Debates over the Bill of Rights in the First Congress

August 22, 1789

AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION

The House resumed the consideration of the amendments to the constitution.

Mr. TUCKER moved the following as a proposition to be added to the same: “The Congress shall never impose direct taxes but where the moneys arising from the duties, imposts, and excise are insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then until Congress shall have made a requisition upon the States to assess, levy and pay their respective proportions of such requisitions. And in case any State shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion, pursuant to such requisition, then Congress may assess, and levy such State’s proportion, together with the interest thereon, at the rate of six per cent per annum, for the time of payment prescribed by such requisition.”

Mr. PAGE said, that he hoped every amendment to the constitution would be considered separately in the manner this was proposed, but he wished them considered fully; it ought to have been referred to the Committee of eleven, reported upon, and then to the committee of the whole. This was the manner in which the House had decided upon all those already agreed to; and this ought to be the manner in which this should be decided; he should be sorry to delay what was so nearly completed on any account. The House has but little time to sit, and the subject has to go before the Senate, therefore it requires of us all the expedition we can possibly give it. I would prefer putting a finishing hand to what has been already agreed to, and refer this to the Committee of eleven for their consideration.

Mr. TUCKER.–This proposition was referred to the committee, along with many others in the gross, but the committee of eleven declined reporting on it. I understood it to be in any gentleman’s power to bring it forward when he thought proper, and it was under this influence that I proposed it, nor do I conceive it to be an improper time. The House is engaged in the discussion of amendments; they have made some progress, and I wish them to go on to complete what they have begun. This may be added without inconvenience, if it meet the sense of the House; but if it does not, I wish my constituents to be acquainted with our decision on the whole subject, and therefore hope it may be decided upon at this time.

Mr. JACKSON.–The gentleman has an undoubted right to bring forward the proposition; but I differ greatly with respect to its propriety. I hope, sir, the experience we have had will be sufficient to prevent us from ever agreeing to a relinquishment of such an essential power. The requisitions of the former Congress were ineffectual to obtain supplies; they remain to this day neglected by several States. If a sense of common danger, if war, and that a war of the noblest kind, a contest for liberty, were not sufficient to stimulate the States to a prompt compliance, when means were abundant, by reason of the immense quantities of paper medium, can we ever expect an acquiescence to a requisition in future, when the only stimulus is honesty, to enable the confederation to discharge the debts of the late war?

But suppose requisitions were likely to be, in some degree, complied with, (which, by the by, I never can admit,) in every case where a State had neglected or refused to furnish its quota, Congress must come in, assess, and collect it. Now, in every such case, I venture to affirm that jealousies would be excited, discontent would prevail, and civil wars break out. What less can gentlemen picture to themselves, when a government has refused to perform its obligations, but that it will support its measures by the point of a bayonet.

Without the power of raising money to defray the expenses of Government, how are we to be secure against foreign invasion? What, can a government exert itself, with its sinews torn from it? We can expect neither strength nor exertion; and without these are acquired and preserved, our union will not be lasting; we shall be rent asunder by intestine commotion, or exterior assault; and when that period arrives, we may bid adieu to all the blessings we have purchased at the price of our fortunes, and the blood of our worthiest heroes.

Mr. LIVERMORE thought this an amendment of more importance than any yet obtained; that it was recommended by five or six States, and therefore ought to engage their most serious consideration. It had been supposed that the United States would not attempt to levy direct taxes; but this was certainly a mistake. He believed nothing but the difficulty of managing the subject would deter them. The modes of levying and collecting taxes pursued by the several States are so various, that it is an insuperable obstacle to an attempt by the General Government.

He was sensible that the requisitions of the former Congress had not been fully complied with, and the defect of the confederation was, that the Government had no powers to enforce a compliance. The proposition now under consideration obviated that difficulty. Suppose one or two States refused to comply, certainly the force of the others could compel them, and that is all that ought to be required; because it is not to be supposed that a majority of the States will refuse, as such an opposition must destroy the Union. He hoped the States would be left to furnish their quotas in a manner the most easy to themselves, as was requested by more than half of the present Union.

