Elliot’s Debates: Virginia Ratifying Convention: June 11, 1788
The Debates in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
In Convention, Richmond, Wednesday, June 11, 1788[The 1st and 2d sections still under consideration.]
Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, it was my purpose to resume, before now, what I had left unfinished concerning the necessity of a radical change of our system. The intermission which has taken place discontinued the progress of the argument, and has given opportunity to others to advance arguments on different parts of the plan. I hope we shall steer our course in a different manner from what we have hitherto done. I presume that vague discourses and mere sports of fancy, not relative to the subject at all, are very improper on this interesting occasion. I hope these will be no longer attempted, but that we shall come to the point. I trust we shall not go out of order, but confine ourselves to the clause under consideration. I beg gentlemen would observe this rule. I shall endeavor not to depart from it myself.
The subject of direct taxation is perhaps one of the most important that can possibly engage our attention, or that can be involved in the discussion of this question. If it be to be judged by the comments made upon it, by the opposers and favorers of the proposed system, it requires a most clear and critical investigation. The objections against the exercise of this power by the general government, as far as I am able to comprehend them, are founded upon the supposition of its being unnecessary, impracticable, unsafe, and accumulative of expense. I shall therefore consider, 1st, how far it may be necessary; 2d, how far it may be practicable; 3d, how far it may be safe, as well with respect to the public liberty at large, as to the state legislatures; and 4th, with respect to economy. First, then, is it necessary? I must acknowledge that I concur in opinion with those gentlemen who told you that this branch of revenue was essential to the salvation of the Union. It appears to me necessary, in order to secure that punctuality which is necessary in revenue matters, without punctuality, individuals will give it no confidence, without which it cannot get resources. I beg gentlemen to consider the situation of this country, if unhappily the government were to be deprived of this power. Let us suppose, for a moment, that one of those powers which may be unfriendly to us should take advantage of our weakness, which they will be more ready to do when they know the want of this resource in our government. Suppose it should attack us; what forces could we oppose to it? Could we find safety in such forces as we could call out? Could we call forth a sufficient number, either by draughts, or any other way, to repel a powerful enemy? The inability of the government to raise and support regular troops would compel us to depend on militia.
It would be then necessary to give this power to the government, or run the risk of national annihilation. It is my firm belief that, if a hostile attack were made this moment on the United States, it would flash conviction on the minds of the citizens of the United States of the necessity of vesting the government with this power, which alone can enable it to protect the community. I do not wish to frighten the members into a concession of this power, but to bring to their minds those considerations which demonstrate its necessity. If we were secured from the possibility, or probability, of danger, it might be unnecessary. I shall not review that concourse of dangers which may probably arise at remote periods of futurity, nor all those which we have immediately to apprehend, for this would lead me beyond the bounds which I prescribed myself. But I will mention one single consideration, drawn from fact itself. I hope to have your attention.
By the treaty between the United States and his most Christian majesty, among other things, it is stipulated that the great principle on which the armed neutrality in Europe was founded should prevail in case of future wars. The principle is thisthat free ships shall make free goods, and that vessels and goods shall be both free from condemnation. Great Britain did not recognize it. While all Europe was against her, she held out without acting on it. It has been considered, for some time past, that the flames of war, already kindled, would spread, and that France and England were likely to draw those swords which were so recently put up. This is judged probable. We should not be surprised, in a short time, to consider ourselves as a neutral nationFrance on one side, and Great Britain on the other. What is the situation of America? She is remote from Europe, and ought not to engage in her politics or wars. The American vessels, if they can do it with advantage, may carry on the commerce of the contending nations. It is a source of wealth which we ought not to deny to our citizens. But, sir, is there not infinite danger that, in despite of all our caution, we shall be drawn into the war? If American vessels have French property on board, Great Britain will seize them. By this means we shall be obliged to relinquish the advantage of a neutral nation, or be engaged in a war.
A neutral nation ought to be respectable, or else it will be insulted and attacked. America, in her present impotent situation, would run the risk of being drawn in as a party in the war, and lose the advantage of being neutral. Should it happen that the British fleet should be superior, have we not reason to conclude, from the spirit displayed by that nation to us and to all the world, that we should be insulted in our own ports, and our vessels seized? But if we be in a respectable situation, if it be known that our government can command the whole resources of the Union, we shall be suffered to enjoy the great advantages of carrying on the commerce of the nations at war; for none of them would be willing to add us to the number of their enemies. I shall say no more on this point, there being others which merit your consideration.
The expedient proposed by the gentlemen opposed to this clause is, that requisitions shall be made, and, if not complied with in a certain time, that then taxation shall be recurred to. I am clearly convinced that, whenever requisitions shall be made, they will disappoint those who put their trust in them. One reason to prevent the concurrent exertions of all the states, will arise from the suspicion, in some states, of delinquency in others. States will be governed by the motives that actuate individuals.
When a tax is in operation in a particular state, every citizen, if he knows the energy of the laws to enforce payment, and that every other citizen is performing his duty, will cheerfully discharge his duty; but were it known that the citizens of one district were not performing their duty, and that it was left to the policy of the government to make them come up with it, the other districts would be very supine and careless in making provisions for payment. Our own experience makes the illustration more natural. If requisitions be made on thirteen different states, when one deliberates on the subject, she will know that all the rest will deliberate upon it also. This, sir, has been a principal cause of the inefficacy of requisitions heretofore, and will hereafter produce the same evil. If the legislatures are to deliberate on this subject, (and the honorable gentleman opposed to this clause thinks their deliberation necessary,) is it not presumable that they will consider peculiar local circumstances? In the general council, on the contrary, the sense of all America would be drawn to a single point. The collective interest of the Union at large will be known and pursued. No local views will be permitted to operate against the general welfare. But when propositions would come before a particular state, there is every reason to believe that qualifications of the requisitions would be proposed; compliance might be promised, and some instant remittances might be made. This will cause delays, which, in the first instance, will produce disappointment. This also will make failures everywhere else. This, I hope, will be considered with the attention it deserves. The public creditors will be disappointed, and more pressing. Requisitions will be made for purposes equally pervading all America; but the exertions to make compliances will probably be not uniform in the states. If requisitions be made for future occasions, for putting the states in a state of military defence, or to repel an invasion, will the exertions be uniform and equal in all the states? Some parts of the United States are more exposed than others. Will the least exposed states exert themselves equally? We know that the most exposed will be the more immediately interested, and will make less sacrifices in making exertions. I beg gentlemen to consider that this argument will apply with most effect to the states which are most defenceless and exposed. The Southern States are most exposed, whether we consider their situation, or the smallness of their population. And there are other circumstances which render them still more vulnerable, which do not apply to the Northern States. They are therefore more interested in giving the government a power to command the whole strength of the Union in cases of emergency. Do not gentlemen conceive this mode of obtaining supplies from the states will keep alive animosities between the general government and particular states? Where the chances of failures are so numerous as thirteen, by the thirteen states, disappointment in the first place, and consequent animosity, must inevitably take place.
Let us consider the alternatives proposed by gentlemen, instead of the power of laying direct taxes. After the states shall have refused to comply, weigh the consequences of the exercise of this power by Congress. When it comes in the form of a punishment, great clamors will be raised among the people against the government; hatred will be excited against it. It will be considered as an ignominious stigma on the state. It will be considered, at least, in this light by the state where the failure is made, and these sentiments will no doubt be diffused through the other states. Now, let us consider the effect, if collectors are sent where the State governments refuse to comply with requisitions. It is too much the disposition of mankind not to stop at one violation of duty. I conceive that every requisition that will be made on my part of America will kindle a contention between the delinquent member and the general government. Is there no reason to suppose divisions in the government (for seldom does any thing pass with unanimity) on the subject of requisitions? The parts least exposed will oppose those measures which may be adopted for the defence of the weakest parts. Is there no reason to presume that the representatives from the delinquent state will be more likely to foster disobedience to the requisitions of the government than study to recommend them to the public?
