Thursday, August 16 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama

In Convention, — Mr. RANDOLPH, having thrown into a new form the motion putting votes, resolutions, &c. on a footing with bills, renewed it as follows: “Every order, resolution, or vote, to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary, (except on a question of adjournment, and in the cases hereinafter mentioned,) shall be presented to the President for his revision; and before the same shall have force, shall be approved by him, or, being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the case of a bill.”

Mr. SHERMAN thought it unnecessary, except as to votes taking money out of the treasury, which might be provided for in another place.

On the question as moved by Mr. RANDOLPH, it was agreed to, — New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 9; New Jersey, no, — 1; Massachusetts, not present.

The amendment was made a fourteenth section of Article 6.

Article 7, Sect. 1, was then taken up.

Mr. L. MARTIN asked, what was meant by the Committee of Detail in the expression, — “duties”, and “imposts.” If the meaning were the same the former was unnecessary; if different, the matter ought to be made clear.

Mr. WILSON. Duties are applicable to many objects to which the word imposts does not relate. The latter are appropriated to commerce, the former extends to a variety of objects, as stamp duties, &c.

Mr. CARROLL reminded the Convention of the great difference of interests among the States; and doubts the propriety, in that point of view, of letting a majority be a quorum.

Mr. MASON urged the necessity of connecting with the powers levying taxes, duties, &c., the prohibition in Article 6, Sect. 4, “that no tax should be laid on exports.” He was unwilling to trust to its being done in a future article. He hoped the Northern States did not mean to deny the Southern this security. It would hereafter be as desirable to the former, when the latter should become the most populous. He professed his jealousy for the productions of the Southern, or, as he called them, the staple States. He moved to insert the following amendment: “provided, that no tax, duty, or imposition, shall be laid by the Legislature of the United States on articles exported from any State.”

Mr. SHERMAN had no objection to the proviso here, other than that it would derange the parts of the Report, as made by the Committee, to take them in such an order.

Mr. RUTLEDGE. It being of no consequence in what order points are decided, he should vote for the clause as it stood, but on condition that the subsequent part relating to negroes should also be agreed to.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS considered such a proviso as inadmissible anywhere. It was so radically objectionable, that it might cost the whole system the support of some members. He contended that it would not in some cases be equitable to tax imports without taxing exports; and that taxes on exports would be often the most easy and proper of the two.

Mr. MADISON. First, the power of laying taxes on exports is proper in itself; and as the States cannot with propriety exercise it separately, it ought to be vested in them collectively. Secondly, it might with particular advantage be exercised with regard to articles in which America was not rivalled in foreign markets, as tobacco, &c. the contract between the French Farmers-General and Mr. MORRIS, stipulating that, if taxes should be laid in America on the export of tobacco, they should be paid by the Farmers, showed that it was understood by them, that the price would be thereby raised in America, and consequently the taxes be paid by the European consumer. Thirdly, it would be unjust to the States whose produce was exported by their neighbors, to leave it subject to be taxed by the latter. This was a grievance which had already filled New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and North Carolina with loud complaints, as it related to imports, and they would be equally authorized by taxes by the States on exports. Fourthly, the Southern States, being most in danger and most needing naval protection, could the less complain, if the burden should be somewhat heaviest on them. And finally, we are not providing for the present moment only; and time will equalize the situation of the States in this matter. He was, for these reasons, against the motion.

Mr. WILLIAMSON considered the clause proposed against taxes on exports, as reasonable and necessary.

Mr. ELLSWORTH was against taxing exports; but thought the prohibition stood in the most proper place, and was against deranging the order reported by the Committee.

Mr. WILSON was decidedly against prohibiting general taxes on exports. He dwelt on the injustice and impolicy of leaving New Jersey, Connecticut, &c., any longer subject to the exactions of their commercial neighbours.

Mr. GERRY thought the Legislature could not be trusted with such a power. It might ruin the country. It might be exercised partially, raising one and depressing another part of it.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. However the Legislative power may be formed, it will, if disposed, be able to ruin the country. He considered the taxing of exports to be in many cases highly politic. Virginia has found her account in taxing tobacco. All countries having peculiar articles tax the exportation of them, — as France her wines and brandies. A tax here on lumber would fall on the West Indies, and punish their restrictions on our trade. The same is true of live stock, and in some degree of flour. In case of a dearth in the West Indies, we may extort what we please. Taxes on exports are a necessary source of revenue. For a long time the people of America will not have money to pay direct taxes. Seize and sell their effects, and you push them into revolts.

