Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4
Convention of North Carolina
Saturday, July 26, 1788.
Mr. KENNION in the chair. The 5th section of the 1st article read.
Mr. STEELE observed, that he had heard objections to the 3d clause of this section, with respect to the periodical publication of the Journals, the entering the yeas and nays on them, and the suppression of such parts as required secrecythat he had no objection himself, for that he thought the necessity of publishing their transactions was an excellent check, and that every principle of prudence and good policy pointed out the necessity of not publishing such transactions as related to military arrangements and warthat this provision was exactly similar to that which was in the old Confederation.
Mr, GRAHAM wished to hear an explanation of the words “from time to time,” whether it was a short or a long time, or how often they should be obliged to publish their proceedings.
Mr, DAVIE answered, that they would be probably published after the rising of Congress, every yearthat if they sat two or three times, or oftener, in the year, they might be published every time they rosethat there could be no doubt of their publishing them as often as it would be convenient and proper, and that they would conceal nothing but what it would be unsafe to publish. He further observed, that some states had proposed an amendment, that they should be published annually; but he thought it very safe and proper as it stoodthat it was the sense of the Convention that they should be published at the end of every session. The gentleman from Salisbury had said, that in this particular it resembled the old Confederation. Other gentlemen have said there is no similarity at all. He therefore wished the difference to be stated.
Mr. IREDELL remarked, that the provision in the clause under consideration was similar in meaning and substance to that in the Confederationthat in time of war it was absolutely necessary to conceal the operations of government; otherwise no attack on an enemy could be premeditated with success, for the enemy could discover our plans soon enough to defeat themthat it was no less imprudent to divulge our negotiations with foreign powers, and the most salutary schemes might be prevented by imprudently promulgating all the transactions of the government indiscriminately.
Mr. J. GALLOWAY wished to obviate what gentlemen had said with regard to the similarity of the old Confederation to the new system, with respect to the publication of their proceedings. He remarked, that, at the desire of one member from any state, the yeas and nays were to be put on the Journals, and published by the Confederation; whereas, by this system, the concurrence of one fifth was necessary.
To this it was answered, that the alteration was made because experience had showed, when any two members could require the yeas and nays, they were taken on many trifling occasions; and there was no doubt one fifth would require them on every occasion of importance.
The 6th section read without any observations.
1st clause of the 7th section likewise read without any observations.
2d clause read.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, this is a novelty in the Constitution, and is a regulation of considerable importance. Permit me to state the reasons for which I imagine this regulation was made. They are such as, in my opinion, fully justify it.
One great alteration proposed by the Constitutionand which is a capital improvement on the Articles of Confederationis, that the executive, legislative, and judicial powers should be separate and distinct. The best writers, and all the most enlightened part of mankind, agree that it is essential to the preservation of liberty, that such distinction and separation of powers should be made. But this distinction would have very little efficacy if each power had no means to defend itself against the encroachment of the others.
The British constitution, the theory of which is much admired, but which, however, is in fact liable to many objections, has divided the government into three branches. The king, who is hereditary, forms one branch, the Lords and Commons the two others; and no bill passes into a law without the king’s consent. This is a great constitutional support of his authority. By the proposed Constitution, the President is of a very different nature from a monarch. He is to be chosen by electors appointed by the people; to be taken from among the people; to hold his office only for the short period of four years; and to be personally responsible for any abuse of the great trust reposed ill him.
In a republican government, it would be extremely dangerous to place it in the power of one man to put an absolute negative on a bill proposed by two houses, one of which represented the people, and the other the states of America. It therefore became all object of consideration, how the executive could defend itself without being a competent part of the legislature. This difficulty was happily remedied by the clause now under our consideration. The executive is not entirely at the mercy of the legislature; nor is it put in the power of the executive entirely to defeat the acts of those two important branches. As it is provided in this clause, if a bare majority of both houses should pass a bill which the President thought injurious to his country, it is in his powerto do what? Not to say, in an arbitrary, haughty manner, that he does not approve of itbut, if he thinks it a bad bill, respectfully to offer his reasons to both houses; by whom, in that case, it is to be reconsidered, and not to become a law unless two thirds of both houses shall concur; which they still may, notwithstanding the President’s objection. It cannot be presumed that he would venture to oppose a bill, under such circumstances, without very strong reasons. Unless he was sure of a powerful support in the legislature, his opposition would be of no effect; and as his reasons are to be put on record, his fame is committed both to the present times and to posterity.
The exercise of this power, in a time of violent factions, might be possibly hazardous to himself; but he can have no ill motive to exert himself in the face of a violent opposition. Regard to his duty alone could induce him to oppose, when it was probable two thirds would at all events overrule him. This power may be usefully exercised, even when no ill intention prevails in the legislature. It might frequently happen that, where a bare majority had carried a pernicious bill, if there was an authority to suspend it, upon a cool statement of reasons, many of that majority, on a reconsideration, might be convinced, and vote differently. I therefore think the method proposed is a happy medium between the possession of an absolute negative, and the executive having no control whatever on acts of legislation; and at the same time that it serves to protect the executive from ill designs in the legislature, it may also answer the purposes of preventing many laws passing which would be immediately injurious to the people at large. It is a strong guard against abuses in all, that the President’s reasons are to be entered at large on the Journals, and, if the bill passes notwithstanding, that the yeas and nays are also to be entered. The public, therefore, can judge fairly between them.
The 1st clause of the 8th section read.
Mr. SPENCER. Mr. Chairman, I conceive this power to be too extensive, as it embraces all possible powers of taxation, and gives up to Congress every possible article of taxation that can ever happen. By means of this, there will be no way for the states of receiving or collecting taxes at all, but what may interfere with the collections of Congress. Every power is given over our money to those over whom we have no immediate control. I would give them powers to support the government, but would not agree to annihilate the state governments in an article which is most essential to their existence. I would give them power of laying imposts; and I would give them power to lay and collect excises. I confess that this is a kind of tax so odious to a free people, that I should with great reluctance agree to its exercise; but it is obvious that, unless such excises were admitted, the public burden will be all borne by those parts of the community who do not manufacture for themselves. So manifest an inequality would justify a recurrence to this species of taxes.
How are direct taxes to be laid? By a poll tax, assessments on land or other property? Inconvenience and oppression will arise from any of them. I would not be understood that I would not wish to have an efficient government for the United States. I am sensible that laws operating on individuals cannot be carried on against states; because, if they do not comply with the general laws of the Union, there is no way to compel a compliance but force. There must he an army to compel them. Some states may have some excuse for non-compliance. Others will feign excuses. Several states may perhaps be in the same predicament. If force be used to compel them, they will probably call for foreign aid: and the very means of defence will operate to the dissolution of the system, and to the destruction of the states. t would not, therefore, deny that Congress ought to have the power of taking out of the pockets of the individuals at large, if the states fail to pay those taxes in a convenient time. If requisitions were to be made on the several states, proportionate to their abilities, the several state legislatures, knowing the circumstances of their constituents, and that they would ultimately be compelled to pay, would lay the tax in a convenient manner, and would be able to pay their quotas at the end of the year. They are better acquainted with the mode in which taxes can be raised, than the general government can possibly be.
