Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4

Convention of North Carolina

Thursday, July 31, 1788.

Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, it appears to me that, if the motion made yesterday, by the gentleman from Halifax, be adopted, it will not answer the intention of the people. It determines nothing with respect to the Constitution. We were sent here to determine upon it. [Here his excellency read the resolution of the Assembly under which the Convention met.] If we do not decide upon the Constitution, we shall have nothing to report to Congress. We shall be entirely out of the Union, and stand by ourselves. I wish gentlemen would pause a moment before they decide so awful a question. To whom are we to refer these amendments which are to be proposed as the condition of our adoption? The present Congress have nothing to do with them. Their authority extends only to introduce the new government, not to receive any proposition of amendments. Shall we present them to the new Congress? In what manner can that be done? We shah have no representatives to introduce them. We may indeed appoint ambassadors to the United States of America, to represent What scruples North Carolina has in regard to their Constitution. I know no other way. A number of states have proposed amendments to the Constitution, and ratified in the mean time. These will have great weight and influence in Congress, and may prevail in getting material amendments proposed. We shall have no share in voting upon any of these amendments; for, in my humble opinion, we shall be entirely out of the Union, and can be considered only as a foreign power. It is true, the United States may admit us hereafter. But they may admit us on terms unequal and disadvantageous to us. In the mean time, many of their laws, by which we shall be hereafter bound, may be particularly injurious to the interests of this state, as we shall have no share in their formation. Gentlemen say they will not be influenced by what others have done. I must confess that the example of great and good men, and wise states, has great weight with me.

It is said there is a probability New York will not adopt this Constitution. Perhaps she may not. But it is generally supposed that the principal reason of her opposing it arises from a selfish motive. She has it now in her power to tax indirectly two contiguous states. Connecticut and New Jersey contribute to pay a great part of the taxes of that state, by consuming large quantities of goods, the duties of which are now levied for the benefit of New York only. A similar policy may induce the United States to lay restrictions on us, if we are out of the Union. These considerations ought to have great weight with us. We can derive very little assistance from any thing New York will do on our behalf. Her views are diametrically opposite to ours. That state wants all her imposts for her own exclusive support. It is our interest that all imposts should go into the general treasury. Should Congress receive our commissions, it will be a considerable time before this business will be decided on. It will be some time after Congress meets before a convention is appointed, and some time will elapse before the convention meets, What they will do, will be transmitted to each of the states, and then a convention, or the legislature, in each state, will have to ratify it ultimately, This will probably take up eighteen months or two years, In the mean time, the national government is going on. Congress will appoint all the great officers and will proceed to make laws and form regulations for the future government of the United States. This state, during that time, will have no share in their proceedings, or any negative on any business before them. Another inconvenience which will arise is this: we shall be deprived of the benefit of the impost, which, under the new government, is an additional fund; all the states having a common right to it. By being in the Union we should have a right to our proportionate share of all the duties and imposts collected in all the states. But by adopting this resolution, we shall lose the benefit of this, which is an object worthy of attention. Upon the whole, I can see no possible good that will result to this state from following the resolution before us. I have not the vanity to think that any reasons I offer will have any weight. But I came from a respectable country to give my reasons for or against the Constitution. They expect them from me, and to suppress them would be a violation of my duty.

Mr. WILLIE JONES. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman last up has mentioned the resolution of Congress now lying before us, and the act of Assembly under which we met here, which says that we should deliberate and determine on the Constitution. What is to be inferred from that? Are we to ratify it at all events? Have we not an equal right to reject? We do not determine by neither rejecting nor adopting. It is objected we shall be out of the Union. So I wish to be. We are left at liberty to come in at any time. It is Said we shall suffer a great loss for want of a share of the impost. I have no doubt we shall have it when we come in, as much as if we adopted now. I have a resolution in my pocket, which I intend to introduce if this resolution is carried, recommending it to the legislature to lay an impost, for the use of Congress, on goods imported into this state, similar to that which may be laid by Congress on goods imported into the adopting states. This shows the committee what is my intention, and on what footing we are to be. This being the case, I will forfeit my life that we shall come in for a share. It is said that all the offices of Congress will be filled, and we shall have no share in appointing the officers. This is an objection of very little importance. Gentlemen need not be in such haste. If left eighteen months or two years without offices, it is no great cause of alarm. The gentleman further said that we could send no representatives, but must send ambassadors to Congress, as a foreign power. I assert the contrary; and that, whenever a convention of the states is called, North Carolina will be called upon like the rest. I do not know what these gentlemen would desire.

