Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4
Convention of North Carolina
Thursday, July 24, 1788.
The Convention met according to adjournment.
Rev. Mr. CALDWELL. Mr. President, the subject before us is of a complicated nature. In order to obviate the difficulty attending its discussion, I conceive that it will be necessary to lay down such rules or maxims as ought to be the fundamental principles of every free government; and after laying down such rules, to compare the Constitution with them, and see whether it has attended to them; for if it be not founded on such principles, it cannot be proper for our adoption. [Here he read those rules which he said appeared to him most proper.]
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY. Mr. President, I had the honor yesterday of proposing the mode which I thought most eligible for our proceeding. I wish the subject to be fairly, coolly, and candidly discussed, that we may not go away without knowing why we came hither. My intention is, that we should enter into a committee of the whole house, where we shall be at liberty to discuss it. Though I do not object to the proposition of the honorable member, as the groundwork of our proceeding, I hope he will withdraw his motion, and I shall second him in the committee.
Mr. CALDWELL had no objection to that proposition.
Mr. PERSON opposed the motion of entering into a committee. He conceived it would be a useless waste of time, as they would be obliged to reconsider the whole Constitution in Convention again.
Mr. DAVIE largely expatiated on the necessity of entering into a committee. He said, that the legislature, in voting so large a representation, did not mean that they should go away without investigating the subject, but that their collective information should be more competent to a just decision; that the best means was, to deliberate and confer together like plain, honest men. He did not know how the ardor of opposition might operate upon some gentlemen, yet he trusted that others had temper and moderation. He hoped that the motion of the member from Rockingham would be agreed to, and that the Constitution would be discussed clause by clause. He then observed, that, if they laid down a number of original principles, they must go through a double investigation; that it would be necessary to establish these original principles, and compare them with the Constitution; that it was highly improbable that they should agree on those principles; that he had a respect for the understanding of the honorable member, and trusted he would reflect, that difference in opinion arose from the nature of things; and that a great deal of time might be taken up to no purpose, if they should neither agree on those principles nor their application. He said, he hoped they would not treat this important business like a military enterprise, but proceed upon it like a deliberative body, and that the debates would be conducted with decency and moderation.
The Convention then resolved itself into a committee of the whole house, Mr. Elisha Battle in the chair.
Mr. CALDWELL. Mr. Chairman, those maxims which I conceive to be the fundamental principles of every safe and free government, are1st. A government is a compact between the rulers and the people, 2d. Such a compact ought to be lawful in itself. 3d. It ought to be lawfully executed. 4th. Unalienable rights ought not to be given up, if not necessary. 5th. The compact ought to be mutual. And, 6th. It ought to be plain, obvious, and easily understood. Now, sir, if these principles be just, by comparing the Constitution with them, we shall be able to judge whether it is fit for our adoption,
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I concur entirely in the sentiments lately urged by the gentleman from Halifax, and am convinced we shall be involved in very great difficulties if we adopt the principles offered by the gentleman from Guilford. To show the danger and impolicy of this proceeding, I think I can convince the committee in a moment, that his very first principle is erroneous. In other countries, where the origin of government is obscure, and its formation different from ours, government may be deemed a contract between the rulers and the people. What is the consequence? A compact cannot be annulled but by the consent of both parties; therefore, unless the rulers are guilty of oppression, the people, on the principle of a compact, have no right to new-model their government. This is held to be the principle of some monarchical governments in Europe. Our government is founded on much nobler principles. The people are known with certainty to have originated it themselves. Those in power are their servants and agents; and the people, without their consent, may new-model their government whenever they think proper, not merely because it is oppressively exercised, but because they think another form will be more conducive to their welfare. It is upon the footing of this very principle that we are now met to consider of the Constitution before us. If we attempt to lay down any rules here, it will take us as much time to establish their validity as to consider the system itself.
Mr. CALDWELL observed, that, though this government did not resemble the European governments, it still partook of the nature of a compact; that he conceived those principles which he proposed to be just, but was willing that any others, which should be thought better, should be substituted in their place.
Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman has taken his principles from sources which cannot hold here. In England, the government is a compact between the king and the people. I hope it is not so here. We shall have no officers in the situation of a king. The people here are the origin of all power. Our governors are elected temporarily. We can remove them occasionally, and put others in their stead. We do not bind ourselves. We are to consider whether this system will promote our happiness.
Mr. GOUDY. Mr. Chairman, I wonder that these gentlemen, learned in the law, should quibble upon words. I care not whether it be called a compact, agreement, covenant, bargain, or what. Its intent is a concession of power, on the part of the people, to their rulers. We know that private interest governs mankind generally. Power belongs originally to the people; but if rulers be not well guarded, that power may be usurped from them. People ought to be cautious in giving away power. These gentlemen say there is no occasion for general rules: every one has one for himself. Every one has an unalienable right of thinking for himself. There can be no inconvenience from laying down general rules. If we give away more power than we ought, we put ourselves in the situation of a man who puts on an iron glove, which he can never take off till he breaks his arm. Let us beware of the iron glove of tyranny. Power is generally taken from the people by imposing on their understanding, or by fetters. Let us lay down certain rules to govern our proceedings. It will be highly proper, in my opinion, and I very much wonder that gentlemen should object to it.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman who spoke last mistook what the gentleman from Wilmington and myself have said. In my opinion, there ought to be a line drawn, as accurately as possible, between the power which is given and that which is retained. In this system, the line is most accurately drawn by the positive grant of the powers of the general government. But a compact between the rulers and the ruled, which gentlemen compare this government with, is certainly not the principle of our government. Will any man say that, if there be a compact, it can be altered without the consent of both parties? Those who govern, unless they grossly abuse their trust, (which is held au implied violation of the compact, and therefore a dissolution of it,) have a right to say they do not choose the government should be changed. But have any of the officers of our government a right to say so if the people choose to change it? Surely they have not. Therefore, as a general principle, it can never apply to a government where the people are avowedly the fountain of all power. I have no manner of objection to the most explicit declaration that all power depends upon the people; because, though it will not strengthen their rights, it may be the means of fixing them on a plainer foundation. One gentleman has said that we were quibbling upon words. If I know my own heart, I am incapable of quibbling on words. I act on as independent principles as any gentleman upon the floor. If I make use of quibbles, there are gentlemen here who can correct me.
