In Convention, Richmond, Thursday, June 12, 1788[The 1st and 2d sections still under consideration.]
Mr. GRAYSON. Mr. Chairman, I asserted yesterday that there were two opinions in the worldthe one that mankind were capable of governing themselves, the other that it required actual force to govern them. On the principle that the first position was true, and which is consonant to the rights of humanity, the house will recollect that it was my opinion to amend the present Confederation, and infuse a new portion of health and strength into the state governments; to apportion the public debts in such a manner as to throw the unpopular ones on the back lands; to divide the rest of the domestic debt among the different states; and to call for requisitions only for the interest of the foreign debt. If, contrary to this maxim, force is necessary to govern men, I then did propose, as an alternative, not a monarchy like that of Great Britain, but a milder government, one which, under the idea of a general corruption of manners, and the consequent necessity of force, should be as gentle as possible. I showed, in as strong a manner as I could, some of the principal defects in the Constitution. The greatest defect is the opposition of the component parts to the interests of the whole; for, let gentlemen ascribe its defects to as many causes as their imagination may suggest, this is the principal and radical one. I urged that, to remedy the evils which must result from this government, a more equal representation in the legislature, and proper checks against abuse, were indispensably necessary. I do not pretend to propose for your adoption the plan of government which I mentioned as an alternative to a monarchy, in case mankind were incapable of governing themselves. I only meant, if it were once established that force was necessary to govern men, that such a plan would be more eligible for a free people than the introduction of crowned heads and nobles. Having premised this much, to obviate misconstruction, I shall proceed to the clause before us with this observationthat I prefer a completer consolidation to a partial one, but a federal government to either. In my opinion, the states which give up the power of taxation have nothing more to give. The people of that state which suffers any power but her own immediate government to interfere with the sovereign right of taxation are gone forever. Giving the right of taxation is giving a right to increase the miseries of the people. Is it not a political absurdity to suppose that there can be two concurrent legislatures, each possessing the supreme power of direct taxation? If two powers come in contact, must not the one prevail over the other? Must it not strike every man’s mind, that two unlimited, co-equal, coordinate authorities, over the same objects, cannot exist together? But we are told that there is one instance of co-existing powers, in cases of petty corporations, as well here as in other parts of the world. The case of petty corporations does not prove the propriety or possibility of two co-equal, transcendent powers over the same object. Although these have the power of taxation, it only extends to certain degrees and for certain purposes. The powers of corporations are defined, and operate on limited objects. Their power originates by the authority of the legislature, and can be destroyed by the same authority. Persons carrying on the powers of a petty corporation may be punished for interfering with the power of the legislature. Their acts are entirely nugatory, if they contravene those of the legislature.
Scotland is also introduced to show that two different bodies may, with convenience, exercise power of taxation in the same country. How is the land tax there? There is a fixed apportionment. When England pays four shillings in the pound, Scotland only pays forty-five thousand pounds. This proportion cannot be departed from, whatever augmentation may take place. There are stannary courts, and a variety of other inferior private courts, in England. But when they pass the bounds of their jurisdiction, the supreme courts in Westminster Hall may, on appeal, correct the abuse of their power. Is there any connection between the federal courts and state courts? What power is there to keep them in order? Where is there any authority to terminate disputes between these two contending powers? An observation came from an honorable gentleman, (Mr. Mason,) when speaking of the propriety of the general government’s exercising this power, that, according to the rules and doctrine of representation, the thing was entirely impracticable. I agreed with him in sentiment. I waited to hear the answer from the admirers of the new Constitution. What was the answer? Gentlemen were obliged to give up the point with respect to general, uniform taxes. They have the candor to acknowledge that taxes on slaves would not affect the Eastern States, and that taxes on fish or potash would not affect the Southern States. They are then reduced to thin dilemma. In order to support this part of the system, they are obliged to controvert the first maxims of representation. The best writers on this subject lay it down as a fundamental principle, that he who lays a tax should bear his proportion of paying it. A tax that might with propriety be laid, and with ease collected, in Delaware, might be highly improper in Virginia. The taxes cannot be uniform throughout the states without being oppressive to some. If they be not uniform, some of the members will lay taxes, in the payment of which they will bear no proportion. The members of Delaware will assist in laying a tax on our slaves, of which they will pay no part whatever. The members of Delaware do not return to Virginia, to give an account of their conduct. This total want of responsibility and fellow-feeling will destroy the benefits of representation. In order to obviate this objection, the gentleman has said that the same evil exists, in some degree, in the present Confederation:to which I answer, that the present Confederation has nothing to do but to say how much money is necessary, and to fix the proportion to be paid by each state. They cannot say in what manner the money shall be raised. This is left to the state legislatures.
But, says the honorable gentleman, (Mr. Madison,) if we were in danger, we should be convinced of the necessity of the clause. Are we to be terrified into a belief of its necessity? It is proposed by the opposition to amend it in the following mannerthat requisitions shall be first made, and if not paid, that direct taxes shall be laid by way of punishment. If this ultimate right be in Congress, will it not be in their power to raise money on any emergency? Will not their credit be competent to procure any sum they may want? Gentlemen agree that it would be proper to imitate the conduct of other countries, and Great Britain particularly, in borrowing money, and establishing funds for the payment of the interest on the loans; that, when the government is properly organized, and its competency to raise money made known, public and private confidence will be the result, and men will readily lend it any sums it may stand in need of. If this should be a fact, and the reasoning well founded, it will clearly follow that it will be practicable to borrow money in cases of great difficulty and danger, on the principles contended for by the opposition; and this observation must supersede the necessity of granting them the powers of direct taxation in the first instance, provided the right is secured in the second.
As to the idea of making extensive loans for extinguishing the present domestic debt, it is what I have not by any means in contemplation. I think it would be unnecessary, unjust, and impolitic. This country is differently situated and circumstanced from all other countries in the world. It is now thinly inhabited, but daily increasing in numbers. It would not be politic to lay grievous taxes and burdens at present. If our numbers double in twenty-five years, as is generally believed, we ought to spare the present race, because there will be double the number of persons to pay in that period of time; so that, were our matters so arranged that the interest could be paid regularly, and that any one might get his money when he thought proper, as is the case now in England, it would be all that public faith would require. Place the subject, however, in every point of viewwhether as it relates to raising money for the immediate exigencies of the state, or for the extinction of the foreign or the domestic debtstill it must be obvious, if a proper confidence is placed in the acknowledgment of the right of taxation in the second instance, that every purpose can be answered.
However, sir, if the states are not blameless, why has not the Congress used that coercion which is vested in their government? It is an unquestionable fact that the Belgic republic, on a similar occasion, by an actual exertion of force, bought a delinquent province to a proper sense of justice. The gentleman said that, in case of a partial compliance with requisitions, the alternative proposed will operate unequally, by taxing those who may have already paid, as well as those who have not, and involving the innocent in the crimes of the guilty. Suppose the new government fully vested with authority to raise taxes; it will also operate unequally. To make up antecedent deficiencies, they will lay more taxes the next succeeding year. By this means, those persons from whom a full proportion shall have been extracted will be saddled with a share of the deficiencies, as well as those who shall not have discharged their full portion. This mode, then, will have precisely the same unequal and unjust operation as the other.
I said, yesterday, that there were one thousand five hundred representatives, and one hundred and sixty senators, who transacted the affairs of the different states. But we are told that this great number is unnecessary, and that in the multitude of counsellors there is folly instead of wisdom; that they are a dead weight on the public business, which is said in all public assemblies to devolve on a few. This may in some degree be true, but it will not apply in the great latitude as mentioned by the gentleman. If ten men in our Assembly do the public business, may not the same observation extend to Congress? May not five men do the public business of the Union? But there is a great difference between the objects of legislation in Congress and those of the state legislatures. If the former be more complicated, there is a greater necessity of a full and adequate representation. It must be confessed that it is highly improper to trust our liberty and property in the hands of so few persons, if they were any thing less than divine. But it seems that, in this contest of power, the state governments have the advantage. I am of opinion that it will be directly the reverse. What influence can the state governments be supposed to have, after the loss of their most important rights? Will not the diminution of their power and influence be an augmentation of those of the general government? Will not the officers of the general government receive higher compensation for their services than those of the state governments? Will not the most influential men be employed by Congress? I think the state governments, will be contemned and despised as soon as they give up the power of direct taxation; and a state, says Montesquieu, should lose her existence sooner than her importance.
But, sir, we are told that, if we do not give up this power to Congress, the impost will be stretched to the utmost extent. I do suppose this might follow, if the thing did not correct itself. But we know that it is the nature of this kind of taxation, that a small duty will bring more real money than a large one. The experience of the English nation proves the truth of this assertion. There has been much said of the necessity of the five per cent, impost. I have been ever of opinion, that two and a half per cent. would produce more real money into the treasury. But we need not be alarmed on this account, because, when smugglers will be induced, by heavy imposts, to elude the laws, the general government will find it their interest again to reduce them within reasonable and moderate limits. But it is suggested that, if direct taxation be inflicted by way of punishment, it will create great disturbances in the country. This is an assertion without argument. If man is a reasonable being, he will submit to punishment, and acquiesce in the justice of its infliction, when he knows he deserves it. The states will comply with the requisitions of Congress more readily when they know that this power may be ultimately used; and if they do not comply, they will have no reasons to complain of its exercise.
