Elliot’s Debates: Volume 2
Convention of Pennsylvania
Tuesday, December 4, 1787, A. M.
Mr. WILSON. I shall take this opportunity of giving an answer to the objections already urged against the Constitution; I shall then point out some of those qualities that entitle it to the attention and approbation of this Convention; and, after having done this, I shall take a fit opportunity of stating the consequences which, I apprehend, will result from rejecting it, and those which will probably result from its adoption I have given the utmost attention to the debates, and the objections that, from time to time, have been made by the three gentlemen who speak in opposition. I have reduced them to some order, perhaps not better than that in which they were introduced. I will state them; they will be in the recollection of the house, and I will endeavor to give an answer to them: in that answer, I will interweave some remarks, that may tend to elucidate the subject.
A good deal has already been said concerning a bill of rights. I have stated, according to the best of my recollection, all that passed in Convention relating to that business. Since that time, I have spoken with a gentleman, who has not only his memory, but full notes that he had taken in that body, and he assures me that, upon this subject no direct motion was ever made at all; and certainly, before we heard this so violently supported out of doors, some pains ought to have been taken to have tried its fate within; but the truth is, a bill of rights would, as I have mentioned already, have been not only unnecessary, but improper. In some governments, it may come within the gentleman’s idea, when he says it can do no harm; but even in these governments, you find bills of rights do not uniformly obtain; and do those states complain who have them not? Is it a maxim in forming governments, that not only all the powers which are given, but also that all those which are reserved, should be enumerated? I apprehend that the powers given and reserved form the whole rights of the people, as men and ascitizens. I consider that there are very few who understand the whole of these rights. All the political writers, from Grotius and Puffendorf down to Vattel, have treated on this subject; but in no one of those books, nor in the aggregate of them all, can you find a complete enumeration of rights appertaining to the people as men and as citizens.
There are two kinds of governmentthat where general power is intended to be given to the legislature, and that where the powers are particularly enumerated. In the last case, the implied result is, that nothing more is intended to be given than what is so enumerated, unless it results from the nature of the government itself. On the other hand, when general legislative powers are given, then the people part with their authority, and, on the gentleman’s principle of government, retain nothing. But in a government like the proposed one, there can be no necessity for a bill of rights; for, on my principle, the people never part with their power. Enumerate all the rights of men! I am sure, sir, that no gentleman in the late Convention would have attempted such a thing. I believe the honorable speakers in opposition on this floor were members of the assembly which appointed delegates to that Convention; if it had been thought proper to have sent them into that body, how luminous would the dark conclave have been!so the gentleman has been pleased to denominate that body. Aristocrats as they were, they pretended not to define the rights of those who sent them there. We ask, repeatedly, What harm could the addition of a bill of rights do? If it can do no good, I think that a sufficient reason to refuse having any thing to do with it. But to whom are we to report this bill of rights, if we should adopt it? Have we authority from those who sent us here to make One?
It is true, we may propose as well as any other private persons; but how shall we know the sentiments of the citizens of this state and of the other states? Are we certain that any one of them will agree with our definitions and enumerations?
In the second place, we are told that there is no check upon the government but the people. It is unfortunate, sir, if their superintending authority is allowed as check; but I apprehend that, in the very construction of this government, there are numerous checks. Besides those expressly enumerated, the two branches of the legislature are mutual cheeks upon each other. But this subject will be more properly discussed when we come to consider the form of the government itself; and then I mean to show the reason why the right of habeas corpus was secured by a particular declaration in its favor.
In the third place, we are told that there is no security for the rights of conscience. I ask the honorable gentleman, what part of this system puts it in the power of Congress to attack those rights? When there is no power to attack, it is idle to prepare the means of defense.
After having mentioned, in a cursory manner, the foregoing objections, we now arrive at the leading ones against the proposed system.
The very manner of introducing this Constitution, by the recognition of the authority of the peopled is said to change the principle of the present Confederation, and to introduce a consolidating and absorbing government.
In this confederated republic, the sovereignty of the states, it is said, is not preserved. We are told that there cannot be two sovereign powers, and that a subordinate sovereignty is no sovereignty.
It will be worth while, Mr. President, to consider this objection at large. When I had the honor of speaking formerly on this subject, I stated, in as concise a manner as possible, the leading ideas that occurred to me to ascertain where the supreme and sovereign power resides. It has not been, nor, I presume, will it be denied, that somewhere there is, and of necessity must be, a supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable authority. This, I believe, may justly be termed the sovereign power; for, from that gentleman’s (Mr. Findley) account of the matter, it cannot be sovereign unless it is supreme; for, says he, a subordinate sovereignty is no sovereignty at all. I had the honor of observing, that, if the question was asked, where the supreme power resided, different answers would be given by different writers. I mentioned that Blackstone will tell you that, in Britain, it is lodged in the British Parliament; and I believe there is no writer on this subject, on the other side of the Atlantic, but supposed it to be vested in that body. I stated, further, that, if the question was asked of some politician, who had not considered the subject with sufficient accuracy, where the supreme power resided in our governments, he would answer, that it was vested in the state constitutions. This opinion approaches near the truth, but does not reach it; for the truth is, that the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable authority remains with the people. I mentioned, also, that the practical recognition of this truth was reserved for the honor of this country. I recollect no constitution founded on this principle; but we have witnessed the improvement, and enjoy the happiness of seeing it carried into practice. The great and penetrating mind of Locke seems to be the only one that pointed towards even the theory of this great truth.
When I made the observation that some politicians would say the supreme power was lodged in our state constitutions, I did not suspect that the honorable gentleman from Westmoreland (Mr. Findley) was included in that description; but I find myself disappointed; for I imagined his opposition would arise from another consideration. His position is, that the supreme power resides in the states, as governments; and mine is, that it resides in the people, as the fountain of government; that the people have notthat the people meant notand that the people ought notto part with it to any government whatsoever. In their hands it remains secure. They can delegate it in such proportions, to such bodies, on such terms, and under such limitations, as they think proper. I agree with the members in opposition, that there cannot be two sovereign powers on the same subject.
I consider the people of the United States as forming one great community; and I consider the people of the different states as forming communities, again, on a lesser scale. From this great division of the people into distinct communities, it will be found necessary that different, Proportions of legislative powers should be given to the governments, according to the nature, number, and magnitude of their objects.
Unless the people are considered in these two views, we shall never be able to understand the principle on which this system was constructed. I view the states as made for the people, as well as by them, and not the people as made for the states; the people, therefore, have a right, whilst enjoying the undeniable powers of society, to form either a general government, or state governments, in what manner they please, or to accommodate them to one another, and by this means preserve them all. This, I say, is the inherent and unalienable right of the people; and as an illustration of it, I beg to read a few words from the Declaration of Independence, made by the representatives of the United States, and recognized by the whole Union.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all metal are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
This is the broad basis on which our independence was placed: on the same certain and solid foundation this system is erected.
