The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
Welcome Contents What's New Search this site
Visitors since 7/15/1998
Links Guest Book Contact Us
This site is eye friendly: Use your browser's view options to increase or decrease font size

Original Intent? Part III

Continued from Original Intent? Part II

Researched, written and edited by Jim Allison


JULY 5, 1789 (Amendments)

I think this business of amendments a very unpropitious affair, just at this juncture--Mr. M(adison). is universally acknowledged a man of the first rate abilities: but there appears to be a mixture of timidity in his disposition, which, as he is so influential a character, I some times fear will be productive of effects, not salutary, to say the least--every movement of this kind, unhinges the public mind, gives an opening to the artful, unprincipled, & disaffected--who are waiting with burning impatience for an opportunity to embroil & embarrass public affairs.

Source: John Fenno to Joseph Ward, July 5, 1789. Joseph Ward Papers, Chicago Historical Society.


JULY 5, 1789 (Amendments)

I see you have been offering Amendments to the Machine before it is known whether it wants any. After these shall be added the Ingenuity of those who wish to embarrass its Motions will find out some Things that It wants & so after making it as complicated as a Combination of Dutch Stocking Looms they will alledge it to be too intricate for Use. I was glad on one Account to observe you were not joined by these great Artists who offer Repairs before a Thing is worn, but I was mortified on the other Hand that you were in a Situation to put it in their Power to neglect you. You must not be hurt at these clodhopping Sentiments of mine for I love you so truly that I dislike your mixing with so many Parts of your Conduct that command my Approbation, any one I cannot praise. You see into what a Scrape you have brought yourself by being kind to me. Yet it is more than possible I am wrong in all this Business as you know more of the Necessity of such Accommodations than I do--If Chips must be put into the Porridge however, I think I would let the bad Cooks put them into the Pot, nor should any throw out Tubs but those who were afraid of the Whale.

Source: Richard Peters to James Madison, July 5, 1789, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.


JULY 6, 1789 (Amendments)

I observe the slip of the- newspaper sent me and know the design, but still I think a Bill of rights not necessary here tho in france absolutely so and twas proper for the Duke of Orleans to recommend it for France

Source: Richard Parker to Richard Henry Lee, July 6, 1789. Lee Family Papers, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.


JULY 8, 1789 (Amendments)

...I should be sorry to see any material Alterations take place in the Constitution, yet the addition of a little Flourish & Dressing without injuring the substantial part or adding much to its intrinsic value, such as a pompous Declaration of Rights, may have a happy effect in complimenting the Judgment of those who have themselves up in Opposition to it and afford a Salve to some well disposed men, who were unwarily drawn into these measures, for changing an Opinion which they had too hastily adopted.

Source: Samuel Johnston to James Madison, 8 July 8, 1789, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.


JULY 9, 1789 (Amendments)

I find that Amendments are once again on the Carpet. I hope that such may take place as will be for the Best Interest of the whole.

Source: Samuel Nasson to George Thatcher, 9 July 1789, George Thatcher Papers, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.


JULY 13, 1789 (Amendments)

It is true, that an expectation of amendments is a feeble reason for their not embracing the Union; because by the addition of their force they might be more likely to obtain them, than by standing out--and they must sooner or later accede, whether the Constitution is amended or not. But a bad excuse with some characters is better than none. Take away this false ground, and if they then stand out, they will stand, as the Hibernians did, upon nothing. They will be fools indeed, and without even the shadow of an excuse.

Source: Excerpt of letter from William Ellery to Benjamin Huntington, July 13, 1789, Benjamin Huntington Papers, Rhode Island State Archives.


JULY 16, 1789 (Amendments - Religious reference)

Your favor of the first Ult. came seasonably to hand as has also that of the 7th Inst. the former inclosed the pieces under the signature of "a Citizen of New Haven" which I immediately handed to our Printers & which were publish'd in their papers of June 30th. & July 7th. I am far from wishing that the Beauty of our new System should be marred by the many preposterous Alterations which have been propos'd, but as it was adopted by some of the Stares in full Confidence that the subject of Amendments would be soon constitutionally enter'd upon, I hope Congress will not delay canvassing the matter any longer than their more important Business renders necessary. All Ambiguity of Expression certainly ought to be remov'd; Liberty of Conscience in religious matters, right of trial by Jury, Liberty of the Press &c. may perhaps be more explicitly secur'd to the Subject Br a general reservation made to the States respectively of all the powers not expressly delegated to the general Government. These indeed may be tho't by most to be the spirit of the Constitution, but there are some who have their fears that the loose manner of expression in some instances will not sufficiently guard the rights of the Subject from the invasion of corrupt Rulers hereafter. Some such explanatory & reserving Clauses may therefore without giving umbrage to the friends of the new plan of Government tend greatly to conciliate the minds of many of it's Opponents. As to any essential Alterations neither time nor Capacity will allow of my forming an Opinion respecting them.