There is, in my opinion, another point of view in which this alternative will produce great evil. I will suppose, what is very probable, that partial compliances will be made. A difficulty here arises which fully demonstrates its impolicy. If a part be paid, and the rest withheld, how is the general government to proceed? They are to impose a tax; but how shall it be done in this case? Are they to impose it, by way of punishment, on those who have paid, as well as those who have not? All these considerations taken into view (for they are not visionary or fanciful speculations) will, perhaps, produce this consequence: The general government, to avoid those disappointments which I first described, and to avoid the contentions and embarrassments which I last described, will, in all probability, throw the public burdens on those branches of revenue which will be more in their power. They will be continually necessitated to augment the imposts. If we throw a disproportion of the burdens on that side, shall we not discourage commerce and suffer many political evils? Shall we not increase that disproportion on the Southern States, which for some time will operate against us? The Southern States, from having fewer manufactures, will import and consume more. They will therefore pay more of the imposts. The more commerce is burdened, the more the disproportion will operate against them. If direct taxation be mixed with other taxes, it will be in the power of the general government to lessen that inequality. But this inequality will be increased to the utmost extent, if the general government have not this power.
There is another point of view in which this subject affords us instruction. The imports will decrease in time of war. The honorable gentleman who spoke yesterday said that the imposts would be so productive that there would be no occasion of laying taxes. I will submit two observations to him and the committee. First, in time of war, the imposts will be less; and as I hope we are considering a government for a perpetual duration, we ought to provide for, every future contingency. At present, our importations bear a full proportion to the full amount of our sales, and to the number of our inhabitants; but when we have inhabitants enough, our imposts will decrease, and as the national demands will increase with our population, our resources will increase as our wants increase. The other consideration which I will submit on this part of the subject is this: I believe that it will be found, in practice, that those who fix the public burdens will feel a greater degree of responsibility, when they are to impose them on the citizens immediately than if they were to say what sum should be paid by the states. If they exceed the limits of propriety, universal discontent and clamor will arise. Let us suppose they were to collect the taxes from the citizens of America; would they not consider their circumstances? Would they not attentively consider what could be done by the citizens at large? Were they to exceed, in their demands, what were reasonable burdens, the people would impute it to the right source, and look on the imposers as odious.
When I consider the nature of the various objections brought against this clause, I should be led to think that the difficulties were such that gentlemen would not be able to get over them, and that the power, as defined in the plan of the Convention, was impracticable. I shall trouble them with a few observations on that point.
It has been said that ten men deputed from this state, and others in proportion from other states, will not be able to adjust direct taxes, so as to accommodate the various citizens in thirteen states.
I confess I do not see the force of this observation. Could not ten intelligent men, chosen from ten districts from this state, lay direct taxes on a few objects in the most judicious manner? It is to be conceived that they would be acquainted with the situation of different citizens of this country. Can any one divide this state into ten districts so as not to contain men of sufficient information? Could not one man of knowledge be found in a district? When thus selected, will they not be able to carry their knowledge into the general council? I may say, with great propriety, that the experience of our own legislature demonstrates the competency of Congress to lay taxes wisely. Our Assembly consists of considerably more than a hundred; yet, from the nature of the business, it devolves on a much smaller number. It is, through their sanction, approved of by all the others. It will be found that there are seldom more than ten men who rise to high information on this subject. Our federal representatives, as has been said by the gentleman, (Mr. Marshall,) who entered into the subject with a great deal of ability, will get information from the state governments. They will be perfectly well informed of the circumstances of the people of the different states, and the mode of taxation that would be most convenient for them, from the laws of the states. In laying taxes, they may even refer to the state system of taxation. Let it not be forgotten that there is a probability that that ignorance which is complained of in some parts of America will be continually diminishing. Let us compare the degree of knowledge which the people had in time past to their present information. Does not our own experience teach us that the people are better informed than they were a few years ago? The citizen of Georgia knows more now of the affairs of New Hampshire, than he did, before the revolution, of those of South Carolina. When the representatives from the different states are collected together, to consider this subject, they will interchange their knowledge with one another, and will have the laws of each state on the table. Besides this, the intercourse of the states will be continually increasing. It is now much greater than before the revolution. My honorable friend over the way, (Mr. Monroe,) yesterday, seemed to conceive, as an insuperable objection, that, if land were made the particular object of taxation, it would be unjust, as it would exonerate the commercial part of the community; that, if it were laid on trade, it would be unjust, in discharging the landholders; and that any exclusive selection would be unequal and unfair. If the general government were tied down to one object, I confess the objection would have some force in it. But if this be not the case, it can have no weight. If it should have a general power of taxation, they could select the most proper objects, and distribute the taxes in such a manner as that they should fall in a due degree on every member of the community. They will be limited to fix the proportion of each state, and they must raise it in the most convenient and satisfactory manner to the public.
The honorable member considered it as another insuperable objection, that uniform laws could not be made for thirteen states, and that dissonance would produce inconvenience and oppression. Perhaps it may not be found, on due inquiry, to be so impracticable as he supposes. But were it so, where is the evil for different states to raise money for the general government? Where is the evil of such laws? There are instances in other countries of different laws operating in different parts of the Country, without producing any kind of opposition. The revenue laws are different in England and Scotland in several respects. Their laws relating to customs, excises, and trade, are similar; but those respecting direct taxation are dissimilar. There is a land tax in England, and a land tax in Scotland; but the laws concerning them are not the same. It is much heavier, in proportion, in the former than in the latter. The mode of collection is different; yet this is not productive of any national inconvenience. Were we to conclude, from the objections, against the proposed plan, this dissimilarity, in that point alone, would have involved those kingdoms in difficulties, In England itself, there is a variety of different laws operating differently in different places.
I will make another observation on the objection of my honorable friend. He seemed to conclude that concurrent collections under different authorities were not reducible to practice. I agree that, were they independent of the people, the argument would be good. But they must serve one common master. They must act in concert, or the defaulting party must bring on itself the resentment of the people. If the general government be so constructed that it will not dare to impose such burdens as will distress the people, where is the evil of its having a power of taxation concurrent with the states? The people would not support it, were it to impose oppressive burdens. Let me make one more comparison of the state governments to this plan. Do not the states impose taxes for local purposes? Does the concurrent collection of taxes, imposed by the legislatures for general purposes, and of levies laid by the counties for parochial and county purposes, produce any inconvenience or oppression? The collection of these taxes is perfectly practicable, and consistent with the views of both parties. The people at large are the common superior of the state governments and the general government. It is reasonable to conclude that they will avoid interferences, for two causesto avoid public oppression, and to render the collections more productive. I conceive they will be more likely to produce disputes, in rendering it convenient for the people, than to run into interfering regulations.
In the third place, I shall consider whether the power of taxation to be given the general government be safe; and first, whether it be safe as to the public liberty in general. It would be sufficient to remark that it is, because I conceive the point has been clearly established by more than one gentleman who has spoken on the same side of the question. In the decision of this question, it is of importance to examine whether elections of representatives by great districts of freeholders be favorable to fidelity in representatives. The greatest degree of treachery in representatives is to be apprehended where they are chosen by the least number of electors; because there is a greater facility of using undue influence, and because the electors must be less independent. This position is verified, in the most unanswerable manner, in that country to which appeals are so often made, and sometimes instructively.