State sovereignty, as it is called, is far from being able to support its weight. Nothing less than the authority of the people could either support it or give it efficacy. I cannot pass over this subject without noticing the different conduct pursued by the late federal Convention, and that observed by the Convention which framed the Constitution of Pennsylvania. On that occasion you find an attempt made to deprive the people of this right, so lately, and so expressly asserted in the Declaration of Independence. we are told, in the preamble to the declaration of rights, and frame of government, that we “do, by virtue of the authority vested in us, ordain, declare, and establish, the following declaration of rights and frame of government, to be the Constitution of this commonwealth, and to remain in force therein unaltered, except in such articles as shall hereafter, on experience, be found to require improvement, and which shall, by the same authority of the people, fairly delegated as this frame of government directs.“An honorable gentleman (Mr. Chambers) was well warranted in saying that all that could be done was done, to cut off the people from the right of amending; for it cannot be amended by any other mode than that which it directs; then, any number more than one third may control any number less than two thirds.
But I return to my general reasoning. My position is, sir, that, in this country, the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power resides in the people at large; that they have vested certain proportions of this power in the state governments; but that the fee-simple continues, resides, and remains, with the body of the people. Under the practical influence of this great truth, we are now sitting and deliberating, and under its operation, we can sit as calmly and deliberate as coolly, in order to change a constitution, as a legislature can sit and deliberate under the power of a constitution, in order to alter or amend a law. It is true, the exercise of this power will not probably be so frequent, nor resorted to on so many occasions, in one case as in the other; but the recognition of the principle cannot fail to establish it more firmly. But, because this recognition is made in the proposed Constitution, an exception is taken to the whole of it; for we are told it is a violation of the present Confederationa Confederation of sovereign states. I shall not enter into an investigation of the present Confederation, but shall just remark that its principle is not the principle of free governments. The people of the United States are not, as such, represented in the present Congress; and, considered even as the component parts of the several states, they are not represented in proportion to their numbers and importance.
In this place I cannot help remarking on the general inconsistency which appears between one part of the gentleman’s objections and another. Upon the principle we have now mentioned, the honorable gentleman contended that the powers ought to flow from the states; and that all the late Convention had to do, was to give additional powers to Congress. What is the present form of Congress? A single body, with some legislative, but little executive, and no effective judicial power. What are these additional powers that are to be given? In some cases, legislative are wanting; in others, judicial; and in others, executive. These, it is said, ought to be allotted to the general government. But the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident; yet in the same day, and perhaps in the same hour, we are told by honorable gentlemen that those three branches of government are not kept sufficiently distinct in this Constitution; we are told, also, that the Senate, possessing some executive power, as well as legislative, is such a monster, that it will swallow up and absorb every other body in the general government, after having destroyed those of the particular states.
Is this reasoning with consistency? Is the Senate, under the proposed Constitution, so tremendous a body, when checked in their legislative capacity by the House of Representatives, and in their executive authority by the President of the United States? Can this body be so tremendous as the present Congress, a single body of men, possessed of legislative, executive, and judicial powers? To what purpose was Montesquieu read to show that this was a complete tyranny? The application would have been more properly made, by the advocates of the proposed Constitution, against the patrons of the present Confederation.
It is mentioned that this federal government will annihilate and absorb all the state governments. I wish to save, as much as possible, the time of the house: I shall not, therefore, recapitulate what I had the honor of saying last week on this subject. I hope it was then shown that, instead of being abolished, (as insinuated,) from the very nature of things, and from the organization of the system itself, the state governments must exist, or the general governments must fall amidst their ruins. Indeed, so far as to the forms, it is admitted they may remain; but the gentlemen seem to think their power will be gone.
I shall have occasion to take notice of this power hereafter; and, I believe, if it was necessary, it could be shown that the state governments, as states, will enjoy as much power, and more dignity, happiness, and security, than they have hitherto done. I admit, sir, that some of the powers will be taken from them by the system before you; but it is, I believe, allowed on all handsat least it is not among us a disputed pointthat the late Convention was appointed with a particular view to give more power to the government of the Union. It is also acknowledged that the intention was to obtain the advantage of an efficient government over the United States. Now, if power is to be given by that government, I apprehend it must be taken from some place. If the state governments are to retain all the powers they held before, then, of consequence, every new power that is given to Congress must be taken from the people at large. Is this the gentleman’s intention? I believe a strict examination of this subject will justify me in asserting that the states, as governments, have assumed too much power to themselves, while they left little to the people. Let not this be called cajoling the peoplethe elegant expression used by the honorable gentleman from Westmoreland, (Mr. Findley.) It is hard to avoid censure on one side or the other. At some time, it has been said that I have nor been at the pains to conceal my contempt of the people; but when it suits a purpose better, it is asserted that I cajole them. I do neither one nor the other. The voice of approbation, sir, when I think that approbation well earned, I confess, is grateful to my cars; but I would disdain it, if it is to be purchased by a sacrifice of my duty or the dictates of my conscience. No, sir; I go practically into this system; I have gone into it practically when the doors were shut, when it could not be alleged that I cajoled the people; and I now endeavor to show that the true and only safe principle for a free people, is a practical recognition of their original and supreme authority.
I say, sir, that it was the design of this system to take some power from the state governments, and to place it in the general government. It was also the design that the people should be admitted to the exercise of some powers which they did not exercise under the present federation. It was thought proper that the citizens, as well as the States, should be represented. How far the representation in the Senate is a representation of states, we shall see by and by, when we come to consider that branch of the federal government.
This system, it is said, “unhinges and eradicates the state governments, and was systematically intended so to do.” To establish the intention, an argument is drawn from art. 1st, sect. 4th, on the subject of elections. I have already had occasion to remark upon this, and Shall therefore pass on to the next objection
That the last clause of the 8th section of the 1st article, gives the power of self-preservation to the general government, independent of the states; for, in case of their abolition, it will be alleged, in behalf of the general government, that self-preservation is the first law, and necessary to the exercise of all other powers.
Now, let us see what this objection amounts to. Who are to have this self-preserving power? The Congress. Who are Congress? It is a body that will consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Who compose this Senate? Those who are elected by the legislature of the different states? Who are the electors of the House of Representatives? Those who are qualified to vote for the most numerous branch of the legislature in the separate states. Suppose the state legislatures annihilated; where is the criterion to ascertain the qualification of electors? and unless this be ascertained, they cannot be admitted to vote; if a state legislature is not elected, there can be no Senate, because the senators are to be chosen by the legislatures only.
This is a plain and simple deduction from the Constitution; and yet the objection is stated as conclusive upon an argument expressly drawn from the last clause of this section.
It is repeated with confidence, “that this is not a federal government, but a complete one, with legislative, executive, and judicial powers: it is a consolidating government.” I have already mentioned the misuse of the term; I wish the gentleman would indulge us with his definition of the word. If, when he says it is a consolidation, he means so far as relates to the general objects of the Union,so far it was intended to be a consolidation, and on such a consolidation, perhaps, our very existence, as a nation, depends. If, on the other hand, (as something which has been said seems to indicate,) he (Mr. Findley) means that it will absorb the governments of the individual states,so far is this position from being admitted, that it is unanswerably controverted.