It may happen, for instance, that if ready money cannot be immediately received from the pockets of individuals for their taxes, their estates, consisting of lands, negroes, stock, and furniture, must be set up and sold at vendue. We can easily see, from the great scarcity of money at this day, that great distresses must happen. There is no hard money in the country, It must come from other parts of the world. Such property would sell for one tenth part of its value. Such a mode as this would, in a few years, deprive the people of their estates. But, on the contrary, if articles proper for exportation were either specifically taken for their taxes immediately by the state legislature, or if the collection should be deferred till they had disposed of such articles, no oppression or inconvenience would happen. There is no person so poor but who can raise something to dispose off or a great part of the United States, those articles which are proper for exportation would answer the purpose. I would have a tax laid on estates where such articles could not be had, and such a tax to be by instalments for two or more years.
I would admit, if the quotas were not punctually paid at the end of the time, that Congress might collect taxes, because this power is absolutely necessary for the support of the general government. But I would not give it in the first instance; for nothing would be more oppressive, as in a short time people would be compelled to part with their property. In the other case, they would part with none but in such a manner as to encourage their industry. On the other hand, if requisitions, in cases of emergency, were proposed to the state assemblies, it would be a measure of convenience to the people, and would be a means of keeping up the importance of the state legislatures, and would conciliate their affections; and their knowledge of the ultimate right of Congress to collect taxes would stimulate their exertions to raise money. But if the power of taxation be given in the first instance to Congress, the state legislatures will be liable to be counteracted by the general government in all their operations. These are my reasons for objecting to this article.
Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, this clause is objected to; and it is proposed to alter it in such a manner, that the general government shall not have power to lay taxes in the first instance, but shall apply to the states, and, in case of refusal, that direct taxation shall take place; that is to say, that the general government should pass an act to levy money on the United States, and if the states did not, within a limited time, pay their respective proportions, the officers of the United States should proceed to levy money on the inhabitants of the different states. The question has been agitated by the conventions in different states, and some very respectable states have proposed that there should be an amendment, in the manner which the worthy member last up has proposed. But, sir, although I pay very great respect to the opinions and decisions of the gentlemen who composed those conventions, and although they were wise in many instances, I cannot concur with them in this particular. It appears to me that it will be attended with many inconveniences. It seems to me probable that the money arising from duties and excises will be, in general, sufficient to answer all the ordinary purposes of government; but in eases of emergency, it will be necessary to lay direct taxes. In cases of emergency, it will be necessary that these taxes should be a responsible and established fund to support the credit of the United States; for it cannot be supposed that, from the ordinary sources of revenue, money can be brought into our treasury in such a manner as to answer pressing dangers; nor can it be supposed that our credit will enable us to procure any loans, if our government is limited in the means of procuring money. But, if the government have it in their power to lay those taxes, it will give them credit to borrow money on that security, and for that reason it will not be necessary to lay so heavy a tax; for, if the tax is sufficiently productive to pay the interest, money may always be had in consequence of that security. If the state legislatures must be applied to, they must lay a tax for the full sum wanting. This will be much more oppressive than a tax laid by Congress; for I presume that no state legislature will have as much credit individually as the United States conjointly; therefore, viewing it in this light, a tax laid by Congress will be much easier than a tax laid by the states. Another inconvenience which will attend this proposed amendment is, that these emergencies may happen a considerable time before the meeting of some state legislatures, and previous to their meeting, the schemes of the government may be defeated by this delay. A considerable time will elapse before the state can lay the tax, and a considerable time before it be collected; and perhaps it cannot be collected at all. One reason which the worthy member has offered in favor of the amendment was, that the general legislature cannot lay a tax without interfering with the taxation of the state legislature. It may happen that the taxes of both may be laid on the same article; but I hope and believe that the taxes to be laid on by the general legislature will be so very light that it will be no inconvenience to the people to pay them; and if you attend to the probable amount of the impost, you must conclude that the small addition to the taxes will not make them so high as they are at this time. Another reason offered by the worthy member in support of the amendment is, that the state legislature may direct taxes to be paid in specific articles. We had full experience of this in the late war. I call on the house to say, whether it was not the most oppressive and least productive tax ever known in the state. Many articles were lost, and many could not be disposed of so as to be of any service to the people. Most articles are perishable, and therefore cannot answer. Others are difficult to transport, expensive to keep, and very difficult to dispose of. A tax payable in tobacco would answer very well in some parts of the country, and perhaps would be more productive than any other; yet we feel that great losses have been sustained by the public on this article. A tax payable in any kind of grain would answer very little purpose, grain being perishable. A tax payable in pitch and tar would not answer. A mode of this kind would not be at all eligible in this state: the great loss on the specific articles, and inconvenience in disposing of them, would render them productive of very little.
He says that this would be a means of keeping up the importance of the state legislatures. I am afraid it would have a different effect. If requisitions should not be complied with at the time fixed, the officers of Congress would then immediately proceed to make their collections. We know that several causes would inevitably produce a failure. The states would not, or could not, comply. In that case, the state legislature would be disgraced. After having done every thing for the support of their credit and importance without success, would they not be degraded in the eyes of the United States? Would it not cause heart-burnings between particular states and the United States? The inhabitants would oppose the tax-gatherers. They would say, “We are taxed by our own state legislature for the proportionate quota of our state; we will not pay you also.” This would produce insurrections and confusion in the country. These are the reasons which induce me to support this clause. It is perhaps particularly favorable to this state. We are not an importing country: very little is here raised by imposts. Other states, who have adopted the Constitution, import for us. Massachusetts, South Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia, are great importing states. From them we procure foreign goods, and by that means they are generally benefited; for it is agreed upon by all writers, that the consumer pays the impost.
Do we not, then, pay a tax in support of their revenue in proportion to our consumption of foreign articles? Do we not know that this, in our present situation, is without any benefit to us? Do we not pay a second duty when these goods are imported into this state? We now pay double duties. It is not to be supposed that the merchant will pay the duty without wishing to get interest and profit on the money he lays out. It is not to be presumed that he will not add to the price a sum sufficient to indemnify himself for the inconvenience of parting with the money he pays as a duty. We therefore now pay a much higher price for European manufactures than the people do in the great importing states. Is it not laying heavy burdens on the people of this country, not only to compel them to pay duties for the support of the importing states, but to pay a second duty on the importation into this state by our own merchants? By adoption, we shall participate in the amount of the imposts. Upon the whole, I hope this article will meet with the approbation of this committee, when they consider the necessity of supporting the general government, and the many inconveniences, and probable if not certain inefficacy, of requisitions.
Mr. SPENCER. Mr. Chairman, I cannot, notwithstanding what the gentleman has advanced, agree to this clause unconditionally. The most certain criterion of happiness that any people can have, is to be taxed by their own immediate representatives,by those representatives who intermix with them, and know their circumstances,not by those who cannot know their situation. Our federal representatives cannot sufficiently know our situation and circumstances. The worthy gentleman said that it would be necessary for the general government to have the power of laying taxes, in order to have credit to borrow money. But I cannot think, however plausible it may appear, that his argument is conclusive. If such emergency happens as will render it necessary for them to borrow money, it will be necessary for them to borrow before they proceed to lay the tax. I conceive the government will have credit sufficient to borrow money in the one case as well as the other. If requisitions be punctually complied with, no doubt they can borrow; and if not punctually complied with, Congress can ultimately lay the tax.
