Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4

Convention of South Carolina

Friday, January 18, 1788.

Maj. PIERCE BUTLER opened the debate (as we understand; the reporter of those debates unfortunately not being in the house) with several satisfactory answers to some points of objection the preceding day.

Gen. CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY, in answer to Mr. Lowndes, observed, that, though ready to pay every tribute of applause to the great characters whose names were subscribed to the old Confederation, yet his respect for them could not prevent him from being thoroughly sensible of the defects of the system they had established; sad experience had convinced him that it was weak, inefficient, and inadequate to the purposes of good government; and he understood that most of the framers of it were so thoroughly convinced of this truth, that they were eager to adopt the present Constitution. The friends of the new system do not mean to shelter it under the respectability of mere names; they wish every part of it may be examined with critical minuteness, convinced that the more thoroughly it is investigated, the better it will appear. The honorable gentleman, in the warmth of his encomiums on the old plan, had said that it had carried us with success through the war. In this it has been shown that he is mistaken, as it was not fatally ratified till March, 1781, and, anterior to that ratification, Congress never acted under it, or considered it as binding. Our success, therefore, ought not to be imputed to the old Confederation; but to the vast abilities of a Washington, to the valor and enthusiasm of our people, to the cruelty of our enemies, and to the assistance of our friends. The gentleman had mentioned the treaty of peace in a manner as if our independence had been granted us by the king of Great Britain. But that was not the case; we were independent before the treaty, which does not in fact grant, but acknowledges, our independence. We ought to date that invaluable blessing from a much older charter than the treaty of peace from a charter which our babes should be taught to lisp in their cradles; which our youth should learn as a carmen necessarium, or indispensable lesson; which our young men should regard as their compact of freedom; and which our old should repeat with ejaculations of gratitude for the bounties it is about to bestow on their posterity: I mean the Declaration of Independence, made in Congress the 4th of July, 1776. This admirable manifesto, which, for importance of matter and elegance of composition, stands unrivalled, sufficiently confutes the honorable gentleman’s doctrine of the individual sovereignty and independence of the several states.

In that Declaration the several states are not even enumerated; but after reciting, in nervous language, and with convincing arguments, our right to independence, and the tyranny which compelled us to assert it, the declaration is made in the following words: “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of fight ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.” The separate independence and individual sovereignty of the several states were never thought of by the enlightened band of patriots who framed this Declaration; the several states are not even mentioned by name in any part of it, as if it was intended to impress this maxim on America, that our freedom and independence arose from our union, and that without it we could neither be free nor independent. Let us, then, consider all attempts to weaken this Union, by maintaining that each state is separately and individually independent, as a species of political heresy, which can never benefit us, but may bring on us the most serious distresses.

The general, then, in answer to Mr. Lowndes’s objections, that the powers vested in the general government were too extensive, enumerated all the powers granted, and remarked particularly on each, showing that the general good of the Union required that all the powers specified ought necessarily to be vested where the Constitution had placed them; and that, as all the powers granted sprang from the people, and were to be exercised by persons frequently chosen, mediately or immediately, by the people; and that, as we had as great a share in the government, in proportion to our importance, as any other state had,—the assertion that our representation would he merely virtual, similar to what we possessed under the British government, was altogether unfounded; that there was no danger of the powers granted being abused while the people remained uncorrupt; and that corruption was more effectually guarded against, in the manner this government was constituted, than in any other that had ever been formed. From the number of electors who have a right to vote for a member of the House of Representatives, little danger can be apprehended of corruption or undue influence. If a small district sent a member, there would be frequent opportunities for cabal and intrigue: but if the sphere of election is enlarged, then opportunities must necessarily diminish. The little demagogue of a petty parish or county will find his importance annihilated, and his intrigues useless, When several counties join in an election; he probably would not be known, certainly not regarded, out of his own circle; while the man whose abilities and virtues had extended a fair reputation beyond the limits of his county, would, nine times out of ten, be the person who would be the choice of the people.

