Elliot’s Debates: Virginia Ratifying Convention: June 9, 1788
The Debates in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
In Convention, Richmond, Monday, June 9, 1788[The 1st and 2d sections till under consideration.]
Mr. HENRY. Mr. Chairman, I find myself again constrained to trespass on the patience of this committee. I wish there was a prospect of union in our sentiments: so much time would not then be taken up. But when I review the magnitude of the subject under consideration, and of dangers which appear to me in this new plan of government, and compare thereto my poor abilities to secure our rights, it will take much more time, in my poor, unconnected way, to traverse the objectionable parts of it; there are friends here who will be abler than myself to make good those objections which to us appear well founded. If we recollect, on last Saturday, I made some observations on some of those dangers which these gentlemen would fain persuade us hang over the citizens of this commonwealth, to induce us to change the government, and adopt the new plan. Unless there be great and awful dangers, the change is dangerous, and the experiment ought not to be made. In estimating the magnitude of these dangers, we are obliged to take a most serious view of themto see them, to handle them, and to be familiar with them. It is not sufficient to feign mere imaginary dangers; there must be a dreadful reality. The great question between us is, Does that reality exist? These dangers are partially attributed to bad laws, execrated by the community at large. It is said the people wish to change the government. I should be happy to meet them on that ground. Should the people wish to change it, we should be innocent of the dangers. It is a fact that the people do not wish to change their government. How am I to prove it? It will rest on my bare assertion, unless supported by an internal conviction in men’s breasts. My poor say-so is a mere nonentity. But, sir, I am persuaded that four fifths of the people of Virginia must have amendments to the new plan, to reconcile them to a change of their government. It is a slippery foundation for the people to rest their political salvation on my or their assertions. No government can flourish unless it be founded on the affection of the people. Unless gentlemen can be sure that this new system is founded on that ground, they ought to stop their career.
I will not repeat what the gentlemen sayI will mention one thing. There is a dispute between us and the Spaniards about the right of navigating the Mississippi. This dispute has sprung from the federal government. I wish a great deal to be said on this subject. I wish to know the origin and progress of the business, as it would probably unfold great dangers. In my opinion, the preservation of that river calls for our most serious consideration. It has been agitated in Congress. Seven states have voted, so that it is known to the Spaniards that, under our existing system, the Mississippi shall be taken from them. Seven states wished to relinquish this river to them. The six Southern States opposed it. Seven states not being sufficient to convey it away, it remains now ours. If I am wrong, there is a number on this floor who can contradict the facts; I will readily retract. This new government, I conceive, will enable those states who have already discovered their inclination that way, to give away this river. Will the honorable gentleman advise us to relinquish its inestimable navigation, and place formidable enemies on our backs? This weak, this poor Confederation cannot secure us. We are resolved to take shelter under the shield of federal authority in America. The southern parts of America have been protected by that weakness so much execrated. I hope this will be explained. I was not in Congress when these transactions took place. I may not have stated every fact. I may have misrepresented matters. I hope to be fully acquainted with every thing relative to the object. Let us hear how the great and important right of navigating that river has been attended to, and whether I am mistaken in my opinion that federal measures will lose it to us forever. If a bare majority of Congress can make laws, the situation of our western citizens is dreadful.
We are threatened with danger for the non-payment of our debt due to France. We have information come from an illustrious citizen of Virginia, who is now in Paris, which disproves the suggestions of such danger. This citizen has not been in the airy regions of theoretic speculation: our ambassador is this worthy citizen. The ambassador of the United States of America is not so despised as the honorable gentleman would make us believe. A servant of a republic is as much respected as that of a monarch. The honorable gentleman tells us that hostile fleets are to be sent to make reprisals upon us: our ambassador tells you that the king of France has taken into consideration to enter into commercial regulations, on reciprocal terms, with us, which will be of peculiar advantage to us. Does this look like hostility? I might go farther; I might say, not from public authority, but good information, that his opinion is, that you reject this government. His character and abilities are in the highest estimation; he is well acquainted, in every respect, with this country; equally so with the policy of the European nations. This illustrious citizen advises you to reject this government till it be amended. His sentiments coincide entirely with ours. His attachment to, and services done for, this country are well known. At a great distance from us, he remembers and studies our happiness. Living in splendor and dissipation, he thinks yet of bills of rightsthinks of those little, despised things called maxims. Let us follow the sage advice of this common friend of our happiness. It is little usual for nations to send armies to collect debts. The house of Bourbon, that great friend of America, will never attack her for her unwilling delay of payment. Give me leave to say, that Europe is too much engaged about objects of greater importance, to attend to us. On that great theatre of the world, the little American matters vanish. Do you believe that the mighty monarch of France, beholding the greatest scenes that ever engaged the attention of a prince of that country, will divert himself from those important objects, and now call for a settlement of accounts with America? This proceeding is not warranted by good sense. The friendly disposition to us, and the actual situation of France, render the idea of danger from that quarter absurd. Would this countryman of ours be fond of advising us to a measure which he knew to be dangerous? And can it be reasonably supposed that he can be ignorant of any premeditated hostility against this country? The honorable gentleman may suspect the account; but I will do our friend the justice to say, that he would warn us of any danger from France.
Do you suppose the Spanish monarch will risk a contest with the United States, when his feeble colonies are exposed to them? Every advance the people make to the westward, makes him tremble for Mexico and Peru. Despised as we are among ourselves, under our present government, we are terrible to that monarchy. If this be not a fact, it is generally said so.
We are, in the next place, frightened by dangers from Holland. We must change our government to escape the wrath of that republic. Holland groans under a government like this new one. A stadtholder, sir, a Dutch president, has brought on that country miseries which will not permit them to collect debts with fleets or armies. The wife of a Dutch stadtholder brought one hundred thousand men against that republic, and prostrated all opposition. This President will bring miseries on us like those of Holland. Such is the condition of European affairs, that it would be unsafe for them to send fleets or armies to collect debts. But here, sir, they make a transition to objects of another kind. We are presented with dangers of a very uncommon nature. I am not acquainted with the arts of painting. Some gentlemen have a peculiar talent for them. They are practised with great ingenuity on this occasion. As a counterpart to what we have already been intimidated with, we are told that some lands have been sold, which cannot be found; and that this will bring war on this country. Here the picture will not stand examination. Can it be supposed, if a few land speculators and jobbers have violated the principles of probity, that it will involve this country in war? Is there no redress to be otherwise obtained, even admitting the delinquents and sufferers to be numerous? When gentlemen are thus driven to produce imaginary dangers, to induce this Convention to assent to this change, I am sure it will not be uncandid to say that the change itself is really dangerous. Then the Maryland compact is broken, and will produce perilous consequences. I see nothing very terrible in this. The adoption of the new system will not remove the evil. Will they forfeit good neighborhood with us, because the compact is broken? Then the disputes concerning the Carolina line are to involve us in dangers. A strip of land running from the westward of the Alleghany to the Mississippi, is the subject to this pretended dispute. I do not know the length or breadth of this disputed spot. Have they not regularly confirmed our right to it, and relinquished all claims to it? I can venture to pledge that the people of Carolina will never disturb us. The strength of this despised country has settled an immense tract of country to the westward. Give me leave to remark, that the honorable gentleman’s observations on our frontiers, north and south, east and west, are all inaccurate.
Will Maryland fight against this country for seeking amendments? Were there not sixty members in that state who went in quest of amendments? Sixty, against eight or ten, were in favor of pursuing amendments. Shall they fight us for doing what they themselves have done? They have sought amendments, but differently from the manner in which I wish amendments to be got. The honorable gentleman may plume himself on this difference. Will they fight us for this dissimilarity? Will they fight us for seeking the object they seek themselves? When they do, it will be time for me to hold my peace. Then, sir, comes Pennsylvania, in terrible array. Pennsylvania is to go in conflict with Virginia. Pennsylvania has been a good neighbor heretofore. She is federalsomething terribleVirginia cannot look her in the face. If we sufficiently attend to the actual situation of things, we shall conclude that Pennsylvania will do what we do. A number of that country are strongly opposed to it. Many of them have lately been convinced of its fatal tendency. They are disgorged of their federalism. I beseech you to bring this matter home to yourselves. Was there a possibility for the people of that state to know the reasons of adopting that system, or understand its principles, in so very short a period after its formation? This is the middle of June. Those transactions happened last August. The matter was circulated by every effort of industry, and the most precipitate measures taken to hurry the people into adoption. Yet now, after having had several months to investigate it, a very large part of this community, a great majority of this community, do not understand it. I have heard gentlemen of respectable abilities declare they did not understand it. If, after great pains, men of high learning, who have received the aids of a regular education, do not understand it,if the people of Pennsylvania understood it in so short a time, it must have been from intuitive understandings, and uncommon acuteness of perception. Place yourselves in their situation; would you fight your neighbors for considering this great and awful matter? If you wish for real amendments, such as the security of the trial by jury, it will reach the hearts of the people of that state. Whatever may be the disposition of the aristocratical politicians of that country, I know there are friends of human nature in that state. If so, they will never make war on those who make professions of what they are attached to themselves.
As to the danger arising from borderers, it is mutual and reciprocal. If it be dangerous for Virginia, it is equally so for them. It will be their true interest to be united with us. The danger of our being their enemies will be a prevailing argument in our favor. It will be as powerful to admit us into the Union, as a vote of adoption, without previous amendments, could possibly be.
