The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Original Intent? Part IV

Continued from Original Intent? Part III

Researched, written and edited by Jim Allison

AUGUST 19, 1789 (Amendments)

The papers inclosed will shew that the nauseous project of amendments has not yet been either dismissed or despatched. We are so deep in them now, that right or wrong some thing must be done.

Source: James Madison to Richard Peters August 19, 1789, [The Modern Edition of the Papers of James Madison, ed. Charles Hobson and Robert Rutland, Vol. 12, pp. 346-48.] James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

AUGUST 20, 1789 (Amendments)

We have been for some time past and still are upon the boundless field of. amendments, and whether we shall bring any thing to issue or not is uncertain, for the opinions are almost as various as there are members, a few antis are perplexing the House and taking up their precious moments in propositions which are of such an inadmissable a nature as invariably to meet a rejection which they so justly merit, they say the propositions reported by the committee of eleven are only calculated to amuse without materialy affecting those parts of the Constitution which were particularly objectionable and therefore unavailing--its true they do not answer their unwarrantable purposes of weakening the constitution which they are aiming at, but I presume they go as far cowards quieting the honest part of the dissatisfied, as any friend of an energetic national government can go. I am sorry the subject has been taken up at this time since its likely to be of so long a continuance. the reasons urged for it were that a few simple amendments would probably give general satisfaction and accelerate the adoption of the Constitution by the States of N. Carolina and R. Island. The fact is it has always lain on my mind, and what I sincerely believe is founded in truth is, that so far from the State Governments being in hazard from the National Government, the danger is wholy on the other side, and the latter wants an acquisition of strength rather than a diminution.

Source: Benjamin Goodhue to Michael Hedge, 20 August 1789, Eben F. Stone Papers, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.

AUGUST 20, 1789 (Amendments)

We are still engaged about the unpromising subject of amendments. The introduction of it at this period, of the existence of our government was In my opinion unwise and will not produce those beneficial effects which its advocates predicted. Before we could be said to have a government to attempt to amend the constitution argues a frivolity of character very inconsistent with national dignity.

Source: Theodore Sedgwick to Pamela Sedgwick, August 20, 1789, Sedgwick Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

AUGUST 21, 1789 (Amendments)

The last 8 or 10 days have been spent on the subject of amendts. The work has been extremely difficult and fatiguing, as well on account of the dilatory artifices of which some of the antifederal members are suspected, as of the diversity of opinions & fancies inseparable from such an Assembly as Congress. At present there is a prospect of finishing to day, the plan so far as it lies with the H. of Reps. It does not differ much from the original propositions offered on that subject.

The Judiciary bill was postponed to consider the preceding subject.

Source: James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, August 21, 1789, James Madison Papers, I)LC.

AUGUST 21, 1789 (Amendments)

My Dear Friend,

For a week past the subject of Amendts. has exclusively occupied the H. of Reps. Its progress has been exceedingly wearisome not only on account of the diversity of opinions that was to be apprehended, but of the apparent views of some to defeat by delaying a plan short of their wishes, but likely to satisfy a great part of their companions in opposition throughout the Union. It has been absolutely necessary in order to effect any thing to abbreviate debate, and exclude every proposition of a doubtful & unimportant nature. Had it been my wish to have comprehended every amendt. recommended by Virg[ini]a. I should have acted from prudence the very part to which I have been led by choice. Two or three contentious additions would even now frustrate the whole project.

Source: James Madison to Edmund Randolph, August 21, 1789, The Writings of James Madison, Vol. 5, p. 417.

AUGUST 22, 1789 (Amendments)

I hope Congress, before they adjourn, will take into very serious Consideration the necessary Amendments of the Constitution. Those whom I call the best-the most judicious disinterested FedFederalistsho wish for the perpetual Union, Liberty & Happiness of the States and their respective Citizens many of them, if not all are anxiously expecting them--They wish to see a Line drawn as clearly as may be, between the federal Powers vested in Congress and the distinct Sovereignty of the several States upon which the private and personal Rights of the Citizens depend. Without such Distinction there will be Danger of the Constitution issuing imperceptibly, and gradually into a Consolidated Government over all the States, which, altho it may be wished for by some, was reprobated in the Idea by the highest Advocates for the Constitution as it stood without amendmts. I am fully persuaded that the People of the United States being in different Climates--of different Education and Manners, and possest of different Habits & Feelings under one consolidated Governmt. can not long remain free, or indeed under any Kind of Governmt. but Despotism.

