On the Cod Fishery Bill, granting Bounties.

House of Representatives, February 3, 1792.

Mr. GILES. The present section of the bill (he continued) appears to contain a direct bounty on occupations; and if that be its object, it is the first attempt as yet made by this government to exercise such authority; -- and its constitutionality struck him in a doubtful point of view; for in no part of the Constitution could he, in express terms, find a power given to Congress to grant bounties on occupations: the power is neither {427} directly granted, nor (by any reasonable construction that he could give) annexed to any other specified in the Constitution.

February 7, 1792.

Mr. WILLIAMSON. In the Constitution of this government, there are two or three remarkable provisions which seem to be in point. It is provided that direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers. It is also provided that "all duties, imposts, and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States;" and it is provided that no preference shall be given, by any regulation of commercial revenue, to the ports of one state over those of another. The clear and obvious intention of the articles mentioned was, that Congress might not have the power of imposing unequal burdens -- that it might not be in their power to gratify one part of the Union by oppressing another. It appeared possible, and not very improbable, that the time might come, when, by greater cohesion, by more unanimity, by more address, the representatives of one part of the Union might attempt to impose unequal taxes, or to relieve their constituents at the expense of the people. To prevent the possibility of such a combination, the articles that I have mentioned were inserted in the Constitution.

I do not hazard much in saying that the present Constitution had never been adopted without those preliminary guards on the Constitution. Establish the general doctrine of bounties, and all the provisions I have mentioned become useless. They vanish into air, and, like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a trace behind. The common defence and general welfare, in the hands of a good politician, may supersede every part of our Constitution, and leave us in the hands of time and chance. Manufactures in general are useful to the nation; they prescribe the public good and general welfare. How many of them are springing up in the Northern States! Let them be properly supported by bounties, and you will find no occasion for unequal taxes. The tax may be equal in the beginning; it will be sufficiently unequal in the end.

The object of the bounty, and the amount of it, are equally to be disregarded in the present case. We are simply to consider whether bounties may safely be given under the present Constitution. For myself, I would rather begin with a bounty of one million per annum, than one thousand. I wish that my constituents may know whether they are to put any confidence in that paper called the Constitution.

Unless the Southern States are protected by the Constitution, their valuable staple, and their visionary wealth, must occasion their destruction. Three short years has this government existed; it is not three years; but we have already given serious alarms to many of our fellow-citizens. Establish the doctrine of bounties; set aside that part of the Constitution which requires equal taxes, and demands similar distributions; destroy this barrier; -- and it is not a few fishermen that will enter, claiming ten or twelve thousand dollars, but all manner of persons; people of every trade and occupation may enter in at the breach, until they have eaten up the bread of our children.

Mr. MADISON. It is supposed, by some gentlemen, that Congress have authority not only to grant bounties in the sense here used, merely as a commutation for drawback, but even to grant them under a power by virtue of which they may do any thing which they may think conducive to the general welfare! This, sir, in my mind, raises the important and fundamental question, whether the general terms which have been cited are {428} to be considered as a sort of caption, or general description of the specified powers; and as having no further meaning, and giving no further powers, than what is found in that specification, or as an abstract and indefinite delegation of power extending to all cases whatever -- to all such, at least, as will admit the application of money -- which is giving as much latitude as any government could well desire.

I, sir, have always conceived -- I believe those who proposed the Constitution conceived -- it is still more fully known, and more material to observe, that those who ratified the Constitution conceived -- that this is not an indefinite government, deriving its powers from the general terms prefixed to the specified powers -- but a limited government, tied down to the specified powers, which explain and define the general terms.

It is to be recollected that the terms "common defence and general welfare," as here used, are not novel terms, first introduced into this Constitution. They are terms familiar in their construction, and well known to the people of America. They are repeatedly found in the old Articles of Confederation, where, although they are susceptible of as great a latitude as can be given them by the context here, it was never supposed or pretended that they conveyed any such power as is now assigned to them. On the contrary, it was always considered clear and certain that the old Congress was limited to the enumerated powers, and that the enumeration limited and explained the general terms. I ask the gentlemen themselves, whether it was ever supposed or suspected that the old Congress could give away the money of the states to bounties to encourage agriculture, or for any other purpose they pleased. If such a power had been possessed by that body, it would have been much less impotent, or have borne a very different character from that universally ascribed to it.

The novel idea now annexed to those terms, and never before entertained by the friends or enemies of the government, will have a further consequence, which cannot have been taken into the view of the gentlemen. Their construction would not only give Congress the complete legislative power I have stated, -- it would do more; it would supersede all the restrictions understood at present to lie, in their power with respect to a judiciary. It would put it in the power of Congress to establish courts throughout the United States, with cognizance of suits between citizen and citizen, and in all cases whatsoever.

This, sir, seems to be demonstrable; for if the clause in question really authorizes Congress to do whatever they think fit, provided it be for the general welfare, of which they are to judge, and money can be applied to it, Congress must have power to create and support a judiciary establishment, with a jurisdiction extending to all cases favorable, in their opinion, to the general welfare, in the same manner as they have power to pass laws, and apply money providing in any other way for the general welfare. I shall be reminded, perhaps, that, according to the terms of the Constitution, the judicial power is to extend to certain cases only, not to all cases. But this circumstance can have no effect in the argument, it being presupposed by the gentlemen, that the specification of certain objects does not limit the import of the general terms. Taking these terms as an abstract and indefinite grant of power, they comprise all the objectsof legislative regulations -- as well such as fall under the judiciary article in the Constitution as those falling immediately under the legislative article; and if the partial enumeration of objects in the legislative article does not, as these gentlemen contend, limit the general power, neither will it be limited by the partial enumeration of objects in the judiciary article.

{429} There are consequences, sir, still more extensive, which, as they follow dearly from the doctrine combated, must either be admitted, or the doctrine must be given up. If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their Own hands; they may a point teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit of the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.

The language held in various discussions of this house is a proof that the doctrine in question was never entertained by this body. Arguments, wherever the subject would permit, have constantly been drawn from the peculiar nature of this government, as limited to certain enumerated powers, instead of extending, like other governments, to all cases not particularly excepted. In a very late instance -- I mean the debate on the representation bill -- it must be remembered that an argument much used, particularly by gentlemen from Massachusetts, against the ratio of 1 for 30,000, was, that this government was unlike the state governments, which had an indefinite variety of objects within their power; that it had a small number of objects only to attend to; and therefore, that a smaller number of representatives would be sufficient to administer it.

Arguments have been advanced to show that because, in the regulation of trade, indirect and eventual encouragement is given to manufactures, therefore Congress have power to give money in direct bounties, or to grant it in any other way that would answer the same purpose. But surely, sir, there is a great and obvious difference, which it cannot be necessary to enlarge upon. A duty laid on imported implements of husbandry would, in its operation, be an indirect tax on exported produce; but will any one say that, by virtue of a mere power to lay duties on imports, Congress might go directly to the produce or implements of agriculture, or to the articles exported? It is true, duties on exports are expressly prohibited; but if there were no article forbidding them, a power directly to tax exports could never be deduced from a power to tax imports, although such a power might indirectly and incidentally affect exports.

In short, sir, without going farther into the subject. Which I should not have here touched at all but for the reasons already mentioned, I venture to declare it as my opinion, that, were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America; and what inferences might be drawn, or what consequences ensue, from such a step, it is incumbent on us all to consider.




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