The existence of the state governments is one of the most prominent features of this system. With regard to those purposes which are allowed to be for the general welfare of the Union, I think it no objection to this plan, that we are told it is a complete government. I think it no objection, that it is alleged the government will possess legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Should it have only legislative authority, we have had examples enough of such a government to deter us from continuing it. Shall Congress any longer continue to make requisitions from the several states, to be treated sometimes with silent and sometimes with declared contempt? For what purpose give the power to make laws, unless they are to be executed? and if they are to be executed, the executive and judicial powers will necessarily be engaged in the business.
Do we wish a return of those insurrections and tumults to which a sister state was lately exposed? or a government of such insufficiency as the present is found to be? Let me, sir, mention one circumstance in the recollection of every honorable gentleman who hears me. To the determination of Congress are submitted all disputes between states concerning boundary, jurisdiction, or right of soil. In consequence of this power, after much altercation, expense of time, and considerable expense of money, this state was successful enough to obtain a decree in her favor, in a difference then subsisting between her and Connecticut; but what was the consequence? The Congress had no power to carry the decree into execution. Hence the distraction and animosity, which have ever since prevailed, and still continue in that part of the country. Ought the government, then, to remain any longer incomplete? I hope not. No person can be so insensible to the lessons of experience as to desire it.
It is brought as an objection “that there will be a rivalship between the state governments and the general government; on each side endeavors will be made to increase power.”
Let us examine a little into this subject. The gentlemen tell you, sir, that they expect the states will not possess any power. But I think there is reason to draw a different conclusion. Under this system, their respectability and power will increase with that of the general government. I believe their happiness and security will increase in a still greater proportion. Let us attend a moment to the situation of this country. It is a maxim of every government, and it ought to be a maxim with us, that the increase of numbers increases the dignity and security, and the respectability, of all governments. It is the first command given by the Deity to man, Increase and multiply. This applies with peculiar force to this country, the smaller part of whose territory is vet inhabited. We are representatives, sir, not merely of the present age, but of future times; not merely of the territory along the sea-coast, but of regions immensely extended westward. We should fill, as fast as possible, this extensive country, with men who shall live happy, free, and secure. To accomplish this great end ought to be the leading view of all our patriots and statesmen. But how is it to be accomplished, but by establishing peace and harmony among ourselves, and dignity and respectability among foreign nations? By these means, we may draw members from the other side of the Atlantic, in addition to the natural sources of population. Can either of these objects be attained without a protecting head? When we examine history, we shall find an important fact, and almost the only fact which will apply to all confederacies:
They have all fallen to pieces, and have not absorbed the government.
In order to keep republics together, they must have a strong binding force, which must be either external or internal. The situation of this country shows that no foreign force can press us together; the bonds of our union ought therefore to be indissolubly strong.
The powers of the states, I apprehend, will increase With the population and the happiness of their inhabitants. Unless we can establish a character abroad, we shall be unhappy from foreign restraints or internal violence. These reasons, I think, prove sufficiently the necessity of having a federal head. Under it, the advantages enjoyed by the whole Union would be participated by every state. I wish honorable gentlemen would think not only of themselves, not only of the present age, but of others, and of future times.
It has been said “that the state governments will not be able to make head against the general government;” but it might be said, with more propriety, that the general government will not be able to maintain the powers given it against the encroachments and combined attacks of the state governments. They possess some particular advantages from which the general government is restrained. By this system there is a provision made in the Constitution, that no senator or representative shall be appointed to any civil office Under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during the time for which he was elected; and no person holding any office Under the United states can be a member of either house. But there is no similar security against state influence, as a representative may enjoy places, and even sinecures, under the state governments. On which side is the door most open to corruption? If a person in the legislature is to be influenced by an office, the general government can give him none unless he vacate his seat. When the influence of office comes from the state government, he can retain his seat and salary too. But it is added, under this head, “that state governments will lose the attachment of the people, by losing the power of conferring advantages, and that the people will not be at the expense of keeping them up.” Perhaps the state governments have already become so expensive as to alarm the gentlemen on that head. I am told that the civil list of this state amounted to £40,000 in one year. Under the proposed government, I think it would be possible to obtain, in Pennsylvania, every advantage we now possess, with a civil list that shall not exceed one third of that sum.
How differently the same thing is talked of, if it be a favorite or otherwise! When advantages to an officer are to be derived from the general government, we hear them mentioned by the name of bribery; but when we are told of the state governments’ losing the power of conferring advantages, by the disposal of offices, it is said they will lose the attachment of the people. What is in one instance corruption and bribery, is in another the power of conferring advantages.
We are informed “that the state elections will be ill attended, and that the state governments will become mere boards of electors.” Those who have a due regard for their country will discharge their duty and attend; but those who are brought only from interest or persuasion had better stay away; the public will not suffer any disadvantage from their absence. But the honest citizen, who knows the value of the privilege, will undoubtedly attend, to secure the man of his choice. The power and business of the state legislatures relate to the great objects of life, liberty and property; the same are also objects of the general government.
Certainly, the citizens of America will be as tenacious in the one instance as in the other. They will be interested, and I hope will exert themselves, to secure their rights not only from being injured by the state governments, but also from being injured by the general government.
“The power over elections, and of judging of elections, gives absolute sovereignty.” This power is given to every state legislature; yet I see no necessity that the power of absolute sovereignty should accompany it. My general position is, that the absolute sovereignty never goes from the people.
We are told “that it will be in the power of the Senate to prevent any addition of representatives to the lower house.”
I believe their power will be pretty well balanced; and though the Senate should have a desire to do this, yet the attempt will answer no purpose, for the House of Representatives will not let them have a farthing of public money till they agree to it; and the latter influence will be as strong as the other.
“Annual assemblies are necessary,” it is said; and I answer, in many instances they are very proper. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, they are elected for six months. In larger states, that period would be found very inconvenient; but, in a government as large as that of the United States, I presume that annual elections would be more disproportionate than elections for six months would be in some of our largest states.
“The British Parliament took to themselves the prolongation of their sitting to seven years. But, even in the British Parliament, the appropriations are annual.”
But, sir, how is the argument to apply here? How are the Congress to assume such a power? They cannot assume it under the Constitution, for that expressly provides, “The members of the House of Representatives shall be chosen, every two years, by the people of the several states, and the senators for six years.” So, if they take it at all, they must take it by usurpation and force.
Appropriations may be made for two years, though in the British Parliament they are made but for one. For some purposes, such appropriations may be made annually; but for every purpose, they are not: even for a standing army, they may be made for seven, ten, or fourteen years: the civil list is established during the life of a prince. Another objection is, “that the members of the Senate may enrich themselves; they may hold their office as long as they live, and there is no power to prevent them; the Senate will swallow up every thing.” I am not a blind admirer of this system. Some of the powers of the senators are not, with me, the favorite parts of it: but as they stand connected with other parts, there is still security against the efforts of that body. It was with great difficulty that security was obtained, and I may risk the conjecture that, if it is not now accepted, it never will be obtained again from the same states. Though the Senate was not a favorite of mine, as to some of its powers, yet it was a favorite with a majority in the Union; and we must submit to that majority, or we must break up the Union. It is but fair to repeat those reasons that weighed with the Convention: perhaps I shall not be able to do them justice; but yet I will attempt to show why additional powers were given to the Senate rather than to the House of Representatives. These additional powers, I believe, are, that of trying impeachments, that of concurring with the President in making treaties, and that of concurring in the appointment of officers. These are the powers that are stated as improper. It is fortunate, that, in the extent of every one of them, the Senate stands controlled. If it is that monster which it is said to be, it can only show its teeth; it is unable to bite or devour. With regard to impeachments, the Senate can try none but such as will be brought before them by the House of Representatives.
