In Convention, Richmond, Friday, June 6, 1788
The Convention, according to the order of the day, again resolved itself into a committee of the whole Convention, to take into further consideration the proposed plan of government. Mr. Wythe in the chair.[The 1st and 2d sections still under consideration.]
Gov. RANDOLPH. Mr. Chairman, I am a child of the revolution. My country, very early indeed, took me under its protection, at a time when I most wanted it, and, by a succession of favors and honors, gratified even my most ardent wishes. I feel the highest gratitude and attachment to my country; her felicity is the most fervent prayer of my heart. Conscious of having exerted my faculties to the utmost in her behalf, if I have not succeeded in securing the esteem of my countrymen, I shall reap abundant consolation from the rectitude of my intentions: honors, when compared to the satisfaction accruing from a conscious independence and rectitude of conduct, are no equivalent. The unwearied study of my life shall be to promote her happiness. As a citizen, ambition and popularity are no objects with me. I expect, in the course of a year, to retire to that private station which I most sincerely and cordially prefer to all others. The security of public justice, sir, is what I most fervently wish, as I consider that object to be the primary step to the attainment of public happiness. I can declare to the whole world, that, in the part I take in this very important question, I am actuated by a regard for what I conceive to be our true interest. I can also, with equal sincerity, declare that I would join heart and hand in rejecting this system, did I not conceive it would promote our happiness; but, having a strong conviction on my mind, at this time, that by a disunion we shall throw away all those blessings we have so earnestly fought for, and that a rejection of the Constitution will operate disunion, pardon me if I discharge the obligation I owe to my country, by voting for its adoption. We are told that the report of dangers is false. The cry of peace, sir, is false: say peace, when there is peace; it is but a sudden calm. The tempest growls over you: look roundwheresoever you look, you see danger. Where there are so many witnesses in many parts of America, that justice is suffocated, shall peace and happiness still be said to reign? Candor, sir, requires an undisguised representation of our situation. Candor, sir, demands a faithful exposition of facts. Many citizens have found justice strangled and trampled under foot, through the course of jurisprudence in this country. Are those who have debts due to them satisfied with your government? Are not creditors wearied with the tedious procrastination of your legal processa process obscured by legislative mists? Cast your eyes to your seaports: see how commerce languishes. This country, so blessed, by nature, with every advantage that can render commerce profitable, through defective legislation is deprived of all the benefits and emoluments she might otherwise reap from it. We hear many complaints on the subject of located lands; a variety of competitors claiming the same lands under legislative acts, public faith prostrated, and private confidence destroyed. I ask you if your laws are reverenced. In every well-regulated community, the laws command respect. Are yours entitled to reverence? We not only see violations of the constitution, but of national principles in repeated instances. How is the fact? The history of the violations of the constitution extends from the year 1776 to this present timeviolations made by formal acts of the legislature: every thing has been drawn within the legislative vortex.
There is one example of this violation in Virginia, of a most striking and shocking naturean example so horrid, that, if I conceived my country would passively permit a repetition of it, dear as it is to me, I would seek means of expatriating myself from it. A man, who was then a citizen, was deprived of his life thus: from a mere reliance on general reports, a gentleman in the House of Delegates informed the house, that a certain man (Josiah Philips) had committed several crimes,and was running at large, perpetrating other crimes. He therefore moved for leave to attaint him; he obtained that leave instantly; no sooner did he obtain it, than he drew from his pocket a bill ready written for that effect; it was read three times in one day, and carried to the Senate. I will not say that it passed the same day through the Senate; but he was attainted very speedily and precipitately, without any proof better than vague reports. Without being confronted with his accusers and witnesses, without the privilege of calling for evidence in his behalf, he was sentenced to death, and was afterwards actually executed. Was this arbitrary deprivation of life, the dearest gift of God to man, consistent with the genius of a republican government? Is this compatible with the spirit of freedom? This, sir, has made the deepest impression on my heart, and I cannot contemplate it without horror. There are still a multiplicity of complaints of the debility of the laws. Justice, in many instances, is so unattainable that commerce may, in fact, be said to be stopped entirely. There is no peace, sir, in this land. Can peace exist with injustice, licentiousness, insecurity, and oppression? These considerations, independent of many others which I have not yet enumerated, would be a sufficient reason for the adoption of this Constitution, because it secures the liberty of the citizen, his person and property, and will invigorate and restore commerce and industry. An additional reason to induce us to adopt it is that excessive licentiousness which has resulted from the relaxation of our laws, and which will be checked by this government. Let us judge from the fate of more ancient nations: licentiousness has produced tyranny among many of them: it has contributed as much (if not more) as any other cause whatsoever to the loss of their liberties. I have respect for the integrity of our legislatures; I believe them to be virtuous; but as long as the defects of the Constitution exist, so long will laws be imperfect.
The honorable gentleman went on further, and said that the accession of eight states is not a reason for our adoption. Many other things have been alleged out of order; instead of discussing the system regularly, a variety of points are promiscuously debated, in order to make temporary impression on the members. Sir, were I convinced of the validity of their arguments, I would join them heart and hand. Were I convinced that the accession of eight states did not render our accession also necessary to preserve the Union, I would not accede to it till it should be previously amended; but, sir, I am convinced that the Union will be lost by our rejection. Massachusetts has adopted it; she has recommended subsequent amendments; her influence must be very considerable to obtain them. I trust my countrymen have sufficient wisdom and virtue to entitle them to equal respect. Is it urged that, being wiser, we ought to prescribe amendments to the other states? I have considered this subject deliberately; wearied myself in endeavoring to find a possibility of preserving the Union, without our unconditional ratification; but, sir, in vain; I find no other means. I ask myself a variety of questions applicable to the adopting states, and I conclude, Will they repent of what they have done? Will they acknowledge themselves in an error? Or will they recede, to gratify Virginia? My prediction is, that they will not. Shall we stand by ourselves, and be severed from the Union, if amendments cannot be had? I have every reason for determining within myself that our rejection must dissolve the Union; and that that dissolution will destroy our political happiness. The honorable gentleman was pleased to draw out several other arguments out of order,that this government would destroy the state governments, the trial by jury, &c. &c.,and concluded by an illustration of his opinion by a reference to the confedcracy of the Swiss. Let us argue with unprejudiced minds. They say that the trial by jury is gone. Is this so? Although I have declared my determination to give my vote for it, yet I shall freely censure those parts which appear to me reprehensible.
The trial by jury in criminal cases is secured; in civil cases it is not so expressly secured as I should wish it; but it does not follow that Congress has the power of taking away this privilege, which is secured by the constitution of each state, and not given away by this Constitution. I have no fear on this subject. Congress must regulate it so as to suit every state. I will risk my property on the certainty that they will institute the trial by jury in such manner as shall accommodate the conveniences of the inhabitants in every state. The difficulty of ascertaining this accommodation was the principal cause of its not being provided for. It will be the interest of the individuals composing Congress to put it on this convenient footing. Shall we not choose men respectable for their good qualities? Or can we suppose that men tainted with the worst vices will get into Congress? I beg leave to differ from the honorable gentleman in another point. He dreads that great inconveniences will ensue from the federal court; that our citizens will be harassed by being carried thither. I cannot think that this power of the federal judiciary will necessarily be abused; the inconvenience here suggested being of a general nature, affecting most of the states, will, by general consent of the states, be removed; and, I trust, such regulations shall be made in this case as will accommodate the people in every state. The honorable gentleman instanced the Swiss cantons, as an example, to show us the possibility, if not expediency, of being in amicable alliance with the other states, without adopting this system. Sir, references to history will be fatal in political reasons unless well guarded. Our mental ability is often so contracted, and powers of investigation so limited, that sometimes we adduce as an example in our favor what in fact militates against us. Examine the situation of that country comparatively to us: the extent and situation of that country is totally different from ours; their country is surrounded by powerful, ambitious, and reciprocally jealous nations; their territory small, and soil not very fertile. The peculiarity, sir, of their situation, has kept them together, and not that system of alliance to which the gentleman seems to attribute the durability and felicity of their connection.[Here his excellency quoted some passages from Stanyard, illustrating his argument, and largely commented upon it; the effect of which was, that the narrow confines of that country rendered it very possible for a system of confederacy to accommodate those cantons, that would not suit the United States; that it was the fear of the ambitious and warlike nations that surrounded them, and the reciprocal jealousy of the other European powers, that rendered their union so desirable; and that, notwithstanding these circumstances, and their being a hardy race of people, yet such was the injudicious construction of their confederacy, that very considerable broils interrupted their harmony sometimes.]