If my premises are wrong, let them be attacked. If my conclusions be wrong, let me be put right. I am sorry that, in debating on so important a subject, it could be thought that we were disputing about words. I am willing to apply as much time as is necessary for our deliberations. I have no objection to any regular way of discussing the subject; but this way of proceeding will waste time, and not answer any purpose. Will it not be in the power of any gentleman, in the course of the debates, to say that this plan militates against those principles which the reverend gentleman recommends? Will it not be more proper to urge its incompatibility with those principles during that discussion, than to attempt to establish their exclusive validity previous to our entering upon the new plan of government? By the former mode, those rules and the Constitution may be considered together. By the latter, much time may be wasted to no purpose. I trust, therefore, that the reverend gentleman will withdraw his motion.
Mr. RUTHERFORD. Mr. Chairman, I conceive those maxims will be of utility. I wish, as much as any one, to have a full and free discussion of the subject. To facilitate this desirable end, it seems highly expedient that some groundwork should be laid, some line drawn, to guide our proceedings. I trust, then, that the reverend gentleman’s proposal will be agreed to.
Mr. SPENCER. I conceive that it will retard the business to accede to the proposal of the learned gentleman. The observation which has been made in its behalf does not apply to the present circumstances. When there is a king or other governor, there is a compact between him and the people. It is then a covenant. But in this case, in regard to the government which it is proposed we should adopt, there are no governors or rulers, we being the people who possess all power. It strikes me that, when a society of free people agree on a plan of government, there are no governors in existence; but those who administer the government are their servants. Although several of those principles are proper, I hope they will not be part of one discussion, but that every gentleman will consider and discuss the subject with all the candor, moderation, and deliberation, which the magnitude and importance of the subject require.
Mr. CALDWELL observed, that he would agree that any other word should be substituted to the word compact; but, after all that had been said, the Constitution appeared to him to be of the nature of a compact. It could not be fully so called till adopted and put in execution; when so put in execution, there were actual governors in existence.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. President, what we have already said may convince the reverend gentleman what a long time it will take us to discuss the subject in the mode which he has proposed: those few solitary propositions Which he has put on paper, will make but a small part of the principles of this Constitution. I wish the gentleman to reflect how dangerous it is to confine us to any particular rules. This system is most extensive in its nature, involving not only the principles of governments in general, but the complicated principles of federal governments. We should not, perhaps, in a week lay down all the principles essential to such a Constitution. Any gentleman may, in the course of the investigation, mention any maxims he thinks proper, and compare them with the Constitution. It would take us more nine to establish these principles, than to consider the Constitution itself. It will be wrong to tie any man’s hands. I hope the question will be put.
Mr. PERSON insisted on the propriety of the principles, and that they ought to be laid on the table with the Declaration of Rights, Constitution of the state, and the Confederation.
Mr. LENOIR approved of the principles, but disapproved of being bound by any rules.
Mr. MACLAINE was of the same opinion as to the impropriety of being bound.
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY wished to leave the hands of the members free, but he thought these principles were unexceptionable. He saw no inconvenience in adopting them, and wished they would be agreed to.
Mr. LENOIR answered, that the matter had been largely debated. He said, that he thought the previous question ought to be put, whether they should lay down certain principles to be governed by, or leave every man to judge as his own breast suggested.
After some little altercation, the previous question was putfor the principles, 90; against them, 163; majority against them, 73.
His excellency, Gov. JOHNSTON, then moved to discuss it by sections. This was opposed, because it would take up too much time.
After some altercation about the mode of considering the Constitution, Mr. IREDELL arose, and spoke as follows:
Mr. President, whatever delay may attend it, a discussion is indispensable. We have been sent hither, by the people, to consider and decide this important business for them. This is a sacred trust, the honor and importance of which, I hope, are deeply impressed on every member here. We ought to discuss this Constitution thoroughly in all its parts. It was useless to come hither, and dishonorable, unless we discharge that trust faithfully. God forbid that any one of us should be determined one way or the other. I presume that every man thinks it his duty to hold his mind open to conviction; that whatever he may have heard, whether against or for the Constitution, he will recede from his present opinion, if reasons of sufficient validity are offered. The gentleman from Granville has told us, that we had since March to consider it, and that he hoped every member was ready to give Iris vote upon it. ‘Tis true, we have had since that time to consider it, and I hope every member has taken pains to inform himself. I trust they have conscientiously considered it; that they have read on both sides of the question, and are resolved to vote according to the dictates of their consciences. I can truly say, that I believe there are few members in this house who have taken more pains to consider it than myself. But I am still by no means confident that I am right. I have scarcely ever conversed on the subject with any man of understanding, who has not thrown some new light upon the subject which escaped me before. Those gentlemen who are so self-sufficient that they believe that they are never in the wrong, may arrogate infallibility to themselves, and conclude deliberation to be useless. For my part, I have often known myself to be in the wrong, and have ever wished to be corrected. There is nothing dishonorable in changing an opinion. Nothing is more fallible than human judgment. No gentleman will say that his is not fallible. Mine, I am sure, has often proved so. The serious importance of the subject merits the utmost attention; an erroneous decision may involve truly awful and calamitous consequences. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to decide it with the greatest deliberation. The Constitution is at least entitled to a regular discussion. It has had the sanction of many of the best and greatest men upon the continentof those very men to whom, perhaps, we owe the privilege of debating now. It has also been adopted by ten states since. Is it probable that we are less fallible than they are? Do we suppose our knowledge and wisdom to be superior to their aggregate wisdom and information? I agree that this question ought to be determined on the footing of reason, and not on that of authority; and if it be found defective and unwise, I shall be for rejecting it; but it is neither decent nor right to refuse it a fair trial. A system supported by such characters merits at least a serious consideration. I hope, therefore, that the Constitution will be taken up paragraph by paragraph. It will then be in the power of any gentlemen to offer his opinion on every part, and by comparing it with other opinions, he may obtain useful information. If the Constitution be so defective as it is represented, then the inquiry will terminate in favor of those who oppose it. But if, as I believe and hope, it be discovered to be so formed as to be likely to promote the happiness of our country, then I hope the decision will be, accordingly, in its favor. Is there any gentleman so indifferent to a union with our sister states, as to hazard disunion rashly, without considering the consequences? Had my opinion been different from what it is, I am sure I should have hesitated and reflected a long time before I had offered it against such respectable authorities. I am sorry for the expense which may be incurred, when the community is so distressed; but this is a trivial consideration compared to the consequences of a rash proceeding upon this important question. Were any member to determine against it without proper consideration, and afterwards, upon his return home, on an impartial consideration, to be convinced it was a good system, his reflections on the temerity and precipitation of his conduct might destroy his peace of mind forever. I doubt not the members in general who condemn it, do so from a sincere belief that the system is a bad one; but at the same time, I believe there are many who are ready to relinquish that opinion, if they can be convinced it is erroneous, and that they sincerely wish for a fair and full discussion of the subject. For these reasons I am of opinion that the motion made by the honorable member is proper to be adopted.
