Elliot’s Debates: The Convention of the State of North Carolina
Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4
Convention of North Carolina, July 23, 1788
Wednesday, July 23, 1788.
The house met according to adjournment.
Mr. Gregory, from the committee of elections, to whom were referred the returns from Dobbs county, and sundry other papers, and the petition of sundry of the inhabitants of Dobbs county relative to the election of the said county, delivered in a report; which, being read, was agreed to in the following words, viz:
“Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that the sitting members returned from the county of Dobbs vacate their seats, as it does not appear that a majority of the county approved of a new election under the recommendation of his excellency, the governor; but the contrary is more probable.
“That it appears to this committee, that there was a disturbance and riot at the first election, (which was held on the days appointed by the resolve of the General Assembly,) before all the tickets could be taken out of the box, and the box was then taken away by violence; at which time it appears there were a sufficient number of tickets remaining in the box to have given a majority of the whole poll to five others of the candidates, besides those who had a majority of the votes at the time when the disturbance and riot happened. It is, therefore, the opinion of this committee, that the sheriff could have made no return of any five members elected; nor was there any evidence before the committee by which they could determine, with certainty, which candidates had a majority of votes of the other electors.
“The committee are therefore of opinion that the first election is void, as well as the latter.”
On a motion made by Mr. Galloway, seconded by Mr. Macon,
“Resolved, That the Bill of Rights and Constitution of this state, the Articles of Confederation, the resolve of Congress of the 21st of February, 1787, recommending a Convention of Delegates to meet at Philadelphia the second Monday in May, 1787, for the purpose of revising the said Articles of Confederation, together with the act of Assembly of this state, passed at Fayetteville, the 6th day of January, 1787, entitled ‘An act for appointing deputies from this state to a Convention proposed to be held in the city of Philadelphia in May next, for the purpose of revising the Federal Constitution:’ as also the resolve of Congress of the 28th September last, accompanying the report of the Federal Convention, together with the said report, and the resolution of the last General Assembly, be now read.”
The Bill of Rights and Constitution of this state, the Articles of Confederation, the act of Assembly of this state above referred to, and the resolution of Congress of the 28th September last, were accordingly read.
The honorable the president then laid before the Convention official accounts of the ratification of the proposed Federal Constitution by the states of Massachusetts and South Carolina; which were ordered to be filed with the Secretary, subject to the perusal of the members
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY moved that the Constitution Should be discussed clause by clause.
Mr. WILLIE JONES moved that the question upon the Constitution should be immediately put. He said that the Constitution had so long been the subject of the deliberation of every man in this country, and that the members of the Convention had had such ample opportunity to consider it, that he believed every one of them was prepared to give his vote then upon the question; that the situation of the public funds would not admit of lavishing the public money, but required the utmost economy and frugality; that, as there was a large representation from this state, an immediate decision would save the country a considerable sum of money. He thought it, therefore, prudent to put the question immediately.
He was seconded by Mr. PERSON, who added to the reasoning of, Mr. Jones, that he should be sorry if any man had come hither without having determined in his mind a question which must have been so long the object of his consideration.
Mr. IREDELL then arose, and addressed the president thus:
Mr. President, I am very much surprised at the motion which has been made by the gentleman from Halifax. I am greatly astonished at a proposal to decide immediately, without the least deliberation, a question which is perhaps the greatest that ever was submitted to any body of men. There is no instance of any convention upon the continent, in which the subject has not been fully debated, except in those states which adopted the Constitution unanimously. If it be thought proper to debate at large an act of Assembly, trivial in its nature, and the operation of which may continue but a few months, are we to decide on this great and important question without a moment’s consideration? Are we to give a dead vote upon it? If so, I would wish to know why we are met together. If it is to be resolved now by dead votes, it would have been better that every elector, instead of voting for persons to come here, should, in their respective counties, have voted or ballotted for or against the Constitution. A decision by that mode would have been as rational and just as by this, and would have been better on economical principles, as it would have saved the public the expense of our meeting here.
