Wednesday, August 29 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama

In Convention. — Article 16, being taken up, —

Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to substitute, in place of it, the words of the Articles of Confederation on the same subject. He did not understand precisely the meaning of the article.

Mr. WILSON and Doctor JOHNSON supposed the meaning to be, that judgments in one State should be the ground of actions in other States; and that acts of the Legislatures should be included, for the sake of acts of insolvency, &c.

Mr. PINCKNEY moved to commit Article 16, with the following proposition: “To establish uniform laws upon the subject of bankruptcies, and respecting the damages arising on the protest of foreign bills of exchange.”

Mr. GORHAM was for agreeing to the article, and committing the proposition.

Mr. MADISON was for committing both. He wished the Legislature might be authorized to provide for the execution of judgments in other States, under such regulations as might be expedient. He thought that this might be safely done, and was justified by the nature of the Union.

Mr. RANDOLPH said there was no instance of one nation executing judgments of the courts of another nation. He moved the following proposition:

“Whenever the act of any State, whether legislative, executive, or judiciary, shall be attested and exemplified under the seal thereof, such attestation and exemplification shall be deemed in other States as full proof of the existence of that act; and its operation shall be binding in every other State, in all cases to which it may relate, and which are within the cognizance and jurisdiction of the State wherein the said act was done.”

On the question for committing Article 16, with Mr. PINCKNEY’S motion, —

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

The motion of Mr. RANDOLPH was also committed, nem. con.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to commit also the following proposition on the same subject:

“Full faith ought to be given, in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State; and the Legislature shall, by general laws, determine the proof and effect of such acts, records, and proceedings”; and it was committed, nem. con.

The Committee appointed for these references were, Mr. RUTLEDGE, Mr. RANDOLPH, Mr. GORHAM, Mr. WILSON, and Mr. JOHNSON.

Mr. DICKINSON mentioned to the House, that on examining Blackstone’s Commentaries, he found that the term “ex post facto” related to criminal cases only; that they would not consequently restrain the States from retrospective laws in civil cases; and that some further provision for this purpose would be requisite.

Article 7, Section 6, by the Committee of eleven reported to be struck out (see the twenty-fourth instant) being now taken up —

Mr. PINCKNEY moved to postpone the Report, in favor of the following proposition: “That no act of the Legislature for the purpose of regulating the commerce of the United States with foreign powers, among the several States, shall be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members of each House. He remarked, that there were five distinct commercial interests. 1. The fisheries and West India trade, which belonged to the New England States. 2. The interest of New York lay in a free trade. 3. Wheat and flour, the staples of the two Middle States, (New Jersey and Pennsylvania.) 4. Tobacco, the staple of Maryland and Virginia, and partly of North Carolina. 5. Rice and indigo, the staples of South Carolina and Georgia. These different interests would be a source of oppressive regulations, if no check to a bare majority should be provided. States pursue their interests with less scruple than individuals. The power of regulating commerce was a pure concession on the part of the Southern States. They did not need the protection of the Northern States at present.

Mr. MARTIN seconded the motion.

General PINCKNEY said, it was the true interest of the Southern States to have no regulation of commerce; but, considering the loss brought on the commerce of the Eastern States by the Revolution, their liberal conduct towards the views1 of South Carolina, and the interest the weak Southern States had in being united with the strong Eastern States, he thought it proper that no fetters should be imposed on the power of making commercial regulations, and that his constituents, though prejudiced against the Eastern States, would be reconciled to this liberality. He had, himself, he said, prejudices against the Eastern States before he came here, but would acknowledge that he had found them as liberal and candid as any men whatever.

Mr. CLYMER. The diversity of commercial interest, of necessity, creates difficulties which ought not to be increased by unnecessary restrictions. The Northern and Middle States will be ruined, if not enabled to defend themselves against foreign regulations.

Mr. SHERMAN, alluding to Mr. PINCKNEY’S enumeration of particular interests, as requiring a security against abuse of the power, observed, that the diversity was of itself a security; adding, that to require more than a majority to decide a question was always embarrassing, as had been experienced in cases requiring the votes of nine States in Congress.

Mr. PINCKNEY replied, that his enumeration meant the five minute interests. It still left the two great divisions, of Northern and Southern interests.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS opposed the object of the motion, as highly injurious. Preferences to American ships will multiply them, till they can carry the Southern produce cheaper than it is now carried. A navy was essential to security, particularly of the Southern States; and can only be had by a navigation act encouraging American bottoms and seamen. In those points of view, then, alone, it is the interest of the Southern States that navigation acts should be facilitated. Shipping, he said, was the worst and most precarious kind of property, and stood in need of public patronage.

