Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4

Convention of South Carolina

Thursday, January 17, 1788.

Gen. CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY observed, that the honorable gentleman (Mr. Lowndes) who opposed the new Constitution had asserted that treaties made under the old Confederation were not deemed paramount to the laws of the land, and that treaties made by the king of Great Britain required the ratification of Parliament to render them valid. The honorable gentleman is surely mistaken in his assertion. His honorable friend (Chancellor Rutledge) had clearly shown that, by the 6th, 9th, and 13th Articles of the old Confederation, Congress have a power to make treaties, and each state is pledged to observe them; and it appears, from the debates of the English Parliament, that the House of Commons did not ratify, but actually censure, the peace made by the king of Great Britain with America; yet the very members who censured it acknowledged it was binding on the nation. [Here the general read extracts from the parliamentary debates of the 17th and 21st of February, 1784.] Indeed, the doctrine that the king of Great Britain may make a treaty with a foreign state, which shall irrevocably bind his subjects, is asserted by the best writers on the laws and constitution of England—particularly by Judge Blackstone, who, in the first book of his Commentaries, (ch. 7, p. 257,) declares “that it is the king’s prerogative to make treaties, leagues, and alliances, with foreign states and princes, and that no other power in the kingdom can legally delay, resist, or annul them.” If treaties entered into by Congress are not to be held in the same sacred light in America, what foreign nation will have any confidence in us? Shall we not be stigmatized as a faithless, unworthy people, if each member of the Union may, with impunity, violate the engagements entered into by the federal government? Who will confide in us? Who will treat with us if our practice should be conformable to this doctrine? Have we not been deceiving all nations, by holding forth to the world, in the 9th Article of the old Confederation, that Congress may make treaties, if we, at the same time, entertain this improper tenet, that each state may violate them? I contend that the article in the new Constitution, which says that treaties shall be paramount to the laws of the land, is only declaratory of what treaties were, in fact, under the old compact. They were as much the law of the land under that Confederation, as they are under this Constitution; and we shall be unworthy to be ranked among civilized nations if we do not consider treaties in this view. Vattel, one of the best writers on the law of nations, says, “There would be no more security, no longer any commerce between mankind, did they not believe themselves obliged to preserve their faith, and to keep their word. Nations, and their conductors, ought, then, to keep their promises and their treaties inviolable. This great truth is acknowledged by all nations. Nothing adds so great a glory to a prince, and the nation he governs, as the reputation of an inviolable fidelity to his engagements. By this, and their bravery, the Swiss have rendered themselves respectable throughout Europe. This national greatness of soul is the source of immortal glory; upon it is founded the confidence of nations, and it thus becomes a certain instrument of power and splendor.” Surely this doctrine is right; it speaks to the heart; it impresses itself on the feelings of mankind, and convinces us that the tranquillity, happiness, and prosperity, of he human race, depend on inviolably preserving the faith of treaties.

Burlamaqui, another writer of great reputation on political law, says “that treaties are obligatory on the subjects of the powers who enter into treaties; they are obligatory as conventions between the contracting powers; but they have the force of law with respect to their subjects.” These are his very words: “Ils ont force de loi a l’égard des sujets, considérés comme tells; and it is very manifest,” continues he, “that two sovereigns, who enter into a treaty, impose, by such treaty, an obligation on their subjects to conform to it, and in no manner to contravene it.” It is remarkable that the words made use of by Burlamaqui establish the doctrine, recognized by the Constitution, that treaties shall be considered as the law of the land; and happy will it be for America if they shall he always so considered: we shall then avoid the disputes, the tumults, the frequent wars, we must inevitably be engaged in, if we violate treaties. By our treaty with France, we declare she shall have all the privileges, in matters of commerce, with the most favored nation. Suppose a particular state should think proper to grant a particular privilege to Holland, which she refuses to France; would not this be a violation of the treaty with France? It certainly would; and we in this state would be answerable for the consequences attending such violation by another state; for we do not enter into treaties as separate states, but as united states; and all the members of the Union are answerable for the breach of a treaty by any one of them. South Carolina, therefore, considering its situation, and the valuable produce it has to export, is particularly interested in maintaining the sacredness of treaties, and the good faith with which they should he observed by every member of the Union. But the honorable gentleman complains that the power of making treaties is vested in the President and Senate, and thinks it is not placed so safely with them as with the Congress under the old Confederation. Let us examine this objection. By the old Confederation; each state had an equal vote in Congress, and no treaty could be made without the assent of the delegates from nines status. By the present Constitution, each state sends two members to the Senate, Who vote per capita; and the President has power, with advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senate present concur. This inconvenience attended the old method: it was frequently difficult to obtain a representation from nine states; and if only nine States were present, they must all concur in making a treaty. A single member would frequently prevent the business from being concluded; and if he absented himself, Congress had no power to compel his attendance. This actually happened when a treaty of importance was about to be concluded with the Indians; and several states, being satisfied, at particular junctures, that the nine states present would not concur in sentiments on the subject of a treaty, were indifferent whether their members attended or not. But now that the senators vote individually, and not by States, each state will be anxious to keep a full representation in the Senate; and the Senate has now power to compel the attendance of its own members. We shall thus have no delay, and business will be conducted in a fuller representation of the states than it hitherto has been. All the members of the Convention, who had served in Congress, were so sensible of the advantage attending this mode of voting, that the measure was adopted unanimously. For my own part, I think it infinitely preferable to the old method. So much for the manner of voting.