Mr. RUTHERFORD was surprised at the arguments used by gentlemen, and wished to know how they should vote, whether on the paragraphs, and how the report should be made when the committee rose.
His excellency, Gov. JOHNSTON. If we reject any one part, we reject the whole. We are not to from a constitution, but to say whether we shall adopt a Constitution to which ten states have already acceded. If we think it a bad government, it is not binding to us; we can reject it. If it be proper for our adoption, we may adopt it. But a rejection of a single article will amount to a rejection of the whole.
Mr. RUTHERFORD. The honorable gentleman has mistaken me. Sorry I am that it is so late taken up by North Carolina, if we are to be influenced and persuaded in this manner. I am unhappy to hear gentlemen of learning and integrity preach up the doctrine of adoption by ten states. Sir, it is my opinion that we ought to decide it as if no state had adopted it. Are we to be thus intimidated into a measure of which we may disapprove?
The question was then put, and carried by a great majority, to discuss the Constitution clause by clause.
The preamble of the Constitution was then read.
Mr. CALDWELL. Mr. Chairman, if they mean, We, the people,the people at large, I conceive the expression is improper. Were not they who framed this Constitution the representatives of the legislatures of the different states? In my opinion, they had no power, from the people at large, to use their name, or to act for them. They were not delegated for that purpose.
Mr. MACLAINE. The reverend gentleman has told us, that the expression, We, the people, is wrong, because the gentlemen who framed it were not the representatives of the people. I readily grant that they were delegated by states. But they did not think that they were the people, but intended it for the people, at a future day. The sanction of the state legislatures was in some degree necessary. It was to be submitted by the legislatures to the people; so that, when it is adopted, it is the act of the people. When it is the act of the people, their name is certainly proper. This is very obvious and plain to any capacity.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, the observation of the reverend gentleman is grounded, I suppose, on a supposition that the Federal Convention exceeded their powers. This objection has been industriously circulated; but I believe, on a candid examination, the prejudice on which this error is founded will be done away. As I had the honor, sir, to be a member of the Convention, it may be expected I would answer an objection personal in its nature, and which contains rather a reflection on our conduct, than an objection to the merits of the Constitution. After repeated and decisive proofs of the total inefficiency of our general government, the states deputed the members of the Convention to revise and strengthen it. And permit me to call to your consideration that, whatever form of confederate government they might devise, or whatever powers they might propose to give this new government, no part of it was binding until the whole Constitution had received the solemn assent of the people. What was the object of our mission? “To decide upon the most effectual means of removing the defects of our federal union.” This is a general, discretional authority to propose any alteration they thought proper or necessary. Were not the state legislatures afterwards to review our proceedings? Is it not immediately through their recommendation that the plan of the Convention is submitted to the people? And this plan must still remain a dead letter, or receive its operation from the fiat of this Convention. Although the Federal Convention might recommend the concession of the most extensive powers, yet they could not put one of them into execution. What have the Convention done that can merit this species of censure? They have only recommended a plan of government containing some additional powers to those enjoyed under the present feeble system; amendments not only necessary, but which were the express object of the deputation. When we investigate this system candidly and accurately, and compare all its parts with one another, we shall find it absolutely necessary to confirm these powers, in order to secure the tranquillity of the states and the liberty of the people. Perhaps it would be necessary, to form a true judgment of this important question, to state some events, and develop some of those defects, which gave birth to the late Convention, and which have produced this revolution in our federal government. With the indulgence of the committee, I will attempt this detail with as much precision as I am capable of. The general objects of the union are, 1st, to protect us against foreign invasion; 2d, to defend us against internal commotions and insurrections; 3d, to promote the commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, of America. These objects are requisite to make us a safe and happy people, and they cannot be attained without a firm and efficient system of union.
As to the first, we cannot obtain any effectual protection from the present Confederation. It is indeed universally acknowledged, that its inadequacy in this case is one of its greatest defects. Examine its ability to repel invasion. In the late glorious war, its weakness was unequivocally experienced. It is well known that Congress had a discretionary right to raise men and money; but they had no power to do either. In order to preclude the necessity of examining the whole progress of its imbecility, permit me to call to your recollection one single instance. When the last great stroke was made which humbled the pride of Britain, and put us in possession of peace and independence, so low were the finances and credit of the United States, that our army could not move from Philadelphia, until the minister of his most Christian majesty was prevailed upon to draw bills to defray the expense of the expedition. These were not obtained on the credit or interest of Congress, but by the personal influence of the commander-in-chief.
Had this great project miscarried, what fatal events might have ensued! It is a very moderate presumption, that what has once happened may happen again. The next important consideration, which is involved in the external powers of the Union are treaties. Without a power in the federal government to compel the performance of our engagements with foreign nations, we shall be perpetually involved in destructive wars. The Confederation is extremely defective in this point also. I shall only mention the British treaty as a satisfactory proof of this melancholy fact. It is well known that, although this treaty was ratified in 1784, it required the Sanction of a law of North Carolina in 1787; and that our enemies, presuming on the weakness of our federal government, have refused to deliver up several important posts within the territories of the United States, and still hold them, to our shame and disgrace. It is unnecessary to reason on facts, the perilous consequences of which must in a moment strike every mind capable of reflection.
The next head under which the general government may be considered, is the regulation of commerce, The United States should be empowered to compel foreign nations into commercial regulations that were either founded on the principles of justice or reciprocal advantages. Has the present Confederation effected any of these things? Is not our commerce equally unprotected abroad by arms and negotiation? Nations have refused to enter into treaties with us. What was the language of the British court on a proposition of this kind? Such as would insult the pride of any man of feeling and independence.”You can make engagements, but you cannot compel your citizens to comply with them. We derive greater profits from the present situation of your commerce than we could expect under a treaty; and you have no kind of power that can compel us to surrender any advantage to you.” This was the language of our enemies; and while our government remains as feeble as it has been, no nation will form any connection with us that will involve the relinquishment of the least advantage. What has been the consequence? A general decay of trade, the rise of imported merchandise, the fall of produce, and an uncommon decrease of the value of lands. Foreigners have been reaping the,benefits and emoluments which our citizens ought to enjoy. An unjustifiable perversion of justice has pervaded almost all the states, and every thing presented to our view a spectacle of public poverty and private wretchedness!
