The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791

By Robert Allen Rutland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE GREAT COMPROMISE

WHATEVER HOPES the Federalists might have harbored regarding a hurried ratification gradually gave way to a genuine fear that the whole scheme might fail. To save their plan a bold strategy was required, and like many strokes of political wisdom before and since it was applied to give the desired object all the aspects of a sugar-coated pill. Over four decades later, John Marshall was able to review the events leading up to this compromise on a bill of rights without the partisan bias he held in 1788. Then Marshall conceded that during the political battles of 1787-88

Serious fears were extensively entertained that those powers which the patriot statesmen . . . deemed essential to union, and to the attainment of those invaluable objects for which union was sought, might be exercised in a manner dangerous to liberty. . . . In almost every convention by which the constitution was adopted, amendments to guard the abuse of power were recommended. . . . In compliance with a sentiment thus generally expressed, to quiet fears thus extensively entertained, amendments were proposed by the required majority in congress, and adopted by the states.1

Thus did the Chief Justice of 1833 recall the offering made by Federalists in 1788 to win over those who lumped most of their objections under the phrase: "There is no bill of rights."

From where they stood in 1788, however, many of the Federalists saw little evidence that they were on the threshold of triumph. Hamilton believed himself surrounded by Antifederalists in New York and judged the whole cause in the light of local circumstances. Washington's former aide, Tobias Lear, declared that the Antifederalists were tireless in spreading their

____________________
1
In Barron v. Baltimore, 7 Peters 250.

-159-

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