There will be no necessity, as the honorable gentleman has Strangely supposed, for all the freeholders in the state to meet at Charleston to choose five members for the House of Representatives; for the state may be divided into five election districts, and the freeholders in each election district may choose one representative. These freeholders need not all meet at the same place in the district; they may ballot in their particular parishes and counties on the same day, and the ballots may be thence carried into a central part of the district, and opened at the same time; and whoever shall appear to have a majority of the votes of the freeholders of the whole district will be one of the five representatives for this state. But if any state should attempt to fix a very inconvenient time for the election, and name (agreeably to the ideas of the honorable gentleman) only one place in the state, or even one place in one of the five election districts,for the freeholders to assemble to vote, and the people should dislike this arrangement, they can petition the general government to redress this inconvenience, and to fix times and places of election of representatives in the state in a more convenient manner; for, as this house has a right to fix the times and places of election, in each parish and county, for the members of the House of Representatives of this state, so the general government has a similar right to fix the times and places of election, in each state, for the members of the general House of Representatives. Nor is there any real danger to be apprehended from the exercise of this power, as it cannot be supposed that any state wilt consent to fix the election at inconvenient seasons and places in any other state, lest she herself should hereafter experience the same inconvenience; but it is absolutely necessary that Congress should have this superintending power, lest, by the intrigues of a ruling faction in a state, the members of the House of Representatives should not really represent the people of the state, and lest the same faction, through partial state views, should altogether refuse to send representatives of the people to the general government. The general government has not the same authority with regard to the members of the Senate. It would have been improper to have intrusted them with it; for such a power would, in some measure, have authorized them to fix the times and places when and where the state legislatures should convene, and would tend to destroy that necessary cheek which the general and state governments will have on each other. The honorable gentleman, as if he was determined to object to every part of the Constitution, though he does not approve of electing representatives immediately by the people, or at least cannot conceive hawk is to be effected, yet objects to the constitution of the Senate, because the senators are to be elected b the state legislatures, and not immediately by the people. When the Constitution says the people shall elect, the gentleman cries out, “It is chimerical!—the election will be merely virtual.” When the Constitution determines that the state legislatures are to elect, he exclaims, “The people’s rights are invaded!—the election should be immediately by them, and not by their representatives.” How, then, can we satisfy him, as he is determined to censure, in this Constitution, that mode of election which he so highly approves in the old Confederation? The reason why our present state Constitution, made in 1778, changed the mode of electing senators from the mode prescribed by our first constitution, passed in 1776, was because, by the first, the senators were elected by this house, and therefore, being their mere creatures, they could not be supposed to have that freedom of will as to form a proper check on its proceedings; whereas, in the general Constitution, the House of Representatives will be elected immediately by the people, and represent them and their personal rights individually; the Senate will be elected by the state legislatures, and represent the states in their political capacity; and thus each branch will form a proper and independent check on the other, and the legislative powers will be advantageously balanced.

With regard to the objection that had been made to the mode of electing the President of the United States, General Pinckney asked what other mode would have been so proper. If he was to be elected by the House of Representatives and the Senate, as one of them have the power of impeaching and the other of trying him, he would be altogether their creature, and would not have independence enough to exercise with firmness the revisionary power and other authorities with which he is invested by the Constitution. This want of independence might influence his conduct, in some degree, if he was to be elected by one branch of the legislature alone; but as he is to be elected by the people, through the medium of electors chosen particularly for that purpose, and he is in some measure to be a check on the Senate and House of Representatives, the election, in my opinion, could not have been placed so well if it had been made in any other mode.