I wish to have the most easy way for the people to pay their taxes. The state legislature will know every method and expedient by which the people can pay, and they will recur to the most convenient. This will be agreeable to the people, and will not create insurrections and dissensions in the country. The taxes might be laid on the most productive articles: I wish not, for my part, to lay them on perishable articles. There are a number of other articles besides those which the worthy gentleman enumerated. There are, besides tobacco, hemp, indigo, and cotton. In the Northern States, where they have manufactures, a contrary system from ours would be necessary. There the principal attention is paid to the giving their children trades. They have few articles for exportation. By raising the tax in this manner, it will introduce such a spirit of industry as cannot fail of producing happy consequences to posterity. He objected to the mode of paying taxes in specific articles. May it not be supposed that we shall gain something by experience, and avoid those schemes and methods which shall be found inconvenient and disadvantageous? If expenses should be incurred in keeping and disposing of such articles, could not those expenses be reimbursed by a judicious sale? Cannot the legislature be circumspect as to the choice and qualities of the objects to be selected for raising the taxes due to the Continental treasury? The worthy gentleman has mentioned that, if the people should not comply to raise the taxes in this way, then, if they were subject to the law of Congress, it would throw them into confusion. I would ask every one here, if there be not more reason to induce us to believe that they would be thrown into confusion, in case the power of Congress was exercised by Congress in the first instance, than in the other case. After having so long a time to raise the taxes, it appears to me there, could be no kind of doubt of a punctual compliance. The right of Congress to lay taxes ultimately, in case of non-compliance with requisitions, would operate as a penalty, and would stimulate the states to discharge their quotas faithfully. Between these two modes there is an immense difference. The one will produce the happiness, ease, and prosperity of the people; the other will destroy them, and produce insurrections.
Mr. SPAIGHT. Mr. Chairman, it was thought absolutely necessary for the support of the general government to give it power to raise taxes. Government cannot exist without certain and adequate funds. Requisitions cannot be depended upon. For my part, I think it indifferent whether I pay the tax to the officers of the continent or to those of the state. I would prefer paying to the Continental officers, because it will be less expensive.
The gentleman last up has objected to the propriety of the tax being laid by Congress, because they could not know the circumstances of the people. The state legislature will have no source or opportunity of information which the members of the general government may not have. They can avail themselves of the experience of the state legislature. The gentleman acknowledges the inefficacy of requisitions, and yet recommends them. He has allowed that laws cannot operate upon political bodies without the agency of force. His expedient of applying to the states in the first instance will be productive of delay, and will certainly terminate in a disappointment to Congress. But the gentleman has said that we had no hard money, and that the taxes might be paid in specific articles. It is well known that if taxes are not raised in medium, the state loses by it. If the government wishes to raise one thousand pounds, they must calculate on a disappointment by specific articles, and will therefore impose taxes more in proportion to the expected disappointment. An individual can sell his commodities much better than the public at large. A tax payable. in any produce would be less productive, and more oppressive to the people, as it would enhance the public burdens by its inefficiency. As to abuses by the Continental officers, I apprehend the state officers will more probably commit abuses than they. Their conduct will be more narrowly watched, and misconduct more severely punished. They will be therefore more cautious.
Mr. SPENCER, in answer to Mr. Spaight, observed, that, in case of war, he was not opposed to this article, because, if the states refused to comply with requisitions, there was no way to compel them but military coercion, which would induce refractory states to call for foreign aid, which might terminate in the dismemberment of the empire. But he said that he would not give the power of direct taxation to Congress in the first instance, as he thought the states would lay the taxes in a less oppressive manner.
Mr. WHITMILL HILL. Mr. Chairman, the subject now before us is of the highest importance. The object of all government is the protection, security, and happiness of the people. To produce this end, government must be possessed of the necessary means.
Every government must be empowered to raise a sufficient revenue; but I believe it will be allowed, on all hands, that Congress has been hitherto altogether destitute of that power so essential to every government. I believe, also, that it is generally wished that Congress should be possessed of power to raise such sums as are requisite for the support of the Union, though gentlemen may differ with regard to the mode of raising them.
Our past experience shows us that it is in vain to expect any possible efficacy from requisitions. Gentlemen recommend these, as if their inutility had not been experienced. But do we not all know what effects they have produced? Is it not to them that we must impute the loss of our credit and respectability? It is necessary, therefore, that government have recourse to some other mode of raising a revenue. Had, indeed, every state complied with requisitions, the old Confederation would not have been complained of; but as the several states have already discovered such repugnancy to comply with federal engagements, it must appear absolutely necessary to free the general government from such a state of dependence.
The debility of the old system, and the necessity of substituting another in its room, are the causes of calling this Convention.
I conceive, sir, that the power given by that clause is absolutely necessary to the existence of the government. Gentlemen say that we are in such a situation that we cannot pay taxes. This, sir, is not a fair representation, in my opinion. The honest people of this country acknowledge themselves sufficiently able and willing to pay them. Were it a private contract, they would find means to pay them. The honest part of the community complain of the acts of the legislature. They complain that the legislature makes laws, not to suit their constituents, but themselves. The legislature, sir, never means to pay a just debt, as their constituents wish to do. Witness the laws made in this country. I will, however, be bold enough to say, that it is the wish of the honest people to pay those taxes which are necessary for the support of the government. We have for along time waited, in hope that our legislature would point out the manner of supporting the general government, and relieving us from our present ineligible situation. Every body was convinced of the necessity of this; but how is it to be done? The legislature have pointed out a modetheir old, favorite modethey have made paper money; purchased tobacco at an extravagant price, and Sold it at a considerable loss; they have received about a dollar in the pound. Have we any ground to hope that we shall be in a better situation?
Shall we be bettered by the alternative proposed by gentlemenby levying taxes in specific articles? How will you dispose of them? Where is the merchant to buy them? Your business will be put into the hands of a commissioner, who, having no business of his own, will grasp at it eagerly; and he, no doubt, will manage it. But if the payment of the tax be left to the people,if individuals are told that they must pay Such a certain proportion of their income to support the general government,then each will consider it as a debt; he will exert his ingenuity and industry to raise it; he will use no agent, but depend on himself. By these means the money will certainly be collected. I will pledge myself for its certainty. As the legislature has never heretofore called upon the people, let the general government apply to individuals: it cannot depend upon states. If the people have articles, they can receive money for them. Money is said to be scarce; but, sir, it is the want of industry which is the source of our, indigence and difficulties. If people would be but active, and exert every power, they might certainly pay, and be in easy circumstances; and the people are disposed to do so;I mean the good part of the community, which, I trust, is the greater part of it.
Were the money to be paid into our treasury first, instead of recommitting it to the Continental treasury, we should apply it to discharge our own pressing demands; by which means, a very small proportion of it would be paid to Congress. And if the tax were to be laid and collected by the several states, what would be the consequence? Congress must depend upon twelve funds for its support. The general government must depend on the contingency of succeeding succeeding in twelve different applications to twelve different bodies. What a slender and precarious dependence would this be! The states, when called upon to pay these demands of Congress, would fail; they would pay every other demand before those of Congress. They have hitherto done it. Is not this a true statement of facts? How is it with the Continental treasury? The true answer to this question must hurt every friend to his country.