Now let us consider whether the power of making treaties is not as securely placed as it was before. It was formerly vested in Congress, who were a body constituted by the legislatures of the different states in equal proportions. At present, it is vested in a President, who is chosen by the people of America, and in a Senate, whose members are chosen by the state legislatures, each legislature choosing two members. Surely there is greater security in vesting this power as the present Constitution has vested it, than in any other body. Would the gentleman vest it in the President alone? If he would, his assertion that the power we have granted was as dangerous as the power vested by Parliament in the proclamations of Henry VIII., might have been, perhaps, warranted. Would he vest it in the House of Representatives? Can secrecy be expected in sixty-five members? The idea is absurd. Besides, their sessions will probably last only two or three months in the year; therefore, on that account, they would be a very unfit body for negotiation; whereas the Senate, from the smallness of its numbers, from the equality of power which each state has in it, from the length of time for which its members are elected, from the long sessions they may have without any great inconveniency to themselves or constituents, joined with the president, who is the federal head of the United States, form together a body in whom can be best and most safely vested the diplomatic power of the Union.

General Pinckney then observed, that the honorable gentleman had not conducted his arguments with his usual candor. He had made use of many which were not well founded, and were only thrown out ad captandum. Why say, upon this occasion, that every thing would, in future, be managed by great men, and that great men could do no wrong? Under the new Constitution, the abuse of power was more effectually checked than under the old one. A proper body, immediately taken from the people, and returnable to the people every second year, are to impeach those who behave amiss, or betray their public trust; another body, taken from the state legislatures, are to try them. No man, however great, is exempt from impeachment and trial. If the representatives of the people think he ought to be impeached and tried, the President cannot pardon him; and this great man himself, whom the honorable gentleman pretends to be so much afraid of, as well as the Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States, are to be removed from office on impeachment and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Then why make use of arguments to occasion improper jealousies and ill-founded fears? Why is the invidious distinction of “great men” to be reiterated in the ears of the members? Is there any thing in the Constitution which prevents the President and senators from being taken from the poor as well as the rich? Is there any pecuniary qualification necessary to the holding of any office under the new Constitution? There is not. Merit and virtue, and federal principles, are the qualifications which will prefer a poor man to office, before a rich man who is destitute of them. The gentleman has made a warm panegyric on the old Confederation. Can he possibly be serious, and does he really think it can secure us tranquillity at home, or respect abroad? Ask the citizens of Massachusetts if the Confederation protected them during the insurrection of Shays. Ask the crews of our vessels captured by the Algerines if respect for our government hath softened the rigors of their captivity. Inquire of our delegates to Congress if all the despatches from your public ministers; are not filled with lamentations of the imbecility of Congress; and whether foreign nations do not declare they can have no confidence in our government, because it has not power to enforce obedience to treaties, Go through each state in the Union, and be convinced that a disregard for law hath taken the place of order, and that Congress is so slighted by all of them that not one hath complied with her requisitions. Every state in the Union, except Rhode Island, was so thoroughly convinced that our government was inadequate to our situation, that all, except her, sent members to the Convention at Philadelphia. General Pinckney said, it had been alleged that, when there, they exceeded their powers. He thought not. They had a right, he apprehended, to propose any thing which they imagined would strengthen the Union, and be for the advantage of our country; but they did not pretend to a right to determine finally upon any thing. The present Constitution is but a proposition which the people may reject; but he conjured them to reflect seriously before they did reject it, as he did not think our state would obtain better terms by another convention, and the anarchy which would, in all probability, be the consequence of rejecting this Constitution, would encourage some daring despot to seize upon the government, and effectually deprive us of our liberties.

Every member who attended the Convention was, from the beginning, sensible of the necessity of giving greater powers: to the federal government. This was the very purpose for which they were convened. The delegations of Jersey and Delaware were, at first, averse to this organization; but they afterwards acquiesced in it; and the conduct of their delegates has been so very agreeable to the people of these states, that their respective conventions have unanimously adopted the Constitution. As we have found it necessary to give very extensive powers to the federal government both over the persons and estates of the citizens, we thought it right to draw one branch of the legislature immediately from the people, and that both wealth and numbers should be considered in the representation. We were at a loss, for some time, for a rule to ascertain the proportionate wealth of the states. At last we thought that the productive labor of the inhabitants was the best rule for ascertaining their wealth. In conformity to this rule, joined to a spirit of concession, we determined that representatives should be apportioned among the several states, by adding to the whole number of free persons three fifths of the slaves. We thus obtained a representation for our property; and I confess I did not expect that we had conceded too much to the Eastern States, when they allowed us a representation for a species of property which they have not among them.