In all elections of a chief magistrate, foreign influence is to be guarded against. Here it is very carefully so; and it is almost impossible for any foreign power to influence thirteen different sets of electors, distributed throughout the states, from New Hampshire to Georgia. By this mode, also, and for the same reason, the dangers of intrigue and corruption are avoided, and a variety of other inconveniences, which must have arisen if the electors from the different states had been directed to assemble at one place, or if either branch of the legislature (in case the majority of electors did not fix upon the same person) might have chosen a President who had not been previously put in nomination by the people. I have before spoken of the policy and justice of vesting the majority of Congress with the power of making commercial regulations, and the necessity there is, in all well-constituted republics, that the majority should control the minority; and I should have had a very strong objection if it had contained the restrictive clause the honorable gentleman appears so anxious for, “that Congress should not have it in their power to prevent the ships of any nation from entering our ports.” I cannot think it would have been prudent or fitting to have given the ships of all foreign nations a constitutional right to enter our ports whenever they pleased, and this, too, notwithstanding we might be at war with them; or they may have passed laws denying us the privileges they grant to all other commercial nations; or circumstances not now foreseen might render it necessary for us to prohibit them. Such a clause would have injured the Eastern States, would have been eventually detrimental to ourselves, and would have in fact amounted to a declaration that we were resolved never to have a navy. To such a clause the general declared he never would have consented, and desired the gentleman to produce an instance of any independent power who did not give exclusive advantages to their own shipping. He then took notice that Chancellor Matthews had fully answered what had been alleged concerning the exorbitant freights we should be obliged to pay, and had clearly shown that no danger was to be apprehended on that subject; and that the Eastern States could soon furnish us, and all the Southern States, with a sufficient number of ships to carry off our produce. With regard to the general government imposing internal taxes upon us, he contended that it was absolutely necessary they should have such a power: requisitions had been in vain tried every year since the ratification of the old Confederation, and not a single state had paid the quota required of her. The general government could not abuse this power, and favor one state and oppress another, as each state was to be taxed only in proportion to its representation; and as to excises, when it is considered how many more excisable articles are manufactured to the northward than there are to the southward, and the ease and convenience of raising a revenue by indirect taxation, and the necessity there is to obtain money for the payment of our debts, for our common defence, and for the general welfare, he thought every man would see the propriety, and even the necessity, of this clause. For his part, he knew of no sum that he would not sooner have consented to have paid, if he had had it, rather than have adopted Lord North’s conciliatory plan, which seems, by the argument of the gentleman, to be in some respect preferable to the proposed Constitution; but in asserting this, the gentleman certainly cannot be serious. As to the payment of members of the legislature out of the federal treasury, General Pinckney contended it was right, and particularly beneficial to us, who were so distant from the seat of the federal government, as we at present paid our members not only while they were actually in Congress, but for all the time they were going there and returning home, which was an expense the Middle States felt but in a slight degree; but now that all the members are to be paid out of the public treasury, our remote situation will not be particularly expensive to us. The ease of the payment of the Massachusetts judges under the royal government can by no ingenuity be made applicable to the payment of the members of the federal legislature. With regard to Mr. Lowndes’s question, “What harm had paper money done?” General Pinckney answered, that he wondered that gentleman should ask such a question, as he had told the house that he had lost fifteen thousand guineas by depreciation; but he would tell the gentleman what further injuries it had done—it had corrupted the morals of the people; it had diverted them from the paths of honest industry to the ways of ruinous speculation; it had destroyed both public and private credit, and had brought total ruin on numberless widows and orphans.

As to the judiciary department, General Pinckney observed, that trial by jury was so deservedly esteemed by the people of America, that it is impossible for their representatives to omit introducing it whenever it can with propriety be done. In appeals from courts of chancery, it surely would be improper. In a dispute between a citizen of Carolina and a citizen of Georgia, if a jury was to try the case, from which state are they to be drawn? If from both or either, would the citizens of Carolina and Georgia choose to be summoned to attend on juries eight hundred miles from their home? and if the jury is to be drawn from the state in which Congress shall sit, would these citizens wish that a cause relative to negro property should be tried by the Quakers of Pennsylvania, or by the freeholders of those states that have not that species of property amongst them? Surely not. Yet it is necessary, when a citizen of one state cannot obtain an impartial trial in another, that, for the sake of justice, he should have a right to appeal to the supreme judiciary of the United States to obtain redress; and as this right of appeal does not extend to citizens of the same state, (unless they claim under grants of different states,) but only to the causes and persons particularly mentioned in the Constitution, and Congress have power to make such regulations and impose such restrictions relative to appeals as they think proper, it can hardly be supposed that they will exercise it in a manner injurious to their constituents.