I came in late; but I believe that a gentleman (Governor Johnston) said, that if the states should refuse to pay requisitions, and the Continental officers were sent to collect, the states would be degraded, and the people discontented, I believe this Would be the case. The states, by acting dishonestly, would appear in the most odious light; and the people would be irritated at such an application, after a rejection by their own legislature. But if the taxes were to be raised of individuals, I believe they could, without any difficulty, be paid in due time.
But, sir, the United States wish to be established and known among other nations. This will be a matter of great utility to them. We might then form advantageous connections. When it is once known among foreign nations that our general government and our finances are upon a respectable footing, should emergencies happen, we can borrow money of them without any disadvantage, The lender would be sure of being reimbursed in time. This matter is of the highest consequence to the United States, Loans must be recurred to sometimes. In case of war they would be necessary. All nations borrow money on pressing occasions.
The gentleman who was last up mentioned many specific articles which could be paid by the people in discharge of their taxes. He has, I think, been fully answered. He must see the futility of such a mode. When our wants would be greatest, these articles would be least productive; I mean in time of war. But we still have means; such means as honest and assiduous men will find. He says that Congress cannot lay the tax to suit us. He has forgotten that Congress are acquainted with usgo from usare situated like ourselves. I will be bold to say, it will be most their own interest to behave with moderation. Their own interest will prompt them to lay taxes moderately; and nothing but the last necessity will urge them to recur to that expedient.
This is a most essential clause. Without money, government will answer no purpose. Gentlemen compare this to a foreign tax. It is by no means the case. It is laid by ourselves. Our own representatives lay it, and will, no doubt, use the most easy means of raising it, possible. Why not trust our own representatives? We might, no doubt, have confidence in them on this occasion, as well as every other. If the Continental treasury is to depend on the states, as usual, it will be always poor. But gentlemen are jealous, and unwilling to trust government, though they are their own representatives. Their maxim is, Trust them with no power. This holds against all government. Anarchy will ensue if government be not trusted. I think that I know the Sentiments of the honest, industrious part of the community, as well as any gentleman in this house. They wish to discharge these debts, and are able. If they can raise the interest of the public debt, it is sufficient. They will not be called upon for more than the interest, till such time as the country be rich and populous. The principal can then be paid with great facility.
We can borrow money with ease, and on advantageous terms, when it shall be known that Congress will have that power which all governments ought to have. Congress will not pay their debts in paper money. I am willing to trust this article to Congress, because I have no reason to think that our government will be better than it has been. Perhaps I have spoken too liberally of the legislature before: but I do not expect that they will ever, without a radical change of men and measures, wish to put the general government on a better footing. It is not the poor man who opposes the payment of those just debts to which we owe our independence and political existence, but the rich miser. Not the poor, but the rich, shudder at the idea of taxes. I have no dread that Congress will distress us; nor have I any fear that the tax will be embezzled by officers. Industry and economy will be promoted, and money will be easier got than ever it has been yet. The taxes will be paid by the people when called upon. i trust that all honest, industrious people will think, with me, that Congress ought to be possessed of the power of applying immediately to the people for its support, without the interposition of the state legislatures. I have no confidence in the legislature: the people do not suppose them to be honest men.
Mr. STEELE was decidedly in favor of the clause. A government without revenue he compared to a poor, forlorn; dependent individual, and said that the one would be as helpless and contemptible as the other. He wished the government of the Union to be on a respectable footing. Congress, he said, showed no disposition to tax usthat it was well known that a poll tax of eighteen pence per poll, and six pence per hundred acres of land, was appropriated and offered by the legislature to Congressthat Congress was solicited to send the officers to collect those taxes, but they refused that if this power was not given to Congress, the people must be oppressed, especially in time of warthat, during the last war, provisions, horses, &c., had been taken from the people by force, to supply the wants of governmentthat a respectable government would not be under the necessity of recurring to such unwarrantable meansthat such a method was unequal and oppressive to the last degree. The citizens, whose property was pressed from them, paid all the taxes; the rest escaped. The press-masters went often to the poorest, and not to the richest citizens, and took their horses, &c. This disabled them from making a crop the next year. It would better, he said, to lay the public burdens equally upon the people. Without this power, the other powers of Congress would be nugatory. He added, that it would, in his opinion, give strength and respectability to the United States in time of war, would promote industry and frugality, and would enable the government to protect and extend commerce, and consequently increase the riches and population of the country.
Mr. JOSEPH M’DOWALL. Mr. Chairman, this is a power that I will never agree to give up from the hands of the people of this country. We know that the amount of the imposts will be trifling, and that the expenses of this government will be very great; consequently the taxes will be very high. The tax-gatherers will be sent, and our property will be wrested out of our hands. The Senate is most dangerously constructed. Our only security is the House of Representatives. They may be continued at Congress eight or ten years. At such a distance from their homes, and for so long a time, they will have no feeling for, nor any knowledge of, the situation of the people. If elected from the seaports, they will not know the Western part of the country, and vice versa. Two coöperative powers cannot exist together. One must submit. The inferior must give up to the superior. While I am up, I will say something to what has been said by the gentleman to ridicule the General Assembly. He represents the legislature in a very opprobrious light. It is very astonishing that the people should choose men of such characters to represent them. If the people be virtuous, why should they put confidence in men of a contrary disposition? As to paper money, it was the result of necessity. We were involved in a great war. What money had been in the country was sent to other parts of the world. What would have been the consequence if paper money had not been made? We must have been undone. Our political existence must have been destroyed. The extreme scarcity of specie, with other good causes, particularly the solicitation of the officers to receive it at its nominal value, for their pay, produced subsequent emissions. He tells us that all the people wish this power to be given that the mode of payment need only be pointed out, and that they will willingly pay. How are they to raise the money? Have they it in their chests? Suppose, for instance, there be a tax of two shillings per hundred laid on land; where is the money to pay it? We have it not. I am acquainted with the people. I know their situation. They have no money. Requisitions may yet be complied with. Industry and frugality may enable the people to pay moderate taxes, if laid by those who have a knowledge of their situation, and a feeling for them. If the tax-gatherers come upon us, they will, like the locusts of old; destroy us. They will have pretty high salaries, and exert themselves to oppress us. When we consider these things, we should be cautious. They will be weighed, I trust, by the House. Nothing said by the gentlemen on the other side has obviated my objections.
Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman who was last up, still insists on the great utility which would result from that mode which has hitherto been found ineffectual. It is amazing that past experience will not instruct him. When a merchant follows a similar mode,when he purchases dear and sells cheap,he is called a swindler, and must soon become a bankrupt. This state deserves that most disgraceful epithet. We are swindlers; we gave three pounds per hundred weight for tobacco, and sold it three dollars per hundred weight, after having paid very considerable expenses for transporting and keeping it. The United States are bankrupts. They are considered such in every part of the world. They borrow money, and promise to pay: they have it not in their power, and they are obliged to ask of the people, whom they owe, to lend them money to pay the very interest. This is disgraceful and humiliating. By these means we are paying compound interest. No private fortune, however great,no estate, however affluent,can stand this most destructive mode. This has proceeded from the inefficacy of requisitions. Shall we continue the same practice? Shall we not rather struggle to get over our misfortunes? I hope we shall.