Then the savage Indians are to destroy us. We cannot look them in the face. The danger is here divided; they are as terrible to the other states as to us. But, sir, it is well known that we have nothing to fear from them. Our back settlers are considerably stronger than they. Their superiority increases daily. Suppose the states to be confederated all around us; what we want in numbers, we shall make up otherwise. Our compact situation and natural strength will secure us. But, to avoid all dangers, we must take shelter under the federal government. Nothing gives a decided importance but this federal government. You will sip sorrow, according to the vulgar phrase, if you want any other security than the laws of Virginia.
A number of characters, of the greatest eminence in this country, object to this government for its consolidating tendency. This is not imaginary. It is a formidable reality. If consolidation proves to be as mischievous to this country as it has been to other countries, what will the poor inhabitants of this country do? This government will operate like an ambuscade. It will destroy the state governments, and swallow the liberties of the people, without giving previous notice. If gentlemen are willing to run the hazard, let them run it; but I shall exculpate myself by my opposition and monitory warnings within these walls. But then comes paper money. We are at peace on this subject. Though this is a thing which that mighty federal Convention had no business with, yet I acknowledge that paper money would be the bane of this country. I detest it. Nothing can justify a people in resorting to it but extreme necessity. It is at rest, however, in this commonwealth. It is no longer solicited or advocated.
Sir, I ask you, and every other gentleman who hears me, if he can retain his indignation at a system which takes from the state legislatures the care and preservation of the interest of the people. One hundred and eighty representatives, the choice of the people of Virginia, cannot be trusted with their interests. They are a mobbish, suspected herd. This country has not virtue enough to manage its own internal interests. These must be referred to the chosen ten. If we cannot be trusted with the private contracts of the citizens, we must be depraved indeed. If he can prove that, by one uniform system of abandoned principles, the legislature has betrayed the rights of the people, then let us seek another shelter. So degrading an indignity, so flagrant an outrage on the states, so vile a suspicion, is humiliating to my mind, and many others.
Will the adoption of this new plan pay our debts? This, sir, is a plain question. It is inferred that our grievances are to be redressed, and the evils of the existing system to be removed, by the new Constitution. Let me inform the honorable gentleman that no nation ever paid its debts by a change of government, without the aid of industry. You never will pay your debts but by a radical change of domestic economy. At present you buy too much, and make too little, to pay. Will this new system promote manufactures, industry, and frugality? If, instead of this, your hopes and designs will be disappointed, you relinquish a great deal, and hazard indefinitely more, for nothing. Will it enhance the value of your lands? Will it lessen your burdens? Will your looms and wheels go to work by the act of adoption? If it will, in its consequence, produce these things, it will consequently produce a reform, and enable you to pay your debts. Gentlemen must prove it. I am a skeptic, an infidel, on this point. I cannot conceive that it will have these happy consequences. I cannot confide in assertions and allegations. The evils that attend us lie in extravagance and want of industry, and can only be removed by assiduity and economy. Perhaps we shall be told by gentlemen that these things will happen, because the administration is to be taken from us, and placed in the hands of the few, who will pay greater attention, and be more studiously careful than we can be supposed to be.
With respect to the economical operation of the new government, I will only remark, that the national expenses will be increased; if not doubled, it will approach it very nearly. I might, without incurring the imputation of illiberality or extravagance, say that the expense will be multiplied tenfold. I might tell you of a numerous standing army, a great, powerful navy, a long and rapacious train of officers and dependants, independent of the President, senators, and representatives, whose compensations are without limitation. How are our debts to be discharged unless the taxes are increased, when the expenses of the government are so greatly augmented? The defects of this system are so numerous and palpable, and so many states object to it, that no union can be expected, unless it be amended. Let us take a review of the facts. New Hampshire and Rhode Island have rejected it. They have refused to become federal. New York and North Carolina are reported to be strongly against it. From high authority, give me leave to tell that New York is in high opposition. Will any gentleman say that North Carolina is not against it? They may say so; but I say that the adoption of it in those two states amounts to entire uncertainty. The system must be amended before these four states will accede to it; besides, there are several other states which are dissatisfied, and wish alterations. Massachusetts has, in decided terms, proposed amendments; but, by her previous ratification, has put the cart before the horse. Maryland instituted a committee to propose amendments. It then appears that two states have actually refused to adopt; two of those who have adopted have a desire of amending; and there is a probability of its being rejected by New York and North Carolina. The other states have acceded without proposing amendments. With respect to them, local circumstances have, in my judgment, operated to produce its unconditional, instantaneous adoption. The locality of the seat of government, ten miles square, and the seat of justice, with all their concomitant emoluments, operated so powerfully with the first adopting state, that it was adopted without taking time to reflect. We are told that numerous advantages will result, from the concentration of the wealth and grandeur of the United States in one happy spot, to those who will reside in or near it. Prospects of profits and emoluments have a powerful influence on the human mind. We, sir, have no such projects as that of a grand seat of government for thirteen states, and perhaps for one hundred states hereafter. Connecticut and New Jersey have their localities also. New York lies between them. They have no ports, and are not importing states. New York is an importing state, and, taking advantage of its situation, makes them pay duties for all the articles of their consumption: thus these two states, being obliged to import all they want through the medium of New York, pay the particular taxes of that state. I know the force and effect of reasoning of this sort, by experience. When the impost was proposed, some years ago, those states which were not importing states readily agreed to concede to Congress the power of laying an impost on all goods imported, for the use of the Continental treasury. Connecticut and New Jersey, therefore, are influenced by advantages of trade in their adoption. The amount of all imposts is to go into one common treasury. This favors adoption by the non-importing states, as they participate in the profits which were before exclusively enjoyed by the importing states. Notwithstanding this obvious advantage to Connecticut, there is a formidable minority there against it. After taking this general view of American affairs, as respecting federalism, will the honorable gentleman tell me that he can expect union in America? When so many states are pointedly against it; when two adopting states have pointed out, in express terms, their dissatisfaction as it stands; and when there is so respectable a body of men discontented in every state,can the honorable gentleman promise himself harmony, of which he is so fond? If he can, I cannot. To me it appears unequivocally clear that we shall not have that harmony. If it appears to the other states that our aversion is founded on just grounds, will they not be willing to indulge us? If disunion will really result from Virginia’s proposing amendments, will they not wish the re-establishment of the union, and admit us, if not on such terms as we prescribe, yet on advantageous terms? Is not union as essential to their happiness as to ours? Sir, without a radical alteration, the states will never be embraced in one federal pale. If you attempt to force it down men’s throats, and call it union, dreadful consequences must follow. He has said a great deal of disunion, and the dangers that are to arise from it. When we are on the subject of disunion and dangers, let me ask, how will his present doctrine hold with what has happened? Is it consistent with that noble and disinterested conduct which he displayed on a former occasion? Did he not tell us that he withheld his signature? Where, then, were the dangers which now appear to him so formidable? He saw all America eagerly confiding that the result of their deliberations would remove their distresses. He saw all America acting under the impulses of hope, expectation, and anxiety, arising from their situation, and their partiality for the members of that Convention; yet his enlightened mind, knowing that system to be defective, magnanimously and nobly refused its approbation. He was not led by the illumined, the illustrious few. He was actuated by the dictates of his own judgment; and a better judgment than I can form. He did not stand out of the way of information. He must have been possessed of every intelligence. What alteration has a few months brought about? The eternal difference between right and wrong does not fluctuate. It is immutable. I ask this question as a public man, and out of no particular view. I wish, as such, to consult every source of information, to form my judgment on so awful a question. I had the highest respect for the honorable gentleman’s abilities. I considered his opinion as a great authority. He taught me, sir, in despite of the approbation of that great federal Convention, to doubt of the propriety of that system. When I found my honorable friend in the number of those who doubted, I began to doubt also. I coincided with him in opinion. I shall be a stanch and faithful disciple of his. I applaud that magnanimity which led him to withhold his signature. If he thinks now differently, he is as free as I am. Such is my situation, that, as a poor individual, I look for information every where.
This government is so new, it wants a name. I wish its other novelties were as harmless as this. He told us we had an American dictator in the year 1781. We never had an American President. In making a dictator, we followed the example of the most glorious, magnanimous, and skilful nations. In great dangers, this power has been given. Rome had furnished us with an illustrious example. America found a person for that trust: she looked to Virginia for him. We gave a dictatorial power to hands that used it gloriously; and which were rendered more glorious by surrendering it up. Where is there a breed of such dictators? Shall we find a set of American Presidents of such a breed? Will the American President come and lay prostrate at the feet of Congress his laurels? I fear there are few men who can be trusted on that head. The glorious republic of Holland has erected monuments of her warlike intrepidity and valor; yet she is now totally ruined by a stadtholder, a Dutch president.
The destructive wars into which that nation has been plunged, have since involved her in ambition. The glorious triumphs of Blenheim and Ramillies were not so conformable to the genius, nor so much to the true interest of the republic, as those numerous and useful canals, and dikes, and other objects, at which ambition spurns. That republic has, however, by the industry of its inhabitants, and policy of its magistrates, suppressed the ill effects of ambition. Notwithstanding two of their provinces have paid nothing, yet I hope the example of Holland will tell us that we can live happily without changing our present despised government. Cannot people be as happy under a mild as under an energetic government? Cannot content and felicity be enjoyed in republics as well as in monarchies, because there are whips, chains, and scourges, used in the latter? If I am not as rich as my neighbor, if I give my mitemy allrepublican forbearance will say that it is sufficient. So said the honest confederates of HollandYou are poor, we are rich. We will go on, and do better than be under an oppressive government. Far better will it be for us to continue as we are, than to go under that tight, energetic government.