Trials by jury are expressly secured in all criminal cases, and not excluded in any civil cases whatsoever. But experience had demonstrated that it was impossible to adhere to them in all civil cases: for instance, on the first establishment of the admiralty jurisdiction, Congress passed an ordinance requiring all causes of capture to be decided by juries: this was contrary to the practice of all nations, and we knew it; but still an attachment to a trial by jury induced the experiment. What was the consequence? The property of our friends was, at times, condemned indiscriminately with the property of our enemies, and the property of our citizens of one state by the juries of another. Some of our citizens have severely felt these inconveniences. Citizens of other states and other powers experienced similar misfortunes from this mode of trial. It was, therefore, by universal consent and approbation, laid aside in cases of capture. As the ordinance which regulated these trials was passed by Congress, they had the power of altering it, and they exercised that power; but had that ordinance been part of the Confederation, it could not then have been repealed in the then situation of America; and had a clause of a similar tendency been inserted in this Constitution, it could only be altered by a convention of the different states. This shows at once how improper it would have been to have descended to minutiae in this particular; and he trusted it was unnecessary, because the laws which are to regulate trials must be made by the representatives of the people chosen as this house are, and as amenable as they are for every part of their conduct. The honorable gentleman says, compacts should be binding, and that the Confederation was a compact. It was so; but it was a compact that had been repeatedly broken by every state in the Union; and all the writers on the laws of nations agree that, when the parties to a treaty violate it, it is no longer binding. This was the case with the old Confederation; it was virtually dissolved, and it became necessary to form a new constitution, to render us secure at home, respectable abroad, and to give us that station among the nations of the world, to which, as free and independent people, we are justly entitled.

Hon. RAWLINS LOWNDES observed, that he had been accused of obstinacy in standing out against such a formidable opposition; but he would sincerely assure the house that he was as open to conviction as any gentleman on the floor: yet he never would allow himself to be drawn into the adoption of specious arguments; for such he considered many of those now opposed against him to be. Indeed, some gentlemen had departed from their usual candor in giving an interpretation to his arguments which they did not merit. In one instance, it had been stated as if he was of opinion that treaties had not the force of law. This was going too far. He did not recollect that he had asserted any more than that the king of Great Britain had not a legal power to ratify any treaty which trenched on the fundamental laws of the country. He supposed a case, under the dispensing act of William and Mary, asking, “If the king had made a treaty with the Roman Catholics, could that which was excepted by the laws ever be considered as paramount?” The honorable gentleman again took an ample view of the old Confederation, on which he dwelt with fervency for some time, and ridiculed the depraved inconsistency of those who pant for the change. Great stress was laid on the admirable checks which guarded us, under the new Constitution, from the encroachments of tyranny; hut too many checks in a political machine must produce the same mischief as in a mechanical one—that of throwing all into confusion. But supposing we considered ourselves so much aggrieved as to reduce us to the necessity of insisting on redress, what probability had we of relief? Very little indeed. In the revolving on misfortune, some little gleams of comfort resulted from a hope of being able to resort to an impartial tribunal for redress; but pray what reason was there for expectancy that, in Congress, the interest of five Southern States would be considered in a preferable point of view to the nine Eastern ones? With respect to, migration from the Eastern States to the Southern ones, he did not believe that people would ever flock here in such considerable numbers, because our country had generally proved so uncomfortable, from the excessive heats, that our acquaintance, during the heats, is rather shunned than solicited. The honorable gentleman mentioned that he had sent for a person from Europe, who did not long survive his introduction here, falling a sacrifice to the baneful effects of fogs and swamps; so that, from our limitation of importing negroes after the term of twenty years, instead of rising in representation, we should gradually degenerate. He treated those fears of our falling a prey to foreigners as one of those arguments tending to precipitate us into measures inimical to our natural interest; for was it to be supposed that the policy of France would ever suffer America to become an appendage of the crown of Great Britain; or that Great Britain, equally jealous of France, would permit her to reduce us to subjection? Our danger of ruin should rather be apprehended from dissensions amongst ourselves—from our running into debt without any intention to pay: that was the rock on which we might split, rather than foreign enemies; and, therefore, all those arguments for establishing the necessity of a navy and standing army were nugatory, and entitled to very little attention.