I am very sensible that there is a great majority against the Constitution. If we take the question as they propose, they know it would be rejected, and bring on us all the dreadful consequences which they feelingly foretell, but which can never in the least alarm me. I have endeavored to fall in with their opinions, but could not. We have a right, in plain terms, to refuse it if we think proper. I have, in my proposition, adopted, word for word, the Virginia amendments, with one or two additional ones. We run no risk of being excluded from the Union when we think proper to come in. Virginia, our next neighbor, will not oppose our admission. We have a common cause with her. She wishes the same alterations. We are of the greatest importance to her. She will have great weight in Congress; and there is no doubt but she will do every thing she can to bring us into the Union. South Carolina and Georgia are deeply interested in our being admitted. The Creek nation would overturn these two states without our aid. They cannot exist without North Carolina. There is no doubt we shall obtain our amendments, and come into the Union when we please. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and other states, have proposed amendments. New York will do also, if she ratifies. There will be a majority of the states, and the most respectable, important, and extensive states also, desirous of amendments, and favorable to our admission.

As great names have been mentioned, I beg leave to mention the authority of Mr. Jefferson, whose great abilities and respectability are well known. When the Convention sat in Richmond, in Virginia, Mr. Madison received a letter from him. In that letter he said he wished nine states would adopt it, not because it deserved ratification, but to preserve the Union. But he wished that the other four states would reject it, that there might he a certainty of obtaining amendments. Congress may go on, and take no notice of our amendments; but I am confident they will do nothing of importance till a convention be called. If I recollect rightly, amendments may be ratified either by conventions or the legislatures of the states. In either case, it may take up about eighteen months. For my part, I would rather be eighteen years out of the Union than adopt it in its present defective form.

Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, I wish to clear myself from the imputation of the gentleman last up. If any part of my conduct warrants his aspersion,—if ever I hunted after offices, or sought public favors to promote private interest,—let the instances be pointed out. If I know myself, I never did. It is easy for any man to throw out illiberal and ungenerous insinuations. I have no view to offices under this Constitution. My views are much humbler. When I spoke of Congress establishing offices, I meant great offices, the establishment of which might affect the interests of the states; and I added that they would proceed to make laws, deeply affecting us, without any influence of our own. As to the appointment of the officers, it is of no importance to me who is an officer, if he be a good man.

Mr. JONES replied, that in every publication one might see ill motives assigned to the opposers of the Constitution, One reason assigned for their opposition was, that they feared the loss of their influence, and diminution of their importance, He said, that it was fair its opposers should be permitted to retort, and assign a reason equally selfish for the conduct of its friends. Expectation to offices might influence them, as well as the loss of office and influence might bias the others. He intended no allusion to that gentleman, for whom he declared he had the highest respect.