The numbers in the different states, according to the most accurate accounts we could obtain, were—

In New Hampshire,…… …… 102,000
Massachusetts,…… …… 360,000
Rhode Island,…… …… 58,000
Connecticut,…… …… 202,000
New York,…… …… 233,000
New Jersey,………… 138,000
Pennsylvania,………… 360,000
Delaware,………… 37,000
Maryland, (including three fifths of 80,000 negroes,)…… …… 218,000
Virginia, (including three fifths of 280,000 negroes,)…… …… 420,000
N. Carolina, (including three fifths of 60,000 negroes,)…… …… 200,000
S. Carolina, (including three fifths of 80,000 negroes,)…… …… 150,000
Georgia, (including three fifths of 20,000 negroes,)…… …… 90,000

The first House of Representatives will consist of sixty-five members. South Carolina will send five of them. Each state has the same representation in the Senate that she has at present; so that South Carolina will have, under the new Constitution, a thirteenth share in the government, which is the proportion she has under the old Confederation: and when it is considered that the Eastern States are full of men, and that we must necessarily increase rapidly to the southward and south-westward, he did not think that the Southern States will have an inadequate share in the representation. The honorable gentleman alleges that the Southern States are weak. I sincerely agree with him. We are so weak that by ourselves we could not form a union strong enough for the purpose of effectually protecting each other. Without union with the other states, South Carolina must soon fall. Is there any one among us so much a Quixote as to suppose that this state could long maintain her independence if she stood alone, or was only connected with the Southern States? I scarcely believe there is. Let an invading power send a naval force into the Chesapeake to keep Virginia in alarm, and attack South Carolina with such a naval and military force as Sir Henry Clinton brought here in 1780; and though they might not soon conquer us, they would certainly do us an infinite deal of mischief; and if they Considerably increased their numbers, we should probably fall. As, from the nature of our climate and the fewness of our inhabitants, we are undoubtedly weak, should we not endeavor to form a close union with the Eastern States, who are strong? And ought we not to endeavor to increase that species of strength which will render them of most service to us both in peace and war?—I mean their navy. We certainly ought; and by doing this we render it their particular interest to afford us every assistance in their power, as every wound that we receive will eventually affect them. Reflect, for a moment, on the situation of the Eastern States; their country full of inhabitants, and so impracticable to an invading enemy by their numberless stone walls, and a variety of other circumstances, that they can be under no apprehension of danger from an attack. They can enjoy their independence without our assistance. If our government is to be founded on equal compact, what inducement can they possibly have to be united with us, if we do not grant them some privileges with regard to their shipping? Or, supposing they were to unite with us without having these privileges, can we flatter ourselves that such union would be lasting, or that they would afford us effectual assistance when invaded? Interest and policy both concurred in prevailing upon us to submit the regulation of commerce to the general government. But I will also add, justice and humanity require it likewise. For who have been the greatest sufferers in the Union, by our obtaining our independence? I answer, the Eastern States. They have lost every thing but their country and their freedom. It is notorious that some ports to the eastward, which used to fit out one hundred and fifty sail of vessels, do not now fit out thirty; that their trade of ship-building, which used to be very considerable, is now annihilated; that their fisheries are trifling, and their mariners in want of bread. Surely we are called upon by every tie of justice, friendship, and humanity, to relieve their distresses; and as, by their exertions, they have assisted us in establishing our freedom, we should let them, in some measure, partake of our prosperity. The general then said he Would make a few observations on the objections which the gentleman had thrown out on the restrictions that might be laid on the African trade after the year 1808. On this point your delegates had to contend with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia, who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves. I am of the same opinion now as I was two years ago, when I used the expressions the gentleman has quoted—that, while there remained one acre of swam-land uncleared of South Carolina, I would raise my voice against restricting the importation of negroes. I am as thoroughly convinced as that gentleman is, that the nature of our climate, and the flat, swampy situation of our country, obliges us to cultivate our lands with negroes, and that without them South Carolina would soon be a desert waste.

You have so frequently heard my sentiments on this subject, that I need not now repeat them. It was alleged, by some of the members who opposed an unlimited importation, that slaves increased the weakness of any state who admitted them; that they were a dangerous species of property, which an invading enemy could easily turn against ourselves and the neighboring states; and that, as we were allowed a representation for them in the House of Representatives, our influence in government would he increased in proportion as we were less able to defend ourselves. “Show some period,” said the members from the Eastern States, “when it may be in ont power to put a stop, if we please, to the importation of this weakness, and we will endeavor, for your convenience, to restrain the religious and political prejudices of our people on this subject.” The Middle States and Virginia made us no such proposition; they were for an immediate and total prohibition. We endeavored to obviate the objections that were made in the best manner we could, and assigned reasons for our insisting on the importation, which there is no occasion to repeat, as they must occur to every gentleman in the house: a committee of the states was appointed in order to accommodate this matter, and, after a great deal of difficulty, it was settled on the footing recited in the Constitution.

