COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS,
ADOPTION OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.
BOSTON, January 9, 1788.
ON motion, Ordered,
That the Hon. Nathaniel Gorham, John Carnes, Esq., Dr. Charles Jarvis, Hon.
Tristam Dalton, Hon. Walter Spooner, Hon. Caleb Davis, and Hon. John Taylor, be
a committee to receive the returns of the several towns.
Ordered, That a committee of five persons be appointed to collect,
count, and sort the votes for a secretary; and the Hon. Caleb Davis, Tristam
Dalton, Aaron Wood, Eleazer Brooks, and Charles Turner, Esquires, were
The Convention then proceeded to the choice of a secretary by ballot, and,
the votes being taken, it appeared that George Richards Minot, Esq. was chosen,
who accepted of the choice, and was duly sworn to qualify him for exercising
the duties of that office.
Voted, That Mr. Jacob Kuhn, the messenger of the General Court, be
appointed messenger to this Convention.
Voted, That five monitors be chosen, and the following gentlemen were
elected, viz., the Hon. Noah Goodman, Mr. Phanuel Bishop, Mr. Daniel Cooley,
Hon. Azor Orne, and Mr. Thomas Davis.
Voted, That a committee of seven be appointed to prepare rules and
orders for the regulation of the Convention. The Hon. Nathaniel Gorham, Dr.
Charles Jarvis, Hon. John Taylor, Mr. William Widgery, Hon. Tristam Dalton,
Hon. Theodore Sedgwick, and James Bowdoin, Jun., Esq., were then appointed on
the said committee.
Afternoon. — The Convention proceeded to the choice of a
president by ballot, according to assignment; and, a committee of five being
appointed to collect, count, and sort the votes, it appeared that his
Excellency, John Hancock, was chosen.
Voted, That the Convention proceed to the choice of a vice-president.
— The Convention then proceeded to the choice of a vice-president
accordingly, by ballot; and, a committee being appointed to collect, count, and
sort the votes, it appeared that the Hon. William Cushing was chosen; who by
request took the chair.
Voted, That a committee of five be appointed to wait upon his
Excellency, John Hancock, and acquaint him that this Convention have made
choice of him for their president, and to request his Excellency's acceptance
of that appointment.
On motion of the Hon. Mr. Adams, Voted, That the Convention will
attend morning prayers, daily, and that the gentlemen of the clergy, of every
denomination, be requested to officiate in turn.
The members from Boston were appointed to wait upon them, and acquaint them
A vote of the church in Brattle Street, in Boston, offering the use of their
meeting-house to the Convention, being communicated by the Hon. Mr. Bowdoin,
Voted, That a committee of nine be appointed, to view the accommodations
of the said meeting-house, and report.
Mr. Sedgwick, Mr. Lincoln, Dr. Taylor, Gen. Brooks of Lincoln, Dr. Jarvis,
Dr. Holton, Mr. Strong, Mr. Nason, and Mr. Thatcher, were then appointed on
THURSDAY, January 10. — The committee
appointed to examine the returns of delegates, desired a rule, whereby they
might determine whether the towns had exceeded their privilege to send members.
After a long debate, a motion was made, that the valuation of the different
towns, returned in 1784, should be the rule to determine the number.
An offer having been made, by the church in Brattle Street, of that
meeting-house, for the use of the Convention, and a committee having viewed the
accommodation, it was voted that when the Convention do adjourn, that it
adjourn to meet at three o'clock, at the meeting-house in Brattle Street.
FRIDAY, 11th. — Committees were raised to
inquire respecting the contested elections, and enjoined to sit immediately.
Afternoon. — The house in which the Convention were sitting, on
account of the difficulty of hearing, being found inconvenient, a committee was
raised to provide one more suitable, after which it was voted to adjourn to
Saturday morning, then to meet in the representatives' chamber.
SATURDAY, 12th. — The Honorable
Convention met again in the representatives' chamber, where they decided all
the disputed elections in favor of the members returned. The sense of the
Convention was twice taken against removing to any other place.
MONDAY, January 14. — The Constitution
for the United States of America, as reported by the Convention of delegates,
held at Philadelphia, in May last, together with the resolutions of the General
Court of this commonwealth, for calling a Convention, agreeably to the
recommendation of Congress, were ordered to be read.
On motion of Mr. Strong, Voted, That this Convention, sensible how
important it is that the great subject submitted to their determination should
be discussed and considered with moderation, candor, and deliberation, will
enter into a free conversation on the several parts thereof, by paragraphs,
until every member shall have had an opportunity to express his sentiments on
the same; after which the Convention will consider and debate at large the
question whether this Convention will adopt and ratify the proposed
Constitution, before any vote is taken expressive of the sense of the
Convention, upon the whole or any part thereof.
The resolve of the General Court of this commonwealth, of March, 1787,
appointing delegates for the Convention of the states, held at Philadelphia,
was ordered to be read.
A motion was made and passed, that the Hon. Elbridge Gerry be requested to
take a seat in the Convention, to answer any questions of fact, from time to
time, that the Convention may ask, respecting the passing of the Constitution.
Afternoon. — Ordered, That a committee of three be appointed to
wait upon the Hon. Elbridge Gerry, and acquaint him with the vote of this
morning, requesting him to take a seat in the Convention, to answer to any
questions of fact, from time to time, that the Convention may ask, respecting
the passing the Constitution.
Agreeably to the resolution passed in the forenoon, the Convention proceeded
to consider the first section of the Constitution, and, after a short
conversation, entered upon the discussion of the second section, the first
paragraph of which caused a lengthy debate.
The Convention entered upon the consideration of the proposed Constitution,
and, having debated thereon through the day, postponed the further
consideration thereof to the next morning.
It had been mentioned by some gentlemen, that the introduction of tyranny
into several nations had been by lengthening the duration of their parliaments
or legislative bodies; and the fate of those nations was urged as a caution
against lengthening the period for which Congress is to be chosen. Mr. SEDGWICK
wished to know what were the nations which had been thus deprived of their
liberties; he believed they were few in number; in fact, he did not recollect
any. After showing, by several examples, how nations had been deprived of their
liberties, he continued, — Is it not necessary, Mr. President, that the
federal representatives should be chosen for two years? Annual elections, in a
single state, may be the best for a variety of reasons; but when the great
affairs of thirteen states — where their commerce may he extended, and
where it is necessary to be restricted — what measures may be most
expedient, and best adapted to promote the general prosperity thereof, are to
be the objects of deliberation, is not such a period too short? Can a man,
called into public life, divest himself of local concerns, and instantly
initiate himself into a general knowledge of such extensive and weighty
matters? After several other arguments in favor of the section, he begged the
indulgence of the Convention while he made a personal observation: "It has
been given out, sir, by several persons, that I have said the Constitution must
go down, right or wrong; I beg leave to declare, sir, on my honor, that, so far
from having made such a declaration, the idea of it has not ever entered my
Mr. G. DENCH wished to know how the representation was secured; as, by the
4th section, Congress were empowered to make or alter the regulation of the
times, places, and manner of holding elections. Mr. D. was continuing, but was
called to order by Mr. Parsons, who said the subject in debate was the
expediency of biennial elections, and that an answer to the gentleman
from Hopkinton would more properly be given when the 4th section was under
Dr. TAYLOR. Mr. President, I am opposed to biennial, and am in favor
of annual elections. Annual election? have been the practice of this
state ever since its settlement, and no objection to such a mode of electing
has ever been made. It has, indeed, sir, been considered as the safeguard of
the liberties of the people; and the annihilation of it, the avenue through
which tyranny will enter. By the Articles of Confederation, annual elections
are provided for, though we have additional securities in a right to recall any
or all of our members from Congress, and a provision for rotation. In the
proposed Constitution, there is no provision for rotation; we have no right by
it to recall our delegates. In answer to the observations, that, by frequency
of elections, good men will be excluded, I answer, if they behave well, it is
probable they will be continued; but if they behave ill, how shall we remedy
the evil? It is possible that rulers may be appointed who may wish to root out
the liberties of the people. Is it not, Mr. President, better, if such a case
should occur, that at a short period they should politically die, than that
they should be proceeded against by impeachment? These considerations, and
others, said the doctor, make me in favor of annual elections; and the further
we deviate therefrom, the greater is the evil.
The Hon. Mr. SPRAGUE was in favor of the section as it stood. He thought the
same principles ought not to guide us when considering the election of a body
whose jurisdiction was coextensive with a great continent, as when regulating
that of one whose concerns are only those of a single state.
Mr. T. DAWES, after a short exordium, said he had not heard it mentioned by
any gentleman who had spoken in the debate, that the right of electing
representatives in the Congress, as provided for in the proposed Constitution,
will be the acquisition of a new privilege by the people, as it really will be.
The people will then be immediately represented in the federal government; at
present they are not; therefore it will be in favor of the people, if they are
chosen for forty instead of two years; — and he adduced many reasons to
show that it would not conduce to the interests of the United States, or the
security of the people, to have them for a shorter period than two years.
The Hon. Mr. WHITE said he was opposed to the section; he thought the
security of the people lay in frequent elections; for his part, he would rather
they should be for six months than for two years; — and concluded by
saying he was in favor of annual elections.
Dr. JARVIS, Gen. BROOKS, Gen. HEATH, and Mr. TURNER, each spoke a few words
on the subject, when a motion was made to postpone the consideration of the 2d
section until the next meeting, which passing, the Convention adjourned.
TUESDAY, January 15. — A motion was made
by Mr. DANA, that the vote of yesterday, prescribing the manner of proceeding
in the consideration of the Constitution, should be reconsidered, for the
purpose of making the following addition thereto, viz.: —
"It is, nevertheless, the opinion of this Convention, that, if any
member conceives any other clause or paragraph of the Constitution to be
connected with the one immediately under consideration, that he have full
liberty to take up such other clause or paragraph for that purpose." And
the question of reconsideration, being put, passed in the affirmative.
On the question whether the addition should be made, it was determined in
The Hon. Mr. STRONG rose to reply to the inquiry of the Hon. Mr. Adams, why
the alteration of elections from annual to biennial was made; and to
correct an inaccuracy of the Hon. Mr. Gorham, who, the day before, had said
that that alteration was made to gratify South Carolina. He said he
should then have arisen to put his worthy colleague right, but his memory was
not sufficiently retentive to enable him immediately to collect every
circumstance. He had since recurred to the original plan. When the subject was
at first discussed in Convention, some gentlemen were for having the term
extended for a considerable length of time; others were opposed to it, as it
was contrary to the ideas and customs of the Eastern States; but a majority was
in favor of three years, and it was, he said, urged by the Southern States,
which are not so populous as the Eastern that the expense of more frequent
elections would be great; — and concluded by saying that a general
concession produced the term as it stood in the section, although it was
agreeable to the practice of South Carolina.
Mr. AMES. I do not regret, Mr. President, that we are not unanimous upon
this question. I do not consider the diversity of sentiment which prevails as
an impediment in our way to the discovery of truth. In order that we may think
alike upon this subject at last, we shall be compelled to discuss it by
ascending to the principles upon which the doctrine of representation is
Without premeditation, in a situation so novel, and awed by the respect
which I feel for this venerable assembly, I distrust extremely my own feelings,
as well as my competency to prosecute this inquiry. With the hope of an
indulgent hearing, I will attempt to proceed. I am sensible, sir, that the
doctrine of frequent elections has been sanctioned by antiquity, and is still
more endeared to us by our recent experience and uniform habits of thinking.
Gentlemen have expressed their zealous partiality for it. They consider this as
a leading question in the debate, and that the merits of many other parts of
the Constitution are involved in the decision. I confess, sir, and I declare
that my zeal for frequent elections is not inferior to their own. I consider it
as one of the first securities for popular liberty, in which its very essence
may be supposed to reside. But how shall we make the best use of this pledge
and instrument of our safety?
A right principle, carried to an extreme, becomes useless. It is apparent
that a declaration for a very short term, as for a single day, would defeat the
design of representation. The election, in that case, would not seem to the
people to be of any importance, and the person elected would think as lightly
of his appointment. The other extreme is equally to be avoided. An election for
a very long term of years, or for life, would remove the member too far from
the control of the people, would be dangerous to liberty, and in fact repugnant
to the purposes of the delegation. The truth, as usual, is placed somewhere
between the extremes, and I believe is included in this proposition: The term
of election must be so long, that the representative may understand the
interest of the people, and yet so limited, that his fidelity may be secured by
a dependence upon their approbation.
Before I proceed to the application of this rule, I cannot forbear to
premise some remarks upon two opinions, which have been suggested.
Much has been said about the people divesting themselves of power, when they
delegate it to representatives; and that all representation is to their
disadvantage, because it is but an image, a copy, fainter and more imperfect
than the original, the people, in whom the light of power is primary and
unborrowed, which is only reflected by their delegates. I cannot agree to
either of these opinions. The representation of the people is something more
than the people. I know, sir, but one purpose which the people can effect
without delegation, and that is to destroy a government. That they cannot erect
a government, is evinced by our being thus assembled on their behalf. The
people must govern by a majority, with whom all power resides. But how is the
sense of this majority to be obtained? It has been said that a pure democracy
is the best government for a small people who assemble in person. It is of
small consequence to discuss it, as it would be inapplicable to the great
country we inhabit. It may be of some use in this argument, how ever, to
consider, that it would be very burdensome, subject to faction and violence;
decisions would often be made by surprise, in the precipitancy of passion, by
men who either understand nothing or care nothing about the subject; or by
interested men, or those who vote for their own indemnity. It would be a
government not by laws, but by men.
Such were the paltry democracies of Greece and Asia Minor, so much extolled,
and so often proposed as a model for our imitation. I desire to be thankful
that our people (said Mr. Ames) are not under any temptation to adopt the
advice. I think it will not be denied that the people are gainers by the
election of representatives. They may destroy, but they cannot exercise, the
powers of government in person, but by their servants they govern: they
do not renounce their power; they do not sacrifice their rights; they become
the true sovereigns of the country when they delegate that power, which they
cannot use themselves to their trustees.
I know, sir, that the people talk about the liberty of nature, and assert
that we divest ourselves of a portion of it when we enter into society. This is
declamation against matter of fact. We cannot live without society; and as to
liberty, how can I be said to enjoy that which another may take from me when he
pleases? The liberty of one depends not so much on the removal of all restraint
from him, as on the due restraint upon the liberties of others. Without such
restraint, there can be no liberty. Liberty is so far from being endangered or
destroyed by this, that it is extended and secured. For I said that we do not
enjoy that which another may take from us. But civil liberty cannot be taken
from us, when any one may please to invade it; for we have the strength of the
society on our side.
I hope, sir, that these reflections will have some tendency to remove the
ill impressions which are made by proposing to divest the people of their
That they may never be divested of it, I repeat that I am in favor of
frequent elections. They who commend annual elections are desired to consider,
that the question is, whether biennial elections are a defect in the
Constitution; for it does not follow, because annual elections are safe, that
biennial are dangerous; for both may be good. Nor is there any foundation for
the fears of those, who say that if we, who have been accustomed to choose for
one year only, now extend it to two, the next stride will be to five or seven
years, and the next for term of life; for this article, with all its supposed
defects, is in favor of liberty. Being inserted in the Constitution, it is not
subject to be repealed by law. We are sure that it is the worst of the case. It
is a fence against ambitious encroachments, too high and too strong to be
passed. In this respect, we have greatly the advantage. of the people of
England, and of all the world. The law which limits their Parliaments is liable
to be repealed.
I will not defend this article by saying that it was a matter of compromise
in the federal Convention. It has my entire approbation as it stands. I think
that we ought to prefer, in this article, biennial elections to annual; and my
reasons for this opinion are drawn from these sources: —
From the extent of the country to be governed;
The objects of their legislation;
And the more perfect security of our liberty.
It seems obvious that men who are to collect in Congress from this great
territory, perhaps from the Bay of Fundy, or from the banks of the Ohio, and
the shore of Lake Superior, ought to have a longer term in office, than the
delegates of a single state, in their own legislature. It is not by riding post
to and from Congress that a man can acquire a just knowledge of the true
interests of the Union. This term of election is inapplicable to the state of a
country as large as Germany, or as the Roman empire in the zenith of its power.
If we consider the objects of their delegation, little doubt will remain. It
is admitted that annual elections may be highly fit for the state legislature.
Every citizen grows up with a knowledge of the local circumstances of the
state. But the business of the federal government will be very different. The
objects of their power are few and national. At least two years in office will
be necessary to enable a man to judge of the trade and interests of the state
which he never saw. The time, I hope, will come, when this excellent country
will furnish food, and freedom, (which is better than food, which is the food
of the soul,) for fifty millions of happy people. Will any man say that the
national business can be understood in one year?
Biennial elections appear to me, sir, an essential security to liberty.
These are my reasons: —
Faction and enthusiasm are the instruments by which popular governments are
destroyed. We need not talk of the power of an aristocracy. The people, when
they lose their liberties, are cheated out of them. They nourish factions in
their bosoms, which will subsist so long as abusing their honest credulity
shall be the means of acquiring power. A democracy is a volcano, which conceals
the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption, and
carry desolation in their way. The people always mean right; and, if time is
allowed for reflection and information, they will do right. I would not have
the first wish, the momentary impulse of the public mind, become law; for it is
not always the sense of the people, with whom I admit that all power resides.
On great questions, we first hear the loud clamors of passion, artifice, and
faction. I consider biennial elections as a security that the sober. second
thought of the people shall be law. There is a calm review of public
transactions, which is made by the citizens who have families and children, the
pledges of their fidelity To provide for popular liberty, we must take care
that measures shall not be adopted without due deliberation. The member chosen
for two years will feel some independence in his seat. The factions of the day
will expire before the end of his term.
The people will be proportionably attentive to the merits of a candidate.
Two years will afford opportunity to the member to deserve well of them, and
they will require evidence that he has done it.
But, sir, the representatives are the grand inquisition of the Union. They
are, by impeachment, to bring great offenders to justice. One year will not
suffice to detect guilt, and to pursue it to conviction; therefore they will
escape, and the balance of the two branches will be destroyed, and the people
oppressed with impunity. The senators will represent the sovereignty of the
states. The representatives are to represent the people. The offices ought to
bear some proportion in point of importance. This will be impossible if they
are chosen for one year only.
Will the people, then, blind the eyes of their own watchmen? Will they bind
the hands which are to hold the sword for their defence? Will they impair their
own power by an unreasonable jealousy of themselves?
For these reasons, I am clearly of opinion that the article is entitled to
our approbation as it stands; and as it has been demanded, why annual elections
were not preferred to biennial, permit me to retort the question, and to
inquire, in my turn, what reason can be given, why, if annual elections are
good, biennial elections are not better?
The inquiry in the latter part of Mr. Ames's speech being directed to the
Hon. Mr. Adams, that gentleman said, he only made the inquiry for information,
and that he had heard sufficient to satisfy himself of its propriety.
Mr. DENCH said his objections to biennial elections were removed; but he
wished to recur to the 4th section, and to inquire, whether that election
was secured, as, by this section, Congress has power to regulate the time,
place, and manner of holding it.
[A question now arose, whether the consideration of the 4th section was in
order, and much debate was had thereon; but the propriety, as expressed by a
worthy member, of "elucidating scripture by scripture," being
generally admitted, the motion made by the Hon. Mr. Dana passed, which put an
end to the conversation.]
The Hon. Mr. BOWDOIN remarked on the idea suggested by the honorable
gentleman from Scituate, [Mr. Turner,] who had said that nature pointed out the
propriety of annual elections, by the annual renewal, and
observed, that if the revolution of the heavenly bodies is to be the principle
to regulate elections, it was not fixed to any period, as in some of the
systems it would be very short; and in the last-discovered planet it would be
eighty of our years. Gentlemen, he said, who had gone before him in debate, had
clearly pointed out the alteration of the election of our federal
representatives, from annual to biennial, to be justifiable. Annual elections
may be necessary in this state, but in the choice of representatives from the
continent, it ought to be longer; nor did he see any danger in its being so.
Who, he asked, are the men to be elected? Are they not to be from among us? If
they were to be a distinct body, then the doctrine of precaution, which
gentlemen use, would be necessary; but, sir, they can make no laws, nor levy
any taxes, but those to which they themselves must be subservient; they
themselves must bear a part; therefore our security is guarantied by their
being thus subject to the laws, if by nothing else.
Gen. HEATH. Mr. President, I consider myself not as an inhabitant of
Massachusetts, but as a citizen of the United States. My ideas and views are
commensurate with the continent; they extend in length from the St. Croix to
the St. Maria, and in breadth from the Atlantic to the Lake of the Woods; for
over all this extensive territory is the federal government to be extended.
I should not have risen on this paragraph, had it not been for some
arguments which gentlemen have advanced respecting elections, and which, I
think, tend to make dangerous impressions on the minds of the rising
generation. It has been the general opinion that the liberties of the people
are principally secured by the frequency of elections, and power returning
again into their own hands. The first Parliament ever called in Europe was
called by Constantine the Third, and to continue for one year. The worthy
gentleman from Boston [Mr. Dawes] has mentioned a writer as a good authority,
and who, he says, was twenty years compiling his works. I will produce one
observation from this celebrated writer, Baron Montesquieu; it is as follows:
"The greatness of power must be compensated by the brevity of the
duration; most legislators have fixed it to a year; a longer space would be
dangerous." Here, sir, we have not only the opinion of this celebrated
writer, but he has also mentioned that most legislators were of the like
opinion; but I shall come to our own country, where we shall find in what
respect annual elections have always been held. This was the wisdom of our
ancestors; it has been confirmed by time; therefore, sir, before we change it,
we should carefully examine whether it be for the better. Local circumstances
may render it expedient; but we should take care not to hold up to the rising
generation, that it is a matter of in difference whether elections be annual or
not; and this is what induced me to rise.
It is a novel idea, that representatives should be chosen for a considerable
time, in order that they may learn their duty. The representative is one who
appears in behalf of, and acts for, others; he ought, therefore, to be fully
acquainted with the feelings, circumstances, and interests of the persons whom
he represents; and this is learnt among them, not at a distant court. How
frequently, on momentary occasions, do the members of the British Parliament
wish to go home and consult their constituents, before they come to decision!
This shows from what quarter they wish to obtain their information. With
respect to the obtaining a knowledge of the circumstances and abilities of the
other states, in order to an equal taxation, this must be acquired from the
returns of the number of inhabitants, &c., which are to be found on the
files of Congress; for I know not how length of time could furnish other
information, unless the members should go from state to state, in order to find
out the circumstances of the different states. I think representatives ought
always to have a general knowledge of the interests of their constituents, as
this alone can enable them properly to represent them.
But, sir, if there be charms in the paragraph now under consideration, they
are these: Congress, at present, are continually sitting; but under the new
Constitution, it is intended that Congress shall sit but once annually, for
such time as may be necessary, and then adjourn. In this view, every gentleman
acquainted with the business of legislation knows that there is much business,
in every session, which is taken up and partly considered, but not finished; an
adjournment keeps all this business alive; and at the next session it is taken
up and completed, to the benefit of the people, in a great saving of expense,
which would otherwise be lost; for a new legislature would not see through the
eyes of those who went before them; consequently all business partly finished
would be time lost, to the injury of the public. Therefore, as it seems to be
intended that Congress shall have but two sessions in the two years for which
the representatives are to be chosen, this consideration has reconciled me to
the paragraph, and I am in favor of biennial elections.
Mr. TURNER, in reply to the Hon. Mr. Bowdoin, said he thought it an
important consideration whether the elections were to be for one or for two
years. He was, he said, greatly in favor of annual elections, and be thought,
in the present instance, it would be establishing a dangerous precedent to
adopt a change; for, says he, the principle may so operate, as, in time, our
elections will be as seldom as the revolution of the star the honorable
gentleman talks of.
Mr. DAWES, in answer to Gen. Heath, said, that the passage quoted from
Montesquieu applied to single governments, and not to confederate
Gen. BROOKS, (of Medford,) in reply to Gen. Heath, said, he recollected the
passage of Montesquieu, but he also recollected that that writer had spoken
highly of the British government. He then adverted to the objection to this
section of Gen. Thompson and others, that biennial elections were a novelty,
and said, we were not to consider whether a measure was new, but whether it was
proper. Gentlemen had said that it had been the established custom of this
country to elect annually; but, he asked, have we not gone from a colonial to
an independent situation? We were then provinces; we are now an independent
empire; our measures, therefore, says he, must change with our situation. Under
our old government, the objects of legislation were few and divided; under our
present, there are many, and must be united; and it appears necessary that,
according to the magnitude and multiplicity of the business, the duration
should be extended, he did not, he said, undertake to say how far. He then went
into a view of the history of Parliaments: the modern northern nations, he
said, had Parliaments; but they were called by their kings; and the time,
business, &c., of them, depended wholly on their wills.
We can, therefore, says he, establish nothing from these. One general remark
was, that, in the reigns of weak princes, the power and importance of
Parliaments increased; in the reigns of strong and arbitrary kings, they always
declined; and, says he, they have been triennial, and they have been
septennial. The general combated the idea that the liberties of the
people depended on the duration of Parliament, with much ability. Do we
hear, asked he, that the people of England are deprived of their liberties? or
that they are not as free now as when they had short Parliaments? On the
contrary, do not writers agree, that life, liberty, and property, are nowhere
better secured than in Great Britain, and that this security arises from their
Parliaments being chosen for seven years? As such is the situation of the
people of England, and as no instance can be given wherein biennial elections
have been destructive to the liberties of the people, he concluded by asking,
whether so much danger is to be apprehended from such elections as gentlemen
Gen. THOMPSON. Sir, gentlemen have said a great deal about the history of
old times. I confess I am not acquainted with such history; but I am, sir,
acquainted with the history of my own country. I had the honor to be in the
General Court last year, and am in it this year. I think, sir, that had the
last administration continued one year longer, our liberties would have been
lost, and the country involved in blood. Not so much, sir, from their bad
conduct, but from the suspicions of the people of them. But, sir, a change took
place; from this change pardons have been granted to the people, and peace is
restored. This, sir, I say, is in favor of frequent elections.
[Gen. T. was called to order, on the idea that he reflected on the last
administration. A debate ensued, which ended on the Hon. Mr. White's saying, he
wished to pat out every spark of the fire that appeared to be kindling;
therefore moved to adjourn.]
Afternoon. — Dr. TAYLOR opened the conversation of the
afternoon, by calling upon Gen. Thompson to proceed.
Gen. THOMPSON accordingly said, that, however just, however good, and
however upright the administration may be, there was still a great necessity
for annual elections.
He thought a change of election was for the best, even if the administration
pleased the people. Do the members of Congress, says he, displease us, we call
them home, and they obey. Now, where is the difference of their having been
elected for one or two years? It is said that the members cannot learn
sufficiently in that time. Sir, I hope we shall never send men who are not
learned. Let these members know their dependence upon the people, and I say
it will be a check on them, even if they were not good men. Here the general
broke out in the following pathetic apostrophe: "O my country, never give
up your annual elections! young men, never give up your jewel!" He
apologized for his zeal. He then drew a comparison between the judges, &c.,
of this country before the revolution, who were dependent on Great Britain for
their salaries, and those representatives dependent on the Continent. He
concluded by hoping that the representatives would be annually elected, and
thereby feel a greater dependence on the people.
Mr. GORE. It has been observed, that, in considering this great and
momentous question, we ought to consult the sentiments of wise men, who have
written on the subject of government, and thereby regulate our decision on this
business. A passage is adduced from Montesquieu, stating that, where the people
delegate great power, it ought to be compensated for by the shortness of the
duration. Though strictly agreeing with the author, I do not see that it
applies to the subject under consideration. This might be perfectly applicable
to the ancient governments, where they had no idea of representation, or
different checks in the legislature or administration of government; but, in
the proposed Constitution, the powers of the whole government are limited to
certain national objects, and are accurately defined. The House of
Representatives is but one branch of the system, and can do nothing of itself.
Montesquieu, in the sentiment alluded to, must have had in his mind the
Epistates of Athens, or the Dictators of Rome; but certainly observations drawn
from such sources can have no weight in considering things so efficiently
different. Again, sir, gentlemen have said that annual elections were necessary
to the preservation of liberty, and that, in proportion as the people of
different nations have lengthened, beyond the term of a year, the duration of
their representatives, they have lost their liberties, and that all writers
have agreed in this. I may mistake; but I know no such thing as a
representation of the people in any of the ancient republics. In England, from
whence we receive many of our ideas on this subject, King John covenanted with
his people to summon certain classes of men to Parliament. By the constitution
of that country, the king alone can convoke, and be alone, previous to the
revolution, could dissolve, the Parliament; but in the reign of William the
Third, the patriots obtained an act limiting the duration of Parliament to
three years. Soon after, a Parliament then sitting, and near expiring, a
rebellion broke out, and the tories and Jacobites were gaining strength to
support the Pretender's claim to the crown. Had they dissolved themselves, and
a new Parliament been convoked, probably many of the very opponents to the
government might have been elected. In that case they might have effected by
law what they in vain attempted by arms.
The Parliament, therefore, extended their duration from triennial to
septennial. This was acquiesced in by the people, and the next Parliament
sanctioned the act. No evil, but great good, has been supposed to follow from
their duration being thus extended; and if Montesquieu and Dr. Adams think the
British constitution so perfect, how much greater must be our security, when we
reflect that our representation is equal; that the powers of the government are
so limited, and the checks so nicely appointed! If there be a representation of
the people in any other countries, and annual elections therein have been
considered as the basis of their freedom, I pray gentlemen to mention the
instances; I confess I know none. People adopt a position which is certainly
true, viz., that elections ought to be frequent; but, then, as we have been in
the custom of choosing our representatives annually, we have determined
annually to be frequent, and that biennial, or any longer term than annual, is
not frequent; but if gentlemen will only consider the objects over which this
government is to have rule and authority, and the immense and wide-extended
tracts of country over which the representatives are to pass before they reach
the seat of government, I think they will be convinced that two years is a
short time for the representatives to hold their office. Further, sir, we must
consider this subject with respect to the general structure of the
Constitution. The Senate represents the sovereignty of the states; the House of
Representatives the people of the United States. The former have a longer term
in their office; it is then necessary that that body which represents the
people should have a permanence in their office, to resist any operations of
the Senate, which might be injurious to the people. If they were annual, I
submit it to the good sense of this house whether they would be able to
preserve that weight in the system which the Constitution intended they should
have, and which is absolutely necessary for the security of the rights of the
The Hon. Mr. KING said he would not detain the Convention by any exordium
for the purpose of obtaining their attention. He declared, however, that he
thought the subject might be freed from certain prejudices connected with its
examination, and that thereby the question might receive a fairer decision:
this should be the object of his address.
The honorable gentleman observed, that the Convention would do well to lay
aside the terms annual or biennial, and consider the subject as
it could be supported by principles. Much had been said of the instruction to
be derived from history on this point; he said he presumed to doubt whether
this was the case. From the continent of Europe he believed that we could
receive no instruction. Their Parliaments, after the overthrow of the Roman
empire, were not constructed upon the principle of a representation of the
people. The, conqueror of a given district of the country was, by the feudal
system, the prince or king of the people within his conquered territories. When
he wished the advice of any persons, he summoned usually a number of his
principal officers, or the barons of his kingdom, to give him their counsel;
but the people, or, as they were degradingly called, the vassals, were never
consulted. This certainly cannot be considered as a representation of the
people This mode of assembling a Parliament probably obtained in the early
stages of the English history; but those who have written on this subject agree
that their information is very imperfect, relative to the origin of English
Parliaments; they are not certain who composed the Parliament, how long they
held their office, or concerning what points they were consulted.
Nothing clear on this subject appears before the 12th century. Magna Charta
is the foundation of the imperfect representation of England. Improvements have
since been made in favor of the more equal and certain representation of the
people; but it is still extremely imperfect and insecure. Perhaps the people of
America are the first, who, by the social compact, ever obtained a right to a
full and fair representation, in making the laws of their country.
