Elliot’s Debates: Volume 3

In Convention, Richmond, Saturday, June 14, 1788

A letter from the honorable the president to the Convention was read, stating his inability to attend to his duty in the house to-day.

Whereupon the honorable JOHN TYLER was unanimously elected vice-president, to preside during the inability of the president.

Mr. CORBIN thought the Mississippi subject had been amply discussed. He hoped that the committee would enter into the discussion of the proposed Constitution regularly; but that, if any gentleman would continue the inquiry relative to that river, he would answer him. He moved that they should debate it clause by clause.

Mr. GRAYSON. Mr. Chairman, I conceive the investigation of this subject, which materially concerns the welfare of this country, ought not to wound the feelings of any gentleman. I look upon this as a contest for empire. Our country is equally affected with Kentucky. The Southern States are deeply interested in this subject. If the Mississippi be shut up, emigrations will be stopped entirely. There will be no new states formed on the western waters. This will be a government of seven states. This contest of the Mississippi involves this great national contest; that is, whether one part of the continent shall govern the other. The Northern States have the majority, and will endeavor to retain it. This is, therefore, a contest for dominion—for empire. I apprehend that God and nature have intended, from the extent of territory and fertility of soil, that the weight of population should be on this side of the continent. At present, for various reasons, it is on the other side. This dispute concerns every part of Kentucky. A particular investigation ought to offend no gentleman. Mr. Grayson then declared, he hoped the subject would be further continued.

Mr. ALEXANDER WHITE wished the further discussion of that subject to be postponed till they came to that part which enables the Senate to make treaties. He seconded Mr. Corbin’s motion, to proceed clause by clause.

[The 3d section, article 1, was then read.]

Mr. TYLER hoped that, when amendments should be brought forward, they should be at liberty to take a general view of the whole Constitution. He thought that the power of trying impeachments, added to that of making treaties, was something enormous, and rendered the Senate too dangerous.

Mr. MADISON answered, that it was not possible to form any system to which objections might not be made; that the junction of these powers might be in some degree objectionable, but that it could not be amended. He agreed with the gentleman, that, when amendments were brought on, a collective view of the whole system might be taken.

[The 4th and 5th sections were then read.]

Mr. MONROE wished that the honorable gentleman, who had been in the federal Convention, would give information respecting the clause concerning elections. He wished to know why Congress had an ultimate control over the time, place, and manner, of elections of representatives, and the time and manner of that of senators, and also why there was an exception as to the place of electing senators.

Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, the reason of the exception was, that, if Congress could fix the place of choosing the senators, it might compel the state legislatures to elect them in a different place from that of their usual sessions, which would produce some inconvenience, and was not necessary for the object of regulating the elections. But it was necessary to give the general government a control over the time and manner of choosing the senators, to prevent its own dissolution.

With respect to the other point, it was thought that the regulation of time, place, and manner, of electing the representatives, should be uniform throughout the continent. Some states might regulate the elections on the principles of equality, and others might regulate them otherwise. This diversity would be obviously unjust. Elections are regulated now unequally in some states, particularly South Carolina, with respect to Charleston, which is represented by thirty members. Should the people of any state by any means be deprived of the right of suffrage, it was judged proper that it should be remedied by the general government. It was found impossible to fix the time, place, and manner, of the election of representatives, in the Constitution. It was found necessary to leave the regulation of these, in the first place, to the state governments, as being best acquainted with the situation of the people, subject to the control of the general government, in order to enable it to produce uniformity, and prevent its own dissolution. And, considering the state governments and general government as distinct bodies, acting in different and independent capacities for the people, it was thought the particular regulations should be submitted to the former, and the general regulations to the latter. Were they exclusively under the control of the state governments, the general government might easily be dissolved. But if they be regulated properly by the state legislatures, the congressional control will very probably never be exercised. The power appears to me satisfactory, and as unlikely to be abused as any part of the Constitution.