I am persuaded of what the honorable gentleman says, that separate confederacies will ruin us. In my judgment, they are evils never to be thought of till a people are driven by necessity. When he asks my opinion of consolidation, of one power to reign over America with a strong hand, I will tell him I am persuaded of the rectitude of my honorable friend’s opinion, (Mr. Mason,) that one government cannot reign over so extensive a country as this is, without absolute despotism. Compared to such a consolidation, small confederacies are little evils; though they ought to be recurred to but in case of necessity. Virginia and North Carolina are despised. They could exist separated from the rest of America. Maryland and Vermont were not overrun when out of the confederacy. Though it is not a desirable object, yet I trust that, on examination, it will be found that Virginia and North Carolina would not be swallowed up, in case it was necessary for them to be joined together.
When we come to the spirit of domestic peace, the humble genius of Virginia has formed a government suitable to the genius of her people. I believe the hands that formed the American Constitution triumph in the experiment. It proves that the man who formed it, and perhaps by accident, did what design could not do in other parts of the world. After all your reforms in government, unless you consult the genius of its inhabitants, you will never succeed; your system can have no duration. Let me appeal to the candor of the committee, if the want of money be not the source of all our misfortunes. We cannot be blamed for not making dollars. This want of money cannot be supplied by changes in government. The only possible remedy, as I have before asserted, is industry, aided by economy. Compare the genius of the people with the government of this country. Let me remark, that it stood the severest conflict, during the war, to which ever human virtue has been called. I call upon every gentleman here to declare, whether the king of England had any subjects so attached to his family and government, so loyal, as we were? But the genius of Virginia called on us for libertycalled us from those beloved endearments, which, from long habits, we were taught to love and revere. We entertained, from our earliest infancy, the most sincere regard and reverence for the mother country. Our partiality extended to a predilection for her customs, habits, manners, and laws. Thus inclined, when the deprivation of our liberty was attempted, what did we do? What did the genius of Virginia tell us? Sell all, and purchase liberty!This was a severe conflict. Republican maxims were then esteemed. Those maxims, and the genius of Virginia, landed you safe on the shore of freedom.
On this awful occasion, did you want a federal government? Did federal ideas possess your minds? Did federal ideas lead you to the most splendid victories? I must again repeat the favorite idea, that the genius of Virginia did, and will again, lead us to happiness. To obtain the most splendid prize, you did not consolidate. You accomplished the most glorious ends by the assistance of the genius of your country. Men were then taught by that genius, that they were fighting for what was most dear to them. View the most affectionate father, the most tender mother, operated on by liberty, nobly stimulating their sonstheir dearest sonssometimes their only sonto advance to the defence of their country. We have seen sons of Cincinnatus, without splendid magnificence or parade, going, with the genius of their great progenitor, Cincinnatus, to the plough; men who served their country without ruining itmen who had served it to the destruction of their private patrimoniestheir country owing them amazing amounts, for the payment of which no adequate provision was then made. We have seen such men throw prostrate their arms at your feet. They did not call for those emoluments which ambition presents to some imaginations. The soldiers, who were able to command every thing, instead of trampling on those laws which they were instituted to defend, most strictly obeyed them. The hands of justice have not been laid on a single American soldier.
Bring them into contrast with Europeans. You will see an astonishing superiority over the latter. There has been a strict subordination to the laws. The honorable gentleman’s office gave him an opportunity of viewing if the laws were administered so as to prevent riots, routs, and unlawful assemblies. From his then situation, he could have furnished us with the instances in which licentiousness trampled on the laws. Among all our troubles, we have paid almost to the last shilling for the sake of justice; we have paid as well as any state: I will not say better. To support the general government and our own legislatureto pay the interest of the public debts and defray contingencieswe have been heavily taxed. To add to these things, the distresses produced by paper money, and by tobacco contracts, were sufficient to render any people discontented. These, sir, were great temptations; but in the most severe conflict of misfortunes, this code of laws, this genius of Virginiacall it what you willtriumphed over every thing.
Why did it please the gentleman (Mr. Corbin) to bestow such epithets on our country? Have the worms taken possession of the wood, that our strong vesselour political vesselhas sprung a leak? He may know better than I, but I consider such epithets to be the most illiberal and unwarrantable aspersions on our laws. The system of laws under which we have lived has been tried and found to suit our genius. I trust we shall not change this happy system. I cannot so easily take leave of an old friend. Till I see him following after and pursuing other objects, which can pervert the great objects of human legislation, pardon me if I withhold my assent.
Some here speak of the difficulty in forming a new code of laws. Young as we were, it was not wonderful if there was a difficulty in forming and assimilating one system of laws. I shall be obliged to the gentleman if he would point out those glaring, those great faults. The efforts of assimilating our laws to our genius have not been found altogether vain. I shall pass over some other circumstances which I intended to mention, and endeavor to come to the capital objection which my honorable friend made. My worthy friend said that a republican form of government would not suit a very extensive country; but that, if a government were judiciously organized, and limits prescribed to it, an attention to these principles might render it possible for it to exist in an extensive territory. Whoever will be bold to say that a continent can be governed by that system, contradicts all the experience of the world. It is a work too great for human wisdom. Let me call for an example. Experience has been called the best teacher. I call for an example of a great extent of country, governed by one government, or Congress, call it what you will. I tell him that a government may be trimmed up according to gentlemen’s fancy, but it never can operate; it would be but very short-lived. However disagreeable it may be to lengthen my objections, I cannot help taking notice of what the honorable gentleman said. To me it appears that there is no check in that government. The President, senators, and representatives, all, immediately or mediately, are the choice of the people. Tell me not of checks on paper; but tell me of checks founded on self-love. The English government is founded on self-love. This powerful, irresistible stimulus of self-love has saved that government.
It has interposed that hereditary nobility between the king and commons. If the host of lords assist or permit the king to overturn the liberties of the people, the same tyranny will destroy them; they will therefore keep the balance in the democratic branch. Suppose they see the commons encroach upon the king: self-love, that great energetic check, will call upon them to interpose; for, if the king be destroyed, their destruction must speedily follow. Here is a consideration, which prevails, in my mind, to pronounce the British government superior, in this respect, to any government that ever was in any country. Compare this with your congressional checks. I beseech gentlemen to consider whether they can say, when trusting power, that a mere patriotic profession will be equally operative and efficacious as the check of self-love. In considering the experience of ages, is it not seen that fair, disinterested patriotism, and professions of attachment to rectitude, have never been solely trusted to by an enlightened, free people? If you depend on your President’s and senators’ patriotism, you are gone. Have you a resting-place like the British government? Where is the rock of your salvation? The real rock of political salvation is self-love, perpetuated from age to age in every human breast, and manifested in every action. If they can stand the temptations of human nature, you are safe. If you have a good President, senators, and representatives, there is no danger. But can this be expected from human nature? Without real checks, it will not suffice that some of them are good. A good President, or senator, or representative, will have a natural weakness. Virtue will slumber.
The wicked will be continually watching: consequently you will be undone. Where are your checks? You have no hereditary nobilityan order of men to whom human eyes can be cast up for relief; for, says the Constitution, there is no title of nobility to be grantedwhich, by the by, would not have been so dangerous as the perilous cession of powers contained in this paper; because, as Montesquieu says, when you give titles of nobility, you know what you give; but when you give power, you know not what you give. If you say that, out of this depraved mass, you can collect luminous characters, it will not avail, unless this luminous breed will be propagated from generation to generation; and even then, if the number of vicious characters will preponderate, you are undone.
And that this will certainly be the case is, to my mind, perfectly clear. In the British government there are real balances and checks: in this system there are only ideal balances. Till I am convinced that there are actual efficient checks, I will not give my assent to its establishment. The President and senators have nothing to lose. They have not that interest in the preservation of the government that the king and lords have in England. They will, therefore, be regardless of the interests of the people. The Constitution will be as safe with one body as with two. It will answer every purpose of human legislation. How was the constitution of England when only the commons had the power? I need not remark, that it was the most unfortunate era when that country returned to king, lords, and commons, without sufficient responsibility in the king. When the commons of England, in the manly language which became freemen, said to their king, You are our servant, then the temple of liberty was complete. From that noble source have we derived our liberty: that spirit of patriotic attachment to one’s country, that zeal for liberty, and that enmity to tyranny, which signalized the then champions of liberty, we inherit from our British ancestors. And I am free to own that, if you cannot love a republican government, you may love the British monarchy; for, although the king is not sufficiently responsible, the responsibility of his agents, and the efficient checks interposed by the British Constitution, render it less dangerous than other monarchies, or oppressive tyrannical aristocracies. What are the checks of exposing accounts? The checks upon paper are inefficient and nugatory. Can you search your President’s closet? Is this a real check? We ought to be exceedingly cautious in giving up this life, this soul, of money, this power of taxation, to Congress. What powerful check is there here to prevent the most extravagant and profligate squandering of the public money? What security have we in money matters? Inquiry is precluded by this Constitution. I never wish to see Congress supplicate the states. But it is more abhorrent to my mind to give them an unlimited and unbounded command over our souls, our lives, our purses, without any check or restraint. How are you to keep inquiry alive? How discover their conduct? We are told, by that paper, that a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time. Here is a beautiful check! What time? Here is the utmost latitude left. If those who are in Congress please to put that construction upon it, the words of the Constitution will be satisfied by publishing those accounts once in one hundred years. They may publish or not, as they please. Is this like the present despised system, whereby the accounts are to be published monthly?