While this is a true representation of our situation, can our general government recur to the ordinary expedient of loans? During the late war, large sums were advanced to us by foreign states and individuals. Congress have not been enabled to pay even the interest of these debts, with honor and punctuality. The requisitions made on the states have been every where unproductive, and some of them have not paid a stiver. These debts are a part of the price of our liberty and independencedebts which ought to be regarded with gratitude and discharged with honor. Yet many of the individuals who lent us money in the hour of our distress, are now reduced to indigence in consequence of our delinquency. So low and hopeless are the finances of the United States, that, the year before last, Congress were obliged to borrow money even to pay the interest of the principal which we had borrowed before. This wretched resource of turning interest into principal, is the most humiliating and disgraceful measure that a nation could take, and approximates with rapidity to absolute ruin. Yet it is the inevitable and certain consequence of such a system as the existing Confederation.
There are several other instances of imbecility in that system. It cannot secure to us the enjoyment of our own territories, or even the navigation of our own rivers. The want of power to establish a uniform rule for naturalization through the United States is also no small defect, as it must unavoidably be productive of disagreeable controversies with foreign nations. The general government ought in this, as in every other instance, to possess the means of preserving the peace and tranquillity of the Union, A striking proof of the necessity of this power recently happened in Rhode Island: A man who had run off with a vessel and cargo, the property of some merchants in Holland, took sanctuary in that place: application was made for him as a citizen of the United Netherlands by the minister, but, as he had taken the oath of allegiance, the state refused to deliver him up, and protected him in his villany. Had it not been for the peculiar situation of the states at that time, fatal consequences might have resulted from such a conduct, and the contemptible state of Rhode Island might have involved the whole Union in a war.
The encroachments of some states on the rights of others, and of all on those of the Confederacy, are incontestable proofs of the weakness and imperfection of that system. Maryland lately passed a law granting exclusive privileges to her own vessels, contrary to the Articles of the Confederation. Congress had neither power nor influence to alter it; all they could do was to send a contrary recommendation. It is provided, by the 6th Article of the Confederation, that no compact shall be made between two or more states without the consent of Congress; yet this has been recently violated by Virginia and Maryland, and also by Pennsylvania and New Jersey. North Carolina and Massachusetts have had a considerable body of forces on foot, and those in this state raised for two years, notwithstanding the express provision in the Confederation that no force should be kept up by any state in time of peace.
As to internal tranquillity,without dwelling on the unhappy commotions in our own back counties,I will only add that, if the rebellion in Massachusetts had been planned and executed with any kind of ability, that state must have been ruined; for Congress were not in a situation to render them any assistance.
Another object of the federal union is, to promote the agriculture and manufactures of the statesobjects in which we are so nearly concerned. Commerce, sir, is the nurse of both. The merchant furnishes the planter with such articles as he cannot manufacture himself, and finds him a market for his produce. Agriculture cannot flourish if commerce languishes; they are mutually dependent on each other. Our commerce, as I have before observed, is unprotected abroad, and without regulation at home, and in this and many of the states ruined by partial and iniquitous lawslaws which, instead of having a tendency to protect property and encourage industry, led to the depreciation of the one, and destroyed every incitement to the otherlaws which basely warranted and legalized the payment of just debts by paper, which represents nothing, or property of very trivial value.
These are some of the leading causes which brought forward this new Constitution. It was evidently necessary to infuse a greater portion of strength into the national government. But Congress were but a single body, with whom it was dangerous to lodge additional powers. Hence arose the necessity of a different organization. In order to form some balance, the departments of government were separated, and as a necessary check, the legislative body was composed of two branches. Steadiness and wisdom are better insured when there is a second branch, to balance and check the first. The stability of the laws will be greater when the popular branch, which might be influenced by local views, or the violence of party, is checked by another, whose longer continuance in office will render them more experienced, more temperate, and more competent to decide rightly.
The Confederation derived its sole support from the state legislatures. This rendered it weak and ineffectual. It was therefore necessary that the foundations of this government should be laid on the broad basis of the people. Yet the state governments are the pillars upon which this government is extended over such an immense territory, and are essential to its existence. The House of Representatives are immediately elected by the people. The senators represent the sovereignty of the states; they are directly chosen by the state legislatures, and no legislative act can be done without their concurrence. The election of the executive is in some measure under the control of the legislatures of the states, the electors being appointed trader their direction.
The difference, in point of magnitude and importance, in the members of the confederacy, was an additional reason for the division of the legislature into two branches, and for establishing an equality of suffrage in the Senate. The protection of the small states against the ambition and influence of the larger members, could only be effected by arming them with an equal power in one branch of the legislature. On a contemplation of this matter, we shall find that the jealousies of the states could not be reconciled any other way. The lesser states would never have concurred unless this check had been given them, as a security for their political existence, against the power and encroachments of the great states. It may be also proper to observe, that the executive is separated in its functions from the legislature, as well as the nature of the case would admit, and the judiciary from both.
Another radical vice in the old System, which was necessary to be corrected, and which will be understood without a long deduction of reasoning, was, that it legislated on states, instead of individuals; and that its powers could not be executed but by fire or by the swordby military force, and not by the intervention of the civil magistrate. Every one who is acquainted with the relative situation of the states, and the genius of our citizens, must acknowledge that, if the government was to be carried into effect by military force, the most dreadful consequences would ensue. It would render the citizens of America the most implacable enemies to one another. If it could be carried into effect against the small states, yet it could not be put in force against the larger and more powerful states. It was therefore absolutely necessary that the influence of the magistrate should be introduced, and that the laws should be carried home to individuals themselves.
In the formation of this system, many difficulties presented themselves to the Convention.
Every member saw that the existing system would ever be ineffectual, unless its laws operated on individuals, as military coercion was neither eligible nor practicable. Their own experience was fortified by their knowledge of the inherent weakness of all confederate governments. They knew that all governments merely federal had been short-lived, or had existed from principles extraneous from their constitutions, or from external causes which had no dependence on the nature of their governments. These considerations determined the Convention to depart from that solecism in politicsthe principle of legislation for states in their political capacities.