We are then told of the armed neutrality of the empress of Russia, the opposition to it by Great Britain, and the acquiescence of other powers. We are told that, in order to become the carriers of contending nations, it will be necessary to be formidable at seathat we must have a fleet in case of a war between Great Britain and France. I think that the powers who formed that treaty Will be able to support it. But if we were certain that this would not be the case, still I think that the profits that might arise from such a transient commerce could not compensate for the expenses of rendering ourselves formidable at sea, or the dangers that would probably result from the attempt. To have a fleet, in the present limited population of America, is, in my opinion, impracticable and inexpedient. Is America in a situation to have a fleet? I take it to be a rule founded on common sense, that manufacturers, as well as sailors, proceed from a redundancy of inhabitants. Our numbers, compared to our territory, are very small indeed. I think, therefore, that all attempts to have a fleet, till our western lands are fully settled, are nugatory and vain. How will you induce your people to go to sea? Is it not more agreeable to follow agriculture than to encounter the dangers and hardships of the ocean? The same reasoning will apply in a greater degree to manufacturers. Both are the result of necessity. It would, besides, be dangerous to have a fleet in our present weak, dispersed, and defenceless situation. The powers of Europe, who have West India possessions, would be alarmed at any extraordinary maritime exertions, and, knowing the danger of our arrival at manhood, would crush us in our infancy. In my opinion, the great objects most necessary to be promoted and attended to, in America, are agriculture and population. First take care that you are sufficiently strong, by land, to guard against European partition; secure your own house before you attack that of other people. I think that the sailors who would be prevailed on to go to sea would be a real loss to the community: neglect of agriculture and loss of labor would be the certain consequence of such irregular policy.
I hope that, when these objections are thoroughly considered, all ideas of having a fleet, in our infant situation, will be given over. When the American character is better known, and the government established on permanent principles,when we shall be sufficiently populous, and our situation secure,then come forward with a fleet; not with a small one, but with one sufficient to meet any of the maritime powers.
The honorable gentleman (Mr. Madison) said that the imposts will be less productive hereafter, on account of the increase of population. I shall not controvert this principle. When all the lands are settled, and we have manufactures sufficient, this may be the case. But I believe that for a very long time this cannot possibly happen. In islands and thick-settled countries, where they have manufactures, the principle will hold good, but will not apply in any degree to our country. I apprehend that, among us, as the people in the lower country find themselves straitened, they will move to the frontiers, which, for a considerable period, will prevent the lower country from being very populous, or having recourse to manufactures. I cannot, therefore, but conclude that the amount of the imposts will continue to crease, at least for a great number of years.
Holland, we are informed, is not happy, because she has not constitution like this. This is but an unsupported assertion. Do we not know the cause of her misfortunes? The evil is coeval with her existencethere are always opposite parties in that republic. There are now two partiesthe aristocratic party, supporting the Prince of Orange, and the Lovestein party, supporting the rights of the people. France foments the one, and Great Britain the other. Is it known, if Holland had begun with such a government as this, that the violence of faction would not produce the same evils which they experience at this present moment? It is said that all our evils result from requisitions on the states. I did not expect to hear of complaints for noncompliance during the war. Do not gentlemen recollect our situation during the war? Our ports were Blocked up, and all means of getting money destroyed, and almost every article taken from the farmer for the public serviceso as, in many instances, not to leave him enough to support his own family with tolerable decency and comfort. It cannot be forgot that another resort of government was applied to, and that press-warrants were made to answer for noncompliance of requisitions. Every person must recollect our miserable situation during the arduous contest; therefore, I shall make no further apology for the states, during the existence of the war. Since the peace, there have been various causes for not furnishing the necessary quotas to the general government. In some of the flourishing states, the requisitions have been attended to; in others, their non-compliance is to be attributed more to the inability of the people than to their unwillingness to advance the general interests. Massachusetts attempted to correct the nature of things by extracting more from the people than they were able to part With. What did it produce? A revolution which shook that state to its centre.
Paper money has been introduced. What did we do a few years ago? Struck off many millions, and by the charms of magic made the value of the emissions diminish by forty-fold ratio. However unjust or unreasonable this might be, I suppose it was warranted by the inevitable laws of necessity. But, sir, there is no disposition now of having paper money; this engine of iniquity i universally reprobated. But conventions give power, and conventions can take it away. This observation does not appear to me Well founded. It is not so easy to dissolve a government like this. Its dissolution may be prevented by a trifling minority of the people of America. The consent of so many states is necessary to introduce amendments, that I fear they will with great difficulty be obtained. It is said that a strong government will increase our population by the addition of immigrants. From what quarter is immigration to proceed? From the arbitrary monarchies of Europe? I fear this kind of population would not add much to our happiness or improvement. It is supposed that, from the prevalence of the orange faction, numbers will come hither from Holland, although it is not imagined the strength of the government will form the inducement. The exclusive power of legislation over the ten miles square is introduced by many gentlemen. I would not deny the utility of vesting the general government with a power of this kind, were it properly guarded. Perhaps I am mistaken, but it occurs to me that Congress may give exclusive privileges to merchants residing within the tea miles square, and that the same exclusive power of legislation will enable them to grant similar privileges to merchants in the strongholds within the states. I wish to know if there be any thing in the Constitution to prevent it. If there be, I have not been able to discover it. I may, perhaps, not thoroughly comprehend this part of the Constitution; but it strikes my mind that there is a possibility that, in process of time, and from the simple operation of effects from causes, the whole commerce of the United States may be exclusively carried on by merchants residing within the seat of government, and those places of arms which may be purchased of the state legislatures. How detrimental and injurious to the community, and how repugnant to the equal rights of mankind, such exclusive emoluments would be, I submit to the consideration of the committee. Things of a similar nature have happened in other countries; or else from whence have issued the Hanse Towns, Cinque Ports, and other places in Europe, which have peculiar privileges in commerce as well as in other matters? I do not offer this sentiment as an opinion, but a conjecture, and, in this doubtful agitation of mind on a point of such infinite magnitude, only ask for information from the framers of the Constitution, whose superior opportunities must have furnished them with more ample lights on the subject than I am possessed of. Something is said on the other side with respect to the Mississippi. An honorable gentleman has mentioned, that he was satisfied that no member of Congress had any idea of giving up that river. Sir, am not at liberty, from my situation, to enter into any investigation on the subject. I am free, however, to acknowledge that I have frequently heard the honorable member declare, that he conceived the object then in contemplation was the only method by which the right of that river could be ultimately secured. I have heard similar declarations from other members.
I must beg leave to observe, at the same time, that I most decidedly differed with them in sentiment. With respect to the citizens of the Eastern and some of the Middle States, perhaps the best and surest means of discovering their general dispositions may be by having recourse to their interests. This seems to be the pole-star to which the policy of nations is directed. If this supposition should be well founded, I think they must have reasons of considerable magnitude for wishing the exclusion of that river. If the Mississippi was yielded to Spain, the migration to the western country would be stopped, and the Northern States would not only retain their inhabitants, but preserve their superiority and influence over those of the South. If matters go on in their present direction, there will be a number of new states to the westwardpopulation may become greater in the Southern Statesthe ten miles square may approach us! This they must naturally wish to prevent. I think gentlemen may know the disposition of the different states, from the geography of the country, and from the reason and nature of thugs. Is it not highly imprudent to vest a power in the generality, which will enable those states to relinquish that river? There are but feeble restrictions at resent to prevent it. By the old Confederation, nine states are necessary to form any treaty. By this Constitution, the President, with two thirds of the members present in the Senate, can make any treaty. Ten members are two thirds of a quorum. Ten members are the representatives of five states. The Northern States may then easily make a treaty relinquishing this river. In my opinion, the power of making treaties, by which the territorial rights of any of the states may be essentially affected, ought to be guarded against every possibility of abuse; and the precarious situation to which those rights will be exposed is one reason, with me, among a number of others, for voting against its adoption.
Mr. PENDLETON. Mr. Chairman, When I spoke formerly, I endeavored to account for the uneasiness of the public mind, that it arose from objections to government drawn from mistaken sources. I stated the general governments of the world to have been either dictated by a conqueror at the point of his sword, or the offspring of confusionwhen a great popular leader, seizing the occasion, if he did not produce it, restored order at the expense of liberty, and became the tyrant. In either case, the interest and ambition of the despot, and not the good of society, give the tone to the government, and establish contending interests. A war is commenced, and kept up, where there ought to be union; and the friends of liberty have sounded the alarm to the people, to regain that liberty which circumstances have thus deprived them of. Those alarms, misrepresented and improperly applied to this government, have produce uneasiness in the public mind.
I said, improperly applied, because the people, by us, are peaceably assembled, to contemplate, in the calm lights of mild philosophy, what government is best calculated to promote their happiness and secure their liberty. This I am sure we shall effect, if we do not lose sight of them by too much attachment to pictures of beauty, or horror, in our researches into antiquity, our travels for examples into remote regions, or severe criticisms upon our unfriendly applications of expressions which may drop in the effusions of honest zeal. The term herd was thus producedmeaning to express a multitude. It was capable of an odious applicationthat of placing the citizens in a degrading character. I wish it had not been used, and I wish the gentleman on the other side had thought himself at liberty to let it pass, without pointing out its odious meaning. However, claim no right to prescribe to him. It is done, and it must rest with the candor of the attending citizens, whom it concerns, to give it the innocent meaning which, I am sure, the honorable gentleman intended.