Another member, on the same side, says that it is improper to take the power of taxation out of the hands of the people. I deny that it is taken out of their hands by this system. Their immediate representatives lay these taxes. Taxes are necessary for every government. Can there be any danger when these taxes are laid by the representatives of the people? If there be, where can political safety be found? But it is said that we have a small proportion of that representation. Our proportion is equal to the proportion of money we shall have to pay. It is therefore a full proportion; and unless we suppose that all the members of Congress shall combine to ruin their constituents, we have no reason to fear. It is said (I know not from what principle) that our representatives will be taken from the seacoast, and will not know in what manner to lay the tax to suit the citizens of the western part of the country. I know not whence that idea arose. The gentlemen from the westward are not precluded from voting for representatives. They have it, therefore, in their power to send them from the westward, or the middle part of the state. They are more numerous, and can send them, or the greater part of them. I do not doubt but they will send the most proper, and men in whom they can put confidence, and will give them, from time to time, instructions to enlighten their minds.
Something has been said with regard to their paper money. I think very little can be done in favor of it; much may be said, very justly, in favor of it.
Every man of property every man of considerable transactions, whether a merchant, planter, mechanic, or of any other conditionmust have felt the baneful influence of that currency. It gave us relief for a moment. It assisted us in the prosecution of a bloody war. It is destructive, however, in general, in the end. It was struck, in the last instance, for the purpose of paying the officers and soldiers. The motive was laudable.
I then thought, and still do, that those gentlemen might have had more advantage by not receiving that kind of payment. It would have been better for them, and for the country, had it not been emitted. We have involved ourselves in a debt of £200,000. We have not, with this sum, honestly and fairly paid £50,000 Was this right? But say they, there was no circulating medium. This want was necessary to be supplied. It is a doubt with me whether the circulating medium be increased by an emission of paper currency. Before the emission of the paper money, there was a great deal of hard money among us. For thirty years past, I had not known so much specie in circulation as we had at the emission of paper money, in 1783. That medium was increasing daily. People from abroad bring specie; for, thank God, our country produces articles which are every where in demand. There is more specie in the country than is generally imagined; but the proprietors keep it locked up. No man will part with his specie. It lies in his chest. It is asked, Why not lend it out? The answer is obvious that, should he once let it get out of his power, he never can recover the whole of it. If he bring suit, he will obtain a verdict for one half of it. This is the reason of our poverty. The scarcity of money must be, in some degree, owing to this; and the specie which is now in this country might as well be in any other part of the world. If our trade was once on a respectable footing, we should, find means of paying that enormous debt.
Another observation was made, which has not yet been answered, viz., that the demands of the United States will be smaller than those of the states, for this reason the United States will only make a demand of the interest of the public debts; the states must demand both principal and interest; for I presume no state can, on an emergency, produce, without the aid of individuals, a sum sufficient for that purpose; but the United States can borrow, on the credit of the funds arising from their power of laying taxes, such sums as will be equal to the emergency.
There will be always credit given, where there is good security. No man, who is not a miser, will hesitate to trust where there is a respectable security; but credulity itself would not trust where there was no kind of security, but an absolute certainty of losing. Mankind wish to make their money productive; they will therefore lend it where there is a security and certainty of recovering it, and no longer keep it hoarded in strong boxes.
This power is essential to the very existence of the government. Requisitions are fruitless and idle. Every expedient proposed as an alternative, or to qualify this power, is replete with inconvenience. It appears to me, therefore, upon the whole, that this article stands much better, as it is, than in any other manner.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr Chairman, I do not presume to rise to discuss this clause, after the very able, and, in my opinion, unanswerable arguments which have been urged in favor of it; but merely to correct an error which fell from a respectable member (Mr. M’Dowall) on the other side.
It was, that Congress, by interfering with the mode of elections, might continue themselves in office. I thought that this was sufficiently explained yesterday. There is nothing in the Constitution to empower Congress to continue themselves longer than the time specified. It says, expressly, that the House of Representatives shall consist of members chosen for two years, and that the Senate shall be composed of senators chosen for six years. At the expiration of these terms, the right of election reverts to the people and the states; nor is there any thing in the Constitution to warrant a contrary supposition. The clause alluded to has no reference to the duration of members in Congress, but merely as to the time and manner of their election.
Now that I am up, I beg leave to take notice of a suggestion, that Congress could as easily borrow money when they had the ultimate power of laying taxes, as if they possessed it in the first instance. I entirely differ from that opinion. Had Congress the immediate power, there would be no doubt the money would be raised. In the other mode, doubts might be entertained concerning it. For can any man suppose that if, for any reasons, the state legislatures did not think proper to pay their quotas, and Congress should be compelled to lay taxes, it would not raise alarms in the state? Is it not reasonable the people would be more apt to side with their state legislature, who indulged them, than with Congress, who imposed taxes upon them? They would say, “Had we been able to pay, our state legislature would have raised the money. They know and feel for our distresses; but Congress have no regard for our situation, and have imposed taxes on us we are unable to bear.” This is, sir, what would probably happen. Language like this would be the high road to popularity. In all countries, particularly in free ones, there are many ready to catch at such opportunities of making themselves of consequence with the people. General discontent would probably ensue, and a serious quarrel take place between the general and the state governments. Foreigners, who would view our situation narrowly before they lent their money, would certainly be less willing to risk it on such contingencies as these, than if they knew there was a direct fund for their payment, from which no ill consequences could be apprehended. The difference between those who are able to borrow, and those who are not, is extremely great. Upon a critical emergency, it may be impossible to raise the full sum wanted immediately upon the people. In this case, if the public credit is good, they may borrow a certain sum, and raise for the present only enough to pay the interest, deferring the payment of the principal till the public is more able to bear it. In the other cases where no money can be borrowed, there is no resource, if the whole sum cannot be raised immediately. The difference, perhaps, may be stated as twenty to one. A hundred thousand pounds, therefore, may be wanted in the one case; five thousand pounds may be sufficient, for the present, in the other. Sure this is a difference of the utmost moment. I should not have risen at all, were it not for the strong impression which might have been made by the error committed by the worthy gentleman on the other side. I hope I shall be excused for the time I have taken up with the additional matter, though it was only stating what had been urged with great propriety before.
Mr. GOUDY. Mr. Chairman, this is a dispute whether Congress shall have great, enormous powers. I am not able to follow these learned gentlemen through all the labyrinths of their oratory. Some represent us as rich, and not honest; and others again represent us as honest, and not rich. We have no gold or silver, no substantial money, to pay taxes with. This clause, with the clause of elections, will totally destroy our liberties. The subject of our consideration therefore is, whether it be proper to give any man, or set of men, an unlimited power over our purse, without any kind of control. The purse-strings are given up by this clause. The sword is also given up by this system. Is there no danger in giving up both? There is no danger, we are told. It may be so; but I am jealousy and suspicious of the liberties of mankind. And if it be a character which no man wishes but myself, I am willing to take it. Suspicions, in small communities, are a pest to mankind; but in a matter of this magnitude, which concerns the interest of millions yet unborn, suspicion is a very noble virtue. Let us see, therefore, how far we give power; for when it is once, given, we cannot take it away. It is said that those who formed this Constitution were great and good men. We do not dispute it. We also admit that great and learned people have adopted it. But I have a judgment of my own; and, though not so well informed always as others, yet I will exert it when manifest danger presents itself. When the power of the purse and the sword is given up, we dare not think for ourselves. In case of war, the last man and the last penny would be extorted from us. That the Constitution has a tendency to destroy the state governments, must be clear to every man of common understanding. Gentlemen, by their learned arguments, endeavor to conceal the danger from us. I have no notion of this method of evading arguments, and of clouding them over with rhetoric, and, I must say, sophistry too. But I hope no man will be led astray with them.