Who are the most corrupt members in Parliament? Are they not the inhabitants of small towns and districts? The supporters of liberty are from the great counties. Have we not seen that the representatives of the city of London, who are chosen by such thousands of voters, have continually studied and supported the liberties of the people, and opposed the corruption of the crown? We have seen continually that most of the members in the ministerial majority are drawn from small, circumscribed districts. We may therefore conclude, that our representatives, being chosen by such extensive districts, will be upright and independent. In proportion as we have security against corruption in representatives, we have security against corruption from every other quarter whatsoever.
I shall take a view of certain subjects, which will lead to some reflections to quiet the minds of those gentlemen who think that the individual governments will be swallowed up by the general government. In order to effect this, it is proper to compare the state governments with the general government, with respect to reciprocal dependence, and with respect to the means they have of supporting themselves, or of encroaching on one another. At the first comparison, we must be struck with these remarkable facts. The general government has not the appointment of a single branch of the individual governments, or of any officers within the states, to execute their laws. Are not the states integral parts of the general government? Is not the President chosen under the influence of the state legislatures? May we not suppose that he will be complaisant to those from whom he has his appointment, and from whom he must have his reappointment? The senators are appointed altogether by the legislatures.
My honorable friend apprehended a coalition between the President, Senate, and House of Representatives, against the states. This could be supposed only from a similarity of the component parts.
A coalition is not likely to take place, because its component parts are heterogeneous in their nature. The House of Representatives is not chosen by the state governments, but under the influence of those who compose the state legislatures. Let us suppose ten men appointed to carry the government into effect; there is every degree of certainty that they would be indebted for their reelection to the members of the legislatures. If they derive their appointment from them, will they not execute their duty to them? Besides this, will not the people (whose predominant interest will ultimately prevail) feel great attachment to the state legislatures? They have the care of all local intereststhose familiar domestic objects, for which men have the strongest predilection. The general government, on the contrary, has the preservation of the aggregate interest of the Unionobjects which, being less familiar, and more remote from men’s notice, have a less powerful influence on their minds, Do we not see great and natural attachments arising from local considerations? This will be the Case in a much stronger degree in the state governments than in the general government. The people will be attached to their state legislatures from a thousand causes; and into whatever scale the people at large will throw themselves, that scale will preponderate.
Did we not perceive, in the early stages of the war, when Congress was the idol of America, and when in pursuit of the object most dear to America, that they were attached to their states? Afterwards, the whole current of their affection was to the states; and such would be still the case, were it not for the alarming situation of America.
At one period of the congressional history, they had the power to trample on the states. When they had that fund of paper money in their hands, and could carry on all their measures without any dependence on the states, was there any disposition to debase the state governments? All that municipal authority which was necessary to carry on the administration of the government, they still retained unimpaired. There was no attempt to diminish it.
I am led, by what fell from my honorable friend yesterday, to take this supposed combination in another view. Is it supposed that the influence of the general government will facilitate a combination between the members? Is it supposed that it will preponderate against that of the state governments? The means of influence consist in having the disposal of gifts and emoluments, and in the number of persons employed by and dependent upon a government. Will any gentleman compare the number of persons which will be employed in the general government with the number of those which will be in the state governments? The number of dependants upon the state governments will be infinitely greater than those on the general government. I may say, with truth, that there never was a more economical government in any age or country, nor Which will require fewer hands, or give less influence.
Let us compare the members composing the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, in the general government, with these in the states, and let us take into view the vast number of persons employed in the states: from the chief officers to the lowest, we shall find the scale preponderating so much in favor of the states, that, while so many persons are attached to them, it will be impossible to turn the balance against them. There will be an irresistible bias towards the state governments.
Consider the number of militia officers, the number of justices of the peace, the number of the members of the legislatures, and all the various officers for districts, towns, and corporationsall intermixing with, and residing among, the people at large. While this part of the community retain their affection to the state governments, I conceive that the fact will be, that the state governments, and not the general government, will preponderate. It cannot be contradicted that they have more extensive means of influence. I have my fears as well as the honorable gentleman; but my fears are on the other side. Experience, I think, will prove (though there be no infallible proof of it here) that the powerful and prevailing influence, of the states will produce such attention to local considerations as will be inconsistent with the advancement of the interest of the Union. But I choose rather to indulge my hopes than fears, because I flatter myself, if inconveniences should result from it, that the clause which provides amendments will remedy them, The combination of powers vested in those persons would seem conclusive in favor of the states.
The powers of the general government relate to external objects, and are but few. But the powers in the states relate to those great objects which immediately concern the prosperity of the people. Let us observe, also, that the powers in the general government are those which will be exercised mostly in time of war, while those of the state governments will be exercised in time of peace. But I hope the time of war will be little, compared to that of peace. I should not complete the view which ought to be taken of this subject, without making this additional remark,that the powers vested in the proposed government are not so much an augmentation of powers in the general government, as a change rendered necessary for the purpose of giving efficacy to those which were vested in it before. It cannot escape any gentleman that this power, in theory, exists in the Confederation as fully as in this Constitution. The only difference is thisthat now they tax states, and by this plan they will tax individuals. There is no theoretic difference between the two. But in practice there will be an infinite difference between them. The one is an ineffectual power; the other is adequate to the purpose for which it is given. This change was necessary for the public safety.
Let us suppose, for a moment, that the acts of Congress requiring money from the states had been as effectual as the paper on the table; suppose all the laws of Congress had complete compliance; will any gentleman say that, as far as we can judge from past experience, the state governments would have been debased, and all consolidated and incorporated in one system? My imagination cannot reach it. I conceive that, had those acts that effect which all laws ought to have, the states would have retained their sovereignty.
It seems to be supposed that it will introduce new expenses and burdens on the people. I believe it is not necessary here to make a comparison between the expenses of the present and of the proposed government. All agree that the general government ought to have power for the regulation of commerce. I will venture to say that very great improvements, and very economical regulations, will be made. It will be a principal object to guard against smuggling, and such other attacks on the revenue as other nations are subject to. We are now obliged to defend against those lawless attempts; but, from the interfering regulations of different states, with little success. There are regulations in different states which are unfavorable to the inhabitants of other states, and which militate against the revenue. New York levies money from New Jersey by her imposts. In New Jersey, instead of cooperating with New York, the legislature favors violations on her regulations. This will not be the case when uniform regulations will be made.
Requisitions, though ineffectual, are unfriendly to economy. When requisitions are submitted to the states, there are near two thousand five hundred or three thousand persons deliberating on the mode of payment. All these, during their deliberation, receive public pay. A great proportion of every session, in every state, is employed to consider whether they will pay at all, and in what mode, Let us suppose fifteen hundred persons are deliberating on this subject. Let any one make a calculation: it will be found that a very few days of their deliberation will consume more of the public money than one year of that general legislature. This is not all, Mr. Chairman. When general powers will be vested in the general government, there will be less of that mutability which is seen in the legislation of the states. The consequence will be a great saving of expense and time. There is another great advantage, which I will but barely mention. The greatest calamity to which the United States can be subject is a vicissitude of laws, and continual shifting and changing from one object to anotherwhich must expose the people to various inconveniences. This has a certain effect, of which sagacious men always have made, and always will make, an advantage. From whom is advantage made? From the industrious farmers and tradesmen who are ignorant of the means of making such advantages. The people will not be exposed to these inconveniences under a uniform and steady course of legislation. But they have been so heretofore. The history of taxation in this country is so fully and well known to every member of this committee, that I shall say no more of it.