Mr. SPENCER rose in support of the motion of the gentleman from Halifax. He premised, that he wished no resolution to be carried without the utmost deliberation and candor. He thought the proposition was couched in such modest terms as could not possibly give offence to the other states; that the amendments it proposed were to be laid before Congress, and would probably be admitted, as they were similar to those which were wished for and proposed by several of the adopting states. He always thought it more proper, and agreeable to prudence, to propose amendments previous, rather, than subsequent, to ratification. He said that, if two or more persons entered into a copartnership, and employed a scrivener to draw up the articles of copartnership in a particular form, and, on reading them, they found them to be erroneous,—it would be thought very strange if any of them should say, “Sign it first, and we shall have it altered hereafter.” If it should be signed before alteration, it would be considered as an act of indiscretion. As, therefore, it was a principle of prudence, in matters of private property, not to assent to any obligation till its errors were removed, he thought the principle infinitely more necessary to be attended to in a matter which concerned such a number of people, and so many millions yet unborn. Gentlemen said they should be out of the Union. He observed, that they were before confederated with the other states by a solemn compact, which was not to be dissolved without the consent of every state in the Union. North Carolina had not assented to its dissolution. If it was dissolved, it was not their fault, but that of the adopting states. It was a maxim of law that the same solemnities were necessary to destroy, which were necessary to create, a deed or contract. He was of opinion that, if they should be out of the Union by proposing previous amendments, they were as much so now. If the adoption by nine states enabled them to exclude the other four states, he thought North Carolina might then be considered as excluded. But he did not think that doctrine well founded. On the contrary, he thought each state might come into the Union when She thought proper. He confessed it gave him some concern, but he looked on the short exclusion of eighteen months—if it might be called exclusion—as infinitely less dangerous than an unconditional adoption. He expected the amendments would be adopted, and when they were, this state was ready to embrace it. No great inconvenience Could result from this. [Mr. Spencer made some other remarks, but spoke too low to be heard.]

Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, in my opinion, this is a very awful moment. On a right decision of this question may possibly depend the peace and happiness of our country for ages. Whatever be the decision of the house on this subject, it ought to be well weighed before it is given. We ought to view our situation in all its consequences, and determine with the Utmost caution and deliberation. It has been suggested, not only out of doors, but during the course of the debates, that, if we are out of the Union, it will be the fault of other states, and not ours. It is true that, by the Articles of Confederation, the consent of each state was necessary for any alteration. It is also true that the consent of nine states renders the Constitution binding on them. The unhappy consequences of that unfortunate article in this Confederation produced the necessity of this article in the Constitution. Every body knows that, through the peculiar obstinacy of Rhode Island, many great advantages were lost. Notwithstanding her weakness, she uniformly opposed every regulation for the benefit and honor of the Union at large. The other states were driven to the necessity of providing for their own security and welfare, without waiting for the consent of that little state. The deputies from twelve states unanimously concurred in opinion that the happiness of all America ought not to be sacrificed to the caprice and obstinacy of so inconsiderable a part.