The Senate can make no treaties: they can approve of none, unless the President of the United States lays it before them. With regard to the appointment of officers, the President must nominate before they can vote; so that, if the powers of either branch are perverted, it must be with the approbation of some one of the other branches of government. Thus checked on each side, they can do no one act of themselves.
“The powers of Congress extend to taxationto direct taxationto internal taxationto poll taxesto excisesto other state and internal purposes.” Those who possess the power to tax, possess all other sovereign power. That their powers are thus extensive is admitted; and would any thing short of this have been sufficient? Is it the wish of these gentlemenif it is, let us hear their sentimentsthat the general government should subsist on the bounty of the states? Shall it have the power to contract, and no power to fulfil the contract? Shall it have the power to borrow money, and no power to pay the principal or interest? Must we go on in the track that we have hitherto pursued? And must we again compel those in Europe, who lent us money in our distress, to advance the money to pay themselves interest on the certificates of the debts due to them?
This was actually the case in Holland the last year. Like those who have shot one arrow, and cannot regain it they have been obliged to shoot another in the same direction, in order to recover the first. It was absolutely necessary, sir, that this government should possess these rights; and why should it not, as well as the state governments? Will this government be fonder of the exercise of this authority than those of the states are? Will the states, who are equally represented in one branch of the legislature, be more opposed to the payment of what shall be required by the future, than what has been required by the present Congress? Will the people, who must indisputably pay the whole, have more objections to the payment of this tax, because it is laid by persons of their own immediate appointment, even if those taxes were to continue as oppressive as they now are? But, under the general power of this system, that cannot be the case in Pennsylvania. Throughout the Union, direct taxation will be lessened, at least in proportion to the increase of the other objects of revenue. In the Constitution, a power is given to Congress to collect imposts, which is not given by the present Articles of the Confederation. A very considerable part of the revenue of the United States will arise from that source; it is the easiest, most just, and most productive mode of raising few revenue; and it is a safe one, because it is voluntary. No man is obliged to consume more than he pleases, and each buys in proportion only to his consumption. The price of the commodity is blended with the tax, and the person is often not sensible of the payment. But would it have been proper to rest the matter there? Suppose this fund should not prove sufficient; ought the public debts to remain unpaid, or the exigencies of government be left unprovided for? should our tranquillity be exposed to the assaults of foreign enemies, or violence among ourselves, because the objects of commerce may not furnish a sufficient revenue to secure theme all? Certainly, Congress should possess the power of raising revenue from their constituents, for the purpose mentioned in the 8th section of the 1st article; that is, “to pay the debt and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.” It has been common with the gentlemen, on this subject, to present us with frightful pictures. We are told of the hosts of tax-gatherers that will swarm through the land; and whenever taxes are mentioned, military force seems to be an attending idea. I think I may venture to predict that the taxes of the general government, if any shall be laid, will be more equitable, and much less expensive, than those imposed by state governments.
I shall not go into an investigation of this subject; but it must be confessed that scarcely any mode of laying and collecting taxes can be more burdensome than the present.
Another objection is, “that Congress may borrow money, keep up standing armies, and command the militia.” The present Congress possesses the power of borrowing money and of keeping up standing armies. Whether it will be proper at all times to keep up a body of troops, will be a question to be determined by Congress; but I hope the necessity will not subsist at all times. But if it should subsist, where is the gentleman that will say that they ought not to possess the necessary power of keeping them up?
It is urged, as a general objection to this system, that “the powers of Congress are unlimited and undefined, and that they will be the judges, in all cases, of what is necessary and proper for them to do.” To bring this subject to your view, I need do no more than point to the words in the Constitution, beginning at the 8th sect. art. 1st. “The Congress (it says) shall have power,” &c. I need not read over the words, but I leave it to every gentleman to say whether the powers are not as accurately and minutely defined, as can be well done on the same subject, in the same language. The old Constitution is as strongly marked on this subject; and even the concluding clause, with which so much fault has been found, gives no more or other powers; nor does it, in any degree, go beyond the Particular enumeration; for, when it is said that Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper, those words are limited and defined by the following, “for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” It is saying no more than that the powers we have already particularly given, shall be effectually carried into execution.
I shall not detain the house, at this time, with any further observations on the liberty of the press, until it is shown that Congress have any power whatsoever to interfere with it, by licensing it to declare what shall be a libel.
I proceed to another objection, which was not so fully stated as I believe it will be hereafter; I mean the objection against the judicial department. The gentleman from Westmoreland only mentioned it to illustrate his objection to the legislative department.
He said, “that the judicial powers were co-extensive with the legislative powers, and extend even to capital cases.” I believe they ought to be co-extensive; otherwise, law would be framed that could not be executed. Certainly, therefore, the executive and judicial departments ought to have power commensurate to the extent of the laws; for, as I have already asked, are we to give power to make laws, and no power to carry them into effect?
I am happy to mention the punishment annexed to one crime. You will find the current running strong in favor of humanity; for this is the first instance in which it has not been left to the legislature to extend the crime and punishment of treason so far as they thought proper. This punishment, and the description of this crime, are the great sources of danger and persecution, on the part of government, against the citizen. Crimes against the state! and against the officers of the state! History informs us that more wrong may be done on this subject than on any other whatsoever. But, under this Constitution, there can be no treason against the United States, except such as is defined in this Constitution. The manner of trial is clearly pointed out; the positive testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or a confession in open court, is required to convict any person of treason. And, after all, the consequences of the crime shall extend no further than the life of the criminal; for no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture, except during the life of the person attainted.
I come now to consider the last set of objections that are offered against this Constitution. It is urged that this is not such a system as was within the powers of the Convention; they assumed the power of proposing. I believe they might have made proposals without going beyond their powers. I never heard, before, that to make a proposal was an exercise of power. But if it is an exercise of power, they certainly did assume it; yet they did not act as that body who framed the present Constitution of Pennsylvania acted; they did not, by an ordinance, attempt to rivet the Constitution on the people, before they could vote for members of Assembly under it. Yet such was the effect of the ordinance that attended the Constitution of this commonwealth.