Gov. JOHNSTON observed, that if any sophistical arguments had been made use of, they ought to be pointed out; and nobody could doubt that it was in the power of a learned divine (alluding to Mr. Caldwell)to show their sophistry.
Gov. Johnston, being informed of his mistake in taking Mr. Goudy for Mr. Caldwell, apologized for it.
Mr PORTER. Mr Chairman, I must say that I think the gentleman East up was wrong; for the other gentleman was, in my opinion, right. This is a money clause. I would fain know: whence this power originates. I have heard it said that the legislature were villains, and that this power was to be exercised by the representatives of the people. When a building is raised, it should be on solid ground. Every gentleman must agree that we should not build a superstructure on a foundation of villains. Gentlemen say that the mass of the people are honest. I hope gentlemen will consider that we should build the structure on the people, and not on the representatives of the people. Agreeably to the gentleman’s argument, (Mr Hill,) our representatives will be mere villains. I expect that very learned arguments, and powerful oratory, will be displayed on this occasion. I expect that the great cannon from Halifax (meaning Mr Davie) will discharge fire-balls among us; but large batteries are often taken by small arms.
Mr. BLOODWORTH wished that gentlemen would desist from making personal reflections. He was of opinion that it was wrong to do so, and incompatible with their duty to their constituents; that every man had a right to display his abilities, and he hoped they would no longer reflect upon one another.
From the 2d to the 8th clause read without any observation.
9th clause read
Several members wished to hear an explanation of this clause. Mr. MACLAINE looked upon this as a very valuable part of the Constitution, because it consulted the ease and convenience of the people at large; for that, if the Supreme Court were at one fixed place, and no other tribunals established, nothing could possibly be more injurious; that it was therefore necessary that Congress should have power to constitute tribunals in different states, for the trial of common causes, and to have appeals to the Supreme Court in matters of more magnitudethat that was his idea, but, if not satisfactory, he trusted other gentlemen would explain itthat it would be more explained when they came to the judiciary.
The 10th and 11th clauses read without any observation.
12th clause read.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, this clause is of so much importance, that we ought to consider it with the most serious attention. It is a power vested in Congress, which, in my opinion, is absolutely indispensable; yet there have been, perhaps, more objections made to it than any other power vésted in Congress. For my part, I will observe generally that, so far from being displeased with that jealousy and extreme caution with which gentlemen consider every power proposed to be given to this government, they give me the utmost satisfaction.
I believe the passion for liberty is stronger in America than in any other country in the world. Here every man is strongly impressed with its importance, and every breast glows for the preservation of it. Every jealousy, not incompatible with the indispensable principles of government, is to be commended; but these principles must at all events be observed. The powers of government ought to be competent to the public safety. This, indeed, is the primary object of all governments. It is the duty of gentlemen who form a constitution to take care that no power should be wanting which the safety of the community requires. The exigencies of the country must be provided for, not only in respect to common and usual cases, but for occasions which do not frequently occur. If such a provision is not made, critical occasions may arise, when there must be either a usurpation of power, or the public safety eminently endangered; for, besides the evils attending a frequent change of a constitution, the case may not admit of so slow a remedy. In considering the powers that ought to be vested in any government, possible abuses ought not to be pointed out, without at the same time considering their use. No power, of any kind or degree, can be given but what may be abused; we have, therefore, only to consider whether any particular power is absolutely necessary. If it be, the power must be given, and we must run the risk of the abuse, considering our risk of this evil as one of the conditions of the imperfect state of human nature, where there is no good without the mixture of some evil. At the same time, it is undoubtedly our duty to guard against abuses as much as possible. In America, we enjoy peculiar blessings; the people are distinguished by the possession of freedom in a very high degree, unmixed with those oppressions the freest countries in Europe suffer. But we ought to consider that in this country, as well as in others, it is equally necessary to restrain and suppress internal commotions, and to guard against foreign hostility. There is, I believe, no government in the world without a power to raise armies. In some countries in Europe, a great force is necessary to be kept up, to guard armies maintained by many against those numerous sovereigns there, where an army belonging to one government alone sometimes amounts to two hundred thousand or four hundred thousand men. Happily, we are situated at a great distance from them, and the inconsiderable power to the north of us is not likely soon to be very formidable. But though our situation places us at, a remote danger, it cannot be pretended we are in no danger at all. I believe there is: no man who has written on this subject, but has admitted that this power of raising armies is necessary in time of war; but they do not choose to admit of it in a time of peace. It is to be hoped that, in time of peace, there will not be occasion, at any time, but for a very small number of forces; possibly, a few garrisons may be necessary to guard the frontiers, and an insurrection like that lately in Massachusetts might require some troops. But a time of war is the time when the power would probably be exerted to any extent. Let us, however, consider the consequences of a limitation of this power to a time of war only. One moment’s consideration will show the impolicy of it, in the most glaring manner. We certainly ought to guard against the machinations of other countries. We know not what designs may be entertained against us; but surely, when known, we ought to endeavor to counteract their effects. Such designs may be entertained in a time of profound peace, as well as after a declaration of war. Now, suppose, for instance, our government had received certain intelligence that the British government had formed a scheme to attack New York, next April, with ten thousand men; would it not be proper immediately to prepare against it?and by so doing the scheme might be defeated. But if Congress had no such power, because it was a time of peace, the place must fall the instant it was attacked; and it might take years to recover what might at first have been seasonably defended. This restriction, therefore, cannot take place with safety to the community, and the power must of course be left to the direction of the general government. I hope there will be little necessity for the exercise of this power; and I trust that the universal resentment and resistance of the people will meet every attempt to abuse this or any other power. That high spirit for which they are distinguished, I hope, will ever exist; and it probably will as long as we have a republican form of government. Every man feels a consciousness of a personal equality and independence. Let him look at any part of the continent,he can see no superiors. This personal independence is the surest safeguard of the public freedom. But is it probable that our own representatives, chosen for a limited time, can be capable of destroying themselves, their families and fortunes, even if they have no regard to their public duty? When such considerations are involved, surely it is very unlikely that they will attempt to raise an army against the liberties of their country. Were we to establish an hereditary nobility, or a set of men who were to have exclusive privileges, then, indeed, our jealousy might be well grounded. But, fortunately, we have no such. The restriction contended for, of no standing army in time of peace, forms a part of our own state Constitution. What has been the consequence? In December, 1786, the Assembly flagrantly violated it, by raising two hundred and one men, for two years, for the defence of Davidson county. I do not deny that the intention might have been good, and that the Assembly really thought the situation of that part of the country required such a defence. But this makes the argument still stronger against the ira policy of such a restriction, since our own experience points out the danger resulting from it: for I take it for granted, that we could not at that time be said to be in a state of war. Dreadful might the condition of this country be without this power. We must trust our friends or trust our enemies. There is one restriction on this power, which I believe is the only one that ought to be put upon it.