Mr. MONROE wished to hear an explanation of the clause which prohibits either house, during the session of Congress, from adjourning for more than three days without the consent of the other. He asked if it was proper or right, that the members of the lower house should be dependent on the Senate. He considered that it rendered them in some respect dependent on the senators, as it prevented them from returning home, or adjourning, without their consent; and, as this might increase their influence unduly, he thought it improper.

Mr. MADISON wondered that this clause should meet with a shadow of objection. It was possible, he observed, that the two branches might not agree concerning the time of adjournment, and this possibility suggested the power given the President of adjourning both houses to such time as he should think proper, in case of their disagreement. That it would be very exceptionable to allow the senators, or even the representatives, to adjourn, without the consent of the other house, at any season whatsoever, without any regard to the situation of public exigencies. That it was possible, in the nature of things, that some inconvenience might result from it; but that it was as well secured as possible.

Gov. RANDOLPH observed, that the Constitution of Massachusetts was produced as an example, in the grand Convention, in favor of this power given to the President. If, said his excellency, he be honest, he will do what is right: if dishonest, the representatives of the people will have the power of impeaching him.

[The 6th section was then read.]

Mr. HENRY. Mr. Chairman, our burden should, if possible, be rendered more light. I was in hopes some other gentleman would have objected to this part. The pay of the members is, by the Constitution, to be fixed by themselves, without limitation or restraint. They may therefore indulge themselves in the fullest extent. They may make their compensation as high as they please. I suppose, if they be good men, their own delicacy will lead them to be satisfied with moderate salaries. But there is no security for this, should they be otherwise inclined. I really believe that, if the state legislatures were to fix their pay, no inconvenience would result from it, and the public mind would be better satisfied. But in the same section there is a defect of a much greater consequence. There is no restraint on corruption. They may be appointed to offices without any material restriction, and the principal source of corruption in representatives is the hope or expectation of offices and emoluments. After the first organization of offices, and the government is put in motion, they may be appointed to any existing offices which become vacant, and they may create a multiplicity of offices, in order thereafter to be appointed to them. What says the clause? “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.” This is an idea strangely expressed.

He shall not accept of any office created during the time he is elected for, or of any office whereof the emoluments have been increased in that time. Does not this plainly say that, if an office be not created during the time for which he is elected, or if its emoluments be not increased during such time, he may accept of it? I can see it in no other light. If we wish to preclude the enticement to getting offices, there is a clear way of expressing it. If it be better that Congress should go out of their representative offices by accepting other offices, then it ought to be so. If not, we require an amendment in the clause, that it shall not be so. I may be wrong. Perhaps the honorable member may be able to give a satisfactory answer on this subject.

Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, I most sincerely wish to give a proper explanation on this subject, in such a manner as may be to the satisfaction of every one. I shall suggest such considerations as led the Convention to approve of this clause. With respect to the right of ascertaining their own pay, I will acknowledge that their compensations, if practicable, should be fixed in the Constitution itself, so as not to be dependent on Congress itself, or on the state legislatures. The various vicissitudes, or rather the gradual diminution, of the value of all coins and circulating medium, is one reason against ascertaining them immutably; as what may be now an adequate compensation, might, by the progressive reduction of the value of our circulating medium, be extremely inadequate at a period not far distant.

It was thought improper to leave it to the state legislatures, because it is improper that one government should be dependent on another; and the great inconveniences experienced under the old Confederation show the states would be operated upon by local considerations, as contradistinguished from general and national interests. Experience shows us that they have been governed by such heretofore, and reason instructs us that they would be influenced by them again. This theoretic inconvenience of leaving to Congress the fixing their compensations is more than counterbalanced by this in the Confederation—that the state legislatures had a right to determine the pay of the members of Congress, which enabled the states to destroy the general government. There is no instance where this power has been abused. In America, legislative bodies have reduced their own wages lower, rather than augmented them. This is a power which cannot be abused without rousing universal attention and indignation. What would be the consequence of the Virginian legislature raising their pay to four or five pounds each per day? The universal indignation of the people. Should the general Congress annex wages disproportionate to their service, or repugnant to the sense of the community, they would be universally execrated. The certainty of incurring the general detestation of the people will prevent abuse.