If, then, [continued Mr. K.,] history can afford little or no instruction on
this subject, the Convention must determine the question upon its own
principles. It seems proper that the representative should be in office time
enough to acquire that information which is necessary to form a right judgment;
but that the time should not be so long as to remove from his mind the powerful
check upon his conduct, that arises from the frequency of elections, whereby
the people are enabled to remove an unfaithful representative, or to continue a
faithful one. If the question is examined by this standard, perhaps it will
appear that an election for two years is short enough for a representative in
Congress. If one year is necessary for a representative to be useful in the
state legislature, where the objects of his deliberations are local, and within
his constant observation, two years do not appear too long, where the objects
of deliberation are not confined to one state, but extend to thirteen states;
where the complicated interests of united America are mingled with those of
foreign nations; and where the great duties of national sovereignty will
require his constant attention. When the representatives of the colony of
Massachusetts were first chosen, the country was not settled more than twenty
miles from Boston; they then held their offices for one year. The emigrants
from Massachusetts, who settled on Connecticut River, appointed the
representatives to meet in the General Court of that colony for only six
months. Massachusetts, although her settlements have extended over almost her
whole territory, has continued to depute representatives for only one year, and
Connecticut for only six months; but as, in each of these colonies, when under
the British government, the duties of the representatives were merely local,
the great duties of sovereignty being vested in their king, so, since the
revolution, their duties have continued local, many of the authorities of
sovereignty being vested in Congress. It is now proposed to increase the powers
of Congress; this will increase the duties of the representatives, and they
must have a reasonable time to obtain the information necessary to a right
discharge of their office.
It has been said that our ancestors never relinquished the idea of annual
elections: this is an error. In 1643, the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, and New Haven, united in a confederacy, which continued about
forty years; each colony sent two commissioners as their representatives, and
by the articles they were to be annually elected. About the year 1650, the
General Court of Massachusetts instructed their commissioners to propose that
the elections, instead of being annual, should be only once in three years. The
alteration did not take place, but the anecdote proves that our ancestors have
not had a uniform predilection for annual elections.
Mr. K. concluded by observing that, on a candid examination of this
question, he presumed that the Constitution would not be objected to on account
of the biennial election of the House of Representatives.
Judge DANA. Mr. President, the feeble state of my health will not permit me
to enter so largely into the debates of this house, as I should be otherwise
inclined to do. The intention of my rising, at present, is to express my
perfect acquiescence in the sentiments advanced by the honorable gentleman from
Newburyport, [Mr. King,] in favor of the expediency of biennial
elections of our federal representatives. From my own experience, I think
them preferable to annual elections. I have, sir, seen gentlemen in
Congress, and delegates from this state too, silting in that honorable body,
without a voice; without power to open their mouths, or lift up their hands,
when matters of the highest importance to their state have been under
consideration. I have seen members in Congress, for the space of three months,
without power, sir, waiting for evidence of their reduction. Besides, sir, that
the more frequent elections are, the oftener states will be exposed to
be deprived of their voice and influence in national councils. I think annual
elections are too short for so extensive an empire. They keep the members
always travelling about; and I am of opinion that elections for two years are
in no way subversive of the liberties of the people. I, sir, am one of
the people, thank God! and am happy in having an opportunity of expressing my
personal satisfaction of such elections. For these and a variety of other
reasons, Mr. D. suggested that he thought this state ought to be the first to
adopt this method of elections.
The Hon. Mr. WHITE still thought that Congress might perpetuate themselves,
and so reign emperors over us.
Hon. Mr. GORHAM observed, (in continuation of Mr. Dana's observation,) that
there was not now a Congress; although the time of their meeting had
considerably elapsed. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and several other states, had
not gone on; that there was now only five states in Congress, when there ought
to have been thirteen two months ago.
Mr. CARNES rose to confirm it, and accordingly read part of a letter from
the Hon. Mr. Otis, the purport of which was, that there was much business to
do; that only five states were represented, and that the probability of Indian
war, &c., evinced the great necessity of the establishment of an efficient
federal government, which will be the result of the adoption of the proposed
Dr. TAYLOR rose to answer two objections which had been made against annual
elections: The distance of place was not so great but the delegates
might reach Philadelphia in a fortnight; and as they were answerable to the
people for their conduct, he thought it would prevent a vacancy, and
concluded by saying, he did not conceive the arguments in favor of
biennial elections well founded.
A letter from the Hon. Elbridge Gerry, informing that he would attend the
Convention, agreeable to their vote of yesterday, was received and read.
On motion of Mr. NASON, Ordered, That a committee be appointed to
provide a more convenient place for the Convention to sit in.
WEDNESDAY, January 16. — The 2d part of
the 2d section of the 3d article was read at the table a desultory conversation
ensued on the mode of conducting the discussion; it was again agreed,
that, in the debate on any paragraph, gentlemen might discuss any other part
they might suppose had relation to that under consideration.
Mr. PIERCE, (from Partridgefield,) after reading the 4th section, wished to
know the opinion of gentlemen on it, as Congress appeared thereby to have a
power to regulate the time, place, and manner of holding elections. In
respect to the manner, said Mr. P., suppose the legislature of this state
should prescribe that the choice of the federal representatives should be in
the same manner as that of governor, — a majority of all the votes in the
state being necessary to make it such, — and Congress should deem it an
improper manner, and should order that it be as practised in several of
the Southern States, where the highest number of votes make a choice; —
have they not power by this section to do so? Again, as to the place,
continues Mr. P., may not Congress direct that the election for Massachusetts
shall be held in Boston? and if so, it is possible that, previous to the
election, a number of the electors may meet, agree upon the eight delegates,
and propose the same to a few towns in the vicinity, who, agreeing in
sentiment, may meet on the day of election, and carry their list by a major
vote. He did not, he said, say that this would be the case; but he wished to
know if it was not a possible one. As the federal representatives, who are to
form the democratical part of the general government, are to be a check on the
representatives of the sovereignty, the senate, he thought the utmost caution
ought to be used to have their elections as free as possible. He observed that,
as men have ever been fond of power, we must suppose they ever will continue
so; and concluded by observing, that our caution ought in the present case to
be greater, as, by the proposed Constitution, no qualification of property was
required in a representative; and it might be in the power of some people
thereby to choose a bankrupt for a representative, in order to give such
representatives employment, or that he might make laws favorable to such a
description of the people.
Gen. PORTER (from Hadley) endeavored to obviate the objections of Mr.
Pierce, by showing the almost impossibility of Congress making a law
whereby eight men could be elected, as Mr. Pierce had supposed; and he thought
it equally impossible for the people to choose a person to take care of their
property, who had none himself.
Mr. BISHOP rose, and observed that, by the 4th section, Congress would be
enabled to control the elections of representatives. It has been said, says he,
that this power was given in order that refractory states may be made to do
their duty. But if so, sir, why was it not so mentioned? If that was the
intention, he asked why the clause did not run thus: "The times, places,
and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be
prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but," if any state
shall refuse or neglect so to do, "Congress may," &c. This,
he said, would admit of no prevarication. I am, says Mr. B., for giving
Congress as much power to do good as possible. It has been said, Mr. President,
that the conduct of Rhode Island, in recalling its delegates from Congress, has
demonstrated the necessity of such a power being lodged in Congress. I have
been informed by people belonging to Rhode Island, sir, that that state never
has recalled her delegates from Congress. I do not believe it has. And I call
upon the gentleman who mentioned it to authenticate the fact.
The Hon. Mr. KING rose, and assured the Convention that the state of Rhode
Island did, by a solemn resolution, some time since, recall its delegates from
The Hon. Mr. GORHAM confirmed what Mr. K. had said, and added, that, during
the session of the federal Convention, when seven states only were represented
in Congress, application was made by two companies for the purchase of lands,
the sale of which would have sunk seven or eight millions of dollars of the
Continental debt, and the most pressing letters were sent on to Rhode Island to
send on its delegates; but that state refused: the consequence was, the
contract could not then be made.
Mr. BISHOP confessed himself convinced of the fact. He proceeded to observe,
that, if the states shall refuse to do their duty, then let the power be given
to Congress to oblige them to do it. But if they do their duty, Congress ought
not to have the power to control elections. In an uncontrolled representation,
says Mr. B., lies the security of freedom; and he thought by these clauses,
that that freedom was sported with. In fact, says he, the moment we give
Congress this power, the liberties of the yeomanry of this country are at an
end. But he trusted they would never give it; and he felt a consolation from
The 4th section, which provides that the state legislatures shall prescribe
the time, place, and manner of holding elections, and that Congress may at any
time make or alter them, except in those of senators, [though not in regular
order,] under deliberation.
The Hon. Mr. STRONG followed Mr. Bishop, and pointed out the necessity there
is for the 4th section. The power, says he, to regulate the elections of our
federal representatives must be lodged somewhere. I know of but two bodies
wherein it can be lodged — the legislatures of the several states, and
the general Congress, If the legislative bodies of the states, who must be
supposed to know at what time, and in what place and manner, the elections can
best be held, should so appoint them, it cannot be supposed that Congress, by
the power granted by this section, will alter them; but if the legislature of a
state should refuse to make such regulations, the consequence will be, that the
representatives will not be chosen, and the general government will be
dissolved. In such case, can gentlemen say that a power to remedy the evil is
not necessary to be lodged somewhere? And where can it be lodged but in
Congress? I will consider its advantage in another respect. We know, sir, that
a negligence in the appointment of rulers is the characteristic of all nations.
In this state, and since the establishment of our present constitution, the
first officers of government have been elected by less than one tenth part of
the electors of the state. We also know that our town meetings, for the choice
of officers, are generally attended by an inconsiderable part of the qualified
voters. People attend so much to their private interest, that they are apt to
neglect this right. Nations have lost their liberties by neglecting their
privileges; consequently Congress ought to have an interposing power to awaken
the people when thus negligent. Even supposing, sir, the provisional clause
suggested by the worthy gentleman from Norton should be added, would not
Congress then be the judges whether the elections in the several states were
constitutional and proper? If so, it will then stand on the same ground it now
does. It appears evident that there must be a general power to regulate general
elections. Gentlemen have said, the proposed Constitution was in some places
ambiguous. I wish they would point out the particular instances of ambiguity,
for my part, I think the whole of it is expressed in the plain, common language
of mankind If any parts are not so explicit as they could be, it cannot be
attributed to any design; for I believe a great majority of the men who formed
it were sincere and honest men.
Mr. BISHOP said the great difficulty with him was, that the power given by
the 4th section was unlimited; and he did not yet see that any advantage would
arise from its being so.
Mr. CABOT, (of Beverly,) not having spoken upon the question of biennial
elections of representatives, begged leave to revert to that subject, so far as
to add to what had been said by others, that we should consider the particular
business which that body will be frequently called upon to transact, especially
in the way of revenue. We should consider that, on a question of supplies of
money to support a war, or procure a treaty, it will be impossible for those
representatives to judge of the expediency or inexpediency of such supplies,
until they shall have had time to become acquainted with the general system of
federal politics, in its connection or relation to foreign powers; because upon
the situation of those must depend the propriety or impropriety of granting
supplies. If to this be added a due attention to the easiest way of raising
such supplies, it must appear that biennial elections are as frequent as is
consistent with using the power of the representatives for the benefit of their
Mr. C. then turned to the 4th section, now under debate, and said, It gives
me pain to see the anxiety of different gentlemen concerning this paragraph
under consideration, as it evinces a conviction in their minds of what I
believe to be true — that a free and equal representation is the best,
if not the only foundation upon which a free government can be built; and,
consequently, that the greatest care should be taken in laying it. I am, sir,
one of the people; such I shall continue; and, with their feelings, I
hold "that the right of electing persons to represent the
people in the federal government, is an important and sacred
right." The opinions that have been offered upon the manner in which the
exercise of this right is provided for by the 4th section, satisfies me that we
are all solicitous for the same end, and that we only differ as to the means of
attaining it; and for my own part, I confess that I prize the 4th section as
highly as any in the Constitution; because I consider the democratic
branch of the national government, the branch chosen immediately for the
people, as intended to be a check on the federal branch, which
latter is not an immediate representation of the people of America, and is not
chosen by them, but is a representation of the sovereignty of the individual
states, and its members delegated by the several state legislatures; and if the
state legislatures are suffered to regulate conclusively the elections of the
democratic branch, they may, by such an interference, first weaken, and at last
destroy, that check, they may at first diminish, and finally annihilate, that
control of the general government, which the people ought always to have
through their immediate representatives. As one of the people,
therefore, I repeat, that, in my mind, the 4th section is to be as highly
prized as any in the Constitution.
Mr. PARSONS contended for vesting in Congress the powers contained in the
4th section, not only as those powers were necessary for preserving the union,
but also for securing to the people their equal rights of election. He
considered the subject very fully; but we are able to give our readers very
imperfectly the heads of his speech. In the Congress, not only the sovereignty
of the states is represented in the Senate, but, to balance their power, and to
give the people a suitable and efficient check upon them, the federal
representatives are introduced into Congress. The legislatures of the several
states are the constituents of the Senate, and the people are the constituents
of the Representatives. These two branches, therefore, have different
constituents, and as they are designed as mutual checks upon each other, and to
balance the legislative powers, there will be frequent struggles and
contentions between them. The Senate will wish to control, depress, and render
inefficient the Representatives; the same disposition in the Representatives
towards the Senate, will produce the like exertions on their part. The Senate
will call upon their constituents, the legislatures, for aid; the
Representatives will look up to the people for support. If, therefore, the
power of making and altering the regulations defined in this section, is vested
absolutely in the legislature, the Representatives will very soon be reduced to
an undue dependence upon the Senate, because the power of influencing and
controlling the election of the representatives of the people, will be exerted
without control by the constituents of the senators. He further observed, that
there was much less danger in trusting these powers in Congress, than in the
state legislatures. For if the federal representatives wished to introduce such
regulations as would secure to them their places, and a continuance in office,
the federal Senate would never consent, because it would increase the influence
and check of the Representatives; and, on the other hand, if the Senate were
aiming at regulations to increase their own influence by depressing the
Representatives, the consent of the latter would never be obtained; and no
other regulations would ever obtain the consent of both branches of the
legislature, but such as did not affect their neutral rights and the balance of
government; and those regulations would be for the benefit of the people. But a
state legislature, under the influence of their senators, who would have their
fullest confidence, or under the influence of ambitious or popular characters,
or in times of popular commotion, and when faction and party spirit run high,
would introduce such regulations as would render the rights of the people
insecure and of little value. They might make an unequal and partial division
of the states into districts for the election of representatives, or they might
even disqualify one third of the electors. Without these powers in Congress,
the people can have no remedy; but the 4th section provides a remedy, a
controlling power in a legislature, composed of senators and representatives of
twelve states, without the influence of our commotions and factions, who will
hear impartially, and preserve and restore to the people their equal and sacred
rights of election. Perhaps it then will be objected, that from the supposed
opposition of interests in the federal legislature, they may never agree upon
any regulations; but regulations necessary for the interests of the people can
never be opposed to the interests of either of the branches of the federal
legislature; because that the interests of the people require that the mutual
powers of that legislature should be preserved unimpaired, in order to balance
the government. Indeed, if the Congress could never agree on any regulations,
then certainly no objection to the 4th section can remain; for the regulations
introduced by the state legislatures will be the governing rule of elections,
until Congress can agree upon alterations.
Mr. WIDGERY insisted that we had a right to be jealous of our rulers, who
ought never to have a power which they could abuse. The 4th section ought to
have gone further; it ought to have had the provision in it mentioned by Mr.
Bishop; there would then be a mutual check. And he still wished it to be
further explained. The worthy gentleman contested the similitude made by the
honorable gentleman from Newburyport, between the power to be given to Congress
by the 4th section, to compel the states to send representatives, and the power
given to the legislatures by our own constitution, to oblige towns to send
representatives to the General Court, by observing that the case was materially
different; as, in the latter, if any town refuses to send representatives, a
power of fining such towns only is given. It is in vain. said Mr.
Widgery, to say that rulers are not subject to passions and prejudices. In the
late General Court, of which I was a member, I would willingly have deprived
the three western counties from sending delegates to this house, as I
then thought it necessary. But, sir, what would have been the
consequence? A large part of the state would have been deprived of their
dearest privileges. I mention this, sir, to show the force of passion and
The Hon. Mr. WHITE said, we ought to be jealous of rulers. All the godly men
we read of have failed; nay, he would not trust a "flock of Moseses."
If we give up this section, says he, there is nothing left. Suppose the
Congress should say that none should be electors but those worth 50 or a
£100 sterling; cannot they do it? Yes, said he, they can; and if any
lawyer (alluding to Mr. Parsons) can beat me out of it, I will give him ten
Col. JONES (of Bristol) thought, by this power to regulate elections,
Congress might keep themselves in to all duration.
The Rev. Mr. PERLEY wished Mr. Gerry might be asked some questions on this
section. [But Mr. Gerry was not in the house.]
Mr. J. C. JONES said, it was not right to argue the possibility of the
abuse of any measure against its adoption. The power granted to Congress by
the 4th section, says he, is a necessary power; it will provide against
negligence and dangerous designs. The senators and
representatives of this state, Mr. President, are now chosen by a small number
of electors; and it is likely we shall grow equally negligent of our federal
elections; or, sir, a state may refuse to send to Congress its
representatives, as Rhode Island has done Thus we see its necessity.
To say that the power may be abused, is saying what will apply to all
power. The federal representatives will represent the people;
they will be the people; and it is not probable they will abuse
themselves. Mr. J. concluded with repeating, that the arguments against this
power could be urged against any power whatever.
Dr. JARVIS, Many gentlemen have inferred from the right of regulating
elections, by the 4th section, being invested in the federal head, that the
powers of wresting this essential privilege from the people would be equally
delegated. But it appeared to him, he said, that there is a very material
distinction in the two cases; for, however possible it may be that this
controlling authority may be abused, it by no means followed that Congress, in
any situation, could strip the people of their right to a direct
representation. If he could believe in this, he should readily join in
sentiment with gentlemen on the other side of the house, that this section
alone would be a sufficient objection to the Constitution itself. The right of
election, founded on the principle of equality, was, he said, the basis on
which the whole superstructure was erected; this right was inherent in the
people; it was unalienable in its nature, and it could not be destroyed without
presuming a power to subvert the Constitution, of which this was the principal;
and by recurring to the 2d section, it would appear that
"representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the
several states according to their respective numbers;" it equally
appeared that 30,000 inhabitants were entitled to send a representative, and
that wherever this number was found, they would have a right to be represented
in the federal legislature. If it was argued that Congress might abuse their
power, and, by varying the places of election, distress the people, it could
only be observed, that such a wanton abuse could not be supposed; but, if it
could go to the annihilation of the right, he contended the people would not
submit. He considered the Constitution as an elective democracy, in which the
sovereignty still rested in the people, and he by no means could believe that
this article was so alarming in its nature, or dangerous in its tendency, as
many gentlemen had supposed.
Mr. HOLMES, in reply to Dr. Jarvis, said, the worthy gentleman's
superstructure must fall to the ground; for the Constitution does not provide
that every 30,000 shall send a representative, but that it shall not exceed one
for every 30,000.
THURSDAY, January 17. — The 4th section
still under deliberation.
Hon. Mr. TURNER. Mr. President, I am pleased with the ingenuity of some
gentlemen in defence of this section. I am so impressed with the love of our
liberty, so dearly bought, that I heartily acquiesce to compulsory laws, for
the people ought to be obliged to attend to their interest. But I do not wish
to give Congress a power which they can abuse; and I wish to know whether such
a power is not contained in this section? I think it is. I now proceed, sir, to
the consideration of an idea, that Congress may alter the place for choosing
representatives in the general Congress: they may order that it may be at the
extremity of a state, and, by their influence, may there prevail that persons
may be chosen, who otherwise would not; by reason that a part of the qualified
voters, in part of the state, would be so incommoded thereby, as to be debarred
from their right as much as if they were bound at home. If so, such a
circumstance would militate against the Constitution, which allows every man to
vote. Altering the place will put it so far in the power of Congress, as
that the representatives chosen will not be the true and genuine
representatives of the people, but creatures of the Congress; and so far as
they are so, so far are the people deprived of their rights, and the choice
will be made in an irregular and unconstitutional manner. When this alteration
is made by Congress, may we not suppose whose reŽlection will be provided
for? Would it not be for those who were chosen before? The great law of
self-preservation will prevail. It is true, they might, one time in a hundred,
provide for a friend; but most commonly for themselves. But, however honorable
the Convention may be who proposed this article, I think it is a genuine power
for Congress to perpetuate themselves — a power that cannot be
unexceptionably exercised in any case whatever. Knowing the numerous arts that
designing men are prone to, to secure their election and perpetuate themselves,
it is my hearty wish that a rotation may be provided for. I respect and revere
the Convention who proposed this Constitution. In order that the power given to
Congress may be more palatable, some gentlemen are pleased to hold up the idea,
that we may be blessed with sober, solid, upright men in Congress. I wish that
we may be favored with such rulers; but I fear they will not all, if most, be
the best moral or political characters. It gives me pain, and I believe it
gives pain to others, thus to characterize the country in which I was born. I
will endeavor to guard against any injurious reflections against my
fellow-citizens. But they must have their true characters; and if I represent
them wrong, I am willing to make concessions. I think that the operation of
paper money, and the practice of privateering, have produced a gradual decay of
morals; introduced pride, ambition, envy, lust of power; produced a decay of
patriotism, and the love of commutative justice; and I am apprehensive these
are the invariable concomitants of the luxury in which we are unblessedly
involved, almost to our total destruction. In the lower ranks of people, luxury
and avarice operate to the want of public duty and the payment of debts. These
demonstrate the necessity of an energetic government. As people become more
luxurious, they become more incapacitated for governing themselves. And are we
not so? Alike people, alike prince. But suppose it should so happen, that the
administrators of this Constitution should be preferable to the corrupt mass of
the people, in point of manners, morals, and rectitude; power will give a keen
edge to the principles I have mentioned. Ought we not, then, to put all checks
and controls on governors for the public safety? Therefore, instead of giving
Congress powers they may not abuse, we ought to withhold our hands from
granting such as must be abused if exercised. This is a general observation.
But to the point; at the time of the restoration, the people of England were so
vexed and worn down by the anarchical and confused state of the nation,
owing to the commonwealth not being well digested, that they took an opposite
career; they run mad with loyalty, and would have given Charles any thing he
could have asked. Pardon me, sir, if I say I feel the want of an energetic
government, and the dangers to which this dear country is reduced, as much as
any citizen of the United States; but I cannot prevail on myself to adopt a
government which wears the face of power, without examining it. Relinquishing a
hair's breadth in a constitution, is a great deal; for by small degrees
has liberty, in all nations, been wrested from the hands of the people. I know
great powers are necessary to be given to Congress, but I wish they may be well
Judge SUMNER, remarking on Gen. Thompson's frequent exclamation of
"O my country!" expressed from an apprehension that the
Constitution would be adopted, said, that expression might be used with great
propriety, should this Convention reject it. The honorable gentleman then
proceeded to demonstrate the necessity of the 4th section; the absurdity of the
supposition that Congress would remove the places of election to remote parts
of the states; combated the idea that Congress would, when chosen, act as bad
as possible; and concluded by asking, if a war should take place, (and it was
supposable,) if France and Holland should send an army to collect the millions
of livres they have lent us in the time of our distresses, and that army should
be in possession of the seat of government of any particular state, (as was the
case when Lord Cornwallis ravaged Carolina,) and that the state legislature
could not appoint electors, — is not a power to provide for such elections
necessary to be lodged in the general Congress?
Mr. WIDGERY denied the statement of Dr. Jarvis (that every 30,000 persons
can elect one representative) to be just, as the Constitution provides that the
number shall not exceed one to every 30,000; it did not follow, he
thought, that the 30,000 shall elect one. But, admitting that they have a right
to choose one, — we will suppose Congress should order an election to be
in Boston in January, and from the scarcity of money, &c., not a fourth
part could attend; would not three quarters of the people be deprived of their
Rev. Mr. WEST. I rise to express my astonishment at the arguments of some
gentlemen against this section. They have only started possible
objections. I wish the gentlemen would show us that what they so much deprecate
is probable. Is it probable that we shall choose men to ruin us? Are we
to object to all governments? and because power may be abused, shall we
be reduced to anarchy and a state of nature? What hinders our state
legislatures from abusing their powers? They may violate the Constitution; they
may levy taxes oppressive and intolerable, to the amount of all our property.
An argument which proves too much, it is said, proves nothing. Some say
Congress may remove the place of elections to the state of South Carolina. This
is inconsistent with the words of the Constitution, which says, "that
the elections, in each state, shall be prescribed by the legislature
thereof," &c., and that representation be apportioned according to
numbers; it will frustrate the end of the Constitution, and is a reflection on
the gentlemen who formed it. Can we, sir, suppose them so wicked, so vile, as
to recommend an article so dangerous? Surely, gentlemen who argue these
possibilities, show they have a very weak cause. That we may all be free
from passions, prepossessions, and party spirit, I sincerely hope; otherwise,
reason will have no effect. I hope there are none here but who are open to
conviction, as it is the surest method to gain the suffrage of our consciences.
The honorable gentleman from Scituate has told us that the people of England,
at the restoration, on account of the inconveniences of the confused state
of the commonwealth, run mad with loyalty. If the gentleman means to apply
this to us, we ought to adopt this Constitution; for if the people are
running mad after an energetic government, it is best to stop now, as by
this rule they may run farther, and get a worse one; therefore the gentleman's
arguments turn right against himself. Is it possible that imperfect men can
make a perfect constitution? Is it possible that a frame of government can be
devised by such weak and frail creatures, but what must savor of that weakness?
Though there are some things that I do not like in this Constitution, yet I
think it necessary it should he adopted. For may we not rationally conclude,
that the persons we shall choose to administer it will be, in general, good
Gen. THOMPSON. Mr. President, I have frequently heard of the abilities of
the learned and reverend gentleman last speaking, and now I am witness to them;
but, sir, one thing surprises me: it is, to hear the worthy gentleman insinuate
that our federal rulers would undoubtedly be good men, and that,
therefore, we have little to fear from their being intrusted with all power.
This, sir, is quite contrary to the common language of the clergy, who are
continually representing mankind as reprobate and deceitful, and that we really
grow worse and worse day after day. I really believe we do, sir, and I make no
doubt to prove it before I sit down, and from the Old Testament. When I
consider the man that slew the lion and the bear, and that he was a man after
God's own heart, — when I consider his son, blessed with all
wisdom, and the errors they fell into, — I extremely doubt the
infallibility of human nature. Sir, I suspect my own heart, and I shall suspect
Dr. HOLTON thought this paragraph necessary to a complete system of
government. [But the honorable gentleman spoke so low that he could not be
heard distinctly throughout.]
Capt. SNOW. It has been said, Mr. President, that there is too much power
delegated to Congress by the section under consideration. I doubt it; I think
power the hinge on which the whole Constitution turns. Gentlemen have talked
about Congress moving the place of election from Georgia to the Mohawk River;
but I never can believe it. I will venture to conjecture we shall have some
honest men in our Congress. We read that there were two who brought a good
report — Caleb and Joshua. Now, if there are but two in Congress who
are honest men, and Congress should attempt to do what the gentlemen say they
will, (which will be high treason,) they will bring a report of
it; and I stand ready to leave my wife and family, sling my knapsack, travel
westward, to cut their heads off. I, sir, since the war, have had commerce with
six different nations of the globe; I have inquired in what estimation America
is held; and if I may believe good, honest, credible men, I find this country
held in the same light, by foreign nations, as a well-behaved negro is in a
gentleman's family. Suppose, Mr. President, I had a chance to make a good
voyage, but I tie my captain up to such strict orders, that he can go to no
other island to sell my cargo, although there is a certainty of his doing well;
the consequence is, he returns, but makes a bad voyage, because he had not
power enough to act his judgment; (for honest men do right.) Thus, sir,
Congress cannot save us from destruction, because we tie their hands, and give
them no power; (I think people have lost their privileges by not improving
them;) and I like this power being vested in Congress as well as any paragraph
in the Constitution; for, as the man is accountable for his conduct, I think
there is no danger. Now, Mr. President, to take all things into consideration,
something more must be said to convince me to the contrary.
[Several other gentlemen went largely into the debate on the 4th section,
which those in favor of it demonstrated to be necessary; first, as it may be
used to correct a negligence in elections; secondly, as it will prevent the
dissolution of the government by designing and refractory states; thirdly, as
it will operate as a check, in favor of the people, against any designs of the
federal Senate, and their constituents, the state legislatures, to deprive the
people of their right of election; and fourthly, as it provides a remedy for
the evil, should any state, by invasion, or other cause, not have it in its
power to appoint a place, where the citizens thereof may meet to choose their
federal representatives. Those. against it urged that the power is unlimited
[The committee appointed to provide a more suitable place
for the Convention to sit in, reported that the meeting-house in Long Lane, in
Boston, was prepared for that purpose; whereupon, Voted, That when this
Convention adjourn, they will adjourn to that place.]
Afternoon. — The second paragraph of the 2d section of the 1st
article was reverted to, and some debate had thereon.
Gen. THOMPSON thought that there should have been some qualification of
property in a representative; for, said he when men have nothing to
lose, they have nothing to fear.
Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK said, that this objection was founded on an
anti-democratical principle, and was surprised that gentlemen who appeared so
strenuously to advocate the rights of the people, should wish to exclude from
the federal government a good man, because he was not a rich one.
Mr. KING said, that gentlemen had made it a question, why a qualification of
property in a representative is omitted, and that they thought the provision of
such a qualification necessary. He thought otherwise; he never knew that
property was an index to abilities. We often see men, who, though
destitute of property, are superior in knowledge and rectitude. The men who
have most injured the country have most commonly been rich men. Such a
qualification was proposed in Convention; but by the delegates of Massachusetts
it was contested that it should not obtain. He observed, that no such
qualification is required by the Confederation. In reply to Gen. Thompson's
question, why disqualification of age was not added, the honorable gentleman
said, that it would not extend to all parts of the continent alike. Life, says
he, in a great measure, depends on climate. What in the Southern States would
be accounted long life, would be but the meridian in the
Northern; what here is the time of ripened judgment is old age
there. Therefore the want of such a disqualification cannot be made an
objection to the Constitution.
The third paragraph of the 2d section being read,
Mr. KING rose to explain it. There has, says he, been much misconception of
this section. It is a principle of this Constitution, that representation and
taxation should go hand in hand. This paragraph states that the number of free
persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding
Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons. These persons are the
slaves. By this rule are representation and taxation to be apportioned.
And it was adopted, because it was the language of all America. According to
the Confederation, ratified in 1781, the sums for the general welfare and
defence should be apportioned according to the surveyed lands, and improvements
thereon, in the several states; but that it hath never been in the power of
Congress to follow that rule, the returns from the several states being so very
Dr. TAYLOR thought that the number of members to be chosen for the House of
Representatives was too small. The whole Union was entitled to send but 65;
whereas, by the old Confederation, they send 91 — a reduction of 30 per
cent. He had heard it objected, that, if a larger number was sent, the house
would be unwieldy. He thought our House of Representatives, which sometimes
consists of 150, was not unwieldy; and if the number of the federal
representatives was enlarged to twice 65, he thought it would not be too large.
He then proceeded to answer another objection, "that an increase of
numbers would be an increase of expense," and by calculation demonstrated
that the salaries of the full number he wished, would, in a year, amount only
to £2,980, about one penny on a poll; and by this increase, he thought
every part of the commonwealth would be represented. The distresses of the
people would thereby be more fully known and relieved.
Mr. WIDGERY asked, if a boy of six years of age was to be considered as a
Mr. KING, in answer, said, all persons born free were to be considered as
freemen; and, to make the idea of taxation by numbers more intelligible,
said that five negro children of South Carolina are to pay as much tax
as the three governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Mr. GORHAM thought the proposed section much in favor of Massachusetts; and
if it operated against any state, it was Pennsylvania, because they have more
white persons bound than any other. Mr. G. corrected an observation of
Dr. Taylor's that the states now send 91 delegates to Congress; which was not
the case. The states do not, he said, send near the number, and instanced
Massachusetts, which sends but four. He concluded by saying that the
Constitution provides for an increase of members as numbers increase, and that
in fifty years there will be 360; in one hundred years, 14 or 1500, if the
Constitution last so long.