By this settlement we have secured an unlimited importation of negroes for twenty years. Nor is it declared that the importation shall be then stopped; it may be continued. We have a security that the general government can never emancipate them, for no such authority is granted; and it is admitted, on all hands, that the general government has no powers but what are expressly granted by the Constitution, and that all rights not expressed were reserved by the several states. We have obtained a right to recover our slaves in whatever part of America they may take refuge, which is a right we had not before. In short, considering all circumstances, we have made the best terms for the security of this species of property it was in our power to make. We Would have made better if we could; but, on the whole, I do not think them bad.

Dr. DAVID RAMSAY thought our delegates had made a most excellent bargain for us, by transferring an immense sum of Continental debt, which we were pledged to pay, upon the Eastern States, some of whom (Connecticut, for instance) could not expect to receive any material advantage from us. He considered the old Confederation as dissolved.

Hon. JACOB READ looked on the boasted efficiency of Congress to be farcical, and instanced two cases in proof of his opinion. One was, that, when the treaty should have been ratified, a sufficient number of members could not be collected in Congress for that purpose; so that it was necessary to despatch a frigate, at the expense of four thousand dollars, with particular directions for Mr. Adams to use his endeavors to gain time. His application proved successful; otherwise, very disagreeable consequences must have ensued. The other case was, a party of Indians came to Princeton for the purpose of entering into an amicable treaty with Congress; before it could be concluded, a member went to Philadelphia to be married, and his secession had nearly involved the western country in all the miseries of war. Mr. Read urged a concurrence, with those states that were in favor of the new Constitution.

Hon. CHARLES PINCKNEY observed, that the honorable gentleman was singular in his opposition to the new Constitution, and equally singular in his profuse praise of the old one. He described, with much good sense, the impracticability of annexing responsibility to the office of President in a republican form of government; the only remedy against despotism being to form a party against those who were obnoxious, and turn them out. He observed that the President’s powers did not permit him to declare war.

Hon. RAWLINS LOWNDES declared himself almost willing to give up his post, finding he was opposed by such a phalanx of able antagonists, any one of them possessing sufficient abilities to contend with him; but as a number of respectable members, men of good sense, though not in the habit of speaking in public, had requested that he would state his sentiments, for the purpose of gaining information on such points as seemed to require it,—rather in compliance, therefore; with their wishes, than any inclination on his party, he should make a few further observations on the subject. Much had been said, from different parts of the house, against the old Confederation—that it was such a futile, inefficient, impolitic government as to render us the objects of ridicule and contempt in the eyes of other nations. He could not agree to this, because there did not appear any evidence of the fact, and because the names of those gentlemen who had signed the old Confederation were eminent for patriotism, virtue, and wisdom,—as much so as any set of men that could be found in America,—and their prudence and wisdom particularly appeared in the care which they had taken sacredly to guaranty the sovereignty of each state. The treaty of peace expressly agreed to acknowledge us as free, sovereign, and independent states, which privileges we lived at present in the exercise of. But this new Constitution at once swept those privileges away being sovereign over all; so that this state would dwindle into a mere skeleton of what it was; its legislative powers would be pared down to little more than those now vested in the corporation; and he should value the honor of a seat in the legislature in no higher estimation than a seat in the city council. Adverting to the powers given to the President, he considered them as enormous, particularly in being allowed to interfere in the election of members in the House of Representatives; astonishing that we had not this reserved to us, when the senators were to be chosen from that body:—thinks it might be so managed that the different legislatures should be limited to the passing a few laws for regulating ferries and roads.

The honorable gentleman went into an investigation of the weight of our representation in the proposed government, which he thought would be merely virtual, similar to what we were allowed in England, whilst under the British government. We were then told that we were represented in Parliament; and this would, in the event, prove just such another. The mode of choosing senators was exceedingly exceptionable. It had been the practice formerly to choose the Senate or council for this state from that house, which practice proved so inconvenient and oppressive, that, when we framed our present Constitution, great care was taken to vest the power of electing the Senate originally with the people, as the best plan for securing their rights and privileges. He wished to know in what manner it was proposed to elect the five representatives. Was it to be done in this city? or would some districts return one member, and others none at all?

