Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 1787-1788: Chapter V
Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 1787-1788
Edited by John Bach McMaster and Frederick D. Stone
CHAPTER V: WHILE THE CONVENTION WAS SITTING[As soon as the work of the Convention began, the press, and particularly the anti-federal press, teemed with letters, squibs, and essays from the people at large. Some were serious, some were intended to be satirical or funny, some were in verse, and some were exceedingly silly. Yet, taken as a whole, they form a running commentary on the work of the Convention from day to day, and must be considered as a fair expression of what the people as a body thought. To give them all is impossible; a few therefore have been selected, and these, it is believed, may be safely regarded as samples of all. No attempt has been made to edit them, as they are too miscellaneous to allow of such treatment.
First, in point of time, was a petition drawn up and passed round the coffee-houses by those in favor of amending the Constitution, or referring it for amendment to a new Convention. ]
Such of the citizens of Pennsylvania as are not clearly ascertained of the propriety of adopting the proposed constitution, without amendment or farther consideration, may think it proper to join in the following petition:
To the Honorable the Delegates of the STATE CONVENTION:
The Petition of the Citizens of Pennsylvania humbly
That your petitioners, highly sensible of the benefits arising from good government, and perceiving that there were defects in the federal compact established in the infancy of our independency, assented with alacrity to a revision of the articles of confederation, in full confidence that such amendments would be made therein as would give sufficient strength and energy to the federal head, without infringing those rights of sovereignty in the several States which are necessary for the purposes of internal government, and the performance of their respective functions as members of a federal union ; or such rights of individuals as are necessary to distinguish free citizens from the subjects of despotism.
That the plan proposed by the general convention, instead of offering to our consideration such amendments as were generally expected and might be easily understood, contains a total abolition of the existing confederation, and is in itself, as a late writer expresses it, “a novelty in the practice of legislation, essentially different, both in principles and organization, from any system of government heretofore formed.” And although it may be an improvement on all those which have preceded it, and better calculated for political happiness than our present system of confederation is capable of being made, yet your petitioners conceive it is no less the duty than the right of every citizen to examine it with care and attention, and deliberately consider its probable operations and effects before he assents to the adoption of a system of such infinite importance. Accident, fraud, or force, may impose on a people a system of government to which they will yield obedience no longer than they are restrained from opposition by a power that deprives them of the freedom of citizens. But when a free people deliberately frame a government for themselves, or adopt as their deliberate choice a system which they have carefully investigated and understand, they are bound to the observance of it by other ties than those of fear: confident of acting in general concert, and of deriving reciprocal benefits, every individual will then more cheerfully yield obedience to the laws and perform the duties of a citizen. Hence it is of the highest importance that the proposed system of government should be well understood by the people in every State before it be adopted.
But your petitioners conceive that the people of Pennsylvania have not yet had sufficient time and opportunity afforded them for this purpose. Many of those who have had the best opportunity that the shortness of the time would admit, find their minds yet unsatisfied on some important points, though they may highly approve of the general structure; others, who felt a general approbation at first view, now think some amendments essentially necessary: but the great bulk of the people, from the want of leisure from other avocations; their remoteness from information, their scattered situation, and the consequent difficulty of conferring with each other, cannot yet have duly investigated and considered a system of so much magnitude, which involves so many important considerations as to require not only more time than they have yet had since it was promulged, but the combined force of many enlightened minds, to obtain a right understanding of it.
Your petitioners hope they shall be excused if they mention on this occasion some other matters which have retarded the calm investigation which a subject of this importance ought to receive. The disorderly proceedings in the city, and the unaccountable zeal and precipitation used to hurry the people into a premature decision, spread an amazement through the country, which excited jealousies and suspicions from which they could neither easily nor speedily recover. Those who became partisans in the business had their minds too much agitated to act with deliberation, and the election of delegates was rushed into before the greater part of the people had sufficiently recovered from their surprise to know what part to take in it, or how to give their suffrages; they therefore remained inactive. Your petitioners wish to be understood, however, as being far from intending to invalidate the election, or to intimate any irregularity in the members chosen, whom they respect both individually and as a body, and in whose desire to promote the welfare and happiness of the people they have much confidence; but they conceive it will operate as a strong argument in favor of the measure they request.