Judge DANA, remarking on the assertions of Dr. Taylor, that the number of
representatives was too small; that the whole Union was now entitled to
send but 65, whereas by the Confederation they might send 91, — a
reduction of 30 per cent., — said, if the Constitution under consideration
was in fact what its opposers had often called it, a consolidation of the
states, he should readily agree with that gentleman that the representation of
the people was much too small; but this was a charge brought against it without
any foundation in truth. So far from it, that it must be apparent to every one,
that the federal government springs out of, and can alone be brought into
existence by, the state governments. Demolish the latter, and there is an end
of the former. Had the Continental Convention, then, doubled the
representation, agreeably to that gentleman's ideas, would not the people of
this Commonwealth have been the first to complain of it as an unnecessary
burden laid upon them — that, in addition to their own domestic
government, they have been charged with the support of so numerous a national
government? Would they not have contended for the demolition of the one or the
other, as being unable to support both? Would they have been satisfied by being
told that doubling the representation would yearly amount only "to about
one penny upon a poll"? Does not the gentleman know that the expense of
our own numerous representation has excited much ill-will against the
government? Has he never heard it said among the people that our public affairs
would be as well conducted by half the number of representatives? If he has
not, I have, sir, and believe it to be true. But the gentleman says that there
is a reduction of 30 per cent. in the federal representation, as the whole
Union can send but 65, when under the Confederation they may send 91. The
gentleman has not made a fair calculation. For, if to the 65 representatives
under the proposed Constitution we add 2 senators from each state, amounting to
26 in all, we shall have the same number, 91; so that in this respect there is
no difference. Besides, this representation will increase with the population
of the states, and soon become sufficiently large to meet that gentleman's
ideas. I would just observe, that by the Confederation this state has a right
to send seven members to Congress; yet, although the legislature hath sometimes
chosen the whole number, I believe at no time have they had, or wished to have,
more than four of them actually in Congress. Have any ill consequences arisen
from this small representation in the national council? Have our liberties been
endangered by it? No one will say they have. The honorable gentleman drew a
parallel between the Eastern and Southern States, and showed the injustice done
the former by the present mode of apportioning taxes, according to surveyed
land and improvements, and the consequent advantage therefrom to the latter,
their property not lying in improvements, in buildings, &c.
In reply to the remark of some gentlemen, that the Southern States were
favored in this mode of apportionment, by having five of their negroes
set against three persons in the Eastern, the honorable judge observed,
that the negroes of the Southern States work no longer than when the eye
of the driver is on them. Can, asked he, that land nourish like this, which is
cultivated by the hands of freemen? and are not three of these
independent freemen of more real advantage to a state than five of those
poor slaves? As a friend to equal taxation, he rejoiced that an opportunity was
presented, in this Constitution, to change this unjust mode of apportionment.
Indeed, concluded he, from a survey of every part of the Constitution, I think
it the best that the wisdom of men could suggest.
Mr. NASSON remarked on the statement of the Hon. Mr King, by saying that the
honorable gentleman should have gone further, and shown us the other side of
the question. It is a good rule that works both ways; and the gentleman should
also have told us, that three of our infants in the cradle are to be
rated as five of the working negroes of Virginia. Mr. N. adverted to a
statement of Mr. King, who had said that five negro children of South Carolina
were equally ratable as three governors of New England, and wished, he said,
the honorable gentleman had considered this question upon the other side, as it
would then appear that this state will pay as great a tax for three children in
the cradle, as any of the Southern States will for five hearty, working negro
men. He hoped, he said, while we were making a new government, we should make
it better than the old one; for, if we had made a bad bargain before, as had
been hinted, it was a reason why we should make a better one now.
Mr. RANDALL begged leave to answer a remark of the Hon. Mr. Dana, which, he
thought, reflected on the barrenness of the Southern States. He spoke from his
own personal knowledge, be said, and be could say, that the land in general, in
those states, was preferable to any he ever saw.
Judge DANA rose to set the gentleman right; he said it was not the
quality of the land he alluded to, but the manner of tilling it that he
FRIDAY, January 18. — The third paragraph
of the 2d section of article one still under consideration.
Hon. Mr. DALTON opened the conversation with some remarks on Mr. Randall's
positive assertions of the fertility of the Southern States; who said, from his
own observation, and from accounts he had seen, which were better, he could
say, that the gentleman's remark was not perfectly accurate. The honorable
gentleman showed why it was not so, by stating the inconsiderable product of
the land, which, though it might in part be owing to the faithlessness and
ignorance of the slaves who cultivate it, he said, was in a greater measure
owing to the want of heart in the soil.
Mr. RANDALL. Mr. President, I rise to make an observation on the suggestion
of the honorable gentleman from Newbury. I have, sir, travelled into the
Southern States, and should be glad to compare our knowledge on the subject
together. In Carolina, Mr. President, if they don't get more than twenty or
thirty bushels of corn from an acre, they think it a small crop. On the low
lands they sometimes get forty. I hope, sir, these great men of eloquence and
learning will not try to make arguments to make this Constitution go
down, right or wrong. An old saying, sir, is, that "a good thing don't
need praising;" but, sir, it takes the best men in the state to gloss this
Constitution, which they say is the best that human wisdom can invent. In
praise of it we hear the reverend clergy, the judges of the Supreme Court, and
the ablest lawyers, exerting their utmost abilities. Now, sir, suppose all this
artillery turned the other way, and these great men would speak half as much
against it, we might complete our business and go home in forty-eight hours.
Let us consider, sir, we are acting for the people, and for ages unborn; let us
deal fairly and above board. Every one comes here to discharge his duty to his
constituents, and I hope none will be biased by the best orators; because we
are not acting for ourselves. I think Congress ought to have power, such as is
for the good of the nation; but what it is, let a more able man than I tell us.
Mr. DAWES said, he was very sorry to hear so many objections raised against
the paragraph under consideration. He thought them wholly unfounded; that the
black inhabitants of the Southern States must be considered either as
slaves, and as so much property, or in the character of so many freemen;
if the former, why should they not be wholly represented? Our own state laws
and constitution would lead us to consider these blacks as freemen, and so
indeed would our own ideas of natural justice. If, then, they are freemen, they
might form an equal basis for representation as though they were all white
inhabitants. In either view, therefore, he could not see that the Northern
States would suffer, but directly to the contrary. He thought, however, that
gentlemen would do well to connect the passage in dispute with another article
in the Constitution, that permits Congress, in the year 1808, wholly to
prohibit the importation of slaves, and in the mean time to impose a duty of
ten dollars a head on such blacks as should be imported before that period.
Besides, by the new Constitution, every particular state is left to its own
option totally to prohibit the introduction of slaves into its own territories.
What could the Convention do more? The members of the Southern States, like
ourselves, have their prejudices. It would not do to abolish slavery, by
an act of Congress, in a moment, and so destroy what our southern brethren
consider as property. But we may say, that, although slavery is not smitten by
an apoplexy, yet it has received a mortal wound, and will die of a consumption.
Mr. D. said, the paragraph in debate related only to the rule of
apportioning internal taxes; but the gentleman had gone into a consideration of
the question, whether Congress should have the power of laying and collecting
such taxes; which, he thought, would be more properly discussed under
the section relative to the powers of Congress; but as objections had
been suggested, the answers might be hinted as we went along. By the old
articles, said he, Congress have a right to ascertain what are necessary for
the Union, and to appropriate the same, but have no authority to draw such
moneys from the states. The states are under an honorary obligation to
raise the moneys; but Congress cannot compel a compliance with the obligation.
So long as we withhold that authority from Congress, so long we may be said to
give it to other nations. Let us contemplate the loan we have made with the
Dutch. Our ambassador has bound us all, jointly and severally, to pay the money
borrowed. When pay-day shall come, how is the money to be raised? Congress
cannot collect it. If any one state shall disobey a requisition, the Dutch are
left, in such a case, to put their own demand in force for themselves. They
must raise by arms what we are afraid Congress shall collect by the law of
peace. There is a prejudice, said Mr. Dawes, against direct taxation, which
arises from the manner in which it has been abused by the errors of the old
Confederation. Congress had it not in their power to draw a revenue from
commerce, and therefore multiplied their requisitions on the states.
Massachusetts, willing to pay her part, made her own trade law, on which the
trade departed to such of our neighbors as made no such impositions on
commerce; thus we lost what little revenue we had, and our only course was, to
a direct taxation. In addition to this, foreign nations, knowing this inability
of Congress, have on that account been backward in their negotiations, and have
lent us money at a premium which bore some proportion to the risk they had of
getting payment; and this extraordinary expense has fallen at last on the land.
Some gentlemen have said, that Congress may draw their revenue wholly by
direct taxes; but they cannot be induced so to do; it is easier for them to
have resort to the impost and excise; but as it will not do to overburden the
impost, (because that would promote smuggling, and be dangerous to the
revenue,) therefore Congress should have the power of applying, in
extraordinary cases, to direct taxation. War may take place, in which case it
would not be proper to alter those appropriations of impost which may be made
for peace establishments. It is inexpedient to divert the public funds; the
power of direct taxation would, in such circumstances, be a very necessary
power. As to the rule of apportioning such taxes, it must be by the quantity of
lands, or else in the manner laid down in the paragraph under debate. But the
quantity of lands is an uncertain rule of wealth. Compare the lands of
different nations of Europe, some of them have great comparative wealth and
less quantities of lands, whilst others have more land and less wealth. Compare
Holland with Germany. The rule laid down in the paragraph is the best that can
be obtained for the apportionment of the little direct taxes which Congress
Afternoon. — Messrs. King, Gore, Parsons, and Jones, of Boston,
spoke of the advantage to the Northern States the rule of apportionment
in the third paragraph (still under debate) gave to them; as also the Hon.
Judge DANA, the sketch of whose speech is as follows: —
The learned judge began with answering some objections to this paragraph,
and urging the necessity of Congress being vested with power to levy direct
taxes on the states, and it was not to be supposed that they would levy
such, unless the impost and excise should be found insufficient in case of a
war. If, says he, a part of the Union is attacked by a foreign enemy, and we
are disunited, how is it to defend itself? Can it by its own internal force? In
the late war, this state singly was attacked, and obliged to make the first
defence. What has happened may happen again. The state oppressed must exert its
whole power, and bear the whole charge of the defence; but common danger points
out for common exertion; and this Constitution is excellently designed to make
the danger equal. Why should one state expend its blood and treasure for the
whole? Ought not a controlling authority to exist, to call forth, if necessary,
the whole force and wealth of all the states? If disunited. the time may come
when we may be attacked by our natural enemies. Nova Scoria and New Brunswick,
filled with tories and refugees, stand ready to attack and devour these states,
one by one. This will be the case, if we have no power to draw forth the wealth
and strength of the whole, for a defence of a part. Then shall we, continued
the honorable gentleman, see, but too late, the necessity of a power being
vested somewhere, that could command that wealth and strength when wanted. I
speak with earnestness, said he, but it is for the good of my native country.
By God and nature made equal, it is with remorse I have heard it suggested by
some, that those gentlemen who have had the superior advantages of education,
were enemies to the rights of their country. Are there any among this honorable
body, who are possessed of minds capable of such narrow prejudices? If there
are, it is in vain to reason with them; we had better come to a decision, and
After dilating on this matter a short time, the learned judge begged
gentlemen to look around them, and see who were the men that composed the
assembly. Are they not, he asked, men who have been foremost in the cause of
their country, both in the cabinet and in the field? and who, with halters
about their necks, boldly and intrepidly advocated the rights of America, and
of humanity, at home and in foreign countries? And are they not to be trusted?
Direct taxation is a tremendous idea; but may not necessity dictate it
to bo unavoidable? We all wish to invest Congress with more power. We disagree
only in the quantum, and manner, in which Congress shall levy taxes on the
states. A capitation tax is abhorrent to the feelings of human nature, and, I
venture to trust, will never be adopted by Congress. The learned judge pointed
out, on various grounds, the utility of the power to be vested in the Congress,
and concluded by observing, that the proposed Constitution was the best that
could be framed; that, if adopted, we shall be a great and happy nation; if
rejected, a weak and despised one; we shall fall as the nations of ancient
times have fallen; that this was his firm belief; and, said he, I would rather
be annihilated than give my voice for, or sign my name to, a constitution which
in the least should betray the liberties or interests of my country.
Mr. WIDGERY. I hope, sir, the honorable gentleman will not think hard of it,
if we ignorant men cannot see as clear as he can. The strong must bear with the
infirmities of the weak; and it must be a weak mind indeed that could throw
such illiberal reflections against gentlemen of education, as the honorable
gentleman complains of. To return to the paragraph. If Congress, continued Mr
W., have this power of taxing directly, it will be in their power to enact a
poll tax. Can gentlemen tell why they will not attempt it, and by this method
make the poor pay as much as the rich?
Mr. DENCH was at a loss to know how Congress could levy the tax, in which he
thought the difficulty of money consisted; yet had no doubt but that Congress
would direct that these states should pay it in their own way.
The Hon. Mr. FULLER begged to ask Mr. Gerry, "why, in the last
requisition of Congress, the portion required of this state was thirteen times
as much as of Georgia; and yet we have but eight representatives in the general
government, and Georgia has three." Until this question was answered, he
was at a loss to know how taxation and representation went hand in hand.
[It was then voted that this question be asked Mr. Gerry. A
long and desultory debate ensued on the manner in which the answer should be
given: it was at last voted that Mr. G. reduce his answer to writing.]
SATURDAY, January 19, 1788, A. M. — The
Hon. Mr. SINGLETARY thought we were giving up all our privileges, as there was
no provision that men in power should have any religion; and though he
hoped to see Christians, yet, by the Constitution, a Papist, or an Infidel, was
as eligible as they. It had been said that men had not degenerated; he did not
think men were better now than when men after God's own heart did wickedly. He
thought, in this instance, we were giving great power to we know not whom.
Gen. BROOKS, (of Medford.) — If good men are appointed, government will
be administered well. But what will prevent bad men from mischief, is the
question. If there should be such in the Senate, we ought to be cautious of
giving power; but when that power is given, with proper checks, the danger is
at an end. When men are answerable, and within the reach of responsibility,
they cannot forget that their political existence depends upon their good
behavior. The Senate can frame no law but by consent of the Representatives,
and is answerable to that house for its conduct. If that conduct excites
suspicion, they are to be impeached, punished, (or prevented from holding any
office, which is great punishment.) If these checks are not sufficient, it is
impossible to devise such as will be so.
[Mr. Gerry's answer to Mr. Fuller's question was read. The
purport is, that Georgia had increased in its numbers by emigration; and if it
had not then, would soon be entitled to the proportion assigned her.]
Hon. Mr. KING. It so happened that I was both of the Convention and Congress
at the same time; and if I recollect right, the answer of Mr. G. does not
materially vary. In 1778, Congress required the states to make a return of the
houses and lands surveyed; but one state only complied therewith — New
Hampshire. Massachusetts did not. Congress consulted no rule: it was resolved
that the several states should be taxed according to their ability, and if it
appeared any state had paid more than her just quota, it should be passed to
the credit of that state, with lawful interest.
Mr. DALTON said we had obtained a great deal by the new Constitution. By the
Confederation each state had an equal vote. Georgia is now content with three
eighths of the voice of Massachusetts.
Col. JONES, (of Bristol,) objected to the length of time. If men continue in
office four or six years, they would forget their dependence on the people, and
be loath to leave their places. Men elevated so high in power, they would fall
heavy when they came down.
Mr. AMES observed, that an objection was made against the Constitution,
because the senators are to be chosen for six years. It has been said,
that they will be removed too far from the control of the people, and that, to
keep them in proper dependence, they should be chosen annually. It is necessary
to premise, that no argument against the new plan has made a deeper impression
than this, that it will produce a consolidation of the states. This is an
effect which all good men will deprecate. For it is obvious, that, if the state
powers are to be destroyed, the representation is too small. The trust, in that
case, would be too great to be confided to so few persons. The objects of
legislation would be so multiplied and complicated, that the government would
be unwieldy and impracticable. The state governments are essential parts of the
system, and the defence of this article is drawn from its tendency to their
preservation. The senators represent the sovereignty of the
states; in the other house, individuals are represented. The Senate may not
originate bills. It need not be said that they are principally to direct the
affairs of wars and treaties. They are in the quality of ambassadors of the
states, and it will not be denied that some permanency in their office is
necessary to a discharge of their duty. Now, if they were chosen yearly, how
could they perform their trust? If they would be brought by that means more
immediately under the influence of the people, then they will represent the
state legislatures less, and become the representatives of individuals. This
belongs to the other house. The absurdity of this, and its repugnancy to the
federal principles of the Constitution, will appear more fully, by supposing
that they are to be chosen by the people at large. If there is any force in the
objection to this article, this would be proper. But whom, in that case, would
they represent? — Not the legislatures of the states, but the people. This
would totally obliterate the federal features of the Constitution. What would
become of the state governments, and on whom would devolve the duty of
defending them against the encroachments of the federal government? A
consolidation of the states would ensue, which, it is conceded, would subvert
the new Constitution, and against which this very article, so much condemned,
is our best security. Too much provision cannot be made against a
consolidation. The state governments represent the wishes, and feelings, and
local interests, of the people. They are the safeguard and ornament of the
Constitution; they will protract the period of our liberties; they will afford
a shelter against the abuse of power, and will be the natural avengers of our
A very effectual check upon the power of the Senate is provided. A
third part is to retire from office every two years. By this means, while the
senators are seated for six years, they are admonished of their responsibility
to the state legislatures. If one third new members are introduced, who feel
the sentiments of their states, they will awe that third whose term will be
near expiring. This article seems to be an excellence of the Constitution, and
affords just ground to believe that it will be, in practice as in theory, a
Afternoon. — The third section respecting the construction of
the Senate under debate, —
Col. JONES said his objections still remained — that senators
chosen for so long a time will forget their duty to their constituents. We
cannot, said he, recall them. The choice of representatives was too long; the
Senate was much worse; it is, said he, a bad precedent, and is
Mr. KING said, as the Senate preserved the equality of the states, their
appointment is equal. To the objection to this branch, that it is chosen for
too long a period, he observed, if the principle of classing them is
considered, although it appears long, it will not be found so long as it
appears. One class is to serve two years, another four years, and another
six years; the average, therefore, is four years. The senators, said Mr.
K., will have a powerful check in those men who wish for their seats, who will
watch their whole conduct in the general government, and will give the alarm in
case of misbehavior. And the state legislatures, if they find their delegates
erring, can and will instruct them. Will not this be a check? When they hear
the voice of the people solemnly dictating to them their duty, they will be
bold men indeed to act contrary to it. These will not be instructions
sent them in a private letter, which can be put in their pockets; they will be
public instructions, which all the country will see, and they will be hardy men
indeed to violate them. The honorable gentleman said, the powers to control the
Senate are as great as ever was enjoyed in any government; and that the
members, therefore, will be found not to be chosen for too long a time. They
are, says he, to assist the executive in the designation and appointment of
officers; and they ought to have time to mature their judgments. If for a
shorter period, how can they be acquainted with the rights and interests of
nations, so as to form advantageous treaties? To understand these rights is the
business of education. Their business being naturally different, and more
extensive, than the other branch, they ought to have different qualifications;
and their duration is not too long for a right discharge of their duty.
Dr. TAYLOR said, he hoped the honorable gentleman did not mean to deceive
us, by saying, that the Senate are not to be chosen for six years; for they
really are to be chosen for six years; and as to the idea of classing, he did
not know who, when chosen for that time, would go out at a shorter. He remarked
on Mr. King's idea of checks, and observed, that such indeed were the Articles
of Confederation, which provide for delegates being chosen annually; for
rotation, and the right of recalling. But in this, they are to be chosen for
six years; but a shadow of rotation provided for, and no power to recall; and
concluded by saying, that if they are once chosen, they are chosen forever.
Mr. STRONG mentioned the difficulty which attended the construction of the
Senate in the Convention; and that a committee, consisting of one delegate from
each state, was chosen to consider the subject, who reported as it now stands;
and that Mr. Gerry was on the committee from Massachusetts.
Mr. GERRY rose, and informed the president that he was then preparing a
letter on the subject in debate; and would set the matter in its true light;
and which he wished to communicate. This occasioned considerable conversation,
which lasted until the Convention adjourned.
MONDAY, January 21. — Fourth section
considered in its order.
Mr. AMES rose to answer several objections. He would forbear, if
possible, to go over the ground which had been already well trodden. The fourth
section had been, he said, well discussed, and he did not mean to offer any
formal argument or new observations upon it. It had been said, the power of
regulating elections was given to Congress. He asked, if a motion was
brought forward in Congress, on that particular, subjecting the states to any
inconvenience, whether it was probable such a motion could obtain. It has been
also said, that our federal legislature would endeavor to perpetuate themselves
in office; and that the love of power was predominant. Mr. Ames asked how the
gentlemen prevailed on themselves to trust the state legislature. He thought it
was from a degree of confidence that was placed in them. At present we trust
Congress with power; nay, we trust the representatives of Rhode Island and
Georgia. He thought it was better to trust the general government than a
foreign state. Mr. A. acknowledged he came with doubts of the fourth section.
Had his objections remained, he would have been obliged to vote against the
Constitution; but now he thought, if all the Constitution was as clear as this
section, it would meet with little opposition.
Judge DANA. This section, Mr. President, has been subject to much dispute
and difficulty. I did not come here approving of every paragraph of this
Constitution. I supposed this clause dangerous; it has been amply discussed;
and I am now convinced that this paragraph is much better as it stands, than
with the amendment, which is, that Congress be restricted in the appointing of
"time, place, &c.," unless when the state legislatures
refuse to make them. I have altered my opinion on this point; these are my
reasons: — It is apparent, the intention of the Convention was to set
Congress on a different ground; that a part should proceed directly from the
people, and not from their substitutes, the legislatures; therefore the
legislature ought not to control the elections. The legislature of Rhode Island
has lately formed a plan to alter their representation to corporations, which
ought to be by numbers. Look at Great Britain, where the injustice of this mode
is apparent. Eight tenths of the people there have no voice in the elections. A
borough of but two or three cottages has a right to send two representatives to
Parliament, while Birmingham, a large and populous manufacturing town,
lately sprung up, cannot send one. The legislature of Rhode Island are about
adopting this plan, in order to deprive the towns of Newport and Providence of
their weight, and that thereby the legislature may have a power to counteract
the will of a majority of the people.
Mr. COOLEY (of Amherst) thought Congress, in the present instance, would,
from the powers granted by the Constitution, have authority to control
elections, and thereby endanger liberty.
Dr. TAYLOR wished to ask the gentleman from Newburyport, whether the two
branches of Congress could not agree to play into each other's hands; and, by
making the qualifications of electors £100 by their power of
regulating elections, fix the matters of elections so as to keep themselves in.
Hon. Mr. KING rose to pursue the inquiry why the "place and
manner" of holding elections were omitted in the section under debate.
It was to be observed, he said, that, in the Constitution of Massachusetts and
other states, the manner and place of elections were provided for; the
manner was by ballot, and the places, towns; for, said he, we happened to
settle originally in townships. But it was different in the Southern States: he
would mention an instance. In Virginia, there are but fifteen or twenty towns,
and seventy or eighty counties; therefore no rule could be adopted to apply to
the whole. If it was practicable, he said, it would be necessary to have a
district the fixed place; but this is liable to exceptions; as a district that
may now be fully settled, may in time be scarcely inhabited; and the back
country, now scarcely inhabited, may be fully settled. Suppose this state
thrown into eight districts, and a member apportioned to each; if the
numbers increase, the representatives and districts will be increased. The
matter, therefore, must be left subject to the regulation of the state
legislature, or the general government. Suppose the state legislature, the
circumstances will be the same. It is truly said, that our representatives are
but a part of the Union; that they may be subject to the control of the rest;
but our representatives make a ninth part of the whole; and if any authority is
vested in Congress, it must be in our favor. But to the subject. In Connecticut
they do not choose by numbers, but by corporations. Hartford, one of their
largest towns, sends no more delegates than one of their smallest corporations,
each town sending two, except latterly, when a town was divided. The same rule
is about to be adopted in Rhode Island. The inequality of such representation,
where every corporation would have an equal right to send an equal number of
representatives, was apparent. In the Southern States, the inequality is
greater. By the constitution of South Carolina, the city of Charleston has a
right to send thirty representatives to the General Assembly; the whole number
of which amounts to two hundred. The back parts of Carolina have increased
greatly since the adoption of their constitution, and have frequently attempted
an alteration of this unequal mode of representation; but the members from
Charleston, having the balance so much in their favor, will not consent to an
alteration; and we see that the delegates from Carolina in Congress have always
been chosen by the delegates of that city. The representatives, therefore, from
that state, will not be chosen by the people, but will be the
representatives of a faction of that state. If the general government cannot
control in this case, how are the people secure? The idea of the honorable
gentleman from Douglass, said he, transcends my understanding; for the power of
control given by this section extends to the manner of election, not the
qualifications of the electors. The qualifications are age and
residence, and none can be preferable.
On motion, Resolved, as follows, viz.: —
Whereas there is a publication in "The
Boston Gazette, and the Country Journal," of this day, as follows, viz.:
"Bribery and Corruption!!!
"The most diabolical plan is on foot to corrupt the
members of the Convention, who oppose the adoption of the new Constitution.
Large sums of money have been brought from a neighboring state for that
purpose, contributed by the wealthy. If so, is it not probable there may be
collections for the same accursed purpose nearer home?
Resolved, That this Convention will take measures for inquiring into
the subject of the said publication, and for ascertaining the truth or
falsehood of the suggestion therein contained.
Ordered, That the messenger be directed to request the printers of
the said Gazette to appear before this Convention forthwith, to give
information respecting the said publication.
Afternoon. — The messenger informed the Convention that he had
acquainted the printers of the Boston Gazette, &c., of the order of the
forenoon respecting them, and was answered that one of them would attend the
convention this afternoon.
A letter from Messrs. Benjamin Edes and Son, printers of the Boston Gazette,
&c., relative to the publication entered this morning. Read, and committed
to Mr. Parsons, Mr. Nasson, Mr. Gorham, Mr. Widgery, Mr. Porter, Mr. Gore, and
Mr. Thomas of Plymouth.
The 5th section being read, —
Dr. TAYLOR wished to know the meaning of the words "from time to
time," in the third paragraph. Does it mean, says he, from year to year,
from month to month, or from day to day?
The Hon. Mr. KING rose, and explained the term.
Mr. WIDGERY read the paragraph, and said, by the words, "except such
parts as may require secrecy," Congress might withhold the whole
journals under this pretence, and thereby the people be kept in
ignorance of their doings.
The Hon. Mr. GORHAM exposed the absurdity of any public body
publishing all their proceedings. Many things in great bodies are
to be kept secret, and records must be brought to maturity before published. In
case of treaties with foreign nations, would it be policy to inform the world
of the extent of the powers to be vested in our ambassador, and thus give our
enemies opportunity to defeat our negotiations? There is no provision in the
constitution of this state, or of Great Britain, for any publication of the
kind; and yet the people suffer no inconveniency. The printers, no doubt, will
be interested to obtain the journals as soon as possible for publication, and
they will be published in a book, by Congress, at the end of every session.
Rev. Mr. PERLEY described the alarms and anxiety of the people at the
commencement of the war, when the whole country, he said, cried with one voice,
"Why don't General Washington march into Boston, and drive out the
tyrants? " But, said he, Heaven gave us a commander who knew better than
to do this. The reverend gentleman said, he was acquainted with the Roman
history, and the Grecian too, and he believed there never was, since the
creation of the world, a greater general than Washington, except, indeed,
Joshua, who was inspired by the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.
Would it, he asked, have been prudent for that excellent roan, General
Washington, previous to the American army's taking possession of Dorchester
Heights, to have published to the world his intentions of doing so? No, says
he, it would not.
The first paragraph of the 6th section read.
Dr. TAYLOR. Mr. President, it has hitherto been customary for the gentlemen
of Congress to be paid by the several state legislatures out of the
state treasury. As no state has hitherto failed paying its delegates, why
should we leave the good old path? Before the revolution it was considered as a
grievance that the governors, &c., received their pay from Great Britain.
They could not, in that case, feel their dependence on the people, when they
received their appointments and salaries from the crown. I know not why we
should not pay them now, as well as heretofore.
Gen. PORTER. Have not delegates been retained from Congress, which is
virtually recalling them, because they have not been paid? Has not Rhode Island
failed to pay their delegates? Should there not be an equal charge throughout
the United States, for the payment of the delegates, as there is in this state
for the payment of the members of this Convention, met for the general good? Is
it not advantageous to the people at large, that the delegates to this
Convention are paid out of the public treasury? If any inconvenience, however,
can be shown to flow from this plan, I should be glad to hear it.
Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK hoped gentlemen would consider that the federal officers
of government would be responsible for their conduct; and, as they would regard
their reputations, will not assess exorbitant wages. In Massachusetts,
and in every other state, the legislatures have power to provide for their own
payment; and, he asked, have they ever established it higher than it ought to
be? But, on the contrary, have they not made it extremely inconsiderable? The
commons of Great Britain, he said, have the power to assess their own wages;
but for two centuries they have never exercised it. Can a man, he asked, who
has the least respect for the good opinion of his fellow-countrymen, go home to
his constituents, after having robbed them by voting himself an exorbitant
salary? This principle will be a most powerful check; and in respect to
economy, the power lodged as it is in this section will be more advantageous to
the people than if retained by the state legislatures. Let us see what the
legislature of Massachusetts have done; they vote the salaries of the
delegates to Congress, and they have voted them such as have enabled them to
live in style suited to the dignity of a respectable state; but these
salaries have been four times as much, for the same time, as they ever
voted themselves. Therefore, concluded the honorable gentleman, if left to
themselves to provide for their own payment, as long as they wish for the good
opinion of mankind, they will assess no more than they really deserve, as a
compensation for their services.
Hon. Mr. KING said, if the arguments on the 4th section against an undue
control, in the state legislatures, over the federal representatives, were in
any degree satisfactory, they are so on this.
Gen. THOMPSON. Mr. President, the honorable gentleman means well, and is
honest in his sentiments; it is all alike. When we see matters at large, and
what it all is, we will know what to do with it.
Mr. PARSONS. In order that the general governmemt should preserve itself, it
is necessary it should preserve justice between the several states. Under the
Confederation, the power of this section would not be just; for each state has
a right to send seven members to Congress, though some of them do not pay one
tenth as much of the public expenses as others. It is a mere federal government
of states, neither equal nor proportionate. If gentlemen would use the same
candor that the honorable gentleman from Topsham (Gen. Thompson) does,
considering all the parts as connected with others, the Constitution would
receive a better discussion.
The second paragraph of the 6th section read.
Mr. GORHAM said that this Constitution contained restrictions which were not
to be found in any other; and he wished gentlemen who had objected to every
paragraph which had been read, would give to the Convention credit for those
parts which must meet the approbation of every man.
The 8th section of article 1, containing the powers of Congress,
being read, —
Gen. BROOKS (of Lincoln) said this article contained more matter than any
one yet read; and he wished to know whether there are not to be some general
restrictions to the general articles.
Mr. KING. Mr. President, it is painful for me to obtrude my sentiments on
the Convention so frequently. However, sir, I console myself with the idea that
my motives are as good as those of more able gentlemen, who have remained
silent. Sir, this is a very important clause, and of the highest consequence to
the future fortune of the people of America. It is not my intention to go into
any elaborate discussion of the subject. I shall only offer those
considerations which have influenced my mind in favor of the article, in the
hope that it may tend to reconcile gentlemen to it. It shall not be with a view
of exhibiting any particular knowledge of mine; for such is not my intention.
Hitherto we have considered the construction of the general government. We now
come, sir, to the consideration of the powers with which that government shall
be clothed. The introduction to this Constitution is in these words:
"We, the people," &c. The language of the Confederation
is, "We, the states," &c. The latter is a mere federal
government of states. Those, therefore, that assemble under it, have no power
to make laws to apply to the individuals of the states confederated; and the
attempts to make laws for collective societies necessarily leave a discretion
to comply with them or not. In no instance has there been so frequent deviation
from first principles, as in the neglect or refusal to comply with the
requisitions of general governments for the collection of moneys.
In the ancient governments, this has been the principal defect. In the
United Provinces of the. Netherlands, it has been conspicuously so. A
celebrated political writer — I mean John Dewitt, formerly
pensioner of Holland — said that, in the confederacy of 1570, though the
articles were declared equally binding on the several provinces, yet any one
had it in its power to comply with the requisitions of the generality or not;
and some provinces, taking advantage of this discretionary power, never paid
any thing. During forty years of war with Spain, the province of Holland paid
fifty-eight parts of a hundred of all the expenses thereof. Two or three of the
provinces never so much as passed a resolution to pay any thing; and
Dewitt says that two of them paid not a single guilder. What was the
consequence? In one instance, Holland compelled a neighboring province to
comply with the requisitions, by marching a force into it. This was a great
instance of usurpation, made in the time of a war. The Prince of Orange,
and the generality, found that they could not continue the war in this manner.