It was urged that, until we had a navy powerful enough to protect us, our liberties and property were held only on courtesy; but if gentlemen adverted, where this navy, so necessary, was to come from,—not from the Southern States, but the Northern ones,—they would easily perceive to whom this country would belong. It was true, the old Confederation was a mere paper defence; but then it was a good proof on our behalf if we were overcome by unmerited wrongs. Some had made this a question—”Will you join, or will you be single?” For his part, he did not think matters had come to such a crisis; rather let us comply with our federal connection, which, not yet being broken, admits of being strengthened. A gentleman had instanced Vattel in support of his argument, and laid down, from that author, an opinion that where parties engaged in the performance of an obligation, should any one of them fly off from his agreement, the original was null and void. He had ingeniously applied this to our present Continental situation, and contended, as some of the states acted in a refractory manner towards the Continental Union, and obstinately refused a compliance, on their parts, with solemn obligations, that of course the Confederation was virtually dissolved. But Vattel merely recited such a case as where only a part of a confederation was broken; whereas ours was totally different, every state in the Union having been uniform in refusing a compliance with the requisitions of Congress. Some gentlemen had advanced a set of assertions to prove that the Eastern States had greatly suffered in the war. Pray, how had they suffered? Did they not draw from the Continental treasury large sums of money? Was not every expense incurred by them defrayed out of the Continental coffers? Another great advantage held out was, that we should be eased, in future, from the obligation and difficulty of defraying the expenses of delegates. Had we gained so much by this, when we had given up the very means of furnishing this sort of supply, formerly in our own option? As to the taxes, undoubtedly they must be increased under this new government. We paid at present two dollars per head upon our negroes; but the expenses attending our pompous government might increase this expense into six dollars per head, and this enormous sum collected by a sort of foreign power; for did any man, that knew America, suppose such tax will be easily paid? But if there was such a universal propensity to set up this golden image, why delay its inauguration? Let us at once go plump into the adoration of it; let us at once surrender every fight which we at present possess. A material objection of his to the offered plan was, that the President would have power to call both houses at what time and place he thought proper. Suppose a political cause for partiality; might he not so arrange things, as to carry a favorite point, by assembling the federal government, to the ruin or detriment of those states he meant to crush, and laws be enacted before those in extreme parts of the country knew any thing of their tendency? Surely some restrictions, as to time of meeting, should have been specified. The President had also the power of adjourning to any day he thought proper. In our old constitution, no such power was given to the chief magistrate to adjourn or dissolve. On the whole, this was the best preparatory plan for a monarchical government he had read. The Constitution of Great Britain he considered as the best monarchical one he ever perused; and this new government came so near to it, that, as to our changing from a republic to a monarchy, it was what every body must naturally expect. How easy the transition! No difficulty occurred in finding a king: the President was the man proper for this appointment. The Senate, hailing him a king, (constituted, according to Mr. Adams’s description, from the well-born,) will naturally say to one another, “You see how we are situated; certainly it is for our country’s benefit that we should be all lords;” and lords they are.

Mr. Lowndes concluded his speech with thanking the house for their very great indulgence in permitting him to take up so much time. He hoped that the vast importance of the subject would plead his excuse. He also thanked those gentlemen on the other side of the question for the candid, fair manner in which they had answered his arguments Popularity was what he never courted; but on this point he spoke merely to point out those dangers to which his fellow-citizens were exposed—dangers that were so evident, that, when he ceased to exist, he wished for no other epitaph, than to have inscribed on his tomb, “Here lies the man that opposed the Constitution, because it was ruinous to the liberty of America.”

Hon. JOHN RUTLEDGE declared he had often heard the honorable gentleman with much pleasure; but on the present occasion, he was astonished at his perseverance. Well might he apologize for his taking up the time of gentlemen, when, in the very outset, he declared that this Constitution must necessarily be submitted to a future convention of the people. Why, then, enter so largely in argument on its merits, when the ultimate decision depended on another body? Mr. Rutledge then took up an argument relative to treaties not being paramount to the laws of the land. Was not the last treaty contrary to the Declaratory Act, and a great number of other acts of Parliament? Yet who ever doubted its validity? The gentleman had declared that his sentiments were so much in contradiction to the voice of his constituents, that he did not expect to be appointed a member of the Convention. Mr. Rutledge hoped he would be appointed, and did not hesitate to pledge himself to prove, demonstrably, that all those grounds on which he dwelt so much amounted to nothing more than mere declamation; that his boasted Confederation was not worth a farthing; and that, if Mr. Chairman was intrenched in such instruments up to his chin, they would not shield him from one single national calamity. So far from thinking that the sun of this country was obscured by the new Constitution, he did not doubt but that, whenever it was adopted, the sun of this state, united with twelve other suns, would exhibit a meridian radiance astonishing to the world The gentleman’s obstinacy brought to his recollection a friend to this country, once a member of that house, who said, “It is generally imputed to me that I am obstinate. This is a mistake. I am not so, but sometimes hard to be convinced.”