Your petitioners beg leave to suggest that the suspension of your final determination for a few months will not occasion any delay to the union, as divers of the States, whose determinations are of equal importance with that of Pennsylvania, will not meet in convention on this business in less than five or six months. The people of these States have wisely determined to deliberate before they delegate the power of decision. But the people of Pennsylvania, deprived of this privilege, are reduced to the necessity of asking as a favor, what they ought to have enjoyed as a right, and they confide in your wisdom and prudence to afford them an opportunity of forming, collecting and expressing their sentiments by petitions or instructions before you come to a determination which may preclude farther deliberation.
Your petitioners therefore pray that the honorable Convention will be pleased to adjourn till some day in April or May next, in order to obtain the deliberate sense of the citizens of Pennsylvania on the plan of government proposed by the late general convention. 1[An essay by "Candid" defending the work of the Federal Convention.]
The object of our present attention is the establishment of a permanent government for ourselves and posterity; than which, except what immediately concerns eternal salvation, no object of greater magnitude can be offered to human consideration.
History does not afford an instance exactly parallel with the presenta people highly civilized, in an enlightened age, in profound peace, the wisdom of the world in their hands, all theory before their eyes, and all experiment within their knowledge, resolving themselves, as it were, into a state of nature, to institute a system of government, which is to characterize their country, and on which their political happiness and safety is to depend. I say, history does not furnish an instance of such a people, so employed, and under like circumstances.
The only practicable mode of commencing this important business has been adopted. Delegates have been appointed by the respective States for the purpose of framing a system of government, and proposing it to the consideration of the people at large. In this first step you have shown a discretion and propriety not usual in popular elections. I mean as to the persons whom you appointed to this difficult and important service. Your most precious and admired characters were brought together on this occasionmen most eminent for wisdom and integritymen whose judgments could not be warped by any personal interests whatever, who were themselves to partake of the good or evil of the fruits of their deliberationsmen whose attachment to their country cannot be doubted, and whose competency to the business in hand has never been disputed. One partiality alone could influence the component parts of that most respectable body, the late Convention; and that I conceive to be a happy influence. The delegates from the respective States would naturally, and from a sense of duty, be jealous and watchful, that in the formation of a general government, no more of the specific rights or interests of each State should be sacrificed, than was absolutely necessary for the dignity, safety, and good government of the United States; and therefore, it may be supposed, as the fact really was, that they have made the best compromise of complicated interests, which the nature of the case would allow; so that the present question is not whether the government proposed is the best of all possible governments, theoretically consideredalthough if fairly investigated, it might stand even this testbut whether a better union of separate sovereignties can be obtained; or which is of still greater importance, whether if the proposed system should be rejected, the States will ever again make the same compromise.
The theory of government hath employed the pens of speculative and learned men in every age; and yet no system hath ever been formed which is not liable to many positive and many more probable evils and objections. A scheme of government which shall invest the rulers with efficient powers, without a possibility of these powers being in any instance abused or misapplied, should be sought for by those only who are looking for inc philosopher’s stone, or the perpetual motion. But supposing it were possible to form a political system unexceptionable in theory, it would be found unexceptionable in theory only. The temper, genius, and internal circumstances of the country to which it is to be applied, must be considered, otherwise the people might be very unhappy under this best of all possible schemes.
In governments, two extremes are positively evilan uncontrolled and unresponsible tyranny on the one hand, and such a relaxed state on the other, as is insufficient for defence or good order, in which all men are put upon a level, without regard to virtue, merit, or abilities, and in which he who can practise most upon the credulity and indolence of the multitude, will have the best opportunities of gratifying his ambition and avarice. Between these extremes are many degrees of excellence; many combinations of forms and dispositions of delegated power, which may be suited to the circumstances of different nations, and yet all liable to ingenious objections by those who may think it their interest to magnify possible evils, and hold up imaginary dangers.
If a people should remain without any government, until a system could be framed so seemingly perfect in itself as to be impregnable to all criticism, they would wait till fallible man should do that which the Deity at least bath not done. The government of the Jews, which was a pure theocracy, was not so perfect, but that people frequently murmured and rebelled.