What was to be done? They were obliged to resort to the expedient of
doubling the ordinary requisitions on the states. Some of the provinces
were prevailed upon to grant these requisitions fully, in order to induce
Holland to do the same. She, seeing the other states appearing thus forward,
not only granted the requisitions, but paid them. The others did
not. Thus was a single province obliged to bear almost the whole burdens of the
war; and, one hundred years after, the accounts of this war were unsettled.
What was the reason? Holland had but one voice in the States-General. That
voice was feeble when opposed by the rest.
This fact is true. The history of our own country is a melancholy proof of a
similar truth. Massachusetts has paid while other states have been delinquent.
How was the war carried on with the paper money? Requisitions on the states for
that money were made. Who paid them? Massachusetts and a few others. A
requisition of 29,000,000 dollars were quotaed on Massachusetts, and it was
paid. This state has paid in her proportion of the old money. How comes it,
then, that gentlemen have any of this money by them? Because the other states
have shamefully neglected to pay their quotas. Do you ask for redress? You are
scoffed at. The next requisition was for 11,000,000 of dollars, 6,000,000 of
which were to be paid in facilities, the rest in silver money, for discharging
the interest of the national debt. If the legislatures found a difficulty in
paying the hard money, why did they not pay the paper? But 1,200,000 dollars
have been paid. And six states have not paid a farthing of it.
After mentioning another requisition, equally disregarded, Mr. King said,
two states have not paid a single farthing from the moment they signed the
Confederation to this day, if my documents are to be depended on, and they are
open to the inspection of all. Now, sir, what faith is to be put in
requisitions on the states, for moneys to pay our domestic creditors, and
discharge our foreign debts, for moneys lent us in the day of difficulty and
distress? Sir, experience proves, as well as any thing can be proved, that no
dependence can be placed on such requisitions. What method, then, can be
devised to compel the delinquent states to pay their quotas? Sir, I know of
none. Laws, to be effective, therefore, must not be laid on states, but upon
individuals. Sir, it has been objected to the proposed Constitution, that the
power is too great, and by this Constitution is to be sacred. But if the want
of power is the defect in the old Confederation, there is a fitness and
propriety in adopting what is here proposed, which gives the necessary power
wanted. Congress now have power to call for what moneys, and in what
proportion, they please; but they have no authority to compel a compliance
therewith. It is an objection in some gentlemen's minds, that Congress should
possess the power of the purse and the sword. But, sir, I would
ask, whether any government can exist, or give security to the people, which is
not possessed of this power. The first revenue will be raised from the impost,
to which there is no objection, the next from the excise; and if these are not
sufficient, direct taxes must be laid. To conclude, sir, if we mean to support
an efficient federal government, which, under the old Confederation, can never
be the case, the proposed Constitution is, in my opinion, the only one that can
Hon. Mr. WHITE said, in giving this power, we give up every thing; and
Congress, with the purse-strings in their hands, will use the sword with a
Mr. DAWES said, he thought the powers in the paragraph under debate should
be fully vested in Congress. We have suffered, said he, for want of such
authority in the federal head. This will be evident if we take a short view of
our agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. Our agriculture has not
been encouraged by the imposition of national duties on rival produce; nor can
it be, so long as the several states may make contradictory laws. This has
induced our farmers to raise only what they wanted to consume in their own
families; I mean, however, after raising enough to pay their own taxes; for I
insist that, upon the old plan, the land has borne the burden; for, as Congress
could not make laws, whereby they could obtain a revenue, in their own way,
from impost or excise, they multiplied their requisition on the
several states. When a state was thus called on, it would perhaps impose new
duties on its own trade, to procure money for paying its quota of federal
demands. This would drive the trade to such neighboring states as made no such
new impositions; thus the revenue would be lost with the trade, and the only
resort would be a direct tax.
As to commerce, it is well known that the different states now pursue
different systems of duties in regard to each other. By this, and for want of
general laws of prohibition through the Union, we have not secured even our own
domestic traffic that passes from state to state. This is contrary to the
policy of every nation on earth. Some nations have no other commerce. The great
and nourishing empire of China has but little commerce beyond her own
territories; and no country is better circumstanced than we for an exclusive
traffic from state to state; yet even in this we are rivalled by foreigners
— by those foreigners to whom we are the least indebted. A vessel from
Roseway or Halifax finds as hearty a welcome with its fish and whalebone at the
southern ports, as though it was built, navigated, and freighted from Salem or
Boston. And this must be the case, until we have laws comprehending and
embracing alike all the states in the Union.
But it is not only our coasting trade — our whole commerce is
going to ruin. Congress has not had power to make even a trade law, which shall
confine the importation of foreign goods to the ships of the producing or
consuming country. If we had such a law, we should not go to England for the
goods of other nations; nor would British vessels be the carriers of American
produce from our sister states. In the states southward of the Delaware, it is
agreed that three fourths of the produce are exported, and three fourths of the
returns are made, in British bottoms. It is said that, for exporting timber,
one half the property goes to the carrier; and of the produce in general, it
has been computed that, when it is shipped for London from a southern state, to
the value of one million of dollars, the British merchant draws from that sum
three hundred thousand dollars under the names of freight and charges. This is
money which belongs to the New England states, because we can furnish the ships
as well as, and much better than, the British. Our sister states are willing
that we should receive these benefits, and that they should be secured to us by
national laws; but until this is done, their private merchants will, no doubt,
for the sake of long credit, or some other such temporary advantage, prefer the
ships of foreigners; and yet we have suffered these ignominious burdens, rather
than trust our own representatives with power to help us; and we call ourselves
free and independent states! We are independent of each other, hut we are
slaves to Europe. We have no uniformity in duties, imposts, excises, or
prohibitions. Congress has no authority to withhold advantages from foreigners,
in order to obtain advantages from them. By the 9th of the old articles,
Congress may enter into treaties and alliances under certain provisoes; but
Congress cannot pledge that a single state shall not render the whole treaty of
commerce a nullity.
Our manufactures are another great subject, which has received no
encouragement by national duties on foreign manufactures, and they never can by
any authority in the Confederation. It has been said that no country can
produce manufactures until it be overstocked with inhabitants. It is true that
the United States have employment, except in the winter, for their citizens in
agriculture — the most respectable employment under heaven; but it is now
to be remembered, that, since the old Confederation, there is a great
emigration of foreign artisans hither, some of whom are left here by the armies
of the last war, and others who have more lately sought the new world, from
hopes of mending their condition; these will not change their employments.
Besides this, the very face of our country leads to manufactures. Our numerous
falls of water, and places for mills, where paper, snuff, gunpowder, iron
works, and numerous other articles, are prepared, — these will save us
immense sums of money, that would otherwise go to Europe. The question is, Have
these been encouraged? Has Congress been able, by national laws, to prevent the
importation of such foreign commodities as are made from such raw materials as
we ourselves raise? It is alleged that the citizens of the United States have
contracted debts within the last three years, with the subjects of Great
Britain, for the amount of near six millions of dollars, and that consequently
our lands are mortgaged for that sum. So Corsica was once mortgaged to the
Genoese merchants for articles which her inhabitants did not want, or which
they could not have made themselves; and she was afterwards sold to a foreign
power. If we wish to encourage our own manufactures, to preserve our own
commerce, to raise the value of our own lands, we must give Congress the powers
The honorable gentleman from Norton, last speaking. says, that, if Congress
will have the power of laying and collecting taxes, they will use the
power of the sword. I hold the reverse to be true. The doctrine of
requisitions, or of demands upon a whole state, implies such a power; for
surely a whole state, a whole community, can be compelled only by an army; but
taxes upon an individual imply only the use of a collector of taxes. That
Congress, however, will not apply to the power of direct taxation,
unless in cases of emergency, is plain; because, as thirty thousand inhabit
ants will elect a representative, eight tenths of which electors perhaps are
yeomen, and holders of farms, it will be their own faults if they are not
represented by such men as will never permit the land to be injured by
Mr. BODMAN said, that the power given to Congress, to lay and collect
duties, taxes, &c., as contained in the section under consideration, was
certainly unlimited, and therefore dangerous; and wished to know whether it was
necessary to give Congress power to do harm, in order to enable them to do
good. It had been said, that the sovereignty of the states remains with
them; but if Congress has the power to lay taxes, and, in cases of negligence
or non-compliance, can send a power to collect them, he thought that the idea
of sovereignty was destroyed. This, he said, was an essential point, and ought
to be seriously considered. It has been urged that gentlemen were jealous of
their rulers. He said, he thought they ought to be so; it was just they should
be so; for jealousy was one of the greatest securities of the people in a
republic. The power in the 8th section, he said, ought to have been denned;
that he was willing to give power to the federal head, but he wished to know
what that power was.
Mr. SEDGWICK, in answer to the gentleman last speaking, said, if he believed
the adoption of the proposed Constitution would interfere with the state
legislatures, he would be the last to vote for it; but he thought all the
sources of revenue ought to be put into the hands of government, who were to
protect and secure us; and powers to effect this had always been necessarily
unlimited. Congress would necessarily take that which was easiest to the
people; the first would be impost, the next excise; and a direct tax will be
the last; for, said the honorable gentleman, drawing money from the people, by
direct taxes, being difficult and uncertain, it would be the last source of
revenue applied to by a wise legislature; and hence, said he, the people may be
assured that the delegation of a power to levy them would not be abused. Let us
suppose, — and we shall not be thought extravagant in the supposition,
— continued Mr. S., that we are attacked by a foreign enemy; that in this
dilemma our treasury was exhausted, our credit gone, our enemy on our borders,
and that there was no possible method of raising impost or excise; in this
case, the only remedy would be a direct tax. Could, therefore, this power,
being vested in Congress, lessen the many advantages which may be drawn from
Mr. SINGLETARY thought no more power could be given to a despot, than to
give up the purse-strings of the people.
Col. PORTER asked, if a better rule of yielding power could be shown than in
the Constitution; for what we do not give, said he, we retain.
Gen. THOMPSON. Mr. President, I totally abhor this paragraph. Massachusetts
has ever been a leading state; now let her give good advice to her sister
states. Suppose nine states adopt this Constitution; who shall touch the other
four? Some cry out, Force them. I say, Draw them. We love liberty. Britain
never tried to enslave us until she told us we had too much liberty. The
Confederation wants amendments; shall we not amend it?
The Convention were sent on to Philadelphia to amend this Confederation; but
they made a new creature; and the very setting out of it is unconstitutional.
In the Convention, Pennsylvania had more members than all New England, and two
of our delegates only were persuaded to sign the Constitution. Massachusetts
once shut up the harbors against the British. There, I confess, I was taken in.
Don't let us be in a hurry again. Let us wait to see what our sister states
will do. What shall we suffer if we adjourn the consideration of it for five or
six months? It is better to do this than adopt it so hastily. Take care we
don't disunite the states. By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.
Major KINGSLEY. Mr. President, after so much has been said on the powers to
be given to Congress, I shall say but a few words on the subject. By the
Articles of Confederation the people have three checks on their delegates in
Congress — the annual election of them, their rotation, and
the power to recall any, or all of them, when they see fit. In view of our
federal rulers, they are the servants of the people. In the new Constitution,
we are deprived of annual elections, have no rotation, and cannot recall our
members; therefore our federal rulers will be masters, and not servants. I will
examine what powers we have given to our masters. They have power to lay and
collect all taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; raise armies; fit out navies;
to establish themselves in a federal town of ten miles square, equal to four
middling townships; erect forts, magazines, arsenals, &c. Therefore, should
the Congress be chosen of designing and interested men, they can perpetuate
their existence, secure the resources of war, and the people will have nothing
left to defend themselves with. Let us look into ancient history. The Romans,
after a war, thought themselves safe in a government of ten men, called the
decemviri; these ten men were invested with all power, and were chosen
for three years. By their arts and designs, they secured their second election;
but, finding, from the manner in which they had exercised their power, they
were not able to secure their third election, they declared themselves masters
of Rome, impoverished the city, and deprived the people of their rights.
It has been said that there was no such danger here. I will suppose they
were to attempt the experiment, after we have given them all our money,
established them in a federal town, given them the power of coining money and
raising a standing army, and to establish their arbitrary government;
what resources have the people left? I cannot see any. The Parliament of
England was first chosen annually; they afterwards lengthened their duration to
three years; and from triennial they became septennial. The government of
England has been represented as a good and happy government; but some parts of
it their greatest political writers much condemn; especially that of the
duration of their Parliaments. Attempts are yearly made to shorten their
duration, from septennial to triennial; but the influence of the ministry is so
great that it has not yet been accomplished. From this duration, bribery and
corruption are introduced. Notwithstanding they receive no pay, they make great
interest for a seat in Parliament, one or two years before its dissolution, and
give from five to twenty guineas for a vote; and the candidates sometimes
expend £10,000 to £30,000. Will a person throw away such a fortune,
and waste so much time, without the probability of replacing such a sum with
interest? Or can there be security in such men? Bribery may be introduced here
as well as in Great Britain; and Congress may equally oppress the people;
because we cannot call them to an account, considering that there is no annual
election, no rotation, no power to recall them, provided for.
TUESDAY, January 22. — Section 8th still
Judge SUMNER. The powers proposed to be delegated in this section are very
important, as they will, in effect, place the purse-strings of the citizens in
the hands of Congress for certain purposes. In order to know whether such
powers are necessary, we ought, sir, to inquire what the design of uniting
under one government is. It is that the national dignity may be supported, its
safety preserved, and necessary debts paid. Is it not necessary, then, to
afford the means by which alone those objects can be attained? Much better, it
appears to me, would it be for the states not to unite under one government,
which will be attended with some expense, than to unite, and at the same time
withhold the powers necessary to accomplish the design of the union. Gentlemen
say, the power to raise money may be abused. I grant it; and the same
may be said of any other delegated power. Our General Court have the same
power; but did they ever dare abuse it? Instead of voting themselves 6s. 8d.,
they might vote themselves £12 a day; but there never was a complaint of
their voting themselves more than what was reasonable. If they should make an
undue use of their power, they know a loss of confidence in the people would be
the consequence, and they would not be reŽlected; and this is one security
in the hands of the people. Another is, that all money bills are to
originate with the House of Representatives. And can we suppose the
representatives of Georgia, or any other state, more disposed to burden their
constituents with taxes, than the representatives of Massachusetts? It is not
to be supposed; for, whatever is for the interest of one state, in this
particular, will be the interest of all the states, and no doubt attended to by
the House of Representatives. But why should we alarm ourselves with imaginary
evils? An impost will probably be a principal source of revenue; but if that
should be insufficient, other taxes, especially in time of war, ought to supply
the deficiency. It is said that requisitions on the states ought to be made in
cases of emergency; but we all know there can be no dependence on requisitions.
The honorable gentleman from Newburyport gave us an instance from the history
of the United Provinces to prove it, by which it appears they would have
submitted to the arms of Spain, had it not been for the surprising exertions of
one province. But there can be no need of recurring to ancient records, when
the history of our country furnishes an instance where requisitions have had no
effect. But some gentlemen object further, and say the delegation of these
great powers will destroy the state legislatures; but I trust this never
can take place, for the general government depends on the state legislatures
for its very existence. The President is to be chosen by electors under the
regulation of the state legislature; the Senate is to be chosen by the state
legislatures; and the representative body by the people, under like regulations
of the legislative body in the different states. If gentlemen consider this,
they will, I presume, alter their opinion; for nothing is clearer than that the
existence of the legislatures, in the different states, is essential to the
very being of the general government. I hope, sir, we shall all see the
necessity of a federal government, and not make objections, unless they appear
to us to be of some weight.
Mr. GORE. This section, Mr. President, has been the subject of many
observations, founded on real or pretended jealousies of the powers herein
delegated to the general government; and, by comparing the proposed
Constitution with things in their nature totally different, the mind may be
seduced from a just determination on the subject. Gentlemen have compared the
authority of Congress to levy and collect taxes from the people of America to a
similar power assumed by the Parliament of Great Britain. If we but state the
relation which these two bodies bear to America, we shall see that no arguments
drawn from one can be applicable to the other. The House of Commons, in the
British Parliament, which is the only popular branch of that assembly, was
composed of men, chosen exclusively by the inhabitants of Great Britain, in no
sort amenable to, or dependent upon, the people of America, and secured, by
their local situation, from every burden they might lay on this country. By
impositions on this part of the empire, they might be relieved from their own
taxes, but could in no case be injured themselves. The Congress of the United
States is to be chosen, either mediately or immediately, by the people. They
can impose no burdens but what they participate in common with their
fellow-citizens. The senators and representatives, during the time for which
they shall be elected, are incapable of holding any office which shall be
created, or the emoluments thereof be increased, during such time. This is
taking from candidates every lure to office, and from the administrators of the
government every temptation to create or increase emoluments to such degree as
shall be burdensome to their constituents.
Gentlemen, who candidly consider these things, will not say that arguments
against the assumption of power by Great Britain can apply to the Congress of
the United States. Again, sir, it has been said, that because ten men of Rome,
chosen to compile a body of laws for that people, remained in office after the
time for which they were chosen, therefore the Congress of America will
perpetuate themselves in government. The decemviri, in their attainment
to their exalted station, had influence enough over the people to obtain a
temporary sovereignty, which superseded the authority of the senate and the
consuls, and gave them unlimited control over the lives and fortunes of their
fellow-citizens. They were chosen for a year. At the end of this period, under
pretence of not having completed their business, they, with the alteration of
some few of their members, were continued for another year. At the end of the
second year, notwithstanding the business for which they were chosen was
completed, they refused to withdraw from their station, and still continued in
the exercise of their power. But to what was this owing? If history can be
credited, it was to an idea universally received by the Roman people, that the
power of the magistrate was supposed to determine by his own resignation, and
not by expiration of the time for which he was chosen. This is one, among many
instances, which might be produced of the small attainments of the Roman people
in political knowledge; and I submit it. sir, to the candor of this Convention,
whether any conclusions can be fairly drawn against vesting the proposed
government with the powers mentioned in this section, because the magistrates
of the ancient republics usurped power, and frequently attempted to perpetuate
themselves in authority.
Some gentlemen suppose it is unsafe and unnecessary to vest the proposed
government with authority to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and
excises." Let us strip the subject of every thing that is foreign, and
refrain from likening it with governments, which, in their nature and
administration, have no affinity; and we shall soon see that it is not only
safe, but indispensably necessary to our peace and dignity, to vest the
Congress with the powers described in this section. To determine the necessity
of investing that body with the authority alluded to, let us inquire what
duties are incumbent on them. To pay the debts, and provide for the common
defence and general welfare of the United States; to declare war, &c.; to
raise and support armies; to provide and maintain a navy; — these are
authorities and duties incident to every government. No one has, or, I presume,
will deny, that whatever government may be established over America, ought to
perform such duties. The expense attending these duties is not within the power
of calculation; the exigencies of government are in their nature illimitable;
so, then, must be the authority which can meet these exigencies. Where we
demand an object, we must afford the means necessary to its attainment.
Whenever it can be clearly ascertained what will be the future exigencies of
government, the expense attending them, and the product of any particular tax,
duty, or impost, then, and not before, can the people of America limit their
government to amount and fund. Some have said, that the impost and excise would
be sufficient for all the purposes of government in times of peace; and that,
in war, requisitions should be made on the several states for sums to supply
the deficiencies of this fund. Those who are best informed suppose this sum
inadequate to, and none pretend that it can exceed, the expenses of a peace
establishment. What, then, is to be done? Is America to wait until she is
attacked, before she attempts a preparation at defence? This would certainly be
unwise; it would be courting our enemies to make war upon us. The operations of
war are sudden, and call for large sums of money; collections from states are
at all times slow and uncertain; and, in case of refusal, the non-complying
state must be coerced by arms, which, in its consequences, would involve the
innocent with the guilty, and introduce all the horrors of a civil war. But, it
is said, we need not fear war; we have no enemies. Let the gentlemen consider
the situation of our country; they will find we are circumscribed with enemies
from Maine to Georgia. I trust, therefore, that, upon a fair and candid
consideration of the subject, it will be found indispensably requisite to
peace, dignity, and happiness, that the proposed government should be vested
with all the powers granted by the section under debate.
Hon. Mr. PHILLIPS, (of Boston.) I rise to make a few observations on this
section, as it contains powers absolutely necessary. If social government did
not exist, there would be an end of individual government. Therefore our very
being depends on social government. On this article is founded the main pillar
of the building; take away this pillar, and where is your government?
Therefore, I conceive, in this view of the case, this power is absolutely
necessary. There seems to be a suspicion that this power will be abused; but is
not all delegation of power equally dangerous? If we have a castle, shall we
delay to put a commander into it, for fear he will turn his artillery against
us? My concern is for the majesty of the people. If there is no virtue among
them, what will the Congress do? If they had the meekness of Moses, the
patience of Job, and the wisdom of Solomon, and the people were determined to
be slaves, sir, could the Congress prevent them? If they set Heaven at
defiance, no arm of flesh can save them. Sir, I shall have nothing to do in
this government. But we see the situation we are in. We are verging towards
destruction, and every one must be sensible of it. I suppose the New England
States have a treasure offered to them better than the mines of Peru; and it
cannot be to the disadvantage of the Southern States. Great Britain and France
come here with their vessels, instead of our carrying our produce to those
countries in American vessels, navigated by our citizens. When I consider the
extensive sea-coast there is to this state alone, so well calculated for
commerce, viewing matters in this light, I would rather sink all this continent
owes me, than this power should be withheld from Congress. Mention is made that
Congress ought to be restricted of the power to keep an army except in time of
war. I apprehend that great mischief would ensue from such a restriction. Let
us take means to prevent war, by granting to Congress the power of raising an
army. If a declaration of war is made against this country, and the enemy's
army is coming against us, before Congress could collect the means to withstand
this enemy, they would penetrate into the bowels of our country, and every
thing dear to us would be gone in a moment. The honorable gentleman from
Topsham has made use of the expression, "O my country!" from
an apprehension that the Constitution should be adopted; I will cry out,
"O my country!" if it is not adopted. I see nothing but
destruction and inevitable ruin if it is not. The more I peruse and study this
article, the more convinced am I of the necessity of such a power being vested
in Congress. The more I hear said against it, the more I am confirmed in my
sentiments of its expediency; for it is like the pure metal — the more you
rub it, the brighter it shines. It is with concern I hear the honorable
gentleman from Topsham make use of language against the gentlemen of the law.
Sir, I look on this order of men to be essential to the liberties and rights of
the people, and whoever speaks against them as speaking against an ordinance of
Heaven. Mr. President, I hope every gentleman will offer his sentiments
candidly on this momentous affair; that he will examine for himself, and
consider that he has not only the good of this commonwealth under
consideration, but the welfare of the United States.
Dr. WILLARD entered largely into the field of ancient history, and deduced
therefrom arguments to prove that where power had been trusted to men, whether
in great or small bodies, they had always abused it, and that thus republics
had soon degenerated into aristocracies. He instanced Sparta, Athens, and Rome.
The Amphictyonic league, he said, resembled the Confederation of the United
States; while thus united, they defeated Xerxes, but were subdued by the gold
of Philip, who brought the council to betray the interest of their country.
Hon. Mr. GORHAM (in reply to the gentleman from Uxbridge) exposed the
absurdity of conclusions and hypotheses, drawn from ancient governments, which
bore no relation to the confederacy proposed; for those governments had no idea
of representations as we have. He, however, warned us against the evil which
had ruined those states, which he thought was the want of an efficient federal
government. As much as the Athenians rejoiced in the extirpation of a
Lacedemonian, will, if we are disunited, a citizen of Massachusetts at the
death of a Connecticut man, or a Yorker. With respect to the proposed
government degenerating into an aristocracy, the honorable gentleman observed,
that the nature and situation of our country rendered such a circumstance
impossible; as, from the great preponderance of the agricultural interest in
the United States, that interest would always have it in its power to elect
such men as would, he observed, effectually prevent the introduction of any
other than a perfectly democratical form of government.
Hon. Mr. CABOT went fully into a continuation of the arguments of the
honorable gentleman last up. In a clear and elegant manner, he analyzed the
ancient governments mentioned by Dr. Willard, and, by comparing them with the
proposed system, fully demonstrated the superiority of the latter, and in a
very particular manner the proposed section under debate.
Mr. RANDALL said, the quoting of ancient history was no more to the purpose
than to tell how our forefathers dug clams at Plymouth; he feared a
consolidation of the thirteen states. Our manners, he said, were widely
different from the Southern States; their elections were not so free and
unbiased; therefore, if the states were consolidated, he thought it would
introduce manners among us which would set us at continual variance.
Mr. BOWDOIN pointed out other instances of dissimilarity, between the
systems of the ancient republics and the proposed Constitution, than those
mentioned by the honorable gentlemen from Charlestown and Beverly, in the want
of the important checks in the former which were to be found in the latter; to
the want of which, in the first, was owing, he said, the usurpation which took
place. He instanced the decemviri, who, though chosen for a short
period, yet, unchecked, soon subverted the liberties of the Romans; and
concluded with a decided opinion in favor of the Constitution under debate.
Afternoon. — Mr. SYMMES. Mr. President, in such an assembly as
this, and on a subject that puzzles the oldest politicians, a young man, sir,
will scarcely dare to think for himself; but, if he venture to
speak, the effort must certainly be greater. This Convention is the first
representative body in which I have been honored with a seat, and men will not
wonder that a scene at once so new and so august should confuse, oppress, and
almost disqualify me to proceed.
Sir, I wish to bespeak the candor of the Convention — that candor,
which, I know, I need but ask, to have it extended to me, while I make a few
indigested observations on the paragraph now in debate. I have hitherto
attended with diligence, but no great anxiety, to the reasoning of the ablest
partisans on both sides of the question. Indeed, I could have wished for a more
effectual, and, if I may term it so, a more feeling representation in
the Lower House, and for a representation of the people in the Senate. I
have been, and still am, desirous of a rotation in office, to prevent the final
perpetuation of power in the same men; and I have not been able clearly to see
why the place and manner of holding elections should be in the
disposal of Congress.
But, sir, in my humble opinion, these things are comparative by the lesser
things of the law. They, doubtless, have their influence in the grand effect,
and so are essential to the system. But, sir, I view the section to which we
have at length arrived, as the cement of the fabric, and this clause as the
keystone, or (if I may apply the metaphor) the magic talisman, on which the
fate of it depends.
Allow me, sir, to recall to your remembrance that yesterday, when
states were in doubt about granting to Congress a 5 per cent. impost, and the
simple power of regulating trade — the time when, so delicate was the
patriotic mind, that power was to be transferred with a reluctant, with a
sparing hand, and the most obvious utility could scarcely extort it from the
people. It appears to me of some importance to consider this matter, and to
demand complete satisfaction upon the question, why an unlimited power in the
affair of taxation is so soon required. Is our situation so vastly different,
that the powers so lately sufficient are now but the dust of the balance? I
observe, sir, that many men, who, within a few years past, were strenuous
opposers of an augmentation of the power of Congress, are now the warmest
advocates of power so large as not to admit of a comparison with those which
they opposed. Cannot some of them state their reasons then, and their reasons
now, that we may judge of their consistency? or shall we be left to suppose
that the opinions of politicians, like those of the multitude, vibrate from one
extreme to the other, and that we have no men among us to whom we can intrust
the. philosophic task of pointing out the golden mean?
At present, Congress have no power to lay taxes, &c., not even to compel
a compliance with their requisitions. May we not suppose that the members of
the great Convention had severely felt the impotency of Congress, while they
were in, and, therefore, were rather too keenly set for an effectual increase
of power? that the difficulties they had encountered in obtaining decent
requisitions, had wrought in them a degree of impatience, which prompted them
to demand the purse-strings of the nation, as if we were insolvent, and the
proposed Congress were to compound with our creditors? Whence, sir, can this
great, I had almost said, this bold demand have originated? Will it be said
that it is but a consistent and necessary part of the general system? I shall
not deny these gentlemen the praise of inventing a system completely consistent
with itself, and pretty free from contradiction; but I would ask, — I
shall expect to be answered, — how a system can be necessary for us, of
which this is a consistent and necessary part. But, sir, to the paragraph in
hand: Congress, &c. Here, sir, (however kindly Congress may be pleased to
deal with us,) is a very good and valid conveyance of all the property in the
United States, — to certain uses indeed, but those uses capable of any
construction the trustees may think proper to make. This body is not amenable
to any tribunal, and therefore this Congress can do no wrong. It will not be
denied that they may tax us to any extent; but some gentlemen are fond of
arguing that this body never will do any thing but what is for the common good.
Let us consider that matter.
Faction, sir, is the vehicle of all transactions in public bodies; and when
gentlemen know this so well, I am rather surprised to hear them so sanguine in
this respect. The prevalent faction is the body; these gentlemen, therefore,
must mean that the prevalent faction will always be right, and that the true
patriots will always outnumber the men of less and selfish principles. From
this it would follow that no public measure was ever wrong, because it must
have been passed by the majority; and so, I grant, no power ever was, or ever
will be, abused. In short, we know that all governments have degenerated, and
consequently have abused the powers reposed in them; and why we should imagine
better of the proposed Congress than of myriads of public bodies who have gone
before them, I cannot at present conceive.
Sir, we ought (I speak it with submission) to consider that what we now
grant from certain motives, well grounded at present, will be exacted of
posterity as a prerogative, when we are not alive, to testify the tacit
conditions of the grant; that the wisdom of this age will then be pleaded by
those in power; and that the cession we are now about to make will be actually
clothed with the venerable habit of ancestral sanction.
Therefore, sir, I humbly presume we ought not to take advantage of our
situation in point of time, so as to bind posterity to be obedient to laws they
may very possibly disapprove, nor expose them to a rebellion which, in that
period will very probably end only in their further subjugation.
The paragraph in question is an absolute decree of the people. The Congress
shall have power. It does not say that they shall exercise it;
but our necessities say they must, and the experience of ages say that
they will; and finally, when the expenses of the nation, by their
ambition, are grown enormous, that they will oppress and subject; for, sir,
they may lay taxes, duties, imposts, and excises! One would suppose that the
Convention, sir, were not at all afraid to multiply words when any thing was to
be got by it. By another clause, all imposts or duties on exports and imports,
wherever laid, go into the federal chest; so that Congress may not only lay
imposts and excises, but all imposts and duties that are laid on imports and
exports, by any state, shall be a part of the national revenue; and besides,
Congress may lay an impost on the produce and manufactures of the country,
which are consumed at home. And all these shall be equal through the states.
Here, sir, I raise two objections; first, that Congress should have this power.
It is a universal, unbounded permission, and as such, I think, no free people
ought ever to consent to it, especially in so important a matter as that of
property. I will not descend, sir, to an abuse of the future Congress, until it
exists; nor then, until it misbehaves; nor then, unless I dare. But I think
that some certain revenue, amply adequate to all necessary purposes, upon a
peace establishment, but certain and definite, would have been better; and the
collection of it might have been guarantied by every state to every other. We
should then have known to what we were about to subscribe, and should have
cheerfully granted it. But now we may indeed grant, but who can
cheerfully grant he knows not what?
Again, sir, I object to the equality of these duties through the states. It
matters not with me, in the present argument, which of them will suffer by this
proportion. Some probably will, as the consumption of dutied articles
will not, if we may judge from experience, be united in all.
But some say, with whom I have conversed, it was for this reason that taxes
were provided; that, by their assistance, the defect of duties in some states
ought to be supplied. Now, then, let us suppose that the duties are so laid,
that, if every state paid in proportion to that which paid most, the duties
alone would supply a frugal treasury. Some states will pay but half their
proportion, and some will scarcely pay any thing. But those in general who pay
the least duty, viz., the inland states, are least of all able to pay a land
tax; and therefore I do not see but that this tax would operate most against
those who are least able to pay it.
I humbly submit it, sir, whether, if each state had its proportion of some
certain gross sum assigned, according to its numbers, and a power was given to
Congress to collect the same, in case of default in the state, this would not
have been a safer Constitution. For, sir, I also disapprove of the power to
collect, which is here vested in Congress. It is a power, sir, to burden us
with a standing army of ravenous collectors, — harpies, perhaps, from
another state, but who, however, were never known to have bowels for any
purpose, but to fatten on the life-blood of the people. In an age or two, this
will be the case; and when the Congress shall become tyrannical, these
vultures, their servants, will be the tyrants of the village, by whose presence
all freedom of speech and action will be taken away.
Sir, I shall be told that these are imaginary evils; but I hold to this
maxim, that power was never given, (of this kind especially,) but it was
exercised; nor ever exercised but it was finally abused. We must not be amused
with handsome probabilities; but we must be assured that We are in no
danger, and that this Congress could not distress us, if they were
ever so much disposed.
