Story of Our Constitution - E. M. Tappan

Coming "Under the Roof"

New Hampshire's convention met about the time that the Massachusetts convention adjourned. The Federalists load not felt at all troubled about New Hampshire, for it was expected that she would follow the lead of Massachusetts. It was not a pleasant surprise to find that New Hampshire was not at all decided what to do. Some of her delegates thought that the Constitution permitted too much freedom in religious matters. Some spoke strongly against permitting the slave trade to go on until 1808. New Hampshire ought not to become its guarantor for even a few years, they declared.

Most cities in New Hampshire favored the Constitution, but the delegates from the country places had received their orders to vote against it. Even if they themselves were converted by arguments heard at the convention, they were bound to oppose. For the Federalists to call for a vote then would have been throwing away all chance of success. It would be better to let these men go home for a time; perhaps they would succeed in converting their neighbors, and a later vote might be favorable. New Hampshire was a small State, and the Antis were easily convinced that it might be to her advantage to wait a little and see how the other States went. Therefore the convention was adjourned to meet in June. It looks a little as if there might have been a compromise between Federalists and Antis, for, while this convention was to meet in Exeter, where the general feeling was Federal, the June convention was to meet in Concord, which was decidedly Anti-Federal.

The Antis were jubilant. They hoped that when June came, they would be able to hold New Hampshire. Meanwhile, they strained every nerve to win Maryland. Her convention had met three months earlier, but a decision had been postponed until a second meeting, to be held at the end of April. How she would be affected by New Hampshire's failure to take action was a question. The Federalists lay awake nights when they thought of that.

When the Maryland delegates came together they had done their thinking beforehand, and their minds were pretty well made up. Neither the eloquence of men of ability nor the influence of State favorites moved them. The Antis said it was a most important matter, and should not be decided too rashly. There was no need of haste; it would be wiser to wait a little until some of the larger States had come to a decision. As in Pennsylvania, these Antis filled up the hours in every way that they could. They knew that the delegates were eager to go home to their plantations and their spring work; so they planned to delay till the members were out of patience and ready to agree to anything to get away, and then a motion to adjourn could be carried and the question left undecided.

This was the only danger, but it had been looked out for in advance. Washington was intensely interested in the ratification of the Constitution. "I never saw him so keen for anything in my life as he is for the adoption of the new scheme of government," said one who visited him; and just before the convention he had written to a friend who was a member, saying that an adjournment would amount to the same as a rejection of the Constitution. Madison had written to the same effect. There was no adjournment, and when the question was put, Maryland, by a vote of nearly six to one, became the seventh State to ratify.

Two weeks later, South Carolina must make her decision. Her real struggle had come in the legislature when the convention was appointed. She had several very definite fears. One was lest this powerful new Congress should interfere with slavery. Another was lest navigation acts should interfere with her trade. Some parts of the State still longed for paper money; and the new Constitution would give no permission for any such thing.

When the convention met, one of the Antis spoke of the Articles in terms of the highest praise, and called them "a blessing from Heaven!" The slave trade he called a religious and humane occupation, and demanded to know why it should be limited to twenty years.

Cotesworth Pinckney, who at the constitutional convention had stood firm for the claims of South Carolina, replied that during those twenty years they could import as many slaves as they wished. The government could never set them free, he declared, and to whatever part of the country they might escape, the legal right to recover them had been won, a right not possessed before. In regard to navigation acts and the fear lest the Eastern States should get all the carrying trade into their hands, and make ruinous charges for their services, Pinckney replied that the East had the ships, and would certainly prefer to use them rather than see them lying idle at the wharves. The South would furnish freight, and the East would furnish vessels. They needed each other, and the two would now be more united than ever before. South Carolina cannot stand alone, he said; she must make friends with the stronger States at the east. The old objection was then brought up, namely, that the Constitution contained no bill of rights. Pinckney replied, "By delegating express powers, we certainly reserve to ourselves every power and right not mentioned in the Constitution. . . . Bills of rights generally begin with declaring that all men are by nature born free. Now, we should make that declaration with' a very bad grace when a large part of our property consists in men who are actually born slaves."

A day was set for the convention. Both Charleston and Columbia wanted it, but Charleston won by a single vote. South Carolina had chosen her delegates from among her noblest citizens. The vote was two to one in favor of the Constitution. Sturdy Christopher Gadsden, patriot tried and true, said reverently, "I shall say with good old Simeon, 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,' for mine eyes have seen the salvation of my country."

But what about New Hampshire and her long-delayed convention? Eight States had already ratified, and New Hampshire was now fired with ambition to be the ninth. June 21st, she gave her vote in favor of ratification. Her convention was careful to write in its record that this was done "on Saturday, June 21, at 1 P. M.," for if Virginia's vote should chance to be at two o'clock, they did not mean to lose their honors. Riders were sent off post haste to carry the news to Pennsylvania and Virginia; but travel was slow, and from New Hampshire to Virginia is a long way. Even before the riders reached Alexandria, they heard the ringing of bells and found themselves in the midst of a joyful celebration. Virginia, too, had voted to ratify.

