Elliot’s Debates: Volume 4

Convention of South Carolina

Tuesday, May 20, 1788.

This day the Convention went through the discussion of the Federal Constitution by paragraphs.

Mr. ALEXANDER TWEED, of Prince Frederick, said: Since I came to town, I have more than once heard it asserted, that the representatives of the parish of Prince Frederick were, prior to their election, put under promise to their constituents, that they should by no means give their sanction to the adoption of the new Constitution. Any such restriction, sir, on my own part, I deny. Had they taken upon them so far as to dictate for me, I should have spurned at the idea, and treated such proposals with that contempt they would have justly merited; and I am clearly of opinion, and I think warranted to say, that these are the sentiments and situation of (at least) some others of my colleagues. Notwithstanding, sir, from all I have heard or can learn, the general voice of the people is against it. For my own part, Mr. President, I came not here to echo the voice of my constituents, nor determined to approve or put a negative upon the Constitution proposed. I came with a mind open to conviction, in order to hear what, in the course of the debates of this house, might be said for and against it. Much, very much, sir, has been advanced on both sides. The matter in hand I look upon to be the most important and momentous that ever came before the representatives of the people of South Carolina. We were told, sir, some days ago, by a learned and honorable gentleman now on the floor, that, as our case at present stood, we must adopt the Constitution proposed; for, if we did not, in all probability some powerful despot might start up and seize the reins of government Another learned and honorable gentleman on my left hand said, we must look up to it as the rock of our salvation. To make short, sir, necessitas non habet legem was the word.

Those gentlemen, Mr. President, and some others, members of this respectable Convention,—whose profound oratory and elocution would, on the journals of a British House of Commons, stand as lasting monuments of their great abilities,—a man of my circumscribed scale of talents is not adequate to the task of contending with; nor have I a turn for embellishing my language, or bedecking it with all the flowers of rhetoric. In a word, Mr. President, my idea of the matter now under our consideration is, that we very much stand in need of a reform of government, as the very sinews of our present constitution are relaxed. But, sir, I would fondly hope that our case is not so bad as represented. Are we invaded by a foreign enemy? Or are the bowels of our country torn to pieces by insurrections and intestine broils? I answer, No.

Sir, admit but this, and then allow me to ask if history furnishes us with a single instance of any nation, state, or people, who had it more in their power than we at present have to frame for ourselves a perfect, permanent, free, and happy constitution. The Constitution, sir, now under consideration, was framed (I shall say) by the wisdom of a General Convention of the United States; it now lies before us to wait our concurrence or disapprobation. We, sir, as citizens and freemen, have an undoubted right of judging for ourselves; it therefore behoves us most seriously to consider, before we determine a matter of such vast magnitude. We are not acting for ourselves alone, but, to all appearance, for generations unborn.

Speech of Mr. CHARLES PINCKNEY, on the 10th Section of Article 1st of the Federal Constitution.

This section I consider as the soul of the Constitution—as containing, in a few words, those restraints upon the states, which, while they keep them from interfering with the powers of the Union, will leave them always in a situation to comply with their federal duties—will teach them to cultivate those principles of public honor and private honesty which are the sure road to national character and happiness.

The only parts of this section that are objected to are those which relate to the emission of paper money, and its consequences, tender-laws, and the impairing the obligation of contracts.

The other parts are supposed as exclusively belonging to, and such as ought to be vested in, the Union.

If we consider the situation of the United States as they are at present, either individually or as the members of a general confederacy, we shall find it extremely improper they should ever he intrusted with the power of emitting money, or interfering in private contracts; or, by means of tender-laws, impairing the obligation of contracts.

I apprehend these general reasonings will be found true with respect to paper money: That experience has shown that, in every state where it has been practised since the revolution, it always carries the gold and silver out of the country, and impoverishes it—that, while it remains, all the foreign merchants, trading in America, must suffer and lose by it; therefore, that it must ever be a discouragement to commerce—that every medium of trade should have an intrinsic value, which paper money has not; gold and silver are therefore the fittest for this medium, as they are an equivalent, which paper can never be—that debtors in the assemblies will, whenever they can, make paper money with fraudulent views—that in those states where the credit of the paper money has been best supported, the bills have never kept to their nominal value in circulation, but have constantly depreciated to a certain degree.

I consider it as a granted position that, while the productions of a state are useful to other countries, and can find a ready sale at foreign markets, there can be no doubt of their always being able to command a sufficient sum in specie to answer as a medium for the purposes of carrying on this commerce; provided there is no paper money, or other means of conducting it. This, I think, will be the case even in instances where the balance of trade is against a state; but where the balance is in favor, or where there is nearly as much exported as imported, there can be no doubt that the products will be the means of always introducing a sufficient quantity of specie,

If we were to be governed by partial views, and each state was only to consider how far a general regulation suited her own interests, I think it can be proved there is no state in the Union which ought to be so anxious to have this part of the Constitution passed as ourselves

We are to reflect that this Constitution is not framed to answer temporary purposes. We hope it will last for ages—that it will be the perpetual protector of our rights and properties.

This state is, perhaps, of all others, more blessed in point of soil and productions than any in the Union. Notwithstanding all her sufferings by the war, the great quantity of lands still uncultivated, and the little attention she pays to the improvement of agriculture, she already exports more than any state in the Union, (except Virginia,) and in a little time must exceed her.

Exports are a surer mode of determining the productive wealth of a country than any other, and particularly when these products are in great demand in foreign countries.