We have hitherto discussed the subject very irregularly. I dare not dictate to any gentleman, but I hope we shall pursue that mode of going through the business which the house resolved. With respect to a great variety of arguments made use of, I mean to take notice of them when we come to those parts of the Constitution to which they apply. If we exchange this mode for the regular way of proceeding, we can finish it better in one week than one month.[A desultory conversation arose concerning the mode of discussion.]
Mr. HENRY declared it as his opinions, that the best mode was to discuss it at large; that the gentlemen on the other side had done so, as well as those of his side; and he hoped that every gentleman would consider himself at liberty to go into the subject fully, because he thought it is the best way to elucidate it.
Mr. MADISON wished not to exclude any light that could be cast on the subject. He declared that he would be the last man that would object to the fullest investigation; but, at the same time, he thought it would be more elucidated by a regular progressive discussion, than by that unconnected, irregular method which they had hitherto pursued.
Mr. GEORGE MASON. Mr. Chairman, gentlemen will be pleased to consider that, on so important a subject as this, it is impossible, in the nature of things, to avoid arguing more at large than is usual. You will allow that I have not taken up a great part of your time. But as gentlemen have indulged themselves in entering at large into the subject, I hope to be permitted to follow them, and answer their observations.
The worthy member, (Mr. Nicholas,) at a very early day, gave us an accurate detail of the representation of the people in Britain, and of the rights of the king of Britain; and illustrated his observations by a quotation from Dr. Price. Gentlemen will please to take notice that those arguments relate to a single government, and that they are not applicable to this case. However applicable they may be to such a government as that of Great Britain, it will be entirely inapplicable to such a government as ours. The gentleman, in drawing a comparison between the representation of the people in the House of Commons, in England, and the representation in the government now proposed to us, has been pleased to express his approbation in favor of the American government. Let us examine. I think that there are about 550 members in the English House of Commons. The people of Britain have a representation in Parliament of 550 members, who intimately mingle with all classes of the people, feeling and knowing their circumstances. In the proposed American governmentin a country perhaps ten times more extensivewe are to have a representation of sixty-five, who, from the nature of the government, cannot possibly be mingled with the different classes of the people, nor have a fellow-feeling for them.
They must form an aristocracy, and will not regard the interest of the people. Experience tells us that men pay most regard to those whose rank and situation are similar to their own. In the course of the investigation, the gentleman mentioned the bribery and corruption of Parliament, and drew a conclusion the very reverse of what I should have formed on the subject. He said, if I recollect rightly, that the American representation is more secured against bribery and corruption, than the English Parliament. Are sixty-five better than five hundred and fifty? Bribery and corruption, in my opinion, will be practised in America more than in England, in proportion as five hundred and fifty exceed sixty-five; and there will be less integrity and probity in proportion as sixty-five is less than five hundred and fifty. From what source is the bribery practised in the British Parliament derived? I think the principal source is the distribution of places, offices, and posts. Will any gentleman deny this? Give me leave, on this occasion, to recur to that clause of the Constitution which speaks of restraint, and has the appearance of restraining from corruption, &c., but which, when examined, will be found to be no restraint at all. The clause runs thus: “No senator or representative shall, during the time 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 no person holding any office under the United States shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.” This appears to me to be no restraint at all. It is to be observed that this restraint only extends to civil offices.
But I will not examine whether it be a proper distinction or not. What is the restraint as to civil offices? Only that they shall not be appointed to offices which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during the time for which they shall have been elected. They may be appointed to existing offices, if the emoluments be not increased during the time for which they were elected.[Here Mr. Mason spoke too low to be heard.]
Thus, after the government is set in motion, the restraint will be gone. They may appoint what number of officers they please. They may send ambassadors to every part of Europe. Here is, sir, I think, as wide a door for corruption as in any government in Europe. There is the same inducement for corruption, there is the same room for it, in this government, which they have in the British government; and in proportion as the number is smaller, corruption will be greater.
That unconditional power of taxation which is given to that government cannot but oppress the people. If, instead of this, a conditional power of taxation be given, in case of refusal to comply with requisitions, the same end will be answered with convenience to the people. This will not lessen the power of Congress; we do not want to lessen the power of Congress unnecessarily. This will produce moderation in the demand, and will prevent the ruinous exercise of that power by those who know not our situation. We shall then have that mode of taxation which is the most easy, and least oppressive to the people, because it will be exercised by those who are acquainted with their condition and circumstances. This, sir, is the great object we wish to securethat our people should be taxed by those who have a fellow-feeling for them. I think I can venture to assert that the general government will lay such taxes as are the easiest and the most productive in the collection. This is natural and probable.
For example, they may lay a poll tax. This is simply and easily collected, but is of all taxes the most grievous. Why the most grievous? Because it falls light on the rich, and heavy, on the poor. It is most oppressive: for if the rich man is taxed, he can only retrench his superfluities; but the consequence to the poor man is, that it increases his miseries. That they will lay the most simple taxes, and such as are easiest to collect, is highly probable, nay, almost absolutely certain. I shall take the liberty, on this occasion, to read you a letter, which will show, at least as far as opinion goes, what sort of taxes will be most probably laid on us, if we adopt this Constitution. It was the opinion of a gentleman of information. It will in some degree establish the fallacy of those reports which have been circulated through the country, and which induced a great many poor, ignorant people to believe that the taxes were to be lessened by the adoption of the proposed government.[Here Mr. Mason read a letter from Mr. Robert Morris, financier of the United States, to Congress, wherein he spoke of the propriety of laying the following taxes for the use of the United States; viz., six shillings on every hundred acres of land, six shillings per poll, and ninepence per gallon on all spirituous liquors distilled in the country. Mr. Mason declared that he did not mean to make the smallest reflection on Mr. Morris, but introduced his letter to show what taxes would probably be laid.]
He then continued: This will at least show that such taxes were in agitation, and were strongly advocated by a considerable part of Congress. I have read this letter to show that they will lay taxes most easy to be collected. without any regard to our convenience; so that, instead of amusing ourselves with a diminution of our taxes, we may, rest assured that they will be increased. But my principal reason for introducing it was, to show that taxes would be laid by those who are not acquainted with our Situation, and that the agents of the collection may be consulted upon the most productive and simple mode of taxation. The gentleman who wrote this letter had more information on this subject than we have; but this will show gentlemen that we are not to be eased of taxes. Any of those taxes which have been pointed out by this financier as the most eligible, will be ruinous and unequal, and will be particularly oppressive on the poorest part of the people.
As to a poll tax, I have already spoken of its iniquitous operation, and need not say much of it, because it is so generally disliked in this state, that we were obliged to abolish it last year. As to a land tax, it will operate most unequally. The man who has one hundred acres of the richest land will pay as little as a man who has one hundred acres of the poorest land. Near Philadelphia, or Boston, an acre of land is worth one hundred pounds; yet the possessor of it will pay no more than the man with us whose land is hardly worth twenty shillings an acre. Some landholders in this state will have to pay twenty times as much as will be paid for all the land on which Philadelphia stands; and as to excise, this will carry the exciseman to every farmers house, who distils a little brandy, where he may search and ransack as he pleases. These I mention as specimens of the kind of tax which is to be laid upon us by those who have no information of our situation, and by a government where the wealthy only are represented. It is urged that no new power is given up to the general government, and that the Confederation had those powers before. That system derived its power from the state governments. When the people of Virginia formed their government, they reserved certain great powers in the bill of rights. They would not trust their own citizens, who had a similarity of interest with themselves, and who had frequent and intimate communication with them. They would not trust their own fellow-citizens, I say, with the exercise of those great powers reserved in the bill of rights. Do we not, by this system, give up a great part of the rights, reserved by the bill of rights, to those who have no fellow-feeling for the peopleto a government where the representatives will have no communication with the people? I say, then, there are great and important powers, which were not transferred to the state government, given up to the general government by this Constitution.