To pay the debts, &c.
These words, sir, I confess, are an ornament to the page, and very musical
words; but they are too general to be understood as any kind of limitation of
the power of Congress, and not very easy to be understood at all. When Congress
have the purse, they are not confined to rigid economy; and the word
debts, here, is not confined to debts already contracted; or, indeed, if
it were, the term "general welfare" might be applied to any
expenditure whatever. Or, if it could not, who shall dare to gainsay the
proceedings of this body at a future day, when, according to the course of
nature, it shall be too firmly fixed in the saddle to be overthrown by any
thing but a general insurrection? — an event not to be expected,
considering the extent of this continent; and, if it were to be expected, a
sufficient reason in itself for rejecting this or any constitution that would
tend to produce it.
This clause, sir, contains the very sinews of the Constitution. And I hope
the universality of it may be singular but it may be easily seen, that it tends
to produce, in time, as universal powers in every other respect. As the poverty
of individuals prevents luxury, so the poverty of public bodies, whether sole
or aggregate, prevents tyranny. A nation cannot, perhaps, do a more politic
thing than to supply the purse of its sovereign with that parsimony which
results from a sense of the labor it costs, and so to compel him to comply with
the genius of his people, and to conform to their situation, whether he will or
not. How different will be our conduct, if we give the entire disposal of our
property to a body as yet almost unknown in theory, in practice quite
heterogeneous in its composition, and whose maxims are yet entirely unknown!
Sir, I wish the gentlemen who so ably advocate this instrument would enlarge
upon this formidable clause; and I most sincerely wish that the effect of their
reasoning may be my conviction. For, sir, I will not dishonor my constituents,
by supposing that they expect me to resist that which is irresistible —
the force of reason. No, sir; my constituents wish for a firm, efficient
Continental government, but fear the operation of this which is now proposed.
Let them be convinced that their fears are groundless, and I venture to declare
in their name, that no town in the commonwealth will sooner approve the form,
or be better subjects under it.
Mr. JONES (of Boston) enlarged on the various checks which the Constitution
provides, and which, he said, formed a security for liberty, and prevention
against power being abused; the frequency of elections of the democratic
branch; representation apportioned to numbers; the publication of the journals
of Congress, &c. Gentlemen, he said, had compared the people of this
country to those of Rome; but, he observed, the comparison was very erroneous:
the Romans were divided into two classes, the nobility and plebeians; the
nobility kept all kinds of knowledge to their own class; and the plebeians
were, in general, very ignorant, and when unemployed, in time of peace, were
ever ready for revolt, and to follow the dictates of any designing patrician.
But, continued the worthy gentleman, the people of the United States are an
enlightened, well-informed people, and are, therefore, not easily imposed on by
designing men. Our right of representation, concluded Mr. J., is much more just
and equitable than the boasted one of Great Britain, whose representatives are
chosen by corporations or boroughs, and those boroughs, in general, are the
property, or at the. disposal, of the nobility and rich gentry of the kingdom.
[The vice-president having informed the Convention, in the forenoon, that he
had received a long letter from the Hon. Mr. Gerry, the same was read as soon
as the Convention proceeded to business in the afternoon. When the
vice-president had read the letter, Mr. Gore rose, and objected to the reading
a state of facts respecting the construction of the Senate in the federal
Convention, which accompanied the letter; not, he said, "from a wish to
preclude information from his own mind, or from the minds of the Convention,
but from his duty to his constituents, and the desire he had to guard against
infringements on the orders of the Convention." Mr. Gore was interrupted,
as being out of order, but was proceeding on his objection, when the Hon. Judge
Dana begged Mr. Gore's leave to say a few words. which he did; after which he
retired from the Convention, until the consideration of the letter should be
gone through with.]
WEDNESDAY, January 23. — Mr. PIERCE rose,
he said, to make a few observations on the powers of Congress, in this section.
Gentlemen, he said, in different parts of the house, (Messrs. Dalton,
Phillips, and Gore,) had agreed that Congress will not lay direct taxes, except
in cases of war; for that, to defray the exigencies of peace, the impost and
excise would be sufficient; and, as that mode of taxation would be the most
expedient and productive, it would undoubtedly be adopted. But it was necessary
Congress should have power to lay direct taxes at all times, although they will
not use it, because, when our enemies find they have sufficient powers to call
forth all the resources of the people, it will prevent their making war, as
they otherwise would. As the Hon. Mr. Phillips used this proverb, "A
stitch in time will save nine," his meaning, I suppose, was, that we
should have war nine times, if Congress had not such powers, where we should
once if they had such powers. But these arguments to me are not conclusive;
for, if our enemies know they do not use such powers except in a war, although
granted to them, what will be the difference if they have the powers only in
the time of war? But, Mr. President, if Congress have the powers of direct
taxes, in the manner prescribed in this section, I fear we shall have that mode
of taxation adopted, in preference to imposts and excises; and the reasons of
my fears are these: When the impost was granted to Congress in this state, I,
then being a member of court, well remember the gentlemen in trade, almost with
one consent, agreed that it was an unequal tax, bearing hard on them; for,
although it finally was a tax on the consumer, yet, in the first instance, it
was paid by persons in trade; and also that they consumed more than the landed
interest of dutied articles; and nothing but necessity induced them to submit
to grant said impost, as that was the only way Congress could collect money to
pay the foreign debt, under the regulations they were then under; and I fear
part of this state's members in Congress, when this Constitution is adopted,
will resume their own opinion, when they can lay direct taxes; and, as Rhode
Island has always been against an impost, and as they have an equal
representation in the Senate, and part of Connecticut will be interested with
them, and the Southern States having no manufactures of their own, and
consuming much more foreign articles than the Northern, it appears to me, we
are not certain of availing ourselves of an impost, if we give Congress power
to levy and collect direct taxes in time of peace.
While I am up, Mr. President, I would make some observations on what has
been passed over, as I think it is within the orders of the house. The Hon. Mr.
Sedgwick said, if I understood him right, that, if he thought that this
Constitution consolidated the union of the states, he should be the last man
that should vote for it; but I take his meaning to be this, according to the
reasoning of Mr. Ames — that it is not a consolidation of the Union,
because there are three branches in the Union; and therefore it is not a
consolidation of the Union; but, sir, I think I cannot conceive of a
sovereignty of power existing within a sovereign power, nor do I wish any thing
in this Constitution to prevent Congress being sovereign in matters belonging
to their jurisdiction; for I have seen the necessity of their powers in almost
all the instances that have been mentioned in this Convention; and also, last
winter, in the rebellion, I thought it would be better for Congress to have
stilled the people, rather than the people from amongst themselves, who are
more apt to be governed by temper than others, as it appeared to me we were, in
the disqualifying act, as, in my opinion, we then did not keep strictly to our
own constitution; and I believe such a superior power ought to be in Congress.
But I would have it distinctly bounded, that every one may know the utmost
limits of it; and I have some doubts on my mind, as to those limits, which I
wish to have solved. I have also an objection as to the term for which the
Senate are to be in office; for, as the democratical branch of the federal
legislature is to continue in office two years, and they are the only check on
the federal, and they, the Senate, to continue in office six years, they will
have an undue influence on the democratic branch; and I think they ought not to
continue in office for a longer time than the other; and also, that, if they
conduct ill, we may have a constitutional revolution in as short a period as
two years, if needed. The Hon. Mr. King said, some days past, that the Senate
going out by classes, if rightly considered, were not for but four years;
because one third part was never more than six, another four, and a third two;
therefore the medium was four; but I think that way of arguing would argue,
that if they were all to go out at the end of six years, that they were but
three years in office; because half their time they were under the age
of three years, and the other half over the age of three years in office;
therefore his arguing to me in that respect was not well founded.
Col. VARNUM, in answer to an inquiry, why a bill of rights was not annexed
to this Constitution, said, that, by the constitution of Massachusetts, the
legislature have a right to make all laws not repugnant to the Constitution.
Now, said he, if there is such a clause in the Constitution under
consideration, then there would be a necessity for a bill of rights. In the
section under debate, Congress have an expressed power to levy taxes, &c.,
and to pass laws to carry their requisitions into execution: this, he said, was
express, and required no bill of rights. After stating the difference between
delegated power and the grant of all power, except in certain cases, the
colonel proceeded to controvert the idea that this Constitution went to a
consolidation of the Union. He said it was only a consolidation of strength,
and that it was apparent Congress had no right to alter the internal relations
of a state. The design in amending the Confederation, he said, was to remedy
its defects. It was the interest of the whole to confederate against a foreign
enemy, and each was bound to exert its utmost ability to oppose that enemy; but
it had been done at our expense in a great measure, and there was no way to
provide for a remedy, because Congress had not the power to call forth the
resources of every state, nor to coerce delinquent states. But under the
proposed government, those states which will not comply with equal
requisitions, will be coerced; and this, he said, is a glorious provision. In
the late war, said the colonel, the states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts,
for two or three years, had in the field half the Continental army under
General Washington. Who paid those troops? The states which raised them were
called on to pay them. How, unless Congress have a power to levy taxes, can
they make the states pay their proportion? In order that this and some other
states may not again be obliged to pay eight or ten times their proportion of
the public exigencies, he said, this power is highly necessary to be delegated
to the federal head. He showed the necessity of Congress being enabled to
prepare against the attacks of a foreign enemy; and he called upon the
gentleman from Andover, (Mr. Symmes,) or any other gentleman, to produce an
instance where any government, consisting of three branches, elected by the
people, and having checks on each other, as this has, abused the power
delegated to them.
Mr. CHOATE said, that this clause gives power to Congress to levy duties,
excises, imposts, &c., considering the trust delegated to Congress, that
they are to "provide for the common defence, promote the general
welfare," &c. If this is to be the object of their delegation, the
next question is, whether they shall not be vested with powers to prosecute it.
And this can be no other than an unlimited power of taxation, if that defence
requires it. Mr. C. contended that it was the power of the people concentred to
a point; that, as all power is lodged in them, this power ought to be supreme.
He showed the necessity of its being so, not only for our common defence, but
for our advantage in settling commercial treaties. Do we wish to make a treaty
with any nation of Europe, we are told we have no stability as a nation. As
Congress must provide for the common defence, shall they, asked Mr. C., be
confined for the impost and excise? They are alone the judges whether five or
one per cent. is necessary or convenient. It has been the practice of all
nations to anticipate their resources by loans; this will be the case of the
United States in war; and he asked, if our resources are competent and well
established, and that no doubt remained of them, whether, in that case, the
individuals who have property will not cheerfully offer it for the general
defence. After adverting to the idea of some, of its being a consolidation of
the Union, Mr. Choate concluded by a brief display of the several checks
contained, and securities for the people to be found, in this system.
Gen. THOMPSON. Sir, the question is, whether Congress shall have power. Some
say that, if this section was left out, the whole would fall to the ground. I
think so too, as it is all of a piece. We are now fixing a national
consolidation. This section, I look upon it, is big with mischiefs. Congress
will have power to keep standing armies. The great Mr. Pitt says, standing
armies are dangerous — keep your militia in order — we don't want
standing armies. A gentleman said, We are a rich state: I say so too. Then why
shall we not wait five or six months, and see what our sister states do? We are
able to stand our ground against a foreign power; they cannot starve us out;
they cannot bring their ships on the land; we are a nation of healthy and
strong men; our land is fertile, and we are increasing in numbers. It is said
we owe money: no matter if we do; our safety lies in not paying it — pay
only the interest. Don't let us go too fast. Shall not Massachusetts be a
mediator? It is my wish she may be one of the four dissenting States; then we
shall be on our old ground, and shall not act unconstitutionally. Some people
cry, It will be a great charge; but it will be a greater charge, and be more
dangerous, to make a new one. Let us amend the old Confederation. Why not give
Congress power only to regulate trade? Some say, that those we owe will fall
upon us; but it is no such thing: the balance of power in the old countries
will not permit it; the other nations will protect us. Besides, we are a brave
and happy people. Let us be cautious how we divide the states. By uniting we
stand, by dividing we fall. We are in our childhood yet: don't let us grow too
fast, lest we grow out of shape. I have proved that we are a respectable
people, in possession of liberty, property, and virtue, and none in a better
situation to defend themselves. Why all this racket? Gentlemen say we are
undone if we cannot stop up the Thames; but, Mr. President, nations will mind
their own interest, and not ours. Great Britain has found out the secret to
pick the subjects' pockets, without their knowing of it: that is the very thing
Congress is after. Gentlemen say this section is as clear as the sun, and that
all power is retained which is not given. But where is the bill of rights which
shall check the power of this Congress; which shall say, Thus far shall ye
come, and no farther. The safety of the people depends on a bill of rights.
If we build on a sandy foundation, is it likely we shall stand? I apply to the
feelings of the Convention. There are some parts of this Constitution which I
cannot digest; and, sir, shall we swallow a large bone for the sake of a little
meat? Some say, Swallow the whole now, and pick out the bone afterwards. But I
say, Let us pick off the meat, and throw the bone away.
This section, sir, takes the purse-strings from the people. England has been
quoted for their fidelity; but did their constitution ever give such a power as
is contained in this Constitution? Did they ever allow Parliament to vote an
army but for one year? But here we are giving Congress power to vote an army
for two years — to tax us without limitation; no one to gainsay them, and
no inquiry yearly, as in Britain; therefore, if this Constitution is got down,
we shall alter the system entirely, and have no checks upon Congress.
Rev. Mr. NILES wished the honorable gentleman would point out the limits to
be prescribed to the powers given in this section.
Hon. Mr. BOWDOIN. Mr. President, on the subject of government, which admits
of so great a variety in its parts and combinations, a diversity of opinions is
to be expected; and it Was natural to suppose that, in this Convention,
respectable for its numbers, but much more so for the characters which compose
it, there would be a like diversity concerning the federal Constitution, that
is now the subject of our consideration.
In considering it, every gentleman will reflect how inadequate to the
purposes of the Union the Confederation has been. When the plan of the
Confederation was formed, the enemy were invading us; and this inspired the
several states with such a spirit of union and mutual defence, that a mere
requisition or recommendation of Congress was sufficient to procure the needful
aids, without any power of coercion; and for that reason, among others, no such
power was given by the Confederation. But since that reason bad ceased, and the
idea of danger being removed by the peace, the requisitions of Congress have,
in most of the states, been little regarded, notwithstanding they solemnly
pledged their faith to comply with them.
This non-compliance has compelled Congress to increase the foreign debt of
the Union, by procuring further loans to pay the interest and instalments due
on former loans; and in that way to preserve the public faith, which had been
pledged to foreign powers. It has compelled them, in order to prevent the
consequences of a breach of faith, as relative to those powers, to enter
repeatedly into those ruinous negotiations, by which "the United States
jointly, and each of them in particular, together with all their lands,
chattels, revenues, and products, and also the imposts and taxes already laid
and raised in the same, or in time to come to be laid and raised, are for the
whole," mortgaged for the re payment of those loans by instalments, and
for the payment of the interest on them annually. These debts must be
paid, bona fide, according to contract, or be further increased by
procuring, if procurable, further loans; which, ruinous as the measure is, must
be continued, unless the states empower Congress to raise money for the
discharging those debts. It will not be in the power of the United States, and
I am sure it will not be in their inclination, to rid themselves of those debts
in the same base and ignominious manner in which a faction, in one of them, are
endeavoring to get rid of theirs. To the same cause (a non-compliance with
congressional requisitions) are owing the repeated but necessary breaches of
public faith in regard to the payment of the federal domestic debt. And hence,
as relative to the joint consolidated debt, the inefficiency of the public
finances, and the bankrupt state of the federal treasury, which can never be
remedied without empowering Congress to levy adequate duties and taxes. Without
such a power, the accumulating debt will never be paid, but by a forcible
collection, which our foreign creditors know how, and are able to apply, if,
unhappily, it should be necessary. The several loans, which by contract are to
be paid by instalments, will, in case of the failure of any of the stipulated
payments, become, the whole of them, immediately payable; and any of the
property of any of the states, whether public or private, that can be most
easily come at, will, in that case, be seized and applied for that purpose.
This mode of reimbursement, or reprisal, will be upon the trade and
navigation of the United States; and in proportion as ours of this state may be
larger and more extensive than the trade and navigation of other states, we
shall be the greatest sufferers. This ruin of our trade will involve in it not
only the ruin of the mercantile part of the state, and of the numerous body of
mechanics dependent upon it, but will most essentially affect every other class
of citizens, and operate most extensively to the injury of the commonwealth.
These are some of the consequences, certain and in fallible, that will flow
from the denial of that power to Congress. Shall we then, we of
this state, who are so much interested in this matter, deny them that
power — a power so essential to our political happiness?
But if we attend to our trade, as it is at present, we shall find that the
miserable state of it is owing to a like want of power in Congress. Other
nations prohibit our vessels from entering their ports, or lay heavy duties on
our exports carried thither; and we have no retaliating or regulating power
over their vessels and exports, to prevent it. Hence a decrease of our commerce
and navigation, and the duties and revenue arising from them. Hence an
insufficient demand for the produce of our lands, and the consequent
discouragement of agriculture. Hence the inability to pay debts, and
particularly taxes, which by that decrease are enhanced. And hence, as the
necessary result of all these, the emigration of our inhabitants. If it be
asked, How are these evils, and others that might be mentioned, to be remedied?
the answer is short — By giving Congress adequate and proper power.
Whether such power be given by the proposed Constitution, it is left with the
Conventions from the several states, and with us, who compose one of them, to
In determining on this question, every gentleman will, doubtless, consider
the importance of cultivating a spirit of union among ourselves, and with the
several states. This spirit procured our emancipation from British tyranny; and
the same spirit, by uniting us in the necessary means, must secure to us our
dear-bought, blood-purchased liberty and independence, and deliver us from
evils which, unless remedied, must end in national ruin. The means for
effecting these purposes are within our reach; and the adoption of the proposed
Constitution will give us the possession of them. Like all other human
productions, it may be imperfect; but most of the imperfections imputed to it
are ideal and unfounded, and the rest are of such a nature that they cannot be
certainly known but by the operations of the Constitution; and if, in its
operation, it should in any respect be essentially bad, it will be amended in
one of the modes prescribed by it. I say, will be amended, because the
Constitution is constructed on such principles, that its bad effects, if any
such should arise from it, will injure the members of Congress equally with
their constituents; and, therefore, both of them must be equally induced to
seek for, and effectuate, if possible, the requisite amendments.
There have been many objections offered against the Constitution; and of
these the one most strongly urged has been, the great power vested in Congress.
On this subject, I beg leave to make a few general observations, which ought to
be attended to, as being applicable to every branch of that power.
It may, therefore, be observed, that the investiture of such power, so far
from being an objection, is a most cogent reason for accepting the
Constitution. The power of Congress, both in the legislative and executive
line, is the power of the people, collected through a certain medium, to a
focal point, at all times ready to be exerted for the general benefit,
according as circumstances or exigencies may require. If you diminish or
annihilate it, you diminish or annihilate the means of your own safety and
prosperity; which means, if they were to be measured like mathematical
quantities, would be in exact proportion, as the power is greater or less. But
this is not the case; for power that does not reach, or is inadequate to the
object, is worse than none. An exertion of such power would increase the
evil it was intended to remove, and at the same time create a further evil,
which might be a very great one — the expense of a fruitless exertion.
If we consider the objects of the power, they are numerous and important;
and as human foresight cannot extend to many of them, and all of them are in
the womb of futurity, the quantum of the power cannot be estimated. Less
than the whole, as relative to federal purposes, may, through its
insufficiency, occasion the dissolution of the Union, and a subjugation or
division of it among foreign powers. Their attention is drawn to the
United States; their emissaries are watching our conduct, particularly
upon the present most important occasion; and if we should be so unhappy as to
reject the federal Constitution proposed to us, and continue much longer our
present weak, unenergetic federal government, their policy will probably induce
them to plan a division or partition of the states among themselves, and unite
their forces to effect it.
But, however that may be, this is certain — that the
respectability of the United States among foreign nations, our commerce with
them on the principles of reciprocity, and our forming beneficial treaties with
them on those principles, their estimation of our friendship and fear of losing
it, our capacity to resent injuries, and our security against interior as well
as foreign attacks, must be derived from such a power. In short, the commercial
and political happiness, the liberty and property, the peace, safety, and
general welfare, both internal and external, of each and all the states, depend
on that power; which, as it must be applied to a vast variety of objects, and
to cases and exigencies beyond the ken of human prescience, must be very great;
and which cannot be limited without endangering the public safety.
It will be, and has been said, this great power may be abused, and, instead
of protecting, may be employed by Congress in oppressing, their constituents. A
possibility of abuse, as it may be affirmed of all delegated power whatever, is
by itself no sufficient reason for withholding the delegation. If it were a
sufficient one, no power could be delegated; nor could government of any sort
subsist. The possibility, however, should make us careful, that, in all
delegations of importance, like the one contained in the proposed Constitution,
there should be such checks provided as would not frustrate the end and
intention of delegating the power, but would, as far as it could be safely
done, prevent the abuse of it; and such checks are provided in the
Constitution. Some of them were mentioned the last evening by one of my worthy
colleagues; but I shall here exhibit all of them in one view.
The two capital departments of government, the legislative and executive, in
which the delegated power resides, consisting of the President, Vice-President,
Senate and Representatives, are directly, and by the respective legislatures
and delegates, chosen by the people.
The President, and also the Vice-President, when acting as President, before
they enter on the execution of the office, shall each "solemnly swear or
affirm, that he will faithfully execute the office of President of the United
States, and will, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend,
the Constitution of the United States."
"The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of
the state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the
United States and of the several states, shall be bound, by oath or
affirmation, to support this Constitution."
"The President and Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United
States, shall be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of,
treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors."
"No senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was
elected, be appointed to any civil office; which shall have been created, or
the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during such time; and no
person holding any office under the United Slates shall be a member of either
house, during his continuance in office."
"No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, or by any
particular state; and no person holding any office of profit or trust Under the
United States shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any
present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king,
prince, or foreign state."
"The United States shall guaranty to every state in this Union a
republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion
and domestic violence."
To these great checks may be added several other very essential ones, as,
the negative which each house has upon the acts of the other; the disapproving
power of the President, which subjects those acts to a revision by the two
houses, and to a final negative, unless two thirds of each house shall agree to
pass the returned acts, notwithstanding the President's objections; the
printing the journals of each house, containing their joint and respective
proceedings; and the publishing, from time to time, a regular statement and
account of receipts and expenditures of all public money, none of which shall
be drawn from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.
All these checks and precautions, provided in the Constitution, must, in a
great measure, prevent an abuse of power, at least in all flagrant instances,
even if Congress should consist wholly of men who were guided by no other
principle than their own interest. Under the influence of such checks, this
would compel them to a conduct which, in the general, would answer the
intention of the Constitution. But the presumption is, — and, if the
people duly attend to the objects of their choice, it would be realized, —
that the President of the United States and the members of Congress would, for
the most part, be men, not only of ability, but of a good moral character; in
which case, an abuse of power is not to be apprehended, nor any error in the
government, but such as every human institution is subject to.
There is a further guard against the abuse of power, which, though not
expressed, is strongly implied in the federal Constitution, and, indeed, in the
constitution of every government founded on the principles of equal liberty;
and that is, that those who make the laws, and particularly laws for the
levying of taxes, do, in common with their fellow-citizens, fall within the
power and operation of those laws.
As, then, the individuals in Congress will all share in the burdens they
impose, and be personally affected by the good or bad laws they make for the
Union, they will be under the strongest motives of interest to lay the lightest
burdens possible, and to make the best laws, or such laws as shall not
unnecessarily affect either the property or the personal rights of their
With regard to rights, the whole Constitution is a declaration of rights,
which primarily and principally respect the general government intended to be
formed by it. The rights of particular states, or private citizens, not being
the object or subject of the Constitution, they are only incidentally
mentioned. In regard to the former, it would require a volume to describe them,
as they extend to every subject of legislation, not included in the powers
vested in Congress; and, in regard to the latter, as all governments are
founded on the relinquishment of personal rights in a certain degree, there was
a clear impropriety in being very particular about them. By such a
particularity the government might be embarrassed, and prevented from doing
what the private, as well as the public and general, good of the citizens and
states might require.
The public good, in which private is necessarily involved, might be hurt by
too particular an enumeration; and the private good could suffer no injury from
a deficient enumeration, because Congress could not injure the rights of
private citizens without injuring their own, as they must, in their public as
well as private character, participate equally with others in the consequences
of their own acts. And by this most important circumstance, in connection with
the checks above mentioned, the several states at large, and each citizen in
particular, will be secured, as far as human wisdom can secure them, against
the abuse of the delegated power.
In considering the Constitution, we shall consider it, in all its parts,
upon those general principles which operate through the whole of it, and are
equivalent to the most extensive bill of rights that can be formed.
These observations, which are principally of a general nature, but will
apply to the most essential parts of the Constitution, are, with the utmost
deference and respect, submitted to your candid consideration; with the hope
that, as they have influenced my own mind decidedly in favor of the
Constitution, they will not be wholly unproductive of a like influence on the
minds of the gentlemen of the Convention.
If the Constitution should be finally accepted and established, it will
complete the temple of American liberty, and, like the keystone of a grand and
magnificent arch, be the bond of union to keep all the parts firm and compacted
together. May this temple, sacred to liberty and virtue, sacred to justice, the
first and greatest political virtue, and built upon the broad and solid
foundation of perfect union, be dissoluble only by the dissolution of nature;
and may this Convention have the distinguished honor of erecting one of its
pillars on that lasting foundation!
Dr. TAYLOR said, the consideration of the 8th section had taken up a great
deal of time; that gentlemen had repeated the same arguments over and over
again; and, although the order of the Convention was, that the proposed
Constitution should be considered by paragraphs, he was pleased, he said, to
observe that the honorable gentleman fast speaking had gone into the matter at
large, and therefore he hoped that other gentlemen would take the same liberty,
and that all further observations might be on the system at large.
Mr. PARSONS, (of Newburyport.) Mr. President, a great variety of supposed
objections have been made against vesting Congress with some of the powers
defined in the 8th section. Some of the objectors have considered the powers as
unnecessary, and others, that the people have not the proper security that
these powers will not be abused. To most of these objections, answers,
convincing, in my opinion, to a candid mind, have been given. But as some of
the objections have not been noticed, I shall beg the indulgence of the
Convention, while I briefly consider them. And, as it is my intention to avoid
all repetition, my observations will necessarily be unconnected and desultory.
It has been said that the grant in this section includes all the possessions
of the people, and divests them of every thing; that such a grant is impolitic;
for, as the poverty of an individual guards him against luxury and
extravagance, so poverty in a ruler is a fence against tyranny and oppression.
Sir, gentlemen do not distinguish between the government of an hereditary
aristocracy, where the interest of the governors is very different from that of
the subjects, and a government to be administered for the common good by the
servants of the people, vested with delegated powers by popular elections at
stated periods. The federal Constitution establishes a government of the last
description, and in this case the people divest themselves of nothing; the
government and powers which the Congress can administer, are the mere result of
a compact made by the people with each other, for the common defence and
general welfare. To talk, therefore, of keeping the Congress poor, if it means
any thing, must mean a depriving the people themselves of their own resources.
But if gentlemen will still insist that these powers are a grant from the
people, and consequently improper, let it then be observed, that it is now too
late to impede the grant; it is already completed; the Congress, under the
Confederation, are invested with it by solemn compact; they have powers to
demand what moneys and forces they judge necessary for the common defence and
general welfare — powers as extensive as those proposed in this
Constitution. But it may be said, as the ways and means are reserved to the
several states, they have a check upon Congress, by refusing a compliance with
the requisitions. Sir, is this the boasted check? — a check that can never
be exercised but by perfidy and a breach of public faith; by a violation of the
most solemn stipulations? It is this check that has embarrassed at home, and
made us contemptible abroad; and will any honest man plume himself upon a check
which an honest man would blush to exercise?
It has been objected that the Constitution provides no religious test by
oath, and we may have in power unprincipled men, atheists and pagans. No man
can wish more ardently than I do that all our public offices may be filled by
men who fear God and hate wickedness; but it must remain with the electors to
give the government this security. An oath will not do it. Will an unprincipled
man be entangled by an oath? Will an atheist or a pagan dread the vengeance of
the Christian's God, a being, in his opinion, the creature of fancy and
credulity? It is a solecism in expression. No man is so illiberal as to wish
the confining places of honor or profit to any one sect of Christians; but what
security is it to government, that every public officer shall swear that he is
a Christian? For what will then be called Christianity? One man will declare
that the Christian religion is only an illumination of natural religion, and
that he is a Christian; another Christian will assert that all men must be
happy hereafter in spite of themselves; a third Christian reverses the image,
and declares that, let a man do all he can, he will certainly be punished in
another world; and a fourth will tell us that, if a man use any force for the
common defence, he violates every principle of Christianity. Sir, the only
evidence we can have of the sincerity of a man's religion is a good life; and I
trust that such evidence will be required of every candidate by every elector.
That man who acts an honest part to his neighbor,, will, most probably, conduct
honorably towards the public.
It has been objected that we have not as good security against the abuse of
power under the new Constitution as the Confederation gives us. It is my
deliberate opinion that we have a better security. Under the Confederation, the
whole power, executive and legislative, is vested in one body, in which the
people have no representation, and where the states, the large and the small
states, are equally represented; and all the checks the states have, is a power
to remove and disgrace an unfaithful servant, after the mischief is
perpetrated. Under this Constitution, an equal representation, immediately from
the people, is introduced, who, by their negative, and the exclusive right of
originating money bills, have the power to control the Senate, where the
sovereignty of the states is represented. But it has been objected that, in the
old Confederation, the states could at any time recall their delegates, and
there was a rotation. No essential benefit could be derived to the people from
these provisions, but great inconveniences will result from them. It has been
observed by a gentleman who has argued against the Constitution, that a
representative ought to have an intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of
his constituents, and, after comparing them with the situation of every part of
the Union, so conduct as to promote the common good. The sentiment is an
excellent one, and ought to be engraved on the hearts of every representative.
But what is the effect of the power of recalling? Your representative, with an
operating revocation over his head, will lose all ideas of the general good,
and will dwindle to a servile agent, attempting to serve local and partial
benefits by cabal and intrigue. There are great and insuperable objections to a
rotation. It is an abridgment of the rights of the people, and it may deprive
them, at critical seasons, of the services of the most important characters in
the nation. It deprives a man of honorable ambition, whose highest duty is the
applause of his fellow-citizens, of an efficient motive to great and patriotic
exertions. The people, individually, have no method of testifying their esteem
hut by a reŽlection; and shall they be deprived of the honest satisfaction
of wreathing for their friend and patriot a crown of laurel more durable than
monarchy can bestow?
It has been objected that the Senate are made too dependent upon the state
legislatures. No business under the Constitution of the federal Convention
could have been more embarrassing than the constructing the Senate; as that
body must conduct our foreign negotiations, and establish and preserve a system
of national politics, a uniform adherence to which can alone induce other
nations to negotiate with and confide in us. It is certain the change of the
men who compose it should not be too frequent, and should be gradual. At the
same time, suitable checks should be provided to prevent an abuse of power, and
to continue their dependence on their constituents. I think the Convention have
most happily extricated themselves from the embarrassment. Although the
senators are elected for six years, yet the Senate, as a body composed of the
same men, can exist only for two years, without the consent of the states. If
the states think proper, one third of that body may, at the end of every second
year, be new men. When the Senate act as legislators, they are controllable at
all times by the representatives; and in their executive capacity, in making
treaties and conducting the national negotiations, the consent of two thirds is
necessary, who must be united to a man, (which is hardly possible,) or the new
men biennially sent to the Senate, if the states choose it, can control them;
and at all times there will also be one third of the Senate, who, at the
expiration of two years, must obtain a reŽlection, or return to the mass
of the people. And the change of men in the Senate will be so gradual as not to
destroy or disturb any national system of politics.