The great extent of country appeared to some a formidable difficulty; but a confederate government appears, at least in theory, capable of embracing the various interests of the most extensive territory. Founded on the state governments solely, as I have said before, it would be tottering and inefficient. It became, therefore, necessary to bottom it on the people themselves, by giving them an immediate interest and agency in the government. There was, however, some real. difficulty in conciliating a number of jarring interests, arising from the incidental but unalterable difference in the states in point of territory, situation, climate, and rivalship in commerce. Some of the states are very extensive, others very limited: some are manufacturing states, others merely agricultural: some of these are exporting states, while the carrying and navigation business are in the possession of others. It was not easy to reconcile such a multiplicity of discordant and clashing interests. Mutual concessions were necessary to come to any concurrence. A plan that would promote the exclusive interests of a few states would be injurious to others. Had each state obstinately insisted on the security of its particular local advantages, we should never have come to a conclusion. Each, therefore, amicably and wisely relinquished its particular views. The Federal Convention have told you, that the Constitution which they formed “was the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of their political situation rendered indispensable” I hope the same laudable spirit will govern this Convention in their decision on this important question.
The business of the Convention was to amend the Confederation by giving it additional powers. The present form of Congress being a single body, it was thought unsafe to augment its powers, without altering its organization. The act of the Convention is but a mere proposal, similar to the production of a private pen. I think it a government which, if adopted, will cherish and protect the happiness and liberty of America; but I hold my mind open to conviction. I am ready to recede from my opinion if it be proved to be ill-founded. I trust that every man here is equally ready to change an opinion he may have improperly formed. The weakness and inefficiency of the old Confederation produced the necessity of calling the Federal Convention. Their plan is now before you; and I hope, on a deliberate consideration, every man will see the necessity of such a system. It has been the subject of much jealousy and censure out of doors. I hope gentlemen will now come forward with their objections, and that they will be thrown out and answered with candor and moderation.
Mr. CALDWELL wished to know why the gentlemen who were delegated by the states, styled themselves We, the people. He said that he only wished for information.
Mr. IREDELL answered, that it would be easy to satisfy the gentleman; that the style, We, the people, was not to be applied to the members themselves, but was to be the style of the Constitution, when it should be ratified in their respective states.
Mr. JOSEPH TAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, the very wording of this Constitution seems to carry with it an assumed power. We, the people, is surely an assumed power. Have they said, We, the delegates of the people? It seems to me that, when they met in Convention, they assumed more power than was given them. Did the people give them the power of using their name? This power was in the people. They did not give it up to the members of the Convention. If, therefore, they had not this power, they assumed it. It is the interest of every man, who is a friend to liberty, to oppose the assumption of power as soon as possible. I see no reason why they assumed this power. Matters may be carried still farther. This is a consolidation of all the states. Had it said, We, the states, there would have been a federal intention in it. But, sir, it is clear that a consolidation is intended. Will any gentleman say that a consolidated government will answer this country? It is too large. The man who has a large estate cannot manage it with convenience. I conceive that, in the present case, a consolidated government can by no means suit the genius of the people. The gentleman from Halifax (Mr. Davie) mentioned reasons for such a government. They have their weight, no doubt; but at a more convenient time we can show their futility. We see plainly that men who come from New England are different from us. They are ignorant of our situation; they do not know the state of our country. They cannot with safety legislate for us. I am astonished that the servants of the legislature of North Carolina should go to Philadelphia, and, instead of speaking of the state of North Carolina, should speak of the people. I wish to stop power as soon as possible; for they may carry their assumption of power to a more dangerous length. I wish to know where they found the power of saying We, the people, and of consolidating the states.
Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, I confess myself astonished to hear objections to the preamble. They say that the delegates to the Federal Convention assumed powers which were not granted them; that they ought not to have used the words We, the people. That they were not the delegates of the people, is universally acknowledged. The Constitution is only a mere proposal. Had it been binding on us, there might be a reason for objecting. After they had finished the plan, they proposed that it should be recommended to the people by the several state legislatures. If the people approve of it, it becomes their act. Is not this merely a dispute about words, without any meaning whatever? Suppose any gentleman of this Convention had drawn up this government, and we thought it a good one; we might respect his intelligence and integrity, but it would not be binding upon us. We might adopt it if we thought it a proper system, and then it would be our act. Suppose it had been made by our enemies, or had dropped from the clouds; we might adopt it if we found it proper for our adoption. By whatever means we found it, it would be our act as soon as we adopted it. It is no more than a blank till it be adopted by the people. When that is done here, is it not the people of the state of North Carolina that do it, joined with the people of the other states who have adopted it? The expression is, then, right. But the gentleman has gone farther, and says that the people of New England are different from us. This goes against the Union altogether. They are not to legislate for us; we are to be represented as well as they. Such a futile objection strikes at all union. We know that without union we should not have been debating now. I hope to hear no more objections of this trifling nature, but that we shall enter into the spirit of the subject at once.
Mr. CALDWELL observed, that he only wished to know why they had assumed the name of the. people.
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY. Mr. Chairman, I trust we shall not take up more time on this point. l shall just make a few remarks on what has been said by the gentleman from Halifax. He has gone through our distresses, and those of the other states. As to the weakness of the Confederation, we all know it. A sense of this induced the different states to send delegates to Philadelphia. They had given them certain powers; we have seen them, they are now upon the table. The result of their deliberations is now upon the table also. As they have gone out of the line which the states pointed out to them, we, the people, are to take it up and consider it. The gentlemen who framed it have exceeded their powers, and very far. They will be able, perhaps, to give reasons for so doing. If they can show us any reasons, we will, no doubt, take notice of them. But, on the other hand, if our civil and religious liberties are not secured, and proper checks provided, we have the power in our own hands to do with it as we think proper. I hope gentlemen will permit us to proceed.
The clerk then read the 1st section of the l st article.
Mr. CALDWELL. Mr. Chairman, I am sorry to be objecting, but I: apprehend that all the legislative powers granted by this Constitution are not vested in a Congress consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, because the Vice-President has a right to put a check on it. This is known to every gentleman in the Convention. How can all the legislative powers granted in that Constitution be vested in the Congress, if the Vice-President is to have a vote in case the Senate is equally divided? I ask for information, how it came to be expressed in this manner, when this power is given to the Vice-President.