His excellency then continued: I have produced this example to show that we ought not to be amused with the historical references which have no kind of analogy to the points under our consideration. We ought to confine ourselves to those points, solely, which have an immediate and strict similitude to the subject of our discussion. The reference made by the honorable gentleman over the way is extremely inapplicable to us. Are the Swiss cantons circumstanced as we are? Are we surrounded by formidable nations? Or are we situated in any manner like them? We are not, sir. Then it naturally results, that no such friendly intercourse as he flattered himself with could take place, in a case of a dissolution of our union. We are remotely situated from powerful nations, the dread of whose attack might impel us to unite firmly with one another; nor are we situated in an inaccessibly strong position; we have to fear much from one another. We must soon feel the fatal effects of an imperfect system of union. The honorable gentleman attacks the Constitution, as he thinks it is contrary to our bill of rights. Do we not appeal to the people, by whose authority all government is made? That bill of rights is of no validity, because, I conceive, it is not formed on due authority. It is not a part of our Constitution; it has never secured us against any danger; it has been repeatedly disregarded and violated. But we must not discard the Confederation, for the remembrance of its past services. I am attached to old servants. I have regard and tenderness for this old servant; but when reason tells us, that it can no longer be retained without throwing away all that it has gained us, and running the risk of losing every thing dear to us, must we still continue our attachment? Reason and my duty tell me not. Other gentlemen may think otherwise.
But, sir, is it not possible that men may differ in sentiments, and still be honest? We have an inquisition within ourselves, that leads us not to offend so much against charity. The gentleman expresses a necessity of being suspicious of those who govern. I will agree with him in the necessity of political jealousy to a certain extent; but we ought to examine how far this political jealousy ought to be carried. I confess that a certain degree of it is highly necessary to the preservation of liberty; but it ought not to be extended to a degree which is degrading and humiliating to human nature; to a degree of restlessness, and active disquietude, sufficient to disturb a community, or preclude the possibility of political happiness and contentment. Confidence ought also to be equally limited. Wisdom shrinks from extremes, and fixes on a medium as her choice. Experience and history, the least fallible judges, teach us that, in forming a government, the powers to be given must be commensurate to the object. A less degree will defeat the intention, and a greater will subject the people to the depravity of rulers, who, though they are but the agents of the people, pervert their powers to their emoluments and ambitious views.
Mr. Chairman, I am sorry to be obliged to detain the house; but the relation of a variety of matters renders it now unavoidable. I informed the house yesterday, before rising, that I intended to show the necessity of having a national government in preference to the Confederation; also to show the necessity of conceding the power of taxation, and distinguishing between its objects; and I am the more happy that I possess materials of information for that purpose. My intention, then, is to satisfy the gentlemen of this committee that a national government is absolutely indispensable, and that a confederacy is not eligible, in our present situation: the introductory step to this will be, to endeavor to convince the house of the necessity of the Union, and that the present Confederation is actually inadequate and unamendable. The extent of the country is objected, by the gentleman over the way, as an insurmountable obstacle to the establishing a national government in the United States. It is a very strange and inconsistent doctrine, to admit the necessity of the Union, and yet urge this last objection, which I think goes radically to the existence of the Union itself. If the extent of the country be a conclusive argument against a national government, it is equally so against a union with the other states. Instead of entering largely into a discussion of the nature and effect of the different kinds of government, or into an inquiry into the particular extent of country that may suit the genius of this or that government, I ask this questionIs this government necessary for the safety of Virginia? Is the union indispensable for our happiness? I confess it is imprudent for any nation to form alliance with another whose situation and construction of government are dissimilar to its own. It is impolitic and improper for men of opulence to join their interest with men of indigence and chance. But we are now inquiring particularly whether Virginia, as contradistinguished from the other states, can exist without the uniona hard question, perhaps, after what has been said. I will venture, however, to say, she cannot. I shall not rest contented with assertingI shall endeavor to prove.
Look at the most powerful nations on earth. England and France have had recourse to this expedient. Those countries found it necessary to unite with their immediate neighbors, and this union has prevented the most lamentable mischiefs. What divine preëminence is Virginia possessed of above other states? Can Virginia send her navy and thunder to bid defiance to foreign nations? And can she exist without a union with her neighbors, when the most potent nations have found such a union necessary, not only to their political felicity, but their national existence? Let us examine her ability. Although it be impossible to determine with accuracy what degree of internal strength a nation ought to possess to enable it to stand by itself, yet there are certain sure facts and circumstances which demonstrate that a particular nation cannot stand singly. I have spoken with freedom, and I trust I have done it with decency; but I must also speak the truth. If Virginia can exist without the union, she must derive that ability from one or other of these sources,viz., from her natural situation, or because she has no reason to fear from other nations. What is her situation? She is not inaccessible: she is not a petty republic, like that of St. Marino, surrounded by rocks and mountains, with a soil not very fertile, nor worthy the envy of surrounding nations. Were this, sir, her situation, she might, like that petty state, subsist separated from all the world. On the contrary, she is very accessible: the large, capacious Bay of Chesapeake, which is but too excellently adapted for the admission of enemies, renders her very vulnerable.
I am informedand I believe rightly, because I derive my information from those whose knowledge is most respectablethat Virginia is in a very unhappy position with respect to the access of foes by sea, though happily situated for commerce. This being her situation by sea, let us look at land. She has frontiers adjoining the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina. Two of those states have declared themselves members of the Union: will she be inaccessible to the inhabitants of those states? Cast your eyes to the western country, that is inhabited by cruel savages, your natural enemies. Besides their natural propensity to barbarity, they may be excited, by the gold of foreign enemies, to commit the most horrid ravages on your people. Our greatly-increasing population is one remedy to this evil; but being scattered thinly over so extensive a country, how difficult is it to collect their strength, or defend the country! This is one point of weakness. I wish, for the honor of my countrymen, that it was the only one. There is another circumstance which renders us more vulnerable. Are we not weakened by the population of those whom we hold in slavery? The day may come when they may make impression upon us. Gentlemen who have been long accustomed to the contemplation of the subject, think there is a cause of alarm in this case: the number of those people, compared to that of the whites, is an immense proportion: their number amounts to 236,000that of the whites only to 352,000. Will the American spirit, so much spoken of, repel an invading enemy, or enable you to obtain an advantageous peace? Manufactures and military stores may afford relief to a country exposed: have we these at present? Attempts have been made to have these here. If we shall be separated from the Union, shall our chance of having these be greater?or will not the want of these be more deplorable?