It is objected that it is dangerous to allow the Senate a right of proposing
alterations or amendments in money bills; that the Senate may by this power
increase the supplies, and establish profuse salaries; that for these reasons
the lords in the British Parliament have not this power, which is a great
security to the liberties of Englishmen. I was much surprised at hearing this
objection, and the grounds upon which it was supported. The reason why the
lords have not this power, is founded on a principle in the English
constitution, that the commons alone represent the whole property of the
nation; and as a money bill is a grant to the king, none can make the grant but
those who represent the property of the nation; and the negative of the lords
is introduced to check the profusion of the commons, and to guard their own
property. The manner of passing a money bill is conclusive evidence of these
principles; for, after the assent of the lords, it does not remain with the
clerk of the Parliament, but is returned to the commons, who, by their speaker,
present it to the king as the gift of the commons. But every supposed control
the Senate, by this power, may have over money bills, they can have without it;
for, by private communications with the representatives, they may as well
insist upon the increase of the supplies, or salaries, as by official
communications. But had not the Senate this power, the representatives might
take any foreign matter to a money bill, and compel the Senate to concur, or
lose the supplies. This might be done in critical seasons, when the Senate
might give way to the encroachments of the representatives, rather than sustain
the odium of embarrassing the affairs of the nation; the balance between the
two branches of the legislature would, in this way, be endangered, if not
destroyed, and the Constitution materially injured. This subject was fully
considered by the Convention for forming the constitution of Massachusetts, and
the provision made by that body, after mature deliberation, is introduced into
the federal Constitution.
It was objected that, by giving Congress a power of direct taxation, we give
them power to destroy the state governments, by prohibiting them from raising
any moneys; but this objection is not founded in the Constitution. Congress
have only a concurrent right with each state, in laying direct taxes, not an
exclusive right; and the right of each state to direct taxation is equally
extensive and perfect as the right of Congress; any law, therefore, of the
United States, for securing to Congress more than a concurrent right with each
state, is usurpation, and void.
It has been objected that we have no bill of rights. If gentlemen who make
this objection would consider what are the supposed inconveniences resulting
from the want of a declaration of rights, I think they would soon satisfy
themselves that the objection has no weight. Is there a single natural right we
enjoy, uncontrolled by our own legislature. that Congress can infringe? Not
one. Is there a single political right secured to us by our constitution,
against the attempts of our own legislature, which we are deprived of by this
Constitution? Not one, that I recollect. All the rights Congress can control we
have surrendered to our own legislature; and the only question is, whether the
people shall take from their own legislatures a certain portion of the several
sovereignties, and unite them in one head, for the more effectual securing of
the national prosperity and happiness.
The honorable gentleman from Boston has stated at large most of the checks
the people have against usurpation, and the abuse of power, under the proposed
Constitution; but from the abundance of his matter, he has, in my opinion,
omitted two or three, which I shall mention. The oath the several legislative,
executive, and judicial officers of the several states take to support the
federal Constitution, is as effectual a security against the usurpation of the
general government as it is against the encroachment of the state governments.
For an increase of the powers by usurpation is as clearly a violation of the
federal Constitution as a diminution of these powers by private encroachment;
and that the oath obliges the officers of the several states as vigorously to
oppose the one as the other. But there is another check, founded in the nature
of the Union, superior to all the parchment checks that can be invented. If
there should be a usurpation, it will not be on the farmer and merchant,
employed and attentive only to their several occupations; it will be upon
thirteen legislatures, completely organized, possessed of the confidence of the
people, and having the means, as well as inclination, successfully to oppose
it. Under these circumstances, none but madmen would attempt a usurpation. But,
sir, the people themselves have it in their power effectually to resist
usurpation, without being driven to an appeal to arms. An act of usurpation is
not obligatory; it is not law; and any man may be justified in his resistance.
Let him be considered as a criminal by the general government, yet only his own
fellow-citizens can convict him; they are his jury, and if they pronounce him
innocent, not all the powers of Congress can hurt him; and innocent they
certainly will pronounce him, if the supposed law he resisted was an act of
Afternoon. — As soon as the Convention met this afternoon, Mr.
NASON, in a short speech, introduced a motion to this effect: "That this
Convention so far reconsider their former vote to discuss the Constitution by
paragraphs, as to leave the subject at large open for consideration." This
motion met with a warm opposition from several parts of the house.
Mr. WALES said, that the time which had been spent in the discussion had
been well spent, and that he was much surprised to see gentlemen thus wishing
to hurry the matter.
Mr. WIDGERY said, that necessity compelled them to hurry.
Mr. DALTON. Mr. President, we have been but six or seven days in the
discussion of the Constitution. Sir, has not paragraph after paragraph been
considered and explained? Has not great light been thrown upon the articles we
have considered? For my part, I profess to have received much light on them. We
are now discussing the powers of Congress, sir; shall we pass them over? Shall
we pass over the article of the judiciary power, without examination? — I
hope, sir, it will be particularly inquired into. I am sorry to hear gentlemen
allege that they have been a long time from home, and that the want of money
necessitates them to wish for an early decision. Sir, have not the General
Court provided for the payment of the members of this Convention? and the
treasurer, I am informed, is collecting money to comply with that provision.
There are many parts which ought to be explained. I hope we shall attend to
them with deliberation, and that, for the sake of saving a little money, we may
not pass over the Constitution without well considering it.
Judge SUMNER wished the motion might be withdrawn.
Mr. NASON said, he would withdraw his motion for the present, but mentioned
his intention of again making it at ten o'clock to-morrow morning.
THURSDAY, January 24. — Mr. NASON renewed
his motion for reconsidering a former vote to discuss the Constitution by
paragraphs, so that the whole may be taken up.
The Hon. Mr. ADAMS said, he was one of those who had had difficulties and
doubts respecting some parts of the proposed Constitution. He had, he said, for
several weeks after the publication of it, laid by all the writings in the
public papers on the subject, in order to be enabled leisurely to consider
them. He had, he said, still more difficulties on his mind; but that he had
chosen rather to be an auditor than an objector, and he had particular reasons
therefor. As this was the case with him, and others, he believed, were in a
similar situation, he was desirous to have a full investigation of the subject;
that thereby such might be confirmed, either in favor or against the
Constitution; and was, therefore, against the motion. We ought not, he said, to
be stingy of our time, or the public money, when so important an object
demanded them; and the public expect that we will not. He was sorry, he said,
for gentlemen's necessities; but he would rather support the gentlemen who were
so necessitated, or lend them money to do it, than they should hurry so great a
subject. He, therefore, hoped that the question would be put, and that we
should proceed as we began.
Mr. PITTS said, it was impossible to consider the whole until the parts had
been examined. Our constituents, said he, have a right to demand of us the
reasons which shall influence us to vote as we shall do. He must, he said,
therefore oppose the motion.
The Hon. Mr. KING, Col. SMITH, and several other gentlemen, spoke against
Mr. WIDGERY opposed the motion's being winked out of sight. He wished, he
said, the question might be put, that the sense of the Convention respecting it
might be taken.
Gen. THOMPSON said, it was not essential how the matter was considered; but
he wished to have the whole subject at large open to discussion, so that every
body might apeak to it. A member, says he, gets up and speaks, but he is called
to order, as not confining himself to the particular paragraph under debate;
and this puts him out. In his opinion, he said, the Constitution, and the
reasons which induced gentlemen to frame it, ought to have been sent to the
several towns to be considered by them. My town, said he, considered it seven
hours, and after this there was not one in favor of it. If this had been done,
we should have known the minds of the people on it; and should we dare, he
asked, to act different from the sense of the people? It is strange, he said,
that a system, which its planners say is so plain, that he that runs may
read it, should want so much explanation.
[The question being generally called for, the motion was put, and negatived,
without a return of the house. The endeavors of gentlemen to hush to silence a
small buzz of congratulation, among a few citizens in the gallery, being
mistaken by some of the members for a hiss, created a momentary agitation in
the Convention, which, however, after a short conversation, subsided.]
The eighth section was again read.
The Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK went into a general answer to the objections which had
been started against the powers to he granted to Congress by this section. He
showed the absolute necessity there was that the body which had the security of
the whole for their object, should have the necessary means allowed them to
effect it; and in order to secure the people against the abuse of this power,
the representatives and people, he said, are equally subject to the laws, and
can, therefore, have but one and the same interest; that they would never lay
unnecessary burdens, when they themselves must bear a part of them; and from
the extent of their objects, their power ought necessarily to be illimitable.
Men, said he, rarely do mischief for the sake of being mischievous. With
respect to the power, in this section, to raise armies, the honorable gentleman
said, although gentlemen had thought it a dangerous power, and would be used
for the purpose of tyranny, yet they did not object to the Confederation in
this particular; and by this, Congress could have kept the whole of the late
army in the field, had they seen fit. He asked, if gentlemen could think it
possible that the legislature of the United States should raise an army
unnecessarily, which, in a short time, would be under the control of other
persons; for, if it was not to be under their control, what object could they
have in raising it? It was, he said, a chimerical idea to suppose that a
country like this could ever be enslaved. How is an army for that purpose to be
obtained from the freemen of the United States? They certainly, said he, will
know to what object it is to be applied. Is it possible, he asked, that an army
could be raised for the purpose of enslaving themselves and their brethren? or,
if raised, whether they could subdue a nation of freemen, who know how to prize
liberty, and who have arms in their hands? He said, it was a deception in
gentlemen to say that this power could be thus used. The honorable gentleman
said, that in the Constitution every possible provision against an abuse of
power was made; and if gentlemen would candidly investigate for themselves,
they would find that the evils they lament cannot ensue therefrom.
Mr. DAWES observed, upon the authority of Congress to raise and support
armies, that all the objections which had been made by gentlemen against
standing armies, were inapplicable to the present question, which was,
that, as there must be an authority somewhere to raise and support armies,
whether that authority ought to be in Congress. As Congress are the
legislature upon the proposed plan of government, in them only, said he,
should be lodged the power under debate. Some gentlemen seem to have confused
ideas about standing armies: that the legislature of a country should
not have power to raise armies, is a doctrine he had never heard before.
Charles II., in England, kept in pay an army of five thousand men, and James
II. augmented them to thirty thousand. This occasioned a great and just alarm
through the nation; and, accordingly, when William III. came to the throne, it
was declared unconstitutional to raise or keep a standing army, in time of
peace, without the consent of the legislature. Most of our own state
constitutions have borrowed this language from the English declaration of
rights, but none of them restrain their legislatures from raising and
supporting armies. Those who never objected to such an authority in Congress,
as vested by the old Confederation, surely ought not to object to such a power
in Congress, where there is to be a new branch of representation, arising
immediately from the people, and which branch alone must originate those very
grants that are to maintain an army. When we consider that this branch is to be
elected every two years, there is great propriety in its being restrained from
making any grants in support of the army for a longer space than that of their
existence. If the election of this popular branch were for seven years, as in
England, the men who would make the, first grant, might also be the second and
third, for the continuance of the army; and such an acquaintance might exist
between the representatives in Congress and the leaders of the army as might be
unfavorable to liberty. But the wisdom of the late Convention has avoided this
difficulty. The army must expire of itself in two years after it shall be
raised, unless renewed by representatives, who, at that time, will have just
come fresh from the body of the people. It will share the same fate as that of
a temporary law, which dies at the time mentioned in the act itself, unless
revived by some future legislature.
Capt. DENCH said, it had been observed, and he was not convinced that the
observation was wrong, that the grant of the powers in this section would
produce a consolidation of the states, and the moment it begins, a dissolution
of the state governments commences. If mistaken, he wished to be set right.
Afternoon. — Dr. TAYLOR asked why there was not to be a
federal town, over which Congress is to exercise exclusive legislation.
Hon. Mr. STRONG said, every gentleman must think that the erection of a
federal town was necessary, wherein Congress might remain protected from
insult. A few years ago, said the honorable gentleman, Congress had to remove,
because they were not protected by the authority of the state in which they
were then sitting. He asked whether this Convention, though convened for but a
short period, did not think it was necessary that they should have power to
protect themselves from insult; much more so must they think it necessary to
provide for Congress, considering they are to be a permanent body.
Hon. Mr. DAVIS (of Boston) said it was necessary that Congress should have a
permanent residence; and that it was the intention of Congress, under the
Confederation, to erect a federal town. He asked, Would Massachusetts, or any
other state, wish to give to New York, or the state in which Congress shall
sit, the power to influence the proceedings of that body, which was to act for
the benefit of the whole, by leaving them liable to the outrage of the citizens
of such states?
Dr. TAYLOR asked, why it need be ten miles square, and whether one
mile square would not be sufficient.
Hon. Mr. STRONG said, Congress was not to exercise jurisdiction over a
district of ten miles, but one not exceeding ten miles square.
Rev. Mr. STILLMAN said, that, whatever were the limits of the district, it
would depend on the cession of the legislature of one of the states.
Mr. DENCH said, that he wished further light on the subject; but that from
the words, "We, the people," in the first clause, ordaining this
Constitution, he thought it was an actual consolidation of the states, and
that, if he was not mistaken, the moment it took place, a dissolution of the
state governments will also take place.
Gen. BROOKS (of Lincoln) rose, he said, to consider the idea suggested by
the gentleman last speaking, that this Constitution would produce a dissolution
of the state governments, or a consolidation of the whole; which, in his
opinion, he said, was ill founded — or rather a loose idea. In the first
place, says he, the Congress, under this Constitution, cannot be organized
without repeated acts of the legislatures of the several states; and,
therefore, if the creating power is dissolved, the body to be created cannot
exist. In the second place, says the general, it is impossible the general
government can exist, unless the governments of the several states are forever
existing; as the qualifications of the electors of the federal representatives
are to be the same as those of the electors of the most numerous branch of the
state legislatures. It was, therefore, he said, impossible that the state
governments should be annihilated by the general government, and it was, he
said, strongly implied, from that part of the section under debate which gave
Congress power to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the federal town, that
they shall have it over no other place. When we attend to the Constitution, we
shall see, says the genera], that the powers to be given to Congress amount
only to a consolidation of the strength of the Union, and that private rights
are not consolidated. The general mentioned the rights which Congress could not
infringe upon, and said that their power to define what was treason was much
less than is vested in the legislature of this state by our own constitution;
as it was confined, in the third section of article third, to levying war, or
adhering to and comforting enemies, only. He mentioned the restraint upon
Congress in the punishment of treason, and compared it with the extended powers
lodged in the Parliament of Great Britain on like crimes; and concluded by
observing, that, as the United States guaranty to each state a
republican form of government, the state governments were as effectually
secured as though this Constitution should never be in force.
Hon. Mr. KING said, in reply to the inquiry respecting a federal town, that
there was now no place for Congress to reside in, and that it was necessary
that they should have a permanent residence, where to establish proper
archives, in which they may deposit treaties, state papers, deeds of cession,
Hon. Mr. SINGLETARY said, that all gentlemen had said about a bill of rights
to the Constitution, was, that what is written is written; but he thought we
were giving up all power, and that the states will be like towns in this state.
Towns, said he, have a right to lay taxes, to raise money, and the states
possibly may have the same. We have now, said he, a good republican
Constitution, and we do not want it guarantied to us. He did not understand
what gentlemen meant by Congress guarantying a republican form of government;
he wished they would not play round the subject with their fine stories, like a
fox round a trap, but come to it. Why don't they say that Congress will
guaranty our state constitution?
Gen. THOMPSON said, Congress only meant to guaranty a form of
Hon. Mr. KING asked whether, if the present constitution of this state had
been guarantied by the United States, the honorable gentleman from Sutton would
not have considered it as a great defect in the proposed Constitution, as it
must have precluded the state from making any alteration in it, should they see
fit so to do at the time mentioned in the Constitution.
[Several other gentlemen spoke, in a desultory conversation, on various
parts of the Constitution; in which several articles from the constitution of
this state, and the Confederation, were read; many questions asked the
honorable gentlemen who framed the Constitution, to which answers apparently
satisfactory were given.]
FRIDAY, January 25. — The 8th section
still under debate; but the conversation continued desultory; and much
attention was paid to the inquiries of gentlemen on different parts of the
Constitution, by those who were in favor of it.
Mr. AMES, in a short discourse, called on those who stood forth in 1775 to
stand forth now; to throw aside all interested and party views; to have one
purse and one heart for the whole; and to consider that, as it was necessary
then, so was it necessary now, to unite, — or die we must.
Hon. Mr. SINGLETARY. Mr. President, I should not have troubled the
Convention again, if some gentlemen had not called on them that were on the
stage in the beginning of our troubles, in the year 1775. I was one of them. I
have had the honor to be a member of the court all the time, Mr. President, and
I say that, if any body had proposed such a constitution as this in that day,
it would have been thrown away at once. It would not have been looked at. We
contended with Great Britain, some said for a threepenny duty on tea; but it
was not that; it was because they claimed a right to tax us and bind us in all
cases whatever. And does not this Constitution do the same? Does it not take
away all we have — all our property? Does it not lay all taxes,
duties, imposts, and excises? And what more have we to give? They tell us
Congress won't lay dry taxes upon us, but collect all the money they want by
impost. I say, there has always been a difficulty about impost. Whenever the
General Court was going to lay an impost, they would tell us it was more than
trade could bear, that it hurt the fair trader, and encouraged smuggling; and
there will always be the same objection: they won't be able to raise money
enough by impost, and then they will lay it on the land, and take all we have
got. These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, that talk so finely,
and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow
down the pill, expect to get into Congress themselves; they expect to be the
managers of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into
their own hands, and then they will swallow up all us little folks, like the
great Leviathan, Mr. President; yes, just as the whale swallowe'd up
Jonah. This is what I am afraid of; but I won't say any more at present,
but reserve the rest to another opportunity.
Hon. Mr. SMITH. Mr. President, I am a plain man, and get my living by the
plough. I am not used to speak in public, but I beg your leave to say a few
words to my brother ploughjoggers in this house. I have lived in a part of the
country where I have known the worth of good government by the want of it.
There was a black cloud that rose in the east last winter, and spread over the
west. [Here Mr. Widgery interrupted. Mr. President, I wish to know what the
gentleman means by the east.] I mean, sir, the county of Bristol; the cloud
rose there, and burst upon us, and produced a dreadful effect. It brought on a
state of anarchy, and that led to tyranny. I say, it brought anarchy. People
that used to live peaceably, and were before good neighbors, got distracted,
and took up arms against government. [Here Mr. Kingsley called to order, and
asked, what had the history of last winter to do with the Constitution. Several
gentlemen, and among the rest the Hon. Mr. Adams, said the gentleman was in
order — let him go on in his own way.] I am going, Mr. President, to show
you, my brother farmers, what were the effects of anarchy, that you may see the
reasons why I wish for good government People I say took up arms; and then, if
you went to speak to them, you had the musket of death presented to your
breast. They would rob you of your property; threaten to burn your houses;
oblige you to be on your guard night and day; alarms spread from town to town;
families were broken up; the tender mother would cry, "O, my son is among
them! What shall I do for my child!" Some were taken captive, children
taken out of their schools, and carried away. Then we should hear of an action,
and the poor prisoners were set in the front, to be killed by their own
friends. How dreadful, how distressing was this! Our distress was so great that
we should have been glad to snatch at any thing that looked like a government.
Had any person, that was able to protect us, come and set up his standard, we
should all have flocked to it, even if it had been a monarch; and that monarch
might have proved a tyrant; — so that you see that anarchy leads to
tyranny, and better have one tyrant than so many at once.
Now, Mr. President, when I saw this Constitution, I found that it was a cure
for these disorders. It was just such a thing as we wanted. I got a copy of it,
and read it over and over. I had been a member of the Convention to form our
own state constitution, and had learnt something of the checks and balances of
power, and I found them all here. I did not go to any lawyer, to ask his
opinion; we have no lawyer in our town, and we do well enough without. I formed
my own opinion, and was pleased with this Constitution. My honorable old daddy
there [pointing to Mr. Singletary] won't think that I expect to be a
Congress-man, and swallow up the liberties of the people. I never had any post,
nor do I want one. But I don't think the worse of the Constitution because
lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, are fond of it. I don't suspect
that they want to get into Congress and abuse their power. I am not of such a
jealous make. They that are honest men themselves are not apt to suspect other
people. I don't know why our constituents have not a good right to be as
jealous of us as we seem to be of the Congress; and I think those gentlemen,
who are so very suspicious that as soon as a man gets into power he turns
rogue, had better look at home.
We are, by this Constitution, allowed to send ten members to Congress. Have
we not more than that number fit to go? I dare say, if we pick out ten, we
shall have another ten left, and I hope ten times ten; and will not these be a
check upon those that go? Will they go to Congress, and abuse their power, and
do mischief, when they know they must return and look the other ten in the
face, and be called to account for their conduct? Some gentlemen think that our
liberty and property are not safe in the hands of moneyed men, and men of
learning? I am not of that mind.
Brother farmers, let us suppose a case, now: Suppose you had a farm of 50
acres, and your title was disputed, and there was a farm of 5000 acres joined
to you, that belonged to a man of learning, and his title was involved in the
same difficulty; would you not be glad to have him for your friend, rather than
to stand alone in the dispute? Well, the case is the same. These lawyers, these
moneyed men, these men of learning, are all embarked in the same cause with us,
and we must all swim or sink together; and shall we throw the Constitution
overboard because it does not please us alike? Suppose two or three of you had
been at the pains to break up a piece of rough land, and sow it with wheat;
would you let it lie waste because you could not agree what sort of a fence to
make? Would it not be better to put up a fence that did not please every one's
fancy, rather than not fence it at all, or keep disputing about it until the
wild beasts came in and devoured it? Some gentlemen say, Don't be in a hurry;
take time to consider, and don't take a leap in the dark. I say, Take things in
time; gather fruit when it is ripe. There is a time to sow and a time to reap;
we sowed our seed when we sent men to the federal Convention; now is the
harvest, now is the time to reap the fruit of our labor; and if we won't do it
now, I am afraid we never shall have another opportunity.
Mr. PARSONS considered the several charges of ambiguity which gentlemen had
laid to the Constitution, and, with a great deal of accuracy, stated the
obvious meaning of the clauses thus supposed to be ambiguous. He concluded his
explanation by saying, that no compositions, which men can pen, could be
formed, but what would be liable to the same charge.
Afternoon. — Hon. Mr. DALTON. Mr. President, it has been
demanded by some gentlemen in opposition to this Constitution, why those who
were opposed to the augmentation of the powers of Congress a few years since,
should now be the warmest advocates for the powers to be granted by the section
under debate. Sir, I was opposed to the five per cent. impost being granted to
Congress; and I conceived that such a grant, under the Confederation, would
produce great difficulties and embarrassments. But, sir, as Congress is, by the
proposed Constitution, to be differently constructed, as a proportionate voice
of the states in that body is to be substituted for the present equal (or
rather unequal) one, my objections will be removed. In my opinion, the
delegating of power to a government in which the people have so many checks,
will be perfectly safe, and consistent with the preservation of their
Mr. AMES said, that, in the course of the debates, gentlemen had justified
the Confederation; but he wished to ask whether there was any danger in this
Constitution which is not in the Confederation. If gentlemen are willing to
confederate, why, he asked, ought not Congress to have the powers granted by
this section? In the Confederation, said Mr. A., the checks are wanting which
are to be found in this Constitution. And the fears of gentlemen that this
Constitution will provide for a permanent aristocracy are therefore
ill-founded; for the rulers will always be dependent on the people, like the
insects of a sunshiny day, and may, by the breath of their displeasure, be
Mr. WIDGERY. Mr. President, enough has, I think, been said on the 8th
section. It has been repeated, over and over again, that the adoption of the
Constitution will please all ranks; that the present inefficiency of the
Confederation is obvious; and that blessed things will surely be the result of
this Constitution. Many say, Ask the mechanics, ask the yeomanry. But they do
not tell us what the answer of these will be. All we hear is, that the merchant
and farmer will nourish, and that the mechanics and tradesmen are to make their
fortunes directly, if the Constitution goes down. Is it, sir, because the seat
of government is to be carried to Philadelphia? Who, sir, is to pay the debts
of the yeomanry and others? Sir, when oil will quench fire, I will believe all
this, and not till then. On the contrary, I think the adopting this
Constitution makes against them, though it may be something in favor of the
merchants Have not Congress power to tax polls, — for there is no other
way of levying a dry tax, — and by this means the poor will pay as much as
the rich. Gentlemen say we are undone, and that there is no resource, unless
this Constitution is adopted. I cannot see why we need, for the sake of a
little meat, swallow a great bone, which, if it should happen to stick in our
throats, can never be got out. Some gentlemen have given out, that we are
surrounded by enemies, that we owe debts, and that the nations will make war
against us, and take our shipping, &c. Sir, I ask, Is this a fact? Or
whether gentlemen think as they say? I believe they do not; for I believe they
are convinced that the nations we owe do not wish us at present to pay more
than the interest.
Mr. W., after considering some other observations which had dropped from
gentlemen in the course of the debates on the 8th section, concluded by saying,
that he could not see the great danger that would arise from rejecting the
The Hon. Mr. GORHAM adverted to the suggestion of some gentlemen, that, by
granting the impost to Congress, this state would pay more than its proportion,
and said that it could be made an objection as much against one government as
another. But he believed gentlemen would accede that the impost was a very
proper tax. As to the tax on polls, which the gentleman from New Gloucester had
said would take place, he saw, he said, no article in the Constitution which
warranted the assertion; it was, he said, a distressful tax, and would never be
adopted. By impost and excise, the man of luxury will pay; and the middling and
the poor parts of the community, who live by their industry, will go clear; and
as this would be the easiest mode of raising a revenue, it was the most natural
to suppose it would be resorted to. Twenty per cent., he said, may as well be
paid for some luxuries as five; nay, one hundred per cent. impost on some
articles might be laid on, as is done in England and France. How often,
observed the honorable gentleman, has Mr. Adams tried to accomplish a
commercial treaty with England, with but feeble power! They prohibit our oil,
fish, lumber, pot and pearl ashes, from being imported into their territories,
in order to favor Nova Scotia, for they know we cannot make general retaliating
laws. They have a design in Nova Scotia to rival us in the fishery, and our
situation at present favors their design. From the abundance of our markets, we
could supply them with beef, butter, pork, &c., but they lay what
restrictions on them they please , which they durst not do, were there an
adequate power lodged in the general government to regulate commerce.
Mr. JONES, Col. PORTER, and Col. VARNUM, said a few words in favor of the
article, when the Convention proceeded to the consideration of the 9th section.
Mr. NEAL (from Kittery) went over the ground of objection to this section,
on the idea that the slave trade was allowed to be continued for twenty years.
His profession, he said, obliged him to bear witness against any thing that
should favor the making merchandise of the bodies of men, and, unless his
objection was removed, he could not put his hand to the Constitution. Other
gentlemen said, in addition to this idea, that there was not even a proposition
that the negroes ever shall be free; and Gen. THOMPSON exclaimed, Mr.
President, shall it be said that, after we have established our own
independence and freedom, we make slaves of others? O! Washington, what
a name has he had! How he has immortalized himself! But he holds those in
slavery who have as good a right to be free as he has. He is still for self;
and, in my opinion, his character has sunk fifty per cent.
On the other side, gentlemen said, that the step taken in this article
towards the abolition of slavery was one of the beauties of the Constitution.
They observed, that in the Confederation there was no provision whatever for
its being abolished; but this Constitution provides that Congress may, after
twenty years, totally annihilate the slave trade; and that, as all the states,
except two, have passed laws to this effect, it might reasonably be expected
that it would then be done. In the interim, all the states were at liberty to
SATURDAY, January 26. — [The debate on
the 9th section still continued desultory, and consisted of similar objections,
and answers thereto, as had before been used. Both sides deprecated the slave
trade in the most pointed terms; on one side, it was most pathetically lamented
by Mr. Nason, Major Lusk, Mr. Neal, and others, that this Constitution provided
for the continuation of the slave trade for twenty years; and on the other, the
Hon. Judge Dana, Mr. Adams, and others, rejoiced that a door was now to be
opened for the annihilation of this odious, abhorrent practice, in a certain
The paragraph which provides that "the privilege of the writ of
habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in cases of rebellion or
invasion," was read, when
Gen. THOMPSON asked the president to please to proceed. We have, said he,
read the book often enough; it is a consistent piece of inconsistency.
Hon. Mr. ADAMS, in answer to an inquiry of the Hon. Mr. Taylor, said, that
this power given to the general government to suspend this privilege in cases
of rebellion and invasion, did not take away the power of the several states to
suspend it, if they shall see fit.
Dr. TAYLOR asked, why this darling privilege was not expressed in the same
manner it was in the Constitution of Massachusetts. [Here the honorable
gentleman read the paragraph respecting it, in the constitution of that state,
and then the one in the proposed Constitution.] He remarked on the difference
of expression, and asked why the time was not limited.
Judge DANA said, the answer, in part, to the honorable gentleman, must be,
that the same men did not make both Constitutions; that he did not see the
necessity or great benefit of limiting the time. Supposing it had been,
as in our constitution, "not exceeding twelve months," yet, as our
legislature can, so might the Congress, continue the suspension of the writ
from time to time, or from year to year. The safest and best restriction,
therefore, arises from the nature of the cases in which Congress are authorized
to exercise that power at all, namely, in those of rebellion or invasion. These
are clear and certain terms, facts of public notoriety, and whenever these
shall cease to exist, the suspension of the writ must necessarily cease also.
He thought, the citizen had a better security for his privilege of the writ of
habeas corpus under the federal than under the state constitution; for
our legislature may suspend the writ as often as they judge "the most
urgent and pressing occasions" call for it. He hoped these short
observations would satisfy the honorable gentleman's inquiries; otherwise, he
should be happy in endeavoring to do it by going more at large into the
Judge SUMNER said, that this was a restriction on Congress, that the writ of
habeas corpus should not be suspended, except in cases of rebellion or
invasion. The learned judge then explained the nature of this writ. When a
person, said he, is imprisoned, he applies to a judge of the Supreme Court; the
judge issues his writ to the jailer, calling upon him to have the body of the
person imprisoned before him, with the crime on which he was committed. If it
then appears that the person was legally committed, and that he was not
bailable, he is remanded to prison; if illegally confined, he is enlarged. This
privilege, he said, is essential to freedom, and therefore the power to suspend
it is restricted. On the other hand, the state, he said, might be involved in
danger; the worst enemy may lay plans to destroy us, and so artfully as to
prevent any evidence against him, and might ruin the country, without the power
to suspend the writ was thus given. Congress have only power to suspend the
privilege to persons committed by their authority. A person committed under the
authority of the states will still have a right to this writ.
MONDAY, January 28. — This and the two
following days were taken up in considering the several sections of the second
and third articles, every one of which was objected to by those who were
opposed to the Constitution; and the objections were obviated by gentlemen in
favor of it. We do not think it essential to go into a minute detail of the
conversation; as, in the speeches on the grand question, the field is again
gone over. We can only say that, with the utmost attention, every objection,
however trifling, was answered, and that the unremitted endeavors of gentlemen
who advocated the Constitution, to convince those who were in error, were not
without effect. The main objections to the judiciary power are contained in the
following speech delivered on
WEDNESDAY, January 30. — Mr. HOLMES. Mr.
President, I rise to make some remarks on the paragraph under. consideration,
which treats of the judiciary power.
It is a maxim universally admitted, that the safety of the subject consists
in having a right to a trial as free and impartial as the lot of humanity will
admit of. Does the Constitution make provision for such a trial? I think not;
for in a criminal process, a person shall not have a right to insist on a trial
in the vicinity where the fact was committed, where a jury of the peers would,
from their local situation, have an opportunity to form a judgment of the
character of the person charged with the crime, and also to judge of the
credibility of the witnesses. There a person must be tried by a jury of
strangers; a jury who may be interested in his conviction; and where he
may, by reason of the distance of his residence from the place of trial,
be incapable of making such a defence as he is, in justice, entitled to, and
which he could avail himself of, if his trial was in the same county where the
crime is said to have been committed.
These circumstances, as horrid as they are, are rendered still more dark and
gloomy, as there is no provision made in the Constitution to prevent the
attorney-general from filing information against any person, whether he is
indicted by the grand jury or not; in consequence of which the most innocent
person in the commonwealth may be taken by virtue of a warrant issued in
consequence of such information, and dragged from his home, his friends, his
acquaintance, and confined in prison, until the next session of the court,
which has jurisdiction of the crime with which he is charged, (and how frequent
those sessions are to be we are not yet informed of,) and after long, tedious,
and painful imprisonment, though acquitted on trial, may have no possibility to
obtain any kind of satisfaction for the loss of his liberty, the loss of his
time, great expenses, and perhaps cruel sufferings.
But what makes the matter still more alarming is, that the mode of criminal
process is to be pointed out by Congress, and they have no constitutional check
on them, except that the trial is to be by a jury: but who this jury is
to be, how qualified, where to live, how appointed, or by what rules to
regulate their procedure, we are ignorant of as yet: whether they are to live
in the county where the trial is; whether they are to be chosen by certain
districts, or whether they are to be appointed by the sheriff ex
officio; whether they are to be for one session of the court only, or for a
certain term of time, or for good behavior, or during pleasure, are matters
which we are entirely ignorant of as yet.