Mr. MACLAINE declared, that he did not know what the gentleman meant.
Mr. CALDWELL said, that the Vice-President is made a part of the legislative body, although there was an express declaration, that all the legislative powers were vested in the Senate and House of Representatives, and that he would be glad to know how these things consisted together.
Mr. MACLAINE expressed great astonishment at the gentleman’s criticism. He observed, that the Vice-President had only a casting vote in case of an equal division in the Senatethat a provision of this kind was to be found in all deliberative bodiesthat it was highly useful and expedientthat it was by no means of the nature of a check which impedes or arrests, but calculated to prevent the operation of the government from being impedethat, if the gentleman could show any legislative power to be given to any but the two houses of Congress, his objection would be worthy of notice.
Some other gentlemen said, they were dissatisfied with Mr. Maclaine’s explanationthat the Vice-President was not a member of the Senate, but an officer of the United States, and yet had a legislative power, and that it appeared to them inconsistentthat it would have been more proper to have given the casting vote to the President.
His excellency, Gov. JOHNSTON, added to Mr. Maclaine’s reasoning, that it appeared to him a very good and proper regulationthat, if one of the Senate was to be appointed Vice-President, the state which he represented would either lose a vote if he was not permitted to vote on every occasion, or if he was, he might, in some instances, have two votesthat the President was already possessed of the power of preventing the passage of a law by a bare majority; yet laws were said not to be made by the President, but by the two houses of Congress exclusively.
Mr. LENOIR. Mr. Chairman, I have a greater objection on this ground than that which has just been mentioned. I mean, sir, the legislative power given to the President himself. It may be admired by some, but not by me. He, sir, with the Senate, is to make treaties, which are to be the supreme law of the land. This is a legislative power given to the President, and implies a contradiction to that part which says that all legislative power is vested in the two houses.
Mr. SPAIGHT answered, that it was thought better to put that power into the hands of the senators as representatives of the statesthat thereby the interest of every state was equally attended to in the formation of treatiesbut that it was not considered as a legislative act at all.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, this is an objection against the inaccuracy of the sentence. I humbly conceive it will appear accurate on a due attention. After a bill is passed by both houses, it is to be shown to the President. Within a certain time, he is to return it. If he disapproves of it, he is to state his objections in writing; and it depends on Congress afterwards to say whether it shall be a law or not. Now, sir, I humbly apprehend that, whether a law passes by a bare majority, or by two thirds, (which are required to concur after he shall have stated objections,) what gives active operation to it is, the will of the senators and representatives. The President has no power of legislation. If he does not object, the law passes by a bare majority; and if he objects, it passes by two thirds. His power extends only to cause it to be reconsidered, which secures a greater probability of its being good. As to his power with respect to treaties, I shall offer my sentiments on it when we come properly to it.
Mr. MACLAINE intimated, that if any gentleman was out of order,* it was the gentleman from Wilkes (Mr. Lenoir)that treaties were the supreme law of the land in all countries, for the most obvious reasonsthat laws, or legislative acts, operated upon individuals, but that treaties acted upon statesthat, unless they were the supreme law of the land, they could have no validity at allthat the President did not act in this case as a legislator, but rather ill his executive capacity.[Note * Something had been said about order, which was not distinctly heard.]
Mr. LENOIR replied that he wished to be conformable to the rules of the house, but he still thought the President was possessed of legislative powers, while he could make treaties, joined with the Senate.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I think the gentleman is in order. When treaties arc made, they become as valid as legislative acts. I apprehend that every act of the government, legislative, executive, or judicial, if in pursuance of a constitutional power, is the law of the land. These different acts become the acts of the state by the instrumentality of its officers. When, for instance, the governor of this state grants a pardon, it becomes the law of the land, and is valid. Every thing is the law of the land, let it come from what power it will, provided it be consistent with the Constitution.
Mr. LENOIR answered, that that comparison did not hold.
Mr. IREDELL continued. If the governor grants a pardon, it becomes a law of the land. Why? Because he has power to grant pardons by the Constitution. Suppose this Constitution is adopted, and a treaty made; that treaty is the law of the land. Why? Because the Constitution grants the power of making treaties.
Several members expressed dissatisfaction at the inconsistency (as they conceived it) of the expressions, when
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY observed, that their observations would be made more properly when they come to that clause which gave the casting vote to the Vice-President, and the qualified negative to the President.
The first three clauses of the 2d section read.
Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, as many objections have been made to biennial elections, it will be necessary to obviate them. I beg leave to state their superiority to annual elections. Our elections have been annual for some years. People are apt to be attached to old customs. Annual elections may be proper in our state governments, but not in the general government. The seat of government is at a considerable distance; and in case of a disputed election, it would be so long before it could be settled, that the state would be totally without representation. There is another reason, still more cogent, to induce us to prefer biennial to annual elections. The objects of state legislation are narrow and confined, and a short time will render a man sufficiently acquainted with them; but those of the general government are infinitely more extensive, and require a much longer time to comprehend them. The representatives to the general government must be acquainted not only with the internal situation and circumstances of the United States, but also with the state of our commerce with foreign nations, and our relative situation to those nations. They must know the relative situation of those nations to one another, and be able to judge with which of them, and in what manner, our commerce should be regulated. These are good reasons to extend the time of elections to two years. I believe you remember,and perhaps every member here remembers,that this country was very happy under biennial elections. In North Carolina, the representatives were formerly chosen by ballot biennially. It was changed under the royal government, and the mode pointed out by the king. Notwithstanding the contest for annual elections, perhaps biennial elections would still be better for this country. Our laws would certainly be less fluctuating.
Mr. SHEPPERD observed, that he could see no propriety in the friends of the new system making objections, when none were urged by its opposers; that it was very uncommon for a man to make objections and answer them himself; and that it would take an immense time to mention every objection which had been mentioned in the country.
Mr. MACLAINE. It is determined already by the Convention to debate the Constitution section by section. Are we then to read it only? Suppose the whole of it is to be passed over without saying any thing; will not that amount to a dead vote? Sir, I am a member of this Convention; and if objections are made here, I will answer them to the best of my ability. If I see gentlemen pass by in silence such parts as they vehemently decry out of doors, or such parts as have been loudly complained of in the country, I Shall answer them also.