Still greater difficulties would be found in the choice of a President, because he must have a majority of ninety-one votes in his favor. For the first President there was one man to whom all America looked up, (General Washington,) and for whom he most heartily would vote; but after that gentleman’s administration ceased, where could they point out another so highly respected as to concentre a majority of ninety-one persons in his favor? and if no gentleman should be fully returned, then the government must stand still. He went over much of the ground which he had trod the preceding day, relative to the Eastern States having been so guarded in what they had conceded to gain the regulation of our commerce, which threw into their hands the carrying treacle, and, put it in their power to lay us under payment of whatever freightage they thought proper to impose. It was their interest to do so, and no person could doubt but they would promote it by every means in their power. He wished our delegates had sufficiently attended to this point in the Convention—had been more. attentive to this object, and taken care to have it expressed, in this Constitution, that all our ports were open to all nations; instead of putting us in the power of a set of men who may fritter away the value of our produce to a little or nothing, by compelling a payment of exorbitant freightage. Neither did he believe it was in the power of the Eastern States to furnish a sufficient number of ships to carry our produce. It was, indeed, a general way of talking, that the Eastern States had a great number of seamen, a vast number of ships; but where were they? Why did they not come here now, when ships are greatly wanted? He should always wish to give them a preference, and so, no doubt, would many other gentlemen; and yet very few ships come here from the Eastern States. Another exceptionable point was, that we were to give up the power of taxing ourselves. During our connection with Great Britain, she left us the power of raising money in any way most convenient: a certain sum was only required to defray the public wants, but no mode of collecting it ever prescribed. In this new Constitution, every thing is transferred, not so much power being left us as Lord North offered to guaranty to us in his conciliatory plan. Look at the articles of union ratified between England and Scotland. How cautiously had the latter taken care of her interest in reserving all the forms of law—her representation in Parliament—the right of taxation the management of her revenue—and all her local and municipal interests! Why take from us the right of paying our delegates, and pay them from the federal treasury? He remembered formerly what a flame was raised in Massachusetts, on account of Great Britain assuming the payment of salaries to judges and other state officers; and that this conduct was considered as originating in a design to destroy the independence of their government. Our local expenses had been nearly defrayed by our impost duty; but now that this was given away, and thrown into a general fund, for the use of all the states indiscriminately, we should be obliged to augment our taxes to carry on our local government, notwithstanding we were to pay a poll tax for our negroes. Paper money, too, was another article of restraint, and a popular point with many; but what evils had we ever experienced by issuing a little paper money to relieve ourselves from any exigency that pressed us? We had now a circulating medium which every body took. We used formerly to issue paper bills every year, and recall them every five, with great convenience and advantage. Had not paper money carried us triumphantly through the war, exricated us from difficulties generally supposed to be insurmountable, and fully established us in our independence? and now every thing is so changed that an entire stop must be put to any more paper emissions, however great our distress may be. It was true, no article of the Constitution declared there should not be jury trials in civil cases; yet this must be implied, because it stated that all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be tried by a jury. But even if trials by jury were allowed, could any person rest satisfied with a mode of trial which prevents the parties from being obliged to bring a cause for discussion before a jury of men chosen from the vicinage, in a manner conformable to the present administration of justice, which had stood the test of time and experience, and ever been highly approved of? Mr. Lowndes expatiated some time on the nature of compacts, the sacred light in which they were held by all nations, and solemnly called on the house to consider whether it would not be better to add strength to the old Confederation, instead of hastily adopting another; asking whether a man could be looked on as wise, who, possessing a magnificent building, upon discovering a flaw, instead of repairing the injury, should pull it down, and build another. Indeed, he could not understand with what propriety the Convention. proceeded to change the Confederation; for every person with whom he had conversed on this subject concurred in opinion that the sole object of appointing a convention was to inquire what alterations were necessary in the Confederation, in order that it might answer those salutary purposes for which it was originally intended.

He recommended that another convention should be called; and as the general sense of America appeared now to be known, every objection could be met on fair grounds, and adequate remedies applied where necessary. This mode of proceeding would conciliate all parties, because it was candid, and had a more obvious tendency to do away all inconveniences than the adoption of a government which perhaps might require the bayonet to enforce it; for it could not be expected that the people, who had disregarded the requisitions of Congress, though expressed in language the most elegant and forcible that he ever remembered to have read, would be more obedient to the government until an irresistible force compelled them to be so. Mr. Lowndes concluded a long speech with a glowing eulogy on the old Confederation, and challenged his opponents, whilst one state objected, to get over that section which said, “The Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed in every state, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in them, unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislature of every state.”