We shall be told of the exertions of Virginia under the Confederationher achievements when she had no commerce. These, sir, were necessary for her immediate safety; nor would these have availed without the aid of the other states. Those states, then our friends, brothers, and supporters, will, if disunited from us, be our bitterest enemies. If, then, sir, Virginia, from her situation, is not inaccessible or invulnerable, let us consider if she be protected by having no cause to fear from other nations. Has she no cause to fear? You will have cause to fear, as a nation, if disunited; you will not only have this cause to fear from yourselves, from that species of population I before mentioned, and your once sister states, but from the arms of other nations. Have you no cause of fear from Spain, whose dominions border on your country? Every nation, every people, in our circumstances, have already had abundant cause to fear. Let us see the danger to be apprehended from France. Let us suppose Virginia separated from the other states; as part of the former confederated states, she will owe France a very considerable sum. Will France be as magnanimous as ever? France, by the law of nations, will have a right to demand the whole of her, or of the others. If France were to demand it, what would become of the property of America? Could she not destroy what little commerce we have? Could she not seize our ships, and carry havoc and destruction before her on our shores? The most lamentable desolation would take place. We owe a debt to Spain also: do we expect indulgence from that quarter? That nation has a right to demand the debt due to it, and power to enforce that right. Will the Dutch be silent about the debt due to them? Is there any one who pretends that any of these nations will be patient? The debts due the British are also very considerable; these debts have been withheld contrary to treaty: if Great Britain will demand the payment of these debts peremptorily, what will be the consequence? Can we pay them if demanded? Will no danger result from a refusal? Will the British nation suffer their subjects to be stripped of their property? Is not that nation amply able to do her subjects justice? Will the resentment of that powerful and supercilious nation sleep forever? If we become one sole nation, uniting with our sister states, our means of defence will be greater; the indulgence for the payment of those debts will be greater, and the danger of an attack less probable. Moreover, vast quantities of lands have been sold by citizens of this country to Europeans, and these lands cannot be found. Will this fraud be countenanced or endured? Among so many causes of danger, shall we be secure, separated from our sister states? Weakness itself, sir, will invite some attack upon your country. Contemplate our situation deliberately, and consult history; it will inform you that people in our circumstances have ever been attacked, and successfully: open any page, and you will there find our danger truly depicted. If such a people had any thing, was it not taken? The fate which will befall us, I fear, sir, will be, that we shall be made a partition of. How will these our troubles be removed? Can we have any dependence on commerce? Can we make any computation on this subject? Where will our flag appear? So high is the spirit of commercial nations, that they will spend five times the value of the object, to exclude their rivals from a participation in commercial profits; they seldom regard any expenses. If we should be divided from the rest of the states, upon what footing would our navigation in the Mississippi be? What would be the probable conduct of France and Spain? Every gentleman may imagine, in his own mind, the natural consequences. To these considerations I might add many others of a similar nature. Were I to say that the boundary between us and North Carolina is not yet settled, I should be told that Virginia and that state go together. But what, sir, will be the consequence of the dispute that may arise between us and Maryland, on the subject of Potomac River? It is thought Virginia has a right to an equal navigation with them in that river. If ever it should be decided on grounds of prior right, their charter will inevitably determine it in their favor. The country called the Northern Neck will probably be severed from Virginia: there is not a doubt but the inhabitants of that part will annex themselves to Maryland, if Virginia refuse to accede to the Union. The recent example of those regulations lately made respecting that territory will illustrate that probability. Virginia will also be in danger of a conflict with Pennsylvania, on the subject of boundaries. I know that some gentlemen are thoroughly persuaded that we have a right to those disputed boundaries: if we have such a right, I know not where it is to be found.
Are we not borderers on states that will be separated from us? Call to mind the history of every part of the world, where nations bordered on one another, and consider the consequences of our separation from the Union. Peruse those histories, and you find such countries to have ever been almost a perpetual scene of bloodshed and slaughterthe inhabitants of one escaping from punishment into the otherprotection given themconsequent pursuitrobbery, cruelty, and murder. A numerous standing army, that dangerous expedient, would be necessary, but not sufficient, for the defence of such borders. Every gentleman will amplify the scene in his own mind.
If you wish to know the extent of such a scene, look at the history of England and Scotland before the union; you will see their borderers continually committing depredations, and cruelties of the most calamitous and deplorable nature, on one another. Mr. Chairman, were we struck off from the Union, and disputes of the back lands should be renewed, which are of the most alarming nature, and which must produce uncommon mischiefs, can you inform me how this great subject would be settled? Virginia has a large, unsettled country; she has at last quieted it. But there are great doubts whether she has taken the best way to effect it. If she has not, disagreeable consequences may ensue. I have before hinted at some other causes of quarrel between the other states and us; particularly the hatred that would be generated by commercial competitions. I will only add, on that subject, that controversies may arise concerning the fisheries, which may terminate in wars. Paper money may also be an additional source of disputes. Rhode Island has been in one continued train of opposition to national duties and integrity; they have defrauded their creditors by their paper money. Other states have also had emissions of paper money, to the ruin of credit and commerce. May not Virginia, at a future day, also recur to the same expedient? Has Virginia no affection for paper money, or disposition to violate contracts? I fear she is as fond of these measures as most other states in the Union. The inhabitants of the adjacent states would be affected by the depreciation of paper money, which would assuredly produce a dispute with those states. This danger is taken away by the present Constitution, as it provides “that no state shall emit bills of credit.” Maryland has counteracted the policy of this state frequently, and may be meditating examples of this kind again. Before the revolution, there was a contest about those back lands, in which even government was a party; it was put an end to by the war. Pennsylvania was ready to enter into a war with us, for the disputed lands near the boundaries, and nothing but the superior prudence of the man who was at the head of affairs in Virginia could have prevented it.
I beg leave to remind you of the strength of Massachusetts and other states to the north; and what would their conduct be to us, if disunited from them? In case of a conflict between us and Maryland, or Pennsylvania, they would be aided by the whole strength of the more northern states; in short, by that of the adopting states. For these reasons, I conceive that, if Virginia supposes she has no cause of apprehension, she will find herself in a fatal error.
Suppose the American spirit in the fullest vigor in Virginia; what military preparations and exertions is she capable of making? The other states have upwards of 330,000 men capable of bearing arms: this will be a good army, or they can very easily raise a good army out of so great a number. Our militia amounts to 50,000: even stretching it to the improbable amount (urged by some) of 60,000,in case of an attack, what defence can we make? Who are militia? Can we depend solely upon these? I will pay the last tribute of gratitude to the militia of my country: they performed some of the most gallant feats during the last war, and acted as nobly as men inured to other avocations could be expected to do; but, sir, it is dangerous to look to them as our sole protectors. Did ever militia defend a country? Those of Pennsylvania were said to differ very little from regulars; yet these, sir, were insufficient for the defence of that state. The militia of our country will be wanted for agriculture. On this noblest of arts depend the virtue and the very existence of a country; if it be neglected, every thing else must be in a state of ruin and decay. It must be neglected if those hands which ought to attend to it are occasionally called forth on military expeditions. Some also will be necessary for manufactures, and those mechanic arts which are necessary for the aid of the farmer and planter. If we had men sufficient in number to defend ourselves, it could not avail without other requisites. We must have a navy, to be supported in time of peace as well as war, to guard our coasts and defend us against invasions. The impossibility of building and equipping a fleet in short time constitutes the necessity of having a certain number of ships of war always ready in time of peace: the maintaining a navy will require money; and where, sir, can we get money for this and other purposes? How shall we raise it? Review the enormity of the debts due by this country. The amount of the debt we owe to the continent for bills of credit, rating at forty for one, will amount to between 6 and 700,000 pounds. There is also due the continent the balance of requisitions due by us; and, in addition to this proportion of the old Continental debt, there are the foreign, domestic, state, military, and loan-office debts; to which when you add the British debt, where is the possibility of finding money to raise an army or navy? Review, then, your real ability. Shall we recur to loans? Nothing can be more impolitic; they impoverish a nation. We, sir, have nothing to repay them; nor, sir, can we procure them. Our numbers are daily increasing by immigration; but this, sir, will not relieve us when our credit is gone and it is impossible to borrow money. If the imposts and duties in Virginia, even on the present footing, be very unproductive, and not equal to our necessity, what would they be if we were separated from the Union? From the first of September to the first of June, the amount put into the treasury is only £59,000, or a little more. But, sir, if smuggling be introduced in consequence of high duties, or otherwise, and the Potomac should be lost, what hope is there of getting money there? Shall we be asked if the impost would be bettered by the Union? I answer that it will, sir. Credit being restored, and confidence diffused in the country, merchants and men of wealth will be induced to come among us, immigration will increase, and commerce will flourish; the impost will therefore be more sure and productive.
Under these circumstances, can you find men to defend you? If not men, where can you have a navy? It is an old observation, that he who commands the sea will command the land; and it is justified by modern experience in war. The sea can only be commanded by commercial nations. The United States have every means, by nature, to enable them to distribute supplies mutually among one another; to supply other nations with many articles, and to carry for other nations. Our commerce would not be kindly received by foreigners, if transacted solely by ourselves. As it is the spirit of commercial nations to engross as much as possible the carrying trade, this makes it necessary to defend our commerce. But how shall we compass this end? England has arisen to the greatest height, in modern times, by her navigation act, and other excellent regulations. The same means would produce the same effects. We have inland navigation. Our last exports did not exceed £1,000,000. Our export trade is entirely in the hands of foreigners. We have no manufacturesdepend for supplies on other nationsand so far are we from having any carrying trade, that, as I have already said, our exports are in the hands of foreigners. Besides the profit that might be made by our natural materials, much greater gains would accrue from their being first wrought before they were exported. England has reaped immense profits by this, nay, even by purchasing and working up those materials which their country did not afford: her success in commerce is generally ascribed to her navigation act. Virginia would not, encumbered as she is, agree to have such an act. Thus, for the want of a navy, are we deprived of the multifarious advantages of our natural situation; nor is it possible that, if the Union was dissolved, we ever should have a navy sufficient either for our defence or the extension of our trade.