After some desultory conversation, Mr. WILLIE JONES observed, that he would easily put the friends of the Constitution in a way of discussing it. Let one of them, said he, make objections and another answer them.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, I hope that reflections of a personal nature will be avoided as much as possible. What is there in this business should make us jealous of each other? We are all come hither to serve one common cause of one country. Let us go about it openly and amicably. There is no necessity for the employment of underhanded means. Let every objection be made. Let us examine the plan of government submitted to us thoroughly. Let us deal with each other with candor. I am sorry to see so much impatience so early in the business.
Mr. SHEPPERD answered, that he spoke only because he was averse to unnecessary delays, and that he had no finesse or design at all.
Mr. RUTHERFORD wished the system to be thoroughly discussed. He hoped that he should be excused in making a few observations, in the Convention, after the committee rose, and that he trusted gentlemen would make no reflections.
Mr. BLOODWORTH declared, that every gentleman had a right to make objections in both cases, and that he was sorry to hear reflections made.
Mr. GOUDY. Mr. Chairman, this clause of taxation will give an advantage to some states over the others. It will be oppressive to the Southern States. Taxes are equal to our representation. To augment our taxes, and increase our burdens, our negroes are to be represented. If a state has fifty thousand negroes, she is to send one representative for them. I wish not to be represented with negroes, especially if it increases my burdens.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, I will endeavor to obviate what the gentleman last up said. I wonder to see gentlemen so precipitate and hasty on a subject of such awful importance. It ought to be considered, that some of us are slow of apprehension, or not having those quick conceptions, and luminous understandings, of which other gentlemen may be possessed. The gentleman “does not wish to be represented with negroes.” This, sir, is an unhappy species of population; but we cannot at present alter their situation. The Eastern States had great jealousies on this subject. They insisted that their cows and horses were equally entitled to representation; that the one was property as well as the other. It became our duty, on the other hand, to acquire as much weight as possible in the legislation of the Union; and, as the Northern States were more populous in whites, this only could be done by insisting that a certain proportion of our slaves should make a part of the computed population. It was attempted to form a rule of representation from a compound ratio of wealth and population; but, on consideration, it was found impracticable to determine the comparative value of lands, and other property, in so extensive a territory, with any degree of accuracy; and population alone was adopted as the only practicable rule or criterion of representation. It was urged by the deputies of the Eastern States, that a representation of two fifths would be of little utility, and that their entire representation would be unequal and burdensomethat, in a time of war, slaves rendered a country more vulnerable, while its defence devolved upon its free inhabitants. On the other hand, we insisted that, in time of peace, they contributed, by their labor, to the general wealth, as well as other members of the communitythat, as rational beings, they had a right of representation, and, in some instances, might be highly useful in war. On these principles the Eastern States gave the matter up, and consented to the regulation as it has been read. I hope these reasons will appear satisfactory. It is the same rule or principle which was proposed some years ago by Congress, and assented to by twelve of the states. It may wound the delicacy of the gentleman from Guilford, (Mr. Goudy,) but I hope he will endeavor to accommodate his feelings to the interest and circumstances of his country.
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY said, that he did not object to the representation of negroes, so much as he did to the fewness of the number of representatives. He was surprised how we came to have but five, including those intended to represent negroes. That, in his humble opinion, North Carolina was entitled to that number independent of the negroes.
Mr. SPAIGHT endeavored to satisfy him, that the Convention had no rule to go by in this casethat they could not proceed upon the ratio mentioned in the Constitution till the enumeration of the people was madethat some states had made a return to Congress of their numbers, and others had notthat it was mentioned that we had had time, but made no returnthat the present number was only temporarythat in three years the actual census would be taken, and our number of representatives regulated accordingly.
His excellency, Gov. JOHNSTON, was perfectly satisfied with the temporary number. He said that it could not militate against the people of North Carolina, because they paid in proportion; that no great inconvenience could happen, in three years, from their paying less than their full proportion; that they were not very flush of money, and that he hoped for better times in the course of three years.
The rest of the 2d section read.
Mr. JOSEPH TAYLOR objected to the provision made for impeaching. He urged that there could be no security from it, as the persons accused were triable by the Senate, who were a part of the legislature themselves; that, while men were fallible, the senators were liable to errors, especially in a case where they were concerned themselves.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I was going to observe that this clause, vesting the power of impeachment in the House of Representatives, is one of the greatest securities for a due execution of all public offices. Every government requires it. Every man ought to be amenable for his conduct, and there are no persons so proper to complain of the public officers as the representatives of the people at large. The representatives of the people know the feelings of the people at large, and will be ready enough to make complaints. If this power were not provided, the consequences might be fatal. It will be not only the means of punishing misconduct, but it will prevent misconduct. A man in public office who knows that there is no tribunal to punish him, may be ready to deviate from his duty; but if he knows there is a tribunal for that purpose, although he may be a man of no principle, the very terror of punishment will perhaps deter him. I beg leave to mention that every man has a right to express his opinion, and point out any part of the Constitution which he either thinks defective, or has heard represented to be so. What will be the consequence if they who have objections do not think proper to communicate them, and they are not to be mentioned by others? Many gentlemen have read many objections, which perhaps have made impressions on their minds, though they are not communicated to us. I therefore apprehend that the member was perfectly regular in mentioning the objections made out of doors. Such objections may operate upon the minds of gentlemen, who, not being used to convey their ideas in public, conceal them out of diffidence.
Mr. BLOODWORTH wished to be informed, whether this sole power of impeachment, given to the House of Representatives, deprived the state of the power of impeaching any of its members.
Mr. SPAIGHT answered, that this impeachment extended only to the officers of the United Statesthat it would be improper if the same body that impeached had the power of tryingthat, therefore, the Constitution had wisely given the power of impeachment to the House of Representatives, and that of trying impeachments to the Senate.
Mr. JOSEPH TAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, the objection is very strong. If there be but one body to try, where are we? If any tyranny or oppression should arise, how are those who perpetrated such oppression to be tried and punished? By a tribunal consisting of the very men who assist in such tyranny. Can any tribunal be found, in any community, who will give judgment against their own actions? Is it the nature of man to decide against himself? I am obliged to the worthy member from New Hanover for assisting me with objections. None can impeach but the representatives; and the impeachments are to be determined by the senators, who are one of the branches of power which we dread under this Constitution.