Mr. MERCER was strenuous against giving Congress power to tax exports. Such taxes are impolitic, as encouraging the raising of articles not meant for exportation. The States had now a right, where their situation permitted, to tax both the imports and the exports of their uncommercial neighbours. It was enough for them to sacrifice one half of it. It had been said the Southern States had most need of naval protection. The reverse was the case. Were it not for promoting the carrying trade of the Northern States, the Southern States could let the trade go into foreign bottoms, where it would not need our protection. Virginia, by taxing her tobacco, had given an advantage to that of Maryland.

Mr. SHERMAN. To examine and compare the States in relation to imports and exports, will be opening a boundless field. He thought the matter had been adjusted, and that imports were to be subject, and exports not, to be taxed. He thought it wrong to tax exports, except it might be such articles as ought not to be exported. The complexity of the business in America would render an equal tax on exports impracticable. The oppression of the uncommercial States was guarded against by the power to regulate trade between the States. As to compelling foreigners, that might be done by regulating trade in general. The Government would not be trusted with such a power. Objections are most likely to be excited by considerations relating to taxes and money. A power to tax exports would shipwreck the whole.

Mr. CARROLL was surprised that any objection should be made to an exception of exports from the power of taxation.

It was finally agreed, that the question concerning exports should lie over for the place in which the exception stood in the Report, — Maryland alone voting against it.

Article 7, Section 1, clause first, was then agreed to, — Mr. GERRY alone answering, no.

The clause for regulating commerce with foreign nations, &c., was agreed to, nem. con.

The several clauses, — for coining money, — for regulating foreign coin, — for fixing the standard of weights and measures, — were agreed to, nem. con.

On the clause, “To establish post offices,” —

Mr. GERRY moved to add, “and post roads.”

Mr. MERCER seconded; and on the question, —

Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 6; New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, no, — 5.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to strike out, “and emit bills on the credit of the United States.” If the United States had credit, such bills would be unnecessary; if they had not, unjust and useless.

Mr. BUTLER seconds the motion.

Mr. MADISON. Will it not be sufficient to prohibit the making them a tender? This will remove the temptation to emit them with unjust views. And promissory notes, in that shape, may in some emergencies be best.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. Striking out the words will leave room still for notes of a responsible minister, which will do all the good without the mischief. The moneyed interest will oppose the plan of government, if paper emissions be not prohibited.

Mr. GORHAM was for striking out without inserting any prohibition. If the words stand, they may suggest and lead to the measure.

Mr. MASON had doubts on the subject. Congress, he thought, would not have the power, unless it were expressed. Though he had a mortal hatred to paper money, yet as he could not foresee all emergencies, he was unwilling to tie the hands of the Legislature. He observed, that the late war could not have been carried on, had such a prohibition existed.

Mr. GORHAM. The power, as far as it will be necessary, or safe, is involved in that of borrowing.

Mr. MERCER was a friend to paper money, though in the present state and temper of America, he should neither propose nor approve of such a measure. He was consequently opposed to a prohibition of it altogether. It will stamp suspicion on the Government, to deny it a discretion on this point. It was impolitic, also, to excite the opposition of all those who were friends to paper money. The people of property would be sure to be on the side of the plan, and it was impolitic to purchase their further attachment with the loss of the opposite class of citizens.

Mr. ELLSWORTH thought this a favorable moment to shut and bar the door against paper money. The mischiefs of the various experiments which had been made were now fresh in the public mind, and had excited the disgust of all the respectable part of America. By withholding the power from the new Government, more friends of influence would be gained to it than by almost any thing else. Paper money can in no case be necessary. Give the Government credit, and other resources will offer. The power may do harm, never good.

Mr. RANDOLPH, notwithstanding his antipathy to paper money, could not agree to strike out the words, as he could not foresee all the occasions that might arise.

Mr. WILSON. It will have a most salutary influence on the credit of the United States, to remove the possibility of paper money. This expedient can never succeed whilst its mischiefs are remembered. And as long as it can be resorted to, it will be a bar to other resources.

Mr. BUTLER remarked, that paper was a legal tender in no country in Europe. He was urgent for disarming the government of such a power.

Mr. MASON was still averse to tying the hands of the Legislature altogether. If there was no example in Europe, as just remarked, it might be observed on the other side, that there was none in which the Government was restrained on this head.

Mr. READ thought the words, if not struck out, would be as alarming as the mark of the Beast in Revelation.

Mr. LANGDON had rather reject the whole plan, than retain the three words, “and emit bills.”

On the motion for striking out, —

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia,1 North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 9; New Jersey, Maryland, no, — 2.

The clause for borrowing money was agreed to, nem. con.


1 This vote in the affirmative by Virginia was occasioned by the acquiescence of Mr. MADISON, who became satisfied that striking out the words would not disable the government from the use of public notes, as far as they could be safe and proper; and would only cut off the pretext for a paper currency and particularly for making the bills a tender, either for public or private debts. 

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