Hon. ROBERT BARNWELL said, although he had been opposed to the investigation of the Federal Constitution at that period, and in that house, and foretold the unnecessary expenditure of both time and treasure that would be occasioned by it, yet he acknowledged that, if individual information upon its principles could by any means be a compensation for these wastes he should be extremely indebted to the honorable gentleman for the opposition which he had given. Mr. Barnwell was most decidedly in favor of the Constitution as recommended by the Convention, and viewed with pleasure the small sacrifices of interest, which, in his opinion, have been made to effect it. The arguments which had been adduced by the honorable gentleman in opposition had riveted his affections still more firmly to it, and had established in his mind, as conviction, what was only approbation before. If he did not view some part of the Constitution through a medium different from any of the gentlemen who had spoken before him, he should not have troubled this house. With this idea he rose, and left it to the house to determine whether he had done his duty as a member, or whether he had unnecessarily contributed to the interruption of the business before them. When he found that a gentleman of such acknowledged abilities, and of so great experience, was opposed to the Constitution, he expected a train of reasoning, and a power of argument, that would have made the federal fabric totter to its foundation. But to him they rather appeared like those storms which shake the edifice to fix it more strongly on its basis. To give his reasons for this opinion, he begged the indulgence of the house while he made the following observations upon the principles of the gentleman’s opposition. In the first instance, it appeared to him that the gentleman had established, as the basis of his objections, that the Eastern States entertained the greatest aversion to those which lay to the south, and would endeavor in every instance to oppress them; This idea he considered as founded in prejudice, and unsupported by facts. To prove this assertion, Mr. B. requested gentlemen for a moment to turn their attention to the transactions which the late war has engraved upon the memory of every man. When the armor oppression lay heavy on us, were they not the first to arouse themselves? When the sword of civil discord was drawn, were they not the first in the field? When war deluged their plains with blood, what was their language? Did they demand the southern troops to the defence of the north? No! Or, when war floated to the south, did they withhold their assistance? The answer was the same. When we stood with the spirit, but weakness, of youth, they supported us with the vigor and prudence of age. When our country was subdued, when our citizens submitted to superior power, it was then these states evinced their attachment. He saw not a man who did not know that the shackles of the south were broken asunder by the arms of the north. With the above-mentioned supposition of oppression, the gentleman had objected to the formation of the Senate; that the Confederation required nine states to ratify matters of importance, but by the Constitution a majority of fourteen can do almost any thing. That this was the case he did not deny; but the conclusions that he had drawn were by no means consequential. The seven Eastern States, the gentleman had said, whose interests were similar, will unite together, and, by having a majority in the Senate, will do what they please. If this was the ease, it went against uniting at all; for, if he was not mistaken, the interests of nine of the United States are almost the same. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, are very similar in their interests. They are most of them entirely carriers for others; and those states which are exporting ones are very nearly equal to the carrying of their products themselves. Supposing, then, the desire of oppression to exist, he asked if they could not do it equally as well under the Confederation as the Constitution. He thought so; and, as the gentleman’s arguments equally lay against every kind of coercive government, he was of opinion that the Senate, as established by this Constitution, was the most proper. Upon this head he begged permission to ask these questions: If the majority was in the Southern States, (which, as ten is a majority, might be the case,) would not objections, equally forcible as the gentleman’s, lie on the side of the Eastern States? and yet that, in all governments, a majority must be somewhere, is most evident: nothing would be more completely farcical than a government completely checked. Having commented thus far on the gentleman’s opposition to the Federal Constitution, he proceeded, according to the order of his objections, to consider the presiding power. On this he would be extremely concise; for, as the only objection which had fallen upon this head from the honorable gentleman was, that we had only a thirteenth part of him; and as this might equally, and, in his opinion, with more justice, be the objection of many and almost every state, he considered it only as a weight thrown into the scale of other objections, and not a subject for discussion.

With respect to the President’s responsibility, it could not be established more firmly than it is by the Constitution. When treaties are made, if in the time of prosperity, men seldom think they gain enough; if in the day of adversity, they would be apt to make the President the pillow upon whom they would rest all their resentment. The Constitution had then wisely made him, as a man, responsible by the influence of fame, his character, and his feelings; as a citizen, they have postponed the period at which he could be tried with propriety until the fervor of party and cool reflection can determine his fate. The gentleman had also objected to the power given to those two branches of making treaties, and that these treaties should become the law of the land. A number of gentlemen have proved this power to be in the possession of the head of every free nation, and that it is within the power of the present Congress. He should only, therefore, observe, that the most free and enlightened nations of the world had a federal head, in which this power was established—he meant the Amphictyonic council of the Greeks, which was the palladium of their united liberties, and, until destroyed by the ambition of a few of the states of Greece, was revered by that jealous people as the cornerstone of their federal union. Against the representation he generally objects, that they are too few, and not elected immediately by the people. The whole body consists of sixty-five persons, in the proportion of one to thirty thousand. The British Parliament have one to fifteen thousand in the island of Great Britain, without considering her possessions elsewhere. The numbers of her Parliament are fixed; our congressional powers may be increased almost ad infinitum. Supposing, then, that a smaller apportionment had been made, in time we should have been oppressed with the number of legislators, and our government would be as languid and inoperative as it is at present; and he differed so much from the honorable gentleman, that he was apprehensive lest he should find that, by the Constitution, their numbers will be too great. As for their not being immediately elected by the people at large, the gentleman Would please to observe, that, contradictory to their present method of electing delegates to Congress,—a method laid down by that Confederation which he admires,—all the representatives are elected by the people; so that, in this instance, the gentleman was very unfortunate in his objection. The gentleman also asked why we were deprived of the liberty of paying our own delegates? This is another of the gentleman’s unfounded suspicions; for the reason is so evident, and the regulation so favorable, that he was astonished how it escaped the honorable gentleman’s notice. Congress are to have the sole power of laying on imposts; and therefore, when that fired is given up by which we were enabled to pay our delegates, we are also eased of the burden of doing it. This is so evident, that the establishment of the objection takes not a little from the weight of the gentleman’s other observations. Mr. Barnwell proceeded to say that the gentleman, upon the deprivation of the right to issue paper medium, has altogether made use of an argument ad hominem, calculated to seduce; and his eulogium upon it was, in his opinion, misapplied. However, supposing that to be the clew that led us to our liberty, yet the gentleman must acknowledge it was not the state, but the Continental money, that brought about the favorable termination of the war. If to strike off a paper medium becomes necessary, Congress, by the Constitution, still have that right, and may exercise it when they think proper.

