Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Page 5

James Wilson


   The charge brought against Mr. Wilson, of having been hostile to General Washington, and of having participated in the combination formed against him, was wholly unfounded. The evidence on this point is complete.
   Of the celebrated convention of 1787, which was assembled in Philadelphia, for the purpose of forming the constitution of the United States, Mr. Wilson was a member. During the long deliberations of the convention on that instrument, he rendered the most important services. He possessed great political sagacity and foresight, and being a fluent speaker, he did much to settle upon just principles the great and important points which naturally arose in the formation of a new government. On the twenty-third of July, the convention resolved, "That the proceedings of the convention for the establishment of a national government, except what respects the supreme executive, be referred to a committee for the purpose of reporting a constitution, conformably to the proceedings aforesaid." In pursuance of this resolution. a committee was appointed on the following day, consisting of Messrs. Wilson, Rutledge, Randolph, Gorham, and Ellsworth, who accordingly, on the sixth of August, reported the draft of a constitution.
   When the state convention of Pennsylvania assembled to ratify the federal constitution, Mr. Wilson was returned a member of that body, and as he was the only one who had assisted in forming that instrument, it devolved upon him to explain to the convention the principles upon which it was founded, and the great objects which it had in view. Thus he powerfully contributed to the ratification of the constitution in that state. The following language, which he used in conclusion of his speech, in favor of this ratification, deserves a place here: "It is neither extraordinary nor unexpected, that the constitution offered to your consideration, should meet with opposition. It is the nature of man to pursue his own interest, in preference to the public good and I do not mean to make any personal reflection when I add, that it is the interest of a very numerous, powerful, and respectable body, to counteract and destroy the excellent work produced by the late convention. All the officers of government, and all the appointments for the administration of justice, and the collection of the public revenue, which are transferred from the individual to the aggregate sovereignty of the states, will necessarily turn the stream of influence and emolument into a new channel. Every person, therefore, who enjoys, or expects to enjoy, a place of profit under the present establishment, will object to the proposed innovation; not, in truth, because it is injurious, to the liberties of his country, but because it affects his schemes of wealth and consequence. I will I confess, indeed, that I am not a blind admirer of this plan of government, and that there are some parts of it which, if my wish had prevailed, would certainly, have been altered. But, when I reflect how widely men differ in their opinions, and that every man, (and the observation applies likewise to every state,) has an equal pretension to assert his own, I am satisfied that any thing nearer to perfection could not have been accomplished. If there are errors, it should be remembered, that the seeds of reformation are sown in the work itself, and a concurrence of two thirds of the congress may, at any time, introduce alterations and amendments. Regarding it, then, in every point of view, with a candid and disinterested mind, I am bold to assert, that it is the best form of government which has ever been offered to the world."

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Last modified December 31, 2003