Source: Henry Gibbs to Roger Sherman, July 16, 1789, Roger Sherman Collection, Yale University.


JULY 19, 1789 (Amendments)

Mr. Madison's talents, respectable as they are will for some time be lost to the public, from his timidity. He is constantly haunted with the ghost of Patrick Henry. No man, in my opinion, in this country has more fair and honorable intentions, or more ardently wishes the prosperity of the public, bur unfortunately he has not that strength of nerves which will enable him to set at defiance popular and factious clamors. His system of amendments we must fairly meet and must adopt them in every instance in which they will not shackle the operations of the government. It is a water gruel business, and hope will be so managed as only to produce a more temperate habit in the body politic. Those substantial amendments which would have a tendency to produce a more compleat and natural arrangement of the national union we must despair of attaining at present.

Source: Theodore Sedgwick to Benjamin Lincoln, July 19,1789, Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.


JULY 22, 1789 (Amendments)

A Committee is appointed to report on the Amendments proposed by Madison to the Constitution--& those proposed by the State Conventions-the Committee is composed of Federalists & the Report will be such as we may adopt with Safety--& tho of little or no Consequences it will calm the Turbulence of the Opposition, in Virginia, & some of the other States, and certainly bring N. Carolina into the Union.

Source: Lambert Cadwalader to George Mitchell, July 22, 1789, Charles Roberts Autograph Collection, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania.


JULY 23, 1789 (Amendments)

We have had the amendments on the tapis, and referred them to a committee of one from a State. I hope much debate will be avoided by this mode, and that the amendments will be more rational, and less ad populum, than Madison's. It is necessary to conciliate, and I would have amendments. But they should not be trash, such as would dishonor the Constitution, without pleasing its enemies. Should we propose them, North Carolina would accede.

Source: Fisher Ames to George K. Minot, July 23, 1789, The Works of Fisher Ames, 2 vols, Seth Ames, ed. (Boston, 1854), 1.65-66.


AUGUST 2, 1789 (Amendments)

The proposed amendments of which I sent you a copy have since been in the hands of a committee composed of a member from each State. Their report is inclosed. [Some] of the changes are perhaps for the better, others for the worse. From the concord of the Com[mitte]e. and the language used in the House on the last discussion, I indulge a confidence that something will be affected. For the Senate I can less answer, but I have no reason for distrust in case the plan be kept within its present limits.

Source: James Madison to Wilson Cary Nicholas, August 2, 1789, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City.


AUGUST 4, 1789 (Amendments)

You have doubtless before this seen the amendments to the Constitution reported by the Committee--they will probably be harmless & Satisfactory to chose who are fond of Bills of rights, I don't like the form in which they are reported to be incorporated in the Constitution, that Instrument being the Act of the people, ought to be kept intire--and amendments made by the Legislatures Should be in addition by way of Supplement.

Source: Roger Sherman to Henry Gibbs, August 4, 1789, Gibbs Family Collection, Yale University.


AUGUST 9, 1789 (Amendments)

The Committee on amendments. have reported some, which are thought inoffensive to the federalists & may do some good on the other side; N. Car[olin)a. only wants some pretext to come into the Union, & we may afford that pretext by recommending a few amendments.

There appears to be a disposition in our house to agree to some, which will more effectually secure private rights, without affecting the structure of the Govr.

Source: William L. Smith to Edward Rutledge, August 9, 1789, William LoLoughtonmith Papers, South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, S. C. [This letter was written on 9, 10, and 15 August. The respective parts are printed under headings for those dates.]


AUGUST 11, 1789 (Amendments)

If you wait for substantial amendments, you will wait longer than I wish you to do, speaking interestedly. A few milk-and-water amendments have been proposed by Mr. M[adison], such as liberty of conscience, a free press, and one or two general things already well secured. I suppose it was done to keep his promise with his constituents, to move for alterations; but, if I am not greatly mistaken, he is not hearty in the cause of amendments.

Source: Pierce Butler to James Iredell, August 11, 1789, Life and Correspondence of James Iredell, 2 vols., Griffith J. McRee, (New York, 1857), 2:263--65.