Let us advert to the 6th article. It expressly declares, that “this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which Shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby; any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” Now, sir, if the laws and Constitution of the general government, as expressly said, be paramount to those of any state, are not those rights with which we were afraid to trust our own citizens annulled and given up to the general government? The bill of rights is a part of our own Constitution. The judges are obliged to take notice of the laws of the general government; consequently, the rights secured by our bill of rights are given up. If they are not given up, where are they secured? By implication! Let gentlemen show that they are secured in a plain, direct, unequivocal manner. It is not in their power. Then where is the security? Where is the barrier drawn between the government and the rights of the citizens, as secured in our own state government? These rights are given up in that paper; but I trust that this Convention will never give them up; but will take pains to secure them to the latest posterity. If a check be necessary in our own state government, it is much more so in a government where our representatives are to be at the distance of a thousand miles from us, without any responsibility.
I said, the other day, that they could not have sufficient information. I was asked how the legislature of Virginia got their information. The answer is easy and obvious. They get it from one hundred and sixty representatives, dispersed through all parts of the country. In this government how do they get it? Instead of one hundred and sixty, there are but tenchosen, if not wholly, yet mostly, from the higher order of the peoplefrom the great, the wealthythe well-bornthe well-born, Mr. Chairman, that aristocratic idolthat flattering ideathat exotic plant which has been lately imported from the ports of Great Britain, and planted in the luxurious soil of this country.
In the course of the investigation, much praise has been lavished upon the article which fixes the number of representatives. It only says that the proportion shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand.
The worthy gentleman says that the number must be increased, because representation and taxation are in proportion, and that one cannot be increased without increasing the other, nor decreased without decreasing the other. Let us examine the weight of this argument. If the proportion of each state equally and ratably diminishes, the words of the Constitution will be as much satisfied as if it had been increased in the same manner, without any reduction of the taxes. Let us illustrate it familiarly. Virginia has ten representatives; Maryland has six. Virginia will have to pay a sum in proportion, greater than Maryland, as ten to six. Suppose Virginia reduced to five, and Maryland to three. The relative proportion of money, paid by each, will be the same as before; and yet the honorable gentleman said, that, if this did not convince us, he would give up. I am one of those unhappy men who cannot be amused with assertions; A man from the dead might frighten me; but I am sure that he could not convince me without using better arguments than I have yet heard.
The same gentleman showed us that, though the Northern States had a most decided majority against us, yet the increase of population among us would, in the course of years, change it in our favor. A very sound argument indeed, that we should cheerfully burn ourselves to death in hopes of a joyful and happy resurrection!
The very worthy gentleman who presides was pleased to tell us that there was no interference between the legislation of the general government and that of the state legislatures. Pardon me if I show the contrary. In the important instance of taxation there is a palpable interference. Suppose a poll tax: the general government can lay a poll tax; the state legislatures can do the samecan lay it on the same man, and at the same time; and yet it is said there can be no interference.
My honorable colleague in the late federal Convention, in answer to another gentleman, who had said that the annals of mankind could afford no instance of rulers giving up power, has told us that eight states had adopted the Constitution, and that this was a relinquishment of power. Ought this, example to have any weight with us? If that relinquishment was imprudent, shall we imitate it? I will venture to assert that, out of a thousand instances where the people precipitately and unguardedly relinquished their power, there has not been one instance of a voluntary surrender of it back by rulers. He afterwards said, that freedom at home and respectability abroad would be the consequence of the adoption of this government, and that we cannot exist without its adoption. Highly as I esteem that gentleman, highly as I esteem his historical knowledge, I am obliged to deny his assertions.
If this government will endanger our liberties in its present state, its adoption will not promote our happiness at home. The people of this country are as independent, happy, and respectable, as those of any country. France is the most powerful and respectable nation on earth. Would the planters of this country change their shoes for the wooden shoes of the peasants of France? Perhaps Russia is the next greatest power in Europe. Would we change situation with the people of Russia? We have heard a great deal of Holland. Some have called its government a democracy; others have called it an aristocracy. It is well known to be a republic. It has arisen to uncommon power and wealth. Compared to its neighboring countries, its fortune has been surprising.[Here Mr. Mason made a quotation, showing the comparative flourishing condition of the inhabitants of Holland, even a few years after they had shaken off the Spanish yoke; that plenty, and contentment were to be every where seen, the peasants well clothed, provisions plenty, their furniture and domestic utensils in abundance, and their lands well stocked;that, on the contrary, the people of Spain were in a poor and miserable condition, in want of every thing of which the people of Holland enjoyed the greatest abundance.]
Mr. Mason then continued: As this was within a few years after the Spanish revolution, this striking contrast could be owing to no other cause than the liberty which they enjoyed under their government. Here behold the difference between a powerful, great consolidation, and a confederacy. They tell us that, if we be powerful and respectable abroad, we shall have liberty and happiness at home. Let us secure that liberty, that happiness, first, and we shall then be respectable.
I have some acquaintance with a great many characters who favor this government, their connections, their conduct, their political principles, and a number of other circumstances. There are a great many wise and good men among them. But when I look round the number of my acquaintance in Virginia, the country wherein I was born, and have lived so many years, and observe who are the warmest and the most zealous friends to this new government, it makes me think of the story of the cat transformed into a fine lady: forgetting her transformation, and happening to see a rat, she could not restrain herself, but sprang upon it out of the chair.
He (Governor Randolph) dwelt largely on the necessity of the union. A great many others have enlarged on this subject. Foreigners would suppose from the declamation about union, that there was a great dislike in America to any general American government. I have never, in my whole life, heard one single man deny the necessity and propriety of the union. This necessity is deeply impressed on every American mind. There can be no danger of any object being lost when the mind of every martin the country is strongly attached to it. But I hope that it is not to the name, but to the blessings of union, that we are attached. Those gentlemen who are loudest in their praises of the name, are not more attached to the reality than I am. The security of our liberty and happiness is the object we ought to have in view in wishing to establish the union. If, instead of securing these, we endanger them, the name of union will be but a trivial consolation. If the objections be removed, if those parts which are deafly subversive of our rights be altered, no man will go farther than I will to advance the union. We are told, in strong language, of dangers to which we will be exposed unless we adopt this Constitution. Among the rest, domestic safety is said to be in danger. This government does not intend our domestic safety. It authorizes the importation of slaves for twenty-odd years, and thus continues upon us that nefarious trade. Instead of securing and protecting us, the continuation of this detestable trade adds daily to our weakness. Though this evil is increasing, there is no clause in the Constitution that will prevent the Northern and Eastern States from meddling with our whole property of that kind. There is a clause to prohibit the importation of slaves after twenty years; but there is no provision made for securing to the Southern States those they now possess. It is far from being a desirable property; but it will involve us in great difficulties and infelicity to be now deprived of them. There ought to be a clause in the Constitution to secure us that property, which we have acquired under our former laws, and the loss of which would bring ruin on a great many people.
