Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Saturday, August 25

IN CONVENTION

The 1st. clause of 1 Sect. of art: VII2 being reconsidered

Col. MASON objected to the term “shall” -fullfil the engagements & discharge the debts &c as too strong. It may be impossible to comply with it. The Creditors should be kept in the same plight. They will in one respect be necessarily and properly in a better. The Government will be more able to pay them. The use of the term shall will beget speculations and increase the pestilent practice of stock-jobbing. There was a great distinction between original creditors & those who purchased fraudulently of the ignorant and distressed. He did not mean to include those who have bought Stock in open market. He was sensible of the difficulty of drawing the line in this case, but He did not wish to preclude the attempt. Even fair purchasers at 4. 5. 6. 8 for 1 did not stand on the same footing with3 first Holders, supposing them not to be blameable. The interest they receive even in paper is equal to their purchase money. What he particularly wished was to leave the door open for buying up the securities, which he thought would be precluded by the term “shall” as requiring nominal payment, & which was not inconsistent with his ideas of public faith. He was afraid also the word shall, might extend to all the old continental paper.

Mr. LANGDON wished to do no more than leave the Creditors in statu quo.

Mr. GERRY said that for himself he had no interest in the question being not possessed of more of the securities than would, by the interest, pay his taxes. He would observe however that as the public had received the value of the literal amount, they ought to pay that value to some body. The frauds on the soldiers ought to have been foreseen. These poor & ignorant people could not but part with their securities. There are other creditors who will part with any thing rather than be cheated of the capital of their advances. The interest of the States he observed was different on this point, some having more, others less than their proportion of the paper. Hence the idea of a scale for reducing its value had arisen. If the public faith would admit, of which he was not clear, he would not object to a revision of the debt so far as to compel restitution to the ignorant & distressed, who have been defrauded. As to Stock-jobbers he saw no reason for the censures thrown on them. They keep up the value of the paper. Without them there would be no market.

Mr. BUTLER said he meant neither to increase nor diminish the security of the creditors.

Mr. RANDOLPH moved to postpone the clause in favor of the following “All debts contracted & engagements entered into, by or under the authority of Congs. shall be as valid agst. the U. States under this constitution as under the Confederation.” Docr. JOHNSON. The debts are debts of the U- S- of the great Body of America. Changing the Government can not change the obligation of the U- S- which devolves of course on the New Government. Nothing was in his opinion necessary to be said. If any thing, it should be a mere declaration as moved by Mr. Randolph.

Mr. Govr. MORRIS, said he never had become a public Creditor that he might urge with more propriety the compliance with public faith. He had always done so and always would, and preferr’d the term shall as most explicit. As to buying up the debt, the term shall was not inconsistent with it, if provision be first made for paying the interest: if not, such an expedient was a mere evasion. He was content to say nothing as the New Government would be bound of course-but would prefer the clause with the term “shall, because it would create many friends to the plan.

On Mr. Randolph’s Motion

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no Del. ay. Maryd. ay Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo ay.4

Mr. SHERMAN thought it necessary to connect with the clause for laying taxes duties &c an express provision for the object of the old debts &c-and moved to add to the 1st. clause of 1st. sect. art VII “for the payment of said debts and for the defraying the expences that shall be incurred for the common defence and general welfare.”

The proposition, as being unnecessary was disagreed to, Connecticut alone, being in the affirmative.

The Report of the Committee of eleven [see friday the 24th. instant] being taken up,

Genl. PINKNEY moved to strike out the words “the year eighteen hundred” as the year limiting the importation of slaves, and to insert the words “the year eighteen hundred and eight”

Mr. GHORUM 2ded. the motion

Mr. MADISON. Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the National5 character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution.

On the motion; which passed in the affirmative.

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.6

Mr. Govr. MORRIS was for making the clause read at once, “7 importation of slaves into N. Carolina, S. Carolina & Georgia shall not be prohibited &c.” This he said would be most fair and would avoid the ambiguity by which, under the power with regard to naturalization, the liberty reserved to the States might be defeated. He wished it to be known also that this part of the Constitution was a compliance with those States. If the change of language however should be objected to by the members from those States, he should not urge it.

Col: MASON was not against using the term “slaves” but agst. naming N. C. S. C. & Georgia, lest it should give offence to the people of those States.

Mr. SHERMAN liked a description better than the terms proposed, which had been declined by the old Congs. & were not pleasing to some people.

Mr. CLYMER concurred with Mr. Sherman

Mr. WILLIAMSON said that both in opinion & practice he was against slavery; but thought it more in favor of humanity, from a view of all circumstances, to let in S. C. & Georgia on those terms, than to exclude them from the Union.

Mr. Govr. MORRIS withdrew his motion.

Mr. DICKENSON wished the clause to be confined to the States which had not themselves prohibited the importation of slaves, and for that purpose moved to amend the clause so as to read “The importation of slaves into such of the States as shall permit the same shall not be prohibited by the Legislature of the U- S- until the year 1808″-which was disagreed to nem: cont:8

The first part of the report was then agreed to, amended as follows.

“The migration or importation of such persons as the several States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Legislature prior to the year 1808.”

N. H. Mas. Con. Md. N. C. S. C. Geo: ay9

N. J. Pa. Del. Virga…………..no 10

Mr. BALDWIN in order to restrain & more explicitly define “the average duty” moved to strike out of the 2d. part the words “average of the duties laid on imports” and insert “common impost on articles not enumerated” which was agreed to nem: cont:

Mr. SHERMAN was agst. this 2d. part, as acknowledging men to be property, by taxing them as such under the character of slaves.

Mr. KING & Mr. LANGDON considered this as the price of the 1st. part.

Genl. PINKNEY admitted that it was so.