It will often happen, in the course of human affairs, that the policy which is proper on common occasions fails, and that laws which do very well in the regular administration of a government cannot stand when every thing is going into confusion. In such a case, the safety of the community must supersede every other consideration, and every subsisting regulation which interferes with that must be departed from, rather than that the people should be ruined. The Convention, therefore, with a degree of manliness which I admire, dispensed with a unanimous consent for the present change, and at the same time provided a permanent remedy for this evil, not barely by dispensing with the consent of one member in future alterations, but by making the consent of nine sufficient for the whole, if the rest. did not agree, considering that the consent of so large a number ought in reason to govern the whole; and the proportion was taken from the old Confederation, which in the most important cases required the consent of nine, and in every thing, except the alteration of the Constitution, made that number sufficient. It has been objected, that the adoption of this government would be improper, because it would interfere with the oath of allegiance to the state. No oath of allegiance requires us to sacrifice the safety of our country. When the British government attempted to establish a tyranny in America, the people did not think their oath of allegiance bound them to submit to it. I had taken that oath several times myself, but had no scruple to oppose their tyrannical measures. The great principle is, The safety of the people is the supreme law. Government was originally instituted for their welfare, and whatever may be its form, this ought to be its object. This is the fundamental principle on which our government is founded, In other countries, they suppose the existence of and infer that, if the sovereign violates his part of it, the people have a right to resist. If he does not, the government must remain unchanged, unless the sovereign consents to an alteration. In America, our governments have been clearly created by the people themselves. The same authority that created can destroy; and the people may undoubtedly change the government, not because it is ill exercised, but because they conceive another form will be more conducive to their welfare. I have stated the reasons for departing from the rigid article in the Confederation requiring a unanimous consent. We were compelled to do this, or see our country ruined. In the manner of the dispensation, the Convention, however, appear to have acted with great prudence, in copying the example of the Confederation in all other particulars of the greatest moment, by authorizing nine states to bind the whole. It is suggested, indeed, that, though ten states have adopted this new Constitution, yet, as they had no right to dissolve the old Articles of Confederation, these still subsist, and the old Union remains, of which we are a part. The truth of that suggestion may well be doubted, on this ground: when the principles of a constitution are violated, the constitution itself is dissolved, or may be dissolved at the pleasure of the parties to it. Now, according to the Articles of Confederation, Congress had authority to demand money, in a certain proportion, from the respective states, to answer the exigencies of the Union. Whatever requisitions they made for that purpose were constitutionally binding on the states. The states had no discretion except as to the mode of raising the money. Perhaps every state has committed repeated violations of the demands of Congress. I do not believe it was from any dishonorable intention in many of the states; but whatever was the cause, the fact is, such violations were committed. The consequence is that, upon the principle I have mentioned, (and in which I believe all writers agree,) the Articles of Confederation are no longer binding. It is alleged that, by making the consent of nine sufficient to form a government for themselves, the first nine may exclude the other four. This is a very extraordinary allegation. When the new Constitution was proposed, it was proposed to the thirteen states in the Union. It was desired that all should agree, if possible; but if that could not be obtained, they took care that nine states might at least save themselves from destruction. Each, undoubtedly, had a right on the first proposition, because it was proposed to them all. The only doubt can be, whether they had a right afterwards. In my opinion, when any state has once rejected the Constitution, it cannot claim to come in afterwards as a matte of right.

If it does not, in plain terms, reject, but refuses to accede for the present, I think the other states may regard this as an absolute rejection, and refuse to admit us afterwards but at their pleasure, and on what terms they please. Gentlemen wish for amendments. On this subject, though we may differ as to the necessity of amendments, I believe none will deny the propriety of proposing some, if only for the purpose of giving more general satisfaction. The question, then, is, whether it is most prudent for us to come into the Union immediately, and propose amendments, (as has been done in the other states,) or to propose amendments, and be out of the Union till all these be agreed to by the other states. The consequences of either resolution I beg leave to state. By adopting, we shall be in the Union without sister states, which is the only foundation of our prosperity and safety. We shall avoid the danger of a separation, a danger of which the latent effects are unknown; So far am I convinced of the necessity of the Union, that I would give up many things against my own opinion to obtain it. If we sacrificed it by a rejection of the Constitution, or a refusal to adopt, (which amounts, I think, nearly to the same thing,) the very circumstance of disunion may occasion animosity between us and the inhabitants of the other states, which may be the means of severing us forever.

We shall Rose the benefit which must accrue to the other states from the new government. Their trade will flourish; goods will sell cheap; their commodities will rise in value; and their distresses, occasioned by the war, will gradually be removed. Ours, for want of these advantages, will continue. Another very material consequence will result from it: we shall lose our share of the imposts in all the states, which, under this Constitution, is to go into the federal treasury. It is the particular local interest of this state to adopt, on this account, more, perhaps, than that of any other member of the Union. At present, all these imposts go into the treasury of each state, and we well know our own are of little consequence, compared to those of the other states in general. The gentleman from Halifax (Mr. Jones) has offered an expedient to prevent the loss of our share of the impost. In my opinion, that expedient will not answer the purpose. The amount of duties on goods imported into this state is very little; and if these resolutions are agreed to, it will be less. I ask any gentleman whether the United States would receive, from the duties of this state, so much as would be our proportion, under the Constitution, of the duties on goods imported in all the states. Our duties would be no manner of compensation for such proportion. What would be the language of Congress on our holding forth such an offer? “If you are willing to enjoy the benefits of the Union, you must he subject to all the laws of it. We will make no partial agreement with you.” This would probably be their language. I have no doubt all America would wish North Carolina to be a member of the Union. It is of importance to them. But we ought to consider whether ten states can do longer without one, or one without ten. On a competition, which will give way? The adopting states will say, “Other states had objections as well as you; but rather than separate, they agreed to come into the Union, trusting to the justice of the other states for the adoption of proper amendments afterwards. One most respectable state, Virginia, has pursued this measure, though apparently averse to the system as it now stands. But you have laid down the condition on which alone you will come into the Union. We must accede to your particular propositions, or be disunited from you altogether. Is it fit that North Carolina shall dictate to the whole Union? We may be convinced by your reason, but our conduct will certainly not be altered by your resistance.”