I beg gentlemen to consider these thingsour inability to raise and man a navy, and the dreadful consequences of the dissolution of the Union. I will close this catalogue of the evils of the dissolution of the Union by recalling to your mind what passed in the year 1781. Such was the situation of our affairs then, that the power of dictator was given to the commander-in-chief, to save us from destruction. This shows the situation of the country to have been such as to make it ready to embrace an actual dictator. At some future period, will not our distresses impel us to do what the Dutch have donethrow all power into the hands of a stadtholder? How infinitely more wise and eligible than this desperate alternative, is a union with our American brethren! I feel myself so abhorrent to any thing that will dissolve our Union, that I cannot prevail with myself to assent to it directly or indirectly. If the Union is to be dissolved, what step is to be taken? Shall we form a partial confederacy? Or is it expected that we shall successfully apply to foreign alliance for military aid? This last measure, sir, has ruined almost every nation that used it: so dreadful an example ought to be most cautiously avoided; for seldom has a nation recurred to the expedient of foreign succor, without being ultimately crushed by that succor. We may lose our liberty and independence by an injudicious scheme of policy. Admitting it to be a scheme replete with safety, what nation shall we solicit?France? She will disdain a connection with a people in our predicament. I would trust every thing to the magnanimity of that nation; but she would despise a people who had, like us, so imprudently separated from their brethren; and, sir, were she to accede to our proposal, with what facility could she become mistress of our country! To what nation, then, shall we apply? To Great Britain? Nobody has as yet trusted that idea. An application to any other must be either fruitless or dangerous. To those who advocate local confederacies, and at the same time preach up for republican liberty, I answer that their conduct is inconsistent: the defence of such partial confederacies will require such a degree of force and expense as will destroy every feature of republicanism. Give me leave to say, that I see nought but destruction in a local confederacy. With what state can we confederate but North Carolina?North Carolina, situated worse than ourselves. Consult your own reason; I beseech gentlemen most seriously to reflect on the consequences of such a confederacy; I beseech them to consider whether Virginia and North Carolina, both oppressed with debts and slaves, can defend themselves externally, or make their people happy internally. North Carolina, having no strength but militia, and Virginia, in the same situation, will make, I fear, but a despicable figure in history. Thus, sir, I hope that I have satisfied you that we are unsafe without a union; and that in union alone safety consists.
I come now, sir, to the great inquiry, whether the Confederation be such a government as we ought to continue underwhether it be such a government as can secure the felicity of any free people. Did I believe the Confederation was a good thread, which might be broken without destroying its utility entirely, I might be induced to concur in putting it together; but I am so thoroughly convinced of its incapacity to be mended or spliced, that I would sooner recur to any other expedient.
When I spoke last, I endeavored to express my sentiments concerning that system, and to apologize (if an apology was necessary) for the conduct of its framers; that it was hastily devised to enable us to repel a powerful enemy, that the subject was novel, and that its inefficacy was not discovered till requisitions came to be made by Congress. In the then situation of America, a speedy remedy was necessary to ward off the danger, and this sufficiently answered that purpose; but so universally is its imbecility now known, that it is useless for me to exhibit it at this time. Has not Virginia, as well as every other state, acknowledged its debility, by sending delegates to the general Convention? The Confederation is, of all things, the most unsafe, not only to trust to in its present from, but even to amend.
The object of a federal government is to remedy and strengthen the weakness of its individual branches, whether that weakness arises from situation or from any external cause. With respect to the first, is it not a miracle that the Confederation carried us through the last war? It was our unanimity, sir, that carried us through it. That system was not ultimately concluded till the year 1781. Although the greatest exertions were made before that time, when came requisitions for men and money,its defects then were immediately discovered: the quotas of men were readily sent; not so those of money. One state feigned inability; another would not comply till the rest did; and various excuses were offered: so that no money was sent into the treasurynot a requisition was fully complied with. Loans were the next measure fallen upon: upwards of 80,000,000 of dollars were wanting, beside the emissions of dollars forty for one. These show the impossibility of relying on requisitions.[Here his excellency enumerates the different delinquencies of different states, and the consequent distresses of Congress.] If the American spirit is to be depended upon, I call him to awake, to see how his Americans have been disgraced; but I have no hopes that things will be better hereafter. I fully expect things will be as they have been, and that the same derangement will produce similar miscarriages. Will the American spirit produce money or credit, unless we alter our system? Are we not in a contemptible situation? Are we not the jests of other nations?
But it is insinuated by the honorable gentleman, that we want to be a grand, splendid, and magnificent people: we wish not to become so: the magnificence of a royal court is not our object. We want a government, sira government that will have stability, and give us security; for our present government is destitute of the one and incapable of producing the other. It cannot, perhaps, with propriety, be denominated a government, being void of that energy requisite to enforce sanctions. I wish my country not to be contemptible in the eyes of foreign nations. A well-regulated community is always respected. It is the internal situation, the defects of government, that attract foreign contempt: that contempt, sir, is too often followed by subjugation. Advert to the contemptuous manner in which a shrewd politician speaks of our government.[Here his excellency quoted a passage from Lord Sheffield, the purport of which was, that Great Britain might engross our trade on her own terms; that the imbecility and inefficacy of our general government were such, that it was impossible we could counteract her policy, however rigid or illiberal towards us her commercial regulations might be.]
Reflect but a moment on our situation. Does it not invite real hostility? The conduct of the British ministry to us is the natural effect of our unnerved government. Consider the commercial regulations between us and Maryland. Is it not known to gentlemen that the states have been making reprisals on each otherto obviate a repetition of which, in some degree, these regulations have been made? Can we not see, from this circumstance, the jealousy, rivalship, and hatred that would subsist between them, in case this state was out of the Union? They are importing states, and importing states will ever be competitors and rivals. Rhode Island and Connecticut have been on the point of war, on the subject of their paper money; Congress did not attempt to interpose. When Massachusetts was distressed by the late insurrection, Congress could not relieve her. Who headed that insurrection? Recollect the facility with which it was raised, and the very little ability of the ringleader, and you cannot but deplore the extreme debility of our merely nominal government. We are too despicable to be regarded by foreign nations. The defects of the Confederation consisted principally in the want of power: it had nominally powers, powers on paper, which it could not use. The power of making peace and war is expressly delegated to Congress; yet the power of granting passports, though within that of making peace and war, was considered by Virginia as belonging to herself. Without adequate powers vested in Congress, America cannot be respectable in the eyes of other nations. Congress, sir, ought to be fully vested with power to support the Union, protect the interests of the United States, maintain their commerce, and defend them from external invasions and insults, and internal insurrections; to maintain justice, and promote harmony and public tranquillity among the states.
A government not vested with these powers will ever be found unable to make us happy or respectable. How far the Confederation is different from such a government, is known to all America. Instead of being able to cherish and protect the states, it has been unable to defend itself against the encroachments made upon it by the states. Every one of them has conspired against it; Virginia as much as any. This fact could be proved by reference to actual history. I might quote the observations of an able modern author, not because he is decorated with the name of author, but because his sentiments are drawn from human nature, to prove the dangerous impolicy of withholding necessary powers from Congress; but I shall at this time fatigue the house as little as possible. What are the powers of Congress? They have full authority to recommend what they please; this recommendatory power reduces them to the condition of poor supplicants. Consider the dignified language of the members of the American Congress. May it please your high mightinesses of Virginia to pay your just proportionate quota of our national debt: we humbly supplicate that it may please you to comply with your federal duties. We implore, we beg your obedience! Is not this, sir, a fair representation of the powers of Congress? Their operations are of no validity when counteracted by the states. Their authority to recommend is a mere mockery of government. But the amendability of the Confederation seems to have great weight on the minds of some gentlemen. To what point will the amendments go? What part makes the most important figure? What part deserves to be retained? In it one body has the legislative, executive, and judicial powers; but the want of efficient powers has prevented the dangers naturally consequent on the union of these. Is this union consistent with an augmentation of their power? Will you, then, amend it by taking away one of these three powers? Suppose, for instance, you only vested it with the legislative and executive powers, without any control on the judiciary; what must be the result? Are we not taught by reason, experience, and governmental history, that tyranny is the natural and certain consequence of uniting these two powers, or the legislative and judicial powers, exclusively, in the same body? If any one denies it, I shall pass by him as an infidel not to be reclaimed. Whenever any two of these three powers are vested in one single body, they must, at one time or other, terminate in the destruction of liberty. In the most important cases, the assent of nine states is necessary to pass a law. This is too great a restriction, and whatever good consequences it may, in some cases, produce, yet it will prevent energy in many other cases. It will prevent energy, which is most necessary on some emergencies, even in cases wherein the existence of the community depends on vigor and expedition. It is incompatible with that secrecy which is the life of execution and despatch. Did ever thirty or forty men retain a secret? Without secrecy no government can carry on its operations on great occasions; this is what gives that superiority in action to the government of one. If any thing were wanting to complete this farce, it would be, that a resolution of the Assembly of Virginia, and the other legislatures, should be necessary to confirm and render of any validity the Congressional acts; this would openly discover the debility of the general government to all the world. But, in fact, its imbecility is now nearly the same as if such acts were formally requisite. An act of the Assembly of Virginia, controverting a resolution of Congress, would certainly prevail. I therefore conclude that the Confederation is too defective to deserve correction. Let us take farewell of it, with reverential respect, as an old benefactor. It is gone, whether this house says so or not. It is gone, sir, by its own weakness.