I think the late Convention has done nothing beyond their powers. The fact is, they have exercised no power at all; and, in point of validity, this Constitution, proposed by them for the government of the United States, claims no more than a production of the same nature would claim, flowing from a private pen. It is laid before the citizens of the United States, unfettered by restraint; it is laid before them to be judged by the natural, civil, and political rights of men. By their fiat, it will become of value and authority; without it, it will never receive the character of authenticity and power. The business, we are told, which was intrusted to the late Convention, was merely to amend the present Articles of Confederation. This observation has been frequently made, and has often brought to my mind a story that is related of Mr. Pope, who, it is well known, was not a little deformed. It was customary with him to use this phrase; “God mend me!” when any little accident happened. One evening, a link-boy was lighting him along, and, coming to a gutter, the boy jumped nimbly, over it. Mr. Pope called to him to turn, adding, “God mend me!” The arch rogue, turning to light him, looked at him, and repeated, “God mend you! He would sooner make half-a-dozen new ones.” This would apply to the present Confederation; for it would be easier to make another than to amend this. The gentlemen urge that this is such a government as was not expected by the people, the legislatures, nor by the honorable gentlemen who mentioned it. Perhaps it was not such as was expected, but it may be better; and is that a reason why it should not be adopted? It is not worse, I trust, than the former. So that the argument of its being a system not expected, is an argument more strong in its favor than against it.
The letter which accompanies this Constitution must strike every person with the utmost force.
“The friends of our country have long seen and desired that the power of war, peace, and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the corresponding executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union; but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men, is evident. Hence results the necessity of a different organization.“
I therefore do not think that it can be urged, as an objection against this system, that it was not expected by the people. We are told, to add greater force to these objections, that they are not on local but on general principles, and that they are uniform throughout the United States. I confess I am not altogether of that opinion; I think some of the objections are inconsistent with others, arising from a different quarter, and I think some are inconsistent even with those derived from the same source. But, on this occasion, let us take the fact for granted, that they are all on general principles, and uniform throughout the United States. Then we can judge of their full amount; and what are they, but trifles light as air? We see the whole force of them; for, according to the sentiments of opposition, they can nowhere be stronger, or more fully stated, than here. The conclusion, from all these objections, is reduced to a point, and the plan is declared to be inimical to our liberties. I have said nothing, and mean to say nothing, concerning the dispositions or characters of those that framed the work now before you. I agree that it ought to be judged by its own intrinsic qualities. If it has not merit, weight of character ought not to carry it into effect. On the other hand, if it has merit, and is calculated to secure the blessings of liberty, rand to promote the general welfare, then such objections as have hitherto been made ought not to influence us to reject it.
I am now led to consider those qualities that this system of government possesses, which will entitle it to the attention of the United States. But as I have somewhat fatigued myself, as well as the patience of the honorable members of this house, I shall defer what I have to add on this subject until the afternoon.
Eodem Die, P. M.Mr. WILSON. Before I proceed to consider those qualities in the Constitution before us, which I think will insure it our approbation, permit me to make some remarksand they shall be very conciseupon the objections that were offered this forenoon, by the member from Fayette, (Mr. Smilie.) I do it at this time, because I think it will be better to give a satisfactory answer to the whole of the objections, before I proceed to the other part of my subject. I find that the doctrine of a single legislature is not to be contended for in this Constitution. I shall therefore say nothing on that point. I shall consider that part of the system, when we come to view its excellences. Neither shall I take particular notice of his observation on the qualified negative of the President; for he finds no fault with it: he mentions, however, that he thinks it a vain and useless power, because it can never be executed. The reason he assigns for this is, that the king of Great Britain, who has an absolute negative over the laws proposed by Parliament, has never exercised it, at least for many years. It is true, and the reason why he did not exercise it was that, during all that time, the king possessed a negative before the bill had passed through the two housesa much stronger power than a negative after debate. I believe, since the revolution, at the time of William III., it was never known that a bill disagreeable to the crown passed both houses. At one time, in the reign of Queen Anne, when there appeared some danger of this being effected, it is well known that she created twelve peers, and by that means effectually defeated it. Again: there was some risk, of late years, in the present reign, with regard to Mr. Fox’s East India Bill, as it is usually called, that passed through the House of Commons; but the king had interest enough in the House of Peers to have it thrown out; thus it never came up for the royal assent. But that is no reason why this negative should not be exercised here, and exercised with great advantage. Similar powers are known in more than one of the states. The governors of Massachusetts and New York have a power similar to this, and it has been exercised frequently to good effect.
I believe the governor of New York, under this power, has been known to send back five or six bills in a week; and I well recollect that, at the time the funding system was adopted by our legislature, the people in that state considered the negative of the governor as a great security that their legislature would not be able to encumber them by a similar measure. Since that time, an alteration has been supposed in the governor’s conduct, but there has been no alteration in his power.
The honorable gentleman from Westmoreland, (Mr. Findley,) by his highly-refined critical abilities, discovers an inconsistency in this part of the Constitution, and that which declares, in section 1, “All legislative powers, herein granted, shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives;” and yet here, says he, is a power of legislation given to the President of the United States, because every bill, before it becomes a law, shall be presented to him. Thus he is said to possess legislative powers. Sir, the Convention observed, on tiffs occasion, strict propriety of language: “If he approve the bill, when it is sent, he shall sign it, but if not, he shall return it;” but no bill passes in consequence of having his assent: therefore, he possesses no legislative authority.
The effect of this power, upon this subject, is merely this: if he disapproves a bill, two thirds of the legislature become necessary to pass it into a law, instead of a bare majority. And when two thirds are in favor of the bill, it becomes a law, not by his, but by authority of the two houses of the legislature. We are told, in the next place, by the honorable gentleman from Fayette, (Mr. Smilie,) that, in the different orders of mankind, there is that of a natural aristocracy. On some occasions there is a kind of magical expression, used to conjure up ideas that may create uneasiness and apprehension. I hope the meaning of the words is understood by the gentleman who used them. I have asked repeatedly of gentlemen to explain, but have not been able to obtain the explanations of what they meant by a consolidated government. They keep round and round about the thing, but never define. I ask now what is meant by a natural aristocracy. I am not at a loss for the etymological definition of the term; for, when we trace it to the language from which it is derived, an aristocracy means nothing more or less than a government of the best men in the community, or those who are recommended by the words of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, where it is directed that the representatives should consist of those most noted for wisdom and virtue. Is there any danger in such representation? I shall never find fault that such characters are employed. How happy for us, when such characters can be obtained! If this is meant by a natural aristocracy,and I know no other,can it be objectionable that men should be employed that are most noted for their virtue and talents? And are attempts made to mark out these as the most improper persons for the public confidence?
I had the honor of giving a definitionand I believe it was a just oneof what is called an aristocratic government. It is a government where the supreme power is not retained by the people, but resides in a select body of men, who either fill up the vacancies that happen, by their own choice and election, or succeed on the principle of descent, or by virtue of territorial possessions, or some other qualifications that are not the result of personal properties. When I speak of personal properties, I mean the qualities of the head and the disposition of the heart.