It was conceived that the great danger was in creating new offices, which would increase the burdens of the people; and not in a uniform admission of all meritorious characters to serve their country in the old offices. There is no instance of any state constitution which goes as far as this. It was thought to be a mean between two extremes. It guards against abuse by taking away the inducement to create new offices, or increase the emolument of old offices; and it gives them an opportunity of enjoying, in common with other citizens, any of the existing offices which they may be capable of executing. To have precluded them from this, would have been to exclude them from a common privilege to which every citizen is entitled, and to prevent those who had served their country with the greatest fidelity and ability from being on a par with their fellow-citizens. I think it as well guarded as reason requires; more so than the constitution of any other nation.

Mr. NICHOLAS thought it sufficiently guarded, as it prevented the members of the general government from holding offices which they created themselves, or of which they increased the emoluments; and as they could not enjoy any office during their continuance in Congress, to admit them to old offices when they left Congress, was giving them no exclusive privilege, but such as every citizen had an equal right to.

Mr. TYLER was afraid that, as their compensations were not fixed in the Constitution, Congress might fix them so low, that none but rich men could go; by which the government might terminate in an aristocracy. The states might choose men noted for their wealth and influence, and state influence would govern the Senate. This, though not the most capital objection, he thought was considerable, when joined to others of greater magnitude. He thought the gentleman’s account of it was by no means satisfactory. A parallel had been drawn between this power in Congress of fixing their compensations, and that of our Assembly fixing the quantum of their salaries. He was of opinion the comparison did not apply, as there was less responsibility in the former than in the latter case. He dreaded that great corruption would take place, and wished to have it amended so as to prevent it.

Mr. GRAYSON. Mr. Chairman, it strikes me that they may fix their wages very low. From what has happened in Great Britain, I am warranted to draw this conclusion. I think every member of the House of Commons formerly had a right to receive twenty shillings, or a guineas a day. But I believe that this salary is taken away since the days of corruption. The members of the House of Commons, if I recollect rightly, get nothing for their services as such. But there are some noble emoluments to be derived from the minister, and some other advantages to be obtained. Those who go to Parliament form an idea of emoluments. They expect something besides wages. They go in with the wishes and expectations of getting offices. This, sir, may be the case in this government. My fears are increased from the inconveniences experienced under the Confederation.

Most of the great officers have been taken out of Congress, such as ambassadors to foreign courts, &c. A number of offices have been unnecessarily created, and ambassadors have been unnecessarily sent to foreign countries—to countries with which we have nothing to do. If the present Congress exceeded the limits of propriety, though extremely limited with respect to power in the creation of offices, what may not the future Congress do, when they have, by this system, a full scope of creating what offices and annexing what salaries they please? There are but few members in the Senate and lower house. They may all get offices at different times, as they are not excluded from being appointed to existing offices for the time for which they shall have been elected. Considering the corruption of human nature, and the general tendency of mankind to promote their own interest, I think there is great danger. I am confirmed in my opinion from what I have seen already in Congress, and among other nations. I wish this part, therefore, to be amended, by prohibiting any senator or representative from being appointed to any office during the time for which he was elected, and by fixing their emoluments; though I would not object to the Constitution on this account solely, were there no other defect.

Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, let me ask those who oppose this part of the system, whether any alteration would not make it equally, or more liable to objections. Would it be better to fix their compensations. Would not this produce inconveniences? What authorizes us to conclude that the value of coins will continue always the same? Would it be prudent to make them dependent on the state governments for their salaries—on those who watch them with jealous eyes, and who consider them as encroaching, not on the people, but on themselves? But the worthy member supposes that Congress will fix their wages so low, that only the rich can fill the offices of senators and representatives. Who are to appoint them? The rich? No, sir; the people are to choose them. If the members of the general government were to reduce their compensations to a trifle, before the evil suggested could happen, the people could elect other members in their stead, who would alter that regulation. The people do not choose them for their wealth. If the state legislatures choose such men as senators, it does not influence the people at large in their election of representatives. They can choose those who have the most merit and least wealth. If Congress reduce their wages to a trifle, what shall prevent the states from giving a man of merit so much as will be an adequate compensation? I think the evil very remote; and if it were now to happen, the remedy is in our own hands, and may by ourselves be applied.

Another gentleman seems to apprehend infinite mischief from a possibility that any member of Congress may be appointed to an office, although he ceases to be a member the moment he accepts it. What will be the consequence of precluding them from being so appointed? If you have in your country one man whom you could, in time of danger, trust, above all others, with an office of high importance, he cannot undertake it till two years expire if he be a representative, or till six years elapse if a senator. Suppose America was engaged in war, and the man of the greatest military talents and approved fidelity was a member of either house; would it be right that this man, who could lead us to conquer, and who could save his country from destruction, could not be made general till the term of his election expired? Before that time we might be conquered by our enemies. This will apply to civil as well as military officers. It is impolitic to exclude from the service of his country, in any office, the man who may be most capable of discharging its duties, when they are most wanting.

The honorable gentleman said, that those who go to Congress will look forward to offices, as a compensation for their services, rather than salaries. Does he recollect that they shall not fill offices created by themselves? When they go to Congress, the old offices will be filled. They cannot make any probable calculation that the men in office will die, or forfeit their offices. As they cannot get any new offices, one of these contingencies must happen before they can get ally office at all. The chance of getting an office is, therefore, so remote, and so very distant, that it cannot be considered as a sufficient reason to operate on their minds to deviate from their duty.

Let any man calculate in his own mind the improbability of a member of the general government getting into an office, when he cannot fill any office newly created, and when he finds all the old offices filled at the time he enters into Congress. Let him view the danger and impolicy of precluding a member of Congress from holding existing offices, and the danger of making one government dependent on another, and he will find that both clauses deserve applause.

The observations made by several honorable members illustrate my opinion, that it is impossible to devise any system agreeable to all. When objections so contradictory are brought against it, how shall we decide? Some gentlemen object to it because they may make their wages too high; others object to it because they may make them too low. If it is to be perpetually attacked by principles so repugnant, we may cease to discuss. For what is the object of our discussion? Truth, sir. To draw a true and just conclusion. Can this be done without rational premises and syllogistic reasoning?

As to the British Parliament, it is nearly as he says. But how does it apply to this case? Suppose their compensations had been appointed by the state governments, or fixed in the Constitution; would it be a safe government for the Union, if its members depended on receiving their salaries from other political bodies at a distance, and fully competent to withhold them? Its existence would, at best, be but precarious. If they were fixed in the Constitution, they might become extremely inadequate, and produce the very evil which gentlemen seem to fear; for then a man of the highest merit could not act unless he were wealthy. This is the most delicate part in the organization of a republican government. It is the most difficult to establish on unexceptionable grounds. It appears to me most eligible as it is. The Constitution has taken a medium between the two extremes, and perhaps with more wisdom than either the British or the state governments, with respect to their eligibility to office. They can fill no new offices created by themselves, nor old ones of which they increased the salaries. If they were excluded altogether, it is possible that other disadvantages might accrue from it, besides the impolicy and injustice of depriving them of a common privilege. They will not relinquish their legislative, in order to accept other offices. They will more probably confer them on their friends and connections. If this be an inconvenience, it is incident to all governments. After having heard a variety of principles developed, I thought that on which it is established the least exceptionable, and it appears to me sufficiently well guarded.

