as must be, in case we reject the Constitution in hopes of a better—But that this is practicable, we may safely appeal to the history of this country as a proof in the last twenty years. We have united against the British—we have united in calling the late federal Convention—and we may certainly unite again in such alterations as in reason shall appear to be important for the peace and happiness of America.
In the Constitution of this State the article providing for alterations is limitted in its operation to a given time; but in the present Constitution, the article is perfectly at large, unconfined to any period, and may admit of measures being taken, in any moment after it is adopted. In this point it has undoubtedly the advantage. I shall not sit down, sir without repeating, that as it is clearly more difficult for twelve States to agree to another Convention, than for nine to unite in favour of amendments, so it is certainly better to receive the present Constitution in the hope of its being amended, than it would be to reject it altogether with, perhaps, the vain expectation of obtaining another more agreeable than the present—I see no fallacy in the argument, Mr President, but if there is, permit me to call upon any gentleman to point it out, in order that it may be corrected—for at present it seems to me of such force as to give me entire satisfaction.
(In the conversation on Thursday on the sixth article, which provides, that "no religious test shall ever be required, as a qualification to any office." &c. several gentlemen urged, that it was a departure from the principles of our fore-fathers, who came here for the preservation of their religion; and that as it would admit deists, atheists, &c. into the general government, and people being apt to imitate the examples of the Court these principles will be disseminated, and of course a corruption of morals ensue.—Gentlemen on the other side applauded the liberality of the clause—and represented in striking colours the impropriety and almost impiety of the requisition of a test, as practised in Great-Britain and elsewhere—In this conversation, the following is the substance of the observations of the)
Rev. Mr. SHUTE. Mr President—To object to the latter part of the paragraph under consideration, which excludes a religious test, is, I am sensible, very popular; for the most of men, some how are rigidly tenacious of their own sentiments in religion, and disposed to impose them upon others as the standard of truth. If in my sentiments, upon the point in view I should differ from some in this honourable body I only wish from them the exercise of that candour with which true religion is adapted to inspire the honest and well-disposed mind.
To establish a religious test as a qualification for offices in the proposed Federal Constitution, appears to me, sir would be attended with injurious consequences to some individuals, and with no advantage to the whole. By the injurious consequences to individuals, I mean, that some, who in every other respect, are qualified to fill some important post in government, will be excluded by their not being able to stand the religious test—which I take to be a privation of part of their civil rights.
Nor is there to me any conceivable advantage, sir that would result to the whole from such a test. Unprincipled and dishonest men will not hesitate to subscribe to any thing that may open the way for their advancement, and put them into a situation the better to execute their base and iniquitous designs. Honest men alone, therefore, however well qualified to serve the publick, would be excluded by it, and their country be deprived of the benefit of their abilities.
In this great and extensive empire, there is and will be a great variety of sentiments in religion among its inhabitants. Upon the plan of a religious test, the question I think must be, who shall be excluded from national trusts? Whatever answer bigotry may suggest, the dictates of candour and equity I conceive, will be none.
Far from limiting my charity and confidence to men of my own denomination in religion, I suppose, and I believe, sir that there are worthy characters among men of every other denomination—among the Quakers—the Baptists—the Church of England—the Papists—and even among those who have no other guide, in the way to virtue and heaven, than the dictates of natural religion.
I must therefore think, sir that the proposed plan of government, in this particular is wisely constructed: That as all have an equal claim to the blessings of the government under which they live, and which they support, so none should be excluded from them for being of any particular denomination in religion.
The presumption is, that the eyes of the people will be upon the faithful in the land, and from a regard to their own safety will chuse for their rulers, men of known abilities—of known probit—of good moral characters. The apostle Peter tells us, that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him—And I know of no reason, why men of such a character, in a community, of whatever denomination in religion, cœteris paribus, with other suitable qualifications, should not be acceptable to the people, and why they may not be employed, by them, with safety and advantage in the important offices of government.—The exclusion of a religious test in the proposed Constitution, therefore, clearly appears to me, sir to be in favour of its adoption.
Colonel JONES (Bristol) thought, that the rulers ought to believe in God or Christ—and that however a test may be prostituted in England, yet he thought if our publick men were to be of those who had a good standing in the church, it would be happy for the United States—and that a person could not be a good man without being a good Christian.
The conversation on the Constitution by paragraphs being ended, Mr. PARSONS moved, that this Convention do assent to and ratify this Constitution.