We are told that the representatives will not be known to the people, nor the people to the representatives, because they will be taken from large districts, where they cannot be particularly acquainted. There has been some experience, in several of the states, upon this subject; and I believe the experience of all who had experience, demonstrates that the larger the district of election, the better the representation. It is only in remote corners of a government that little demagogues arise. Nothing but real weight of character can give a man real influence over a large district. This is remarkably shown in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. The members of the House of Representatives are chosen in very small districts; and such has been the influence of party cabal, and little intrigue in them, that a great majority seem inclined to show very little disapprobation of the conduct of the insurgents in that state.
The governor is chosen by the people at large, and that state is much larger than any district need be under the proposed Constitution. In their choice of their governor, they have had warm disputes; but, however warm the disputes, their choice only vibrated between the most eminent characters; Four of their candidates are well knownMr. Hancock, Mr. Bowdoin, General Lincoln, and Mr. Goreham, the late president of Congress.
I apprehend it is of more consequence to be able to know the true interest of the people than their faces, and of more consequence still to have virtue enough to pursue the means of carrying that knowledge usefully into effect. And surely, when it has been thought, hitherto, that a representation, in Congress, of from five to two members, was sufficient torepresent the interest of this state, is it not more than sufficient to have ten members in that bodyand those in a greater comparative proportion than heretofore? The citizens of Pennsylvania will be represented by eight, and the state by two. This, certainly, though not gaining enough, is gaining a good deal; the members will be more distributed through the state, being the immediate choice of the people, who hitherto have not been represented in that body. It is said, that the House of Representatives will be subject to corruption, and the Senate possess the means of corrupting, by the share they have in the appointment to office. This was not spoken in the soft language of attachment to government. It is, perhaps, impossible, with all the caution of legislators and statesmen, to exclude corruption and undue influence entirely from government. All that can be done, upon this subject, is done in the Constitution before you. Yet it behoves us to call out, and add every guard and preventive in our power. I think, sir, something very important, on this subject, is done in the present system; for it has been provided, effectually, that the man that has been bribed by an office shall have it no longer in his power to earn his wages. The moment he is engaged to serve the Senate, in consequence of their gift, he no longer has it in his power to sit in the House of Representatives; for “No representative shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office, under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during such time.” And the following annihilates corruption of that kind: “And no person holding any office under the United States shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.” So the mere acceptance of an office, as a bribe, effectually destroys the end for which it was offered. Was this attended to when it was mentioned that the members of the one house could be bribed by the other? “But the members of the Senate may enrich themselves,” was an observation made as an objection to this system.
As the mode of doing this has not been pointed out, I apprehend the objection is not much relied upon. The Senate are incapable of receiving any money, except what is paid them out of the public treasury. They cannot vote to themselves a single penny, unless the proposition originates from the other house. This objection, therefore, is visionary, likethe following one”that pictured group, that numerous host, and prodigious swarm of officers, which are to be appointed under the general government.” The gentlemen tell you that there must be judges of the supreme, and judges of the inferior courts, with all their appendages: there will be tax gatherers swarming throughout the land. “O!” say they, “if we could enumerate the offices, and the numerous officers that must be employed every day in collecting, receiving, and comptrolling, the moneys of the United States, the number would be almost beyond imagination.”
I have been told, but I do not vouch for the fact, that there are, in one shape or another, more than a thousand persons, in this very state, who get their living by assessing and collecting our revenues from the other citizens. Sir, when this business of revenue is conducted on a general plan, we may be able to do the business of the thirteen states with an equal, nay, with a less number: instead of thirteen comptroller-generals, one comptroller will be sufficient. I apprehend that the number of officers, under this system, will be greatly reduced from the number now employed; for, as Congress can now do nothing effectually, the states are obliged to do every thing; and in this very point I apprehend that we shall be great gainers.
Sir, I confess I wish the powers of the Senate were not as they are. I think it would have been better if those powers had been distributed in other parts of the system. I mentioned some circumstances, to the forenoon, that I had observed on this subject. I may mention now, we may think ourselves very well off, sir, that things are as well as they are, and that that body is even so much restricted. But surely objections of this kind come with a bad grace from the advocates, or those who prefer the present Confederation, and who wish only to increase the powers of the present Congress. A single body, not constituted with checks, like the proposed one, who possess not only the power of making treaties, but executive powers, would be a perfect despotism; but further, these powers are, in the present Confederation, possessed without control.
As I mentioned before, so I will beg leave to repeat, that this Senate can do nothing without the concurrence of some other branch of the government. With regard to their concern in the appointment to offices, the President must nominate before they can be chosen; the President must acquiesce in that appointment. With regard to their power in forming treaties, they can make none; they are only auxiliaries to the President. They must try all impeachments; but they have no power to try any until presented by the House of Representatives; and when I consider this subject, though I wish the regulation better, I think no danger to the liberties of this country can arise even from that part of the system. But these objections, I say, come with a bad grace from those who prefer the present Confederation, who think it only necessary to add more powers to a body organized in that form. I confess, likewise, that by combining those powers of trying impeachments, and making treaties, in the same body, it will not be so easy, as I think it ought to be, to call the senators to an account for any improper conduct in that business.
Those who proposed this system were not inattentive to do all they could. I admit the force of the observation made by the gentleman from Fayette, (Mr. Smilie,) that, when two thirds of the Senate concur to forming a bad treaty, it will be hard to procure a vote of two thirds against them, if they should be impeached. I think such a thing is not to be expected; and so far they are without that immediate degree of responsibility which I think requisite to make this part of the work perfect. But this will not be always the case. When a member of the Senate shall behave criminally, the criminality will not expire with his office. The senators may be called to account after they shall have been changed, and the body to which they belonged shall have been altered. There is a rotation; and every second year one third of the whole number go out. Every fourth year two thirds of them are changed. In six years the whole body is supplied by a new one. Considering it in this view, responsibility is not entirely lost. There is another view in which it ought to be considered, which will show that we have a greater degree of security. Though they may not be convicted on impeachment before the Senate, they may be tried by their country; and if their criminality is established, the law will punish. A grand jury may present, a petty jury may convict, and the judges will pronounce the punishment. This is all that can be done under the present Confederation, for under it there is no power of impeachment; even here, then, we gain something. Those parts that are exceptionable, in this Constitution, are improvements on that concerning which so much pains are taken, to persuade us that it is preferable to the other.
The last observation respects the judges. It is said that, if they are to decide against the law, one house will impeach them, and the other will convict them. I hope gentlemen will show how this can happen; for bare supposition ought not to be admitted as proof. The judges are to be impeached, because they decide an act null and void, that was made in defiance of the Constitution! What House of Representatives would dare to impeach, or Senate to commit, judges for the performance of their duty? These observations are of a similar kind to those with regard to the liberty of the press.
I will proceed to take some notice of those qualities in this Constitution that I think entitle it to our respect and favor. I have not yet done, sir, with the great principle on which it stands; I mean the practical recognition of this doctrinethat, in the United States, the people retain the supreme power.