Source: Samuel Adams to ElbElbridgerry, August 22, 1789, Beinecke Library, Yale University.

AUGUST 22, 1789 (Amendments)

Our house will I expect this day finish the Amendments, so far as in their power, after considerable debate & altercation, the greatest objections arose from those opposed to the constitution, very high words passed in the house on this occasion, & what nearly amounted to direct chalenges, the weather ·was excessive hot, & the blood warm. on the change in the Air the heat of Debate Subsided, & all are now in good humour.

Source: William Smith to Otho H. Williams, August 22, 1789, Otho H. Williams Collection, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore.

AUGUST 23, 1789 (Amendments)

We have at last so far got through the wearisome business of amendments to the great joy of I believe every member of the House that nothing is left but for a committee so to put the amendments in order that they may stand properly arranged, they are materialy the same which you have seen publishd in the papers as reported by the Committee of 11 with this difference that instead of their being incorporated into the Constitution as was proposed they are to go forth as seperate propositions by the way of supplement to be laid before the several legislatures for their adoption either in whole or in part as to them may seem proper--what the Senate will do with them is uncertain but I rather think they will refer them to the next session--Those who were not friendly to the Constitution made every effort with their most persevering diligence to introduce a variety of propositions which a large majority of the House deemed totally inadmissable at length after exhausting themselves as well as the patience of their brerhren they appear tolerably satisfied with the issue of the business, God grant it may have the effects which are desired and that We may never hear any more of it.

Source: Benjamin Goodhue to the Salem Insurance Offices, August 23, 1789, Benjamin Goodhue Papers, New York Society Library.

AUGUST 24, 1789 (Amendments)

The week past has been devoted to the subject of amendments, all that remains is a formal vote on a fair transcript which will be taken this morning; and without debate I hope as each of the propositions has been agreed to by two thirds of the House. The substance of the report of the Committee of eleven has not been much varied. It became an unavoidable sacrifice to a few, who knew their concurrence to be necessary, to the despatch if not the success of the business, to give up the form by which the amendts. when rarified would have fallen into the body of the Constitution, in favor of the project of adding them by way of appendix to it. It is already apparent 1 think that some ambiguities will be produced by this change, as the question will often arise and sometimes be not easily solved, how far the original text is or is nor necessarily superceded, by the supplemental act. A middle way will be taken between the two modes, of proposing all the arnendts. as a single act to be adopted or rejected in the gross, and elf proposing them as independent amendts. each of which shall cake place or not, as it may be individually decided on. The several propositions will be classed according to their affinity to each other, which will reduce them to the number of 5 or 6 in the whole, to go forth as so many amendts. unconnected with one another.

Source: James Madison to Alexander White, August 24, 1789, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

AUGUST 24, 1789 (Amendments)

Poor Madison took one wrong step in Virginia by publishing a letter, respecting Amendments and you, who know every thing, must know What a Cursed Thing it is to write a Book. He in consequence has been obliged to bring on the proposition for making Amendments; The Waste of precious time is what has vexed me the most, for as to the Nonesense they call Amendments I never expect that any part of it will go through the various Trials which it must pass before it can become a part of the Constitution, By calling the whole Nonesense I may expose myself to a charge of wanting Sense especially as I candidly own that I have not considered any of the propositions made, bur Condemn the attempt by the Lump, I am however strengthened in pronouncing this Sentence, by the opinions of our Friends Clymer & Fitzsimmons who said Yesterday that the business of Amendments was now done with in their House & advised that the Senate should adopt the whole of them by the Lump as containing neither good or Harm being perfectly innocent. I expect they will lie on our Table for some time, but I may be mistaken having had but Little conversation with any of the Senators on this Subject.

Source: Robert Morris to Richard Peters, August 24, 1783, Richard Peters Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

AUGUST 24, 1789 (Amendments)

I am obliged by your Information & acknowledge that some of your Reasons are the best that can be given. They are such therefore as I knew you could give. But many of them are founded on Apprehensions which forgive me for saving I think too highly wrought. I believe that a Firmness in adhering to our Constitution 'till at least it had a longer Trial would have silenced Antifederalists sooner than magnifying their Importance by Acknowledgments on our Part & of ourselves holding up a Banner for them to rally to.