Unless something more effectual was done to improve the constitution, he knew his constituents would be dissatisfied. As to the amendments already agreed to, they would not value them more than a pinch of snuff; they went to secure rights never in danger.

Mr. PAGE wished the proposition might be recommitted, for he was certain there was neither time nor inclination to add it to those already agreed upon.

He observed that the warmest friends to amendments differ in opinion on this subject; many of them have ceased urging it, while others have become strenuous advocates for the reverse. The most judicious and discerning men now declare that the Government ought never to part with this power. For his part, experience had convinced him that no reliance was to be had on requisitions, when the States had treated them with contempt in the hour of danger, and had abundant means of compliance. The public credit stood at this moment in the utmost need of support, and he could not consent to throw down one of its strongest props. He thought there was no danger of an abuse of this power, for the Government would not have recourse to it while the treasury could be supplied from any other source; and when they did, they would be studious of adapting their law to the convenience of the States. He hoped, when the gentleman returned home to New Hampshire, his constituents would give him credit for his exertions, and be better satisfied with the amendments than he now supposed them to be.

Mr. SUMTER felt himself so sensibly impressed with the importance of the subject, that if he apprehended the proposition would not have a fair discussion at this time, he would second the motion of commitment, and had not a doubt but the House would acquiesce in it.

Gentlemen had said that the States had this business much at heart. Yes, he would venture to say more, that if the power was not relinquished by the General Government, the State Governments would be annihilated. If every resource is taken from them, what remains in the power of the States for their support, or for the extinguishment of their domestic debt?

Mr. GERRY thought if the proposition was referred, that it ought to go to a Committee of the whole, for he wished it to have a full and candid discussion. He would have something left in the power of every State to support itself, independent of the United States, and therefore was not satisfied with the amendment proposed. The constitution, in its original state, gives to Congress the power of levying and collecting taxes, duties, imposts, and excise. The fault here is, is that every thing is relinquished to the General Government. Now, the amendment gives the same power, with qualification, that there shall have been a previous requisition. This by no means came up to his idea; he thought that some particular revenue ought to be secured to the States, so as to enable them to support themselves.

He apprehended, when this clause in the constitution was under the consideration of the several State conventions, they would not so readily have ratified it, if they had considered it more fully in the point of view in which he had now placed it; but if they had ratified it, it would have been under a conviction that Congress would admit such amendments as were necessary to the existence of the State Governments. At present, the States are divested of every means to support themselves. If they discover a new source of revenue, after Congress shall have diverted all the old ones into their treasury, the rapacity of the General Government can take that from them also. The States can have recourse to no tax, duty, impost, or excise, but what may be taken from them whenever the Congress shall be so disposed; and yet gentlemen must see that the annihilation of the State Governments will be followed by the ruin of this.

Now, what is the consequence of the amendment? Either the States will or will not comply with the requisitions. If they comply, they voluntarily surrender their means of support; if they refuse, the arms of Congress are raised to compel them, which, in all probability, may lay the foundation for civil war. What umbrage must it give every individual to have two sets of collectors and tax-gatherers surrounding his doors; the people then soured, and a direct refusal by the Legislature, will be the occasion of perpetual discord. He wished to alter this proposition in such a manner as to secure the support of the Federal Government and the State Governments likewise, and therefore wished the amendment referred to a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. TUCKER.–I do not see the arguments in favor of giving Congress this power in so forcible a light as some gentlemen do. It will be to erect an imperium in imperio, which is generally considered to be subversive of all Government. At any time that Congress shall exercise this power, it will raise commotions in the States; whereas, the mode of requisitions will operate in so easy a way, by being consonant to the habits of the people, that the supplies will be sooner realized in the treasury by this means than by any other. It will require a length of time to form a uniform system of taxation, that shall operate equally and justly through all the States; though I doubt the possibility of forming such a system. It has been said, that requisitions have not been complied with in former times, but it is to be hoped that there will not be so much difficulty in future. The supplies from the impost will greatly diminish the requisitions; besides, should any of the States refuse to comply, they will be liable to the exercise of the power of Congress in the very heart of their country. This power will be so disagreeable, that the very dread of it will stimulate the States to an immediate and prompt compliance with the requisitions. This amendment has been proposed by several of the States, and by some of the most important ones. For this and other reasons that have been offered on the subject, I hope the amendment will be adopted.