Maryland and the Potomac have been mentioned. I have had some little means of being acquainted with that subject, having been one of the commissioners who made the compact with Maryland. There is no cause of fear on that ground. Maryland, says the gentleman, has a right to the navigation of the Potomac. This is a right which she never exercised. Maryland was pleased with what she had in return for a right which she never exercised. Every ship which comes within the state of Maryland, except some small boats, must come within our country. Maryland was very glad to get what she got by this compact, for she considered it as next to getting it without any compensation on her part. She considered it, at least, as next to a quid pro quo.
The back land, he says, is another source of danger. Another day will show that, if that Constitution is adopted without amendments, there are twenty thousand families of good citizens in the north-west district, between the Alleghany Mountains and the Blue Ridge, who will run the risk of being driven from their lands. They will be ousted from them by the Indiana Companyby the survivorsalthough their right and titles have been confirmed by the Assembly of our own state. I will pursue it no farther now, but take an opportunity to consider it another time.
The alarming magnitude of our debts is urged as a reason for our adoption. And shall we, because involved in debts, take less care of our rights and liberties? Shall we abandon them because we owe money which we cannot immediately pay? Will this system enable us to pay our debts and lessen our difficulties? Perhaps the new government possesses some secret, some powerful means of turning every thing to gold. It has been called by one gentleman the philosopher’s stone. The comparison was a pointed one, at least in this, that, on the subject of producing gold, they will be both equally delusive and fallacious. The one will be as inapplicable as the other. The dissolution of the Union, the dangers of separate confederacies, and the quarrels of borderes, have been enlarged upon to persuade us to embrace this government.
My honorable colleague (Governor Randolph) in the late Convention seems to raise phantoms, and to show a singular skill in exorcisms, to terrify and compel us to take the new government, with all its sins and dangers. I know that he once saw as great danger in it as I do. What has happened since to alter his opinion? If any thing, I know it not. But the Virginia legislature has occasioned it, by postponing the matter. The Convention had met in June, instead of March or April. The liberty or misery of millions yet unborn are deeply concerned in our decision. When this is the case, I cannot imagine that the short period between the last of September and first of June ought to make any difference. The union between England and Scotland has been strongly instanced by the honorable gentleman to prove the necessity of our acceding to this new government. He must know that the act of union secured the rights of the Scotch nation. The rights and privileges of the people of Scotland are expressly secured. We wish only our rights to be secured. We must have such amendments as will secure the liberties and happiness of the people on a plain, simple construction, not on a doubtful ground. We wish to give the government sufficient energy, on real republican principles; but we wish to withhold such powers as are not absolutely necessary in themselves, but are extremely dangerous. We wish to shut the door against corruption in that place where it is most dangerousto secure against the corruption of our own representatives. We ask such amendments as will point out what powers are reserved to the state governments, and clearly discriminate between them and those which are given to the general government, so as to prevent future disputes and clashing of interests. Grant us amendments like these, and we will cheerfully, with our hands and hearts, unite with those who advocate it, and we will do every thing we can to support and carry it into execution. But in its present form we never can accede to it. Our duty to God and to our posterity forbids it. We acknowledge the defects of the Confederation, and the necessity of a reform. We ardently wish for a union with our sister states, on terms of security, This I am bold to declare is the desire of most the people. On these terms we will most cheerfully join with the warmest friends of this Constitution. On another occasion I shall point out the great dangers of this Constitution, and the amendments which are necessary. I will likewise endeavor to show that amendments after ratification are delusive and fallaciousperhaps utterly impracticable.
Mr. LEE (of Westmoreland) strongly urged the propriety of adhering to the resolution of the house, of debating the subject regularly; that the irregular and disorderly manner in which gentlemen had hitherto proceeded was unfriendly to a rational and just decision, tended to protract time unnecessarily, and interfered with the private concerns of gentlemen.
He then proceeded: I waited some time in hopes that some gentleman on the same side of the question would rise. I hope that I may take the liberty of making a few remarks on what fell from the honorable gentleman last up. He has endeavored to draw our attention from the merits of the question by jocose observations and satirical allusions. He ought to know that ridicule is not the test of truth. Does he imagine that he who can raise the loudest laugh is the soundest reasoner? Sir, the judgments, and not the risibility, of gentlemen, are to be consulted. Had the gentleman followed that rule which he himself proposed, he would not have shown the letter of a private gentleman, who, in times of difficulty, had offered his opinion respecting the mode in which it would be most expedient to raise the public funds. Does it follow, since a private individual proposed such a scheme of taxation, that the new government will adopt it? But the same principle has also governed the gentleman when he mentions the expressions of another private gentlemanthe well-born; that our federal representatives are to he chosen from the higher orders of the peoplefrom the well-born. Is there a single expression like this in the Constitution? Every man who is entitled to vote for a member of our own state legislature, will have a right to vote for a member in the House of Representatives in the general government. In both cases the confidence of the people alone can procure an election. This insinuation is totally unwarrantable. Is it proper that the Constitution should be thus attacked with the opinions of every private gentleman? I hope we shall hear no more of such groundless aspersions. Raising a laugh, sir, will not prove the merits, nor expose the defects, of this system.
The honorable gentleman abominates it, because it does not prohibit the importation of slaves, and because it does not secure the continuance of the existing slavery! Is it not obviously inconsistent to criminate it for two contradictory reasons? I submit it to the consideration of the gentlemen, whether, if it be reprehensible in the one case, it can be censurable in the other. Mr. Lee then concluded by earnestly recommending to the committee to proceed regularly.
Mr. GRAYSON. Mr. Chairman, I must make a few observations on this subject; and, if my arguments are desultory, I hope I shall stand justified by the bad example which has been set me, and the necessity I am under of following my opponents through all their various recesses. I do not in the smallest degree blame the conduct of the gentlemen who represented this state in the general Convention, I believe that they endeavored to do all the good to this commonwealth which was in their power, and that all the members who formed that Convention did every thing within the compass of their abilities to procure the best terms for their particular states. That they did not do more for the general good of America, is perhaps a misfortune. They are entitled, however, to our thanks and those of the people. Although I do not approve of the result of their deliberations, I do not criminate or suspect the principles on which they acted. I desire that what I may say may not be improperly applied. I make no allusions to any gentleman whatever.
I do not pretend to say that the present Confederation is not defective. Its defects have been actually experienced. But I am afraid that they cannot be removed. It has defects arising from reasons which are inseparable from the nature of such governments, and which cannot be removed but by death. All such governments, that ever existed, have uniformly produced this consequencethat particular interests have been consulted, and the general good, to which all wishes ought to be directed, has been neglected. But the particular disorders of Virginia ought not to be attributed to the Confederation. I was concerned to hear the local affairs of Virginia mentioned. If these make impressions on the minds of the gentlemen, why did not the Convention provide for the removing the evils of the government of Virginia? If I am right, the states, with respect to their internal affairs, are left precisely as before, except in a few instances. Of course, the judiciary, should this government be adopted, would not be improved; the state government would be in this respect nearly the same; and the Assembly may, without judge or jury, hang as many men as they may think proper to sacrifice to the good of the public. Our judiciary has been certainly improved in some respects since the revolution. The proceedings of our courts are not, at least, as rapid as they were under the royal government.[Here Mr. Grayson mentioned a particular cause which had been thirty-one years on the docket.]