Source: Richard Peters to James Madison, August 24, 1789, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

AUGUST 25, 1789

After this the Amendments. They were created contemptuously by Z [Izard], Langdon and Mr. Morris. Z moved they should be postponed to next Session Langdon seconded & Mr. Morris got up and spoke angrily but not well. they however lost their Motion and Monday was assigned for the taking them up. I could not help observing the Six Year Class hung together on this business or the most of them.

Source: The Diary of William Maclay, August 25, 1789, The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, Charlene Bangs Bicford, Kenneth R. Bowling, and Helen E. Veit, eds., 9:133, Washington, D.C., (1986-88)

AUGUST 28, 1789 (Amendments)

As to my opinion of the Amendments, I think they will tend to injure rather than to serve the Cause of Liberty--provided they go no further than is proposed as Ideas--For what good End can be answered by [page torn] Rights, the Tenure of which must be during Pleasure--For Right without her Power & Might is but a Shadow--Now it seems that it is not proposed to add this Force to the Right by any Amendment--It can therefore answer no purpose but to lull Suspicion totally on the Subject--.

Source: Patrick Henry to Richard Henry Lee, August 28, 1789, Patrick Henry Papers, Library of Congress.

AUGUST 28, 1789 (Amendments)

The enclosed paper will shew you the amendments passed the H. of R. to the Constitution-They are short of some essentials, as Election interference & Standing Army &c. I was surprised to find in the Senate that it was proposed we should postpone the consideration of Amendments until Experience had shewn the necessity of any--As if experience was more necessary to prove the propriety of those great principles of Civil liberty which the wisdom of Ages has found ro no necessary barriers against the encroachments of power in the hands of frail Men! My Colleague was sick & absent. The laboring oar was with me. A Majority of 2 thirds however agreed to take the Amendments under consideration next Monday--I hope that if we cannot gain the whole loaf, we shall at least have some bread.

Source: Richard Henry Lee to Charles Lee, August 28 1789, Washburn Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

SEPTEMBER 8, 1789 (Amendments)

I don't think the amendments will do any hurt, and they may do some good, and therefore I don't consider them as of much importance. I am glad that the gentleman who talks so much from his stick,(1) was disappointed in all his efforts to procure amendments. He is a restless creature, and if he don't take care, he will injure weaken the reputation for honesty to which I used to think he was justly entitled.


(1) Probably Gerry

Source: William Ellery to Benjamin Huntington, 8 September 1789, Benjamin Huntington Papers, Rhode Island State Archives.

SEPTEMBER 9, 1789 (Amendments)

The House of Representatives have been for some time past engaged on the subject of amendments to the constitution, though in my opinion they have not made one single material one. The senate are at present engaged on that subject; Mr. Richd. H. Lee told me that he proposed to strike out the standing army in time of peace but could not carry it. He also said that it has been proposed, and warmly favoured that, liberty of Speach and of the press may be stricken out, as they only tend to promote licenciousness. If this takes place god knows what will follow.

Source: Theodorick Bland Randolph to St. George Tucker, 9 September 1789, Brock Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marine, Calif.

SEPTEMBER 11, 1789 (Amendments)

A majority of the Senate were for not allowing the militia arms & if two thirds had agreed it would have been an amendment to the Constitution. They are afraid that the Citizens will stop their full Career to Tyranny & Oppression.

Source: John Randolph to St. George Tucker, 11 September 1789, St. George Tucker Papers, Library of Congress.

SEPTEMBER 12, 1789, (Amendments)

The two houses have proposed more amendments than I wished to see because some of them I think are rather alterations than amendments.

Source: James Sullivan to John Langdon, 12 September 1789, Langdon-Elwyn Family Papers, New Hampshire Historical Society.

SEPTEMBER 13, 1789 (Amendments)

Your letter of the 8th Ulto. has lain long unanswered because I have been absorbed about the Amendments to the Constitution. They have at length passed the Senate, with difficulty, after being much mutilated and enfeebled---It is too much the fashion now to look at the rights of the People, as a Miser inspects a Security to find out a flaw---What with design in some, and fear of Anarchy in others, it is very clear, I think, that a government very different from a free one will take place eer many years are passed.

Source: Richard Henry Lee to Francis Lightfoot Lee, 13 September 1789, Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey.