Several methods were proposed for disposing of this question for the present; but the motion for its lying on the table being put and negatived, Mr. PARTRIDGE, referring to his instructions, was solicitous that this amendment should not be too precipitately decided upon, and moved the previous question, which was negatived.

Mr. SEDGWICK said, that he believed his mind was as strongly impressed with the force of the instructions he had received from his constituents, as that of other gentlemen. But, sir, a Government entrusted with the freedom and the very existence of the people, ought surely to possess, in a most ample degree, the means of supporting its own existence; and as we do not know what circumstances we may be in, or how necessary it may be for Congress to exercise this power, I should deem it a violation of the oath I have taken to support the constitution were I now to vote for this amendment.

Mr. SHERMAN remarked, that if Congress should exercise this power, the taxes would be laid by the immediate representatives of the people; neither would it be necessary to adopt one uniform method of collecting direct taxes. The several States might be accommodated by a reference to their respective modes of taxation.

The question upon the paragraph being called for from every part of the House, the yeas and nays were taken.

YEAS.–Messrs. BURKE, COLES, FLOYD, GROUT, HATHORN, LIVERMORE, VAN RENSSELAER, SUMTER, and TUCKER.–9.

NAYS.–Messrs. AMES, BENSON, BROWN, CADWALADER, CARROLL, CLYMER, FITZSIMONS, FOSTER, GALE, GERRY, GILMAN, GOODHUE, HARTLEY, HEISTER, JACKSON, LAWRENCE, LEE, MADISON, MATTHEWS, MOORE, MUHLEBURG, PAGE, PARKER, PARTRIDGE, SCHUREMAN, SCOTT, SEDGWICK, SENEY, SHERMAN, SYLVESTER, SINNICKSON, SMITH, of Maryland, SMITH, of South Carolina, STONE, STURGES, THATCHER, TRUMBULL, VINING, and WADSWORTH.–39.

Mr. TUCKER proposed the following amendment to the constitution:

Article 1, section 8, clause 9, strike out the words, “tribunals superior to the Supreme Court,” and insert the words “courts of admiralty.”

And on the question being put, it passed in the negative.

He then moved for a further amendment to the constitution, as follows:

In the third section of the sixth article insert the word “other” between the word “no” and the word “religious.”

And on the question that the House do agree to the said amendment, it passed in the negative.

Mr. GERRY moved to add to the amendments already agreed to the following articles, to wit:

“That Congress erect no company of merchants with exclusive advantages of commerce.” And on the question that the House do agree to the said proposed article, it passed in the negative.

He introduced another motion, to add to the amendments already agreed to the following article, to wit:

“Congress shall at no time consent that any person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall accept of a title of nobility or any other title or office from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

And on the question being put, it was negatived.

Mr. BENSON introduced a resolution to the following purport:

Resolved by the House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, That the following amendments to the constitution of the United States having been agreed to by two-thirds of both Houses, be submitted to the Legislatures of the several States; which, when ratified, in whole or in part, by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, shall be valid to all intents and purposes as parts of the said constitution.

This resolution was referred to a committee consisting of Messrs. BENSON, SHERMAN, and SEDGWICK, who were directed to arrange the said amendments and make report thereof.

Contents

Introduction

Introductions, the documentary history of each amendment, and major themes about the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

From Political Liberty to Social Freedom

Using artwork, see how the idea of rights has changed throughout American history.

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Documentary Origins and Politics of the Bill of Rights

Interactive chart showing the origins of each of the rights in the Bill of Rights.

View Interactive

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