In giving a definition of the simple kinds of government known throughout the world, I had occasion to describe what I meant by a democracy; and I think I termed it, that government in which the people retain the supreme power, and exercise it either collectively or by representation. This Constitution declares this principle, in its terms and in its consequences, which is evident from the manner in which it is announced. “We, the People of the United States.” After all the examination which I am able to give the subject, I view this as the only sufficient and most honorable basis, both for the people and government, on which our Constitution can possibly rest. What are all the contrivances of states, of kingdoms, and empires? What are they all intended for? They are all intended for man; and our natural character and natural fights are certainly to take place, in preference to all artificial refinements that human wisdom can devise.
I am astonished to hear the ill-founded doctrine, that the states alone ought to be represented in the federal government; these must possess sovereign authority, forsooth, and the people be forgot. No. Let us reascend to first principles. That expression is not strong enough to do my ideas justice.
Let us retain first principles. The people of the United States are now in the possession and exercise of their original rights; and while this doctrine is known, and operates, we shall have a cure for every disease.
I shall mention another good quality belonging to this system. In it the legislative, executive, and judicial powers are kept nearly independent and distinct. I express myself in this guarded manner, because I am aware of some powers that are blended in the Senate. They are but few; and they are not dangerous. It is an exception; yet that exception consists of but few instances, and none of them dangerous. I believe in no constitution for any country on earth is this great principle so strictly adhered to, or marked with so much precision and accuracy, as this. It is much more accurate than that which the honorable gentleman so highly extols: I mean, the constitution of England. There, sir, one branch of the legislature can appoint members of another. The king has the power of introducing members into the House of Lords. I have already mentioned that, in order to obtain a vote, twelve peers were poured into that house at one time. The operation is the same as might be under this Constitution, if the President had a right to appoint the members of the Senate. This power of the king extends into the other branch, where, though he cannot immediately introduce a member, yet he can do it remotely, by virtue of his prerogative, as he may create boroughs with power to send members to the House of Commons. The House of Lords form a much stronger exception to this principle than the Senate in this system; for the House of Lords possess judicial powersnot only that of trying impeachments, but that of trying their own members, and civil causes, when brought before them from the courts of chancery and the other courts in England.
If we therefore consider this Constitution with regard to this special object, though it is not so perfect as I could wish, yet it is more perfect than any government that I know.
I proceed to another property, which I think will recommend it to those who consider the effects of beneficence and wisdom; I mean the division of this legislative authority into two branches. I had an opportunity of dilating somewhat on this subject before; and as is not likely to afford a subject of debate, I shall take no further notice of it than barely to mention it. The next good quality that I remark is, that the executive authority is one. By this means we obtain very important advantages. We may discover from history, from reason, and from experience, the security which this furnishes. The executive power is better to be trusted when it has no screen. Sir, we have a responsibility in the person of our President; he cannot act improperly, and hide either his negligence or inattention; he cannot roll upon any other person the weight of his criminality; no appointment can take place without his nomination; and he is responsible for every nomination he makes. We secure vigor. We well know what numerous executives are. We know there is neither vigor, decision, nor responsibility, in them. Add to all this, that officer is placed high, and is possessed of power far from being contemptible; yet not a single privilege is annexed to his character; far from being above the laws, he is amenable to them in his private character as a citizen, and in his public character by impeachment.
Sir, it has often been a matter of surprise, and frequently complained of even in Pennsylvania, that the independence of the judges is not properly secured. The servile dependence of the judges, in some of the states that have neglected to make proper provision on this subject, endangers the liberty and property of the citizen; and I apprehend that, whenever it has happened that the appointment has been for a less period than during good behavior, this object has not been sufficiently secured; for if, every five or seven years, the judges are obliged to make court for their appointment to office, they cannot be styled independent. This is not the case with regard to those appointed under the general government; for the judges here shall hold their offices during good behavior. I hope no further objections will be taken against this part of the Constitution, the consequence of which will be, that private property, so far as it comes before their courts, and personal liberty, so far as it is not forfeited by crimes, will be guarded with firmness and watchfulness.
It may appear too professional to descend into observations of this kind; but I believe that public happiness, personal liberty, and private property, depend essentially upon able and upright determinations of independent judges.
Permit me to make one more remark on the subject of the judicial department. Its objects are extended beyond the bounds or power of every particular state, and therefore must be proper objects of the general government. I do not recollect any instance where a case can come before the judiciary of the United States, that could possibly be determined by a particular state, except onewhich is, where citizens of the same state claim lands under the grant or different states; and in that instance, the power of the two states necessarily comes in competition; wherefore them would be great impropriety in having it determined by either.
Sir, I think there is another subject with regard to which this Constitution deserves approbation, l mean the accuracy with which the line is drawn between the powers of the general government and those of the particular state governments. We have heard some general observations, on this subject, from the gentlemen who conduct the opposition. They have asserted that these powers are unlimited and undefined. These words are as easily pronounced as limited and defined. They have already been answered by my honorable colleague, (Mr. M’Kean;) therefore I shall not enter into an explanation. But it is not pretended that the line is drawn with mathematical precision; the inaccuracy of language must, to a certain degree, prevent the accomplish of such a desire. Whoever views the matter in a true light, will see that the powers are as minutely enumerated and defined as was possible, and will also discover that the general clause, against which so much exception is taken, is nothing more than what was necessary to render effectual the particular powers that are granted.
But let us supposeand the supposition is very easy in the minds of the gentlemen on the other sidethat there is some difficulty in ascertaining where the true line lies. Are we therefore thrown into despair? Are disputes between the general government and the state governments to be necessarily the consequence of inaccuracy? I hope, they will not be the enemies of each other, or resemble comets in conflicting orbits, mutually operating destruction; but that their motion will be better represented by that of the planetary system, where each part moves harmoniously within its proper sphere, and no injury arises by interference or opposition. Every part, I trust, will be considered as a part of the United States. Can any cause of distrust arise here? Is there any increase of risk? Or, rather, are not the enumerated powers as well defined here, as in the present Articles of Confederation?
Permit me to proceed to what I deem another excellency of this system: all authority, of every kind, is derived by REPRESENTATION from the PEOPLE, and the DEMOCRATIC principle is carried into every part of the government. I had an opportunity, when I spoke first, of going fully into an elucidation of this subject. I mean not now to repeat what l then said.
I proceed to another quality, that I think estimable in this system: it secures, in the strongest manner, the right of suffrage. Montesquieu, book 2d, chap. 2d, speaking of laws relative to democracy, says,
“When the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power, this is called a democracy. When the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a part of the people, it is then an aristocracy.
“In a democracy the people are in some respects the sovereign, and in others the subject.
“There can be no exercise of sovereignty but by their suffrages, which are their own will. Now, the sovereign’s will is the sovereign himself. The laws, therefore, which establish the right of suffrage, are fundamental to this government. And, indeed, it is as important to regulate, in a republic, in what manner, by whom, to whom, and concerning what, suffrages are to be given, as it is, in a monarchy, to know who is the prince, and after what manner he ought to govern.”
In this system, it is declared that the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature This being made the criterion of the right of suffrage, it is consequently secured, because the same Constitution guaranties to every state in the Union a republican form of government. The right of Suffrage is fundamental to republics.