After our struggles for liberty and independence were crowned with acknowledged success, the politicians of Europe looked to see the sun of our glory rise; but a long night hath followed. Our federal union hath become insignificantalmost contemptible. No one will be so hardy as to assert that our situation as a nation, is either happy or honorable. And how long shall we remain in this situation? Until all malcontents shall be satisfied ? Until the unanimous consent of the people shall be obtained ? Be not deceivedthose who oppose this constitution, under a pretended zeal for the liberties of the people, would with equal zeal, and under the same pretences, oppose every other that could be offered. I know not how it may be in the other States, but in Pennsylvania we need only look at the men to know their motives. If we wait till these men are satisfied, we shall wait till some Shays, some desperate adventurer, shall rise in the blast of popular confusion into influence and importance, and frame a government for us in a camp. And then, a very short answer will suffice for all objections real and imaginary.
It is timeit is high timethat we had an efficient government, in which the wisdom and strength of the United States may be concentered. The fable of the man and his sons and the bundle of sticks, may with propriety be extended beyond the usual interpretation of mere mental concord. The moral of the fable requires not only a bundle of sticks, but a bundle of sticks bound together, for a union of strength. An efficient federal government is the only cord that can bind our States together for any length of time. For want of this bond of union, Rhode Island, which is but a twig in the bundle, hath already shewn symptoms of disaffection.
The establishment of a good and respectable government for the United States, was an event which the leading men of a party in Pennsylvania neither wished for, nor expected. Their hope was, that the delegates from the different States would never unite in any system. But when it was discovered that a frame of government was indeed likely to be fixed upon, and was nearly ripe for promulgation, some of the party were so indiscreet as to declare their intended opposition, even before they knew the system they were determined to oppose. But the more cunning, though not less adverse, waited till the Convention had announced their plan, and even then, these politicians affected to be in its favor, and with its success, until by an unexpected motion in the House of Assembly, they were compelled to throw off the mask, and declare themselves openly. They wished to prevent even the first step for bringing the federal government into existence. They saw plainly, that a majority of the House would be for recommending it to the people of the State at large to appoint delegates in their behalf to consider, and if proper, give the assent of this State to the proposed plan. In this emergency they played off a stroke of wicked policy, which the same party had once before found successful. As many of the malcontents, or rather tools of real malcontents, as were sufficient to break up the House, abandoned their seats; but even this manoeuvre did not answer the purpose. An accident not looked for, defeated the pernicious intent, and the House have legally, and in complete organization, recommended that a State Convention should be called, and pointed out the time and mode of doing it.
The disappointed partisans are now filling the newspapers with loud outcries against the proposed constitution. They have invoked Hecate to their aid; called up spirits from the vasty deep, and presented raw-head and bloody-bones to the people; weak and nervous politicians are even terrified by their incantations. But the fallacy consists in this: These writers consider the proposed constitution as vesting governmental powers in strangers to be imported from God knows what country, whose interests and those of the people of the United States are not only separate from, but opposed to each other. And in this view they descant largely on the dangers and evils to be apprehended. Upon no other ground can their arguments prove of any force. But the truth is, that this Federal Assembly, this Senate, and this President of the United States, are to be composed of our own brethren, of men of our own appointment, taken from amongst ourselves; whose interests must go hand in hand with ours; who, if they do evil, must partake of that evil. If they enslave others, they cannot leave their own children free. If they involve the country in ruin, they cannot provide a Goshen for themselves, their families and friends; for their power will neither be perpetual nor hereditary. The constitution ordains a frequent recurrence to the people for the choice of their legislators and principal officers, all of whom are responsible for their conduct, and the component parts of the system mutually control and check each other, in all cases where checks and controls are consistent with good government.
But this good constitution may be corrupted and abused, say the opposers; and so indeed it may. From a like argument, divine wisdom would have never made man, because his body is subject to disorders; much less would man have been entrusted with freedom of will, because it is too manifest that he can make a bad use of it. For the same reason, we should not eat for fear of indigestion, or drink for fear of a dropsy, should never travel lest we lose our way, or go to sea because we may be shipwrecked. Some hazard must attend all human transactions, and the event of the most simple pursuit cannot be ascertained with certainty.