I am afraid I have tired the patience of this house; but I trust you will pardon me, as I was urged by the importunity of the gentleman in calling for the reasons of laying the groundwork of this plan. It is objected by the honorable gentleman over the way (Mr. George Mason) that a republican government is impracticable in an extensive territory, and the extent of the United States is urged as a reason for the rejection of this Constitution. Let us consider the definition of a republican government, as laid down by a man who is highly esteemed. Montesquieu, so celebrated among politicians, says, that “a republican government is that in which the body, or only a part, of the people is possessed of the supreme power; a monarchical, that in which a single person governs by fixed and established laws; a despotic government, that in which a single person, without law and without rule, directs every thing by his own will and caprice.” This author has not distinguished a republican government from a monarchy by the extent of its boundaries, but by the nature of its principles. He, in another place, contradistinguishes it as a government of laws, in opposition to others which he denominates a government of men.
The empire or government of laws, according to that phrase, is that in which the laws are made with the free-will of the people; hence, then, if laws be made by the assent of the people, the government may be deemed free. When laws are made with integrity, and executed with wisdom, the question is, whether a great extent of country will tend to abridge the liberty of the people. If defensive force be necessary in proportion to the extent of country, I conceive that, in a judiciously-constructed government, be the country ever so extensive, its inhabitants will be proportionably numerous, and able to defend it. Extent of country, in my conception, ought to be no bar to the adoption of a good government. No extent on earth seems to be too great, provided the laws be wisely made and executed. The principles of representation and responsibility may pervade a large as well as small territory; and tyranny is as easily introduced into a small as into a large district. If it be answered, that some of the most illustrious and distinguished authors are of a contrary opinion, I reply, that authority has no weight with me till I am convinced; that not the dignity of names, but the force of reasoning, gains my assent.
I intended to show the nature of the powers which ought to have been given to the general government, and the reason of investing it with the power of taxation; but this would require more time than my strength, or the patience of the committee, would now admit of. I shall conclude with a few observations, which come from my heart. I have labored for the continuance of the Unionthe rock of our salvation. I believe that, as sure as there is a God in heaven, our safety, our political happiness and existence, depend on the union of the states; and that without this union, the people of this and the other states will undergo the unspeakable calamities which discord, faction, turbulence, war, and bloodshed, have produced in other countries. The American spirit ought to be mixed with American pride, to see the Union magnificently triumphant. Let that glorious pride, which once defied the British thunder, reanimate you again. Let it not be recorded of Americans, that, after having performed the most gallant exploits, after having overcome the most astonishing difficulties, and after having gained the admiration of the world by their incomparable valor and policy, they lost their acquired reputation, their national consequence and happiness, by their own indiscretion. Let no future historian inform posterity that they wanted wisdom and virtue to concur in any regular, efficient government. Should any writer, doomed to so disagreeable a task, feel the indignation of an honest historian, he would reprehend and criminate our folly with equal severity and justice. Catch the present momentseize it with avidity and eagernessfor it may be lost, never to be regained! If the Union be now lost, I fear it will remain so forever. I believe gentlemen are sincere in their opposition, and actuated by pure motives; but, when I maturely weigh the advantages of the Union, and dreadful consequences of its dissolution; when I see safety on my right, and destruction on my left; when I behold respectability and happiness acquired by the one, but annihilated by the other,I cannot hesitate to decide in favor of the former. I hope my weakness, from speaking so long, will apologize for my leaving this subject in so mutilated a condition. If a further explanation be desired, I shall take the liberty to enter into it more fully another time.
Mr. MADISON then arose[but he spoke so low that his exordium could not be heard distinctly.] I shall not attempt to make impressions by any ardent professions of zeal for the public welfare. We know the principles of every man will, and ought to be, judged, not by his professions and declarations, but by his conduct; by that criterion I mean, in common with every other member, to be judged; and should it prove unfavorable to my reputation, yet it is a criterion from which I will by no means depart. Comparisons have been made between the friends of this Constitution and those who oppose it: although I disapprove of such comparisons, I trust that, in point of truth, honor, candor, and rectitude of motives, the friends of this system, here and in other states, are not inferior to its opponents. But professions of attachment to the public good, and comparisons of parties, ought not to govern or influence us now. We ought, sir, to examine the Constitution on its own merits solely: we are to inquire whether it will promote the public happiness: its aptitude to produce this desirable object ought to be the exclusive subject of our present researches. In this pursuit, we ought not to address our arguments to the feelings and passions, but to those understandings and judgments which were selected by the people of this country, to decide this great question by a calm and rational investigation. I hope that gentlemen, in displaying their abilities on this occasion, instead of giving opinions and making assertions, will condescend to prove and demonstrate, by a fair and regular discussion. It gives me pain to hear gentlemen continually distorting the natural construction of language; for it is sufficient if any human production can stand a fair discussion. Before I proceed to make some additions to the reasons which have been adduced by my honorable friend over the way, I must take the liberty to make some observations on what was said by another gentleman, (Mr. Henry.) He told us that this Constitution ought to be rejected because it endangered the public liberty, in his opinion, in many instances. Give me leave to make one answer to that observation: Let the dangers which this system is supposed to be replete with be clearly pointed out: if any dangerous and unnecessary powers be given to the general legislature, let them be plainly demonstrated; and let us not rest satisfied with general assertions of danger, without examination. If powers be necessary, apparent danger is not a sufficient reason against conceding them. He has suggested that licentiousness has seldom produced the loss of liberty; but that the tyranny of rulers has almost always effected it. Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations; but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes. If we consider the peculiar situation of the United States, and what are the sources of that diversity of sentiment which pervades its inhabitants, we shall find great danger to fear that the same causes may terminate here in the same fatal effects which they produced in those republics. This danger ought to be wisely guarded against. Perhaps, in the progress of this discussion, it will appear that the only possible remedy for those evils, and means of preserving and protecting the principles of republicanism, will be found in that very system which is now exclaimed against as the parent of oppression.
I must confess I have not been able to find his usual consistency in the gentleman’s argument on this occasion. He informs us that the people of the country are at perfect repose,that is, every man enjoys the fruits of his labor peaceably and securely, and that every thing is in perfect tranquillity and safety. I wish sincerely, sir, this were true. If this be their happy situation, why has every state acknowledged the contrary? Why were deputies from all the states sent to the general Convention? Why have complaints of national and individual distresses been echoed and reechoed throughout the continent? Why has our general government been so shamefully disgraced, and our Constitution violated? Wherefore have laws been made to authorize a change, and wherefore are we now assembled here? A federal government is formed for the protection of its individual members. Ours has attacked itself with impunity. Its authority has been disobeyed and despised. I think I perceive a glaring inconsistency in another of his arguments. He complains of this Constitution, because it requires the consent of at least three fourths of the states to introduce amendments which shall be necessary for the happiness of the people. The assent of so many he urges as too great an obstacle to the admission of salutary amendments, which, he strongly insists, ought to be at the will of a bare majority. We hear this argument, at the very moment we are called upon to assign reasons for proposing a constitution which puts it in the power of nine states to abolish the present madequate, unsafe, and pernicious Confederation! In the first case, he asserts that a majority ought to have the power of altering the government, when found to be inadequate to the security of public happiness. In the last case, he affirms that even three fourths of the community have not a right to alter a government which experience has proved to be subversive of national felicity! nay, that the most necessary and urgent alterations cannot be made without the absolute unanimity of all the states! Does not the thirteenth article of the Confederation expressly require that no alteration shall be made without the unanimous consent of all the states? Could any thing in theory be more perniciously improvident and injudicious than this submission of the will of the majority to the most trifling minority? Have not experience and practice actually manifested this theoretical inconvenience to be extremely impolitic? Let me mention one fact, which I conceive must carry conviction to the mind of any one: the smallest state in the Union has obstructed every attempt to reform the government; that little member has repeatedly disobeyed and counteracted the general authority; nay, has even supplied the enemies of its country with provisions. Twelve states had agreed to certain improvements which were proposed, being thought absolutely necessary to preserve the existence of the general government; but as these improvements, though really indispensable, could not, by the Confederation, be introduced into it without the consent of every state, the refractory dissent of that little state prevented their adoption. The inconveniences resulting from this requisition, of unanimous concurrence in alterations in the Confederation, must be known to every member in this Convention; it is therefore needless to remind them of them. Is it not self-evident that a trifling minority ought not to bind the majority? Would not foreign influence be exerted with facility over a small minority? Would the honorable gentleman agree to continue the most radical defects in the old system, because the petty state of Rhode Island would not agree to remove them?