Mr. GRAYSON. Mr. Chairman, I acknowledge that the honorable gentleman has represented the clause rightly as to their exclusion from new offices; but is there any clause to hinder them from giving offices to uncles, nephews, brothers, and other relations and friends? I imagine most of the offices will be created the first year, and then gentlemen will be tempted to carry on this accommodation.

A worthy member has said—what had been often said before—that, suppose a war took place, and the most experienced and able man was unfortunately in either house, he could not be made general, if the proposed amendment was adopted. Had he read the clause, he would have discovered that it did not extend to military offices, and that the restriction extends to civil offices only. No case can exist, with respect to civil offices, that would occasion a loss to the public, if the members of both houses were precluded from holding any office during the time for which they were elected. The old Confederation is so defective in point of power, that no danger can result from creating offices under it; because those who hold them cannot be paid The power of making paper money will not be exercised. This country is so thoroughly sensible of the impropriety of it, that no attempt will be made to make any more. So that no danger can arise, as they have not power to pay, if they appoint, officers. Why not make this system as secure as that, in this respect? A great number of offices will be created, to satisfy the wants of those who shall be elected. The worthy member says, the electors can alter them. But have the people the power of making honest men be elected? If he be an honest man, and his wages so low that he could not pay for his expenses, he could not serve them if elected. But there are many thirsting after offices more than public good. Political adventurers go up to Congress solely to advance their own particular emoluments. It is so in the British House of Commons. There are two sets always in that house—one, the landed interest, the most patriotic and respectable; the other, a set of dependants and fortune-hunters, who are elected for their own particular interest, and are willing to sell the interest of their constituents to the crown. The same division may happen among our representatives. This clause might as well not be guarded at all, as in this flimsy manner. They cannot he elected to offices for the terms for which they were elected, and continue to be members of Congress. But as they can create as many offices as they please for the particular accommodation of their friends, it might as well not be guarded at all. Upon the whole, I consider it entirely imperfect.

[The 7th section read.]

Mr. GRAYSON objected to the power of the Senate to propose or concur with amendments to money bills. He looked upon the power of proposing amendments to be equal, in principle, to that of originating, and that they were, in fact, the same. As this was, in his opinion, a departure from that great principle which required that the immediate representatives of the people only should interfere with money bills, he wished to know the reasons on which it was founded. The lords in England had never been allowed to intermeddle with money bills. He knew not why the Senate should. In the lower house, said he, the people are represented according to their numbers. In the upper house, the states are represented in their political capacities. Delaware, or Rhode Island, has as many representatives here as Massachusetts. Why should the Senate have a right to intermeddle with money, when the representation is neither equal nor just?

Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, the criticism made by the honorable member is, that there is an ambiguity in the words, and that it is not clearly ascertained where the origination of money bills may take place. I suppose the first part of the clause is sufficiently expressed to exclude all doubts. The gentlemen who composed the Convention divided in opinion concerning the utility of confining this to any particular branch. Whatever it be in Great Britain, there is a sufficient difference between us and them to render it inapplicable to this country. It has always appeared to me to be a matter of no great consequence, whether the Senate had a right of originating or proposing amendments to money bills, or not. To withhold it from them would create disagreeable disputes. Some American constitutions make no difference. Virginia and South Carolina are, I think, the only states where this power is restrained. In Massachusetts, and other states, the power of proposing amendments is vested, unquestionably, in their senates. No inconvenience has resulted from it. On the contrary, with respect to South Carolina, this clause is continually a source of disputes. When a bill comes from the other house, the Senate entirely rejects it, and this causes contentions. When you send a bill to the Senate, without the power of making any alteration, you force them to reject the bill altogether, when it would be necessary and advantageous that it should pass.

The power of proposing alterations removes this inconvenience, and does not appear to me at all objectionable. I should have no objection to their having a right of originating such bills. People would see what was done, and it would add the intelligence of one house to that of the other. It would be still in the power of the other house to obstruct any injudicious measure proposed by them.