On the subject, of government, the worthy member (Mr. Henry) and I differ at the threshold. I think government necessary to protect liberty. He supposes the American spirit all sufficient for the purpose. What say the most respectable writersMontesquieu, Locke, Sidney, Harrington, &c.? They have presented us with no such idea. They properly discard from their system all the severity of cruel punishment, such as tortures, inquisitions, and the likeshocking to human nature, and only calculated to coerce the dominion of tyrants over slaves. But they recommend making the ligaments of government firm, and a rigid execution of the laws, as more necessary, than in a monarchy, to preserve that virtue which they all declare to be the pillar on which the government, and liberty, its object, must stand. They are not so visionary as to suppose there ever did, or ever will, exist a society, however large their aggregate fund of virtue may be, but hath among them persons of a turbulent nature, restless in themselves and disturbing the peace of otherssons of rapine and violence, who, unwilling to labor themselves, are watching every opportunity to snatch from the industrious peasant the fruits of his honest labor. Was I not, then, correct in my inference, that such a government and liberty were friends and allies, and that their common enemies were turbulence, faction, and violence? It is those, therefore, that will be offended by good government; and for those I suppose no gentleman will profess himself an advocate.
The writers just mentioned point out licentiousness as the natural offspring of liberty, and that, therefore, all free governments Should endeavor to suppress it, or else it will ultimately overthrow that liberty of which it is the result. Is this speculation only? Alas! reason and experience too fatally prove its truth in all instances. A republican government is the nursery of science. It turns the bent of it to eloquence, as a qualification for the representative character, which is, as it ought to be, the road to our public offices. I have pleasure in beholding these characters already produced in our councilsand a rising fund equal to a constant supply. May Heaven prosper their endeavors, and direct their eloquence to the real good of their country! I am unfortunate enough to differ from the worthy member in another circumstance. He professes himself an advocate for the middling and lower classes of men. I profess to be a friend to the equal liberty of all men, from the palace to the cottage, without any other distinction than that between good and bad men. I appeal to my public life and private behavior, to decide whether I have departed from this role. Since distinctions have been brought forth and communicated to the audience, and will be therefore disseminated, I beg gentlemen to take with them this observationthat distinctions have been produced by the opposition. From the friends of the new government they have heard none. None such are to be found in the organization of the paper before you.
Why bring into the debate the whims of writersintroducing the distinction of well-born from others? I consider every man well-born who comes into the world with an intelligent mind, and with all his parts perfect. I am an advocate for fixing our government on true republican principles, giving to the poor man free liberty in his person and property.
Whether a man, be great or small he is equally dear to me. I wish, sir, for a regular government, in order to secure and protect those honest citizens who have been distinguishedI mean the industrious farmer and planter. I wish them to be protected in the enjoyment of their honestly and industriously acquired property. I wish commerce to be fully protected and encouraged, that the people may have an opportunity of disposing of their crops at market, and of procuring such supplies as they may be in want of. I presume that there can be no political happiness, unless industry be cherished and protected, and properly secured. Suppose a poor man becomes rich by honest labor, and increases the public stock of wealth: shall his reward be the loss of that liberty he set out with? Will you take away every stimulus to industry, by declaring that he shall not retain the fruits of it? The idea of the poor becoming rich by assiduity is not mere fancy. I am old enough, and have had sufficient experience, to know the effects of it. I have often known persons, commencing in life without any other stock but industry and economy, by the mere efforts before, rise to opulence and wealth. This could not have been the case without a government to protect their industry. In my mind the true principle of republicanism, and the greatest security of liberty, is regular government. Perhaps I may not be a republican, but this is my idea. In reviewing the history of the world, shall we find an instance where any Society retained its liberty without government? As I before hinted, the smallest society in extent, to the greatest empire, can only be preserved by a regular government, to suppress that faction and turbulence so natural to many of our species. What do men do with those passions when they come into society? Do they leave them? No; they bring them with them. These passions, which they thus bring into society, will produce disturbances, which, without any check, will overturn it.
A distinction has been made, which surprised me, between the illumined mind and the ignorant. I have heard with pleasure, in other places, that worthy gentleman expatiate on the advantages of learningamong other things, as friendly to liberty. I have seen, in our code of laws, the public purse applied to cherish private seminaries. This is not strictly just; but with me the end sanctified the means, and I was satisfied. But did we thus encourage learning, to set up those who attained its benefits as butts of invidious distinction? Surely the worthy member, on reflection, will disavow the idea. He learns to little purpose, indeed, who vainly supposes himself become, from the circumstance, of an order of beings superior to the honest citizenspeasants if you please to term them sowho, in their labor, produce great good to the community. But those illumined minds who apply their knowledge to promote and cherish libertyequal liberty to all, the peasant as well as othersgive to society the real blessings of learning.
I have seen learning used both ways; but have had pleasure in observing, that lately the latter fruits only have generally appeared, which I attribute to the influence of republican principles, and a regard for true liberty. Am I still suspected of want of attachment for my worthy fellow citizens, whom the gentleman calls peasants and cottagers? Let me add one more observation. I cannot leave them in the state in which he has placed themin the parallel between them and those of Switzerland, the United Netherlands, and Great Britain. The peasants of the Swiss cantons trade in war. Trained in arms, they become the mercenaries of the best bidder, to carry on the destruction of mankind, as an occupation, where they have not even resentment. Are these a fit people for a comparison with our worthy planters and farmers, in their drawing food and raiment, and even wealth, by honest labor, from the bowels of the earth, where an inexhaustible store is placed by a bountiful Creator?
The citizens of the United Netherlands have no right of suffrage. There, they lost that distinguished badge of freedom. Their representation to their state assemblies is of towns and cities, and not of the people at large.
The people of Britain have the fight of suffrage, but sell it for a mess of pottage.
The happiness of the people is the object of this government, and the people are therefore made the fountain of all power. They cannot act personally, and must delegate powers. Here the worthy gentleman who spoke last, and I travelling not together indeed, but in sight, are placed at an immeasurable distanceas far as the poles asunder. He recommends a government more energetic and strong than this, abundantly too strong ever to receive my approbation,a first magistrate borrowed from Britain, to whom you are to make a surrender of your liberty; and you give him a separate interest from yours. You intrench that interest by powers and prerogatives undefinedimplant in him self-love, from the influence of which he is to do, whatto promote your interest in opposition to his own? An operation of self-love which is new! Having done this, you accept from him a charter of the rights you have parted with; present him a bill of fights, telling him, Thus far shall you oppress us, and no farther.
It still depends on him whether he will give you that charter, or allow the operation of the bill of rights. He will do it as long as he cannot do otherwise, but no longer. Did ever any free people in the world, not dictated to by the sword of a conqueror, or by circumstances into which licentiousness may have plunged them, place themselves in so degrading a situation, or make so disgraceful a sacrifice of their liberty? If they did, sure I am that the example will not be followed by this Convention. This is not all: we are to look somewhere for the chosen few to go into the ten miles square, with extensive powers for life, and thereby destroy every degree of true responsibility. Is there no medium, or shall we recur to extremes? As a republican, sir, I think that the security of the liberty and happiness of the people, from the highest to the lowest, being the object of government, the people are consequently the fountain of all power.
They must, however, delegate it to agents, because, from their number, dispersed situation, and many other circumstances, they cannot exercise it in person. They must therefore, by frequent and certain elections, choose representatives to whom they trust it.
Is there any distinction in the exercise of this delegation of power? The man who possesses twenty-five acres of land has an equal right of voting for a representative with the man who has twenty-five thousand acres. This equality of suffrage secures the people in their property. While we are in pursuit of checks, and balances, and proper security in the delegation of power, we ought never to lose sight of the representative character. By this we preserve the great principle of the primary right of power in the people; and should deviations happen from our interest, the spirit of liberty, in future elections, will correct ita security I esteem far superior to paper bills of rights.
When the bands of our former society were dissolved, and we were under the necessity of forming a new government, we established a constitution founded on the principle of representation, preserving therein frequency of elections, and guarding against inequality of suffrage. I am one of those who are pleased with that Constitution, because it is built on that foundation. I believe that, if the Confederation had the principles and efficacy of that Constitution, we should have found that peace and happiness which we are all in search of. In this state Constitution, to the executive you commit the sword; to the legislative you commit the purse, and every thing else, without any limitation. In both cases, the representative character is in full effect, and thereby responsibility is secured. The judiciary is separate and distinct from both the other branches, has nothing to do with either the purse or sword, and, for obvious reasons, the judges hold their offices during good behavior.
There will be deviations even in our state legislatures thus constituted. I say (and I hope to give no offence when I do) there have been some. I believe every gentleman will see that it is unconstitutional to condemn any man without a fair trial. Such a condemnation is repugnant to the principles of justice. It is contrary to the Constitution, and the spirit of the common law. Look at the bill of rights. You find there that no man shall be condemned without being confronted with his accusers and witnesses; that every man has a right to call for evidence in his favor, and, above all, to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of the vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty. These principles have not been attended to; an instance has been mentioned already, where they have been in some degree violated.[Here Mr. Pendleton spoke so very low that he could not be heard.]
My brethren in that department [the judicial] felt great uneasiness in their minds to violate the Constitution by such a law. They have prevented the operation of some unconstitutional acts. Notwithstanding those violations, I rely upon the principles of the governmentthat it will produce its own reform, by the responsibility resulting from frequent elections. We are finally safe while we preserve the representative character. I made these observations as introductory to the consideration of the paper on your table. I conceive that, in those respects where our state Constitution has not been disapproved of, objections will not apply against that on our table. When we were forming our state Constitution, we were confined to local circumstances. In forming a government for the Union, we must consider our situation as connected with our neighboring states. We have seen the advantages and blessings of the Union. Every intelligent and patriotic mind must be convinced that it is essential to our happiness. God grant we may never see the disadvantages of disunion!