I beg leave to say, if Virginia thought it right to adopt and propose amendments, under the circumstances of the Constitution at that time, surely it is much more so for us in our present situation. That state, as was justly observed, is a most powerful and respectable one. Had she held out, it would have been a subject of most serious alarm. But she thought the risk of losing the union altogether too dangerous to be incurred. She did not then know of the ratification of New Hampshire. If she thought it necessary to adopt, when only eight states had ratified, is it not much more necessary for us after the ratification by ten? I do not say that we ought servilely to imitate any example. But I may say, that the examples of wise men and intelligent nations are worthy of respect; and that, in general, we may be much safer in following than in departing from them. In my opinion, as many of the amendments proposed are similar to amendments recommended not only by Virginia, but by other states, there is great probability of their being obtained. All the amendments proposed, undoubtedly, will not be, nor I think ought to be; but such as tend to secure more effectually the liberties of the people against an abuse of the powers granted, in all human probability, will; for in such amendments all the states are equally interested. The probability of such amendments being obtained is extremely great; for though three states ratified the Constitution unanimously, there has been a considerable opposition in the other states. In New Hampshire, the majority was small. In Massachusetts, there was a strong opposition. In Connecticut, the opposition was about one third: so it was in Pennsylvania. In Maryland, the minority was small, but very respectable. In Virginia, they had little more than a bare majority. There was a powerful minority in South Carolina. Can any man pretend to say that, thus circumstanced, the states would disapprove of amendments calculated to give satisfaction to the people at large? There is a very great probability, if not an absolute certainty, that amendments will be obtained. The interest of North Carolina would add greatly to the scale in their favor; If we do not accede, we may injure the states who wish for amendments, by withdrawing ourselves from their assistance. We are not, at any event, in a condition to stand alone. God forbid we should be a moment separated from our sister states! If we are, we shall be in great danger of a separation forever. I trust every gentleman will pause before he contributes to so awful an event.

We have been happy in our connection with the other states. Our freedom, independence, everything dear to us? has been derived from that union we are now going rashly to dissolve. If we are to be separated, let every gentleman well weigh the ground he stands on before he votes for the separation. Let him not have to reproach himself, hereafter, that he voted without due consideration for a measure that proved the destruction of his country.

Mr. Iredell then observed that there were insinuations thrown out, against those who favored the Constitution, that they had a view of getting offices and emoluments. He said, he hoped no man thought him so wicked as to sacrifice the interest of his country to private views. He declared, in the most solemn manner, the insinuation was unjust and ill-founded as to himself. He believed it was so with respect to the rest. The interest and happiness of his country solely governed him on that occasion. He could appeal to some members in the house, and particularly to those who knew him in, the lower part of the country, that his disposition had never been pecuniary, and that he had never aspired to offices. At the beginning of the revolution, he said, he held one of the best offices in the state under the crown—an office ell which he depended for his support. His relations were in Great Britain; yet, though thus circumstanced, so far was he from being influenced by pecuniary motives, or emoluments of office, that, as soon as his situation would admit of it, he did not hesitate a moment to join the opposition to Great Britain; nor would the richest office of America have tempted him to adhere to that unjust cause of the British government. He apologized for taking up the time of the committee; but he observed, that reflections of that kind were considered as having applied, unless they were taken notice of. He attributed no unworthy motives to any gentleman in the house. He believed most of them wished to pursue the interest of their country according to their own ideas of it. He hoped other gentlemen would be equally liberal.

