Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

In the Constitutional Convention the contest was mainly between those who desired a strong consolidated government and those who desired additional strength given to the confederation already existing; and the government as created was a happy medium between these two extremes. It was entirely satisfactory to neither, but acquiesced in by both; for, as John Quincy Adams forcibly expressed it, “ The constitution itself had been extorted from the grinding necessity of a reluctant nation.” A few of the wealthy and aristrocratic thought it too weak, but the great majority of the yeomapry, who had struggled for independence against the tyranny of the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain, were fearful that it would eventually arrogate to itself additional powers, fatal to the integrity and stability of the States. This was the general feeling and prevailing fear in the several States at the time of the adoption of the constitution.

It was this prevailing sentiment that secured from the first Congress in 1789 the submission of the first ten amendments to the constitution, and their ratification by the several States, all of which were additional restrictions upon the Federal government, among which the most important were the ninth, which declared that “the enumeration of certain rights shall not be construed to deny and disparage others retained by the people," and the tenth, which declared that “ the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor probibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people." And immediately following the decision of the Supreme Court, in 1793, in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia, which held that a State could be sued by a citizen of another State, Congress proposed the eleventh amendment, which provided that "the judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States, by citizens of another State, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign State," which amendment was also promptly ratified by the several States. While, however, these amendments had been proposed by Con

tes, and

union" order to Irrender

one, the

govern deros

of the derstel vention

of the ratified

12 Dallas, 419.

[ocr errors]

gress, such action was taken, not because the majority of Congress wished them adopted, but they were extorted from it only from the fear that a refusal would lead to the call of another convention on the part of the States, which might result in denying the Federal government more powers than were denied in the proposed amendments. Although the popular feeling was against a consolidated government at the time of the formation and adoption of the constitution, yet the Federalists, who favored a strong consolidated government, had secured a majority of Congress and retained such majority until the great civil revolution of 1800, which displaced them from power in both the executive and legislative branches of the government; the judicial department alone remaining Federal, every member of which was a Federalist at the time of the decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison. Of the Federal party Alexander Hamilton was the very foremost man, controlling the administration of Washington and Adams and the legislation of Congress, for the first twelve years of our national existence. He secured the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which gave more power to the Federal judiciary than the constitution gave, and also the establishment of a national bank unauthorized by it. During the administration of John Adams the Alien and Sedition laws were passed at his suggestion, he virtually ruling such administration by having under his influence the several members of the Cabinet to such an extent that Charles Francis Adams, the grandson of the President, in his Life of John Adams, informs us that neither of these laws was ever made the subject of executive consultation. Thus, this able man, who had failed in the Constitutional Convention to secure the strong government he desired, was gradually building up such a 'government in defiance of the constitution. His funding policy, creating a large public debt, the establishment of the national bank, the conferring upon the Federal judiciary, by law, powers in excess of those conferred by the constitution, and the passage of the Alien and Sedition laws, were all calculated to strengthen the power of the Federal government and weaken the power of the States.

The government of the United States, under the constitution, is one of delegated powers only ; incapable, therefore, without

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

an infraction of such constitution, of exercising other powers than those thus expressly delegated. This was as true before the tenth amendment was adopted as it is now. That amendment was simply a self-evident truth, but one of such great importance as to furnish sufficient reason for its inscription within the body of the constitution. Honestly believing, however, that a strong government was an absolute necessity, the Federal party, under the leadership of Hamilton, proposed to secure such government, not exactly in direct opposition to the constitution, but without its sanction, and beyond the scope of its action and its limitations of power; claiming the right therefor under the declaration of its preamble, that the measures proposed would conduce “ to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare."

For twelve years, during the administration of Washington and the elder Adams, the Federal party was one great bost of “sappers and miners,” busily engaged in andermining our constitutional fabric. The assumption of State debts, the scheme of protecting certain classes by high duties and giving bounties direct to other classes, the creation of the national bank, the Alien and Sedition laws, and the extraordinary power conferred upon the Federal judiciary, were all without the authority of the constitution; but each and all were well calculated to augment the power and influence of the Federal government, and to narrow the power and minimize the influence of the State governments. And they had such an effect. The moneyed classes, the aristocrats, the favored manufacturers, the speculators, and the Federal officeholders, with their various retinues, formed an array, strong and apparently invincible. But while these influences were at work, counter influences were aroused to action. James Madison, Father of the Constitution" as well as others, raised a note of warning against these unconstitutioval measures. As the very foremost man in the convention which framed the constitution, he, above all others, knew the measure and scope of its provisions and in his protest against the vsurpations of the Federal government, he announced wbat he understood to be its correct interpretation, in the General Assembly of Virginia, in 1798, in the

also the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

following resolutions, written by him, and by that legislature transmitted to the legislatures of the States : “ That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare that it views the power of the Federal government, as resulting from the compact to which the States are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, as no further valid than they were authorized by the grant enumerated in that compact

That the General Assembly doth also express its deep regret that a spirit has, in sundry instances, been manifested by the Federal government to enlarge its power by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and, that indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of power in the former Articles of Confederation, were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect of the particular enumeration, which necessarily explains and limits the general phrases, and so as to consolidate the States by degrees into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and invariable result of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United States into an absolute, or at the best, a mixed monarchy.”

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the resolutions adopted by the Kentucky legislature in the same year, expressed the same sentiments as Madison, and, if possible, in a more pointed and forcible manner. He was nominated for President by the Republican party, and the campaign of the year 1800 was a hotly contested battle between the two opposing and contending forces. The issue was a plain and a square one. The Federal judiciary had declared the bank law and the alien and sedition laws to be constitutional, and the Federalist party held up the judicial gowns as shields, to attack which was considered by them almost an act of sacrilege.

The General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island, in 1799, in answer to, and in condemnation of the Virginia resolutions, declared, “ That, in the opinion of this legislature, the second section of the third article of the constitution of the United States, in these words, to wit, the judicial power shall extend to

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

all cases arising under the laws of the United States, vests in the Federal courts exclusively, and in the Supreme Court of the United States ultimately, the authority of deciding on the constitutionality of any act or law of the Congress of the United States.” The legislatures of New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont responded in nearly the same strain. The presidential election of 1800 was the most exciting, its issues the most important, and its results the most far-reaching, of any election that ever occurred in the United States. It was an appeal upon a great constitutional question to the court of all courts, the very highest tribunal of the land - the people who sat in the judgment seat at the ballot box. Excitement at a popular election was never greater. The varied influences before mentioned, marshaled in aid of the Federalists, were augmented by religious bigotry, and the solemn warning was uttered from many a sacred desk that Jefferson's election would result in the overthrow of religion and the burning of Bibles. Preachers, bankers, aristocrats, officeholders, and other beneficiaries of the Federal government united, tried, but all in vain, to avert the verdict of the American yeomanry upon the constitutional question involved in the presidential candidacy of Thomas Jefferson. This contest was only thirteen years removed from the formation of the constitution, and the great mass of the voters in the year 1800 were citizens and voters in 1787 when the constitution was framed, and not so long removed from the date when it was ratified by them. They therefore knew the intentions of the men who framed it and the intentions of the men who adopted it; and consequently that election must necessarily be considered as the best and soundest interpretation of the constitution, which was ever given to it, or which could possibly ever be given to it. There have been revolutions prosecuted at a great' sacrifice of life and expenditure of treasure, without the accomplishment of so much good, or the establishment of such correct principles of government, as were effected by the ballots of a free and intelligent people in the great civil revolution of 1800.

Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated President on the 4th day of March, 1801. At the very close of the Congress which


a mixed

[blocks in formation]


« PreviousContinue »