To come to the great object of direct taxation, more immediately under consideration:If we find it our interest to be intimately connected with the other twelve states, to establish one common government, and bind in one ligament the strength of thirteen states, we shall find it necessary to delegate powers proportionate to that end; for the delegation of adequate powers in this government is no less necessary than in our state government. To whom do we delegate these powers? To our own representatives. Why should we fear so much greater dangers from our representatives there, than from those we have here? Why make so great a distinction between our representatives here, and in the federal government, where every branch is formed on the same principlepreserving throughout the representative, responsible character? We have trusted our lives, and every thing, to our state representatives. We have particularly committed our purse to them, with unlimited confidence. I never heard any objection to it; I am sure I make none. We ought to contribute our share of fixing the principles of the government. Here the representative character is still preserved. We are to have an equal share in the representation of the general government, should we ratify this Constitution. We have hitherto paid more than our share of taxes for the support of the government, &c. But by this system we are to pay our equal, ratable share only. Where is the danger of confiding in our federal representatives? We must choose those in whom we can put the greatest confidence. They are only to remain two years in office. Will they in that time lose all regard for the principles of honor, and their character, and become abandoned prostitutes of our rights? I have no such fear. When power is in the hands of my representatives, I care not whether they meet here or a hundred miles off.
A gentleman (Mr. Monroe) has said that the power of direct taxation was unnecessary, because the imposts and back lands would be abundantly sufficient to answer all federal purposes. If so, what are we disputing about? I ask the gentleman who made the observation, and this committee, if they believe that Congress will ever lay direct taxes if the other funds are sufficient. It will then remain a harmless power upon paper, and do no injury. If it should be necessary, will gentlemen run the risk of the Union by withholding it? I was sorry to hear the Subjects of requisitions and taxation misinterpreted. The latter has been compared to taxation by Great Britain without our own consent. The two cases are by no means similar. The king of Great Britain has not the purse, though he holds the sword. He has no means of using the sword but by requisitions on those who hold the purse. He applied to the British Parliament; and they were pleased to trust him with our money. We declared, as we had a right, that we ought to be taxed by our own representatives, and that therefore their disposing of our money without our consent was unjust. Here requisitions are to be made by one body of our representatives to another. Why should this be the case, when they are both possessed of our equal confidenceboth chosen in the same manner, and equally responsible to us?
But we are told that there will be a war between the two bodies equally our representatives, and that the state government will be destroyed, and consolidated into the general government. I stated before, that this could not be so. The two governments act in different manners, and for different purposesthe general government in great national concerns, in which we are interested in common with other members of the Union; the state legislature in out mere local concerns. Is it true, or merely imaginary, that the state legislatures will be confined to the care of bridges and roads? I think that they are still possessed of the highest powers. Our dearest rights,life, liberty, and property,as Virginians, are still in the hands of our state legislature. If they prove too feeble to protect us, we resort to the aid of the general government for security. The true distinction is, that the two governments are established for different purposes, and act on different objects; so that, notwithstanding what the worthy gentleman said, I believe I am still correct, and insist that, if each power is confined within its proper bounds, and to its proper objects, an interference can never happen. Being for two different purposes, as long as they are limited to the different objects, they can no more clash than two parallel lines can meet. Both lay taxes, but for different purposes. The same officers may be used by both governments, which will prevent a number of inconveniences. If an invasion, or insurrection, or other misfortune, should make it necessary for the general government to interpose, this will be for the general purposes of the Union, and for the manifest interest of the states.
I mentioned formerly that it would never be the interest of the general government to destroy the state governments. From these it wilt derive great strength: for if they be possessed of power, they will assist it; if they become feeble, or decay, the general government must likewise become weak, or moulder away.
But we are alarmed on account of Kentucky. We are told that the Mississippi is taken away. When gentlemen say that seven states are now disposed to give it up, and that it will be given up by the operation of this government, are the correct? It must be supposed that, on occasions of great moment, the senators from all the states will attend. if they do, there will be no difference between this Constitution and the Confederation in this point. When they are all present, two thirds of them will consist of the senators from nine states, which is the number required by the existing system to form treaties. The consent of the President, who is the representative of the Union, is also necessary. The right to that river must be settled by the sword, or negotiation. I understood that the purpose of that negotiation which has been on foot, was, that Spain should have the navigation of that river for twenty-five years, after which we were peaceably to retain it forever. This, I was told, was all that Spain required. If so, the gentleman who differed in opinion from others, in wishing to gratify Spain, must have been actuated by a conviction that it would be better to have the right fixed in that manner than trust to uncertainty. I think the inhabitants of that country, as well as of every other part of the Union, will he better protected by an efficient, firm government, than by the present feeble one. We shall have also a much better chance for a favorable negotiation, if our government be respectable, than we have now. It is also suggested that the citizens of the western district run the risk of losing their lands if this Constitution be adopted. I am not acquainted with the circumstances of the title set up to those lands. But this I know, that it is founded, not upon ally claim commenced during the revolution, but on some latent claim that existed before that period. It was brought before our Assembly, and rejectedI suppose because they thought it would, at this late period, involve the just and unjust, indiscriminately, in distress. I am bold to say that no assistance can be given by the Constitution to the claimants. The federal legislature is not authorized to pass any law affecting claims that existed before. If the claim is brought forth, it must be before the court of the state, on the ground on which it now stands, and must depend on the same principles on which it now depends. Whether this Constitution be adopted or not, will not affect the parties in this case. It will make no difference as to the principles on which the decision will be made, whether it will come before the state court or the federal court. They will be both equally independent, and ready to decide in strict conformity to justice. I believe the federal courts will be as independent as the state courts. I should no more hesitate to trust my liberty and property to the one than the other. Whenever, in any country in the world, the judges are independent, property is secure. The existence of Great Britain depends on that purity with which justice is administered. When gentlemen will therefore find that the federal legislature cannot affect preexisting claims by their legislation, and the federal courts are on the same ground with the state courts, I hope there will be no ground of alarm.
Permit me to deliver a few sentiments on the great and important subject of previous and subsequent amendments. When I sat down to read that paper, I did not read it with an expectation that it was perfect, and that no man would object to it. I had learned, sir, that an expectation of such perfection in any institute devised by man, was as vain as the search for the philosopher’s stone. I discovered objectionsI thought I saw there some sown seeds of disunionnot in the immediate operation of the government, but which might happen in some future time. I wish amendments to remove these. But these remote possible errors may be eradicated by the amendatory clause in the Constitution. I see no danger in making the experiment, since the system itself points out an easy mode of removing any errors which shall have been experienced. In this view, then, I think we may safely trust in the government. With respect to the eight states who have already acceded to it, do gentlemen believe that, should we propose amendments as the sine qua non of our adoption, they would listen to our proposals? I conceive, sir, that they would not retract. They would tell usNo, gentlemen, we cannot accept of your conditions. You put yourselves upon the ground of opposition. Your amendments are dictated by local considerations. We, in our adoption, have been influenced by considerations of general utility to the Union. We cannot abandon principles, like these, to gratify you. Thus, sir, by previous amendments, we present a hostile countenance. If, on the contrary, we imitate the conduct of those states, our language will be conciliatory and friendly. Gentlemen, we put ourselves on the same ground that you are on. We are not actuated by local consideration, but by such as affect the people of America in general. This conduct will give our amendments full weight.
I was surprised when I heard introduced the opinion of a gentleman (Mr. Jefferson) whom I highly respect. I know He great abilities of that gentleman. Providence has, for the good of mankind, accompanied those extensive abilities with a disposition to make use of them for the good of his fellow-beings; and I wish, with all my heart, that he was here to assist us on this interesting occasion. As to his letter, impressed as I am with the force of his authority, I think it was improper to introduce it on this occasion. The opinion of a private individual, however enlightened, ought not to influence our decision. But, admitting that this opinion ought to be conclusive with us, it strikes me in a different manner from the honorable gentleman. I have seen the letter in which this gentleman has written his opinion upon this subject. It appears that he is possessed of that Constitution, and has in his mind the idea of amending ithe has in his mind the very question, of subsequent or previous amendments, which is now under consideration. His sentiments on this subject are as follows: “I wish, with all my soul, that the nine first conventions may accept the new Constitution, because it will secure to us the good it contains, which I think great and important. I wish the four latest, whichever they be, may refuse to accede to it till amendments are secured.” He then enumerates the amendments which he wishes to be secured, and adds, “We must take care, however, that neither this nor any other objection to the form, produce a schism in our Union. That would be an incurable evil; because friends falling out never cordially reunite.” Are these sentiments in favor of those who wish to prevent its adoption by previous amendments? He wishes the first nine states to adopt it. What are his reasons? Because he thinks it will secure to us the good it contains, which he thinks great and important; and he wishes the other four may refuse it, because he thinks it may tend to obtain necessary amendments. But he would not wish that a schism should take place in the Union on any consideration. If, then, we are to be influenced by his opinion at all, we shall ratify it, and secure thereby the good it contains. The Constitution points out a plain and ordinary method of reform, without any disturbance or convulsions whatever. I therefore think that we ought to ratify it, in order to secure the Union, and trust to this method for removing those inconveniences which experience shall point out.[Mr. Pendleton added several other observations, but spoke too low to be heard.]
Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman: finding, sir, that the clause more immediately under consideration still meets with the disapprobation of the honorable gentleman over the way, (Mr. Grayson,) and finding that the reasons of the opposition, as further developed, are not satisfactory to myself and others who are in favor of the clause, I wish that it may meet with the most thorough and complete investigation. I beg the attention of the committee, in order to obviate what fell from the honorable gentleman. He set forth that, by giving up the power of taxation, we should give up every thing, and still insists on requisitions being made on tad states, and then, if they be not complied with, Congress shall lay direct taxes, by way of penalty. Let us consider the dilemma which arises from this doctrine. Either requisitions will be efficacious, or they will not. If they will be efficacious, then I say, sir, we give up every thing as much as by direct taxation.
The same amount will be paid by the people as by direct taxes. If they be not efficacious, where is the advantage of this plan? In what respect will it relieve us from the inconveniences which we have experienced from requisitions? The power of laying direct taxes by the general government is supposed by the honorable gentleman to be chimerical and impracticable. What is the consequence of the alternative he proposes? We are to rely upon this power to be ultimately used as a penalty to compel the states to comply. If it be chimerical and impracticable in the first instance, it will be equally so when it will be exercised as a penalty. A reference was made to concurrent executions as an instance of the possibility of interference between the two governments.[Here Mr. Madison spoke so low that he could not be distinctly heard.]
This has been experienced under the state governments without involving any inconvenience. But it may be answered that, under the state governments, concurrent executions cannot produce the inconvenience here dreaded, because they are executed by the same officer. Is it not in the power of the general government to employ the state officers? Is nothing to be left to future legislation, or must every thing be immutably fixed in the Constitution? Where exclusive power is given to the Union, there can be no interference. Where the general and state legislatures have concurrent power, such regulations will be made as shall be found necessary to exclude interferences and other inconveniences. It will be their interest to make regulations.
It has been said that there is no similarity between petty corporations and independent states. I admit that, in many points of view, there is a great dissimilarity; but in others, there is a striking similarity between them, which illustrates what is before us. Have we not seen, in our own country, (as has been already suggested in the course of the debates,) concurrent collections of taxes going on at once, without producing any inconvenience? We have seen three distinct collections of taxes, for three distinct purposes. Has it not been possible for collections of taxes, for parochial, county, and state purposes, to go on at the same time? Every gentleman must know that this is now the case; and though there be a subordination in these cases which will not be ill the general government, yet in practice it has been found that these different collections have been concurrently carried on, with convenience to the people, without clashing with one another, and without deriving their harmony from the circumstance of being subordinate to one legislative body. The taxes will be laid for different purposes. The members of the one government, as well as of the other, are the agents of, and subordinate to, the people. I conceive that the collection of the taxes of the one will not impede that of the other, and that there can be no interference. This concurrent collection appears to me neither chimerical nor impracticable.
He compares resistance of the people to collectors to refusal of requisitions. This goes against all government. It is as much as to urge that there should be no legislature. The gentlemen, who favored us with their observations on this subject, seemed to reason on a supposition that the general government was confined, by the paper on your table, to lay general, uniform taxes. Is it necessary that there should be a tax on any given article throughout the United States? It is represented to be oppressive, that the states which have slaves, and make tobacco, should pay taxes on these for federal wants, when other states, which have them not, would escape. But does the Constitution on the table admit of this? On the contrary, there is a proportion to be hid on each state, according to its population. The most proper articles will be selected in each state. If one article, in any state, should be deficient, it will be laid on another article. Our state is secured on this foundation. Its proportion will be commensurate to its population. This is a constitutional scale, which is an insuperable bar against disproportion, and ought to satisfy all reasonable minds. If the taxes be not uniform, and the representatives of some states contribute to lay a tax of which they bear no proportion, is not this principle reciprocal? Does not the same principle hold in our state government in some degree? It has been found inconvenient to fix on uniform objects of taxation in this state, as the back parts are not circumstanced like the lower parts of the country. In both cases, the reciprocity of the principle will prevent a disposition in one part to oppress the other. My honorable friend seems to suppose that Congress, by the possession of this ultimate power as a penalty, will have as much credit, and will be as able to procure any sums, on any emergency, as if they were possessed of it in the first instance; and that the votes of Congress will be as competent to procure loans as the votes of the British Commons. Would the votes of the British House of Commons have that credit which they now have, if they were liable to be retarded in their operation, and, perhaps, rendered ultimately nugatory, as those of Congress must be by the proposed alternative? When their vote passes, it usually receives the concurrence of the Other branch; and it is known that there is sufficient energy in the government to carry it into effect.
But here the votes of Congress are, in the first place, dependent on the compliance of thirteen different bodies, and, after non-compliance, are liable to be opposed and defeated by the jealousy of the states against the exercise of this power, and by the opposition of the people, which may be expected if this power be exercised by Congress after partial compliances. These circumstances being known, Congress could not command one shilling. My honorable friend seems to think that we ought to spare the present generation, and throw our burdens upon posterity. I will not contest the equity of this reasoning; but I must say that good policy, as well as views of economy, strongly urges us, even to distress ourselves to comply with our most solemn engagements. We must take effectual provision for the payment of the interest of our public debts. In order to do justice to our creditors, and support our credit and reputation, we must lodge power somewhere or other for this purpose. As yet the United States have not been able, by any energy contained in the old system, to accomplish this end.
Our creditors have a right to demand the principal, but would be satisfied with a punctual payment of the interest. If we have been unable to pay the interest, much less shall we be able to discharge the principal. It appears to me that the whole reasoning used on this occasion shows that we ought to adopt this system, to enable us to throw our burdens on posterity. The honorable member spoke of the decemviri at Rome as having some similitude to the ten representatives who are to be appointed by this state. I can see no point of similitude here, to enable us to draw any conclusion. For what purpose were the decemviri appointed? They were invested with a plenipotentiary commission to make a code of laws. By whom were they appointed? By the people at large? My memory is not infallible, but it tells me they were appointed by the senate,I believe, in the name of the people. If they were appointed by the senate, and composed of the most influential characters among the nobles, can any thing be inferred from that against our federal representatives? Who made a discrimination between the nobles and the people? The senate.
Those men totally perverted the powers which were given them, for the purpose above specified, to the subversion of the public liberty. Can we suppose that a similar usurpation might be made by men appointed in a totally different manner? As their circumstances were totally dissimilar, I conceive that no arguments drawn from that source can apply to this government. I do not thoroughly comprehend the reasoning of my honorable friend, when he tells us that the federal government will predominate, and that the state interest will be lost, when, at the same time, he tells us that it will be a faction of seven states. If seven states will prevail, as states, I conceive that state influence will prevail. If state influence, under the present feeble government, has prevailed, I think that a remedy ought to be introduced, by giving the general government power to suppress it.
He supposed that my argument with respect to a future war between Great Britain and France was fallacious. The other nations of Europe have acceded to that neutrality, while Great Britain opposed it. We need not expect, in case of such a war, that we should be suffered to participate in the profitable emoluments of the carrying trade, unless we were in a respectable situation. Recollect the last war. Was there ever a war in which the British nation stood opposed to so many nations? All the belligerent nations in Europe, with nearly one half of the British empire, were united against it. Yet that nation, though defeated, and humbled beyond ally previous example, stood out against this. From her firmness and spirit in such desperate circumstances, we may divine what her future conduct may be.
I did not contend that it was necessary for the United States to establish a navy for that sole purpose, but instanced it as one reason, out of several, for rendering ourselves respectable. I am no friend to naval or land armaments in time of peace; but if they be necessary, the calamity must be submitted to. Weakness will invite insults. A respectable government will not only entitle us to a participation of the advantages which are enjoyed by other nations, but will be a security against attacks and insults. It is to avoid the calamity of being obliged to have large armaments that we should establish this government. The best way to avoid danger is to be in a capacity to withstand it.
The impost, we are told, will not diminish, because the emigrations to the westward will prevent the increase of population. He has reasoned on this subject justly to certain degree. I admit that the imposts will increase, till population becomes so great as to compel us to recur to manufactures. The period cannot he very far distant when the unsettled parts of America will be inhabited. At the expiration of twenty-five years hence, I conceive that, in every part of the United States, there will be as great a population as there is now in the settled parts. We see, already, that, in the most populous parts of the Union, and where there is but a medium, manufactures are beginning to be established. Where this is the case, the amount of importation will begin to diminish. Although the impost may even increase during the term of twenty-five years, yet when we are preparing a government for perpetuity, we ought to found it on permanent principles, and not on those of a temporary nature.
Holland is a favorite quotation with honorable members on the other side of the question. Had not their sentiments been discovered by other circumstances, I should have concluded, from their reasonings on this occasion, that they were friends of the Constitution. I should suppose that they had forgotten which side of the question they were on. Holland has been called a republic, and a government friendly to liberty. Though it may be greatly superior to some other governments in Europe, still it is not a republic or a democracy. Their legislature consists, in some degree, of men who legislate for life. Their councils consist of men who hold their offices for life, who fill up offices and appoint their salaries themselves. The people have no agency, mediate or immediate, in the government. If we look at their history, we shall find that every mischief which has befallen them has resulted from the existing confederacy. If the stadtholder has been productive of mischiefs, if we ought to guard against such a magistrate more than any evil, let me beseech the honorable gentleman to take notice of what produced that, and those troubles which have interrupted their tranquillity from time to time. The weakness of their confederacy produced both.