AUGUST 12, 1789 (Amendments)

We are beginning the amendments in a committee of the whole. We have voted to take up the subject, in preference to the Judiciary, to incorporate them into the Constitution, and not to require, in committee, two thirds to a vote. This cost us the day. Tomorrow we shall proceed. Some General, before engaging, said to his soldiers, "Think of your ancestors, and think of your posterity."(1) We shall make a dozen or two of rights and privileges for our posterity. If I am to be guided by your advice, to marry and live in Boston, it behooves me to interest myself in the affair. It will consume a good deal of time, and renew the party struggles of the States. It will set Deacon Smead and many others to constitution-making , a trade which requires little stock, and often thrives without much custom. The workman is often satisfied to be the sole consumer. Our Stare is remarkable for it. We made several frames of government, which did not pass.

The timber was so green, the vessels rotted on the stocks. However, I am persuaded it is proper to propose amendments, without delay, and if the antis affect to say that they are of no consequence, they may be reproached with their opposition to the government, because they protested that the principles were important.

(1)Perhaps Shakespeare's Henry V at Agincourt.

Source: Fisher Ames to George R. Minot, August 12, 1788, Seth Ames, ed., The Works of Fisher Ames, 2 vols. (Boston, 1854), 1.66-68.


AUGUST 14, 1789 (Amendments)

In a debate upon the Impost Bill, you declared yourself an enemy to local attachments, and said you considered yourself not merely the representative of Virginia, but of the United States. This declaration was liberal, and the sentiment just. But Sir, does this accord with the interest you take in amending the constitution! You now hold out in justification of the part you take in forwarding amendments, that you have pledged yourself in some measure to your constituents. But, Sir, who are your constituents! Are they the electors of a small district in Virginia! These indeed gave you a place in the federal legislature; but the moment you were declared to be elected, you became the representative of three millions of people, and you are bound, by the principles of representation and by your own declaration, to promote the general good of the United States. You had no right to declare that you would act upon the sentiments and wishes of your immediate constituents, unless you should be convinced that the measures you advocate coincide with the wishes and interest of the whole Union. If I have any just ideas of legislation, this doctrine is incontrovertible; and if I know your opinions, you believe it to be so.

Permit me then, with great respect to ask, Sir, how you can justify yourself, in the eyes of the world, for espousing the cause of amendments with so much earnestness! Do you, Sir, believe, that the people you represent generally wish for amendments? If you do Sir, you are more egregiously mistaken than you ever were before. I know from the unanimous declaration of men in several states, through which I have lately traveled, that amendments are not generally wished for; on the other hand, amendments are not mentioned but with the most pointed disapprobation.

The people, Sir, admit what the advocates of amendments in Congress, generally allow, that the alterations proposed can do very little good or hurt, as to the merits of the constitution; but for this very reason they reprobate any attempt to introduce them. They say, and with great justice, that, at the moment when an excellent government is going into operation; when the hopes of millions are revived, and their minds disposed to acquiesce peaceably in the federal laws; when the demagogues of faction have ceased to clamor, and their adherents are reconciled to the constitution - Congress are taking a step which will revive the spirit of party, spread the causes of contention through all the states, call up jealousies which have no real foundation, and weaken the operations of government, when the people themselves are wishing to give it energy. We see, in the debates, it is frequently asserted, that some amendments will satisfy the opposition and give stability to the government.

The people, Sir, in the northern and middle states do not believe a word of this--they do not see any opposition--they find information and experience every where operating to remove objections, and they believe that these causes will, though slowly, produce a change of conduct in North-Carolina and Rhode-Island. Is it not better to wait for this event, than risk the tumults that must grow out of another debate upon the constitution in every one of the United States.

It seems to be agreed on all hands that paper declarations of rights are trifling things and no real security to liberty. In general they are a subject of ridicule. In England, it has been necessary for parliament to ascertain and declare what rights the nation possesses, in order to limit the powers and claims of the crown; but for a sovereign free people, whose power is always equal, to declare, with the solemnity of a constitutional act, We are all born free, and have a few particular rights which are dear to us, and of which we will not deprive ourselves, altho' we leave ourselves at full liberty to abridge any of our other rights, is a farce in government as novel as it is ludicrous.

I am not disposed to treat you, Sir, with disrespect; many years acquaintance has taught me to esteem your virtues and respect your abilities. No man stands higher in my opinion, and people are every where willing to place you among the most able, active and useful representatives of the United States. But they regret that Congress should spend their time in throwing out an empty tub to catch people, either factious or uninformed, who might be taken more honorably by reason and equitable laws. They regret particularly that Mr. Madison's talents should be employed to bring forward amendments, which, at best can have little effect upon the merits of the constitution, and may sow the seeds of discord from New-Hampshire to Georgia.

Source: "Pacificus" (Noah Webster) to James Madison, 14 August 1789, The New York Daily Advertiser, 17 August 1789. For identification of Webster as "Pacificus," see Kenneth R. Bowling, "Tub to the Whale,"Journal of the Early Republic 8:225n.