Though Congress are to have the power of raising and supporting armies, yet they cannot appropriate money for that purpose for a longer time than two years. Now, we will suppose that the majority of the two houses should be capable of making a bad use of this power, and should appropriate more money to raise an army than is necessary. The appropriation, we have seen, cannot be constitutional for more than two years. Within that time it might command obedience. But at the end of the second year from the first choice, the whole House of Representatives must be re-chosen, and also one third of the Senate. The peoples being inflamed with the abuse of power of the old members, would turn them out with indignation. Upon their return home, they would meet the universal execrations of their fellow-citizens. Instead of the grateful plaudits of their country, so dear to every feeling mind, they would be treated with the utmost resentment and contempt; their names would be held in everlasting infamy; and their measures would be instantly reprobated and changed by the new members. In two years, a system of tyranny certainly could not succeed in the face of the whole people; and the appropriation could not be with any safety for less than that period. If it depended on an annual vote, the consequence might be, that, at a critical period, when military operations were necessary, the troops would not know whether they were entitled to pay or not, and could not safely act till they knew that the annual vote had passed. To refuse this power to the government, would be to invite insults and attacks from other nations. Let us not, for God’s sake, be guilty of such indiscretion as to trust our enemies’ mercy, but give, as is our duty, a sufficient power to government to protect their country, guarding, at the same time, against abuses as well as we can. We well know what this country suffered by the ravages of the British army during the war. How could we have been saved but by an army? Without that resource we should soon have felt the miserable consequences; and this day, instead of having the honor the greatest any people ever enjoyed to choose a government which our reason recommends, we should have been groaning under the most intolerable tyranny that was ever felt. We ought not to think these dangers are entirely over. The British government is not friendly to us. They dread the rising glory of America. They tremble for the West Indies, and their colonies to the north of us. They have counteracted us on every occasion since the peace. Instead of a liberal and reciprocal commerce, they have attempted to confine us to a most narrow and ignominious one. Their pride is still irritated with the disappointment of their endeavors to enslave us. They know that, on the record of history, their conduct towards us must appear in the most disgraceful light. Let it also appear, on the record of history, that America was equally wise and fortunate in peace as well as in war. Let it be said that, with a temper and unanimity unexampled, they corrected the vices of an imperfect government, and framed a new one on the basis of justice and liberty; that, though all did not concur in approving the particular structure of this government, yet that the minority peaceably and respectfully submitted to the decision of the greater number. This is a spectacle so great, that, if it should succeed, this must be considered the greatest country under heaven; for there is no instance of any such deliberate change of government in any other nation that ever existed. But how would it gratify the pride of our enemy to say, “We could not conquer you, but you have ruined yourselves. You have foolishly quarrelled about trifles. You are unfit for any government whatever. You have separated from us, when you were unable to govern yourselves, and you now deservedly feel all the horrors of anarchy.” I beg pardon for saying so much. I did not intend it when I began. But the consideration of one of the most important parts of the plan excited all my feelings on the subject. I speak without any affectation in expressing my apprehension of foreign dangers: the belief of them is strongly impressed on my mind. I hope, therefore, the gentlemen of the committee will excuse the warmth with which I have spoken. I shall now take leave of the subject. I flatter myself that gentlemen will see that this power is absolutely necessary, and must be vested somewhere; that it can be vested nowhere so well as in the general government; and that it is guarded by the only restriction which the nature of the thing will admit of.
Mr. HARDIMAN desired to know, if the people were attacked or harassed in any part of the state,if on the frontiers, for instance,whether they must not apply to the state legislature for assistance.
Mr. IREDELL replied, that he admitted that application might be immediately made to the state legislature, and that, by the plan under consideration, the strength of the Union was to be exerted to repel invasions of foreign enemies and suppress domestic insurrections; and that the possibility of an instantaneous and unexpected attack, in time of profound. peace illustrated the danger of restricting the power of raising and supporting armies.
The rest of the 8th section read without any observation.
1st clause of the 9th section read.
Mr. J. M’DOWALL wished to hear the reasons of this restriction.
Mr. SPAIGHT answered, that there was a contest between the Northern and Southern States; that the Southern States, whose principal support depended on the labor of slaves, would not consent to the desire of the Northern States to exclude the importation of slaves absolutely; that South Carolina and Georgia insisted on this clause, as they were now in want of hands to cultivate their lands; that in the course of twenty years they would be fully supplied; that the trade would be abolished then, and that, in the mean time, some tax or duty might be laid on.
Mr. M’DOWALL replied, that the explanation was just such as he expected, and by no means satisfactory to him, and that he looked upon it as a very objectionable part of the system.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise to express sentiments similar to those of the gentleman from Craven. For my part, were it practicable to put an end to the importation of slaves immediately, it would give me the greatest pleasure; for it certainly is a trade utterly inconsistent with the rights of humanity, and under which great cruelties have been exercised. When the entire abolition of slavery takes place, it will be an event which must be pleasing to every generous mind, and every friend of human nature; but we often wish for things which are not attainable. It was the wish of a great majority of the Convention to put an end to the trade immediately; but the states of South Carolina and Georgia would not agree to it. Consider, then, what would be the difference between our present situation in this respect, if we do not agree to the Constitution, and what it will be if we do agree to it. If we do not agree to it, do we remedy the evil? No, sir, we do not. For if the Constitution be not adopted, it will be in the power of every state to continue it forever. They may or may not abolish it, at their discretion. But if we adopt the Constitution, the trade must cease after twenty years, if Congress declare so, whether particular states please so or not; surely, then, we can gain by it. This was the utmost that could be obtained. I heartily wish more could have been done. But as it is, this government is nobly distinguished above others by that very provision. Where is there another country in which such a restriction prevails? We, therefore, sir, set an example of humanity, by providing for the abolition of this inhuman traffic, though at a distant period. I hope, therefore, that this part of the Constitution will not be condemned because it has not stipulated for what was impracticable to obtain.
Mr. SPAIGHT further explained the clause. That the limitation of this trade to the term of twenty years was a compromise between the Eastern States and the Southern States. South Carolina and Georgia wished to extend the term. The Eastern States insisted on the entire abolition of the trade. That the state of North Carolina had not thought proper to pass any law prohibiting the importation of slaves, and therefore its delegation in the Convention did not think themselves authorized to contend for an immediate prohibition of it.
Mr. IREDELL added to what he had said before, that the states of Georgia and South Carolina had lost a great many slaves during the war, and that they wished to supply the loss.