When the French arms were ready to overpower their republic, and they were feeble in the means of defence, which was principally owing to the violence of parties, they then appointed a stadtholder, who sustained them. If we look at more recent events, we shall have a more pointed demonstration that their political infelicity, arises from the imbecility of their government. In the late disorders, the states were almost equally dividedthree provinces on one side, three on the other, and the other divided. One party inclined to the Prussians, and the other to the French. The situation of France did not admit of her interposing immediately in their disputes by an army; that of the Prussians did. A powerful and large army marched into Holland, and compelled the other party to surrender. We know the distressing consequences to the people. What produced those disputes, and the necessity of foreign interference, but the debility of their confederacy? We may be warned by their example, and shun their fate, by removing the causes which produced their misfortunes. My honorable friend has referred to the transaction of the federal council with respect to the navigation of the Mississippi. I wish it was consistent with delicacy and prudence to lay a complete view of the whole matter before this committee. The history of it is singular and curious, and perhaps its origin ought to be taken into consideration.
I will touch on some circumstances, and introduce nearly the substance of most of the facts relative to it, that I may not seem to shrink from explanation. It was soon perceived, sir, after the commencement of the war with Britain, that, among the various objects that would affect the happiness of the people of America, the navigation of the Mississippi was one. Throughout the whole history of foreign negotiation, great stress was laid on its preservation. In the time of our greatest distresses, and particularly when the Southern States were the scene of war, the Southern States cast their eyes around to be relieved from their misfortunes. It was supposed that assistance might be obtained for the, relinquishment of that navigation. It was thought that, for so substantial a consideration, Spain might be induced to afford decisive succor. It was opposed by the Northern and Eastern States. They were sensible that it might be dangerous to surrender this important right, particularly to the inhabitants of the western country. But so it was, that the Southern States were for it, and the Eastern States opposed to it. Since obtaining that happy peace, which secures to us all our claims, this subject has been taken again into consideration, and deliberated upon in the federal government. A temporary relinquishment has been agitated. Several members from the different states, but particularly from the Northern, were for a temporary surrender, because it would terminate disputes, and, at the end of the short period for which it was to be given, the right would revert, of course, to those who had given it up; and for this temporary surrender some commercial advantages were offered. For my part, I consider this measure, though founded on considerations plausible and honorable, was yet not justifiable but on grounds of inevitable necessity. I must declare, in justice to many characters who were in Congress, that they declared that they never would enter into the measure, unless the situation of the United States was such as could not prevent it.
I suppose that the adoption of this government wilt be favorable to the preservation of the right to that navigation. Emigration will be made, from those parts of the United States which are settled, to those parts which are unsettled. If we afford protection to the western country, we shall see it rapidly peopled. Emigrations from some of the Northern States have been lately increased. We may conclude, as has been said by a gentleman on the same side, (Mr. Nicholas,) that those who emigrate to that country will leave behind them all their friends and connections as advocates for this right.
What was the cause of those states being the champions of this right when the Southern States were disposed to surrender it? The preservation of this right will be for the general interest of the Union. The western country will be settled from the north as well as the south, and its prosperity will add to the strength and security of the Union. I am not able to recollect all those circumstances which would be necessary to give gentlemen a full view of the subject. I can only add, that I conceive that the establishment of the new government will be the best possible means of securing our rights, as well in the western parts as elsewhere. I will not sit down till I make one more observation on what fell from my honorable friend. He says that the true difference between the states lies in this circumstancethat some are carrying states and others productive, and that the operation of the new government will be, that there will be a plurality of the former to combine against the interest of the latter, and that consequently it will be dangerous to put it in their power to do so. I would join with him in sentiments, if this were the case. Were this within the bounds of probability, I should be equally alarmed; but I think that those states, which are contradistinguished, as carrying states, from the non-importing states, will be but few. I suppose the Southern States will be considered by all asunder the latter description. Some other states have been mentioned by an honorable member on the same side, which are not considered as carrying states. New Jersey and Connecticut can by no means be enumerated among the carrying states. They receive their supplies through New York. Here, then, is a plurality of non-importing states. I could add another, if necessary. Delaware, though situated upon the water, is upon the list of non-carrying states. I might say that a great part of New Hampshire is so. I believe a majority of the people of that state receive their supplies from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Might I not add all those states which will be admitted hereafter into the Union? These will be non-carrying states, and will support Virginia in case the carrying states will attempt to combine against the rest. This objection must therefore fall to the ground. My honorable friend has made several other remarks, but I will defer saying any more till we come to those parts to which his objections refer.
Mr. HENRY. Mr. Chairman, once more I find it necessary to trespass on your patience. An honorable gentleman, several days ago, observed, that the great object of this government was justice. We were told before, that the greater consideration was union. However, the consideration of justice seems to have been what influenced his mind when he made strictures on the proceedings of the Virginia Assembly. I thought the reasons of that transaction had been sufficiently explained.
It is exceedingly painful to me to be objecting; but I must make a few observations. I shall not again review the catalogue of dangers which the honorable gentleman entertained us with. They appear to me absolutely imaginary. They have, in my conception, been proved to be such.
But sure I am that the dangers of this system are real, when those who have no similar interests with the people of this country are to legislate for uswhen our dearest interests are left in the power of those whose advantage it may be to infringe them. How will the quotas of troops be furnished? Hated as requisitions are, your federal officers cannot collect troops, like dollars, and carry them in their pockets. You must make those abominable requisitions for them, and the scale will be in proportion to the number of your blacks, as well as your whites, unless they violate the constitutional rule of apportionment. This is not calculated to rouse the fears of the people. It is founded in truth. How oppressive and dangerous must this be to the Southern States, who alone have slaves! This will render their proportion infinitely greater than that of the Northern States. It has been openly avowed that this shall be the rule. I will appeal to the judgments of the committee, whether there be danger. The honorable gentleman said that there was no precedent for this American revolution. We have precedents in abundance. They have been drawn from Great Britain. Tyranny has arisen there in the same manner in which it was introduced among the Dutch. The tyranny of Philadelphia may be like the tyranny of George III. I believe this similitude will be incontestably proved before we conclude.
The honorable gentleman has endeavored to explain the opinion of Mr. Jefferson, our common friend, into an advice to adopt this new government. What are his sentiments? He wishes nine states to adopt, and that four states may be found somewhere to reject it. Now, sir, I say, if we pursue his advice, what are we to do? To prefer form to substance? For, give me leave to ask, what is the substantial part of his counsel? It is, sir, that four states should reject. They tell us that, from the most authentic accounts, New Hampshire will adopt it. When I denied this, gentlemen said they were absolutely certain of it. Where, then, will four states be found to reject, if we adopt it? If we do, the counsel of this enlightened and worthy countryman of ours will be thrown away; and for what? He wishes to secure amendments and a bill of rights, if I am not mistaken. I speak from the best information, and if wrong, I beg to be put right. His amendments go to that despised thing, called a bill of rights, and all the rights which are dear to human naturetrial by jury, the liberty of religion and the press, &c. Do not gentlemen see that, if we adopt, under the idea of following Mr. Jefferson’s opinion, we amuse ourselves with the shadow, while the substance is given away? If Virginia be for adoption, what states will be left, of sufficient respectability and importance to secure amendments by their rejection? As to North Carolina, it is a poor, despised place. Its dissent will not have influence to introduce any amendments. Where is the American spirit of liberty? Where will you find attachment to the rights of mankind, when Massachusetts, the great northern state, Pennsylvania, the great middle state, and Virginia, the great southern state, shall have adopted this government? Where will you find magnanimity enough to reject it? Should the remaining states have this magnanimity, they will not have sufficient weight to have the government altered. This state has weight and importance. Her example will have powerful influenceher rejection will procure amendments. Shall we, by our adoption, hazard the loss of amendments? Shall we forsake that importance and respectability which our station in America commands, in hopes that relief will come from an obscure part of the Union? I hope my countrymen will spurn at the idea.
The necessity of amendments is universally admitted. It is a word which is reechoed from every part of the continent. A majority of those who hear me think amendments are necessary. Policy tells us they are necessary. Reason, self-preservation, and every idea of propriety, powerfully urge us to secure the dearest rights of human nature. Shall we, in direct violation of these principles, rest this security upon the uncertainty of its being obtained by a few States, more weak and less respectable than ourselves, and whose virtue and magnanimity may be overborne by the example of so many adopting states? Poor Rhode Island, and North Carolina, and even New York, surrounded with federal walls on every side, may not be magnanimous enough to reject; and if they do reject it, they will have but little influence to obtain amendments. I ask, if amendments be necessary, from whence can they be so properly proposed as from this state? The example of Virginia is a powerful thing, particularly with respect to North Carolina, whose supplies must come through Virginia. Every possible opportunity of procuring amendments is gone, our power and political salvation are gone, if we ratify unconditionally. The important right of making treaties is upon the most dangerous foundation. The President, and a few senators, possess it in the most unlimited manner, without any real responsibility, if, from sinister views, they should think proper to abuse it; for they may keep all their measures in the most profound secrecy, as long as they please. Were we not told that war was the case wherein secrecy was the most necessary? But, by the paper on your table, their secrecy is not limited to this case only. It is as unlimited and unbounded as their powers. Under the abominable veil of political secrecy and contrivance, your most valuable rights may be sacrificed by a most corrupt faction, without having the satisfaction of knowing who injured you. They are bound by honor and conscience to act with integrity, but they are under no constitutional restraint. The navigation of the Mississippi, which is of so much importance to the happiness of the people of this country, may be lost by the operation of that paper. There are seven states now decidedly opposed to this navigation. If it be of the highest consequence to know who they are who shall have voted its relinquishment, the federal veil of secrecy will prevent that discovery. We may labor under the magnitude of our miseries without knowing or being able to punish those who produced them. I did not wish that transactions relative to treaties should, when unfinished, be exposed; but it should be known, after they were concluded, who had advised them to be made, in order to secure some degree of certainty that the public interest shall be consulted in their formation.