I come now to speak something of requisitions, which the honorable gentleman thought so truly contemptible and disgraceful. That incorrigible gentleman, being a child of the revolution, must recollect with gratitude the glorious effects of requisitions. It is an idea that must be grateful to every American. An English army was sent to compel us to pay money contrary to our consentto force us, by arbitrary and tyrannical coercion, to satisfy their unbounded demands. We wished to pay with our own consent. Rather than pay against our consent, we engaged in that bloody contest which terminated so gloriously. By requisitions we pay with our own consent; by the means we have triumphed in the most arduous struggle that ever tried the virtue of man. We fought then for what we are contending for nowto prevent an arbitrary deprivation of our property, contrary to our consent and inclination. I shall be told in this place that those who are to tax us are our representatives. To this I answer, that there is no real check to prevent their ruining us. There is no actual responsibility. The only semblance of a check is the negative power of not re-electing them. This, sir, is but a feeble barrier, when their personal interest, their ambition and avarice, come to be put in contrast with the happiness of the people. All checks founded on any thing but self-love will not avail. The Constitution reflects in the most degrading and mortifying manner on the virtue, integrity, and wisdom of the state legislatures; it presupposes that the chosen few who go to Congress will have more upright hearts, and more enlightened minds, than those who are members of the individual legislatures. To suppose that ten gentlemen shall have more real, substantial merit than one hundred and seventy, is humiliating to the last degree. If, sir, the diminution of numbers be an augmentation of merit, perfection must centre in one. If you have the faculty of discerning spirits, it is better to point out at once the man who has the most illumined qualities. If ten men be better than one hundred and seventy, it follows of necessity that one is better than tenthe choice is more refined.
Such is the danger of the abuse of implied power, that it would be safer at once to have seven representatives, the number to which we are now entitled, than depend on the uncertain and ambiguous language of that paper. The number may be lessened, instead of being increased; and yet, by argumentative, constructive, implied power, the proportion of taxes may continue the same, or be increased. Nothing is more perilous than constructive power, which gentlemen are so willing to trust their happiness to.
If sheriffs prove now an overmatch for our legislature, if their ingenuity has eluded the vigilance of our laws, how will the matter be amended when they come clothed with federal authority? A strenuous argument offered by gentlemen is, that the same sheriffs may collect for the Continental and state treasuries. I have before shown that this must have an inevitable tendency to give a decided preference to the federal treasury in the actual collections, and to throw all deficiencies on the state. This imaginary remedy for the evil of congressional taxation will have another oppressive operation. The sheriff comes to-day as a state collector. Next day he is federal. How are you to fix him? How will it be possible to discriminate oppressions committed in one capacity from those perpetrated in the other? Will not this ingenuity perplex the simple and honest planter? This will at least involve in difficulties those who are unacquainted with legal ingenuity. When you fix him, where are you to punish him? for I suppose they will not stay in our courts: they must go to the federal court; for, if I understand that paper right, all controversies arising under that Constitution, or under the laws made in pursuance thereof, are to be tried in that court. When gentlemen told us that this part deserved the least exception, I was in hopes they would prove that there was plausibility in their suggestions, and that oppression would probably not follow. Are we not told that it shall be treason to levy war against the United States? Suppose an insult offered to the federal laws at an immense distance from Philadelphia,will this be deemed treason? And shall a man be dragged many hundred miles, to be tried as a criminal, for having, perhaps justifiably, resisted an unwarrantable attack upon his person or property? I am not well acquainted with federal jurisprudence; but it appears to me that these oppressions must result from this part of the plan. It is at least doubtful; and where there is even a possibility of such evils, they ought to be guarded against.
There are to be a number of places fitted out for arsenals and dockyards in the different states. Unless you sell to Congress such places as are proper for these, within your state, you will not be consistent after adoption: it results, therefore, clearly, that you are to give into their hands all such places as are fit for strongholds. When you have these fortifications and garrisons within your state, your legislature will have no power over them, though they see the most dangerous insults offered to the people daily. They are also to have magazines in each state. These depositories for arms, though within the state, will be free from the control of its legislature. Are we at last brought to such an humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defence? Where is the difference between having our arms in our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defence be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands? If our legislature be unworthy of legislating for every foot in this state, they are unworthy of saying another word.
The clause which says that Congress shall “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, reserving to the states respectively the appointment of the officers,” seemed to put the states in the power of Congress. I wished to be informed, if Congress neglected to discipline them, whether the states were not precluded from doing it. Not being favored with a particular answer, I am confirmed in my opinion, that the states have not the power of disciplining them, without recurring to the doctrine of constructive implied powers. If, by implication, the states may discipline them, by implication, also, Congress may officer them; because, in a partition of power, each has a right to come in for part; and because implication is to operate in favor of Congress on all occasions, where their object is the extension of power, as well as in favor of the states. We have not one fourth of the arms that would be sufficient to defend ourselves. The power of arming the militia, and the means of purchasing arms, are taken from the states by the paramount powers of Congress. If Congress will not arm them, they will not be armed at all.
There have been no instances shown of a voluntary cession of power, sufficient to induce me to grant the most dangerous power; a possibility of their future relinquishment will not persuade me to yield such powers.
Congress, by the power of taxation, by that of raising an army, and by their control over the militia, have the sword in one hand, and the purse in the other. Shall we be safe without either? Congress have an unlimited power over both: they are entirely given up by us. Let him candidly tell me, where and when did freedom exist, when the sword and purse were given up from the people? Unless a miracle in human affairs interposed, no nation ever retained its liberty after the loss of the sword and purse. Can you prove, by any argumentative deduction, that it is possible to be safe without retaining one of these? If you give them up, you are gone. Give us at least a plausible apology why Congress should keep their proceedings in secret. They have the power of keeping them secret as long as they please, for the provision for a periodical publication is too inexplicit and ambiguous to avail any thing. The expression from time to time, as I have more than once observed, admits of any extension. They may carry on the most wicked and pernicious of schemes under the dark veil of secrecy. The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. The most iniquitous plots may be carried on against their liberty and happiness. I am not an advocate for divulging indiscriminately all the operations of government, though the practice of our ancestors, in some degree, justifies it. Such transactions as relate to military operations or affairs of great consequence, the immediate promulgation of which might defeat the interests of the community, I would not wish to be published, till the end which required their secrecy should have been effected. But to cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business, is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man, and every friend to his country.[Mr. Henry then, in a very animated manner, expatiated on the evil and pernicious tendency of keeping secret the common proceedings of government, and said that it was contrary to the practice of other free nations. The people of England, he asserted, had gained immortal honor by the manly boldness wherewith they divulged to all the world their political disquisitions and operations, and that such a conduct inspired other nations with respect. He illustrated his arguments by several quotations.]
He then continued: I appeal to this Convention if it would not be better for America to take off the veil of secrecy. Look at ushear our transactions! If this had been the language of the federal Convention, what would have been the result? Such a constitution would not have come out to your utter astonishment, conceding such dangerous powers, and recommending secrecy in the future transactions of government. I believe it would have given more general satisfaction, if the proceedings of that Convention had not been concealed from the public eye. This Constitution authorizes the same conduct. There is not an English feature in it. The transactions of Congress may be concealed a century from the public, consistently with the Constitution. This, sir, is a laudable imitation of the transactions of the Spanish treaty. We have not forgotten with what a thick veil of secrecy those transactions were covered.
We are told that this government, collectively taken, is without an example; that it is national in this part, and federal in that part, &c. We may be amused, if we please, by a treatise of political anatomy. In the brain it is national; the stamina are federal; some limbs are federal, others national. The senators are voted for by the state legislatures; so far it is federal. Individuals choose the members of the first branch; here it is national. It is federal in conferring general powers, but national in retaining them. It is not to be supported by the states; the pockets of individuals are to be searched for its maintenance. What signifies it to me that you have the most curious anatomical description of it in its creation? To all the common purposes of legislation, it is a great consolidation of government.
You are not to have the right to legislate in any but trivial cases; you are not to touch private contracts; you are not to have the right of having arms in your own defence; you cannot be trusted with dealing out justice between man and man. What shall the states have to do? Take care of the poor, repair and make highways, erect bridges, and so on, and so on? Abolish the state legislatures at once. What purposes should they be continued for? Our legislature will indeed be a ludicrous spectacleone hundred and eighty men marching in solemn, farcical procession, exhibiting a mournful proof of the lost liberty of their country, without the power of restoring it. But, sir, we have the consolation that it is a mixed government; that is, it may work sorely on your neck, but you will have some comfort by saying, that it was a federal government in its origin.
I beg gentlemen to consider: lay aside your prejudices. Is this a federal government? Is it not a consolidated government for almost every purpose? Is the government of Virginia a state government after this government is adopted? I grant that it is a republican government, but for what purposes? For such trivial domestic considerations as render it unworthy the name of a legislature. I shall take leave of this political anatomy, by observing that it is the most extraordinary that ever entered into the imagination of man. If our political diseases demand a cure, this is an unheard-of medicine. The honorable member, I am convinced, wanted a name for it. Were your health in danger, would you take new medicine? I need not make use of these exclamations: for every member in this committee must be alarmed at making new and unusual experiments in government. Let us have national credit and a national treasury in case of war. You never can want national resources in time of war, if the war be a national oneif it be necessary, and this necessity be obvious to the meanest capacity. The utmost exertions will be used by the people of America in that case. A republic has this advantage over a monarchy, that its wars are generally founded on more just grounds. A republic can never enter into a war, unless it be a national warunless it be approved of, or desired, by the whole community. Did ever a republic fail to use the utmost resources of the community when war was necessary? I call for an example. I call also for an example where a republic has been engaged in a war contrary to the wishes of its people. There are thousands of examples where the ambition of its prince has precipitated a nation into the most destructive war. No nation ever withheld power when its object was just and right. I will hazard an observation: I find fault with the paper before you, because the same power that declares war has the power to carry it on. Is it so in England? The king declares war; the House of Commons gives the means of carrying it on. This is a strong check on the king. He will enter into no war that is unnecessary; for the commons, having the power of withholding the means, will exercise that power, unless the object of the war be for the interest of the nation. How is it here? The Congress can both declare war and carry it on, and levy your money, as long as you have a shilling to pay.