There is no landmark or constitutional provision in Great Britain, which prohibits the House of Lords from intermeddling with money bills; but the House of Commons have established this rule. Yet the lords insist on their having a right to originate them, as they possess great property, as well as the commons, and are taxed like them. The House of Commons object to their claim, lest they should too lavishly make grants to the crown, and increase the taxes. The honorable member says that there is no difference between the right of originating bills and proposing amendments. There is some difference, though not considerable. If any grievances should happen in consequence of unwise regulations in revenue matters, the odium would be divided, which will now be thrown on the House of Representatives. But you may safely lodge this power of amending with the Senate. When a bill is sent with proposed amendments to the House of Representatives, if they find the alterations defective, they are not conclusive. The House of Representatives are the judges of their propriety, and the recommendation of the Senate is nothing. The experience of this state justifies this clause. The House of Delegates has employed weeks in forming a money bill; and because the Senate had no power of proposing amendments, the bill was lost altogether, and a new bill obliged to be again introduced, when the insertion of one line by the Senate would have done. Those gentlemen who oppose this clause will not object to it when they recollect that the senators are appointed by the states, as the present members of Congress are appointed; for, as they will guard the political interests of the states in other respects, they will attend to them very probably in their amendments to money bills. I think this power, for these considerations, is useful and necessary.

Mr. GRAYSON still considered the power of proposing amendments to be the same, in effect, as that of originating. The Senate could strike out every word of the bill, except the word whereas, or any other introductory word, and might substitute new words of their own. As the state of Delaware was not so large as the county of Augusta, and Rhode Island was still less, and yet had an equal suffrage in the Senate, he could not see the propriety of giving them this power, but referred it to the judgment of the house.

[The 8th section read.]

Mr. CLAY wished to be informed why the Congress were to have power to provide for calling forth the militia, to put the laws of the Union into execution.

Mr. MADISON supposed the reasons of this power to be so obvious that they would occur to most gentlemen. If resistance should be made to the execution of the laws, he said, it ought to be overcome. This could be done only in two ways—either by regular forces or by the people. By one or the other it must unquestionably be done. If insurrections should arise, or invasions should take place, the people ought unquestionably to be employed, to suppress and repel them, rather than a standing army. The best way to do these things was to put the militia on a good and sure footing, and enable the government to make use of their services when necessary.

Mr. GEORGE MASON. Mr. Chairman, unless there be some restrictions on the power of calling forth the militia, to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions, we may very easily see that it will produce dreadful oppressions. It is extremely unsafe, without some alterations. It would be to use the militia to a very bad purpose, if any disturbance happened in New Hampshire, to call them from Georgia. This would harass the people so much that they would agree to abolish the use of the militia, and establish a standing army. I conceive the general government ought to have power over the militia, but it ought to have some bounds. If gentlemen say that the militia of a neighboring state is not sufficient, the government ought to have power to call forth those of other states, the most convenient and contiguous. But in this case, the consent of the state legislatures ought to be had. On real emergencies, this consent will never be denied, each state being concerned in the safety of the rest. This power may be restricted without any danger. I wish such an amendment as this—that the militia of any state should not be marched beyond the limits of the adjoining state; and if it be necessary to draw them from one end of the continent to the other, I wish such a check, as the consent of the state legislature, to be provided. Gentlemen may say that this would impede the government, and that the state legislatures would counteract it by refusing their consent. This argument may be applied to all objections whatsoever. How is this compared to the British constitution? Though the king may declare war, the Parliament has the means of carrying it on. It is not so here. Congress can do both. Were it not for that check in the British government, the monarch would be a despot. When a war is necessary for the benefit of the nation, the means of carrying it on are never denied. If any unjust requisition be made on Parliament, it will be, as it ought to be, refused. The same principle ought to be observed in our government. In times of real danger, the states will have the same enthusiasm in aiding the general government, and granting its demands, which is seen in England, when the king is engaged in a war apparently for the interest of the nation. This power is necessary; but we ought to guard against danger. If ever they attempt to harass and abuse the militia, they may abolish them, and raise a standing army in their stead. There are various ways of destroying the militia. A standing army may be perpetually established in their stead. I abominate and detest the idea of a government, where there is a standing army. The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless—by disarming them. Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them, &c. Here is a line of division drawn between them—the state and general governments. The power over the militia is divided between them. The national government has an exclusive right to provide for arming, organizing, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States. The state governments have the power of appointing the officers, and of training the militia, according to the discipline prescribed by Congress, if they should think proper to prescribe any. Should the national government wish to render the militia useless, they may neglect them, and let them perish, in order to have a pretence of establishing a standing army.