We are told that all powers not given are reserved. I am sorry to bring forth hackneyed observations. But, sir, important truths lose nothing of their validity or weight, by frequency of repetition. The English history is frequently recurred to by gentlemen. Let us advert to the conduct of the people of that country. The people of England lived without a declaration of rights till the war in the time of Charles I. That king made usurpations upon the rights of the people. Those rights were, in a great measure, before that time undefined. Power and privilege then depended on implication and logical discussion. Though the declaration of rights was obtained from that king, his usurpations cost him his life. The limits between the liberty of the people, and the prerogative of the king, were still not clearly defined.
The rights of the people continued to be violated till the Stuart family was banished, in the year 1688. The people of England magnanimously defended their rights, banished the tyrant, and prescribed to William, Prince of Orange, by the bill of rights, on what terms he should reign; and this bill of rights put an end to all construction and implication. Before this, sir, the situation of the public liberty of England was dreadful. For upwards of a century, the nation was involved in every kind of calamity, till the bill of rights put an end to all, by defining the rights of the people, and limiting the king’s prerogative. Give me leave to add (if I can add any thing to so splendid an example) the conduct of the American people. They, sir, thought a bill of rights necessary. It is alleged that several states, in the formation of their government, omitted a bill of rights. To this I answer, that they had the substance of a bill of rights contained in their constitutions, which is the same thing. I believe that Connecticut has preserved it, by her Constitution, her royal charter, which clearly defines and secures the great rights of mankindsecures to us the great, important rights of humanity; and I care not in what form it is done.
Of what advantage is it to the American Congress to take away this great and general security? I ask, Of what advantage is it to the public, or to Congress, to drag an unhappy debtor, not for the sake of justice, but to gratify the malice of the plaintiff, with his witnesses, to the federal court, from a great distance? What was the principle that actuated the Convention in proposing to put such dangerous powers in the hands of any one? Why the trial by jury taken away? All the learned arguments that have been used on this occasion do not prove that it is secured. Even the advocates for the plan do not all concur in the certainty of its security. Wherefore is religious liberty not secured? One honorable gentleman, who favors adoption, said that he had had his fears on the subject. If I can well recollect, he informed us that he was perfectly satisfied, by the powers of reasoning, (with which he is so happily endowed,) that those fears were not well grounded. There is many a religious man who knows nothing of argumentative reasoning; there are many of our most worthy citizens who cannot go through all the labyrinths of syllogistic, argumentative deductions, when they think that the rights of conscience are invaded. This sacred right ought not to depend on constructive, logical reasoning.
When we see men of such talents and learning compelled to use their utmost abilities to convince themselves that there is no danger, is it not sufficient to make us tremble? Is it not sufficient to fill the minds of the ignorant part of men with fear? If gentlemen believe that the apprehensions of men will be quieted, they are mistaken, since our best informed men are in doubt with respect to the security of our rights. Those who are not so well informed will spurn at the government. When our common citizens, who are not possessed with such extensive knowledge and abilities, are called upon to change their bill of rights (which, in plain, unequivocal terms, secures their most valuable rights and privileges) for construction and implication, will they implicitly acquiesce? Our declaration of rights tells us that “all men are by nature free and independent,” &c. [Here Mr. Henry read the declaration of rights.] Will they exchange these rights for logical reasons? If you had a thousand acres of land dependent on this, would you be satisfied with logical construction? Would you depend upon a title of so disputable a nature? The present opinions of individuals will be buried in entire oblivion when those rights will be thought of. That sacred and lovely thing, religion, ought not to rest on the ingenuity of logical deduction. Holy religion, sir, will be prostituted to the lowest purposes of human policy. What has been more productive of mischief among mankind than religious disputes? Then here, sir, is a foundation for such disputes, when it requires learning and logical deduction to perceive that religious liberty is secure.
The honorable member told us that he had doubts with respect to the judiciary department. I hope those doubts will be explained. He told us that his object was union. I admit that the reality of union, and not the name, is the object which most merits the attention of every friend to his country. He told you that you should hear many great, sounding words on our side of the question. We have heard the word union from him. I have heard no word so often pronounced in this house as he did this. I admit that the American Union is dear to every man. I admit that every man, who has three grains of information, must know and think that union is the best of all things. But, as I said before, we must not mistake the end for the means. If he can show that the rights of the Union are secure, we will consent. It has been sufficiently demonstrated that they are not secured. It sounds mighty prettily to gentlemen, to curse paper money and honestly pay debts. But apply to the situation of America, and you will find there are thousands and thousands of contracts, whereof equity forbids an exact literal performance. Pass that government, and you will be bound hand and foot. There was an immense quantity of depreciated Continental paper money in circulation at the conclusion of the war. This money is in the hands of individuals to this day. The holders of this money may call for the nominal value, if this government be adopted. This state may be compelled to pay her proportion of that currency, pound for pound. Pass this government, and you will be carried to the federal court, (if I understand that paper right,) and you will be compelled to pay shilling for shilling. I doubt on the subject: at least, as a public man, I ought to have doubts. A state may be sued in the federal court, by the paper on your table. It appears to me, then, that the holder of the paper money may require shilling for shilling. If there be any latent remedy to prevent this, I hope it will be discovered.
The precedent, with respect to the union between England and Scotland, does not hold. The union of Scotland speaks in plain and direct terms. Their privileges were particularly secured. It was expressly provided that they should retain their own particular laws. Their nobles have a right to choose representatives to the number of sixteen. I might thus go on and specify particulars: but it will suffice to observe, generally, that their rights and privileges were expressly and unequivocally reserved. The power of direct taxation was not given up by the Scotch people. There is no trait in that union which will maintain their arguments. In order to do this, they ought to have proved that Scotland united without securing their rights, and afterwards got that security by subsequent amendments. Did the people of Scotland do this? No, sir: like a sensible people, they trusted nothing to hazard. If they have but forty-five members, and those be often corrupted, these defects will be greater here. The number will be smaller, and they will be consequently the more easily corrupted. Another honorable gentleman advises us to give this power, in order to exclude the necessity of going to war. He wishes to establish national credit, I presume, and imagines that, if a nation has public faith, and shows a disposition to comply with her engagements, she is safe among ten thousand dangers. If the honorable gentleman can prove that this paper is calculated to give us public faith, I will be satisfied. But if you be in constant preparation for war, on such airy and imaginary grounds as the mere possibility of danger, your government must be military, which will be inconsistent with the enjoyment of liberty.
But, sir, we must become formidable, and have a strong government, to protect us from the British nation. Will the paper on the table prevent the attacks of the British navy, or enable us to raise a fleet equal to the British fleet? The British have the strongest fleet in Europe, and can strike any where. It is the utmost folly to conceive that the paper can have such an operation. It will be no less so to attempt to raise a powerful fleet. With respect to requisitions, I beseech gentlemen to consider the importance of the subject. We, who are for amendments, propose (as has been frequently mentioned) that a requisition shall be made for two hundred thousand pounds, for instance, instead of direct taxation, and that, if it be not complied with, then it shall be raised by direct taxes. We do not wish to have strength, to refuse to pay them, but to possess the power of raising the taxes in the most easy mode for the people. But, says he, you may delay us by this mode. Let us see if there be not sufficient to counterbalance this evil. The oppression arising from taxation is not from the amount, but from the mode: a thorough acquaintance with the condition of the people is necessary to a just distribution of taxes. The whole wisdom of the science of government, with respect to taxation, consists in selecting that mode of collection which will best accommodate the convenience of the people. When you come to tax a great country, you will find that ten men are too few to settle the manner of collection. One capital advantage, which will result from the proposed alternative, is thisthat there will be necessary communications between your ten members in Congress and your hundred and seventy representatives here. If it goes through the hands of the latter, they will know how much the citizens can pay, and, by looking at the paper on your table, they will know how much they ought to pay. No man is possessed of sufficient information to know how much we can or ought to pay.
We might also remonstrate, if, by mistake or design, they should call for a greater stun than our proportion. After a remonstrance, and a free investigation between our representatives here and those in Congress, the error would be removed.
Another valuable thing which it will produce is, that the people will pay the taxes cheerfully. It is supposed that this would occasion a waste of time, and be an injury to public credit. This would only happen if requisitions should not be complied with. In this case the delay would be compensated by the payment of interest, which, with the addition of the credit of the state to that of the general government, would in a great measure obviate this objection. But if it had all the force which it is supposed to have, it would not be adequate to the evils of direct taxation. But there is every probability that requisitions would be then complied with. Would it not, then, be our interest as well as duty to comply? After non-compliance, there would be a general acquiescence in the exercise of this power. We are fond of giving power, at least power which is constitutional. Here is an option to pay according to your own mode or otherwise. If you give probability fair play, you must conclude that they would be complied with, Would the Assembly of Virginia, by refusal, destroy the country, and plunge the people in misery and distress? If you give your reasoning faculty fair play, you cannot but know that payment must be made, when the consequence of a refusal would be an accumulation of inconveniences to the people. Then they say that, if requisitions be not complied with, in case of a war, the destruction of the country may be the consequence: that therefore we ought to give the power of taxation to the government, to enable it to protect us. Would not this be another reason for complying with requisitions, to prevent the country from being destroyed? You tell us that, unless requisitions be complied with, your commerce is gone. The prevention of this, also, will be an additional reason to comply.
