Commissioners were appointed by the Legislatures of Virginia and Maryland, early in 1785, to form a compact relative to the navigation of the Potomac and Pocomoke rivers and Chesapeake Bay. The commissioners, having met in March in that year, felt the want of more enlarged powers, and particularly of powers to provide for a local naval force, and a tariff of duties upon imports. Upon receiving their recommendation, the Legislature of Virginia passed a resolution for laying the subject of a tariff before all the States composing the Union. Soon afterward, in January, 1786, the Legislature adopted another resolution, appointing commissioners, "who were to meet such as might be appointed by the other States in the Union, at a time and place to be agreed on, to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situation and trade of the States; to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial relations may be necessary to their common interest and their permanent harmony; and to report to the several States such an act, relative to this great object, as, when unanimously ratified by them, will enable the United States in Congress assembled to provide for the same."

These resolutions were communicated to the States, and a convention of commissioners from five States only, viz., New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, met at Annapolis in September, 1786. After discussing the subject, they deemed more ample powers necessary, and, as well from this consideration as because a small number only of the States was represented, they agreed to come to no decision, but to frame a report to be laid before the several States, as well as before Congress. In this report they recommended the appointment of commissioners from all the States, "to meet at Philadelphia, on the second Monday of May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States; to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled as, when agreed to by them, and afterward confirmed by the legislature of every State, will effectually provide for the same."

On receiving this report the Legislature of Virginia passed an act for the appointment of delegates to meet such as might be appointed by other States, at Philadelphia. The report was also received in Congress, but no step was taken until the Legislature of New York instructed its delegation in Congress to move a resolution recommending to the several States to appoint deputies meet in convention for the purpose of revising and proposing amendments to the Federal Constitution. On February 21, 1787, a resolution was accordingly moved and carried in Congress recommending a convention to meet in Philadelphia, on the second Monday of May ensuing, "For the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures, such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union." The alarming insurrection then existing in Massachusetts, without doubt, had no small share in producing this result. The report of Congress on that subject at once demonstrates their fears and their political weakness.

At the time and place appointed the representatives of twelve States assembled. Rhode Island alone declined to appoint any on this momentous occasion. After very protracted deliberations the convention finally adopted the plan of the present Constitution on September 17, 1787; and by a contemporaneous resolution, directed it to be "laid before the United States in Congress assembled," and declared their opinion "that it should afterward be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, under a recommendation of its legislature for their assent and ratification"; and that each convention assenting to and ratifying the same should give notice thereof to Congress. The convention, by a further resolution, declared their opinion that as soon as nine States had ratified the Constitution, Congress should fix a day on which electors should be appointed by the States which should have ratified the same, and a day on which the electors should assemble and vote for the President, and the time and place of commencing proceedings under the Constitution; and that after such publication the electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected. The same resolution contained further recommendations for the purpose of carrying the Constitution into effect.

The convention, at the same time, addrest a letter to Congress, expounding their reasons for their acts, from which the following extract can not but be interesting: "It is obviously impracticable [says the address] in the federal government of these States, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all. Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was increased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interest. In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view that, which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply imprest on our minds, led each State in the convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude than might have been otherwise expected. And thus the Constitution which we now present is the result of the spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable."

Congress, having received the report of the convention on September 28, 1787, unanimously resolved "that the said report, with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several legislatures in order to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, in conformity to the resolves of the convention, made and provided in that case."

Conventions in the various States which had been represented in the general convention were accordingly called by their respective legislatures; and the Constitution having been ratified by eleven out of the twelve States, Congress, on September 13, 1788, passed a resolution appointing the first Wednesday in January following for the choice of electors of President; the first Wednesday of February following for the assembling of the electors to vote for a President; and the first Wednesday of March following, at the then seat of Congress (New York) the time and place for commencing proceedings under the Constitution. Electors were accordingly appointed in the several States, who met and gave their votes for a President; and the other elections for Senators and Representatives having been duly made, on Wednesday, March 4, 1789, Congress assembled under the new Constitution and commenced proceedings under it.

A quorum of both Houses, however, did not assemble until April 6th, when the votes for President being counted, it was found that George Washington was unanimously elected President, and John Adams was elected Vice-President. On April 30th President Washington was sworn into office, and the government then went into full operation in all its departments.

North Carolina had not, as yet, ratified the Constitution. The first convention called in that State, in August, 1788, refused to ratify it without some previous amendments and a declaration of rights. In a second convention, however, called in November, 1789, this State adopted the Constitution. The State of Rhode Island had declined to call a convention; but finally, by a convention held in May, 1790, its assent was obtained; and thus all the thirteen original States became parties to the new government.

Thus was achieved another and still more glorious triumph in the cause of national liberty than even that which separated us from the mother-country. By it we fondly trust that our republican institutions will grow up, and be nurtured into more mature strength and vigor; our independence be secured against foreign usurpation and aggression; our domestic blessings be widely diffused, and generally felt; and our nation, as a people, be perpetuated, as our own truest glory and support, and as a proud example of a wise and beneficent government, entitled to the respect, if not to the admiration, of mankind.

Let it not, however, he supposed that a Constitution, which is now looked upon with such general favor and affection by the people, had no difficulties to encounter at its birth. The history of those times is full of melancholy instruction on this subject, at once to admonish us of past dangers, and to awaken us to a lively sense of the necessity of future vigilance. The Constitution was adopted unanimously by Georgia, New Jersey, and Delaware. It was supported by large majorities in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, and South Carolina. It was carried in the other States by small majorities; and especially in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia by little more than a preponderating vote. Indeed, it is believed that in each of these States, at the first assembling of the conventions, there was a decided majority opposed to the Constitution. The ability of the debates, the impending evils, and the absolute necessity of the case seem to have reconciled some persons to the adoption of it, whose opinions had been strenuously the other way.

"In our endeavors," said Washington, "to establish a new general government, the contest, nationally considered, seems not to have been so much for glory as for existence. It was for a long time doubtful whether we were to survive, as an independent republic, or decline from our federal dignity into insignificant and withered fragments of empire."

1Judge Story was one of the most eminent of American jurists. Born at Marblehead, Mass., in 1779, he became, after serving in Congress for one year, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, filling this office for thirty-five years. Story's "Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States," published in 1883, is a legal classic.
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