Mr. WILLIAMSON was in favor of making two thirds, instead of a majority, requisite, as more satisfactory to the Southern people. No useful measure, he believed, had been lost in Congress for want of nine votes. As to the weakness of the Southern States, he was not alarmed on that account. The sickliness of their climate for invaders would prevent their being made an object. He acknowledged that he did not think the motion requiring two thirds necessary in itself; because, if a majority of the Northern States should push their regulations too far, the Southern States would build ships for themselves; but he knew the southern people were apprehensive on this subject, and would be pleased with the precaution.

Mr. SPAIGHT was against the motion. The Southern States could at any time save themselves from oppression, by building ships for their own use.

Mr. BUTLER differed from those who considered the rejection of the motion as no concession on the part of the Southern States. He considered the interest of these and of the Eastern States to be as different as the interests of Russia and Turkey. Being, notwithstanding, desirous of conciliating the affections of the Eastern States, he should vote against requiring two thirds instead of a majority.

Colonel MASON. If the Government is to be lasting it must be founded in the confidence and affections of the people; and must be so constructed as to obtain these. The majority will be governed by their interests. The Southern States are the minority in both Houses. Is it to be expected that they will deliver themselves, bound, hand and foot, to the Eastern States, and enable them to exclaim, in the words of Cromwell, on a certain occasion, — “the Lord hath delivered them into our hands”?

Mr. WILSON took notice of the several objections, and remarked, that if every peculiar interest was to be secured, unanimity ought to be required. The majority, he said, would be no more governed by interest than the minority. It was surely better to let the latter be bound hand and foot, than the former. Great inconveniences had, he contended, been experienced in Congress from the Article of Confederation requiring nine votes in certain cases.

Mr. MADISON went into a pretty full view of the subject. He observed, that the disadvantage to the Southern States from a navigation act lay chiefly in a temporary rise of freight, attended, however, with an increase of Southern as well as Northern shipping, — with the emigration of Northern seamen and merchants to the Southern States, — and with a removal of the existing and injurious retaliations among the States on each other. The power of foreign nations to obstruct our retaliating measures on them, by a corrupt influence, would also be less, if a majority should be made competent, than if two thirds of each House should be required to legislative acts in this case. An abuse of the power would be qualified with all these good effects. But he thought an abuse was rendered improbable by the provision of two branches, — by the independence of the Senate, — by the negative of the Executive, — by the interest of Connecticut and New Jersey, which were agricultural, not commercial States, — by the interior interest, which was also agricultural in the most commercial States, — and by the accession of Western States, which would be altogether agricultural. He added, that the Southern States would derive an essential advantage in the general security afforded by the increase of our maritime strength. He stated the vulnerable situation of them all, and of Virginia in particular. The increase of the coasting trade, and of seamen, would also be favorable to the Southern States, by increasing the consumption of their produce. If the wealth of the Eastern should in a still greater proportion be augmented, that wealth would contribute the more to the public wants, and be otherwise a national benefit.

Mr. RUTLEDGE was against the motion of his colleague. It did not follow from a grant of the power to regulate trade, that it would be abused. At the worst, a navigation act could bear hard a little while only on the Southern States. As we are laying the foundation for a great empire, we ought to take a permanent view of the subject, and not look at the present moment only. He reminded the House of the necessity of securing the West India trade to this country. That was the great object, and a navigation act was necessary for obtaining it.

Mr. RANDOLPH said that there were features so odious in the Constitution, as it now stands, that he doubted whether he should be able to agree to it. A rejection of the motion would complete the deformity of the system. He took notice of the argument in favor of giving the power over trade to a majority, drawn from the opportunity foreign powers would have of obstructing retaliatory measures, if two thirds were made requisite. He did not think there was weight in that consideration. The difference between a majority and two thirds, did not afford room for such an opportunity. Foreign influence would also be more likely to be exerted on the President, who could require three fourths by his negative. He did not mean, however, to enter into the merits. What he had in view was merely to pave the way for a declaration, which he might be hereafter obliged to make; if an accumulation of obnoxious ingredients should take place, that he could not give his assent to the plan.