He tells us that responsibility is secured by direct taxation. Responsibility, instead of being increased, will be lost forever by it. In our state government, our representatives may be severally instructed by their constituents. There are no persons to counteract their operations. They can have no excuse for deviating from our instructions. In the general government, other men have power over the business. When oppressions may take place, our representatives may tell us,We contended for your interest: but we could not carry our point, because the representatives from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, &c., were against us. Thus, sir, you may see there is no real responsibility. He further said that there was such a contrariety of interests as to hinder a consolidation. I will only make one remark. There is a variety of interests. Some of the states owe a great deal on account of paper money: others very little: some of the Northern States have collected and barrelled up paper money. Virginia has sent thither her cash long ago. There is little or none of the Continental paper money retained in this state. Is it not their business to appreciate this money? Yes, and it will be your business to prevent it. But there will be a majority against you, and you will be obliged to pay your share of this money, in its nominal value. It has been said, by several gentlemen, that the freeness of elections would be promoted by throwing the country into large districts. I contend, sir, that it will have a contrary effect. It will destroy that connection that ought to subsist between the electors and the elected. If your elections be by districts, instead of counties, the people will not be acquainted with the candidates. They must, therefore, be directed in the elections by those who know them. So that, instead of a confidential connection between the electors and the elected, they will be absolutely unacquainted with each other. A common man must ask a man of influence how he is to proceed, and for whom he must vote. The elected, therefore, will be careless of the interest of the electors. It will be a common job to extort the suffrages of the common people for the most influential characters. I he same men may be repeatedly elected by these means. This, sir, instead of promoting the freedom of election, leads us to an aristocracy. Consider the mode of elections in England. Behold the progress of an election in an English shire. A man of an enormous fortune will spend thirty or forty thousand pounds to get himself elected. This is frequently the case. Will the honorable gentleman say that a poor man, as enlightened as any man in the island, has an equal chance with a rich man, to be elected? He will stand no chance, though he may have the finest understanding of any man in the shire. It will be so here. Where is the chance that a poor man can come forward with the rich? The honorable gentleman will find that, instead of supporting democratical principles, it goes absolutely to destroy them.
The state governments, says he, will possess greater advantages than the general government, and will consequently prevail. His opinion and mine are diametrically opposite. Bring forth the federal allurements, and compare them with the poor, contemptible things that the state legislatures can bring forth. On the part of the state legislatures, there are justices of the peace and militia officers: and even these justices and officers are bound by oath in favor of the Constitution. A constable is the only man who is not obliged to swear paramount allegiance to this beloved Congress. On the other hand, there are rich, fat, federal emoluments. Your rich, snug, fine, fat, federal officersthe number of collectors of taxes and exciseswill outnumber any thing from the states. Who can cope with the excisemen and taxmen? There are none in this country who can cope with this class of men alone. But, sir, is this the only danger? Would to Heaven that it were! If we are to ask which will last the longest, the state or the general government, you must take an army and a navy into the account. Lay these things together, and add to the enumeration the superior abilities of those who manage the general government.
Can, then, the state governments look it in the face? You dare not look it in the face now, when it is but in embryo. The influence of this government will be such, that you never can get amendments: for if you propose alterations, you will affront them. Let the honorable gentleman consider all these things, and say, whether the state governments will last as long as the federal government. With respect to excises, I can never endure them. They have been productive of the most intolerable oppressions every where. Make a probable calculation of the expense attending the legislative, executive, and judiciary. You will find that there must be an immense increase of taxes. We are the same mass of people we were before: in the same circumstances: the same pockets are to pay. The expenses are to be increased. What will enable us to bear this augmentation of taxes? The me re form of government will not do it. A plain understanding cannot conceive how the taxes can be diminished, when our expenses are augmented, and the means of paying them not increased.
With respect to our tax laws, we have purchased a little knowledge by sad experience upon the subject. Reiterated experiments have taught us what can alleviate the distresses, and suit the convenience, of the people. But we are now to throw away that system by which we have acquired this knowledge, and send ten men to legislate for us.
The honorable gentleman was pleased to say that the representation of the people was the vital principle of this government. I will readily agree that it ought to be so. But I contend that this principle is only nominally, and not substantially, to be found there. We contended with the British about representation. They offered us such a representation as Congress now does. They called it a virtual representation. If you look at that paper, you will find it so there. Is there but a virtual representation in the upper house? The states are represented, as states, by two senators each. This is virtual, not actual. They encounter you with Rhode Island and Delaware. This is not an actual representation. What does the term representation signify? It means that a certain districta certain association of menshould be represented in the government, for certain ends. These ends ought not to be impeded or obstructed in any manner. Here, sir, this populous state has not an adequate share of legislative influence. The two petty states of Rhode Island and Delaware, which, together, are infinitely inferior to this state in extent and population, have double her weight, and can counteract her interest. I say that the representation in the Senate, as applicable to states, is not actual. Representation is not, therefore, the vital principle of this government. So far it is wrong.
Rulers are the servants and agents of the people: the people are their masters. Does the new Constitution acknowledge this principle? Trial by jury is the best appendage of freedom. Does it secure this? Does it secure the other great rights of mankind? Our own Constitution preserves these principles. The honorable gentleman contributed to form that Constitution. The applauses so justly due to it should, in my opinion, go to the condemnation of that paper.
With respect to the failures and errors of our government, they might have happened in any government. I do not justify what merits censure, but I shall not degrade my country. As to deviations from justice, I hope they will be attributed to the errors of the head, and not to those of the heart.
The honorable gentleman did our judiciary honor in saying that they had firmness to counteract the legislature in some cases. Yes, sir, our judges opposed the acts of the legislature. We have this landmark to guide us. They had fortitude to declare that they were the judiciary, and would oppose unconstitutional acts. Are you sure that your federal judiciary will act thus? Is that judiciary as well constructed, and as independent of the other branches, as our state judiciary? Where are your landmarks in this government? I will be bold to say you cannot find any in it. I take it as the highest encomium on this country, that the acts of the legislature, if unconstitutional, are liable to be opposed by the judiciary.
Then the honorable gentleman said that the two judiciaries and legislatures would go in a parallel line, and never interfere: that, as long as each was confined to its proper objects, there would be no danger of interference: that, like two parallel lines, as long as they continued in their parallel direction, they never Would meet. With submission to the honorable gentleman’s opinion, I assert that there is danger of interference, because no line is drawn between the powers of the two governments, in many instances: and, where there is a line, there is no check to prevent the one from encroaching upon the powers of the other.
I therefore contend that they must interfere, and that this interference must subvert the state government, as being less powerful. Unless your government have checks, it must inevitably terminate in the destruction of your privileges. I will be bold to say that the British government has real checks. I was attacked by gentlemen, as if I had said that I loved the British government better than our own. I never said so. I said that, if I were obliged to relinquish a republican government, I would choose the British monarchy. I never gave the preference to the British or any other government, when compared to that which the honorable gentleman assisted to form. I was constrained to say what I said. When two disagreeable objects present, themselves to the mind, we choose that which has the least deformity.
As to the western country, notwithstanding our representation in Congress, and notwithstanding any regulation that may be made by Congress, it may be lost. The seven Northern States are determined to give up the Mississippi. We are told that, in order to secure the navigation of that river, it was necessary to give it up, for twenty-five years, to the Spaniards, and that thereafter we should enjoy it forever, without any interruption from them. This argument resembles that which recommends adopting first and then amending. I think the reverse of what the honorable gentleman said on the subject. Those seven states are decidedly against it. He tells us that it is the policy of the Whole Union to retain it. If men were wise, virtuous, and honest, we might depend on an adherence to this policy. Did we not know of the fallibility of human nature, we might rely on the present structure of this government. We might depend that the rules of propriety, and the general interest of the Union, would be observed. But the depraved nature of man is well known. He has a natural bias towards his own interest, which will prevail over every consideration, unless it be checked. It is the interest and inclination of the seven Northern States to relinquish this river. If you enable them to do so, will the mere propriety of consulting the interest of the other six states refrain them from it? Is it imagined that Spain will, after a peaceable possession of it for thirty years, give it up to you again? Can credulity itself hope that the Spaniards, who wish to have it for that period, wish to clear the river for you? What is it they wish? To clear the river! For whom? America saw the time when she had the reputation of common sense at least. Do you suppose they will restore it to you after thirty years? If you do, you depart from that rule. Common observation fells you that it must be the policy of Spain to get it first, and then retain it forever. If you give it up, in my poor estimation they will never voluntarily restore it. Where is the man who will believe that, after clearing the river, strengthening themselves, and increasing the means of retaining it, the Spaniards will tamely surrender it?
With respect to the concurrent collection of parochial, county, and state taxes, which the honorable gentleman has instanced as a proof of the practicability of the concurrent collection of taxes by the general and state governments, the comparison will not stand examination. As my honorable friend has said, these concurrent collections come from one power. They radiate from the same centre. They are not co