Thus circumstanced, where can be the necessity of paper money? Will you not have specie in sufficient quantities? Will you not have more money in circulation without paper money than with it?—I mean, without having only paper in such quantities as you are able to maintain the credit of, as at present. I aver you may, and appeal only to the experience of the last five or six years. Will it not be confessed that, in 1783 and 1784, we had more money than we have at present, and that the emission of your present paper banished double the amount out of circulation? Besides, if paper should become necessary, the general government still possess the power of emitting it, and Continental paper, well funded, must ever answer the purpose better than state paper.

How extremely useful and advantageous must this restraint be to those states which mean to be honest, and not to defraud their neighbors! Henceforth, the citizens of the states may trade with each other without fear of tender-laws or laws impairing the nature of contracts. The citizen of South Carolina will then be able to trade with those of Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Georgia, and be sure of receiving the value of his commodities. Can this be done at present? It cannot! However just the demand may be yet still your honest, suffering citizen must be content to receive their depreciated paper, or give up the debt.

But above all, how much will this section tend to restore your credit with foreigners—to rescue your national character from that contempt which must ever follow the most flagrant violations of public faith and private honesty! No more shall paper money, no more shall tender laws, drive their commerce from our shores, and darken the American name in every country where it is known. No more shall our citizens conceal in their coffers those treasures which the weakness and dishonesty of our government have long hidden from the public eye. The firmness of a just and even system shall bring them into circulation, and honor the virtue shall be again known and countenanced among us. No more shall the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, become the miserable victims of unjust rulers. Your government shall now, indeed, be a government of laws. The arm of Justice shall be lifted on high; and the poor and the rich, the strong and the weak, shall be equally protected in their rights. Public as well as private confidence shall again be established; industry shall return among us; and the blessings of our government shall verify that old, but useful maxim, that which states, as well as individuals, honesty is the best policy.

Speech of Mr. PATRICK DOLLARD, of Prince Frederick’s.

Mr. President, I rise, with the greatest diffidence, to speak on this occasion, not only knowing myself unequal to the task, but believing this to be the most important question that ever the good people of this state were called together to deliberate upon. This Constitution has been ably supported, and ingeniously glossed over by many able and respectable gentlemen in this house, whose reasoning, aided by the most accurate eloquence, might strike conviction even in the predetermined breast, had they a good cause to support. Conscious that they have not, and also conscious of my inability to point out the consequences of its defects, which have in some measure been defined by able gentlemen in this house, I shall therefore confine myself within narrow bounds; that is, concisely to make known the sense and language of my constituents. The people of Prince Frederick’s Parish, whom I have the honor to represent, are a brave, honest, and industrious people: In the late bloody contest, they bore a conspicuous part, when they fought, bled, and conquered, in defence of their civil rights and privileges, which they expected to transmit untainted to their posterity. They are nearly all, to a man, opposed to this new Constitution, because, they say they have omitted to insert a bill of rights therein, ascertaining and fundamentally establishing, the unalienable rights of men, without a full, free, and secure enjoyment of which there can be no liberty, and over which it is not necessary that a good government should have the control. They say that they are by no means against vesting Congress with ample and sufficient powers; but to make over to them, or any set of men, their birthright, comprised in Magna Charta, which this new Constitution absolutely does, they can never agree to. Notwithstanding this they have the highest opinion of the virtues and abilities of the honorable gentlemen from this state, who represented us in the General Convention; and also a few other distinguished characters, whose names will be transmitted with honor to future ages; but I believe, at the same time, they are but mortal, and, therefore, liable to err; and as the virtue and abilities of those gentlemen will consequently recommend their being first employed in jointly conducting the reins of this government, they are led to believe it will commence in a moderate aristocracy: but, that it will, in its future operations, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt and oppressive aristocracy, they have no manner of doubt. Lust of dominion is natural in every soil, and the love of power and superiority is as prevailing in the United States, at present, as in any part of the earth; yet in this country, depraved as it is, there still remains a strong regard for liberty: an American bosom is apt to glow at the sound of it, and the splendid merit of preserving that best gift of God, which is mostly expelled from every country in Europe, might stimulate Indolence, and animate even Luxury to consecrate herself at the altar of freedom.

My constituents are highly alarmed at the large and rapid strides which this new government has taken towards despotism. They say it is big with political mischiefs, and pregnant with a greater variety of impending woes to the good people of the Southern States, especially South Carolina, than all the plagues supposed to issue from the poisonous box of Pandora. They say it is particularly calculated for the meridian of despotic aristocracy; that it evidently tends to promote the ambitions views of a few able and designing men, and enslave the rest; that it carries with it the appearance of an old phrase, formerly made use of in despotic reigns, and especially by Archbishop Laud, in the reign of Charles I., that is, “non-resistance.” They say they will resist against it; that they will not accept of it unless compelled by force of arms, which this new Constitution plainly threatens; and then, they say, your standing army, like Turkish janizaries enforcing despotic laws, must ram it down their throats with the points of bayonets. They warn the gentlemen of this Convention, as the guardians of their liberty, to beware how they will be accessory to the disposal of, or rather sacrificing, their dear-bought rights and privileges. This is the sense and language, Mr. President, of the people; and it is an old saying, and I believe a very true one, that the general voice of the people is the voice of God. The general voice of the people, to whom I am responsible, is against it. I shall never betray the trust resposed in me by them; therefore, shall give my hearty dissent.

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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

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The Federal Pillars

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Interactive Ratification Map

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