SEPTEMBER 14, 1789 (Amendments)

Whether the present constitution will preserve its theoretical ballance, for I consider it altogether as a political experiment, if it should, what will be the effect, or if it should not, to what system it will verge, are secrets that can only be unfolded by time: as to the amendments proposed by Congress, they will not affect those questions or serve any other purposes than to reconcile those who had no adequate idea of the essential defects of the Constitution. I shall however console myself with the reflection, that should the consequences be injurious or ruinous, nothing has been wanting on my part in Convention or Congress to prevent them.

Source: Elbridge Gerry to John Wendell, 14 September 1789, Fogg Autograph Collection, Maine Historical Society.

SEPTEMBER 14, 1789 (Amendments)

[I have) since waited to see the issue of the proposed amendts. to the Constitution, that I might give you the most [exact] account of that business. As they came from the H. of R. they were very far short of the wishes of our Convention, but as they are returned by the Senate they are certainly much weakened. You may be assured that nothing on my part was left undone to prevent this, and every possible effort was used to give success to all the Amendments proposed by our Country--We might as well have attempted to move Mount Atlas upon our shoulders--In fact, the idea of subsequent Amendments was delusion altogether, and so intended by the greater part of those who arrogated to themselves the name of Federalists. . .

. . . The preamble to the Amendments is realy curious--A careless reader would be apt to suppose that the amendments desired by the States had been graciously granted. But when the thing done is compared with that desired, nothing can be more unlike.

By comparing the Senate amendments with [those] from below by carefully attending to the m[atter] the former will appear well calculated to enfeeble [and] produce ambiguity--for instance--Rights res[erved] to the States or the People--The people here is evidently designed fo[r the] People of the United Slates, not of the Individual States [page torn] the former is the Constitutional idea of the people--We the People &c. It was affirmed the Rights reserved by the States bills of rights did not belong to the States--I observed that then they belonged to the people of the States, but that this mode of expressing was evidently calculated to give the Residuum to the people of the U. Stares, which was the Constitutional language, and to deny it to the people of the Indiv. State--At least that it left room for cavil & false construction--They would not insert after people thereof--altho it was moved.

Source: Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry, 14 September 1789, Patrick Henry Papers, DLC. Words in brackets are taken from historian Charles Campbell's pre-Civil War transcript in the Hugh Plait Grigsby Papers, Virginia Historical Society.

SEPTEMBER 15, 1789 (Amendments)

The Amendments too have been amended by the Senate, & many In our house, Mr. Madison, in particular, thinks, that they have lost much of their sedative Virtue by the alteration. A contest on this subject between the two houses would be very disagreeable.

Source: Fisher Ames to Caleb Strong, 15 September 1789, Thompson Autograph Collection, Hartford Seminary Foundation.

SEPTEMBER 17, 1789 (Amendments)

As to amendments to the Constitution Madison says he had rather have none than those agreed to by the Senate.

Source: Paine Wingate to John Langdon, 17 September 1789, Dreer Collection, Historical Society of Penna. Philadelphia.

SEPTEMBER 27, 1789 (Amendments)

My third letter to you on the 14th. inst. will satisfy you how little is to be expected from Congress that shall be any ways satisfactory on the subject of Amendments.. . . The English language has been carefully culled to find words feeble in their Nature or doubtful in their meaning!

Source: Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry, 27 September 1789, Miscellaneous Manuscripts, DLC.

SEPTEMBER 29, 1789 (Amendments)

With respect to amendments matters have turned out exactly as I apprehended from the extraordy doctrine of playing the after game: the lower house sent up amendments which held out a safeguard to personal liberty in a great many instances, but this disgusted the Senate, and though we made every exertion to save them, they are so mutilated & gutted that in fact they are good for nothing, & I believe as many others do, that they will do more harm than benefit:

Source: William Grayson to Patrick Henry, 29 September 1789, Patrick Henry Papers, DLC.

OCTOBER 2, 1789 (Amendments)

You will find our Amendments to the Constitution calculated merely to amuse, or rather to deceive.

Source: Thomas Tudor Tucker to St. George Tucker, 2 October 1789, Roberts Autograph Collection, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania

To return to a previous part of this series click one:

Original Intent? Introduction

Original Intent? Part II

Original Intent? Part III

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