This is a subject of great consideration. It is a Constitution which has been formed after much deliberation. It has had the sanction of men of the first characters for their probity and understanding. It has also had the solemn ratification of ten states in the Union. A Constitution like this, sir, ought not to be adopted or rejected in a moment. If, in consequence of either, we should involve our country in misery and distress, what excuse could we make for our conduct? Is it reconcilable with our duty to our constituents? Would it be a conscientious discharge of that trust which they have so implicitly reposed in us? Shall it be said, sir, of the representatives of North Carolina, that near three hundred of them assembled for the express purpose of deliberating upon the most important question that ever came before a people, refused to discuss it, and discarded all reasoning as useless? It is undoubtedly to be lamented that any addition should be made to the public expense, especially at this period, when the public funds are so low; but if it be ever necessary on any occasion, it is necessary on this, when the question perhaps involves the safety or ruin of our country. For my own part, I should not choose to determine on any question without mature reflection; and on this occasion, my repugnance to a hasty decision is equal to the magnitude of the subject. A gentleman has said, he should be sorry if any member had come here without having determined in his mind on a subject he had so long considered. I should be sorry, sir, that I could be capable of coming to this house predetermined for or against the Constitution. I readily confess my present opinion is strongly in its favor. I have listened to every objection, that I had an opportunity of hearing, with attention, but have not yet heard any that I thought would justify its rejection, even if it had not been adopted by so many states. But notwithstanding this favorable opinion I entertain of it, I have not come here resolved, at all events, to vote for its adoption. I have come here for information, and to judge, after all that can be said upon it, whether it really merits my attachment or not. My constituents did me the honor to elect me unanimously, without the least solicitation on my part. They probably chose me because my sentiments were the same with their own. But highly as I value this honor, and much as I confess my ambition prompted me to aspire to it, had I been told that I should not be elected unless I promised to obey their directions, I should have disdained to serve on such dishonorable terms. Sir, I shall vote perfectly independent, and shall certainly avow a change of my present opinion, if I can be convinced it is a wrong one. I shall not, in such a case, be restrained by the universal opinion of the part of the country from which I came. I shall not be afraid to go back, and tell my constituents, “Gentlemen, I have been convinced I was in an error. I found, on consideration, that the opinion which I had taken up was ill founded, and have voted according to my sincere sentiments at the time, though contrary to your wishes.” I know that the honor and integrity of my constituents are such, that they would approve of my acting on such principles, rather than any other. They are the principles, however, I think it my duty to act upon, and shall govern my conduct.
This Constitution ought to be discussed in such a manner that every possible light may be thrown upon it. If those gentlemen who are so sanguine in their opinion that it is a bad government will freely unfold to us the reasons on which their opinion is founded, perhaps we may all concur in it. I flatter myself that this Convention will imitate the conduct of the conventions of other states, in taking the best possible method of considering its merits, by debating it article by article. Can it be supposed that any gentlemen here are so obstinate and tenacious of their opinion, that they will not recede from it when they hear strong reasons offered? Has not every gentleman here, almost, received useful knowledge from a communication with others? Have not many of the members of this house, when members of Assembly, frequently changed their opinions on subjects of legislation? If so, surely a subject of so complicated a nature, and which involves such serious consequences, as this, requires the most ample discussion, that we may derive every information that can enable us to form a proper judgment. I hope, therefore, that we shall imitate the laudable example of the other states, and go into a committee of the whole house, that the Constitution may be discussed clause by clause.
I trust we shall not go home and tell our constituents that we met at Hillsborough, were afraid to enter into a discussion of the subject, but precipitated a decision without a moment’s consideration.
Mr. WILLIE JONES. Mr. President, my reasons for proposing an immediate decision were, that I was prepared to give my vote, and believed that others were equally prepared as myself. If gentlemen differ from me in the propriety of this motion, I will submit. I agree with the gentleman that economical considerations are not of equal importance with the magnitude of the subject. He said that it would have been better, at once, for the electors to vote in their respective counties than to decide it here without discussion. Does he forget that the act of Assembly points out another mode?
Mr. IREDELL replied, that what he meant was, that the Assembly might as well have required that the electors should vote or ballot for or against the Constitution in their respective counties, as for the Convention to decide it in this precipitate manner.
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY. Mr. President, I had no supposition that the gentleman on my right (Mr. Jones) was afraid of a discussion. It is not so with me, nor do I believe that it is so with any gentleman here. I do not like such reflections, and am surprised that gentlemen should make them.
Mr. IREDELL declared that he meant not to reflect on any gentleman; but, for his part, he would by no means choose to go home and tell his constituents that he had voted without any previous consideration.
After some desultory conversation, the Convention adjourned tilt to-morrow, 10 o’clock.