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BELKNAP TO HAZARD.
Boston, Sunday evening, January 20, 1788.
My Dear Sir, — Though I have heard nothing from you for a great while, I shall continue to write when I have any thing worth communicating. In my last, I began some account of our Convention. This is a fruitful subject, and will be of long continuance, if they go on no faster than they have hitherto done. They have, as yet, proceeded only to the article respecting the Senate. For a particular detail of the several speeches, pro and con, vide the newspapers; for the printers have appointed delegates to the Convention to take short-hand minutes, and they are very industrious.
I shall only give you some remarks of my own. I hope the body is at length fixed. Last Thursday they removed to the meeting-house where your friend officiates, in Long Lane, which is light, sizeable, and convenient for spectators. Every part of the Constitution which has yet been considered and objected to has been very ably defended. Dana, King, Parsons, Dalton, Strong, Sedgwick, and Ames are among the best advocates. The anti-federal speakers are very clamorous, petulant, tedious, and provoking: you will see the names of Nason, Thompson, Wedgery, Taylor, Bishop, &c, but they are men whose only force lies in noise and opposition. There is a number of honest, silent men, who wish for information; and on these the Federalists place their hopes of success. The more the Constitution is canvassed, the brighter it shines; and though at the beginning of last week its friends were vibrating between hope and despair, though some had almost given it up for lost, yet the force of truth has had such influence that they now feel encouraged. My worthy friend, Judge Dana, thunders like Demosthenes. He spoke on Friday with such pathetic energy that it seemed as if his feeble frame could scarcely have supported him (for, you must know, he has been sick all last summer, and is but just recruited). He expressed the feelings of an honest mind, which had taken an early and decided part in the ca'ise of the country, and wished to see its labours and sufferings crowned with success, but which would all be lost if this Constitution should be lost. I need not add that he was greatly admired. R. King explains every thing in a most clear and masterly manner, and is of the most eminent service to the cause. I wrote you, in my last, that the Anti-feds, had miscarried in their attempt to get Gerry introduced. They renewed the attempt on Monday, and succeeded. The vote was: "That E. G. be requested to take a seat in the House, that he might answer such questions as should be proposed by the Conventio?i (not by particular members) relative to matters of fact which concerned the formation of the Constitution." He came on Tuesday, and sat biting the head of his cane till Friday P.m. Then began an affair, which, as I was present, and in a situation to see and hear very particularly, I will recite at large, especially as I suppose it will be differently represented. The Anti-feds, will say that his mouth was stopped, in order to prevent their receiving that light and information which he would have given, that the Constitution may be crammed down, &c, &c. The facts were precisely these: On Friday P.m., an honest member, who, I believe, is a Federalist, and I believe you know him, Major Fuller, of Newtown, desired to know why Georgia had 3 representatives allowed in the new plan, and Massachusetts 8, when, in the last requisition for taxes, they were assessed but one thirteenth of what Massachusetts was. One of the Anti-feds, desired that Mr. G. might answer this question. It was put to vote, and passed in the affirmative. Mr. G. himself then asked the President to reduce the question to writing,, which he did, and gave it to him. He then took a paper out of his pocket, asked which was the last requisition, was told that it was in October, and was preparing to say something more, when Dana moved that, as G. had the question in writing, he might have time to reduce his answer to writing; giving this reason: that, as there were two parties in the House, his answer might otherwise be differently understood and represented. It was seconded; G. acquiesced, and a vote passed, desiring him to take his own time, and give his answer in writing. He delivered it yesterday A.m. It was to this purpose: That the mode of apportioning taxes in Congress was by a kind of compromise, and that Georgia had lately been increased by migration. R. K. then explained the matter at large, and much more to everybody's satisfaction. This passed. The debate was on the equality of the Senate. Mr. Strong said that G. was one of the Committee of the General Convention, which drew that plan. Gerry then (as he sat near the Secretary's table) took his pen and wrote for half an hour. He then rose, and told the President that he had been stating some facts relative to the Senate, in writing. Dana observed that, as he came there to answer questions, and no question respecting the Senate had been put to him, it would be improper for him to deliver any thing until a question was put, and moved that it be put in writing, if any question was necessary. Then G. attempted to speak. Parsons insisted to be heard first, as he was a member, and G. was not. He objected to the propriety of G.'s speaking, or offering any thing, before he was called upon. One, and another, and another, Feds, and Anti-feds, carried on the conversation; and though Wedgery drew a question, and the President read it, it was not voted nor put, but a desultory debate on the propriety of G.'s conduct held till one o'clock, when the all-prevailing cry for adjournment came, and Mr. G.'s intended communication dropped, of course. After the adjournment, Dana and he had some very high words; but friends interfered, and took them off different ways.
Thus stood the matter at noon, yesterday; and here I must end my letter, as 'tis growing late, and a friend is waiting for me. So adieu. You shall have more next week.
Love to Mrs. H. Yours, J. B.
Please to send the inclosed, or its value, to Aitken, — 5 dollars.
BELKNAP TO HAZARD.
Boston, January 25, 1788.
My Dear Sir,—Yours of the 11th and 16th inst., received last evening, proved a great refreshment to me. I have much to say on the several subjects mentioned therein, as well as on the subject of our Convention, which has been in session now 16 days, and has not got through the first article yet. I counted no less than 313 on the floor today. Some of them are the very men who were in arms last winter against Government, and they have brought all the inveteracy of their opposition along with them. The Federal speakers are obliged to combat them with the same arguments over and over again, and their objections appear to arise more from an enmity to all or any government, than from any defects in the proposed form. They will not be convinced, they will not be silenced. Sometimes they get their passions raised, at some trifle or other. Yesterday a boy clapped his hands in the gallery, and some who were by cried hush, with a continued sound of the sh: this was interpreted a hiss. They said they were insulted, and were for removing, or shutting up the galleries: and it was above an hour before they would let the matter subside. Gerry has disappeared ever since Saturday; but he sent in a letter, which you may see in the papers. Dana and he are at variance. Opinions are different on the matter. I think Gerry is all in the wrong. However, as the grand affair turns, so will his character. If the Constitution is adopted, he will be neglected: if not, he may be Governour or Lieutenant Governour next year.
It gives us great pleasure to hear some of the honest, sensible, independent yeomanry speak in favour of the Constitution. Their feelings, their natural language, their similies, are highly entertaining. We had such a speaker to-day: a Mr. Smith, of Lanesborough, in Berkshire. "I know," said he, " the worth of a good government by the want of it. I live in a part of the country where anarchy has prevailed, and that leads to tyranny. We were so distressed last winter that we should have been glad to submit to anybody who would have set up his standard, even to a monarch; and this monarchy might have led to tyranny; but better have one tyrant than many at once." In answer to the objection that learned and monied men were not fit to be trusted with the Government, he said: "Suppose you have a farm of 50 acres, and your title is disputed, and you join on a man who has 5000 acres, and his title is involved in the same dispute: is it not better to have him for your friend than to defend yourself alone?" Again: "Suppose you were to join with two or three neighbours in clearing up a rough piece of ground, and sowing it with wheat: would you let it lie unfenced because you could not all agree what sort of a fence to make? Is it not better to have a fence, though it does not please all your fancies, than to have none?" In answer to the objection, Let it alone for the present, and be not in a hurry, he said: "Take things when they are ripe. There is a time to sow, and a time to reap: we have sowed our seed by sending men to the Federal Convention. Now the fruit is ripe, let us gather it. This is the harvest; and, if we don't improve this opportunity, I am afraid we shall never have another."
Is not this true natural eloquence and forcible reason