The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791

By Robert Allen Rutland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE CAMPAIGN PLEDGE FULFILLED

IN THE MONTHS before the newly elected Congress assembled there were ugly whispers that the Federalist hierarchy had no intention of permitting amendments to encumber their "energetic government." Wait and see, the diehard Antifederalists warned, for history shows few examples of men surrendering the powers that they have recently gained. Patrick Henry labored for James Madison's defeat as a candidate for the Senate, voicing doubts about the sincerity of his promise to work for amendments. Edmund Randolph was afraid any delay in adopting amendments would strengthen the majority which opposed them and make the friends of amendments liable to treatment as heretics. "I confess to you without reserve that I feel great distrust of some of those who will certainly be influential agents in the government." A united front was needed, and even one amendment, if adopted without dissension, would "bear down all malcontents."1

From his vantage point at the Continental Congress in New York Madison saw that the call for a new convention was a powder keg which might blow away all the good work achieved since the spring of 1787. He consoled himself with the thought that there were many opponents of the convention, even in the Antifederalist ranks, who preferred to use the fifth article of the Constitution to introduce "those supplemental safeguards to liberty ag[ain]st which no objections

____________________
1
Charles Lee to George Washington, October 29, 1788, Documentary History of the Constitution, V, 103; Edmund Randolph to James Madison, September 3, 1788, Conway, Life of Randolph, 118.

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