Sir, there is another principle that I beg leave to mention. Representation and direct taxation, under this Constitution, are to be according to numbers. As this is a subject which I believe has not been gone into in this house, it will be worth while to show the sentiments of some respectable writers thereon. Montesquieu, in considering the requisitesin a confederate republic, book 9th, chap, 3d, speaking of Holland, observes, “It is difficult for the united states to be all of equal power and extent. The Lycian (Strabo, lib. 14) republic was an association of twenty-three towns; the large ones had three votes in the common council, the middling ones two, and the small towns one. The Dutch republic consists of seven provinces, of different extent of territory, which have each one voice.
“The cities of Lycia (Strabo, lib. 14) contributed to the expenses of the state, according to the proportion of suffrages. The provinces of the United Netherlands cannot follow this proportion; they must be directed by that of their power.
“In Lycia, (Strabo, lib 14,) the judges and town magistrates were elected by the common council, and according to the proportion already mentioned. In the republic of Holland, they are not chosen by the common council, but each town names its magistrates. Were I to give a model of an excellent confederate republic, I should pitch upon that of Lycia.”
I have endeavored, in all the books that I have access to, to acquire some information relative to the Lycian republic; but its history is not to be found; the few facts that relate to it are mentioned only by Strabo; and however excellent the model it might present, we were reduced to the necessity of working without it. Give me leave to quote the sentiments of another author, whose peculiar situation and extensive worth throw a lustre on all he says. I mean Mr. Necker, whose ideas are very exalted, both in theory and practical knowledge, on this subject. He approaches the nearest to the truth in his calculations from experience, and it is very remarkable that he makes use of that expression. His words are, (Necker on Finance, vol. i. p. 308,)
“Population can therefore be only looked on as an exact measure of comparison When the provinces have resources nearly equal; but even this imperfect rule of proportion ought norm be neglected; and of all the objects which may be subjected to a determined and positive calculation, that of the taxes, to the population, approaches nearest to the truth.”
Another good quality in this Constitution is, that the members of the legislature cannot hold offices under the authority of this government. The operation of this, I apprehend, would be found to be very extensive, and very salutary, in this country, to prevent those intrigues, those factions, that corruption, that would otherwise rise here, and have risen so plentifully in every other country. The reason why it is necessary in England to continue such influence, is, that the crown, in order to secure its own influence against two other branches of the legislature, must continue to bestow places; but those places produce the opposition which frequently runs so strong in the British Parliament.
Members who do not enjoy offices combine against those who do enjoy them. It is not from principle that they thwart the ministry in all its operations. No; their language is, Let us turn them out, and succeed to their places. The great source of corruption, in that country, is, that persons may hold offices under the crown, and seats in the legislature, at the same time.
I shall conclude, at present,and I have endeavored to be as concise as possible,with mentioning that, in my humble opinion, the powers of the general government are necessary and well defined; that the restraints imposed on it, and those imposed on the state governments, are rational and salutary; and that it is entitled in the approbation of those for whom it was intended.
I recollect, on a former day, the honorable gentleman from Westmoreland, (Mr. Findley,) and the honorable gentleman from Cumberland, (Mr. Whitehill,) took exceptions against the 1st clause of the 9th sect., art. 1, arguing, very unfairly, that, because Congress might impose a tax or duty of ten dollars on the importation of slaves, within any of the United States, Congress might therefore permit slaves to be imported within this state, contrary to its laws. I confess, I little thought that this part of the system would be excepted, to.
I am sorry that it could be extended no farther; but so far as it operates, it presents us with the pleasing prospect that the rights of mankind will be acknowledged and established throughout, the Union.
If there was no other lovely feature in the Constitution but this one, it would diffuse a beauty over its whole countenance. Yet the lapse of a few years, and Congress will have power to exterminate slavery from within our borders.
How would such a delightful prospect expand the breast of a benevolent and philanthropic European! Would he cavil at an expression? catch at a phrase? No, sir, that is only reserved for the gentleman on the other side of your chair to do. What would be the exultation of that great man, whose name I have just now mentioned, we may learn from the following sentiments on this subject; they cannot be expressed so well as in his own words (vol. 1, page 329.)
“The colonies of France contain, as we have seen, near five hundred thousand slaves; and it is from the number of these wretches the inhabitants set a value on their plantations. What a fatal prospect, and how profound a subject for reflection! Alas! how inconsequent we are, both in our morality and our principles! We preach up humanity, and yet go every year to bind in chains twenty thousand natives of Africa. We call the Moors barbarians and ruffians, because they attack the liberty of Europeans at the risk of their own; yet these Europeans go, without danger, and as mere speculators, to purchase slaves, by gratifying the cupidity of their masters, and excite all those bloody scenes which are the usual preliminaries of this traffic! In short, we pride ourselves on the superiority of man, and it is with reason that we discover this superiority in the wonderful and mysterious unfolding of the intellectual faculties; and yet the trifling difference in the hair of the head, or in the color of the epidermis, is sufficient to change our respect into contempt, and to engage us to place beings like ourselves in the rank of those animals devoid of reason, whom we subject to the yoke, that we may make use of their strength and of their instinct at command.
“I am sensible, and I grieve at it, that these reflections, which others have made much better than I, are unfortunately of very little use! The necessity of Supporting sovereign power has its peculiar laws, and the wealth of nations is one of the foundations of this power: thus the sovereign who should be the most thoroughly convinced of what is due to humanity, would not singly renounce the service of slaves in his colonies: time alone could furnish a population of free people to replace them, and the great difference that would exist in the price of labor would give so great an advantage to the nation that should adhere to the old custom, that the others would soon be discouraged in wishing to be more virtuous. And yet, would it be a chimerical project to propose a general compact, by which all the European nations should unanimously agree to abandon the traffic of African slaves! they would, in that case, find themselves exactly in the same proportion, relative to each other, as at present; for it is only on comparative riches that the calculations of power are founded.
“We cannot as yet indulge such hopes; statesmen in general think that every common idea must he a low one; and since the morals of private people stand in need of being curbed and maintained by the laws, we ought not to wonder if those of sovereigns conform to their independence.
“The time may nevertheless arrive, when, fatigued of that ambition which agitates them, and of the continual rotation of the same anxieties and the same plans, they may turn their views to the great principles of humanity; and if the present generation is to be witness of this happy revolution, they may at least be allowed to be unanimous in offering up their vows for the perfection of the social virtues, and for the progress of public beneficial institutions.”
These are the enlarged sentiments of that great man.
Permit me to make a single observation, in this place, on the restraints placed on the state governments. If only the following lines were inserted in this Constitution, I think it would be worth our adoption: “No state shall hereafter emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bills of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.” Fatal experience has taught us, dearly taught us, the value of these restraints. What is the consequence even at this moment? It is true, we have no tender law in Pennsylvania; but the moment you are conveyed across the Delaware, you find it haunt your journey, and follow close upon your heels. The paper passes commonly at twenty-five or thirty per cent. discount. How insecure is property!
These are a few of those properties in this system, that, I think, recommend it to our serious attention, and will entitle it to receive the adoption of the United States. Others might be enumerated, and others still will probably be disclosed by experience.