Mr. GALLOWAY. Mr. Chairman, the explanation given to this clause does not satisfy my mind. I wish to see this abominable trade put an end to. But in case it be thought proper to continue this abominable traffic for twenty years, yet I do not wish to see the tax on the importation extended to all persons whatsoever. Our situation is different from the people to the north. We want citizens; they do not. Instead of laying a tax, we ought to give a bounty to encourage foreigners to come among us. With respect to the abolition of slavery, it requires the utmost consideration. The property of the Southern States consists principally of slaves. If they mean to do away slavery altogether, this property will be destroyed. I apprehend it means to bring forward manumission. If we must manumit our slaves, what country shall we send them to? It is impossible for us to be happy, if, after manumission, they are to stay among us.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, the worthy gentleman, I believe, has misunderstood this clause, which runs in the following words: “The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.” Now, sir, observe that the Eastern States, who long ago have abolished slaves, did not approve of the expression slaves; they therefore used another, that answered the same purpose. The committee will observe the distinction between the two words migration and importation. The first part of the clause will extend to persons who come into this country as free people, or are brought as slaves. But the last part extends to slaves only. The word migration refers to free persons; but the word importation refers to slaves, because free people cannot be said to be imported. The tax, therefore, is only to be laid on slaves who are imported, and not on free persons who migrate. I further beg leave to say that the gentleman is mistaken in another thing. He seems to say that this extends to the abolition of slavery. Is there any thing in this Constitution which says that Congress shall have it in their power to abolish the slavery of those slaves who are now in the country? Is it not the plain meaning of it, that after twenty years they may prevent the future importation of slaves? It does not extend to those now in the country. There is another circumstance to be observed. There is no authority vested in Congress to restrain the states, in the interval of twenty years, from doing what they please. If they wish to prohibit such importation, they may do so. Our next Assembly may put an entire end to the importation of slaves.
The rest of the 9th section read without any observation.
Article 2d, section 1st.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, I must express my astonishment at the precipitancy with which we go through this business. Is it not highly improper to pass over in silence any part of this Constitution which has been loudly objected to? We go into a committee to have a freer discussion. I am sorry to see gentlemen hurrying us through, and suppressing their objections, in order to bring them forward at an unseasonable hour. We are assembled here to deliberate for our own common welfare, and to decide upon a question of infinite importance to our country. What is the cause of this silence and gloomy jealousy in gentlemen of the opposition? This department has been universally objected to by them. The most virulent invectives, the most opprobrious epithets, and the most indecent scurrility, have been used and applied against this part of the Constitution. It has been represented as incompatible with any degree of freedom. Why, therefore, do not gentlemen offer their objections now, that we may examine their force, if they have any? The clause meets my entire approbation. I only rise to show the principle on which it was formed. The principle is, the separation of the executive from the legislativea principle which pervades all free governments. A dispute arose in the Convention concerning the reëligibility of the President. It was the opinion of the deputation from this state, that he should be elected for five or seven years, and be afterwards ineligible. It was urged, in support of this opinion, that the return of public officers into the common mass of the people, where they would feel the tone they had given to the administration of the laws, was the best security the public had for their good behavior; that it would operate as a limitation to his ambition, at the same time that it rendered him more independent; that when once in possession of that office, he would move heaven and earth to secure his reëlection, and perhaps become the cringing dependant of influential men; that our opinion was supported by some experience of the effects of this principle in several of the states. A large and very respectable majority were of the contrary opinion. It was said that such an exclusion would be improper for many reasons; that if an enlightened, upright man had discharged the duties of the office ably and faithfully, it would be depriving the people of the benefit of his ability and experience, though they highly approved of him; that it would render the President less ardent in his endeavors to acquire the esteem and approbation of his country, if he knew that he would be absolutely excluded after a given period; and that it would be depriving a man of singular merit even of the rights of citizenship. It was also said, that the day might come, when the confidence of America would be put in one man, and that it might be dangerous to exclude such a man from the service of his country. It was urged, likewise, that no undue influence could take place in his election; that, as he was to be elected on the same day throughout the United States, no man could say to himself, I am to be the man. Under these considerations, a large, respectable majority voted for it as it now stands. With respect to the unity of the executive, the superior energy and secrecy wherewith one person can act, was one of the principles on which the Convention went. But a more predominant principle was, the more obvious responsibility of one person. It was observed that, if there were a plurality of persons, and a crime should be committed, when their conduct came to be examined, it would be impossible to fix the fact on any one of them, but that the public were never at a loss when there was but one man. For these reasons, a great majority concurred in the unity, and reëligibility also, of the executive. I thought proper to show the spirit of the deputation from this state. However, I heartily concur in it as it now stands, and the mode of his election precludes every possibility of corruption or improper influence of any kind.
Mr. JOSEPH TAYLOR thought it improper to object on every trivial case; that this clause had been argued on in some degree before, and that it would be a useless waste of time to dwell any longer upon it; that if they had the power of amending the Constitution, every part need not be discussed, as some were not objectionable; and that, for his own part, he would object when any essential defect came before the house.
2d, 3d, and 4th clauses read.
Mr. J. TAYLOR objected to the power of Congress to determine the time of choosing the electors, and to determine the time of electing the President, and urged that it was improper to have the election on the same day throughout the United States; that Congress, not satisfied with their power over the time, place, and manner of elections of representatives, and over the time and manner of elections of senators, and their power of raising an army, wished likewise to control the election of the electors of the President; that by their army, and the election being on the same day in all the states, they might compel the electors to vote as they please.
Mr. SPAIGHT answered, that the time of choosing the electors was to be determined by Congress, for the sake of regularity and uniformity; that, if the states were to determine it, one might appoint it at one day, and another at another, &e.; and that the election being on the same day in all the states, would prevent a combination between the electors.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, it gives me great astonishment to hear this objection, because I thought this to be a most excellent clause. Nothing is more necessary than to prevent every danger of influence. Had the time of election been different in different states, the electors chosen in one state might have gone from state to state, and conferred with the other electors, and the election might have been thus carried on under undue influence. But by this provision, the electors must meet in the different states on the same day, and cannot confer together. They may not even know who are the electors in the other states. There can be, therefore, no kind of combination. It is probable that the man who is the object of the choice of thirteen different states, the electors in each voting unconnectedly with the rest, must be a person who possesses, in a high degree, the confidence and respect of his country.
Gov. JOHNSTON expressed doubts with respect to the persons by whom the electors were to be appointed. Some, he said, were of opinion that the people at large were to choose them, and others thought the state legislatures were to appoint them.
Mr. IREDELL was of opinion that it could not be done with propriety by the state legislatures, because, as they were to direct the manner of appointing, a law would look very awkward, which should say, “They gave the power of such appointments to themselves.”
Mr. MACLAINE thought the state legislatures might direct the electors to be chosen in what manner they thought proper, and they might direct it to be done by the people at large.
Mr. DAVIE was of opinion, that it was left to the wisdom of the legislatures to direct their election in whatever manner they thought proper.
Mr. TAYLOR still thought the power improper with respect to the time of choosing the electors. This power appeared to him to belong properly to the state legislatures, nor could he see any purpose it could answer but that of an augmentation of the congressional powers, which, he said, were too great already; that by this power they might prolong the elections to seven years, and that, though this would be in direct opposition to another part of the Constitution, sophistry would enable them to reconcile them.
Mr. SPAIGHT replied, that he was surprised that the gentleman objected to the power of Congress to determine the time of choosing the electors, and not to that of fixing the day of the election of the President; that the power in the one case could not possibly answer the purpose of uniformity without having it in the other; that the power, in both cases, could be exercised properly only by one general superintending power; that, if Congress had not this power, there would be no uniformity at all, and that a great deal of time would be taken up in order to agree upon the time.