Imagination has been wearied with efforts to vilify the Federal Constitution proposed by the late convention; but if nothing more substantial can be urged against it, we may well pronounce it to be most worthy of our acceptance. The irresistible voice of the people seems to be in its favor; and I hope, and I doubt not but that it will be established to the honor and safety of the United States, and to the confusion of their enemies internal and external.
[Report of a Committee of Citizens.]
CATO’S SOLILOQUY PARODIED.
It must be soKm, thou reason’d well!
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after offices of State?
Or whence this secret dread, and inward horror,
Of falling into nought? Why shrink our souls,
And startle at the Federal Government?
‘Tis interest, dear self-interest stirs within us,
And tells us that a Federal government
Is bane, is prison to State demagogues.
A Federal governmentO dreadful thought!
Through what variety of untried being,
Through what new scenes and changes must we pass?
The wide unbounded prospect lies before us;
But shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.
State sovereignty we’ll hold: for if there is
A power superior that we must submit to,
(And that there must be, reason cries aloud
Through all the land) it may be just and virtuous;
Defeat our views, and make a nation happy.
I fear! I fear !This State is not for Km.
But time must soon decideMy death and life,3
My bane and antidote, are both before me:
This in a moment brings me to an end,
And this informs me I shall still he great.
My interest well secur’d, I’ll smile at those
Poor easy tools, I’ve dup’d to serve my purpose ;
And mock at all the clamors of good men.
Patriots may shrink away-Fabius himself,
And Franklin dim with age, lament with tears
Their toils, their cares, with virtues, all were vain,
If I but flourish in the general ruin,
Unhurt amidst the war of jarring States,
The wrecks of property, and crush of justice.
What means this heaviness that hangs upon me?
This lethargy that creeps through all my senses ?
Nature oppress’d, and harrass’d out with care,
Sinks down to rest. I’ll try to favor her,
That my awaken’d genius may arise,
With force renew’d to invent new fallacies
To puzzle and deceive. Let fears alarm
The patriot’s breastKm knows none of them !
Indifferent in his choice, if good or ill
Betide his country, if he govern still. 4
For the Independent Gazetteer.
Mr. Printer: It has been often said, concerning the proposed constitution, that those who complained of its faults, should suggest amendments. A number of citizens, warmly desirous of promoting the establishment of a well organized federal government; and perceiving in each other, sentiments inclining to harmony, formed a committee of their own members to examine and consider the proposed constitution, with instructions to report such amendments, and such only as they should deem absolutely necessary to safety in the adoption of it, paying equal regard to its practicability and efficiency as a system of government on the one hand, and to those rights which are essential to free citizens in a state of society on the other.
The report having been read, a motion was made to adopt it; but after some debate, in which some of the members declared that their minds had already undergone some changes, and that their opinions were not yet satisfactorily established, it was thought proper that further time should be taken to deliberate and advise with their fellow citizens on a subject of such high importance and general concernment. It was therefore agreed that the question should be postponed for further consideration, and that in the meantime the report be published. By giving it a place in your paper, you will oblige
The committee to whom was referred the plan proposed by the late general convention, for the government of the United States, report,
That in the examination of the said plan, they have conceived it to be their duty to exercise the freedom which the magnitude of the trust reposed in them required; at the same time, that they have kept constantly in mind the respect and deference due to the great characters who formed the plan, and that candor and liberality of construction which are necessary in forming a just opinion of a national compact is which the citizens of every State in the Union, having an equal interest, are equally parties.
Under these impressions, your committee have taken the said plan into their most serious consideration; and though they find much in it which merits approbation, yet the duty they owe to their constituents and to their country, obliges them to propose some alterations, which they should deem necessary, considering it merely with regard to practicability as a system of government; and when to this consideration are added the propriety of preserving to the respective States so much of their sovereignty as may be necessary to enable them to manage their internal concerns, and to perform their respective functions as members of a federal republic, and of preserving to individuals such rights as are essential to freemen in a state of society, the necessity of making such alterations appear to your committee irresistibly strong.
There are four points in which your committee apprehend alterations are absolutely necessary before the plan can with safety be put in operation, namely:
The Judicial Department.
The Legislative Power, so far as it is independent of the House of Representatives.