This ratification had not been carried through in Virginia without a severe struggle. For one thing, her people had never forgotten or forgiven that a year or two earlier New England for her own advantage had been more than willing to close the mouth of the Mississippi to Kentucky and Tennessee, if she could only get a commercial treaty with Spain. Now Kentucky was in some degree a district or colony of Virginia, and therefore Virginia felt this a personal grievance, and had no idea of allowing New England a free hand in the government. Indeed, many a Virginian had dreamed about a union of the South, a confederacy that should be in no way subject to the aims of the Eastern States; but this had become impossible now that Georgia and South Carolina had accepted the new government.

Virginia had nearly as many inhabitants as New York and Pennsylvania together. It was the oldest of the colonies and the home of Washington. "The other States cannot do without Virginia, and we can dictate to them what terms we please," Patrick Henry declared. On the other hand, Virginia could not do without the other States, and Madison, John Marshall, who afterwards became chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Governor Randolph stood firmly for ratification. Patrick Henry opposed with all the might of his fiery eloquence. Fortunately for the Virginia Federalists, he was not a statesman, however brilliant he was as an orator; and the convention was not the place for oratory. It was the place for keen, logical, persuasive reasoning, and quiet, sensible decisions. "What Virginia does, that New Hampshire will do," was the feeling in Virginia; but New Hampshire's post riders had been on the way four days when Virginia put the question in her convention. The vote was close, eighty-nine to seventy-nine, but it was in favor of the Constitution. Virginia had come "under the roof," as people said then.

Nine days later came Independence Day, and never was there such a merry, jubilant, hopeful time as on July 4, 1788. In Philadelphia there was a procession such as America had never seen before. Pioneers with their axes and a car called the Constitution, in the form of a great eagle, began the line. In this car sat Judge McKean, who had worked so hard for the Constitution, and ten men followed, each with a silken flag bearing the name of a State. There were consuls of foreign states, each carrying his national flag; a prominent citizen dressed as an Indian sachem, and smoking the pipe of peace; a troop of dragoons; and then came what was called "a most splendid spectacle." It was a dome upheld by thirteen columns, three of them unfinished. On the pedestal of each column appeared the name of one of the States, and above the dome rose a cupola bearing the figure of Plenty. Around the pedestal of the whole structure were the words, "In union the fabric stands firm." This was drawn by ten white horses. It was followed by architects, carpenters, officers of the Cincinnati, the militia, members of the Agricultural Society, farmers with ploughs drawn by four stalwart oxen, and members of the Manufacturing Society with spinning and carding machines, looms, etc., in a wagon, or "float," drawn by ten bay horses. The weavers were at work, and the process of printing cotton cloth was going on. After the Marine Society with flag, trumpets, and spy-glasses, came another float on which \vas the "Federal Ship Union," a beautiful little vessel thirty-three feet long, which had been captured by Paul Jones as the barge of the Serapis. As their course was changed from time to time, her crew of twenty-five men trimmed the sails to the wind. This was drawn by horses—there were no electric motors in those days—but under the vessel was canvas painted to represent the waves of the sea, and this hid the wheels. Then followed boat-builders, sail-makers, ship carpenters, all with silken flags, then rope-makers, merchants, one with a ledger in his hands, shoemakers, gilders, coach-makers, potters, wheelwrights, all with shops Wherein men were working at their different trades. The blacksmiths were making ploughshares out of old swords; the printers had a press and printed as they went along a song said to have been written by Franklin, which begins:

"Ye merry Mechanics, come join in my song,

And let the brisk chorus go bounding along;

Though some may be poor, and some rich there may be,

Yet all are contented, and happy, and free."

There can hardly be much doubt that Franklin was really the writer of the song, for it sounds so much like him, especially the lines:

"And Carders, and Spinners, and Weavers attend,

And take the advice of Poor Richard, your friend;

Stick close to your looms, your wheels, and your card,

And you need never fear of the times being hard."

The printers tossed handfuls of this song fresh from the press to the crowds as they went along.

About 5,000 men were in this "Federal Procession." Three hours after the start they were on the lawn of Bush Hill, where Hamilton lived. Round tables were arranged in a circle some five hundred feet in diameter, and in the center of the circle was the "Grand Federal Edifice." James Wilson delivered an oration, and then came the feast. Casks of porter, beer, and cider lined the inner circle of the tables; and they certainly flowed freely, for ten toasts were drunk in honor of the ten States that had ratified. At each toast a cannon was fired; and from the ship Rising Sun, lying with ten others in the Delaware, a second cannon was fired in response. In the evening the ships were "highly illuminated." "I did not see the spectacle," said a Philadelphian regretfully, "but it was the talk of my youthful days for years after the event."

To prepare for this elaborate celebration, Philadelphia had just four days!