The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791

By Robert Allen Rutland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE FEDERAL CONVENTION

THERE WAS no general agreement as to the merits of the call for a convention which would revise the Articles of Confederation. All shades of opinion were represented in the contemporary correspondence of political figures and the newspapers of the day. Public criticism of affairs under the Confederation caused a Philadelphia newspaper to declare that "our situation is neither so bad as artful designing men have represented, nor is it likely to continue long so bad as it now is."1 On the other hand, the political situation so alarmed John Adams that he admitted the lack of attendance in Congress was "Proof of something so bad that I dare not name it."2 And Washington himself rebuked the suggestion that his influence might be used to good advantage in the areas, such as western Massachusetts, where matters were getting out of hand. "Influence is no Government," the General answered. "Let us have one by which our lives and liberties and properties will be secured; or let us know the worst at once."3

Significantly, in the newspaper articles and private correspondence calling for a change in government, there was no complaint about infringement on the rights of individual citizens. Criticism was directed at the existing form of government because of its inability to preserve order and protect prop

____________________
1
Pennsylvania Gazette, September 6, 1786. See also Merrill Jensen, The New Nation ( New York, 1950), 194-257. Jensen states that "There is nothing in the knowable facts to support the ancient myth of idle ships, stagnant commerce, and bankrupt merchants in the new nation."
2
John Adams to Rufus King, June 14, 1786, Charles R. King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King ( New York, 1894-1900), I, 182.
3
George Washington to Henry Lee, October 31, 1786, Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of Washington, XXIX, 34.

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