Divers other amendments might with propriety be proposed, some of which might be comprehended in a bill of rights, or table of fundamental principles, so declared and established as to govern the construction of the powers given by the constitution; but your committee avoid to mention them in detail, because if suitable amendments are made respecting the points enumerated, the necessity for going farther on the present occasion, though not entirely done away, will be so far diminished, as that it may be thought advisable to leave them to future consideration, on such suggestions as time and experience shall offer.
Your committee therefore proposes the following amendmentsArt. i, sect. 4, strike out these wordsbut the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of choosing senators.
Art. I, sect. 8, strike out tax and excises[and so throughout the plan make such amendments as may be necessary in conformity with this idea] at the end of the clause, add” To make requisitions, in the proportion aforesaid, on the several States in the Union, for such supplies of money as shall be necessary, in aid of the other revenues, for these purposes; leaving to the States respectively, the mode of levying and collecting the same: Provided, that if any State shall neglect or refuse to pass an act for complying with any such requisition, or shall otherwise neglect or refuse to pay its quota of any such requisition within the time therein limited, it shall be in the power of the Congress on any such delinquency, by law, to direct the levying and collecting of such quota, together with such farther sum as may be necessary to defray the expense thereof, and interest from the time it ought to have been paid, from the persons and estates of the inhabitants of such delinquent State, according to the mode of assessment by law established in such State; or in default of such establishment, by such modes and means as the Congress shall by law establish for that purpose.”
Art. 3, sect. 2, clause 1st.Strike out the words between citizens of different States. After the words “between a State,” strike out, or the citizens thereof.
Clause 2dStrike out both as to law and fact.
These two clauses will then stand as follows:
” The judicial power shall extend to cases in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made, under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more States; between a State and citizens of another State; between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States; and between a State and foreign States, citizens or subjects.
” In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a State shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before-mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, with such exceptions and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.”
Art. 6, clause 2After the word ” notwithstanding,” insert “provided that every such treaty which shall hereafter be made shall have been laid before the House of Representatives, and have obtained the approbation of so many of the members of that House as shall be a majority of the whole number elected.”
And your committee submit the following resolutions to consideration:
That the foregoing amendments to the plan of government formed by the late general convention, be transmitted to the United States in Congress assembled.
That Congress be requested to recommend to the several States in the union, that delegates be elected by the people of the said States respectively, to meet in general convention at on the day of next, to take into consideration the said amendments, together with such amendments as shall be proposed by the several State conventions, and to revise and amend the said plan of government is such manner as they shall agree upon, not altering the form as it now stands, farther than shall be necessary to accommodate it to such of the amendments which shall be so proposed to them, as they, or the representatives of any nine or more States, shall agree to adopt; and that in case the plan so agree upon shall be assented to by the vote of every State which shall be represented in such Convention, they shall have power, without further reference to the people, to declare the same the Constitution or frame of government of the United States, and it shall thereupon be accepted and acted upon accordingly. 5[A criticism of the report by "Columbus.]
” Be the workmen what they may be, let us speak of the work.”
A late publication in your paper, in the form of a Report of a Committee, has afforded both information and satisfaction to divers of your readers. It were to be wished that societies, of the kind of that to which the committee reported, were formed in every neighborhood, and that more time had been taken by the people, by such or other means, to possess themselves of a more accurate knowledge of a subject so highly interesting to every individual, before the men were fixed upon who should possess the power of deciding for them on a subject of the highest sublunary importance to them and their posterity.
The members of the general convention had the matter several months under daily discussion and debate. Every thought which occurred to any one was communicated to and examined by every one, so that every one had time and opportunity to trace the purport and tendency of every clause and sentence, separately considered, as well as the probable effect and influence of the combined whole; but these deliberations were kept within their own walls with the secrecy of a conclave. The people expected the result would be an amendment of the federal compact, on such points only as had been generally spoken of as defective. Their minds were prepared for such amendments as they could easily judge of; and come to a speedy decision upon. But instead of the old instrument being repaired and amended, we are called upon to consider it as totally dissolved, and its component party reduced to a state of nature.