I shall now speak a little of the colonial confederacy which was proposed at Albany. Massachusetts did not give her consent to the project at Albany, so as to consolidate with the other colonies. Had there been a consolidation at Albany, where would have been their charter? Would that confederacy have preserved their charter from Britain? The strength and energy of the then designed government would have crushed American opposition.
The American revolution took its origin from the comparative weakness of the British governmentnot being concentrated in one point. A concentration of the strength and interest of the British government, in one point, would have rendered opposition to its tyrannies fruitless. For want of that consolidation do we now enjoy liberty, and the privilege of debating at this moment. I am pleased with the colonial establishment. The example which the honorable member has produced, to persuade us to depart from our present confederacy, rivets me to my former opinion, and convinces me that consolidation must end in the destruction of our liberties.
The honorable gentleman has told us of our ingratitude to France. She does not intend to take payment by force. Ingratitude shall not be laid to my charge. I wish to see the friendship between this country and that magnanimous ally perpetuated. Requisitions will enable us to pay the debt we owe to France and other countries. She does not desire us to go from our beloved republican government. The change is inconsistent with our engagements with those nations. It is cried out that those in opposition wish disunion. This is not true. They are the most strenuous enemies to it. This government will clearly operate disunion. If it be heard, on the other side of the Atlantic, that you are going to disunite and dissolve the confederacy, what says France? Will she be indifferent to an event that will so radically affect her treaties with us? Our treaty with her is founded on the federationwe are bound to her as thirteen states confederated. What will become of the treaty? It is said that treaties will be on a better footing. How so? Will the President, Senate, and House of Representatives, be parties to them? I cannot conceive how the treaties can be as binding if the confederacy is dissolved as they are now. Those nations will not continue their friendship then; they will become our enemies. I look on the treaties as the greatest pillars of safety. If the house of Bourbon keeps us, we are safe. Dissolve that confederacywho has you? The British. Federalism will not protect you from the British. Is a connection with that country more desirable? I was amazed when gentlemen forgot the friends of America. I hope that this dangerous change will not be effected. It is safe for the French and Spaniards that we should continue to be thirteen states; but it is not so that we should be consolidated into one government. They have settlements in America: will they like schemes of popular ambition? Will they not have some serious reflections? You may tell them you have not changed your situation; but they will not believe you. If there be a real check intended to be left on Congress, it must be left in the state governments. There will be some check, as long as the judges are incorrupt. As long as they are upright, you may preserve your liberty. But what will the judges determine when the state and federal authority come to be contrasted? Will your liberty then be secure, when the congressional laws are declared paramount to the laws of your state, and the judges are sworn to support them?
I am constrained to make a few remarks on the absurdity of adopting this system, and relying on the chance of getting it amended afterwards. When it is confessed to be replete with defects, is it not offering to insult your understandings to attempt to reason you out of the propriety of rejecting it till it be amended? Does it not insult your judgments to tell you, Adopt first, and then amend! Is your rage for novelty so great, that you are first to sign and seal, and then to retract? Is it possible to conceive a greater solecism? I am at a loss what to say. You agree to bind yourselves hand and footfor the sake of what? Of being unbound. You go into a dungeonfor what? To get out. Is there no danger, when you go in, that the bolts of federal authority shall shut you in? Human nature never will part from power. Look for an example of a voluntary relinquishment of power, from one end of the globe to another: you will find none. Nine tenths of our fellowmen have been, and are now, depressed by the most intolerable slavery, in the different parts of the world, because the strong hand of power has bolted them in the dungeon of despotism.
Review the present situation of the nations of Europe, which is pretended to be the freest quarter of the globe. Cast your eyes on the countries called free there. Look at the country from which we are descended, I beseech you; and although we are separated by everlasting, insuperable partitions, yet there are some virtuous people there, who are friends to human nature and liberty. Look at Britain: see there the bolts and bars of power: see bribery and corruption defiling the fairest fabric that ever human nature reared! Can a gentleman who is an Englishman, or who is acquainted with the English history, desire to prove these evils? See the efforts of a man descended from a friend of Americasee the efforts of that man, assisted even by the king, to make reforms. But you find the faults too strong to be amended. Nothing but bloody war can alter them. See Ireland! That country groaned, from century to century, without getting their government amended. Previous adoption was the fashion there. They sent for amendments from time to time, but never obtained them, though pressed by the severest oppression, till eighty thousand volunteers demanded them, sword in handtill the power of Britain was prostrate; when the American resistance was crowned with success. Shall we do so? If you judge by the experience of Ireland, you must obtain the amendments as early as possible. But, I ask you again, where is the example that a government was amended by those who instituted it? Where is the instance of the errors of a government rectified by those who adopted them?
I shall make a few observations to prove that the power over elections, which is given to Congress, is contrived by the federal government, that the people may be deprived of their proper influence in the government, by destroying the force and effect of their suffrages. Congress is to have a discretionary control over the time, place, and manner of elections. The representatives are to be elected, consequently, when and where they please. As to the time and place, gentlemen have attempted to obviate the objection by saying, that the time is to happen once in two years, and that the place is to be within a particular district, or in the respective counties. But how will they obviate the danger of referring the manner of election to Congress? Those illumined genii may see that this may not endanger the rights of the people; but in my unenlightened understanding, it appears plain and clear that it will impair the popular weight in the government. Look at the Roman history. They had two ways of votingthe one by tribes, and the other by centuries. By the former, numbers prevailed; in the latter, riches preponderated. According to the mode prescribed, Congress may tell you that they have a right to make the vote of one gentleman go as far as the votes of a hundred poor men. The power over the manner admits of the most dangerous latitude. They may modify it as they please. They may regulate the number of votes by the quantity of property, without involving any repugnancy to the Constitution. I should not have thought of this trick or contrivance, had I not seen how the public liberty of Rome was trifled with by the mode of voting by centuries, whereby one rich man had as many votes as a multitude of poor men. The plebeians were trampled on till they resisted. The patricians trampled on the liberties of the plebeians till the latter had the spirit to assert their right to freedom and equality. The result of the American mode of election may be similar. Perhaps I may be told that I have gone through the regions of fancythat I deal in noisy exclamations and mighty professions of patriotism. Gentlemen may retain their opinions; but I look on that paper as the most fatal plan that could possibly be conceived to enslave a free people. If such be your rage for novelty, take it, and welcome; but you never shall have my consent. My sentiments may appear extravagant, but I can tell you that a number of my fellow-citizens have kindred sentiments; and I am anxious, if my country should come into the hands of tyranny, to exculpate myself from being in any degree the cause, and to exert my faculties to the utmost to extricate her. Whether I am gratified or not in my beloved form of government, I consider that the more she has plunged into distress, the more it is my duty to relieve her. Whatever may be the result, I shall wait with patience till the day may come when an opportunity shall offer to exert myself in her cause.
But I should be led to take that man for a lunatic, who should tell me to run into the adoption of a government avowedly defective, in hopes of having it amended afterwards. Were I about to give away the meanest particle of my own property, I should act with more prudence and discretion. My anxiety and fears are great lest America, by the adoption of this system, should be cast into a fathomless bottom.Mr. Henry then concluded that, as he had not gone through all he intended to say, he hoped he would be indulged another time.
Mr. LEE, (of Westmoreland.) Mr. Chairman, when I spoke before, and called on the honorable gentleman (Mr. Henry) to come forward and give his reasons for his opposition in a systematic manner, I did it from love of order, and respect for the character of the honorable gentleman; having no other motives but the good of my country. As he seemed so solicitous that the truth should be brought before the committee on this occasion, I thought I could not do more properly than to call on him for his reasons for standing forth the champion of opposition. I took the liberty to add, that the subject belonged to the judgments of the gentlemen of the committee, and not to their passions. I am obliged to him for his politeness in this committee; but as the honorable gentleman seems to have discarded, in a great measure, solid argument and strong reasoning, and has established a new system of throwing those bolts which he has so peculiar a dexterity at discharging, I trust I shall not incur the displeasure of the committee by answering the honorable gentleman in the desultory manner in which he has treated the subject. I shall touch a few of those luminous points which he has entertained us with. He told us, the other day, that the enemies of the Constitution were firm supporters of liberty, and implied that its friends were not republicans. This may have been calculated to make impressions disadvantageous to those gentlemen who favor this new plan of government; and impressions of this kind are not easily eradicated. I conceive that I may say with truth that the friends of that paper are true republicans, and by no means less attached to liberty than those who oppose it. The verity of this does not depend on my assertion, but on the lives and well-known characters of different gentlemen in different parts of the continent. I trust the friends of that government will oppose the efforts of despotism as firmly as its opposers.
Much is said by gentlemen out of doors. They ought to urge all their objections here; I hope they will offer them here; I shall confine myself to what is said here. In all his rage for democracy, and zeal for the rights of the people, how often does he express his admiration of that king and Parliament over the Atlantic! But we republicans are contemned and despised. Here, sir, I conceive that implication might operate against himself.