Hon. PATRICK CALHOUN, of Ninety-six, made some observations on the too great latitude allowed in religion.

Hon. JAMES LINCOLN, of Ninety-six, declared, that if ever any person rose in a public assembly with diffidence, he then did; if ever any person felt himself deeply interested in what he thought a good cause, and at the same time lamented the want of abilities to support it, it was he. On a question on which gentlemen, whose abilities would do honor to the senate of ancient Rome, had enlarged with so much eloquence and learning, who could venture without anxiety and diffidence? He had not the vanity to oppose his opinion to such men; he had not the vanity to suppose he could place this business in any new light; but the justice he owed to his constituents—the justice he owed to his own feelings, which would perhaps upbraid him hereafter, if he indulged himself so far as to give merely a silent vote on this great question—impelled him, reluctantly impelled him, to intrude himself on the house. He had, for some years past, turned his thoughts towards the politics of this country; he long since perceived that not only the federal but the state Constitution required much the hand of correction and revision. They were both formed in times of confusion and distress, and it was a matter of wonder they were so free from defects as we found them. That they were imperfect, no one would deny; and that something must be done to remedy those imperfections, was also evident; but great care should be taken that, by endeavoring to do some good, we should not do an infinite deal of mischief. He had listened with eager attention to all the arguments in favor of the Constitution; but he solemnly declared that the more he heard, the more he was persuaded of its evil tendency. What does this proposed Constitution do? It changes, totally changes, the form of your present government. From a well-digested, well-formed democratic, you are at once rushing into an aristocratic government. What have you been contending for these ten years past? Liberty! What is liberty? The power of governing yourselves. If you adopt this Constitution, have you this power? No: you give it into the hands of a set of men who live one thousand miles distant from you. Let the people but once trust their liberties out of their own hands, and what will be the consequence? First, a haughty, imperious aristocracy; and ultimately, a tyrannical monarchy. No people on earth are, at this day, so free as the people of America. All other nations are, more or less, in a state of slavery. They owe their constitutions partly to chance, and partly to the sword; but that of America is the offspring of their choice—the darling of their bosom: and was there ever an instance in the world that a people in this situation, possessing all that Heaven could give on earth, all that truman wisdom and valor could procure—was there ever a people so situated, as calmly and deliberately to convene themselves together for the express purpose of considering whether they should give away or retain those inestimable blessings? In the name of God, were we a parcel of children, who would cry and quarrel for a hobby-horse, which, when we were once in possession of, we quarrel with and throw it away? It is said this Constitution is an experiment; but all regular-bred physicians are cautious of experiments. If the constitution be crazed a little, or somewhat feeble, is it therefore necessary to kill it in order to cure it? Surely not. There are many parts of this Constitution he objected to: some few of them had not been mentioned; he would therefore request some information thereon. The President holds his employment for four years; but he may hold it for fourteen times four years: in short, he may hold it so long that it will be impossible, without another revolution, to displace him. You do not put the same check him that you do on your own state governor a man born and bred among you; a man over whom you have a continual and watchful eye; a man who, from the very nature of his situation, it it almost impossible can do you any injury: this man, you say, shall not be elected for more than four years; and yet this mighty, this omnipotent governor-general may be elected for years and years.