The constitution proposed in its stead is confessedly, even by the framers of it, a novelty in the practice of legislation, essentially different, both in principles and organization, from any system of government heretofore formed, either by force, fraud, accident, or the deliberate consent of a people. It may be, as some of its sanguine advocates have asserted, the best form that was ever offered to a people; but we should remember, that what may be, may not be; and however ready we may be to adopt measures on the credit of others, in matters of lighter moment, the subject before us is certainly a matter of too much consequence to be decided upon without thorough examination, and more deliberation than the citizens of Pennsylvania have had an opportunity of exercising. For although a few individuals who were in the General Convention may have given it a sufficient degree of investigation to satisfy their own minds; yet it may be fairly said of the people at large, that they could not possibly have given it a due degree of examination at the time, that they were in a manner surprised into a kind of surrender of the right of further deliberation, by the election of delegates to express their final decision. It has been said, that a small proportion only of the voters in the State (hardly a sixth part) gave their suffrages on this occasion; and it may fairly be presumed, circumstances considered, that a large proportion of those who did not vote, declined it because they found themselves unqualified, from the mere want of such information as every citizen ought to possess, before he gives his weight on either side, on a question of so much importance.
Will the members of the State convention, thus possessed of the power, run hastily into the adoption, in toto, of a plan of government which, in the opinion of a large proportion of their constituents, cannot with safety be put in operation, without very essential amendments? Or will they not rather assent either to make the necesary amendments the condition of their agreeing to the plan, or to adjourn for a reasonable time, in order to obtain the deliberate sense of their constituents on a matter of so much importance? Those who mean to act fairly, can hardly withhold their assent to such an adjournment, except it be on the score of expense, and the trouble of reassembling. But surely these are considerations too light to be placed in opposition to the object. The delay can occasion no real loss of time as to the final event, because the accession of other States will be necessary to give operation to the plan; and we know that divers of the State conventions will not meet to deliberate upon it before May or June. Why then should we be denied a reasonable time for deliberation? If the system be a good one and calculated to promote the happiness of the people, the more it is examined and understood, the more generally will it be approved of; but if it should be otherwise, it can hardly be expected that the people would acquiesce in a determination, which they might suppose had been unfairly obtained.6
COLUMBUS.[A criticism of M' Kean.]
Mr. Oswald: What a contracted soul must that man have, who does not think that inestimable jewel, that greatest of blessings, Liberty, is worth contending for; who advises his fellow citizens, when they have the alternative within their reach, to submit to tyranny without a struggle, because the life of man is such a span, seldom more than three-score years. 7. Indeed the votaries of despotism must hereafter give the palm of superior merit to him, for he hath discovered that a good government is the greatest curse that can be inflicted on mankind ; for, says he, it attaches men too much to this sublunary scene, it makes them reluctant to quit their earthly tabernacles. On his principle the Turks are supremely blessed, who suffering under constant oppression, can have no inducement to wish their existance prolonged; they must be in a constant state of preparation to make their exit.8
A BYE-STANDER.[A criticism of Mr. Whitehill.]
Substance of a speech, delivered by J. Whll, Esquire, in convention, on last Monday evening.
Mr. President: It has been said that Congress will have power, by the new Constitution, to lay an impost on the importation of slaves into these States; but that they will have no power to impose any tax upon the migration of Europeans. Do the gentlemen, sir, mean to insult our understandings, when they assert this ? Or are they ignorant of the English language? If, because of their ignorance, they are at a loss, I can easily explain this clause for them. The words “migration” and “importation,” sir, being connected by the disjunctive conjunction “or,” certainly mean either migration, or importation ;; either the one, or the other; or both. Therefore, when we say “a tax may be laid upon such importation, we mean, either upon the importation, or migration; or upon both ; for, because they are joined together, in the first instance, by the disjunctive conjunction or, they are both synonymous terms for the same thingtherefore, “such importation,” because the comparative word such, is used, means both importation and migration.
Mr. Oswald. As the above learned exposition may be a valuable acquisition to our English commentators, it may not be amiss, at this time, to demonstrate the truth of it, for the benefit of the ignorant, to whom it may seem rather paradoxical.