The honorable gentleman asks why the trial by jury was not established in every instance. Mr. Barnwell considered this right of trial as the birthright of every American, and the basis of our civil liberty; but still most certainly particular circumstances may arise, which would induce even the greatest advocates for this right to yield it for a time. In his opinion, the circumstances that would lead to this point were those which are specified by the Constitution. Mr. Barnwell said, Suffer me to state a case, and let every gentleman determine whether, in particular instances, he would not rather resign than retain this right of trial. A suit is depending between a citizen of Carolina and Georgia, and it becomes necessary to try it in Georgia. What is the consequence? Why, the citizen of this state must rest his cause upon the jury of his opponent’s vicinage, where, unknown and unrelated, he stands a very poor chance for justice against one whose neighbors, whose friends and relations, compose the greater part of his judges. It is in this case, and only in cases of a similar nature with this, that the right of trial by jury is not established; and judging from myself, it is in this instance only that every man would wish to resign it, not to a jury with whom he is unacquainted, but to an impartial and responsible individual.

Mr. Barnwell then adverted to the parts of the Constitution which more immediately affected our state; namely, the right of establishing imposts and granting preferences, and the clause which respects the importation of negroes. Upon the first he premised, that, in the compacts which unite men into society, it always is necessary to give up a part of our natural rights to secure the remainder; and that, in every instance; if the latter could be maintained without giving up the former, every individual would be willing to keep back his share of those aggregate ties which then would bind the rest of the community; each individual would wish to retain his right to act as he pleases, whilst all but himself were restricted in their conduct. Let us, then, apply this to the United States; and yet the honorable gentleman supposes that South Carolina should be free herself. Surely this is not just, and cannot be admissible.

Mr. Chairman, suffer me to make this one other remark-that, when the distinctions occasioned by wealth take place, the desire of equality and the appetite for property soon render it necessary that the wealthy weak man should make greater sacrifices than the man who has nothing to lose, and consequently nothing to fear. This is the case with us. To secure our wealth, and establish our security, perhaps some little sacrifice was necessary; and what is this sacrifice? Why, that, generally, American vessels should have a preference in the carrying trade. The gentleman asserts that, by granting this preference, we, as a large importing state, will suffer greatly. Let us examine the truth of this position. By so doing, says the honorable gentleman, we shall destroy all competition, and the carrying states will establish what freight they please. I deny the declaration; and upon this principle: bounties act as encouragements; and this preference may, in a trifling degree, injure us for one or two years, but will throw so many capitals into this trade, that, even if the Eastern States should desire to oppress us, this would prevent them; for when this bounty takes place, our harbors will most indisputably reduce the freight. the gentleman will perhaps say that this is conjectural only. I appeal to every author, who has written upon the subject, for the certainty of this commercial maxim, and will ask the gentleman himself, whether an overstock of the market, in every instance, does not reduce the price of the commodity. Thus he had proved, he thought, that, should the Eastern States be desirous to take unfriendly advantages, their own interest would defeat their intention.

Mr. Barnwell continued to say, I now come to the last point for consideration,—I mean the clause relative to the negroes; and here I am particularly pleased with the Constitution. It has not left this matter, of so much importance to us, open to immediate investigation. No; it has declared that the United States shall not, at any rate, consider this matter for twenty-one years; and yet gentlemen are displeased with it. Congress has guarantied this right for that space of time, and at its expiration may continue it as long as they please. This question then arises—What will their interest lead them to do? The Eastern States, as the honorable gentleman says, will become the carriers of America. It will, therefore, certainly be their interest to encourage exportation to as great an extent as possible; and if the quantum of our products will be diminished by the prohibition of negroes, I appeal to the belief of every man, whether he thinks those very carriers will themselves dam up the sources from whence their profit is derived. To think so is so contradictory to the general conduct of mankind, that I am of opinion, that, without we ourselves put a stop to them, the traffic for negroes will continue forever.

Mr. Barnwell concluded by declaring that this Constitution was, in his opinion, like the laws of Solon, not the best possible to be formed, but the best that our situation will admit of. He considered it as the panacea of America, whose healing power will pervade the continent, and sincerely believed that its ratification is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Commodore GILLON wished to know what reason the house had to suppose that, if another convention met, our interest would be better taken care of by men of equal abilities with those who went to the other; or if, when there, they could procure for us superior advantages to those already agreed on. Indeed, he could not but consider our negativing the proffered government as an oblique mode of reflecting on the conduct of our delegates, instead of giving them that praise they were so justly entitled to. He called the attention of the house to the late commotions that had happened in Holland, where one part Of the citizens had called in the assistance of foreigners, for the sanguinary purpose of cutting the throats of the other. Are we more virtuous? If not, may it not happen that, if dissension unhappily prevail among us, foreign aid will be joined to those enemies already amongst us, and introduce the horrors of a civil war? He was warmly in favor of our sister states becoming the carriers of America; not that he wished to exclude our employing foreigners; at present two thirds of our produce was carried in American bottoms. The commodore hoped the gentleman who had approved of our state Constitution of 1778, would be, in time, equally pleased with the Federal Constitution proposed in 1787. He had represented our present situation to be calm and peaceable, but it was such a calm as mariners often experience at sea, after a storm, when one ship rolls against another, and they sink.