The adoption of this government will not meliorate our own particular system. I beg leave to consider the circumstances of the Union antecedent to the meeting of the Convention at Philadelphia. We have been, told of phantoms and ideal dangers to lead us into measures which will, in my opinion, be the ruin of our country. If the existence of those dangers cannot be proved, if there be no apprehension of wars, if there be no rumors of wars, it will place the subject in a different light, and plainly evince to the world that there cannot be any reason for adopting measures which we apprehend to be ruinous and destructive. When this state proposed that the general government should be improved, Massachusetts was just recovered from a rebellion which had brought the republic to the brink of destructionfrom a rebellion which was crushed by that federal government which is now so much contemned and abhorred: a vote of that august body for fifteen hundred men, aided by the exertions of the state, silenced all opposition, and shortly restored the public tranquillity. Massachusetts was satisfied that these internal commotions were so happily settled, and was unwilling to risk any similar distresses by theoretic experiments. Were the Eastern States willing to enter into this measure? Were they willing to accede to the proposal of Virginia? In what manner was it received? Connecticut revolted at the idea. The Eastern States, sin, were unwilling to recommend a meeting of a convention. They were well aware of the dangers of revolutions and changes. Why was every effort used, and such uncommon pains taken, to bring it about? This would have been unnecessary, had it been approved of by the people. Was Pennsylvania disposed for the reception of this project of reformation? No, sir. She was even unwilling to amend her revenue laws, so as to make the five per centum operative. She was satisfied with things as they were. There was no complaint, that ever I heard of, from any other part of the Union, except Virginia. This being the case among ourselves what dangers were there to be apprehended from foreign nations? It will be easily shown that dangers from that quarter were absolutely imaginary. Was not France friendly? Unequivocally so. She was devising new regulations of commerce for our advantage. Did she harass us with applications for her money? Is it likely that France will quarrel with us? Is it not reasonable to suppose that she will be more desirous than ever to cling, after, losing the Dutch republic, to her best ally? How are the Dutch? We owe them money, it is true; and are they not wilting that we should owe them more? Mr. Adams applied to them for a new loan to the poor, despised Confederation. They readily granted it. The Dutch have a fellow-feeling for us. They were in the same situation with ourselves.
I believe that the money which the Dutch borrowed of Henry IV. is not yet paid. How did they pass Queen Elizabeth’s loan? At a very considerable discount. They took advantage of the weakness and necessities of James I., and made their own terms with that contemptible monarch. Loans from nations are not like loans from private men. Nations lend money, and grant assistance, to one another, from views of national interest. France was willing to pluck the fairest feather out of the British crown. This was her object in aiding us. She will not quarrel with us on pecuniary considerations. Congress considered it in this point of view; for when a proposition was made to make it a debt of private persons, it was rejected without hesitation. That respectable body wisely considered, that, while we remained their debtors in so considerable a degree, they would not be inattentive to our interest.
With respect to Spain, she is friendly in a high degree. I wish to know by whose interposition was the treaty with Morocco made. Was it not by that of the king of Spain? Several predatory nations disturbed us, on going into the Mediterranean: the influence of Charles III. at the Barbary court, and four thousand pounds, procured as good a treaty with Morocco as could be expected. But I acknowledge it is not of any consequence, since the Algerines and people of Tunis have not entered into similar measures. We have nothing to fear from Spain; and, were she hostile, she could never be formidable to this country. Her strength is so scattered, that she never can be dangerous to us either in peace or war.
As to Portugal, we have a treaty with her, which may be very advantageous, though it be not yet ratified.
The domestic debt is diminished by considerable sales of western lands to Cutler, Sergeant, and Company; to Simms; and to Royal, Flint, and Company. The board of treasury is authorized to soil in Europe, or any where else, the residue of those lands.
An act of Congress has passed, to adjust the public debts between the individual states and the United States.
Was our trade in a despicable situation? I shall say nothing of what did not come under my own observation. When I was in Congress, sixteen vessels had had sea letters in the East India trade, and two hundred vessels entered and cleared out, in the French West India Islands, in one year.
I must confess that public credit has suffered, and that our public creditors have been ill used. This was owing to a fault at the head-quarters,to Congress themselves,in not apportioning the debts on the different states, and in not selling the western lands at an earlier period. If requisitions have not been complied with, it must he owing to Congress, who might have put the unpopular debts on the back lands. Commutation is abhorrent to New England ideas. Speculation is abhorrent to the Eastern States. Those inconveniences have resulted from the bad policy of Congress.
There are certain modes of governing the people which will succeed. There are others which will not. The idea of consolidation is abhorrent to the people of this country. How were the sentiments of the people before the meeting of the Convention at Philadelphia? They had only one object in view. Their ideas reached no farther than to give the general government the five per centum impost, and the regulation of trade. When it was agitated in Congress, in a committee of the whole, this was all that was asked, or was deemed necessary. Since that period, their views have extended much farther. Horrors have been greatly magnified since the rising of the Convention.
We are now told by the honorable gentleman (Governor Randolph) that we shall have wars and rumors of wars, that every calamity is to attend us, and that we shall be ruined and disunited forever, unless we adopt this Constitution. Pennsylvania and Maryland are to fall upon us from the north, like the Goths and Vandals of old; the Algerines, whose flat-sided vessels never came farther than Madeira, are to fill the Chesapeake with mighty fleets, and to attack us on our front; the Indians are to invade us with numerous armies on our rear, in order to convert our cleared lands into hunting-grounds; and the Carolinians, from the south, (mounted on alligators, I presume,) are to come and destroy our cornfields, and eat up our little children! These, sir, are the mighty dangers which await us if we rejectdangers which are merely imaginary, and ludicrous in the extreme! Are we to be destroyed by Maryland and Pennsylvania? What will democratic states make war for, and how long since have they imbibed a hostile spirit?
But the generality are to attack us. Will they attack us after violating their faith in the first Union? Will they not violate their faith if they do not take us into their confederacy? Have they not agreed, by the old Confederation, that the Union shall be perpetual, and that no alteration should take place without the consent of Congress, and the confirmation of the legislatures of every state? I cannot think that there is such depravity in mankind as that, after violating public faith so flagrantly, they should make war upon us, also, for not following their example.
The large states have divided the back lands among them, selves, and have given as much as they thought proper to the generality. For the fear of disunion, we are told that we ought to take measures which we otherwise should not. Disunion is impossible. The Eastern States hold the fisheries, which are their cornfields, by a hair. They have a dispute with the British government about their limits at this moment. Is not a general and strong government necessary for their interest? If ever nations had inducements to peace, the Eastern States now have. New York and Pennsylvania anxiously look forward for the fur trade. How can they obtain it but by union? Can the western posts be got or retained without union? How are the little states inclined? They are not likely to disunite. Their weakness will prevent them from quarrelling. Little men are seldom fond of quarrelling among giants. Is there not a strong inducement to union, while the British are on one side and the Spaniards on the other? Thank Heaven, we have a Carthage of our own!
But we are told that, if we do not embrace the present moment, we are lost forever. Is there no difference between productive states and carrying states? If we hold out, will not the tobacco trade enable us to make terms with the carrying states? Is there nothing in a similarity of laws, religion, language, and manners? Do not these, and the intercourse and intermarriage between the people of the different states, invite them in the strongest manner to union?
But what would I do on the present occasion to remedy the existing, defects of the present Confederation? There are two opinions prevailing in the worldthe one, that mankind can only be governed by force; the other, that they are capable of freedom and a good government. Under a supposition that mankind can govern themselves, I would recommend that the present Confederation should be amended. Give Congress the regulation of commerce, Infuse new strength and spirit into the state governments; for, when the component parts are strong, it will give energy to the government, although it be otherwise weak. This may be proved by the union of Utrecht.