Mr. GORHAM. If the Government is to be so fettered as to be unable to relieve the Eastern States, what motive can they have to join in it, and thereby tie their own hands from measures which they could otherwise take for themselves? The Eastern States were not led to strengthen the Union by fear for their own safety. He deprecated the consequences of disunion; but if it should take place, it was the Southern part of the continent that had most reason to dread them. He urged the improbability of a combination against the interest of the Southern States, the different situations of the Northern and Middle States being a security against it. It was, moreover, certain, that foreign ships would never be altogether excluded, especially those of nations in treaty with us.

On the question to postpone, in order to take up Mr. PINCKNEY’S motion, —

Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, no, — 7.

The Report of the Committee for striking out Section 6, requiring two thirds of each House to pass a navigation act, was then agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. BUTLER moved to insert after Article 15, “If any person bound to service or labor in any of the United States, shall escape into another State, he or she shall not be discharged from such service or labor, in consequence of any regulations subsisting in the State to which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming their service or labor,” — which was agreed to, nem. con.

Article 17 being then taken up, —

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to strike out the two last sentences, to wit: “If the admission be consented to, the new States shall be admitted on the same terms with the original States. But the Legislature may make conditions with the new States, concerning the public debt which shall be then subsisting.” He did not wish to bind down the Legislature to admit Western States on the terms here stated.

Mr. MADISON opposed the motion; insisting that the Western States neither would, nor ought to submit to a union which degraded them from an equal rank with the other States.

Colonel MASON. If it were possible by just means to prevent emigrations to the Western country, it might be good policy. But go the people will, as they find it for their interest; and the best policy is to treat them with that equality which will make them friends, not enemies.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS did not mean to discourage the growth of the Western country. He knew that to be impossible. He did not wish, however, to throw the power into their hands.

Mr. SHERMAN was against the motion, and for fixing an equality of privileges by the Constitution.

Mr. LANGDON was in favor of the motion. He did not know but circumstances might arise, which would render it inconvenient to admit new States on terms of equality.

Mr. WILLIAMSON was for leaving the Legislature free. The existing small States enjoy an equality now, and for that reason are admitted to it in the Senate. This reason is not applicable to new Western States.

On Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S motion, for striking out,—

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

Mr. L. MARTIN and Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to strike out of Article 17, “but to such admission the consent of two thirds of the members present shall be necessary.” Before any question was taken on this motion, —

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved the following proposition, as a substitute for the seventeenth Article:

“New States may be admitted by the Legislature into the Union; but no new States shall be erected within the limits of any of the present States without the consent of the Legislature of such State, as well as of the general Legislature.”

The first part, to “Union,” inclusive, was agreed to, nem con.

Mr. L. MARTIN opposed the latter part. Nothing, he said, would so alarm the limited States, as to make the consent of the large States, claiming the Western lands, necessary to the establishment of new States within their limits. It is proposed to guarantee the States. Shall Vermont be reduced by force, in favor of the States claiming it? Frankland and the Western county of Virginia, were in a like situation.

On Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S motion, to substitute, &c. it was agreed to, —

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

Article 17 being before the House, as amended, — Mr. SHERMAN was against it. He thought it unnecessary. The Union cannot dismember a State without its consent.

Mr. LANGDON thought there was great weight in the argument of Mr. LUTHER MARTIN; and that the proposition substituted by Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS would excite a dangerous opposition to the plan.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS thought, on the contrary, that the small States would be pleased with the regulation, as it holds up the idea of dismembering the large States.

Mr. BUTLER. If new States were to be erected without the consent of the dismembered States, nothing but confusion would ensue. Whenever taxes should press on the people, demagogues would set up their schemes of new States.

Doctor JOHNSON agreed in general with the ideas of Mr. SHERMAN; but was afraid that, as the clause stood, Vermont would be subjected to New York, contrary to the faith pledged by Congress. He was of opinion that Vermont ought to be compelled to come into the Union.

Mr. LANGDON said his objections were connected with the case of Vermont. If they are not taken in, and remain exempt from taxes, it would prove of great injury to New Hampshire and the other neighbouring States.

Mr. DICKINSON hoped the article would not be agreed to. He dwelt on the impropriety of requiring the small States to secure the large ones in their extensive claims of territory.

Mr. WILSON. When the majority of a State wish to divide, they can do so. The aim of those in opposition to the article, he perceived, was that the General Government should abet the minority, and by that means divide a State against its own consent.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. If the forced division of the States is the object of the new system, and is to be pointed against one or two States, he expected the gentlemen from these would pretty quickly leave us.


1 He meant the permission to import slaves. An understanding on the two subjects of navigation and slavery, had taken place between those parts of the Union, which explains the vote on the motion depending, as well as the language of General Pinckney and others.

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