Forging the American Nation, 1787-1791 by Shlomo Slonim

Forging the American Nation, 1787-1791 by Shlomo Slonim

Author:Shlomo Slonim
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan US, New York

Such a provision, he asserted, would be the counterpart of the second Article in the Articles of Confederation designed to prevent encroachments of power. 37 The fact that Hancock had placed this amendment at the head of his list, and that Adams referred to it as a “summary of a bill of rights,” underscored the importance that both men attached to this proposition. It is not a coincidence that it appeared at the top of every list of draft amendments subsequently drawn up by Antifederalists in the various states. 38

Upon conclusion of the debate, the Hancock proposal was sent to a 25-man committee, which approved it and—with insignificant changes—submitted it to the plenary. The first sign that a majority of the convention now favored ratification was the defeat of an Antifederalist attempt to adjourn the deliberations. As Benjamin Lincoln wrote to George Washington: “This was a damper upon the oposition [sic] and they had little hope after.” 39 A newspaper headline captured the significance of the vote. It read: “AUSPICIOUS OMEN.” 40 The vote on ratification was set for the next day, February 6.

At this late stage, Samuel Adams introduced a proposal to add to the earlier list an amendment dealing with individual rights, including freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. 41 While his suggestion might have been expected to garner wide support, it was in fact strongly opposed, 42 apparently because it was seen as a misplaced attempt to delay the vote. According to one report, both Federalists and Antifederalists were “alarmed” by Adams’s proposal, and “once he perceived the mischief he had made,” he withdrew his motion. 43

As noted earlier, the list of amendments recommended by Hancock appears to have been prepared by Theophilus Parsons, Rufus King, and the other Federalists. One would have thought that their list, like the one ultimately presented by Madison for congressional approval, would have concentrated on rights of conscience and would have omitted anything that bore on the powers of Congress. Instead, the Parsons–King draft dealt primarily with the powers of Congress and was directed principally at precluding a doctrine of implied powers. Besides a crippling limitation on tax power, the new congress, like the Confederation Congress, would be confined to those powers “expressly” enumerated in the Constitution. Why, it might be asked, were Massachusetts’ leading Federalists willing to thus cripple the national government by denying it the full use of the necessary and proper clause? Why would they portray the reenactment of an Article II-type provision—the bugbear of the Federalists—as a Federalist victory? Presumably they were operating under constraints that, in their opinion, forced their hand.

In the final Convention tally, 187 of the 355 delegates present voted in favor and 168 against. 44 Clearly, the nineteen-vote margin was secured as a result of the conversion of Hancock and Adams to the Federalist cause; and their support was attained only thanks to the Federalist initiative in proposing specific amendments. In a letter to Washington, Madison expressed his pleasure with the “favorable result of the Convention at Boston.


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