He next objects to the exclusive legislation over the district where the seat of government may be fixed. Would be submit that the representatives of this state should carry on their deliberations under the control of any other member of the Union? If any state had the power of legislation over the place where Congress should fix the general government, this would impair the dignity, and hazard the safety, of Congress. If the safety of the Union were under the control of any particular state, would not foreign corruption probably prevail, in such a state, to induce it to exert its controlling influence over the members of the general government? Gentlemen cannot have forgotten the disgraceful insult which Congress received some years ago. When we also reflect that the previous cession of particular states is necessary before Congress can legislate exclusively any where, we must, instead of being alarmed at this part, heartily approve of it.
But the honorable member sees great danger in the provision concerning the militia. This I conceive to be an additional security to our liberty, without diminishing the power of the states in any considerable degree. It appears to me so highly expedient that I should imagine it would have found advocates even in the warmest friends of the present system. The authority of training the militia, and appointing the officers, is reserved to the states. Congress ought to have the power to establish a uniform discipline throughout the states, and to provide for the execution of the laws, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions: these are the only cases wherein they can interfere with the militia; and the obvious necessity of their having power over them in these cases must convince any reflecting mind. Without uniformity of discipline, military bodies would be incapable of action: without a general controlling power to call forth the strength of the Union to repel invasions, the country might be overrun and conquered by foreign enemies: without such a power to suppress insurrections, our liberties might be destroyed by domestic faction, and domestic tyranny be established.
The honorable member then told us that there was no instance of power once transferred being voluntarily renounced. Not to produce European examples, which may probably be done before the rising of this Convention, have we not seen already, in seven states, (and probably in an eighth state,) legislatures surrendering some of the most important powers they possessed? But, sir, by this government, powers are not given to any particular set of men; they are in the hands of the people; delegated to their representatives chosen for short terms; to representatives responsible to the people, and whose situation is perfectly similar to their own. As long as this is the case we have no danger to apprehend. When the gentleman called our recollection to the usual effects of the concession of powers, and imputed the loss of liberty generally to open tyranny, I wish he had gone on farther. Upon his review of history, he would have found that the loss of liberty very often resulted from factions and divisions; from local considerations, which eternally lead to quarrels; he would have found internal dissensions to have more frequently demolished civil liberty, than a tenacious disposition in rulers to retain any stipulated powers.[Here Mr. Madison enumerated the various means whereby nations had lost their liberties.]
The power of raising and supporting armies is exclaimed against as dangerous and unnecessary. I wish there were no necessity of vesting this power in the general government. But suppose a foreign nation to declare war against the United States; must not the general legislature have the power of defending the United States? Ought it to be known to foreign nations that the general government of the United States of America has no power to raise and support an army, even in the utmost danger, when attacked by external enemies? Would not their knowledge of such a circumstance stimulate them to fall upon us? If, sir, Congress be not invested with this power, any powerful nation, prompted by ambition or avarice, will be invited, by our weakness, to attack us; and such an attack, by disciplined veterans, would certainly be attended with success, when only opposed by irregular, undisciplined militia. Whoever considers the peculiar situation of this country, the multiplicity of its excellent inlets and harbors, and the uncommon facility of attacking it,however much he may regret the necessity of such a power, cannot hesitate a moment in granting it. One fact may elucidate this argument. In the course of the late war, when the weak parts of the Union were exposed, and many states were in the most deplorable situation by the enemy’s ravages, the assistance of foreign nations was thought so urgently necessary for our protection, that the relinquishment of territorial advantages was not deemed too great a sacrifice for the acquisition of one ally. This expedient was admitted with great reluctance, even by those states who expected advantages from it. The crisis, however, at length arrived, when it was judged necessary for the salvation of this country to make certain cessions to Spain; whether wisely or otherwise is not for me to say; but the fact was, that instructions were sent to our representative at the court of Spain, to empower him to enter into negotiations for that purpose. How it terminated is well known. This fact shows the extremities to which nations will go in cases of imminent danger, and demonstrates the necessity of making ourselves more respectable. The necessity of making dangerous cessions, and of applying to foreign aid, ought to be excluded.
The honorable member then told us that there are heart-burning in the adopting states, and that Virginia may, if she does not come into the measure, continue in amicable confederacy with the adopting states. I wish as seldom as possible to contradict the assertions of gentlemen; but I can venture to affirm, without danger of being in an error, that there is the most satisfactory evidence that the satisfaction of those states is increasing every day, and that, in that state where it was adopted only by a majority of nineteen, there is not one-fifth of the people dissatisfied. There are some reasons which induce us to conclude that the grounds of proselytism extend every where; its principles begin to be better understood; and the inflammatory violence wherewith it was opposed by designing, illiberal, and unthinking minds, begins to subside. I will not enumerate the causes from which, in my conception, the heart-burnings of a majority of its opposers have originated. Suffice it to say, that in all they were founded on a misconception of its nature and tendency. Had it been candidly examined and fairly discussed, I believe, sir, that but a very inconsiderable minority of the people of the United States would have opposed it. With respect to the Swiss, whom the honorable gentleman has proposed for our example, as far as historical authority may be relied on, we shall find their government quite unworthy of our imitation. I am sure, if the honorable gentleman had adverted to their history and government, he never would have quoted their example here; he would have found that, instead of respecting the rights of mankind, their government (at least of several of their cantons) is one of the vilest aristocracies that ever was instituted: the peasants of some of their cantons are more oppressed and degraded than the subjects of any monarch in Europe; may, almost as much so as those of any Eastern despot. It is a novelty in politics, that from the worst of systems the happiest consequences should ensue. Their aristocratical rigor, and the peculiarity of their situation, have so long supported their union: without the closest alliance and amity, dismemberment might follow; their powerful and ambitious neighbors would immediately avail themselves of their least jarrings. As we are not circumstanced like circumstanced like them, no conclusive precedent can be drawn from their situation. I trust the gentleman does not carry his idea so far as to recommend a separation from the adopting states. This government may secure our happiness; this is at least as probable as that it shall be oppressive. If eight states have, from a persuasion of its policy and utility, adopted it, shall Virginia shrink from it, without a full conviction of its danger and inutility? I hope she will never shrink from any duty: I trust she will not determine without the most serious reflection and deliberation.
I confess to you, sir, were uniformity of religion to be introduced by this system, it would, in my opinion, be ineligible; but I have no reason to conclude that uniformity of government will produce that of religion. This subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The government has no jurisdiction over it: the least reflection will convince us there is no danger to be feared on this ground.
But we are flattered with the probability of obtaining previous amendments. This calls for the most serious attention of this house. If amendments are to be proposed by one state, other states have the same right, and will also propose alterations. These cannot but be dissimilar, and opposite in their nature. I beg leave to remark, that the governments of the different states are in many respects dissimilar in their structure; their legislative bodies are not similar; their executive are more different. In several of the states, the first magistrate is elected by the people at large; in others, by joint ballot of the members of both branches of the legislature; and in others, in other different manners. This dissimilarity has occasioned a diversity of opinion on the theory of government, which will, without many reciprocal concessions, render a concurrence impossible. Although the appointment of an executive magistrate has not been thought destructive to the principles of democracy in many of the states, yet, in the course of the debate, we find objections made to the federal executive: it is urged that the President will degenerate into a tyrant. I intended, in compliance with the call of the honorable member, to explain the reasons of proposing this Constitution, and develop its principles; but I shall postpone my remarks till we hear the supplement which, he has informed us, he intends to add to what he has already said.