Mr. NEAL rose and said, that as the Constitution at large was now under consideration, he would just remark, that the article which respected the Africans was the one which lay on his mind—and unless his objections to that were removed, it must, how much soever he liked the other parts of the Constitution, be a sufficient reason for him to give his negative to it.
Colonel JONES said, that one of his principal objections, was the omission of a religious test.
Rev. Mr PAYSON. Mr President—After what has been observed relating to a religious test by gentlemen of acknowledged abilities, I did not expect it would again be mentioned, as an objection to the proposed Constitution, that such a test was not required as a qualification for office. Such were the abilities and integrity of the gentlemen who constructed the Constitution, as not to admit of the presumption that they would have betrayed so much vanity as to attempt to erect bulwarks and barriers to the throne of God. Relying on the candour of this Convention, I shall take the liberty to express my sentiments on the nature of a religious test, and shall endeavour to do it in such propositions as will meet the approbation of every mind.
The great object of religion being God supreme, and the seat of religion in man being the heart or conscience, i.e. the reason God has given us, employed on our moral actions, in their most important consequences, as related to the tribunal of God, hence I infer that God alone is the God of the conscience, and consequently attempts to erect human tribunals for the consciences of men, are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God. Upon these principles had there been a religious test, as a qualification for office, it would, in my opinion, have been a great blemish to the instrument.
Gen. HEATH. Mr President—After a long and painful investigation of the Federal Constitution, by paragraphs, this Hon. Convention are drawing nigh to the ultimate question. A question as momentous, as ever invited the attention of man. We are soon to decide on a system of government, digested, not for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts only—not for the present people of the United States only—but in addition to these, for all those States which may hereafter rise into existence within the jurisdiction of the United States—and for millions of people yet unborn. A system of government not for a nation of slaves, but for a people as free, and as virtuous as any on earth. Not for a conquered nation subdued to our will, but for a people, who have fought, who have bled, and who have conquered; who under the smiles of Heaven, have established their independence and sovereignty and have taken equal rank among the nations of the earth. In short, sir it is a system of government for ourselves, and for our children, for all that is near and dear to us in life, and on the decision of the question is suspended our political prosperity or infelicity perhaps our existence as a nation. What can be more solemn? What can be more interesting? Every thing depends on our union. I know that some have supposed that although the union should be broken, particular States may retain their importance, but this cannot be; the strongest nerved State, even the right arm if separated from the body must wither: If the great union be broken, our country as a nation, perishes, and if our country so perishes, it will be as impossible to save a particular State, as to preserve one of the fingers of a mortified hand.
By one of the paragraphs of the system it is declared, that the ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the establishment of the Constitution, between the States so ratifying the same: but, sir how happy will it be, if not only nine, but even all the States should ratify it—It will be a happy circumstance, if only a small majority of this Convention should ratify the federal system; but how much more happy if we could be unanimous.—It will be a happy circumstance if a majority of the people of this Commonwealth, should be in favour of the federal system; but how much more so if they should be unanimous, and if there are any means whereby they may be united, every exertion should be made to effect it.4
I presume, sir that there is not a single gentleman within these walls, who does not wish for a federal government-for an efficient federal government; and that this government should be possessed of every power necessary to enable it to shed on the people the benign influences of a good government. But I have observed from the first, that many gentlemen appear opposed to the system, and this I apprehend arises from their objections to some particular parts of it. Is there not a way in which their minds may be relieved from embarrassment? I think there is—and if there is, no exertions should be spared, in endevouring to do it.
If we should ratify the Constitution, and instruct our first members to Congress, to exert their utmost endevours to have such checks, and guards provided as appears to be necessary in some of the paragraphs of the Constitution, and communicate what we may judge proper, to our sister States, and request their concurrence, is there not the highest probability that every thing which we wish may be effectually secured,—I think there is—and I cannot but flatter myself that in this way, the gentlment of the Convention will have the difficulties under which they now labour, removed from their minds;—we shall be untied: The people of this Commonwealth and of our sister States may be united. Permit me therefore, most ernestly to recommend it to the serious consideration of every gentleman in the Honourable Convention.
After Gen. HEATH sat down, his Excellency the President rose and observed, that he was conscious of the impropriety, situated as he was, of his entering into the deliberations of the Convention—that unfortunately, through painful indisposition of body, he had been prevented from giving his attendance in his place; but from the information he had received, and from the papers, there appeared to him to be a great dissimilarity of sentiments in the Convention—To remove the objections of some gentlemen, he felt himself induced, he sad, to hazard a proposition for consideration—which, with the permission of the Convention, he would offer in the afternoon.