He tells us that he is a stanch republican, and that he adores liberty. I believe him; and when I do so, I wonder that he should say that a kingly government is superior to that system which we admire. He tells you that it cherishes a standing army, and that militia alone ought to be depended upon for the defence of every free country. There is not a gentleman in this house, (not even the gentleman himself,) there is not man without these walls, who admires the militia more than I do. Without vanity, I may say I have had different experience of their service from that of the honorable gentleman. It was my fortune to be a soldier of my country. In the discharge of my duty, I knew the worth of militia. I have seen them perform feats that would do honor to the first veterans, and submitting to what would daunt German soldiers. I saw what the honorable gentleman did not seeour men fighting with the troops of that king whom he so much admires. I have seen proofs of the wisdom of that paper on your table. I have seen incontrovertible evidence that militia cannot always be relied upon. I could enumerate many instances, but one will suffice. Let the gentleman recollect the action of Guildford. The American regular troops behaved there with the most gallant intrepidity. What did the militia do? The greatest number of them fled. Their abandonment of the regulars occasioned the loss of the field. Had the line been supported that day, Cornwallis, instead of surrendering at Yorktown, would have laid down his arms at Guildford.
This plan provides for the public defence as it ought to do. Regulars are to be employed when necessary, and the service of the militia will always be made use of. This, sir, will promote agricultural industry and skill, and military discipline and science.
I cannot understand the implication of the honorable gentleman, that, because Congress may arm the militia, the states cannot do it: nor do I understand the reverse of the proposition. The states are, by no part of the plan before you, precluded from arming and disciplining the militia, should Congress neglect it. In the course of Saturday, and some previous harangues, from the terms in which some of the Northern States were spoken of, one would have thought that the love of an American was in some degree criminal, as being incompatible with a proper degree of affection for a Virginian. The people of America, sir, are one people. I love the people of the north, not because they have adopted the Constitution, but because I fought with them as my countrymen, and because I consider them as such. Does it follow from hence that I have forgotten my attachment to my native state? In all local matters I shall be a Virginian: in those of a general nature, I shall not forget that I am an American.
He has called on the house to expose the catalogue of evils which would justify this change of the government. I appeal to gentlemen’s candorhas not a most mournful detail been unfolded here?
In the course of the debates, I have heard from those gentlemen who have advocated the new system, an enumeration which drew groans from my very soul, but which did not draw one sigh from the honorable gentleman over the way. Permit me to ask if there be an evil which can visit mankind so injurious and oppressive, in its consequence and operation, as a tender-law? If Pandora’s box were on one side of me, and a tender-law on the other, I would rather submit to the box than to the tender-law. The principle, evil as it is, is not so base and pernicious as the application. It breaks down the moral character of your people, robs the widow of her maintenance, and defrauds the orphan of his food. The widow and orphan are reduced to misery, by receiving, in a depreciated value, money which the husband and father had lent out of friendship. This reverses the natural course of things. It robs the industrious of the fruits of their labor, and often enables the idle and rapacious to live in ease and comfort at the expense of the better part of the community.
Was there not another evil but the possibility of continuing such palpable injustice, I would object to the present system. But, sir, I will, out of many more, mention another. How are your domestic creditors situated? I will not go to the general creditors. I mean the military creditorthe man who, by the vices of your system, is urged to part with his money for a trivial considerationthe poor man, who has the paper in his pocket for which he can receive little or nothing. There is a greater number of these meritorious men than the honorable gentleman believes. These unfortunate men are compelled to receive paper instead of goldpaper which nominally represents something, but which in reality represents almost nothing. A proper government could do them justice, but the present one cannot do it. They are therefore forced to part from that paper which they fought for, and get less than a dollar for twenty shillings. I would, for my part, and I hope every other gentleman here would, submit to the inconvenience; but when I consider that the widows of gallant heroes, with their numerous offspring, are laboring under the most distressing indigence, and that these poor, unhappy people will be relieved by the adoption of this Constitution, I am still more impressed with the necessity of this change.
But, says the honorable gentleman, we are in peace. Does he forget the insurrection in Massachusetts? Perhaps he did not extend his philanthropy to that quarter. I was then in Congress, and had a proper opportunity to know the circumstances of this event. Had Shays been possessed of abilities, he might have established that favorite system of the gentlemanking, lords, and commons. Nothing was wanting to bring about a revolution but a great man to head the insurgents; but, fortunately, he was a worthless captain. There were thirty thousand stand of arms, nearly, in his power, which were defended by a pensioner of this country. It would have been sufficient had he taken this deposit. He failed in it; but, even after that failure, it was in the power of a great man to have taken it. But he wanted design and knowledge. Will you trust to the want of design and knowledge? Suppose another insurrection, headed by a different man: what will follow? Under a man of capacity, the favorite government of that gentleman might have been established in Massachusetts, and extended to Virginia.
But, sir, this is a consolidated government, he tells us; and most feelingly does he dwell on the imaginary dangers of this pretended consolidation. I did suppose that an honorable gentleman, whom I do not now see, (Mr. Madison,) had placed this in such a clear light that every man would have been satisfied with it.
If this were a consolidated government, ought it not to be ratified by a majority of the people as individuals, and not as states? Suppose Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, had ratified it; these four states, being a majority of the people of America, would be their adoption, have made it binding on all the states, had this been a consolidated government. But it is only the government of those seven states who have adopted it. If the honorable gentleman will attend to this, we shall hear no more of consolidation.
Direct taxation is another objection on which the honorable gentleman expatiates. This has been answered by several able gentleman; but as honorable gentleman reverts to the subject, I hope I shall be excused in saying a little on it. If union be necessary, direct taxes are also necessary for its support. If it be an inconvenience, it results from the union; and we must take its disadvantages with it: besides, it will render it unnecessary to recur to the sanguinary method which some gentlemen are said to admire. Had the Amphictyonic council had the power contained in that paper, would they have sent armies to levy money? Will the honorable gentleman say that it is more eligible and humane to collect money by carrying fire and sword through the country, than by the peaceable mode of raising money of the people, through the medium of an officer of peace, when it is necessary?
But says he, “The President will enslave you; Congress will trample on your liberties; a few regiments will appear; Mr. Chief Justice must give way; our mace-bearer is no match for a regiment.” It was inhuman to place an individual against a whole regiment. A few regiments will not avail; I trust the supporters of the government would get the better of many regiments. Were so made an attempt made, the people would assemble in thousands, and drive thirty times the number of their few regiments. We would then do as we have already done with the regiments of that king whom he so often tells us of.
The public liberty, says he, is designed to be destroyed. What does he mean? Does he mean that we, who are friends to that government, are not friends to liberty? No man dares to say so. Does he mean that he is a greater admirer of liberty than we are? Perhaps so. But I undertake to say that, when it will be necessary to struggle in the cause of freedom, he will find himself equalled by thousands of those who support this Constitution. The purse of the people of Virginia is not given up by that paper: they can take no more of our money than is necessary to pay our share of the public debts, and provide for the general welfare. Were it otherwise, no man would be louder against it than myself.
He has represented our situation as contradistinguished from the other states. What does he mean? I ask if it be fair to attempt to influence gentlemen by particular applications to local interests? I say, it is not fair. Am I to be told, when I come to deliberate on the interest of Virginia, that it obstructs the interest of the county of Westmoreland? Is this obstruction a sufficient reason to neglect the collective interests of Virginia? Were it of a local nature, it would be right to prefer it; but, being of a general nature, the local interest must give way. I trust, then, then, that gentlemen will consider that the object of their deliberations is of a general nature. I disregard the argument which insinuated the propriety of attending to localities; and I hope that the gentlemen to whom it was addressed regard too much the happiness of the community to be influenced by it.
But he tells you that the Mississippi is insecure unless you reject this system, and that the transactions relating to it were carried on under a veil of secrecy. His arguments on this subject are equally as defective as those I have just had under consideration. But I feel myself called on by the honorable gentleman to come forward and tell the truth about the transactions respecting the Mississippi. In every action of my life in which I have been concerned, whether as soldier or politician, the good of my country was my first wish. I have attended not only to the good of the United States, but also to that of particular districts. There are men of integrity and truth here who were also then in Congress. I call on them to put me right with respect to those transactions. As far as I could gather from what was then passing, I believe there was not a gentleman in that Congress who had an idea of surrendering the navigation of that river. They thought of the best mode of securing it: some thought one way, and some another way. I was one of those men who thought the mode which has been alluded to the best to secure it. I shall never deny that it was my opinion. I was one peculiarly interested. I had a fortune in that country, purchased, not by paper money, but by gold, to the amount of eight thousand pounds. But private interest could not have influenced me. The public welfare was my criterion in my opinion. I united private interest to public interest, not of the whole people of Virginia, but of the United States. I thought I was promoting the real interest of the people. But, says he, it was under the veil of secrecy. There was no peculiar or uncommon desire manifested of concealing those transactions. They were carried on in the same manner with others of the same nature, and consonant to the principles of the Confederation. I saw no anxiety on the occasion. I wish he would send to the president to know their secrets. He would be gratified fully.
The honorable member, this day, among other things, gave us a statement of those states that have passed the new system, of those who have not, and of those who would probably not pass it. He called his assertions facts; but I expected he would show us something to prove their existence.
He tells us that New Hampshire and Rhode Island have refused it. Is that a fact? It is not a fact. New Hampshire has not refused it. That state postponed her ultimate decision till she could know what Massachusetts would do; and whatever the gentleman may say of borderers, the people of that state were very right in conducting themselves as they did. With respect to Rhode Island, I hardly know any thing. That small state has so rebelled against justice, and so knocked down the bulwarks of probity, rectitude, and truth, that nothing rational or just can be expected from her.
