Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

by Massachusetts, these and other matters that need not be mentioned. The bill required that the conditions should be adopted by the convention and become ipso facto a part of the constitution of Maine. That phrase ipso facto was used sarcastically, with how much effect cannot be guessed, by the opponents of separation in the ensuing campaign as one of their arguments against the acceptance of the permission to create a new State. No doubt it did frighten some ignorant voters.

The bill, reported to the Senate on June 13, was considered on the 14th, when several amendments were adopted. One of these amendments in the end caused the failure of the movement. It was originally provided that "the said convention when organized as aforesaid shall have the authority to declare, by the majority of the delegates chosen, the assent of the people of said District to be formed into a separate and independent State." The amendment referred to struck out this clause and others dependent on it, and provided that the people should vote again on the first Monday in September (the 2d) upon the direct question whether they wished to be formed into a new State; that they should at the same time choose delegates to a convention to be held at Brunswick on the last Monday in September (the 30th); that the convention after organizing should count the votes expressive of the people's wishes, "and if it shall appear to said convention that a majority of five to four at least of the votes returned are in favor of said District's becoming an independent State, then and not otherwise said convention shall proceed to form a constitution as provided in this act."

It is a part of the singular history of this agitation that the foregoing amendment was offered in the Senate by the Hon. John Holmes.1 Mr. Holmes, who represented York County, was the foremost member of the Maine delegation in the legislature, and the leading Democrat in the District of Maine. He was elected a member of Congress that year, was transferred to the Senate in 1820 as one of the first senators from Maine, and served in that body, with an interval of a year, until 1833. In view of his authorship of the "five to four" clause his subsequent course in the Bruns

1 See "Columbian Centinel," October 12, 1816.

[ocr errors]

wick convention, to be narrated presently, is an admirable illustration of the political ethics of the man some would say of the party, some, even, of the time.

The Senate passed the bill on the 15th of June by a vote of 35 to 1. The negative vote was given by the Hon. Josiah Quincy.' The bill went to the House of Representatives, where a determined effort was made to defeat it by a motion to postpone the bill until the next session. long debate took place on this proposition, which is summarized in the "Centinel." The only passage which it is necessary to quote is this, from the argument of the separationists: "that the bill as amended in the Senate was calculated to remove all remaining doubts as to the sentiments of the people of Maine on the subject" as a vote was to be taken "and if five-ninths of the votes are not in favor of the separation, then the subject and all measures respecting it are to sleep forever." The reference to five-ninths of the votes is explained hereafter. The motion to postpone was rejected, 118 to 58. The next day the bill was passed to be engrossed by a vote of 107 to 51.2 Students of the history of parliamentary procedure will be interested in the fact that on June 19, after the bill had passed both branches in concurrence, the matter was taken up again in the Senate, when the bill was not before it; two amendments were adopted and were sent by Mr. Otis, conveying the message, to the House, which also adopted them.

The storm burst forth in Maine immediately upon the passage of the act. The election upon which everything depended was to take place in eleven weeks, and although the people were already greatly excited they were stirred to even greater activity. The newspapers discussed the question with enlarging headlines, and their pages became spotty with capital letters and italics. Mass meetings and conventions were called and held by both parties in all parts of the District. The advocates of separation had been so much more active in the past that they had little new to offer by way of argument. The opponents, on the other hand, found several new reasons,

some

1 "Josiah Quincy, who once attempted in Congress to impeach Mr. Jefferson, was again in a minority of one on the Separation Question in the Massachusetts Senate." ("Boston Patriot.")

2 It will be remembered that the House consisted of 650 members. The vote illustrates the system of absenteeism that prevailed.

[ocr errors]

99

of them of not a little weight, others silly and frivolous. One opponent suggested that separation was "the offspring of British influence. Great Britain was soon again to make war on the United States, and if Maine were a separate State "she would be subjugated to the English crown and formed into a little kingdom.

99

That may be set down as one of the humors of the agitation. Rather more reasonable was the contention by the members of the legislature from Lincoln, Hancock, and Washington counties along the coast who were opposed to separation, that the erection of a new State within the limits of another was forbidden by the Constitution of the United States. The clause reads, with the official punctuation:

[ocr errors]

"New states may be admitted by the congress into this union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures concerned as well as of the congress."

There is certainly good ground for maintaining that the three clauses are distinct, that the second is an absolute prohibition, and that the use of the plural "legislatures" limits to cases where two or more States are concerned the permission to form new States, and therefore excludes all cases where the consent of one legislature only is to be obtained. However, except in the discussion in Maine itself, this point was never raised.