Give me leave to say something of the nature of the government, and to show that it is safe and just to vest it with the power of taxation. There are a number of opinions; but the principal question is, whether it be a federal or consolidated government. In order to judge properly of the question before us, we must consider it minutely in its principal parts. I conceive myself that it is of a mixed nature; it is in a manner unprecedented; we cannot find one express example in the experience of the world. It stands by itself. In some respects it is a government of a federal nature; in others, it is of a consolidated nature. Even if we attend to the manner in which the Constitution is investigated, ratified, and made the act of the people of America, I can say, notwithstanding what the honorable gentleman has alleged, that this government is not completely consolidated, nor is it entirely federal. Who are parties to it? The peoplebut not the people as composing one great body; but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties. Were it, as the gentleman asserts, a consolidated government, the assent of a majority of the people would be sufficient for its establishment; and, as a majority have adopted it already, the remaining states would be bound by the act of the majority, even if they unanimously reprobated it. Were it such a government as is suggested, it would be now binding on the people of this state, without having had the privilege of deliberating upon it. But, sir, no state is bound by it, as it is, without its own consent. Should all the states adopt it, it will be then a government established by the thirteen states of America, not through the intervention of the legislatures, but by the people at large. In this particular respect, the distinction between the existing and proposed governments is very material. The existing system has been derived from the dependent derivative authority of the legislatures of the states; whereas this is derived from the superior power of the people. If we look at the manner in which alterations are to be made in it, the same idea is, in some degree, attended to. By the new system, a majority of the states cannot introduce amendments; nor are all the states required for that purpose; three fourths of them must concur in alterations; in this there is a departure from the federal idea. The members to the national House of Representatives are to be chosen by the people at large, in proportion to the numbers in the respective districts. When we come to the Senate, its members are elected by the states in their equal and political capacity. But had the government been completely consolidated, the Senate would have been chosen by the people in their individual capacity, in the same manner as the members of the other house. Thus it is of a complicated nature; and this complication, I trust, will be found to exclude the evils of absolute consolidation, as well as of a mere confederacy. If Virginia was separated from all the states, her power and authority would extend to all cases: in like manner, were all powers vested in the general government, it would be a consolidated government; but the powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.
But the honorable member has satirized, with peculiar acrimony, the powers given to the general government by this Constitution. I conceive that the first question on this subject is, whether these powers be necessary; if they be, we are reduced to the dilemma of either submitting to the inconvenience or losing the Union. Let us consider the most important of these reprobated powers; that of direct taxation is most generally objected to. With respect to the exigencies of government, there is no question but the most easy mode of providing for them will be adopted. When, therefore, direct taxes are not necessary, they will not be recurred to. It can be of little advantage to those in power to raise money in a manner oppressive to the people. To consult the conveniences of the people will cost them nothing, and in many respects will be advantageous to them. Direct taxes will only be recurred to for great purposes. What has brought on other nations those immense debts, under the pressure of which many of them labor? Not the expenses of their governments, but war. If this country should be engaged in war,and I conceive we ought to provide for the possibility of such a case,how would it be carried on? By the usual means provided from year to year? As our imports will be necessary for the expenses of government and other common exigencies, how are we to carry on the means of defence? How is it possible a war could be supported without money or credit? And would it be possible for a government to have credit without having the power of raising money? No; it would be impossible for any government, in such a case, to defend itself. Then, I say, sir, that it is necessary to establish funds for extraordinary exigencies, and to give this power to the general government; for the utter inutility of previous requisitions on the states is too well known. Would it be possible for those countries, whose finances and revenues are carried to the highest perfection, to carry on the operations of government on great emergencies, such as the maintenance of a war, without an uncontrolled power of raising money? Has it not been necessary for Great Britain, notwithstanding the facility of the collection of her taxes, to have recourse very often to this and other extraordinary methods of procuring money? Would not her public credit have been ruined, if it was known that her power to raise money was limited? Has not France been obliged, on great occasions, to use unusual means to raise funds? It has been the case in many countries, and no government can exist unless its powers extend to make provisions for every contingency. If we were actually attacked by a powerful nation, and our general government had not the power of raising money, but depended solely on requisitions, our condition would be truly deplorable: if the revenue of this commonwealth were to depend on twenty distinct authorities, it would be impossible for it to carry on its operations. This must be obvious to every member here; I think, therefore, that it is necessary, for the preservation of the Union, that this power shall be given to the general government.
But it is urged that its consolidated nature, joined to the power of direct taxation, will give it a tendency to destroy all subordinate authority; that its increasing influence will speedily enable it to absorb the state governments. I cannot think this will be the case. If the general government were wholly independent of the governments of the particular states, then, indeed, usurpation might be expected to the fullest extent. But, sir, on whom does this general government depend? It derives its authority from these governments, and from the same sources from which their authority is derived. The members of the federal government are taken from the same men from whom those of the state legislatures are taken. If we consider the mode in which the federal representatives will be chosen, we shall be convinced that the general will never destroy the individual governments; and this conviction must be strengthened by an attention to the construction of the Senate. The representatives will be chosen probably under the influence of the members of the state legislatures; but there is not the least probability that the election of the latter will be influenced by the former. One hundred and sixty members represent this commonwealth in one branch of the legislature, are drawn from the people at large, and must ever possess more influence than the few men who will be elected to the general legislature.
The reasons offered on this subject, by a gentleman on the same side, (Mr. Nicholas,) were unanswerable, and have been so full that I shall add but little more on the subject. Those who wish to become federal representatives must depend on their credit with that class of men who will be the most popular in their counties; who generally represent the people in the state governments; they can, therefore, never succeed in any measure contrary to the wishes of those on whom they depend. It is almost certain, therefore, that the deliberations of the members of the federal House of Representatives will be directed to the interest of the people of America. As to the other branch, the senators will be appointed by the legislatures; and, though elected for six years, I do not conceive they will so soon forget the source from whence they derive their political existence. This election of one branch of the federal by the state legislatures, secures an absolute dependence of the former on the latter. The biennial exclusion of one third will lessen the facility of a combination, and may put a stop to intrigues. I appeal to our past experience, whether they will attend to the interests of their constituent states. Have not those gentlemen, who have been honored with seats in Congress, often signalized themselves by their attachment to their seats? I wish this government may answer the expectation of its friends, and foil the apprehension of its enemies. I hope the patriotism of the people will continue, and be a sufficient guard to their liberties. I believe its tendency will be, that the state governments will counteract the general interest, and ultimately prevail. The number of the representatives is yet sufficient for our safety, and will gradually increase; and, if we consider their different sources of information, the number will not appear too small.
Mr. NICHOLAS. Mr. Chairman, if the resolution taken by the house of going regularly through the system, clause by clause, had been followed, I should confine myself to one particular paragraph; but as, to my surprise, the debates have taken a different turn, I shall endeavor to go through the principal parts of the argument made use of by the gentlemen in opposition to the proposed plan of government. The worthy gentleman entertained us very largely on the impropriety and dangers of the powers given by this plan to the general government; but his argument appears to me inconclusive and inaccurate; it amounts to thisthat the powers given to any government ought to be small. I believe this, sir, is a new idea in politics:powers, being given for some certain purpose, ought to be proportionate to that purpose, or else the end for which they are delegated will not be answered. It is necessary to give powers, to a certain extent, to any government. If a due medium be not observed in the delegation of such powers, one of two things must happen: if they be too small, the government must moulder and decay away; if too extensive, the people must be oppressed. As there can be no liberty without government, it must be as dangerous to make powers too limited as too great. He tells us that the Constitution annihilates the Confederation. Did he not prove that every people had a right to change their government when it should be deemed inadequate to their happiness? The Confederation being found utterly defective, will he deny our right to alter or abolish it? But he objects to the expression, “We, the people,” and demands the reason why they had not said, “We, the United States of America.” In my opinion, the expression is highly proper: it is submitted to the people, because on them it is to operate: till adopted, it is but a dead letter, and not binding on any one; when adopted, it becomes binding on the people who adopt it. It is proper on another account. We are under great obligations to the federal Convention, for recurring to the people, the source of all power. The gentleman’s argument militates against himself: he says that persons in power never relinquish their powers willingly. If, then, the state legislatures would not relinquish part of the powers they now possess, to enable a general government to support the Union, reference to the people is necessary.