Suppose the Legislature of Pennsylvania should say” French or British ships shall be allowed to come into our ports; but such British ships shall be taxed,” etc.Here, it is evident, that the French ships, as well as the British, would be obliged to pay tax, imposed as above; for they are connected by the disjunctive conjunction orErgo, French ships and British ships are the same thingalso importation and migrationQ. E. D.
I shall conclude, sir, with observing that were all the the members of our convention capable, like Mr. Whll, of dissecting, analyzing, and explaining, the new Constitution, they would be able in a few days to pass a judgment upon it : and thus there would be upwards of 14,000 dollars saved to the State ; for, it is very probable they will sit nearly as long, in discussing the new Constitution, as the federal convention did in framing it.
PUFF.9 [The Minority of the Convention denounced.]
Mr. Oswald: Who are those “24 virtuous characters who compose the minority in the Convention, whose souls have been tried in the late glorious war,” we are told of in Mr. Bailey’s paper of this day? In what manner have their souls been tried? Where was Mr. Sy the day of the battle of Brandywine? Did he command the right or left wing of the army of the United States? Did he dispute rank, on that day, with Major General Lord Sterling? Was that the cause of his Lordship’s putting him in the guard-house? Or did his Lordship consider him a suspicious character? A Spy! Where was Mr. Fy and Mr. Rt Wll, during the late glorious war? Go through the whole antifederal junto, and you will find few real whigs amongst them! No Sir, good whigs are good members and supports of good government! Sir, we have a Constitution offered us by the United States for our acceptance, in which all the real and disinterested whigs will unite: and which the good whigs will adopt. I believe, Sir, the only antifederalists in this or the neighboring States, are the street or sunshine whigs, and office holders who know that as the number of offices and officers will be lessened, they are unwilling to part with then. There will be no such thing under the federal Constitution as creating offices for the purpose of making a favorite an officer, at the expense of the people. 10/A>
A TRUE WHIG.[Cost of the Convention.]
Mr. Oswald: I am afraid we have got into a scrape by putting so many counsellors, judges, assemblymen and lawyers into our State Convention. They are spending a wonderful deal of their time and our money. I wish we had put in plain folks, not so much used to talking in public. I would not wish to hurry them, but that I think, if they do not like the Constitution proposed, they should say so at once. A week would have been time enough to talk the matter over, and then they might have taken the question. Really, Sir, public expenses are so great, trade so hampered, for want of power in Congress, produce of course so low, and living so expensive, that any needless charge is death to us, however great the sport is to them, who spend the money. I hope therefore the House will take the question very soon.11
Germantown Township, Dec. 4, 1787.[A call for the question.]
Messrs. Dunlap and Claypoole: I have attended some of the debates of the convention, as well as your correspondent in this day’s paper, who signs himself “One of the People.”
I have listened with attention to the monotonous and pertinacious Whitehill, to the zealous Smilie, and to the candid, thoughtful Findley. On the other side of the room I have heard with conviction the clear and rational arguments of the Chief Justice, the good sense of Yeates, the fervency of Chambers, the pathos and imagination of Rush, the nervous thinking and correct eloquence of Wilson. I have heard in the gallery the whispers of approbation circulate, as true federal sentiments have been well expressed or happily introduced by the speakers; I have seen those who wished for the establishment of the proposed government return more zealous for it than before; I have seen those who went there undetermined depart in full decision to support it. I have enquired abroad for the opponents of the plan, and have found them almost uniformly the possessors or expectants of office, with their nearest friends and connections. I have seen the presses loaded with anti-federal compositions and the federal government almost left to defend itself. I have sought for the effect so many publications must have had on the public mind, and have almost everywhere met with confessions, that, objectionable as it might be, in the present situation of things we could not expect a better. I have seen the farmer storing his grain, the merchant suspending his enterprises, and the men of ready money hoarding up their cash, till the operation of the government should give activity and confidence to the people of this country in their dealings abroad and with each other. I have seen the landholders assemble and make an offer of territory, and I have witnessed the hopes of the manufacturers and mechanics that their offer may be accepted. I have noticed an anxiety lest Pennsylvania, often the leader, and always amongst the foremost in useful and distinguished measures, should suffer two of her weakest sisters to anticipate her laurels. I have at length heard something like murmurs, that the people of Pennsylvania should spend their time in debates, which being conducted without order, promise no certain end, in which the issue of the argument can only be guessed at from the countenance of the members, and the final vote upon the acceptance or rejection of the whole cannot possibly (for the reasons given) be influenced by this discussion on its parts; and I have heard it said, that however suitable these disquisitions might be in an academy of petty critics, or a divan of trembling slaveswhere the evidence and ingenuity in one, or the exercise of freedom by the other, might consist in the dissection of a sentence, or the explanation of a synonima; yet it would be more manly, more characteristic of a convention of freemen, at once to put the question: Shall we be happy or miserable, powerful or contemptible? Shall Pennsylvania adopt or reject the Federal Government? 12
Wednesday, Dec. 5th. Yours, E. G. O. [Reply to James Wilson.]
