George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 26 November 1789

From Edmund Randolph

Richmond Novr 26. 1789.

Dear Sir

Since my last, written about five days ago, the committee of the whole house have been engaged in the amendments from congress.1 Mr Henry’s motion, introduced about three weeks past, for postponing the consideration of them, was negatived by a great majority.2 The first ten were easily agreed to. The eleventh and twelfth were rejected 64 against 58.3 I confess, that I see no propriety in adopting the two last. But I trust that the refusal to ratify will open the road to such an expression of federalism, as will efface the violence of the last year, and the intemperance of the inclosed letter, printed by the enemies to the constitution, without authority.4 However our final measures will depend on our strength, which is not yet ascertained.

I shall set off on the 15th of January, as I took the liberty of informing you in my last. I am dear sir yr obliged & affectionate friend

Edm: Randolph.


1Randolph’s “last” was his letter of 22 Nov. to GW.

2For the Virginia house of delegates’ action on the amendments to the Constitution, see Madison to GW, 20 Nov. 1789, n.5.

3Twelve amendments to the Constitution were originally submitted to the states, and two were eventually rejected. One of the rejected amendments dealt with the rates of apportionment for seats in the House of Representatives, the other with the alteration of congressional salaries. See GW’s Circular to the Governors of the States, 2 Oct. 1789, n.1.

4Randolph enclosed the broadside printing of two letters from senators Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson to the governor of Virginia and to the speaker of the Virginia legislature, both dated 28 Sept. 1789 from New York. The first letter reads: “We have long waited in anxious expectations, of having it in our power to transmit effectual Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and it is with grief that we now send forward propositions inadequate to the purpose of real and substantial Amendments, and so far short of the wishes of our Country. By perusing the Journal of the Senate, your Excellency will see, that we did, in vain, bring to view the Amendments proposed by our Convention, and approved by the Legislature. We shall transmit a complete set of the Journals of both Houses of Congress to your address, which with a letter accompanying them, we entreat your Excellency will have the goodness to lay before the Honorable Legislature of the ensuing meeting.”

The letter to the speaker of the house of delegates reads: “We have now the honor of enclosing the proposition of Amendments to the Constitution of the United States that has been finally agreed upon by Congress. We can assure you Sir, that nothing on our part has been omitted, to procure the success of those radical amendments proposed by the Convention, and approved by the Legislature of our Country, which as our constituent we shall always deem it our duty with respect and reverence to obey. The Journal of the Senate herewith transmitted, will at once show exact and how unfortunate we have been in this business. It is impossible for us not to see the necessary tendency to consolidated empire in the natural operation of the Constitution, if no further amended than as now proposed; and it is especially impossible for us not to be apprehensive for Civil Liberty, when we know of no influence in the records of history, that show a people ruled in freedom when subject to one undivided Government, and inhabiting a territory so extensive as that of the United States; and when, as it seems to us, the nature of man, and of things join to prevent it. The impracticability in such case, of carrying representation on sufficiently near to the people for procuring their confidence and consequent obedience, compels a resort to fear resulting from great force and executive power in government. Confederated republics, where the Federal Hand is not possessed of absorbing power, may permit the existence of freedom, whilst it preserves union, strength, and safety. Such amendments therefore as may secure against the annihilation of the state governments we devoutly wish to see adopted.

“If a persevering application to Congress from the states that have desired such amendments, should fail of its object, we are disposed to think, reasoning from causes to effects, that unless a dangerous apathy should invade the public mind, it will not be many years before a constitutional number of Legislatures will be found to demand Convention for the purpose.

“We have sent a complete set of the Journals of each House of Congress, and through the appointed channel will be transmitted the Acts that have passed this session, in those will be seen the nature and extent of the judiciary, the estimated expences of the government, and the means so far adopted for defraying the latter.” In the broadside both letters are printed in italics. The letters were presented to the Virginia house of delegates on 19 Oct. (Journal of the House of Delegates, 1789, 3).

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