AUGUST 15, 1789 (Amendments)

The House of Representatives . . . are now playing with Amendments, but if they make one truely so I'll hang. poor Madison got so Cursedly frightened in Virginia, that I believe he has dreamed of amendments ever since. This however is, ad Captandum.(1)

(1)To play the crowd.

Source: Robert Morris to Francis Hopkinson, August 15, 1789, Francis Hopkinson Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


AUGUST 15, 1789 (Amendments)

We have been these three days on amendmts.--a motion of Tucker's this morning respecting the right of the people to [illegible] instruct their represents. occasioned some warmth [page torn] rudeness of Mr. Gerry, & some reflexions of Burke's [on the] Committee who brought in the Amendmts. & particularly on Madison: he said these Amendmts. were a mere tub to the whrtle & similar observations which were taken up warmly by Madison & others: Tucker's motion was voted for by 8 or g antifedls.-- It is worthy of observation that the antifederals in our House have thrown difficulties in the way of these Amendmts. merely because they can't carry alterations which wd. overturn the Governmt.-there has been more illhumour & rudeness displayed today than has existed since the meeting of Congress--allowing to Gerry & one or two more--& to make it worse, the weather is intensely hot.(1)

Source: William L. Smith to Edward Rutledge, August 15, 1783, William Loughton Smith Papers, South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston.


AUGUST 17, 1789 (Amendments)

The three days last past have been spent in considering the Amendments reported by the Committee as yet we have made very little progress. The Antis viz. Gerry Tucker &c. appear determined to obstruct & embarrass the Business as much as possible. Is it nor surprising that the opposition should come from that quarter.

Source: John Brown to William Irvine, August 17, 1789, Caryl Roberts Autograph Collection, Pennsylvania Historical Society.


AUGUST 17, 1789 (Amendments)

The hot weather & the Subject of amendments which was discussed the last week Kept the house in bad temper, The Antis have opposed their being brot. forward in every Stage & I am inclined to believe the proposed amendments will fail, for although they are approved by the federalists & a majority will no dou[b]t vote for the whole of them, I woud. question if two thirds will concur. A small party are opposed to all amendments, And others who do not think they go far enough, are making every exertion to put off the consideration of that business untill the Next Session--this day will I expect determine the issue of that question.

Source: William Smith to Otho H. Williams, August 17, 1789, Orho Holland Williams Papers, Maryland Historical Society.


AUGUST 18, 1789 (Amendments)

But this Day has at Length terminated the Subject of Amendments in the Comittee of the whole House, & tomorow we shall take up the Report & probably agree to the Amendments proposed, & which are nearly the same as the special Comittee of eleven had reported them. I have no Doubt but there will be two thirds as required by the Constitution in our House, but cannot say what Reception they will meet with in the Senate. Mr. Gerry & Mr. Tucker had each of them a long string of Amendts. which were not comprised in the Report of the special Comittee, & which they stiled Amendments proposed by the several States. There was a curious medley of them, and such as even our Minority in Pennsylvania would rather have pronounced dangerous Alterations than Amendments--these they offered in separate Resolutions to the House in Order to get them referred to a Comittee of the whole, but both Attempts faild-the previous question having been ruled against Gerrys Motion, & carried, and Mr. Tuckers was negatived by a very large Majority. Thus far I hope this disagreeable Business is finished, & no other Amendments will I think take place for the present. Altho' I am sorry that so much Time has been spent in this Business, and would much rather have had it postponed to the next Session, yet as it now is done I hope it will be satisfactory to our State, and as it takes in the principal Amendments which our Minority had so much at Heart, I hope it may restore Harmony & unanimity amongst our fellow Citizens & perhaps be the Means of producing the much wished for Alterations & Amendments in our State Constitution. It is a strange yet certain Fact, that those who have heretofore been & still profess to be the greatest Sticklers for Amendments to the Constitution of the U.S. have hitherto thrown every Obstacle they could in their way & by lengthy Debates & numberless Amendts. which they know full well neither 2/3ds of Congress nor 3 fourth of the different Legislatures would ever adopt, have endeavoured to mar their progress, but it is obvious their Design was to favour their darling Question for calling a Convention--which however I chink is also determined for some Time to come.

Source: Frederick A. Muhlenberg to Benjamin Rush, August 18, 1789, Society Autograph Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


AUGUST 18, 1789

Mr. H[enry]., (As Colo. Leven Powell tells me) is pleased with Some of the proposed amendments; but still asks for the great desideratum, the destruction of direct taxation.

Source: Edmund Randolph to James Madison, August 18, 1789, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.


Please continue to Part IV