Mr. Oswald: In your paper of the 16th instant, some person under the signature of Puff or Froth, I don’t now recollect which, came forward in the shape of a critique, and demonstrated it very clearly that a gallon of air would be necessary to support him, while he carped at a grammatical error, which he pretended to have discovered in Mr. J Whhll’s speech in Convention. But Mr. Oswald, how many gallons of air would it require to support this Dr. Froth, while he described all the errors of a different complexion made by members on his side of the houseI will mention a few, such as when J s Wlsn, Esquire, declared that German or Irish indented servants, imported, were not articles of commerce, and therefore not subject to the tax of 10 dollars eachbut that freemen were properly articles of commerce, (as well as blacks).
That Virgina and most of the other States had no bills of rights, and therefore we ought not to have one; and added he, ” some member said there would be no harm in having one, but it is my opinion that there would be much harm in it, and it would also put it out of the power of our independent judges to show their firmness in checking the lawmakers” (who appoints them, and who have the power to impeach and discard them).
Now, Mr. Oswald, I thought it was a bill of rights ascertaining the bounds of the legislative power, that gave the judges a right to say when the laws were unconstitutional, and therefore void.
The bill of rights of our Constitution, Mr. Wlsn declared had been of great hurt. Do not you remember that it was the only thing saved you, when Judge Jeffries called you to his bar;it was jury trial and the declaration of the freedom of the press which checked him, and saved you and the press from being crushed, at that time. But Jefferies hopes soon to be Judge and fury. He and Mr. Wlsn Saturday in Convention interrupted a member while speaking, and declared that jury trial never existed in Sweden or in any other country, out of Great Britain and America. O Truth, where art thou gone? Fled from the councils of America! Are we thus to be fooled out of the transcendant privilege of freemen, trial by jury of our peers (or equals), and in the place of it be tried by corrupted judges?
It is thus that lawyers are allowed to rob us of our dearest privilegesto serve themselves? Law will become a bottomless pit, indeed, if our right worshipful judgeships are allowed to re-examine and judge of facts as well as law, in their continental courts.13
ONE OR THE PEOPLE.[Conduct of the Majority of the Convention.]
Mr. Oswald: I am a sober, orderly citizen, not wise enough to frame governments, nor weak enough to act contrary to my conscience. If any thing could induce me to oppose the new Constitution, it would be the indecent, supercilious carriage of its advocates towards its opponents, which I take to indicate the spirit of the system itself. Every insult offered to the minority is offered to the State, which they, as well as the majority, represent; and it surely will not be denied that for general reasoning the friends do not muster stronger than the enemies of this plan. I declare to you, Sir, that the management of this business has shaken the faith of
From the Pennsylvania Packet, Dec. II, 1787. Return to Text
2. From the Pennsylvania Packet, Nov. 27th. Return to Text
3. Pointing to the Federal system and State constitution. Return to Text
4. Independent Gazetteer, Nov. 27, 1787. Return to text
5. From the Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 1, 1787. Return to text
6. Pennsylvania Packet, Dec. 8, 1787. Return to text
7. This is the substance of a speech delivered by Cf Je M’Kn in the Convention on Tuesday last. Return to text
8. Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 1, 1787. Return to text
9. Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 6, 1787. Return to text
10. Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 6, 1787. Return to text
11. Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 6, 1878. Return to text
12. Pennsylvania Packet, Dec. 8, 1787. Return to text
13. Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 11, 1787. Return to text
14. Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 11, 1787. Return to text