The mode of trial is altogether indetermined; whether the criminal is to be
allowed the benefit of counsel; whether he is to be allowed to meet his accuser
face to face; whether he is to be allowed to confront the witnesses, and have
the advantage of cross-examination, we are not yet told.
These are matters of by no means small consequence; yet we have not the
smallest constitutional security that we shall be allowed the exercise of these
privileges, neither is it made certain, in the Constitution, that a person
charged with the crime shall have the privilege of appearing before the court
or jury which is to try him.
On the whole, when we fully consider this matter, and fully investigate the
powers granted, explicitly given, and specially delegated, we shall find
Congress possessed of powers enabling them to institute judicatories little
less inauspicious than a certain tribunal in Spain, which has long been the
disgrace of Christendom: I mean that diabolical institution, the
What gives an additional glare of horror to these gloomy circumstances is
the consideration, that Congress have to ascertain, point out, and determine,
what kind of punishments shall be inflicted on persons convicted of crimes.
They are nowhere restrained from inventing the most cruel and unheard-of
punishments, and annexing them to crimes; and there is no constitutional check
on them, but that racks and gibbets may be amongst the most mild
instruments of their discipline.
There is nothing to prevent Congress from passing laws which shall compel a
man, who is accused or suspected of a crime, to furnish evidence against
himself, and even from establishing laws which shall order the court to take
the charge exhibited against a man for truth, unless he can furnish evidence of
I do not pretend to say Congress will do this; but, sir, I undertake
to say that Congress (according to the powers proposed to be given them by the
Constitution) may do it; and if they do not, it will be owing
entirely — I repeat it, it will be owing entirely — to
the goodness of the men, and not in the least degree owing to the
goodness of the Constitution.
The framers of our state constitution took particular care to prevent the
General Court from authorizing the judicial authority to issue a warrant
against a man for a crime, unless his being guilty of the crime was supported
by oath or affirmation, prior to the warrant being granted; why it should be
esteemed so much more safe to intrust Congress with the power of enacting laws,
which it was deemed so unsafe to intrust our state legislature with, I am
unable to conceive.
Mr. GORE observed, in reply to Mr. Holmes, that it had been the uniform
conduct of those in opposition to the proposed form of government, to
determine, in every case where it was possible that the administrators thereof
could do wrong, that they would do so, although it were demonstrable that such
wrong would be against their own honor and interest, and productive of no
advantage to themselves. On this principle alone have they determined that the
trial by jury would be taken away in civil cases; when it had been clearly
shown, that no words could be adopted, apt to the situation and customs of each
state in this particular. Jurors are differently chosen in different states,
and in point of qualification the laws of the several states are very diverse;
not less so in the causes and disputes which are entitled to trial by jury.
What is the result of this? That the laws of Congress may and will be
conformable to the local laws in this particular, although the Constitution
could not make a universal rule equally applying to the customs and statutes of
the different states. Very few governments (certainly not this) can be
interested in depriving the people of trial by jury, in questions of meum et
tuum. In criminal cases alone are they interested to have the trial under
their own control; and, in such cases, the Constitution expressly stipulates
for trial by jury; but then, says the gentleman from Rochester, (Mr. Holmes,)
to the safety of life it is indispensably necessary the trial of crimes should
be in the vicinity; and the vicinity is construed to mean county; this is very
incorrect, and gentlemen will see the impropriety, by referring themselves to
the different local divisions and districts of the several states. But further,
said the gentleman, the idea that the jury coming from the neighborhood, and
knowing the character and circumstances of the party in trial, is promotive of
justice, on reflection will appear not founded in truth. If the jury judge from
any other circumstances but what are part of the cause in question, they are
not impartial. The great object is to determine on the real merits of the
cause, uninfluenced by any personal considerations; if, therefore, the jury
could be perfectly ignorant of the person in trial, a just decision would be
more probable From such motives did the wise Athenians so constitute the famed
Areopagus, that, when in judgment, this court should sit at midnight, and in
total darkness, that the decision might be on the thing, and not on the person.
Further, said the gentleman, it has been said, because the Constitution does
not expressly provide for an indictment by grand jury in criminal cases,
therefore some officer under this government will be authorized to file
informations, and bring any man to jeopardy of his life, and indictment by
grand jury will be disused. If gentlemen who pretend such fears will look into
the constitution of Massachusetts, they will see that no provision is therein
made for an indictment by grand jury, or to oppose the danger of an
attorney-general filing informations; yet no difficulty or danger has arisen to
the people of this commonwealth from this defect, if gentlemen please to call
it so. If gentlemen would be candid, and not consider that, wherever Congress
may possibly abuse power, they certainly will, there would be no difficulty in
the minds of any in adopting the proposed Constitution.
Mr. DAWES said, he did not see that the right of trial by jury was taken
away by the article. The word court does not, either by a popular or
technical construction, exclude the use of a jury to try facts. When people, in
common language, talk of a trial at the Court of Common Pleas, or the
Supreme Judicial Court, do they not include all the branches and members
of such court — the jurors as well as the judges? They certainly
do, whether they mention the jurors expressly or not. Our state legislators
have construed the word court in the same way; for they have given
appeals from a justice of peace to the Court of Common Pleas, and from thence
to the Supreme Court, without saying any thing of the jury; but in cases which,
almost time out of mind, have been tried without jury, there the jurisdiction
is given expressly to the justices of a particular court, as may be instanced
by suits upon the absconding act, so called.
Gentlemen have compared the article under consideration to that power which
the British claimed, and we resisted, at the revolution; namely, the power of
trying the Americans without a jury. But surely there was no parallel in the
cases; it was criminal cases in which they attempted to make this abuse of
power. Mr. D. mentioned one example of this, which, though young, he well
remembered; and that was the case of Nickerson, the pirate, who was tried
without a jury, and whose judges were the governors of Massachusetts and of
some neighboring provinces, together with Admiral Montague, and some gentlemen
of distinction. Although this trial was without a jury, yet, as it was a trial
upon the civil law, there was not so much clamor about it as otherwise there
might have been; but still it was disagreeable to the people, and was one of
the then complaints But the trial by jury was not attempted to be taken from
civil causes. It was no object of power, whether one subject's property was
lessened, while another's was increased; nor can it be now an object with the
federal legislature. What interest can they have in constituting a judiciary,
to proceed in civil causes without a trial by jury? In criminal causes, by the
proposed government, there must be a jury. It is asked, Why is not the
Constitution as explicit in securing the right of jury in civil as in criminal
cases? The answer is, Because it was out of the power of the Convention. The
several states differ so widely in their modes of trial, some states using a
jury in causes wherein other states employ only their judges, that the
Convention have very wisely left it to the federal legislature to make such
regulations as shall, as far as possible, accommodate the whole. Thus our own
state constitution authorizes the General Court to erect judicatories, but
leaves the nature, number, and extent of them, wholly to the discretion of the
legislature. The bill of rights, indeed, secures the trial by jury, in civil
causes, except in cases where a contrary practice has obtained. Such a clause
as this some gentlemen wish were inserted in the proposed Constitution, but
such a clause would be abused in that Constitution, as has been clearly stated
by the honorable gentleman from Charlestown, (Mr. Gorham,) because the
"exception of all cases where a jury have not heretofore been used,"
would include almost all cases that could be mentioned, when applied to all the
states, for they have severally differed in the kinds of causes where they have
tried without a jury.
Gen. HEATH. Mr. President, by my indisposition and absence, I have lost
several important opportunities. I have lost the opportunity of expressing my
sentiments with a candid freedom, on some of the paragraphs of the system,
which have lain heavy on my mind. I have lost the opportunity of expressing my
warm approbation on some of the paragraphs. I have lost the opportunity of
asking some questions for my own information, touching some of the paragraphs,
and which naturally occurred, as the system unfolded. I have lost the
opportunity of hearing those judicious, enlightening, and convincing arguments,
which have been advanced during the investigation of the system. This is my
misfortune, and I must bear it. The paragraph respecting the migration or
importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think
proper to admit, &c., is one of those considered during my absence, and I
have heard nothing on the subject, save what has been mentioned this morning;
but I think the gentlemen who have spoken have carried the matter rather too
far on both sides. I apprehend that it is not in our power to do any thing for
or against those who are in slavery in the Southern States. No gentleman,
within these walls, detests every idea of slavery more than I do: it is
generally detested by the people of this commonwealth; and I ardently hope that
the time will soon come when our brethren in the Southern States will view it
as we do, and put a stop to it; but to this we have no right to compel them.
Two questions naturally arise: If we ratify the Constitution, shall we do any
thing by our act to hold the blacks in slavery? or shall we become the
partakers of other men's sins? I think, neither of them. Each state is
sovereign and independent to a certain degree, and the states have a right, and
they will regulate their own internal affairs as to themselves appears proper;
and shall we refuse to eat, or to drink, or to be united, with those who do not
think, or act, just as we do? Surely not. We are not, in this case, partakers
of other men's sins; for in nothing do we voluntarily encourage the slavery of
our fellow-men. A restriction is laid on the federal government, which could
not be avoided, and a union take place. The federal Convention went as far as
they could. The migration or importation, &c., is confined to the states
now existing only; new states cannot claim it. Congress, by their
ordinance for erecting new states, some time since, declared that the new
states shall he republican, and that there shall he no slavery in them. But
whether those in slavery in the Southern States will be emancipated after the
year 1808, I do not pretend to determine. I rather doubt it.
After the 5th article was read at the table, —
The Hon. Mr. KING observed, that he believed gentlemen had not, in their
objections to the Constitution, recollected that this article was a part of it;
for many of the arguments of gentlemen were founded on the idea of future
amendments being impracticable. The honorable gentleman observed on the
superior excellence of the proposed Constitution in this particular, and called
upon gentlemen to produce an instance, in any other national constitution,
where the people had so fair an opportunity to correct any abuse which might
take place in the future administration of the government under it.
Dr. JARVIS. Mr. President, I cannot suffer the present article to be passed,
without rising to express my entire and perfect approbation of it. Whatever may
have been my private opinion of any other part, or whatever faults or
imperfections I have remarked, or fancied I have seen, in any other instance,
here, sir, I have found complete satisfaction: this has been a resting place,
on which I have reposed myself in the fullest security, whenever a doubt has
occurred, in considering any other passage in the proposed Constitution. The
honorable gentleman last speaking has called upon those persons who are opposed
to our receiving the present system, to show another government, in which such
a wise precaution has been taken to secure to the people the right of making
such alterations and amendments, in a peaceable way, as experience shall have
proved to be necessary. Allow me to say, sir, as far as the narrow limits of my
own information extend, I know of no such example. In other countries, sir,
— unhappily for mankind, — the history of their respective
revolutions has been written in blood; and it is in this only that any great or
important change in our political situation has been effected, without public
commotions. When we shall have adopted the Constitution before us, we shall
have in this article an adequate provision for all the purposes of political
reformation. If, in the course of its operation, this government shall appear
to be too severe, here are the means by which this severity may be assuaged and
corrected. If, on the other hand, it shall become too languid in its movements,
here, again, we have a method designated, by which a new portion of health and
spirit may be infused into the Constitution.
There is, sir, another view, which I have long since taken of this subject,
which has produced the fullest conviction, in my own mind, in favor of our
receiving the government which we have now in contemplation. Should it be
rejected, I beg gentlemen would observe, that a concurrence of all the states
must be had before a new convention can be called to form another Constitution;
but the present article provides, upon nine states' concurring in any
alteration or amendment to be proposed either by Congress or any future
convention, that this alteration shall be a part of the Constitution, equally
powerful and obligatory with any other part. If it be alleged that this union
is not likely to happen, will it be more likely that a union of a greater
number of concurring sentiments may be had, as must be, in case we reject the
Constitution in hopes of a better? But that this is practicable, we may safely
appeal to the history of this country as a proof, in the last twenty years. We
have united against the British; we have united in calling the late federal
Convention; and we may certainly unite again in such alterations as in reason
shall appear to be important for the peace and happiness of America.
In the constitution of this state, the article providing for alterations is
limited in its operation to a given time; but in the present Constitution, the
article is perfectly at large, unconfined to any period, and may admit of
measures being taken in any moment after it is adopted. In this point it has
undoubtedly the advantage. I shall not sit down, sir, without repeating, that,
as it is clearly more difficult for twelve states to agree to another
convention, than for nine to unite in favor of amendments, so it is certainly
better to receive the present Constitution, in the hope of its being amended,
than it would be to reject it altogether, with, perhaps, the vain expectation
of obtaining another more agreeable than the present. I see no fallacy in the
argument, Mr. President; but, if there is, permit me to call upon any gentleman
to point it out, in order that it may be corrected; for, at present, it seems
to me of such force as to give me entire satisfaction.
In the conversation on Thursday, on the sixth article which provides that
"no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any
office," &c., several gentlemen urged that it was a departure from the
principles of our forefathers, who came here for the preservation of their
religion; and that it would admit deists, atheists, &c., into the general
government; and, people being apt to imitate the examples of the court, these
principles would be disseminated, and, of course, a corruption of morals ensue.
Gentlemen on the other side applauded the liberality of the clause, and
represented, in striking colors, the impropriety, and almost impiety, of the
requisition of a test, as practised in Great Britain and elsewhere. In this
conversation, the following is the substance of the observations of the
Rev. Mr. SHUTE. Mr. President, to object to the latter part of the paragraph
under consideration, which excludes a religious test, is, I am sensible, very
popular; for the most of men, somehow, are rigidly tenacious of their own
sentiments in religion, and disposed to impose them upon others as the
standard of truth. If, in my sentiments upon the point in view, I should
differ from some in this honorable body, I only wish from them the exercise of
that candor, with which true religion is adapted to inspire the honest and
To establish a religious test as a qualification for offices in the proposed
federal Constitution, it appears to me, sir, would be attended with injurious
consequences to some individuals, and with no advantage to the whole.
By the injurious consequences to individuals, I mean, that some, who, in
every other respect, are qualified to fill some important post in government,
will be excluded by their not being able to stand the religious test; which I
take to be a privation of part of their civil rights.
Nor is there to me any conceivable advantage, sir, that would result to the
whole from such a test. Unprincipled and dishonest men will not hesitate to
subscribe to any thing that may open the way for their advancement, and
put them into a situation the better to execute their base and iniquitous
designs. Honest men alone, therefore, however well qualified to serve the
public, would be excluded by it, and their country be deprived of the benefit
of their abilities.
In this great and extensive empire, there is, and will be, a great variety
of sentiments in religion among its inhabitants. Upon the plan of a religious
test, the question, I think, must be, Who shall be excluded from national
trusts? Whatever answer bigotry may suggest, the dictates of candor and equity,
I conceive, will be, None.
Far from limiting my charity and confidence to men of my own denomination in
religion, I suppose, and I believe, sir, that there are worthy characters among
men of every denomination — among the Quakers, the Baptists, the Church of
England, the Papists; and even among those who have no other guide, in the way
to virtue and heaven, than the dictates of natural religion.
I must therefore think, sir, that the proposed plan of government, in this
particular, is wisely constructed; that, as all have an equal claim to the
blessings of the government under which they live, and which they support, so
none should be excluded from them for being of any particular denomination in
The presumption is, that the eyes of the people will be upon the faithful in
the land; and, from a regard to their own safety, they will choose for their
rulers men of known abilities, of known probity, of good moral characters. The
apostle Peter tells us that God is no respecter of persons, but, in every
nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to
him. And I know of no reason why men of such a character, in a community of
whatever denomination in religion, caeteris paribus, with other suitable
qualifications, should not be acceptable to the people, and why they may
not be employed by them with safety and advantage in the important offices of
government. The exclusion of a religious test in the proposed Constitution,
therefore, clearly appears to me, sir, to be in favor of its adoption.
Col. JONES (of Bristol) thought, that the rulers ought to believe in God or
Christ, and that, however a test may be prostituted in England, yet he thought,
if our public men were to be of those who had a good standing in the church, it
would be happy for the United States, and that a person could not be a good man
without being a good Christian.
The conversation on the Constitution, by paragraphs, being ended,
Mr. PARSONS moved, that this Convention do assent to, and ratify, this
Mr. NEAL rose, and said, that, as the Constitution at large was now under
consideration, he would just remark, that the article which respected the
Africans was the one which lay on his mind; and, unless his objections to that
were removed, it must, how much soever he liked the other parts of the
Constitution, be a sufficient reason for him to give his negative to it.
Col. JONES said, that one of his principal objections was, the omission of a
Rev. Mr. PAYSON. Mr. President, after what has been observed, relating to a
religious test, by gentlemen of acknowledged abilities, I did not expect that
it would again be mentioned, as an objection to the proposed Constitution, that
such a test was not required as a qualification for office. Such were the
abilities and integrity of the gentlemen who constructed the Constitution, as
not to admit of the presumption, that they would have betrayed so much vanity
as to attempt to erect bulwarks and barriers to the throne of God. Relying on
the candor of this Convention, I shall take the liberty to express my
sentiments on the nature of a religious test, and shall endeavor to do it in
such propositions as will meet the approbation of every mind.
The great object of religion being God supreme, and the seat of religion in
man being the heart or conscience, i. e., the reason God has given us,
employed on our moral actions, in their most important consequences, as related
to the tribunal of God, hence I infer that God alone is the God of the
conscience, and, consequently, attempts to erect human tribunals for the
consciences of men are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God. Upon
these principles, had there been a religious test as a qualification for
office, it would, in my opinion, have been a great blemish upon the instrument.
Gen. HEATH. Mr. President, after a long and painful investigation of the
federal Constitution, by paragraphs, this honorable Convention are drawing nigh
to the ultimate question — a question as momentous as ever invited the
attention of man. We are soon to decide on a system of government, digested,
not for the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts only — not for the
present people of the United States only — but, in addition to these, for
all those states which may hereafter rise into existence within the
jurisdiction of the United States, and for millions of people yet unborn; a
system of government, not for a nation of slaves, but for a people as free and
virtuous as any on earth; not for a conquered nation, subdued to our will, but
for a people who have fought, who have bled, and who have conquered; who, under
the smiles of Heaven, have established their independence and sovereignty, and
have taken equal rank among the nations of the earth. In short, sir, it is a
system of government for ourselves and for our children, for all that is near
and dear to us in life; and on the decision of the question is suspended our
political prosperity or infelicity, perhaps our existence as a nation. What can
be more solemn? What can be more interesting? Every thing depends on our union.
I know that some have supposed, that, although the union should be broken,
particular states may retain their importance; but this cannot be. The
strongest-nerved state, even the right arm, if separated from the body, must
wither. If the great union be broken, our country, as a nation, perishes; and
if our country so perishes, it will be as impossible to save a particular state
as to preserve one of the fingers of a mortified hand.
By one of the paragraphs of the system, it is declared that the
ratifications of the conventions of nine slates shall be sufficient for the
establishment of the Constitution between the states so ratifying the. same.
But, sir, how happy will it be, if not only nine, but even all the states,
should ratify it! It will be a happy circumstance if only a small majority of
this Convention should ratify the federal system; but how much more happy if we
could be unanimous! It will be a happy circumstance if a majority of the people
of this commonwealth should be in favor of the federal system; but how much
more so, if they should be unanimous! and, if there are any means whereby they
may be united, every exertion should be made to effect it. I presume, sir, that
there is not a single gentleman within these walls who does not wish for a
federal government — for an efficient federal government; and that this
government should be possessed of every power necessary to enable it to shed on
the people the benign influence of a good government. But I have observed, from
the first, that many gentlemen appear opposed to the system; and this, I
apprehend, arises from their objections to some particular parts of it. Is
there not a way in which their minds may be relieved from embarrassment? I
think there is; and if there is, no exertions should be spared in endeavoring
to do it.
If we should ratify the Constitution, and instruct our first members to
Congress to exert their endeavors to have such checks and guards provided as
appear to be necessary in some of the paragraphs of the Constitution,
communicate what we may judge proper to our sister states, and request their
concurrence, — is there not the highest probability that every thing which
we wish may be effectually secured? I think there is; and I cannot but natter
myself that in this way the gentlemen of the Convention will have the
difficulties under which they now labor removed from their minds. We shall be
united: the people of this commonwealth and our sister states may be united.
Permit me, therefore, most earnestly to recommend it to the serious
consideration of every gentleman in this honorable Convention.
After Gen. Heath sat down, his excellency, the PRESIDENT, rose, and
observed, that he was conscious of the impropriety, situated as he was, of his
entering into the deliberations of the Convention; that, unfortunately, through
painful indisposition of body, he had been prevented from giving his attendance
in his place, but, from the information he had received, and from the papers,
there appeared to him to be a great dissimilarity of sentiments in the
Convention. To remove the objections of some gentlemen, he felt himself
induced, he said, to hazard a proposition for their consideration; which, with
the permission of the Convention, he would offer in the afternoon.
Afternoon. — When the Convention met in the afternoon, his
excellency, the PRESIDENT, observed, that a motion had been made and seconded,
that this Convention do assent to and ratify the Constitution which had been
under consideration; and that he had, in the former part of the day, intimated
his intention of submitting a proposition to the Convention. My motive, says
he, arises from my earnest desire to this Convention, my fellow-citizens, and
the public at large, that this Convention may adopt such a form of government
as may extend its good influence to every part of the United States, and
advance the prosperity of the whole world. His situation, his excellency said,
had not permitted him to enter into the debates of this Convention: it,
however, appeared to him necessary, from what had been advanced in them, to
adopt the form of government proposed; but, observing a diversity of sentiment
in the gentlemen of the Convention, he had frequently had conversation with
them on the subject, and from this conversation he was induced to propose to
them, whether the introduction of some general amendments would not be attended
with the happiest consequences. For that purpose, he should, with the leave of
the honorable Convention, submit to their consideration a proposition, in order
to remove the doubts and quiet the apprehensions of gentlemen; and if, in any
degree, the object should be acquired, he should feel himself perfectly
satisfied. He should therefore submit them; for he was, he said, unable to go
more largely into the subject, if his abilities would permit him; relying on
the candor of the Convention to bear him witness that his wishes for a good
constitution were sincere. [His excellency then read his proposition.]
— This, gentlemen, concluded his excellency, is the proposition which I
had to make; and I submit it to your consideration, with the sincere wish that
it may have a tendency to promote a spirit of union.
[The proposition submitted by his excellency having been committed to a
large committee, who reported some amendments, we think it expedient to refer
the reader to the form of ratification for it.]
Hon. Mr. ADAMS. Mr. President, I feel myself happy in contemplating the idea
that many benefits will result from your excellency's conciliatory proposition
to this commonwealth and to the United States; and I think it ought to precede
the motion made by the gentleman from Newburyport, and to be at this time
considered by the Convention. I have said that I have had my doubts of this
Constitution. I could not digest every part of it as readily as some gentlemen;
but this, sir, is my misfortune, not my fault. Other gentlemen have had their
doubts; but, in my opinion, the proposition submitted will have a tendency to
remove such doubts, and to conciliate the minds of the Convention, and the
people without doors This subject, sir, is of the greatest magnitude, and has
employed the attention of every rational man in the United States; but the
minds of the people are not so well agreed on it as all of us could wish. A
proposal of this sort, coming from Massachusetts, from her importance, will
have its weight. Four or five states have considered and ratified the
Constitution as it stands; but we know there is a diversity of opinion even in
these states, and one of them is greatly agitated. If this Convention should
particularize the amendments necessary to be proposed, it appears to me it must
have weight in other states, where Conventions have not yet met. I have
observed the sentiments of gentlemen on the subject as far as Virginia, and I
have found that the objections were similar, in the newspapers, and in some of
the Conventions. Considering these circumstances, it appears to me that such a
measure will have the most salutary effect throughout the Union. It is of the
greatest importance that America should still be united in sentiment. I
think I have not, heretofore, been unmindful of the advantage of such a union.
It is essential that the people should be united in the federal government, to
withstand the common enemy, and to preserve their valuable rights and
liberties. We find, in the great state of Pennsylvania, one third of the
Convention are opposed to it: should, then, there be large minorities in the
several states, I should fear the consequences of such disunion.
Sir, there are many parts of it I esteem as highly valuable, particularly
the article which empowers Congress to regulate commerce, to form treaties,
&c. For want of this power in our national head, our friends are grieved,
and our enemies insult us. Our ambassador at the court of London is considered
as a mere cipher, instead of the representative of the United States. Therefore
it appears to me, that a power to remedy this evil should be given to Congress,
and the remedy applied as soon as possible.
The only difficulty on gentlemen's minds is, whether it is best to accept
this Constitution on conditional amendments, or to rely on amendments in
future, as the Constitution provides. When I look over the article which
provides for a revision, I have my doubts. Suppose, sir, nine states accept the
Constitution without any conditions at all, and the four states should wish to
have amendments, — where will you find nine states to propose, and the
legislatures of nine states to agree to, the introduction of amendments?
Therefore it seems to me that the expectation of amendments taking place at
some future time, will be frustrated. This method, if we take it, will be the
most likely to bring about the amendments, as the Conventions of New Hampshire,
Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina, have not yet
met. I apprehend, sir, that these states will be influenced by the proposition
which your excellency has submitted, as the resolutions of Massachusetts have
ever had their influence. If this should be the case, the necessary amendments
would be introduced more early and more safely. From these considerations, as
your excellency did not think it proper to make a motion, with submission, I
move that the paper read by your excellency be now taken under consideration by
The motion being seconded, the proposition was read by the secretary at the
Dr. TAYLOR liked the idea of amendments; but, he said, he did not see any
constitutional door open for the introduction of them by the Convention. He
read the several authorities which provided for the meeting of Conventions, but
did not see in any of them any power given to propose amendments. We are, he
said, therefore, treading on unsafe ground to propose them; we must take the
whole, or reject the whole. The honorable gentleman was in favor of the
adjournment, and, in a speech of some length, deprecated the consequences,
which, he said, must arise, if the Constitution was adopted or rejected by a
small majority; and that the expenses which would accrue from the adjournment
would not exceed fourpence per poll throughout the commonwealth.
Hon. Mr. CABOT rose, and observed, on what fell from the honorable gentleman
last speaking, that the reason why no provision for the introduction of
amendments was made in the authorities quoted by the honorable gentleman, was,
that they were provided for in the 5th article of the Constitution.
FRIDAY, February 1, 1788. — Mr. BOWDOIN
(of Dorchester) observed, that he could not but express his hearty approbation
of the propositions made by his excellency, as they would have a tendency to
relieve the fears, and quiet the apprehensions, of some very respectable and
worthy gentlemen, who had expressed their doubts whether some explanation of
certain clauses in the Constitution, and some additional reflections on
Congress, similar to those proposed by his excellency, were not necessary. But,
he said, as the propositions were incorporated with the great and important
question, whether this Convention will adopt and ratify the Constitution, he
conceived himself in order, and would, with the permission of the Convention,
make a few general observations upon the subject, which were as follows: —
It was an answer of Solon's, when he was asked what kind of a
constitution he had constructed for the Athenians, that he had prepared as good
a constitution of government as the people would bear; clearly intimating that
a constitution of government should be relative to the habits, manners, and
genius of the people intended to be governed by it. As the particular state
governments are relative to the manners and genius of the inhabitants of each
state, so ought the general government to be an assemblage of the principles of
all the governments; for, without this assemblage of the principles, the
general government will not sufficiently apply to the genius of the people
confederated; and, therefore, by its meeting, in its operation, with a
continual opposition, through this circumstance it must necessarily fail in its
execution; because, agreeably to the idea of Solon, the people would not
bear it. It may not, therefore, be improper to examine whether the federal
Constitution proposed has a likeness to the different state constitutions, and
such alone as to give the spirit and features of the particular governments;
for Baron Montesquieu observes, that all governments ought to be relative to
their particular principles, and that "a confederative government ought to
be composed of states of the same nature, especially of the republican kind;
" and instances that, as "the spirit of monarchy is war and
enlargement of dominion, peace and moderation are the spirit of a
republic." These two kinds of government cannot naturally subsist in a
From hence it follows that all the governments of the states in the Union
ought to be of the same nature — of the republican kind; and that the
general government ought to be an assemblage of the spirit and principles of
them all. A short comparison, pointing out the likeness of the general to the
particular constitutions, may sufficiently elucidate the subject.
All the constitutions of the states consist of three branches, except as to
the legislative powers, which are chiefly vested in two. The powers of
government are separated in all, and mutually check each other. These are laid
down, as fundamental principles, in the federal Constitution. All power is
derived, mediately or immediately, from the people, in all the constitutions.
This is the case with the federal Constitution. The electors of representatives
to the state governments are electors of representatives to the federal
government. The representatives are chosen for two years; so are the
representatives to the assemblies of some of the states. The equality of
representation is determined in nearly all the states by numbers; so it is in
the federal Constitution.
The second branch of the legislature, in some of the states, is similar to
the federal Senate, having not only legislative, but executive powers; being a
legislating, and, at the same time, an advising body to the executive. Such are
the assistants of Rhode Island and Connecticut, and the councils of New Jersey
and Georgia. The senators of Virginia and New York are chosen for four years,
and so elected that a continual rotation is established, by which one quarter
of their respective senates is annually elected, and by which (as one of the
constitutions observes) there are more men trained to public business; and
there will always be found a number of persons acquainted with the proceedings
of the foregoing years, and thereby the public business be more consistently
conducted. The federal senators are to be chosen for six years, and there is a
rotation so established, for the reasons above mentioned, that one third of the
Senate is to be chosen every two years.
The President and Vice-President answer to offices of the same name in some
of the states, and to the office of governor and lieutenant-governor in most of
the states. As this office is of the utmost importance, the manner of choosing,
for the better security of the interests of the Union, is to be by delegates,
to be expressly chosen for the purpose, in such manner as the different
legislatures may direct. This method of choosing was probably taken from the
manner of choosing senators under the constitution of Maryland.
The legislative powers of the President are precisely those of the governors
of this state and those of New York — rather negative than positive
powers, given with a view to secure the independence of the executive, and to
preserve a uniformity in the laws which are committed to them to execute.
The executive powers of the President are very similar to those of the
several states, except in those points which relate more particularly to the
Union, and respect ambassadors, public ministers, and consuls.
Of the genius of the people of the states, as expressed by their different
constitutions of government, if the similarity of each, and the general spirit
of governments, concur to point out the policy of a confederate government, by
comparing the federal Constitution with those of the several states, can we
expect one more applicable to the people, to the different states, and to the
purposes of the Union, than the one proposed, unless it should be contended
that a union was unnecessary?
"If a republic is small," says Baron Montesquieu, "it is
destroyed by a foreign force; if it is large, it is ruined by an internal
imperfection " — "Fato potentiae sua vi nixae." And
if mankind had not contrived a confederate republic, says the same author,
"a constitution that has all the internal advantages of a republican, and
the external force of a monarchical government," they would probably have
always lived under the tyranny of a single person. Admitting this principle of
Baron Montesquieu's, the several states are either too small to be defended
against a foreign enemy, or too large for republican constitutions of
government. If we apply the first position to the different states, which
reason and the experience of the late war point out to be true, a confederate
government is necessary. But if we admit the latter position, then the several
governments, being in their own nature imperfect, will be necessarily
destroyed, from their being too extensive for republican governments.
From whence it follows, if the foregoing principles are true, that we ought
to adopt a confederation, presuming the different states well calculated for
republican governmental; for, if they are not, their corruption will work their
destruction separately; and if they are destined for destruction, from their
natural imperfection, it will certainly be more advantageous to have them
destroyed collectively than separately, as, in that case, we should fall under
one great national government.
But, if the advantages of a confederacy, admitting the principles of it to
be good, are duly considered, — that is, will give security and permanency
to the several states, not only against internal disputes, but wars with one
another; if the wars in Europe, arising from jarring and opposing interests,
are a public calamity; if it is for the benefit of ourselves, and future
generations, to prevent their horrid devastations on this continent, — to
secure the states against such calamities, it will be necessary to establish a
general government, to adjust the disputes and to settle the differences
between state and state; for, without a confederacy, the several states, being
distinct sovereignties, would be in a state of nature, with respect to each
other; and the law of nature, which is the right of the strongest, would
determine the disputes that might arise. To prevent the operation of so unjust
a title; to afford protection to the weakest state against the strongest; to
secure the rights of all against the encroachments of any of the states; to
balance the powers of all the states, by each giving up a portion of its
sovereignty, and thereby better to secure the remainder of it, are amongst the
main objects of a confederacy.