The argument of the opposition which had the most effect, except in the coast counties where the shipping question was chiefly discussed, was that the terms proposed by Massachusetts were unsatisfactory. Objection was made to the division of State property, but particularly to a provision that the share of Massachusetts in the public lands in Maine should not be taxed so long as the Commonwealth retained the ownership. It was urged upon the voters that Massachusetts might lease the land for long terms of years and thus enable the tenants to avoid taxation. Only the most prejudiced persons could have believed that the Commonwealth would descend to such a measure, but the argument had its effect.

How did the Boston newspapers, which undoubtedly represented public opinion, regard the agitation? Apparently they took but the slightest interest in it and did not interfere in any

way. There are only a few scattered references to the subject in any Boston newspaper of either party, from June to September, 1816. The only important editorial expression in that time is an article in the Boston "Daily Advertiser" of July 26. "Nor do we think," Mr. Hale remarked, "that we in this part of the state are entirely without an interest in the decision; though the effects of this measure must be much less on us than on our brethren in the District. Their decision, however, will be made without any reference to our interests or wishes; and we are not disposed to exercise any influence on them other than to state very briefly and as candidly as possible our views of the proposed measure." He then went on to give the reasons why he thought the separation to be inexpedient from the Maine point of view: (1) that there was no necessity for it, no grievance, no real inconvenience in the existing situation; (2) that a large State was better than a small one, and that, for example, Rhode Island would be better off if it were a part of Massachusetts; (3) that the fact of remoteness from the capital was an argument of little weight; (4) that the expense of carrying on the new State would be burdensome. Evidently Mr. Hale did not enter into the feelings of the people of Maine. If the arguments he advanced had been the strongest that could be adduced, the vote for separation would have been little short of unanimous.

The "Advertiser " did again refer to the agitation. Some separationists having preferred an absurd charge that the connection with Massachusetts had bankrupted the Maine banks, because the Massachusetts banks sent the bills of the Maine banks home for redemption, and compelled specie payment, the "Advertiser" on August 3 defended the practice, and showed that the discount on Maine bank bills was from onequarter of one per cent to one per cent.

On the 2d of September the contest came to an end between those who were hankering for offices which were not theirs, according to the anti-separationists, and the office holders and those who were hoping for office, according to the separationists. The returns came in slowly. The group of towns first reported showed a majority of more than "five to, four," but within a day or two the numbers were less favorable. When fifty-eight towns had been heard from, the Portland "Gazette" remarked, with exultant sarcasm, "it is greatly to

be feared that we shall be under the necessity of continuing our vassalage' to old Massachusetts." The vote continued close to the end, but there was always a deficiency of the necessary majority. The final official vote was 11,969 yeas, 10,347 noes. Evidently this was not "five to four." Fiveninths of the total vote, 22,316, is 12,398; four-ninths is 9,918. Four hundred and twenty-nine men had voted the wrong way.

But the separationists were not the men to give it up so. The convention was to meet anyway, they had elected a large majority of the delegates, and they had the able and ingenious John Holmes of Alfred for a leader. Some of the delegates were not disposed to attend the convention, as they thought there was nothing to do but to count the votes and adjourn. But the separationists urged every man to be there, and the opponents had too much experience to be caught napping.

The convention assembled in the meeting-house at Brunswick on the 30th of September. There was a contest in the election of a president, but the result, 97 votes for William King and 85 for Ezekiel Whitman, was not a test of the strength of the two parties. Inasmuch as the proceedings were abortive, and since they have been published and summarized many times, it is not worth while to repeat them here. The only exception must be the singular attempt on the part of the committee to which the returns of the popular vote were referred to make it appear that the condition of "a majority of five to four at least" had been met. The state of the vote has already been given, -11,969 yeas, 10,347 nays. The committee, of which John Holmes was chairman, it will be remembered that he was the mover of the amendment in the Massachusetts Senate, professed to find great difficulty in determining the interpretation of the phrase, but had no difficulty in interpreting it in different ways. The method which commended it to the committee was this: the aggregate majority in the towns voting yes was 6,031; the aggregate adverse majority in the towns voting no was 4,409. Now, as five is to four, so is 6,031 to 4,829. Consequently the noes failed by 420 to cast the requisite number. This absurd report was accepted by the convention after protracted debate.

--

[ocr errors]

If the separationists had had faith in their own interpretation, they would have proceeded to form a constitution. Some

« ZurückWeiter »