Mr. WILLIE JONES observed, that he assigned unworthy motives to no one. He thought a gentleman had insinuated that the opposition all acted from base motives. He was well assured that their motives were as good as those of the other party, and he thought he had a right to retort by showing that selfish views might influence as well on one side as the other. He intended, however, no particular reflection on those two gentlemen who had applied the observation to themselves—for whom, he said, he had the highest respect, and was sorry he had made the observation, as it had given them pain. But if they were conscious that the observation did not apply to them, they ought not to be offended at it. He then explained the nature of the resolutions he proposed; and the plain question was, whether they should adopt them or not. He was not afraid that North Carolina would not be admitted at any time hereafter. Maryland, he said, had not confederated for many years with the other states; yet she was considered in the mean time as a member of the Union, was allowed as such to send her proportion of men and money, and was at length admitted into the confederacy, in 1781. This, he said, showed how the adopting states would act on the present occasion, North Carolina might come into the Union when she pleased.

Gov. JOHNSTON made some observations as to the particular case of Maryland, but in too low a voice to be distinctly heard.

Mr. BLOODWORTH observed, that the first convention which met to consult on the necessary alterations of the Confederation, so as to make it efficient, and put the commerce of the United States on a better footing, not consisting of a sufficient number from the different states, so as to authorize them to proceed, returned without effecting any thing; but proposed that another convention should be called, to have more extensive powers to alter and amend the Confederation. This proposition of that convention was warmly opposed in Congress. Mr. King, from Massachusetts, insisted on the impropriety of the measure, and that the existing system ought to stand as it was. His arguments, he said, were, that it might destroy the Confederation to propose alterations; that the unanimous consent of all the states was necessary to introduce those alterations, which could not possibly be obtained; and that it would, therefore, be in vain to attempt it. He wondered how gentlemen came to entertain different opinions now. He declared he had listened with attention to the arguments of the gentlemen. on the other side, and had endeavored to remove every kind of bias from his mind; yet he had heard nothing of sufficient weight to induce him to alter his opinion. He was sorry that there was any division on that important occasion, and wished they could all go hand in hand.

As to the disadvantages of a temporary exclusion from the Union, he thought them trifling. He asked if a few political advantages could be put in competition with our liberties: Gentlemen said that amendments would probably be obtained. He thought their arguments and reason were not so sure a method to obtain them as withholding their consent would be. He could not conceive that the adopting states would take any measures to keep this state out of the Union. If a right view were taken of the subject, he said they could not be blamed in staying out of the Union till amendments were obtained. The compact between the states was violated by the other states, and not by North Carolina. Would the violating party blame the upright party? This determination would correspond with the opinion of the gentleman who had written from France on the subject; He would lay stress on no man’s opinion, but the opinion of that gentleman was very respectable.

Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, it is said that there is a great majority against the Constitution, and in favor of the gentleman’s proposition. The object of the majority, I suppose, is to pursue the most probable method of obtaining amendments. The honorable gentleman from Halifax has said this is the most eligible method of obtaining them. My opinion is the very reverse. Let us weigh the probability of both modes proposed, and determine with candor which is the safest and surest method of obtaining the wished-for alterations. The honorable gentleman from Anson has said that our conduct in adhering to these resolutions would be modest. What is his idea or definition of modesty? The term must be very equivocal. So far from being modest, it appears to me to be no less than an arrogant, dictatorial proposal of a constitution to the United States of America. We shall be no part of that confederacy, and yet attempt to dictate to one of the most powerful confederacies in the world. It is also said to be most agreeable to prudence. If our real object be amendments, every man must agree that the most likely means of obtaining them are the most prudent. Four of the most respectable states have adopted the Constitution, and recommended amendments. New York, (if she refuses to adopt,) Rhode Island, and North Carolina, will be the only states out of the Union. But if these three were added, they would compose a majority in favor of amendments, and might, by various means, compel the other states into the measure. It must be granted that there is no way of obtaining amendments but the mode prescribed in the Constitution; two thirds of the legislatures of the states in the confederacy may require Congress to call a convention to propose amendments, or the same proportion of both houses may propose them. It will then be of no consequence that we stand out and propose amendments. Without adoption we are not a member of the confederacy, and, possessing no federal rights, can neither make any proposition nor require Congress to call a convention.