Col: MASON. Not to tax, will be equivalent to a bounty on the importation of slaves.

Mr. GHORUM thought that Mr. Sherman should consider the duty, not as implying that slaves are property, but as a discouragement to the importation of them.

Mr. Govr. MORRIS remarked that as the clause now stands it implies that the Legislature may tax freemen imported.

Mr. SHERMAN in answer to Mr. Ghorum observed that the smallness of the duty shewed revenue to be the object, not the discouragement of the importation.

Mr. MADISON thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men. The reason of duties did not hold, as slaves are not like merchandize, consumed, &c

Col. MASON (in answr. to Govr. Morris) the provision as it stands was necessary for the case of Convicts in order to prevent the introduction of them.

It was finally agreed nem: contrad: to make the clause read “but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation not exceeding ten dollars for each person,” and then the 2d. part as amended was agreed to.

Sect 5. art. VII was agreed to nem: con: as reported.

Sect. 6. art. VII. in the Report, was postponed.

On motion of Mr. MADISON 2ded. by Mr. Govr. MORRIS Art VIII was reconsidered and after the words “all treaties made,” were inserted nem: con: the words “or which shall be made” This insertion was meant to obviate all doubt concerning the force of treaties preexisting, by making the words “all treaties made” to refer to them, as the words inserted would refer to future treaties.

Mr. CARROL & Mr. L. MARTIN expressed their apprehensions, and the probable apprehensions of their constituents, that under the power of regulating trade the General Legislature, might favor the ports of particular States, by requiring vessels destined to or from other States to enter & clear thereat, as vessels belonging or bound to Baltimore, to enter & clear at Norfolk &c They moved the following proposition

“The Legislature of the U: S: shall not oblige vessels belonging to citizens thereof, or to foreigners, to enter or pay duties or imposts in any other State than in that to which they may be bound, or to clear out in any other than the State in which their cargoes may be laden on board; nor shall any privilege or immunity be granted to any vessels on entering or clearing out, or paying duties or imposts in one State in preference to another”

Mr. GHORUM thought such a precaution unnecessary; & that the revenue might be defeated, if vessels could run up long rivers, through the jurisdiction of different States without being required to enter, with the opportunity of landing & selling their cargoes by the way.

Mr. Mc. HENRY & Genl. PINKNEY made the following propositions “Should it be judged expedient by the Legislature of the U. S. that one or more ports for collecting duties or imposts other than those ports of entrance & clearance already established by the respective States, should be established, the Legislature of the U. S. shall signify the same to the Executives of the respective States, ascertaining the number of such ports judged necessary; to be laid by the said Executives before the Legislatures of the States at their next Session; and the Legislature of the U. S. shall not have the power of fixing or establishing the particular ports for collecting duties or imposts in any State, except the Legislature of such State shall neglect to fix and establish the same during their first session to be held after such notification by the Legislature of the U. S. to the Executive of such State”

“All duties imposts & excises, prohibitions or restraints laid or made by the Legislature of the U. S. shall be uniform & equal throughout the U. S.”

These several propositions were referred, nem: con: to a Committee composed of a member from each State. The committee appointed by ballot were Mr. Langdon, Mr. Ghorum, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Dayton, Mr. Fitzimmons, Mr. Read, Mr. Carrol, Mr. Mason, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Butler, Mr. Few.

On the question now taken on Mr. Dickinson motion of yesterday, allowing appointments to offices, to be referred by the Genl. Legislature to the Executives of the Several States” as a farther amendment to sect. 2, art. X. the votes were,

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. divided. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay.12

In amendment of the same section,13 “other public Ministers” were inserted after “ambassadors.”

Mr. Govr. MORRIS moved to strike out of the section-”and may correspond with the supreme Executives of the several States” as unnecessary and implying that he could not correspond with others.

Mr. BROOME 2ded. him.

On the question

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.14

15“Shall receive ambassadors & other public Ministers,” 16 agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. SHERMAN moved to amend the “power to grant reprieves & pardon 17” so as to read “to grant reprieves until the ensuing session of the Senate, and pardons with consent of the Senate.”

On the question

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. Pa. no Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 18

19“except in cases of impeachment” 20 inserted nem: con: after “pardon”17

On the question to agree to -”but his pardon shall not be pleadable in bar”21

N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no.22

Adjourned


1 The year “1787″ is omitted in the transcript  Return to text

2 See ante.  Return to text

3 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

4 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey,” Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, georgia, aye-10; Pennsylvania, no-1.  Return to text

5 The word “American” is substituted in the transcript for “National.” Return to text

6 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-7; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no-4.”  Return to text

7 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

8 In the printed Journal, Cont. Virga. & Georgia voted in the affirmative.  Return to text

9 The figure “7″ is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

10 The figure “4″ is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

11 See ante.  Return to text

12 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia, aye- 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Edlaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, no-6; Maryland, divided.”  Return to text

13 The expression “the words” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

14 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-9; Maryland, no-1.”  Return to text

15 The words “The clause” are here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

16 The word “was” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

17 The transcript uses the word “pardon” in the plural.  Return to text

18 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, aye-1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no-8.”  Return to text

19 The expression “the words” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

20 The word “were” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

21 The phrase “It passed in the negative” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

22 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye-4; Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, delaware, Virginia, Geogia, no-6.”  Return to text


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Contents

Introduction

The year was 1787. The place: the State House in Philadelphia. This is the story of the framing of the federal Constitution.

The Convention

Read the four-act drama and day-by-day summary by Gordon Lloyd, as well as Madison’s Notes on the Convention.

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia in the Late 18th Century

Learn about historic Philadelphia and where the founders stayed, ate, and met.

View Interactive

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