She has not, however, I believe, called a convention to deliberate on it, much less formally refused it. From her situation, it is evident that she must adopt it, unless she departs from the primary maxims of human nature, which are those of self-preservation. New York and North Carolina are so high in opposition, he tells us, that they will certainly reject it. Here is another of his facts; and he says he has the highest authority. As he dislikes the veil of secrecy, I beg he would tell us that high authority from which he gets this fact. Has he official communications? Have the executives of those states informed him? Has our executive been apprized of it? I believe not. I hold his unsupported authority in contempt.
Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, have adopted; but, says he, they were governed by local considerations. What are these local considerations? The honorable gentleman draws advantages from every source; but his arguments operate very often against himself. I admire the state of Pennsylvania; she deserves the attachment of every lover of his country. Poor Pennsylvania, says he, has been tricked into it. What an insult! The honorable gentleman would not say so of an individual: I know his politeness too well. Will he insult the majority of a free country? Pennsylvania is a respectable state. Though not so extensive as Virginia, she did as much as any state, in proportion, during the war; and has done as much since the peace. She has done as much in every situation, and her citizens have been as remarkable for their virtue and science, as those of any state. The honorable gentleman has told you that Pennsylvania has been tricked into it; and in so saying has been insulted the majority of a free country, in a manner in which I would not dare to insult any private gentleman. The other adopting states have not been tricked into it, it seems. Why? The honorable gentleman cannot tell us why these have not been tricked into it, any more than he can tell why Pennsylvania has been tricked into it. Is it because of their superior power and respectability? or is it the consequence of their local situation? But the state of New York has too much virtue to be governed by local considerations. He insinuates this by his assertion that she will not regard the examples of the other states. How can he, without being inconsistent, and without perverting facts, pretend to say that New York is not governed by local considerations in her opposition? Is she not influenced by the local consideration of retaining that impost of which he says Connecticut and New Jersey wish to get a participation? What does he say of North Carolina? How will local considerations affect her? If the principle be uniform, she will be led by the local consideration of wishing to get a participation of the impost of the importing states. Is it to be supposed that she will be so blind to her own interest as to depart from this principle?
When he attempted to prove that you ought not to adopt that paper which I admire, he told you that it was untrodden ground. This objection goes to the adoption of any government. The British government ought to be proposed perhaps. It is trodden ground. I know not of any reason to operate against a system, because it is untrodden ground.
The honorable gentleman objects to the publication from time to time, as being ambiguous and uncertain. Does not from time to time signify convenient time? If it admits of an extension of time, does it not equally admit of publishing the accounts at very short periods? For argument sake, say they may postpone the publications of the public accounts to the expiration of every ten year: will their constituents be satisfied with this conduct? Will they not discard them, and elect other men, who will publish the accounts as often as they ought? It is also in their power to publish every ten days. Is it not more probable that they will do their duty than that they will neglect it, especially as their interest is inseparably connected with their duty? He says they may conceal them for a century. Did you ever hear so trivial and so captious an argument? I felt when the great genius of the gentleman nodded on that occasion. Another objection of the honorable gentleman (whom I cannot follow through all his windings and turnings) is, that those parts of the Constitution which are in favor of privileges, are not so clearly expressed as those parts which concede powers. I beg your attention, because this is a leading distinction. As long as the privilege of representation is well secured, our liberties cannot be easily endangered. I conceive this is secured in this country more fully than in any other. How are we, the people of America, as landholders, compared to the people of all the world besides? Vassalage is not know here. A small quantity of land entitles a man to a freehold: land is pretty equally divided, and the law of descents, in this country, will carry this division farther and fartherperhaps even to an extreme. This, of itself, secures this great privilege. Is it so in any other country? Is it so in England? We differ in this from all other countries. I admire this paper in this respect. It does not impair our right of suffrage. Whoever will have a right to vote for a representative to our legislature, will also have a right to vote for a federal representative. This will render that branch of Congress very democratic. We have a right to send a certain proportion. If we do not exert that right, it will be our folly.
It was necessary to provide against licentiousness, which is so natural to our climate. I dread more from the licentiousness of the people than from the bad government of rulers. Our privileges are not, however, in danger: they are better secured than any bill of rights could have secured them.
I say that this new system shows, in stronger terms than words could declare, that the liberties of the people are secure. It goes on the principle that all power is in the people, and that rulers have no powers but what are enumerated in that paper. When a question arises with respect to the legality of any power, exercised or assumed by Congress, it is plain on the side of the governed: Is it enumerated in the Constitution? If it be, it is legal and just. It is otherwise arbitrary and unconstitutional. Candor must confess that it is infinitely more attentive to the liberties of the people than any state government.[Mr. Lee then said, that, under the state governments, the people reserved to themselves certain enumerated rights, and that the rest were vested in their rulers; that, consequently, the powers reserved to the people were but an inconsiderable exception from what were given to their rulers; but that, in the federal government, the rulers of the people were vested with certain defined powers, and that what were not delegated to those rulers were retained by the people. The consequence of this, he said, was, that the limited powers were only an exception to those which rested in the people, and that they knew what they had given up, and could be in no danger. He exemplified the proposition in a familiar manner. He observed, that, if a man delegated certain powers to an agent, it would be an insult upon common sense to suppose that the agent could legally transact any business for his principal which was not contained in the commission whereby the powers were delegated; but that, if a man empowered his representative or agent to transact all his business except certain enumerated parts, the clear result was, that the agent could lawfully transact every possible part of his principal's business except the enumerated parts; and added, that these plain propositions were sufficient to demonstrate the inutility and folly (were he permitted to use the expression) of bills of rights.]
He then continued: I am convinced that that paper secures the liberty of Virginia, and of the United States. I ask myself if there be a single power in it which is not necessary for the support of the Union; and, as far as my reasoning goes, I say that, if you deprive it of one single power contained in it, it will be “vox et præterea nihil.” Those who are to go to Congress will be the servants of the people. They are created and deputed by us, and removable by us. Is there a greater security than this in our state government? To fortify this security, is there not a constitutional remedy in the government, to reform any errors which shall be found inconvenient? Although the honorable gentleman has dwelt so long upon it, he has not made it appear otherwise. The Confederation can neither render us happy at home nor respectable abroad. I conceive this system will do both. The two gentlemen who have been in the grand Convention have proved, incontestably, that the fears arising from the powers of Congress are groundless. Having now gone through some of the principal parts of the gentleman’s harangue, I shall take up but a few moments in replying to its conclusion.
I contend, for myself and the friends of the Constitution, that we are as great friends to liberty as he or any other person, and that we will not be behind in exertions in its defence when it is invaded. For my part, I trust that, young as I am, I shall be trusted, in the support of freedom, as far as the honorable gentleman. I feel that indignation and contempt, with respect to his previous amendments, which he expresses against posterior amendments. I can see no danger from a previous ratification. I see infinite dangers from previous amendments. I shall give my suffrage for the former, because I think the happiness of my country depends upon it. To maintain and secure that happiness is the first object of my wishes. I shall brave all storms and political dangers.
Gov. RANDOLPH. Having consumed heretofore so much of your time, I did not intend to trouble you again so soon. But now I call on this committee, by way of right, to permit me to answer some severe charges against the friends of the new Constitution. It is a right I am entitled to, and shall have. I have spoken twice in this committee. I have shown the principles which actuated the general Convention; and attempted to prove that, after the ratification of the proposed system by so many states, the preservation of the Union depended on its adoption by us. I find myself attacked in the most illiberal manner by the honorable gentleman, (Mr. Henry.) I disdain his aspersions and his insinuations. His asperity is warranted by no principle of parliamentary decency, nor compatible with the least shadow of friendship; and if our friendship must fall, let it fall, like Lucifer, never to rise again! Let him remember that it is not to answer him, but to satisfy his respectable audience, that I now get up. He has accused me of inconsistency in this very respectable assembly. Sir, if I do not stand on the bottom of integrity, and pure love for Virginia, as much as those who can be most clamorous, I wish to resign my existence. Consistency consists in actions, and not in empty, specious words. Ever since the first entrance into that federal business, I have been inevitably governed by an invincible attachment to the happiness of the people of America. Federal measures had been before that time repudiated. The augmentation of congressional powers was dreaded. The imbecility of the Confederation was proved and acknowledged. When I had the honor of being deputed to the federal Convention, to revise the existing system, I was impressed with the necessity of a more energetic government, and thoroughly persuaded that the salvation of the people of America depended on an intimate and firm union. The honorable gentlemen there can say, that, when I went thither, no man was a stronger friend to such a union than myself. I informed you why I refused to sign.
I understand not him who wishes to give a full scope to licentiousness and dissipationwho would advise me to reject the proposed plan, and plunge us into anarchy.[Here his excellency, Governor Randolph, read the conclusion of his public letter, (wherein he says, that, notwithstanding his objections to the Constitution, he would adopt it rather than lose the Union,) and proceeded to prove the consistency of his present opinion with his former conduct; when Mr. Henry arose, and declared that he had no personal intention of offending any one; that he did his duty, but that he did not mean to wound the feelings of any gentleman; that he was sorry if he offended the honorable gentleman without intending it; and that every gentleman had a right to maintain his opinion. His excellency then said that he was relieved by what the honorable gentleman said; that, were it not for the concession of the gentleman, he would have made some men's hair stand on end, by the disclosure of certain facts. Mr. Henry then requested that, if he had any thing to say against him, he would disclose it. His excellency then continued, that as there were some gentlemen there who might not be satisfied by the recantation of the honorable gentleman, without being informed, he should give them some information on the subject; that his ambition had ever been to promote the Union; that he was no more attached to it now than he always had been; and that he could in some degree prove it by the paper which he held in his hand, which was his public letter. He then read a considerable part of his letter, wherein he expressed his friendship to the Union. He then informed the committee, that, on the day of election of delegates for the Convention, for the county of Henrico, it being incumbent upon him to give his opinion, he told the respectable freeholders of that county his sentimentsthat he wished not to become a member of that Convention; that he had not attempted to create a belief that he would vote against the Constitution; that he did really unfold to them his actual opinion, which was perfectly reconcilable with the suffrage he was going to give in favor of the Constitution. He then read part of a letter which he had written to his constituents on the subject, which was expressive of sentiments amicable to a union with other states. He then threw down the letter on the clerk's table, and declared that it might lie there for the inspection of the curious and malicious.]