Is it not clear, however strange it may be, that we are withholding our weight from those states who are of our own opinion, and by a perverse obstinacy obstructing the very measure we wish to promote? If two thirds of both houses are necessary to send forward amendments to the states, would it not be prudent that we should be there, and add our vote to the number of those states who are of the same sentiment? The honorable member from Anson has likened this business to a copartnership, comparing small things to great. The comparison is only just in one respect: the dictatorial proposal of North Carolina to the American confederacy is like a beggarly bankrupt addressing an opulent company of merchants, and arrogantly telling them, “I wish to be in copartnership with you, but the terms must be such as I please.” What has North Carolina to put into the stock with the other states? Have we not felt our poverty? What was the language of Congress on their last requisition on this state? Surely gentlemen must remember the painful terms in which our delinquency was treated. The gentleman has also said that we shall still be a part of the Union, and if we be separated, it is not our fault. This is an obvious solecism. It is our own fault, sir, and the direct consequence of the means we are now pursuing. North Carolina stands foremost in the point of delinquency, and has repeatedly violated the Confederation. The conduct of this state has been among the principal causes which produced this revolution in our federal government. The honorable gentleman has also added, “that it was a rule in law that the same solemnities were necessary to annul, which were necessary to create or establish, a compact; and that, as thirteen states created, so thirteen states must concur in the dissolution of the Confederation.”—This may be talking like a lawyer or a judge, but it is very unlike a politician. A majority is the rule of republican decisions. It was the voice of a majority of the people of America that gave that system validity, and the same authority can and will annul it at any time. Every man of common sense knows that political power is political right. Lawyers may cavil and quibble about the necessity of unanimity, but the true principle is otherwise. In every republican community, the majority binds the minority; and whether confederated or separated, the principle will equally apply. We have no right to come into the Union until we exercise the right of deciding on the question referred to us. Adoption places us in the Union—rejection extinguishes the right forever. The scheme proposed by these gentlemen will certainly be considered as an absolute rejection; it may amuse the people, and answer a purpose here, but will not answer any purpose there.

The honorable gentleman from Halifax asserts, “We may come in when we please.” The gentleman from Hanover, on the same side of the question, endeavored to alarm and frighten us about the dangerous influence of the Eastern States. If he deserves any credit, can we expect they will let us into the Union, until they have accomplished their particular views, and then but on the most disadvantageous terms? Commercial regulations will be one of the great objects of the first session of Congress, in which our interests will be totally neglected. Every man must be convinced of the importance of the first acts and regulations, as they will probably give a tone to the policy of ages yet to come; and this scheme will add greatly to the influence of the Eastern States, and proportionably diminish the power and interests of the Southern States.

The gentleman says he has a project in his pocket, which, he risks his life, will induce the other states to give us a share of the general impost. I am fully satisfied, sir. this project will not answer the purpose, and the forfeiture of his life will be no compensation for irretrievable public loss. Every man who knows the resources of our commerce, and our situation, will be clearly convinced that the project cannot succeed. The whole produce of our duties, both by land and water, is very trifling. For several years past, it has not exceeded £10,000 of our own paper money. It will not be more—probably less—if we were out of the Union. The whole proportion, of this state of the public debts, except this mere pittance, must be raised from the people by direct and immediate taxation.