No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valor. But when once a standing army is established in any country, the people lose their liberty. When, against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence,—yeomanry, unskilful and unarmed,—what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havoc, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies! An instance within the memory of some of this house will show us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man,* who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia. [Here Mr. Mason quoted sundry passages to this effect.] This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed? The general government ought, at the same time, to have some such power. But we need not give them power to abolish our militia. If they neglect to arm them, and prescribe proper discipline, they will be of no use. I am not acquainted with the military profession. I beg to be excused for any errors I may commit with respect to it. But I stand on the general principles of freedom, whereon I dare to meet any one. I wish that, in case the general government should neglect to arm and discipline the militia, there should be an express declaration that the state governments might arm and discipline them. With this single exception, I would agree to this part, as I am conscious the government ought to have the power.

[Note *: * Sir William Keith.]

They may effect the destruction of the militia, by rendering the service odious to the people themselves, by harassing them from one end of the continent to the other, and by keeping them under martial law.

The English Parliament never pass a mutiny bill but for one year. This is necessary; for otherwise the soldiers would be on the same footing with the officers, and the army would be dissolved. One mutiny bill has been here in force since the revolution. I humbly conceive there is extreme danger of establishing cruel martial regulations. If, at any time, our rulers should have unjust and iniquitous designs against our liberties, and should wish to establish a standing army, the first attempt would be to render the service and use of militia odious to the people themselves—Subjecting them to unnecessary severity of discipline in time of peace, confining them under martial law, and disgusting them so much as to make them cry out, “Give us a standing army!” I would wish to have some check to exclude this danger; as, that the militia should never be subject to martial law but in time of war. I consider and fear the natural propensity of rulers to oppress the people. I wish only to prevent them from doing evil. By these amendments I would give necessary powers, but no unnecessary power. If the clause stands as it is now, it will take from the state legislatures what divine Providence has given to every individual—the means of self-defence. Unless it be moderated in some degree, it will ruin us, and introduce a standing army.

Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, I most cordially agree, with the honorable member last up, that a standing army is one of the greatest mischiefs that can possibly happen. It is a great recommendation for this system, that it provides against this evil more than any other system known to us, and, particularly, more than the old system of confederation. The most effectual way to guard against a standing army, is to render it unnecessary. The most effectual way to render it unnecessary, is to give the general government full power to call forth the militia, and exert the whole natural strength of the Union, when necessary. Thus you will furnish the people with sure and certain protection, without recurring to this evil; and the certainty of this protection from the whole will be a strong inducement to individual exertion. Does the organization of the government warrant a belief that this power will be abused? Can we believe that a government of a federal nature, consisting of many co

Back to Table of Contents

Contents

General Overview

In 1787 and 1788, following the Constitutional Convention, a great debate took place throughout America over the Constitution that had been proposed.

In-Doors Debate

View in-depth studies of the Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York state ratifying conventions.

The Federal Pillars

View drawings of the federal pillars rising published by the Massachusetts Centinel during the ratification debate.

View Feature

The Stages of Ratification: An Interactive Timeline

View the six stages of the ratification of the Constitution with links to many other features on this site.

View Feature

Interactive Ratification Map

View interactive maps showing the breakdown of Federalist-Antifederalist strength at the state level during the Ratification debate.

View Interactive

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)

info@TeachingAmericanHistory.org