University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Kaminski, John P.; Saladino, Gaspare J.; Moore, Timothy D. (Historian); Lannér-Cusin, Johanna E.; Schoenleber, Charles H.; Reid, Jonathan M.; Flamingo, Margaret R.; Fields, David P. (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Maryland (1)
11 (2015)

I. The debate over the Constitution in Maryland, 17 September-30 November 1787,   pp. 3-67


Page 20

I. DEBATE OVER CONSTITUTION
Editors' Note
The Maryland Reprinting of James Wilson's
State House Speech, 16-25 October 1787
On 6 October 1787 Pennsylvania Federalist James Wilson, one of the
Constitutional Convention's most prolific and influential debaters and
a signer of the Constitution, spoke before "a very great concourse of
people" at a public meeting in the Pennsylvania state house yard called
to nominate candidates to represent the city of Philadelphia in the
Pennsylvania General Assembly. Wilson's speech, first printed in an ex-
tra issue of the Pennsylvania Herald on 9 October, advanced arguments
explaining and defending the Constitution that were often reiterated
by Federalist writers and speakers throughout America. The Herald also
reprinted the speech the next day.
Wilson's concept of reserved powers was the most controversial part
of his speech. He declared that "in delegating foederal powers ... the
congressional authority is to be collected, not from tacit implication, but
from the positive grant expressed in the instrument of union. Hence it
is evident, that ... every thing which is not given, is reserved." The
concept of reserved powers, according to Wilson, demonstrated that a
bill of rights was unnecessary. As an example, he asserted that Congress
could not violate the freedom of the press because it had not been
given power over the press.
The day before Wilson's speech the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer
had published "Centinel" I (CC:133), the first in a series of eighteen
Antifederalist essays by Samuel Bryan of Philadelphia that would be
widely reprinted throughout America. In particular, "Centinel" criti-
cized the lack of a bill of rights in the Constitution. Wilson did not
explicitly refer to "Centinel," but there is no doubt that the speech
was, in part, a reply to "Centinel." (For a discussion of the significance,
circulation, and the defense and criticism of the "Centinel" essays, see
CC:133. For the reprinting of "Centinel" I and II in Maryland and an
extended criticism of them, see "Aratus: To the People of Maryland,"
post-2 November 1787 [below].)
The Pennsylvania Herald described Wilson's speech as "the first au-
thoritative explanation of the principles" of the Constitution. By 29
December the speech was reprinted in thirty-four newspapers in twenty-
seven towns, in the October issue of the nationally circulated monthly
Philadelphia American Museum, in a broadside, and in a pamphlet an-
thology. Among the newspapers were five Philadelphia newspapers (in-
cluding a German-language newspaper). The broadside was also printed
20


Go up to Top of Page