But the fact is, sir, it cannot be raised, because it cannot be paid; and without sharing in the general impost, we shall never discharge our quota of the federal debt. What does he offer the other states? The poor pittance I have mentioned. Can we suppose Congress so lost to every sense of duty, interest, and justice? Would their constituents permit them to put their hands into their pockets to pay our debts? We have no equivalent to give them for it. As several powerful states have proposed amendments, they will, no doubt, be supported with zeal and perseverance, so that it is not probable that the object of amendments will be lost. We may struggle on for a few years, and render ourselves wretched and contemptible; but we must at last come into the Union on their terms, however humiliating they maybe. The project on the table is little better than an absolute rejection, and is neither rational nor politic, as it cannot promote the end proposed.

Mr. LOCKE, in reply to Mr. Davie, expressed some apprehensions that the Constitution, if adopted as it then stood, would render the people poor and miserable. He thought it would be very productive of expenses. The advantages of the impost he considered as of little consequence, as he thought all the money raised that way, and more, would be swept away by courtly parade—the emoluments of the President, and other members of the government, the Supreme Court, &c. These expenses would double the impost, in his opinion. They would render the states bankrupt. The imposts, he imagined, would be inconsiderable. The people of America began to import less foreign frippery. Every wise planter was fond of home manufacture. The Northern States manufactured considerably, and he thought manufactures would increase daily. He thought a previous ratification dangerous. The worst that could happen would be, that we should be thrown out of the Union. He would rather that should be the case, than embrace a tyrannical government, and give away our rights and privileges. He was therefore determined to vote for the resolutions of the gentleman from Halifax.

Mr. SPENCER observed that, if the conduct of North Carolina would be immodest and dictatorial in proposing amendments, and if it was proposing a constitution to the other states, he was sure the other states, who had proposed the same amendments, were equally guilty of immodesty and dictating a constitution to the other states; the only difference being, that this state does not adopt previously. The gentleman had objections to his legal maxims, and said they were not politic. He would be extremely sorry, he said, if the maxims of justice should not take place in politics. Were this to be the case, there could be no faith put in any compact. He thought the comparison of the state to a beggar was a degradation of it, and insisted on the propriety of his own comparison, which he thought obvious to any one. He acknowledged that an exclusion from the Union would be a most unhappy circumstance; but he had no idea that it would be the case. As this mode of proceeding would hasten the amendments, he could not but vote for it.

Mr. JONES defined the word modesty by contrasting it with its antagonist, impudence. The gentleman found fault with the observation, that this was the most decent and best way of obtaining amendments. If gentlemen would propose a more eligible method, he would consent to that. He said the gentleman had reviled the state by his comparison, and must have hurt the feelings of every gentleman in the house. He had no apprehension that the other states would refuse to admit them into the Union, when they thought proper to come in. It was their interest to admit them. He asked if a beggar would refuse a boon, though it were but a shilling; or if twelve men, struggling under a heavy load, would refuse the assistance of a thirteenth man.

A desultory conversation now took place.

Mr. DAVIE hoped they would not take up the whole collectively, but that the proposed amendments would be considered one by one. Some other gentlemen expressed the same desire.

Many other gentlemen thought the resolution very proper as it stood.

The question being put, the resolution was agreed to by a great majority of the committee.

It was then resolved that the committee should rise. Mr. President resumed the chair, and Mr. Kenan reported, from the committee of the whole Convention, that the committee had again had the Constitution proposed for the future government of the United States under consideration, and had come to a resolution thereupon; which he read in his place, and afterwards delivered in at the clerk’s table.

Ordered, That the said report lie on the table until to-morrow morning, 9 o’clock; to which time the house adjourned.

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Contents

General Overview

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

In-Doors Debate

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

The Federal Pillars

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

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The Stages of Ratification: An Interactive Timeline

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

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Interactive Ratification Map

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

View Interactive

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