He then proceeded thus: I am asked why I have thought proper to patronize this government. Not because I am one of those illuminated, but because the felicity of my country requires it. The highest honors have no allurements to charm me. If he be as little attached to public places as I am, he must be free from ambition. It is true that I am now in an elevated situation; but I consider it as a far less happy or eligible situation than that of an inconsiderable landholder. Give me peaceI ask no more. I ask no honor or gratification. Give me public peace, and I will carve the rest for myself. The happiness of my country is my first wish. I think it necessary for that happiness that this Constitution be now adopted; for, in spite of the representation of the honorable gentleman, I see a storm growling over Virginia. No man has more respect for Virginia, or a greater affection for her citizens, than I have; but I cannot flatter you with a kinder or more agreeable representation, while we are surrounded by so many dangers, and when there is so much rancor in the hearts of your citizens.
I beg the honorable gentleman to pardon me for reminding him that his historical references and quotations are not accurate. If he errs so much with respect to his facts, as he has done in history, we cannot depend on his information or assertions. He had, early in the debates, instanced Holland as a happy democracy, highly worthy of our imitation. From thence he went over the mountains to Switzerland, to find another democracy. He represented all those cantons as being of the democratic kind. I wish he had reflected a little more, and distinguished those that are democratical from those which are aristocratical. He has already been reminded of his errors. I should not now put him right with respect to history, had he not continued his mistakes. Consult all writersfrom Sir William Temple to those of modern timesthey will inform you, that the republic of Holland is an aristocracy. He has inveighed against the stadtholder. I do not understand his application of this to the American President. It is well known that, but for the stadtholder, the republic would have been ruined long ago. Holland, it seems, has no ten miles square. But she has the Hague, where the deputies of the states assemble. It has been found necessary to have a fixed place of meeting. But the influence which it has given the province of Holland to have the seat of the government within its territory, subject in some respects to its control, has been injurious to the other provinces. The wisdom of the Convention is therefore manifest in granting the Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the place of their session. I am going to correct a still greater error which he has committed, not in order to show any little knowledge of history I have, (for I am by no means satisfied with its extent,) but to endeavor to prevent any impressions from being made by improper and mistaken representations.
He said that Magna Charta destroyed all implication. This was not the object of Magna Charta, but to destroy the power of the king, and secure the liberty of the people. The bill of rights was intended to restore the government to its primitive principles.
We are harassed by quotations from Holland and Switzerland, which are inapplicable in themselves, and not founded in fact.
I am surprised at his proposition of previous amendments, and his assertion that subsequent ones will cause disunion. Shall we not lose our influence and weight in the government to bring about amendments, if we propose them previously? Will not the senators be chosen, and the electors of the President be appointed, and the government brought instantly into action, after the ratification of nine states? In this disunion, when will the effect proposed be produced? But no man here is willing to believe what the honorable gentleman says on this point. I was in hopes we should come to some degree of order. I fear that order is no more. I believe that we should confine ourselves to the particular clause under consideration, and to such other clauses as might be connected with it.
Why have we been told that maxims can alone save nations; that our maxims are our bill of rights; and that the liberty of the press, trial by jury, and religion, are destroyed? Give me leave to say, that the maxims of Virginia are union and justice.
The honorable gentleman has passed by my observations with respect to British debts. He has thought proper to be silent on this subject. My observations must therefore have full force. Justice is, and ought to be, our maxim; and must be that of every temperate, moderate, and upright man. I should not say so much on this occasion, were it not that I perceive that the flowers of rhetoric are perverted, in order to make impressions unfavorable and inimical to an impartial and candid decision. What security can arise from a bill of rights? The predilection for it has arisen from a misconception of its principles. It cannot secure the liberties of this country. A bill of rights was used in England to limit the king’s prerogative; he could trample on the liberties of the people in every case which was not within the restraint of the bill of rights.
Our situation is radically different from that of the people of England. What have we to do with bills of rights? Six or seven states have none. Massachusetts has declared her bill of rights as no part of her Constitution. Virginia has a bill of rights, but it is no part of her Constitution. By not saying whether it is paramount to the Constitution or not, it has left us in confusion. Is the bill of rights consistent with the Constitution? Why, then, is it not inserted in the Constitution? Does it add any thing to the Constitution? Why is it not in the Constitution? Does it except any thing from the Constitution? Why not put the exceptions in the Constitution? Does it oppose the Constitution? This will produce mischief. The judges will dispute which is paramount. Some will say, the bill of rights is paramount: others will say, that the Constitution, being subsequent in point of time, must be paramount. A bill of rights, therefore, accurately speaking, is quite useless, if not dangerous to a republic.
I had objections to this Constitution. I still have objections to it. [Here he read the objections which appeared in his public letter.] The gentleman asks, How comes it to pass that you are now willing to take it? I answer, that I see Virginia in such danger, that, were its defects greater, I would adopt it. These dangers, though not immediately present to our view, yet may not be far distant, if we disunite from the other states I will join any man in endeavoring to get amendments, after the danger of disunion is removed by a previous adoption.
The honorable gentleman says that the federal spirit leads to disunion. The federal spirit is not superior to human nature, but it cannot be justly charged with having a tendency to disunion. If we were to take the gentleman’s discrimination as our guide, the spirit of Virginia would be dictatorial. Virginia dictates to eight states. A single amendment, proposed as the condition of our accession, will operate total disunion. Where is the state that shall conceive itself obliged to aid Virginia? The honorable gentleman says there is no dangergreat in imagination, but nothing in reality. What is the meaning of this? What would this state do, if opposed alone to the arms of France or Great Britain? Would there be no danger in such a case? Was not the assistance of France necessary to enable the United States to repel the attack of Great Britain? In the last war, by union and judicious concert of measures, we were triumphant. Can this be the case in a future war, if we be disunited from our sister states? What would have been the consequence, if, in the late war, we had reposed on our arms, and depended on Providence alone? Shall we ever be at peace, because we are so now? Is it unnecessary to provide against future events? His objection goes to prove that Virginia can stand by herself. The advice that would attempt to convince me of so pernicious an error I treat with disdain. Our negroes are numerous, and are daily becoming more so. When I reflect on their comparative number, and comparative condition, I am the more persuaded of the great fitness of becoming more formidable than ever.
It seems that republican borderers are peaceable. This is another lapse in history. Did he never know that a number of men were as much inspired with ambition as any individual? Had he consulted history, he would have known that the most destructive wars have been carried on, with the most implacable hatred, between neighboring republics. It is proved by his favorite Roman history, that republican borderers are as apt to have rancor in their hearts as any. The institutions of Lycurgus himself could not restrain republican borderers from hostility. He treats the idea of commercial hostility as extravagant. History might inform him of its reality. Experience might give him some instruction on the subject.
Go to the Potomac, and mark what you see. I had the mortification to see vessels within a very little distance from the Virginian shore, belonging to Maryland, driven from our ports by the badness of our regulations. I take the liberty of a freeman in exposing what appears to me to deserve censure. I shall take that liberty in reprehending the wicked act which attainted Josiah Phillips. Because he was not a Socrates, is he to be attainted at pleasure? Is hew be attainted because he is not among the high of reputation? After the use the gentleman made of a word innocently used to express a crowd, I thought he would be careful himself. We are all equal in this country. I hope that, with respect to birth, there is no superiority. It gives me pleasure to reflect that, though a man cannot trace up his lineage, yet he is not to be despised. I shall always possess these sentiments and feelings. I shall never aspire at high offices. If my country should ever think my services worth any thing, it shall be in the humble capacity of a representative: higher than this I will not aspire.
He has expatiated on the turpitude of the character of Josiah Phillips. Has this any thing to do with the principle on which he was attainted? We all agree that he was an abandoned man. But if you can prepare a bill to attaint a man, and pass it through both houses in an instant, I ask you, who is safe? There is no man on whom a cloud may not hang some time or other, if a demagogue should think proper to take advantage of it to his destruction. Phillips had a commission in his pocket at that time. He was, therefore, only a prisoner of war. This precedent may destroy the best man in the community, when he was arbitrarily attainted merely because he was not a Socrates.
He has perverted my meaning with respect to our government. I spoke of the Confederation. He took no notice of this. He reasoned of the Constitution of Virginia. I had said nothing of it on that occasion. Requisitions, however, he said, were safe and advisable, because they give time for deliberation. Will not taxation do this? Will not Congress, when laying a tax, bestow a thought upon it? But he means to say, that the state itself ought to say whether she pleases to pay or not. Congress, by the Confederation, has power to make any requisitions. The states are constitutionally bound to pay them. We have seen their happy,effects. When the requisitions are right, and duly portioned, it is in the power of any state to refuse to comply with them.
He says that he would give them the impost. I cannot understand him, as he says he has an hereditary hatred to custom-house officers. Why despise them? Why should the people hate them? I am afraid he has accidentally discovered a principle that will lead him to make greater opposition than can be justified by any thing in the Constitution. I would undertake to prove the fallacy of every Observation he made on that occasion; but it is too late now to add any more. At another opportunity I shall give a full refutation to all he has said.