Apportion the public debts in such a manner as to throw the unpopular ones on the back lands. Call only for requisitions for the foreign interest, and aid them by loans. Keep on so till the American Character be marked with some certain features. We are yet too young to know what we are fit for. The continual migration of people from Europe, and the settlement of new countries on our western frontiers, are strong arguments against making new experiments now in government. When these things are removed, we can, with greater prospect of success, devise changes. We ought to consider, as Montesquieu says, whether the construction of the government be suitable to the genius and disposition of the people, as well as a variety of other circumstances.
But if this position be not true, and men can only be governed by force, then be as gentle as possible. What, then, would I do? I would not take the British monarchy for my model. We have not materials for such a government in this country, although I will be bold to say, that it is one of the governments in the world by which liberty and property are best secured. But I would adopt the following government. I would have a President for life, choosing his successor at the same time; a Senate for life, with the powers of the House of Lords; and a triennial House of Representatives, with the powers of the House of Commons in England.
By having such a President, we should have more independence and energy in the executive, and not be encumbered with the expense, &c., of a court and an hereditary prince and family. By such a Senate, we should have more stability in the laws, without having an odious hereditary aristocracy. By the other branch, we should be fully and fairly represented. If, sir, we are to be consolidated at all, we ought to be fully represented, and governed with sufficient energy, according to numbers, in both houses.
I admit that coercion is necessary in every government in some degree; that it is manifestly wanting in our present government, and that the want of it has ruined many nations. But I should be glad to know what great degree of coercion is in this Constitution, more than in the old government, if the states will refuse to comply with requisitions, and they can only be compelled by means of an army. Suppose the people will not pay the taxes; is not the sword to be then employed? The difference is thisthat, by this Constitution, the sword is employed against individuals; by the other, it is employed against the states, which is more honorable. Suppose a general resistance to pay taxes in such a state as Massachusetts; will it not be precisely the same thing as a non-compliance with requisitions?
Will this Constitution remedy the fatal inconveniences of the clashing state interests? Will not every member that goes kern Virginia be actuated by state influence? So they will, also from every other state. Will the liberty and property of this country be secure under such a government? What, sir, is the present Constitution? A republican government founded on the principles of monarchy, with the three estates. Is it like the model of Tacitus or Montesquieu? Are there checks in it, as in the British monarchy? There is an executive fetter in some parts, and as unlimited in others as a Roman dictator. A democratic branch marked with the strong features of aristocracy, and an aristocratic branch with all the impurities and imperfections of the British House of Commons, arising from the inequality of representation and want of responsibility. There will be plenty of Old Sarums, if the new Constitution should be adopted. Do we love the British so well as to imitate their imperfections? We could not effect it more than in that particular instance. Are not all defects and corruption founded on an inequality of representation and want of responsibility? How is the executive? Contrary to the opinion of all the best writers, blended with the legislative. We have asked for bread, and they have given us a stone. I am willing to give the government the regulation of trade. It will be serviceable in regulating the trade among the states. But I believe that it will not be attended with the advantages generally expected.
As to direct taxationgive up this, and you give up every thing, as it is the highest act of sovereignty: surrender up this inestimable jewel, and you throw away a pearl richer than all your tribe. But it has been said by an honorable gentleman, (Mr. Pendleton,) as well as I recollect, that there could be no such thing as an interference between the two legislatures, either in point of direct taxation, or in any other case whatsoever. An honorable gentleman (Mr. Mason) has replied that they might interfere in the case of a poll tax. I will go farther, and say, that the case may happen in the judiciary. Suppose a state execution and a federal execution issued against the same man, and the state officer and federal officer seize him at the same moment; would they divide the man in two, as Solomon directed the child to be divided who was claimed by two women? I suppose the general government, as being paramount, would prevail. How are two legislatures to coincide, with powers transcendent, supreme, and omnipotent? for such is the definition of a legislature. There must be an external interference, not only in the collection of taxes, but in the judiciary. Was there ever such a thing in any country before? Great Britain never went so far in the stamp act. Poyning’s lawthe abhorrence of the Irishnever went so far. I never heard of two supreme coordinate powers in one and the same country before. I cannot conceive how it can happen. It surpasses every thing that I have read of concerning other governments, or that I can conceive by the utmost exertion of my faculties.
But, sir, as a cure for every thing, the democratic branch is elected by the people. What security is there in that? as has already been demanded. Their number is too small. Is not a small number more easy to be corrupted than a large one? Were not the tribunes at Rome the choice of the people? Were not the decemviri chosen by them? Was not Cæsar himself the choice of the people? Did this secure them from oppression and slavery? Did this render these agents so chosen by the people upright? If five hundred and sixty members are corrupted in the British House of Commons, will it not he easier to corrupt ninety-one members of the new Constitution? But the British House of Commons are corrupted from the same cause that our representatives will be: I mean, from the Old Sarums among themfrom the inequality of the representation. How many are legislating in this country yearly? It is thought necessary to have fifteen hundred representatives, for the great purposes of legislation, throughout the Union, exclusive of one hundred and sixty senators, which form a proportion of about one for every fifteen hundred persons. By the present Constitution, these extensive powers are to be exercised by the small number of ninety-one personsa proportion almost twenty times less than the other. It must be degrading indeed to think that so small a number should be equal to so many! Such a preferential distinction must presuppose the happiest selection. They must have something divine in their composition, to merit such a preeminence. But my greatest objection is, that it will, in its operation, be found unequal, grievous, and oppressive. If it have any efficacy at all, it must be by a factiona faction of one part of the Union against the other. I think that it has a great natural imbecility within itself, too weak for a consolidated and too strong for a confederate government. But if it be called into action by a combination of seven states, it will be terrible indeed. We need be at no loss to determine how this combination will be formed. There is a great difference of circumstances between the states. The interest of the carrying states is strikingly different from that of the productive states. I mean not to give offence to any part of America, but mankind are governed by interest. The carrying states will assuredly unite, and our situation will be then wretched indeed. Our commodities will be transported on their own terms, and every measure will have for its object their particular interest. Let ill-fated Ireland be ever present to our new. We ought to be wise enough to guard against the abuse of such a government. Republics, in fact, oppress more than monarchies. If we advert to the page of history, we shall find this disposition too often manifested in republican governments. The Romans, in ancient, and the Dutch, in modern times, oppressed their provinces in a remarkable degree.
I hope that my fears are groundless; but I believe it as I do my creed, that this government will operate as a faction of seven states to oppress the rest of the union. But it may be said that we are represented, and cannot therefore be injured. A poor representation it will be! The British would have been glad to take America into the union, like the Scotch, by giving us a small representation. The Irish might be indulged with the same favor by asking for it. Will that lessen our misfortunes? A small representation gives a pretence to injure and destroy. But, sir, the Scotch union is introduced by an honorable gentleman as an argument in favor of adoption. Would he wish his country to be on the same foundation as Scotland? They have but forty-five members in the House of Commons, and sixteen in the House of Lords.
These go up regularly in order to be bribed. The smallness of their number puts it out of their power to carry any measure. And this unhappy nation exhibits the only instance, perhaps, in the world, where corruption becomes a virtue. I devoutly pray that this description of Scotland may not be picturesque of the Southern States, in three years from this time! The committee being tired, as well as myself, I will take another time to give my opinion more fully on this great and important subject.
Mr. Monroe, seconded by Mr. Henry, moved that the committee should rise, that Mr. Grayson might have an opportunity of continuing his argument next day. Mr. Madison insisted on going through the business regularly, according to the resolution of the house.