Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 36.djvu/65

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The Virginia Convention of 1788.

subdued by the armies of Great Britain. The true explanation is supposed to be that Mr. Madison thought that the free navigation of the Mississippi had to be relinquished or the conquered territory surrendered, and he doubtless thought the surrender of the conquered territory the lesser of the two evils. His reply to Henry on the subject of the navigation of the Mississippi is considered the most adroit made in the Convention – an exquisite specimen of the test and skill with which a statesman may appear to walk steadily over the ground that was quaking beneath him. Henry had him in a tight place. Madison labored under two difficulties – his low stature made it difficult to be seen from all parts of the house and his voice was so weak it was impossible to hear him at times. He had a habit of rising to speak, with his hat in his hand and with his notes in his hat, and when he warmed up his body had a kind of see-saw motion. Yet such was the force of his genius that one of his warmest opponents in the Convention declared that he listened with more delight to his clear and cunning arguments than to the eloquence of Henry.


"His tongue

 Dropped manna,
and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and clash
Maturest counsels."

Chief Justice Marshall, who was the chief of the opposition, when asked which of the various speakers he had heard was the most eloquent – and he had heard all the great orators of America  – replied: "Eloquence had been defined to be the art of persuasion. If it includes persuasion by convincing, Mr. Madison was the most eloquent man I ever heard." He was noted for the respect and courtesy with which he regarded the motives and treated the arguments of his opponents. He had great blandness of manner, conciliation and forbearance. He seldom, if ever, gave offence to any one in the most exciting political debates. From the most diffident of men, when he commenced his public career he could not speak at all, he became perfect in the art. Madison's diary or journal of the Convention, comprised in the "Madison Papers," is a valuable contribution to American history of that period.