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just how much he effected, but it is safe to say that it is to Washington, aided first by Hamilton and then by Madison, that we owe the development of public opinion and the formation of the party which devised and carried the Constitution. Events of course worked with them, but they used events, and did not suffer the golden opportunities, which without them would have been lost, to slip by.
When Washington wrote of the Shays rebellion to Lee, the movement toward a better union, which he had begun, was on the brink of success. That ill-starred insurrection became, as he foresaw, a powerful spur to the policy started at Mount Vernon, and adopted by Virginia and Maryland. From this had come the Annapolis convention, and thence the call for another convention at Philadelphia. As soon as the word went abroad that a general convention was to be held, the demand for Washington as a delegate was heard on all sides. At first he shrank from it. Despite the work which he had been doing, and which he must have known would bring him once more into public service, he still clung to the vision of home life which he had brought with him from the army. November 18, 1786, he wrote to Madison, that from a sense of obligation he should go to the convention, were it not that he had declined on account of his retirement, age, and rheumatism to be at a meeting of the Cincinnati at the same time and place. But no one heeded him, and Virginia elected him unanimously to head her delegation at Philadelphia. He wrote to Governor Randolph, acknowledging the honor, but reiterating what he had said to Madison, and urging the choice of some one else in his place. Still Virginia held the question open, and on February 3d he wrote to Knox that his private intention was not to attend. The pressure continued, and, as usual when the struggle drew near, the love of battle and the sense of duty began to reassert themselves. March 8th he again wrote to Knox that he had not meant to come, but that the question had occurred to him, 6 Whether my non-attendance in the convention will not be considered as dereliction of republicanism ; nay, more, whether other motives may not, however injuriously, be ascribed for my not exerting myself on this occasion in support of it;” and therefore he wished to be informed as to the public expectation on the matter. On March 28th he wrote again to Randolph that ill health might prevent his going, and therefore it would be well to appoint some one in his place. April 2d he said that if representation of the States was to be partial, or powers cramped, he did not want to be a sharer in the business. “If the delegates assemble,” he wrote, “ with such powers as will enable the convention to probe the defects of the constitution to the bottom and point out radical cures, it would be an honorable employment; otherwise not." This idea of inefficiency and failure in the convention had long been present to his mind, and he had already said that if their powers were insufficient, the convention should go boldly over and beyond, and make a government with the means of coercion, and able to enforce obedience, without which it would be, in his opinion, quite worthless. Thus he pondered on the difficulties, and held back his acceptance of the post; but when the hour of action drew near, the rheumatism and the misgivings alike disappeared before the inevitable, and Washington arrived in Philadelphia, punctual as usual, on May 13th, the day before the opening of the convention.
The other members were by no means equally prompt, and a week elapsed before a bare quorum was obtained and the convention enabled to organize. In this interval of waiting there appears to have been some informal discussion among the members present, between those who favored an entirely new Constitution and those who timidly desired only half-way measures. On one of these occasions Washington is reported by Gouverneur Morris, in a eulogy delivered twelve years later, to have said : “ It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.” The language is no doubt that of Morris, speaking from memory and in a highly rhetorical vein, but we may readily believe that the quotation accurately
embodied Washington's opinion, and that he took this high ground at the outset, and strove from the beginning to inculcate upon his fellow-members the absolute need of bold and decisive action. The words savor of the orator who quoted them, but the noble and courageous sentiment which they express is thoroughly characteristic of the man to whom they were attributed.
1 It is necessary to say a few words in regard to this quotation of Washington's words made by Morris, because both Mr. Bancroft (History of the Constitution, ii. 8) and Mr. John Fiske (The Critical Period of American History, p. 232) quote them as if they were absolutely and verbally anthentic. It is perfectly certain that from May 25th to September 17th Washington spoke but once; that is, he spoke but once in the convention after it became such by organization. This point is determined by Madison's statement (Notes, iii. 1600), that when Washington took the floor in behalf of Gorham's amendment, “it was the only occasion on which the president entered at all into the discussions of the convention." (The italics are mine.) I have examined the manuscript at the state department, and these words are written in Madison's own hand in the body of the text and enclosed in brackets. Madison was the most accurate of men. His notes are only abstracts of what was said, but he was never absent from the convention, and there can be no question that if Washington had uttered the words attributed to him by Morris, a speech so important would have been given as fully as possible, and Madison would not have said distinctly that the Gorham amendment was the only occasion when the president entered into the discussions of the convention.
It is, therefore, certain that Washington said nothing in the convention except on the occasion of the Gorham amendment, and Mr. Bancroft rightly assigns the Morris quotation to some time during the week which elapsed between the date fixed for the assembling of the convention and that on which a quorum of States was obtained. The words given by Morris, if uttered at all, must have been spoken informally in the way of conversation
When a quorum was finally obtained, Washington was unanimously chosen to preside over the convention; and there he sat during the sessions of four months, silent, patient, except on a single
before there was any convention strictly speaking, and of course before Washington was chosen president. Mr. Fiske, who devotes a page to these sentences from the eulogy, describes Washington as rising from his president's chair and addressing the convention with great solemnity. There is no authority whatever to show that he rose from the chair to address the other delegates, and if he used the words quoted by Morris, he was certainly not president of the convention when he did so. The latter blunder, however, is Morris's own, and in making it he contradicts himself. These are his words: “He is their president. It is a question previous to their first meeting what course shall be pursued." In other words, he was their president before they had met and chosen a president. This is a fair illustration of the loose and rhetorical character of the passage in which Washington's admonition is quoted. The entire paragraph, with its mixture of tenses arising from the use of the historical present which Morris's classical fancies led him to employ, is, in fact, purely rhetorical, and has only the authority due to performances of that character. It seems to me impossible, therefore, to fairly suppose that the words quoted by Morris were anything more than his own presentation of a sentiment which he, no doubt, heard Washington urge frequently and forcibly. Even in this limited acceptation his account is both interesting and valuable, as indicating Washington's opinion and the tone he took with his fellowmembers ; but this, I think, is the utmost weight that can be attached to it. I have discussed the point thus minutely because two authorities so distinguished as Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Fiske have laid so much stress on the words given by Morris, and have seemed to me to accord to them a greater weight and a higher authenticity than the facts warrant. Morris's eulogy on Washington was delivered in New York, and may be found most readily in a little volume entitled Washingtoniana (p. 110), published at Lancaster in 1802.