He would be glad to know why, in this Constitution, there is a total silence with regard to the liberty of the press. Was it forgotten? Impossible! Then it must have been purposely omitted; and with what design, good or bad, he left the World to judge. The liberty of the press was the tyrant’s scourge—it was the true friend and firmest supporter of civil liberty; therefore why pass it by in silence? He perceived that not till almost the very end of the Constitution was there any provision made for the nature or form of government we were to live under: he contended it should have been the very first article; it should have been, as it were, the groundwork or foundation on which it should have been built. But how is it? At the very end of the Constitution, there is a clause which says,—”The Congress of the United States shall guaranty to each state a republican form of government.” But pray, who are the United States? A President and four or five senators? Pray, sir, what security have we for a republican form of government, when it depends on the mere will and pleasure of a few men, who, with an army, navy, and rich treasury at their back, may change and alter it as they please? It may be said they will be sworn. Sir, the king of Great Britain, at his coronation, swore to govern his subjects with justice and mercy. We were then his subjects, and continued so for a long time after. He would be glad to know how he observed his oath. If, then; the king of Great Britain forswore himself, what security have we that a future President and four or five senators—men like himself—will think more solemnly of so sacred an obligation than he did?

Why was not this Constitution ushered in with the bill of rights? Are the people to have no rights? Perhaps this same President and Senate would, by and by, declare them. He much feared they would. He concluded by returning his hearty thanks to the gentleman who had so nobly opposed this Constitution: it was supporting the cause of the people; and if ever any one deserved the title of man of the people, he, on this occasion, most certainly did.

Gen. CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY answered Mr. Lincoln on his objections. He said, that the time for which the President should hold his office, and whether he should be reëligible, had been fully discussed in the Convention. It had been once agreed to by a majority, that he should hold his office for the term of seven years, but should not be reëlected a second time. But upon reconsidering that article, it was thought that to cut off all hopes from a man of serving again in that elevated station, might render him dangerous, or perhaps indifferent to the faithful discharge of his duty. His term of service might expire during the raging of war, when he might, perhaps, be the most capable man in America to conduct it; and would it be wise and prudent to declare in our Constitution that such a man should not again direct our military operations, though our success might be owing to his abilities? The mode of electing the President rendered undue influence almost impossible; and it would have been imprudent in us to have put it out of our power to reëlect a man whose talents, abilities, and integrity, were such as to render him the object of the general choice of his country. With regard to the liberty of the press, the discussion of that matter was not forgotten by the members of the Convention. It was fully debated, and the impropriety of saying any thing about it in the Constitution clearly evinced. The general government has no powers but what are expressly granted to it; it therefore has no power to take away the liberty of the press. That invaluable blessing, which deserves all the encomiums the gentleman has justly bestowed upon its is secured by all our state constitutions; and to have mentioned it in our general Constitution would perhaps furnish an argument, hereafter, that the general government had a right to exercise powers not expressly delegated to it. For the same reason, we had no bill of rights inserted in our Constitution; for, as we might perhaps have omitted the enumeration of some of our rights, it might hereafter be said we had delegated to the general government a power to take away such of our rights as we had not enumerated: but by delegating express powers, we certainly reserve to ourselves every power and right not mentioned in the Constitution. Another reason weighed particularly, with the members from this state, against the insertion of a bill of rights. Such bills generally begin with declaring that all men are by nature born free. Now, we should make that declaration with a very bad grace, when a large part of our property consists in men who are actually born slaves. As to the clause guarantying to each state a republican form of government being inserted near the end of the Constitution, the general observed that it was as binding as if it had been inserted in the first article. The Constitution takes its effect from the ratification, and every part of it is to be ratified at the same time, and not one clause before the other; but he thought there was a peculiar propriety in inserting it where it was, as it was necessary to form the government before that government could guaranty any thing.

Col. MASON thanked Mr. Lowndes for his opposition, by the desire of several gentlemen, members of that house. It had drawn forth from the other side most valuable information, and he thanked those gentlemen for the willingness with which they had given it, with so much good-nature. Those gentlemen who lived in the country were now enabled to satisfy their constituents.

The question being put, that a convention of the people should be called for the purpose of considering, and of ratifying or rejecting, the Constitution framed for the United States by a Convention of delegates assembled at Philadelphia in May last, it was unanimously agreed to.

[There will appear some omissions in what fell from Mr. Lowndes, which could not be supplied, owing to the loss of a note-book in the fire which consumed the State-House.]

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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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