His excellency, Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, the worthy member from Granville surprises me by his objection. It has been explained by another member, that only officers of the United States were impeachable. I never knew any instance of a man being impeached for a legislative act; nay, I never heard it suggested before. No member of the House of Commons, in England, has ever been impeached before the Lords, nor any lord, for a legislative misdemeanor. A representative is answerable to no power but his constituents. He is accountable to no being under heaven but the people who appointed him.
Mr. TAYLOR replied, that it now appeared to him in a still worse light than before.
Mr. BLOODWORTH observed, that as this was a Constitution for the United States, he should not have made the observation he did, had the subject not been particularly mentionedthat the words “sole power of impeachment” were so general, and might admit of such a latitude of construction, as to extend to every legislative member upon the continent, so as to preclude the representatives of the different states from impeaching.
Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, if I understand the gentleman rightly, he means that Congress may impeach all the people or officers of the United States. If the gentleman will attend, he will see that this is a government for confederated states; that, consequently, it can never intermeddle where no power is given. I confess I can see no more reason to fear in this case than from our own General Assembly. A power is given to our own state Senate to try impeachments. Is it not necessary to point out some tribunal to try great offences? Should there not be some mode of punishment for the offences of the officers of the general government? Is it not necessary that such officers should be kept within proper bounds? The officers of the United States are excluded from offices of honor, trust, or profit, under the United States, on impeachment for, and conviction of, high crimes and misdemeanors. This is certainly necessary. This exclusion from offices is harmless in comparison with the regulation made, in similar cases, in our own government. Here it is expressly provided how far the punishment shall extend, and that it shall extend no farther. On the contrary, the limits are not marked in our own Constitution, and the punishment may be extended too far. I believe it is a certain and known fact, that members of the legislative body are never, as such, liable to impeachment, but are punishable by law for crimes and misdemeanors in their personal capacity. For instance; the members of Assembly are not liable to impeachment, but, like other people, are amenable to the law for crimes and misdemeanors committed as individuals. But in Congress, a member of either house can be no officer.
Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, I find that making objections is useful. I never thought of the objection made by the member from New Hanover. I never thought that impeachments extended to any but officers of the United States. When you look at the judgment to be given on impeachments, you will see that the punishment goes no farther than to remove and disqualify civil officers of the United States, who shall, on impeachment, be convicted of high misdemeanors. Removal from office is the punishmentto which is added future disqualification. How could a man be removed from office who had no office? An officer of this state is not liable to the United States. Congress could not disqualify an officer of this state. No body can disqualify, but that body which creates. We have nothing to apprehend from that article. We are perfectly secure as to this point. I should laugh at any judgment they should give against any officer of our own.
Mr. BLOODWORTH. From the complexion of the paragraph it appeared to me to be applicable only to officers of the United States; but the gentleman’s own reasoning convinces me that he is wrong. He says he would laugh at them. Will the gentleman laugh when the extension of their powers takes place? It is only by our adoption they can have any power.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, the argument of the gentleman last up is founded upon misapprehension. Every article refers to its particular object. We must judge of expressions from the subject matter concerning which they are used. The sole power of impeachment extends only to objects of the Constitution. The Senate shall only try impeachments arising under the Constitution. In order to confirm and illustrate that position, the gentleman who spoke before explained it in a manner perfectly satisfactory to my apprehension”under this Constitution.” What is the meaning of these words” They signify those arising under the government of the United States. When this government is adopted, there will be two governments to which we shall owe obedience. To the government of the Union, in certain defined casesto our own state government in every other case. If the general government were to disqualify me from any office which I held in North Carolina under its laws, I would refer to the Constitution, and say that they violated it, as it only extended to officers of the United States.
Mr. BLOODWORTH. The penalty is only removal from office. It does not mention from what office. I do not see any thing in the expression that convinces me that I was mistaken. I still consider it in the same light.
Mr. PORTER wished to be informed, if every officer, who was a creature of that Constitution, was to be tried by the Senatewhether such officers, and those who had complaints against them, were to go from the extreme parts of the continent to the seat of government, to adjust disputes.
Mr. DAVIE answered, that impeachments were confined to cases under the Constitution, but did not descend to petty offices; that if the gentleman meant that it would be troublesome and inconvenient to recur to the federal courts in case of oppressions by officers, and to carry witnesses such great distances, he would satisfy the gentleman, that Congress would remove such inconveniences, as they had the power of appointing inferior tribunals, where such disputes would be tried.
Mr. J. TAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, I conceive that, if this Constitution be adopted, we shall have a large number of officers in North Carolina under the appointment of Congress. We shall undoubtedly, for instance, have a great number of tax-gatherers. If any of these officers shall do wrong, when we come to fundamental principles, we find that we have no way to punish them but by going to Congress, at an immense distance, whither we must carry our witnesses. Every gentleman must see, in these eases, that oppressions will arise, I conceive that they cannot be tried elsewhere. I consider that the Constitution will be explained by the word “sole.” If they did not mean to retain a general power of impeaching, there was no occasion for saying the “sole power.” I consider therefore that oppressions will arise. If I am oppressed, I must go to the House of Representatives to complain. I consider that, when mankind are about to part with rights, they ought only to part with those rights which they can with convenience relinquish, and not such as must involve them in distresses.
In answer to Mr. Taylor, Mr. SPAIGHT observed that, though the power of impeachment was given, yet it did not say that there was no other manner of giving redressthat it was very certain and clear that, if any man was injured by an officer of the United States, he could get redress by a suit at law.
Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, I confess I never heard before that a tax-gatherer was worthy of impeachment. It is one of the meanest and least offices. Impeachments are only for high crimes and misdemeanors. If any one is injured in his person or property, he can get redress by a suit at law. Why does the gentleman talk in this manner? It shows what wretched shifts gentlemen are driven to. I never heard, in my life, of such a silly objection. A poor, insignificant, petty officer amenable to impeachment!
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, the objection would be right if there was no other mode of punishing. But it is evident that an officer may be tried by a court of common law. He may be tried in such a court for common-law offences, whether impeached or not. As it is to be presumed that inferior tribunals will be constituted, there will be no occasion for going always to the Supreme Court, even in cases where the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction. Where this exclusive cognizance is not given them, redress may be had in the common-law courts in the state; and I have no doubt such regulations will be made as will put it out of the power of officers to distress the people with impunity.
Gov. JOHNSTON observed, that men who were in very high offices could not be come at by the ordinary course of justice; but when called before this high tribunal and convicted, they would be stripped of their dignity, and reduced to the rank of their fellow-citizens, and then the courts of common law might proceed against them.