Hon. RAWLINS LOWNDES said, the honorable gentleman frequently thought proper to level his shot at him; but on the present occasion they were not well pointed. The reason why he assented unto the Constitution in 1778 was, because it had been approved of by the people. There had been something said about a ship: the Confederation was our old ship; it had cost us a great deal of money; and he hoped we should keep her at sea without having any new commanders.

Hon. JOHN MATHEWS, chancellor, confessed himself astonished at hearing such encomiums on the Articles of Confederation, as if they had carried us victoriously through the war, when, in fact, they were not ratified until the year 1781; and if the Confederation had been in force in 1776, this country would have inevitably been lost, because, under it, Congress had not authority to give General Washington the powers of a dictator at Valley Forge. Surely the honorable gentleman must be sensible that the success of Congress depended on the explicit confidence of the people; the voice of Congress had the force of law, and was cheerfully and readily obeyed. With regard to the carrying trade, when the Convention was first appointed, he was afraid that, if a navigation act passed, the Northern States could not for some time furnish shipping sufficient for carrying the produce of America; but on going, last year, to the northward, he was fully convinced to the contrary. At Rhode Island, he received information that they could immediately furnish 50,000 tons of shipping, and that in 1787 Massachusetts could furnish 150,000 tons. He then went into a calculation of the produce of the Southern States. Virginia raised between 60,000 and 70,000 hogsheads annually; South Carolina, he supposed, would raise nearly 150,000 barrels of rice; Georgia about 40,000; which, making large allowances for other kind of produce, still left an excess of shipping. As to any fears that the Northern States would so far engross the navigation of America as to lay the Southern States under a kind of contribution, by charging excessive freightage, we must suppose that they and the Middle States would confederate for this purpose; for, if they did not, a competition would naturally arise between them, and also between America and the European nations, which would always secure us against the payment of great and exorbitant freights. As to the idea that a Senate could overturn our liberties and establish tyranny, this evil never could take place whilst the President was an honest man, because he possessed the power of negativing any improper proceedings of the two other branches of government.

Hon. EDWARD RUTLEDGE proved, from the act passed last session, appointing delegates from the state to meet those from other states, in Convention at Philadelphia, that they had not exceeded their powers. He then compared the powers given under the old and new constitutions, and proved that they differed very little, except in that essential point which gave the power to government, of enforcing its engagements; and surely no person could object to this. Mr. Rutledge thought very lightly of those fears entertained about bayonets being necessary to enforce an obedience in the people to the laws, when it became certain that they could not be broken with impunity; but if a spirit of resistance should appear, surely it ought to be in the power of government to compel a coercion in the people. He then took some notice of the union between Great Britain and Scotland, showed the difference between the articles of union and our Federal Constitution. Great Britain reserved to herself the power of passing navigation laws, regulating the excise; the rate of taxation was also proportionate; for every two millions of money raised in England, Scotland engaged to raise £45,000; but in this country, we were to be equally taxed; no distinction had been made, and we went on all-fours. So far from not preferring Northern States by a navigation act, it would be politic to increase their strength by every means in our power; for we had no other resource, in the day of danger, than in the naval force of our northern friends; nor could we ever expect to become a great nation until we were powerful on the waters. Look only at the partiality of an act passed in England last year, in which we were excluded from trading in some parts of the West Indies, whilst liberty was given to all European powers. In fact, we must hold our country by courtesy, unless we have a navy; for, if we are invaded, supposing in the month of July, Congress could not send troops nine hundred miles, in time to rescue us from danger, were we to run such risk, because it was possible we should be charged a little more freightage for our produce. But if we are a great maritime people, what have we to fear? Nothing; because European powers were so far removed from us that it would be very dangerous to send a considerable force against us; besides, as the West India trade must pass near our coast, it naturally lay at our mercy. The honorable gentleman had said a great deal about establishing an aristocracy, and yet he wanted more power to the old constitution: now, did not his own proposition, which tended to establish a precedent for slipping in, by degrees, additional power, appear as likely to promote what he dreaded, as to agree with a constitution that came sanctioned by the voice of the people?

Hon. ARTHUR SIMKINS, of Ninety-six,, asked, for information, whether Congress had a right to interfere in religion.

Gen. CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY answered, they had no power at all, and explained this point to Mr. Simkins’s satisfaction.

Hon. RAWLINS LOWNDES saying that he was much in arrear, the committee rose, reported some progress, and asked leave to sit again. Leave was given.

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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.

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