We are, in the next place, frightened by two sets of collectors, who, he tells us, will oppress us with impunity. The amount of the sums to be raised of the people is the same, whether the state legislatures lay the taxes for themselves, or for the general government; whether each of them lays and collects taxes for its own exclusive purposes; the manner of raising it only is different. So far as the amount of the imposts may exceed that of the present collections, so much will the burdens of the people be less. Money cannot be raised in a more judicious manner than by imposts; it is not felt by the people; it is a mode which is practised by many nations: nine tenths of the revenues of Great Britain and France are raised by indirect taxes; and were they raised by direct taxes, they would be exceedingly oppressive. At present, the reverse of this proposition holds in this country; for very little is raised by indirect taxes.
The public treasuries are supplied by means of direct taxes, which are not so easy for the people. But the people will be benefited by this change. Suppose the imposts will only operate a reduction of one fifth of the public burdens; then, sir, out of every ten shillings we have now to pay, we shall only have to pay eight shillings: and suppose this to be apportioned so that we pay four shillings to the federal and four shillings to the state collector,what inconvenience or oppression can arise from it? Would this be as oppressive as the payment of ten shillings to the state collector? Our constituents do not suspect our delegates to the state legislature, but we suspect the members of the future Congress.
But, sir, they tell us this power of direct taxation ought not to be intrusted to the general government, because its members cannot be acquainted with the local situation of the people. Where do the members of the state legislatures get their information? It is by their own experience, and intercourse with the people. Cannot those of the general government derive information from every source from which the state representatives get theirs, so as to enable them to impose taxes judiciously? We have the best security we can wish for: if they impose taxes on the people which are oppressive, they subject themselves and their friends to the same inconvenience, and to the certainty of never being confided in again. And what will be the consequence of laying taxes on improper objects? Will the funds be increased by it? By no means. I may venture to say, the amount of the taxes will diminish in proportion of the difficulty and impropriety of the mode of levying them. What advantage, then, would it be to the members of Congress to render the collection of taxes oppressive to the people? They would be certainly out of their senses to oppress the people without any prospect of emolument to themselves.
But another objection is made, which I never heard of before. The gentleman has told us that the number of representatives may be reduced to one for every state. Is this a just surmise, even supposing it to be only said, that the number should not exceed one for every thirty thousand? Had it stopped there, any state, by his doctrine, might have no representative at all. Is it possible that this interpretation could ever be thought of? for the worthy gentleman allowed it was not a natural construction. But the Constitution says that representation and taxation shall be in proportion to the number of the people, and that each state shall have at least one representative. What will be the consequence of this? Each state must pay its proportion of taxes; and its representation is to be equal to its taxes. I ask gentlemen if this be not a safe mode of representation. The gentleman then told us the representatives would never wish their number to be increased. But, sir, the increase of their number will increase their importance. How will it affect their interest in elections? The greater their number, the greater their chance of reëlection. It is a natural supposition that every one of them will have the greatest interest with the people in that part of his district where he resides; the more their number, the more districts will there be, and the greater certainty of their being reëlected, as it will be easier for them to have influence in small than in large districts. But this power of direct taxes is not to be got over; the gentleman will try every thing in alternative. What will be the consequence of these alternatives? It will lead Congress to have a contest with particular states. After refusal and opposition, what is to be done? Must force be used for the purpose? How is it to be procured? It would, in a little time, expend more money than the sum which it was intended to procure; and the fatal consequences of such a scheme, provided it were practicable, are self-evident. I am astonished that gentlemen should wish to put it on this footing; for the consequences would assuredly be, in the first place, a disappointment to Congress. Would this previous alternative diminish or retrench the powers of Congress, if ultimately they are to have recourse to this power? One thing will be the certain consequence: Congress, in making requisitions, must reckon on a disappointment, and will therefore increase them according to the expected disappointment: by these means, the burdens of the people must be enlarged. He then wonders that gentlemen could come to so sudden a resolution of adopting it. As to the time, it will require as much to reject as to adopt it; and if a deliberate discussion be the most rational mode of proceeding, a precipitate rejection will, at least, be as imprudent as a sudden adoption. He declares that he would, in despite of an erring world, reject it, and wishes this state to continue in opposition. Were our country separated by nature from the other states, we might be safe without the Union; but as we are bordered on the adopting states, security can be found in union only. Consider the consequences of disunion: attend to the situation of those citizens who are contiguous to Maryland; look at the country called the Northern Neck; if we reject the Constitution, will not its inhabitants shake off their dependence on us? But, sir, the worthy member has declared, as a reason for not changing our government, that no terrors had been experienced, that no insurrections had happened, among us. It was indeed a wonder that this was the case, considering the relaxation of the laws. Tumults have happened in other states. Had they been attempted here by an enterprising adventurer, I believe he could hardly have been prevented by the laws; for I believe every citizen in this country has complained of their want of energy. The worthy member has exclaimed, with uncommon vehemence, against the mode provided for securing amendments. He thinks amendments can never be obtained, because so great a number is required to concur. Had it rested solely with Congress, there might have been danger. The committee will see that there is another mode provided, besides that which originated with Congress. On the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, a convention is to be called to propose amendments, which shall be a part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof. It is natural to conclude that those states who will apply for calling the convention will concur in the ratification of the proposed amendments.
There are strong and cogent reasons operating on my mind, that the amendments, which shall be agreed to by those states, will be sooner ratified by the rest than any other that can be proposed. The conventions which shall be so called will have their deliberations confined to a few points; no local interest to divert their attention; nothing but the necessary alterations. They will have many advantages over the last Convention. No experiments to devise; the general and fundamental regulations being already laid down.
He makes another objectionthat, contrary to the articles of our bill of rights, we may be taxed without our own consent; that taxes may be imposed, although every member from Virginia should oppose the measure. The argument is not accurate. A tax imposed on the people of this state, by our legislature, may be opposed by the members from the county of Albemarle, without being repugnant to our bill of rights; because Albemarle is represented, and the act of the majority is binding on the minority. In like manner, our privilege of representation in the federal government will prevent any of the general laws from being unconstitutional although contrary to the individual opinions of our representatives.
But it is complained that they may suspend our laws. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is only to take place in cases of rebellion or invasion. This is necessary in those cases; in every other case, Congress is restrained from suspending it. In no other case can they suspend our laws: and this is a most estimable security. But the influence of New England and the other Northern States is dreaded; there are apprehensions of their combining against us. Not to advert to the improbability and illiberality of this idea, it must be supposed that our population will, in a short period, exceed theirs, as their country is well settled, and we have very extensive uncultivated tracts. We shall soon outnumber them in as great a degree as they do us at this time: therefore this government, which, I trust, will last to the remotest ages, will be very shortly in our favor. Treason consists in levying war against the United States, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. The punishment of this well-defined crime is to be declared by Congress; no oppression, therefore, can arise on this ground. This security does away the objection that the most grievous oppressions might happen under color of punishing crimes against the general government. The limitation of the forfeiture to the life of the criminal is also an additional privilege.
We are next told that there is wanting in this government that responsibility which has been the salvation of Great Britain, although one half of the House of Commons purchase their seats. It has been already shown that we have much greater security from our federal representatives than the people in England can boast. But the worthy member has found out a way of solving our difficulties. He tells us that we have nothing to fear, if separated from the adopting states; but to send on our money and men to Congress. In that case, can we receive the benefits of the union? If we furnish money at all, it will be our proportionate share. The consequence will be, that we shall pay our share, without the privilege of being represented. So that, to avoid the inconvenience of not having a sufficient number of representatives, he would advise us to relinquish the number we are entitled to, and have none at all. I believe, sir, there is a great and decided majority of the people in favor of the system; it is so in that part of the country wherein I reside. It is true, sir, that many of the people have declared against a government, which, they were told, destroyed the trial by jury; against a government, sir, which established a standing army; against a government which abridged the liberty of the press; against a government which would tax all their property from them; against a government which infringed the right of conscience; and against a government, sir, which should banish them to France, to be common soldiers, and which would eventually destroy all their rights and privileges. This, sir, is the government of which they have given their disapprobation. Still, sir, a majority have considered this government in a different light, and have given their approbation of it. I believe, sir, that, on a fair and candid investigation, very few would oppose it. Those who think that the evils I have enumerated will result from it, exceed me in point of credulity.