But the advantages of a union of the states are not confined to mere safety
from within or without. They extend not only to the welfare of each state, but
even to the interest of each individual of the states.
The manner in which the states have suffered, for the want of a general
regulation of trade, is so notorious, that little need be said upon the
subject, to prove that the continent has been exhausted of its wealth, for the
want of it, and, if the evil, from the not regulating it, is not speedily
remedied, by placing the necessary powers in the hands of Congress, the
liberties of the people, or the independence of the states, will be
irretrievably lost. The people feeling the inconvenience of systems of
government that, instead of relieving, increase their perplexities; instead of
regulating trade upon principle; instead of improving the natural advantages of
our country, and opening new sources of wealth, our lands have sunk in their
value, our trade has languished, our credit has been daily reducing, and our
resources are almost annihilated, — can we expect, in such a state, that
the people will long continue their allegiance to systems of government,
whether arising from the weakness of their administration, or the insufficiency
of their principles, which entail on them so many calamities? I presume not.
The well-being of trade depends on a proper regulation of it; on the success of
trade depends wealth; on wealth, the value of lands; the strength, the welfare,
and happiness of a country, upon the numbers, the ease, and independence of its
yeomanry. For the want of this have our taxes most oppressively fallen upon the
most useful of all our citizens — our husbandmen; while trade, for the
want of its being confined to proper objects, has served rather to ruin than to
enrich those that have carried it on.
Shall we, then, let causeless jealousies arise, and distract our councils?
shall we let partial views and local prejudices influence our decisions? or
shall we, with a becoming wisdom, determine to adopt the federal Constitution
proposed, and thereby confirm the liberty, the safety, and the welfare of our
I might go on, sir, and point out the fatal consequences of rejecting the
Constitution; but, as I have already intruded too much upon the time and
patience of the Convention, I shall, for the present, forbear any further
observations, requesting the candor of the Convention for those I have already
Hon. Mr. ADAMS. As your excellency was pleased yesterday to offer, for the
consideration of this Convention, certain propositions intended to accompany
the ratification of the Constitution before us, I did myself the honor to bring
them forward by a regular motion, not only from the respect due to your
excellency, but from a clear conviction, in my own mind, that they would tend
to effect the salutary and important purposes which you had in view —
"the removing the fears and quieting the apprehensions of many of the good
people of this commonwealth, and the more effectually guarding against an undue
administration of the federal government."
I beg leave, sir, more particularly to consider those propositions, and, in
a very few words, to express my own opinion, that they must have a strong
tendency to ease the minds of gentlemen, who wish for the immediate operation
of some essential parts of the proposed Constitution, as well as the most
speedy and effectual means of obtaining alterations in some other parts of it,
which they are solicitous should he made. I will not repeat the reasons I
offered when the motion was made, which convinced me that the measure now under
consideration will have a more speedy as well as a more certain influence, in
effecting the purpose last mentioned, than the measure proposed in the
Constitution before us.
Your excellency's first proposition is, "that it be explicitly
declared, that all powers not expressly delegated to Congress are reserved to
the several states, to be by them exercised." This appears, to my mind, to
be a summary of a bill of rights, which gentlemen are anxious to obtain. It
removes a doubt which many have entertained respecting the matter, and gives
assurance that, if any law made by the federal government shall be extended
beyond the power granted by the proposed Constitution, and inconsistent with
the constitution of this state, it will be an error, and adjudged by the courts
of law to be void. It is consonant with the second article in the present
Confederation, that each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and
independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not, by this
Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.
I have long considered the watchfulness of the people over the conduct of their
rulers the strongest guard against the encroachments of power; and I hope the
people of this country will always be thus watchful.
Another of your excellency's propositions is calculated to quiet the
apprehensions of gentlemen lest Congress should exercise an unreasonable
control over the state legislatures, with regard to the time, place, and manner
of holding elections, which, by the 4th section of the 1st article, are to be
prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof, subject to the control of
Congress. I have had my fears lest this control should infringe the freedom of
elections, which ought ever to be held sacred. Gentlemen who have objected to
this controlling power in Congress have expressed their wishes that it had been
restricted to such states as may neglect or refuse that power vested in them,
and to be exercised by them if they please. Your excellency proposes, in
substance, the same restriction, which, I should think, cannot but meet with
their full approbation.
The power to be given to Congress to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts,
and excises, has alarmed the minds of some gentlemen. They tell you, sir, that
the exercise of the power of laying and collecting direct taxes might greatly
distress the several states, and render them incapable of raising moneys for
the payment of their respective state debts, or for any purpose. They say the
impost and excise may be made adequate to the public emergencies in the time of
peace, and ask why the laying direct taxes may not be confined to a time of
war. You are pleased to propose to us that it be a recommendation, that
"Congress do not lay direct taxes, but when the moneys arising from the
impost and excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies." The
prospect of approaching war might necessarily create an expense beyond the
productions of impost and excise. How, then, would the government have the
necessary means of providing for the public defence? Must they not have
recourse to other resources besides impost and excise? The people, while they
watch for their own safety, must and will have a just confidence in a
legislature of their own election. The approach of war is seldom, if ever,
without observation: it is generally observed by the people at large; and I
believe no legislature of a free country would venture a measure which should
directly touch the purses of the people, under a mere pretence, or unless they
could show, to the people's satisfaction, that there had been, in fact, a real
public exigency to justify it.
Your excellency's next proposition is, to introduce the indictment of a
grand jury, before any person shall be tried for any crime, by which he may
incur infamous punishment, or loss of life; and it is followed by another,
which recommends a trial by Jury in civil actions between citizens of different
states, if either of the parties shall request it. These, and several others
which I have mentioned, are so evidently beneficial as to need no comment of
mine. And they are all, in every particular, of so general a nature, and so
equally interesting to every state, that I cannot hut persuade myself to think
they would all readily join with us in the measure proposed by your excellency,
if we should now adopt it. Gentlemen may make additional propositions if they
think fit. It is presumed that we shall exercise candor towards each other; and
that whilst, on the one hand, gentlemen will cheerfully agree to any
proposition intended to promote a general union, which may not be inconsistent
with their own mature judgment, others will avoid the making such as may be
needless, or tend to embarrass the minds of the people of this commonwealth and
our sister states, and thereby not only frustrate your excellency's wise
intention, but endanger the loss of that degree of reputation, which, I flatter
myself, this commonwealth has justly sustained.
Mr. NASON. Mr. President, I feel myself happy that your excellency has been
placed, by the free suffrage of your fellow-citizens, at the head of this
government. I also feel myself happy that your excellency has been placed in
the chair of this honorable Convention; and I feel a confidence that the
proposition submitted to our consideration yesterday, by your excellency, has
for its object the good of your country. But, sir, as I have not had an
opportunity leisurely to consider it, I shall pass it over, and take a short
view of the Constitution at large, which is under consideration; though my
abilities, sir, will not permit me to do justice to my feelings or to my
constituents. Great Britain, sir, first attempted to enslave us, by declaring
her laws supreme, and that she had a right to bind us in all cases whatever.
What, sir, roused the Americans to shake off the yoke preparing for them? It
was this measure, the power to do which we are now about giving to Congress.
And here, sir, I beg the indulgence of this honorable body to permit me to make
a short apostrophe to Liberty. O Liberty! thou greatest good! thou fairest
property! with thee I wish to live — with thee I wish to die! Pardon me if
I drop a tear on the peril to which she is exposed; I cannot, sir, see this
brightest of jewels tarnished — a jewel worth ten thousand worlds; and
shall we part with it so soon? O no. Gentlemen ask, "Can it be supposed
that a Constitution so pregnant with danger could come from the hands of those
who framed it?" Indeed, sir, I am suspicious of my own judgment, when I
contemplate this idea — when I see the list of illustrious names annexed
to it; but, sir, my duty to my constituents obliges me to oppose the measure
they recommended, as obnoxious to their liberty and safety.
When, sir, we dissolved the political bands which connected us with Great
Britain, we were in a state of nature. We then formed and adopted the
Confederation, which must be considered as a sacred instrument. This
confederates us under one head, as sovereign and independent states. Now, sir,
if we give Congress power to dissolve that Confederation, to what can we trust?
If a nation consent thus to treat their most solemn compacts, who will ever
trust them? Let us, sir, begin with this Constitution, and see what it is. And
first, "We, the people of the United States, do," &c. If this,
sir, does not go to an annihilation of the state governments, and to a perfect
consolidation of the whole Union, I do not know what does. What! shall we
consent to this? Can ten, twenty, or a hundred persons in this state, who have
taken the oath of allegiance to it, dispense with this oath? Gentlemen may talk
as they please of dispensing, in certain cases, with oaths; but, sir, with me
they are sacred things. We are under oath: we have sworn that Massachusetts is
a sovereign and independent state. How, then, can we vote for this
Constitution, that destroys that sovereignty?
Col. VARNUM begged leave to set the worthy gentleman right. The very oath,
he said, which the gentleman had mentioned, provides an exception for the power
to be granted to Congress.
Well, continued Mr. NASON, to go on. Mr. President, let us consider the
Constitution without a bill of rights. When I give up any of my natural rights,
it is for the security of the rest; but here is not one right secured, although
many are neglected.
With respect to biennial elections, the paragraph is rather loosely
expressed. I am a little in favor of our ancient custom. Gentlemen say they are
convinced that the alteration is necessary: it may be so; when I see better, I
will join with them.
To go on. Representation and taxation to be apportioned according to
numbers. This, sir, I am opposed to: it is unequal. I will show an instance in
point. We know for certainty that, in the town of Brookline, persons are better
able to pay their taxes than in the parts I represent. Suppose the tax is laid
on polls: why, the people of the former place will pay their tax ten times as
easy as the latter — thus helping that part of the community which stands
in the least need. of help. On this footing, the poor pay as much as the rich;
and in this a way is laid, that five slaves shall be rated no more than three
children. Let gentlemen consider this: a farmer takes three small orphans, on
charity, to bring up; they are bound to him: when they arrive at twenty-one
years of age, he gives each of them a couple of suits of clothes, a cow, and
two or three young cattle: we are rated as much for these as a farmer in
Virginia is for five slaves, whom he holds for life — they and their
posterity — the males and the she ones too. The Senate, Mr. President, are
to be chosen two from each state. This, sir, puts the smaller states on a
footing with the larger, when the states have to pay according to their
numbers. New Hampshire does not pay a fourth part as much as Massachusetts. We
must, therefore, to support the dignity of the Union, pay four times as much as
New Hampshire, and almost fourteen times as much as Georgia, who, we see, are
equally represented with us.
The term, sir, for which the Senate is chosen, is a grievance. It is too
long to trust any body of men with power. It is impossible but lhat such men
will be tenacious of their places; they are to be raised to a lofty eminence,
and they will be loath to come down; and, in the course of six years, may, by
management, have it in their power to create officers, and obtain influence
enough to get in again, and so for life. When we felt the hand of British
oppression upon us, we were so Jealous of rulers, as to declare them eligible
but for three years in six. In this constitution we forget this principle. I,
sir, think that rulers ought, at short periods, to return to private life, that
they may know how to feel for and regard their fellow-creatures. In six years,
sir, and at a great distance, they will quite forget them; —
"For time and absence cure the purest love."
We are apt to forget our friends, except when we are conversing with them.
We now come, sir, to the 4th section. Let us see: the time, place, and
manner of holding elections, shall be prescribed in each state by the
legislature thereof. No objections to this: but, sir, after the flash of
lightning comes the peal of thunder. "But Congress may at any time
alter them," &c. Here it is, Mr. President: this is the article which
is to make Congress omnipotent Gentlemen say, this is the greatest beauty of
the Constitution; this is the greatest security for the people; this is the all
in all. Such language have I heard in this house; but, sir, I say, by this
power Congress may, if they please, order the election of federal
representatives for Massachusetts to be at Great Barrington or Machias; and at
such a time, too, as shall put it in the power of a few artful and designing
men to get themselves elected at their pleasure.
The 8th section, Mr. President, provides that Congress shall have power to
lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, excises, &c. We may, sir, be poor;
we may not be able to pay these taxes, &c.; we must have a little meal, and
a little meat, whereon to live, and save a little for a rainy day. But what
follows? Let us see. To raise and support armies. Here, sir, comes the key to
unlock this cabinet; here is the mean by which you will be made to pay taxes!
But will ye, my countrymen, submit to this? Suffer me, sir, to say a few words
on the fatal effects of standing armies, that bane of republican governments. A
standing army! Was it not with this that Caesar passed the Rubicon, and
laid prostrate the liberties of his country? By this have seven eighths of the
once free nations of the globe been brought into bondage! Time would fail me,
were I to attempt to recapitulate the havoc made in the world by standing
armies. Britain attempted to enforce her arbitrary measures by a standing army.
But, sir, we had patriots then who alarmed us of our danger; who showed us the
serpent, and bade us beware of it. Shall I name them? I fear I shall offend
your excellency, but I cannot avoid it. I must. We had a Hancock, an Adams, and
a Warren. Our sister states, too, produced a Randolph, a Washington, a Greene,
and a Montgomery, who led us in our way. Some of these have given up their
lives in defence of the liberties of their country; and my prayer to God is,
that, when this race of illustrious patriots shall have bid adieu to the world,
from their dust, as from the sacred ashes of the phoenix, another race may
arise, who shall take our posterity by the hand, and lead them on to trample on
the necks of those who shall dare to infringe on their liberties. Sir, had I a
voice like Jove, I would proclaim it throughout the world; and had I an arm
like Jove, I would hurl from the globe those villains that would dare attempt
to establish in our country a standing army. I wish, sir, that the gentlemen of
Boston would bring to their minds the fatal evening of the 5th of March, 1770,
when by standing troops they lost five of their fellow-townsmen. I will ask
them, What price can atone for their lives? What money can make satisfaction
for the loss? The same causes produce the same effects. An army may be raised
on pretence of helping a friend; or many pretences might be used. That night,
sir, ought to be a sufficient warning against standing armies, except in cases
of great emergency. They are too frequently used for no other purpose than
dragooning the people into slavery. But I beseech you, my countrymen, for the
sake of your posterity, to act like those worthy men who have stood forth in
defence of the rights of mankind, and show to the world that you will not
submit to tyranny. What occasion have we for standing armies? We fear no foe.
If one should come upon us, we have a militia, which is our bulwark. Let
Lexington witness that we have the means of defence among ourselves. If, during
the last winter, there was not much alacrity shown by the militia in turning
out, we must consider that they were going to fight their countrymen. Do you,
sir, suppose that, had a British army invaded us at that time, such supineness
would have been discovered? No, sir; to our enemies' dismay and discomfort,
they would have felt the contrary; but against deluded, infatuated men they did
not wish to exert their valor or their strength. Therefore, sir, I am utterly
opposed to a standing army in time of peace.
The paragraph that gives Congress power to suspend the writ of habeas
corpus claims a little attention. This is a great bulwark — a great
privilege indeed. We ought not, therefore, to give it up on any slight
pretence. Let us see: how long is it to be suspended? As long as rebellion or
invasion shall continue. This is exceeding loose. Why is not the time limited,
as is our Constitution? But, sir, its design would then be defeated. It was the
intent, and by it we shall give up one of our greatest privileges. Mr. N.
concluded by saying, he had much more to say, but, as the house were impatient,
he should sit down for the present, to give other gentlemen an opportunity to
Judge SUMNER, adverting to the pathetic apostrophe of the gentleman last
speaking, said, he could with as much sincerity apostrophize — O
Government! thou greatest good! thou best of blessings! with thee I wish to
live — with thee I wish to die! Thou art as necessary to the support of
the political body as meat and bread are to the natural body. The learned judge
then turned his attention to the proposition submitted by the president, and
said, he sincerely hoped that it would meet the approbation of the Convention,
as it appeared to him a remedy for all the difficulties which gentlemen, in the
course of the debates, had mentioned. He particularized the objections which
had been started, and showed that their removal was provided for in the
proposition; and concluded by observing, that the probability was very great,
that, if the amendments proposed were recommended by this Convention, they
would, on the meeting of the first Congress, be adopted by the general
Mr. WIDGERY said, he did not see the probability that these amendments would
be made, if we had authority to propose them. He considered, he said, that the
Convention did not meet for the purpose of recommending amendments, but to
adopt or reject the Constitution. He concluded by asking, whether it was
probable that those states who had already adopted the Constitution would be
likely to submit to amendments.
Afternoon. [When the Convention met, a short conversation ensued on
the time when the grand question should be taken. It was agreed that it should
not be until Tuesday. After this conversation subsided, another took place on
the division of the motion, in order that the question of ratifying might be
considered separately from the amendments; but nothing final was determined
Judge DANA advocated the proposition submitted by his excellency, the
president. It contained, he said, the amendments generally wished for, as they
were not of a local nature, but extended to every part of the Union. If they
were recommended to be adopted by this Convention, it was very probable that
two thirds of the Congress would concur in promising them; or that two thirds
of the legislatures of the Several states would apply for the call of a
convention to consider them, agreeably to the mode pointed out in the
Constitution; and said he did not think that gentlemen would wish to reject the
whole of the system, because some part of it did nut please them. He then went
into consideration of the advantages which would ensue, from its adoption, to
the United States, to the individual states, and to the several classes of
citizens, and concluded by representing, in a lively manner, the evils to the
whole continent, and to the Northern States in particular, which must be the
unavoidable attendants on the present system of general government.
Mr. RUSSELL rose, he said, with diffidence, to offer his sentiments on the
subject in debate; but he could not, he said, forbear to give his sentiments on
the advantage which he apprehended must result from the adoption of the pro
posed Constitution to this state, and to the United States, in the advancement
of their commerce. Mr. R. said, he believed it had always been the policy of
trading nations to secure to themselves the advantages of their carrying trade.
He observed how tenacious France, Holland, and England, were in this
particular, and how beneficial it had proved to them. He then went into an
accurate and interesting statement of the quantities of produce which were
exported from the several states, and showed the ability of the states to
furnish, from among themselves, shipping fully sufficient for the
transportation of this produce; which, he observed, if confined, by the general
government, to American vessels, — while the restriction would not
increase the rates of freightage to the Southern States, as the Northern and
Middle States could produce a surplusage of shipping, and a spirit of
competition would call forth their resources, — would greatly increase our
navigation; furnish us with a great nursery of seamen; give employment not only
to the mechanics, in constructing the vessels, and the trades dependent
thereon, but to the husbandmen, in the cutting down of trees for timber, and
transporting them to the places of building; increase the demand for the
products of the land, and for our beef, our pork, our butter, &c.; and give
such life and spirit to our commerce as would extend it to all the nations of
the world. These, he said, were some of the blessings he anticipated from the
adoption of the federal Constitution; and so convinced was he of its utility
and necessity, that, while he wished that, on the grand question being put,
there might not he one dissenting voice, if he was allowed, he would hold up
both hands in favor of it; and he concluded, if his left hand was unwilling to
be extended with his right, in this all-important decision, he would cut it
off, as unworthy of him, and lest it should infect his whole body.
Mr. PIERCE. Mr. President, the amendments proposed by your excellency are
very agreeable to my opinion, and I should wish to add several more, but will
mention but one; and that is, that the Senate should not continue in office
more than two years. But, sir, I think that, if the want of these amendments
were sufficient for me to vote against the Constitution, the addition, in the
manner proposed by your excellency, will not be sufficient for me to vote for
it, as it appears to me to be very uncertain whether they ever are a part of
Several gentlemen said a few words each, on the proposition of amendments,
which it was acceded to, by gentlemen opposed to the Constitution, was good,
but that it was not probable it would be interwoven in the Constitution.
Gentlemen on the other side said there was a great probability that it would,
from its nature, be also recommended by the several conventions which have not
SATURDAY, February 2. — The Hon. Mr.
STRONG went into a particular discussion of the several amendments recommended
in the proposition submitted by his excellency, each of which he considered
with much attention. He anticipated the good effect it must have in
conciliating the various sentiments of gentlemen on the subject, and expressed
his firm belief that, if it was recommended by the Convention, it would be
inserted in the Constitution.
Gen. THOMPSON said, we have no right to make amendments. It was not, he
said, the business we were sent for. He was glad, he said, that gentlemen were
now convinced it was not a perfect system, and that it wanted amendments. This,
he said, was different from the language they had formerly held. However, as to
the amendments, he could not say amen to them, but they might be voted for by
some men — he did not say Judases.
Mr. PARSONS, Col. ORNE, Mr. PHILLIPS, the Rev. Mr. NILES, and several other
gentlemen, spoke in favor of the proposition, as a conciliatory measure, and
the probability of the amendments being adopted. Mr. NASSON, Dr. TAYLOR, Mr.
THOMAS, (of Middleboro',) and others, though in sentiment with gentlemen on the
propriety of their being admitted into the Constitution, did no think it was
probable they would be inserted.
Before the Convention adjourned, Gen. Whitney moved that a committee,
consisting of two from each county, should be raised, to consider the
amendments, or any other that might be proposed, and report thereon. Hon. Mr.
Sedgwick seconded the motion.
Hon. Mr. DALTON. Mr. President, I am not opposed to the motion; but, sir,
that gentlemen may not again say, as has been the case this day, that the
gentlemen who advocate the measure of the proposition were now convinced that
amendments to the Constitution are indispensable, I, sir, in my place, say,
that I am willing to accept the Constitution as it is; and I am in favor of the
motion of proposing amendments, only as it is of a conciliating nature, and not
as a concession that amendments are necessary.
The motion was put, and carried unanimously. The following gentlemen were
then appointed on the said committee, viz.: —
Hon. Mr. Bowdoin, Mr. Southworth, Mr. Parsons, Hon Mr. Hutchinson —
Hon. Mr. Dana, Mr. Winn — Hon. Mr. Strong, Mr. Bodman — Hon. Mr.
Turner, Mr. Thomas, of Plymouth — Dr. Smith, Mr. Bourn — Hon. Mr.
Spooner, Mr. Bishop — Rev. Dr. Hemmenway, Mr. Barrell — Mr. May-hew,
Hon. Mr. Taylor, Hon. Mr. Sprague — Mr. Fox, Mr. Longfellow — Mr.
Sewall, Mr. Sylvester — Mr. Lusk, Hon. Mr. Sedgwick.
MONDAY, February 4, P. M. — Rev. Mr.
THACHER. Mr. President, while the different paragraphs of the proposed
Constitution have been debated, I have not troubled this honorable Convention
with any observations of my own upon the subject. Conscious that there were men
of deeper political knowledge, and of better abilities, than myself, I
conceived it my duty to attend to their instruction, that, having heard with
attention, I might decide with integrity. I view the object before us as of
greater moment than ever was known within the memory of man, or that hath been
recorded by the historic page. Were we, Mr. President, this day to decide on
the lives and fortunes of a hundred of the best citizens of this commonwealth,
solemn would that province he; but much more interesting is the present
question; for, in this case, not a single city, not a single state, but a
continent, wide and extended, may be happy or wretched, according to our
judgment; and posterity will either bless us for laying the foundation of a
wise and equal government, or curse us for neglecting their important
interests, and for forging chains for them, when we disdained to wear them
ourselves. Having, therefore, as I trust, a full view of the magnitude of the
object, I hope I shall be pardoned if I offer my sentiments with freedom. I am
sensible of the prejudices that subsist against the profession to which I
belong; but yet, intrusted by my constituents with a solemn charge, I think
they have a right to expect from me the reasons why I shall finally consent to
ratify the proposed form of government.
There are three circumstances which deserve notice in considering the
subject. These are, the necessity that all the states have of some general bond
of union; the checks upon the government in the form offered for our adoption;
and, lastly, the particular disadvantages to which we shall be exposed if we
With respect to the first of these considerations, I trust there is no man
in his senses, but what will own, that the whole country hath largely felt the
want of energy in the general government. While we were at war with Britain,
common danger produced a common union; but, the cause being removed, the effect
ceased also. Nay, I do not know but we may safely add, that that union,
produced by uniform danger, was still inadequate to general and national
purposes. This commonwealth, with a generous, disinterested regard to the good
of the whole, appeared foremost in the day of danger. At the conclusion of the
late war, two thirds of the Continental army were from Massachusetts; their
provision and their clothing proceeded, also, in a great measure, from our
extraordinary exertions. The people did this in the fullest confidence, that,
when peace and tranquillity were restored, from the honor and justice of our
sister states our supernumerary expenses would be abundantly repaid. But, alas!
how much hath our expectation been blasted! The Congress, though willing, yet
had no power to do us justice. The small district of Rhode Island put a
negative upon the collected wisdom of the continent. This was done, not by
those who are the patrons of their present infamous system of paper currency,
but by that part of them who now call themselves honest men. We have made
exertions to stop the importation of foreign luxuries. Our brethren in the
neighboring states, from the view of local advantages, have taken occasion to
distress us upon the same account. They have encouraged where we have
prohibited; and by those iniquitous measures have made our virtue and public
spirit an additional cause of our calamity. Nor have our calamities been local;
they have reached to all parts of the United States, and have produced
dissipation and indigence at home, and contempt in foreign countries. On the
one hand, the haughty Spaniard has deprived us of the navigation of the River
Mississippi; on the other, the British nation are, by extravagant duties,
ruining our fishery. Our sailors are enslaved by the pirates of Algiers. Our
credit is reduced to so low an ebb, that American faith is a proverbial
expression for perfidy, as Punic faith was among the Romans. Thus have we
suffered every species of infamy abroad, and poverty at home. Such, in fact,
have been our calamities, as are enough to convince the most skeptical among us
of the want of a general government, in which energy and vigor should be
established, and at the same time, the rights and liberties of the people
A Constitution hath been presented to us, which was composed and planned by
men, who, in the council and field, have, in the most conspicuous offices,
served their country in the late war. It comes authenticated by a man who,
without any pecuniary reward, commanded our army, and who retired to a private
station with more pleasure than he left it. I do not say, Mr. President, that
this proves the form of government to be perfect, or that it is an unanswerable
argument that we should adopt it; but it is a reason why we should examine it
with care and caution, and that we ought not rashly and precipitately to reject
It will be objected, "There are more powers granted than are necessary,
and that it tends to destroy the local governments of the particular states,
and that it will eventually end either in aristocracy or despotism." To
answer the objection, two considerations should be taken into view — the
situation of the continent when a Constitution was formed, and the
impossibility of preserving a perfect sovereignty in the states, after
necessary powers were ceded to a supreme council of the whole. As to the first,
let us candidly examine the state of these republics from New Hampshire to
Georgia, and see how far vigor and energy were required. During the session of
the late Convention, Massachusetts was on the point of civil war. In Vermont
and New Hampshire, a great disaffection to their several governments prevailed
among the people. New York absolutely refused complying with the requisitions
of Congress. In Virginia, armed men endeavored to stop the courts of justice.
In South Carolina, creditors, by law, were obliged to receive barren and
useless land for contracts made in silver and gold. I pass over the instance of
Rhode Island: their conduct was notorious. In some states, laws were made
directly against the treaty of peace; in others, statutes were enacted which
clashed directly against any federal union — new lands sufficient to
discharge a great part of the Continental debt intruded upon by needy
adventurers — our frontier settlements exposed to the ravages of the
Indians — while the several states were unable or unwilling to relieve
their distress. Lay all those circumstances together, and you will find some
apology for those gentlemen who framed this Constitution. I trust you may
charitably assign other motives for their conduct, than a design to enslave
their country, and to parcel out for themselves its honors and emoluments.
The second consideration deserves its weight. Can these local governments be
sufficient to protect us from foreign enemies, or from disaffection at home?
Thirteen states are formed already. The same number are probably to be formed
from the lands not yet cultivated.
Of the former, yet smaller divisions may be made. The province of Maine hath
desired a separation; in time, a separation may take place. Who knows but what
the same may happen with respect to the old colony of Plymouth. Now, conceive
the number of states increased, their boundaries lessened, their interests
clashing; how easy a prey to a foreign power! how liable to war among
Let these arguments be weighed, and I dare say, sir, there is no man but
what would conceive that a coercive power over the whole, searching through all
parts of the system, is necessary to the preservation and happiness of the
But I readily grant all these reasons are not sufficient to surrender up the
essential liberties of the people. But do we surrender them? This Constitution
hath been compared, both by its defenders and opponents, to the British
government. In my view of it, there is a great difference. ln Britain, the
government is said to consist of three forms — monarchy, aristocracy, and
democracy; but, in fact, is but a few removes from absolute despotism. In the
crown is vested the power of adding at pleasure to the second branch; of
nominating to all the places of honor and emolument; of purchasing, by its
immense revenues, the suffrages of the House of Commons. The voice of the
people is but the echo of the king; and their boasted privileges lie entirely
at his mercy. In this proposed form, each branch of power is derived, either
mediately or directly, from the people. The lower house are elected directly by
those persons who are qualified to vote for the representatives of the state;
and, at the expiration of two years, become private men, unless their past
conduct entitles them to a future election. The Senate are elected by the
legislatures of the different states, and represent their sovereignty.
These powers are a check on each other, and can never be made either
dependent on one another, or independent of the people. The President is chosen
by the electors, who are appointed by the people. The high courts of justice
arise from the President and Senate; but yet the ministers of them can be
removed only upon bad behavior. The independence of judges is one of the most
favorable circumstances to public liberty; for when they become the slaves of a
venal, corrupt court, and the hirelings of tyranny, all property is precarious,
and personal security at an end; a man may be stripped of all his possessions,
and murdered, without the forms of law. Thus it appears that all parts of this
system arise ultimately from the people, and are still independent of each
other. There are other restraints, which, though not directly named in this
Constitution, yet are evidently discerned by every man of common observation.
These are, the government of the several states, and the spirit of liberty in
the people. Are we wronged or injured, our immediate representatives are those
to whom we ought to apply. Their power and influence will still be great. But
should any servants of the people, however eminent their stations, attempt to
enslave them, from this spirit of liberty such opposition would arise as would
bring them to the scaffold. But, admitting that there are dangers in accepting
this general government; yet are there not greater hazards in rejecting it?
Such is, Mr. President, the state of our affairs, that it is not in our power
to carve for ourselves. To avoid the greatest and choose the least of these two
evils, is all that we can do. What, then, will be the probable effects if this
Constitution be rejected? Have we not reason to fear new commotions in this
commonwealth? If they arise, can we be always certain that we shall be
furnished with a citizen, who, though possessed of extensive influence and the
greatest abilities, will make no other use of them than to quiet the tumult of
the people, to prevent civil war, and to restore the usual course of law and
justice? Are we not in danger from other states, when their interests or
prejudices are opposite to ours? And in such scenes of hostile contention, will
not some Sylla drench the land in blood, or some Cromwell or Caesar lay our
liberties prostrate at his feet? Will not foreign nations attack us in our
weak, divided condition, and once more render us provinces to some potentate of
Europe? Or will those powers to whom we are indebted lie quiet? They certainly
will not. They are now waiting for our decision; but when they once see that
our union is broken, and that we are determined to neglect them, they will
issue out letters of marque and reprisal, and entirely destroy our commerce.
If this system is broken up, will thirteen, or even nine states, ever agree
to another? And will Providence smile on a people who despise the privileges
put into their hands, and who neglect the plainest principles of justice and
honesty? After all, I by no means pretend that there is complete perfection in
this proposed Constitution. Like all other human productions, it hath its
faults. Provision is made for an amendment, whenever, from practice, it is
found oppressive. I would add, the proposals which his excellency hath
condescended to lay before this honorable Convention, respecting future
alterations, are real improvements for the better; and we have no reason to
doubt but they will be equally attended to by other states, as they lead to
common security and preservation.
Some of the gentlemen in the opposition have quoted ancient history, and
applied it to the question now under debate. They have shown us the danger
which arises from vesting magistrates with too much power. I wish they had gone
on to tell the whole truth. They might have shown how nearly licentiousness and
tyranny are allied; that they who will not be governed by reason must submit to
force: that demagogues, in all free governments, have at first held out an idea
of extreme liberty, and have seized on the rights of the people under the mask
of patriotism. They might have shown us a republic in which wisdom, virtue, and
order, were qualities for which a man was liable to banishment; and, on the
other hand, boasting, sedition, and falsehood, the sure road to honor and
I am sorry that it hath been hinted by some gentlemen in this house, as if
there were a combination of the rich, the learned, and those of liberal
professions, to establish and support an arbitrary form of government. Far be
it from me to retort so uncharitable and unchristian a suggestion. I doubt not
but the gentlemen who are of different sentiments from myself, are actuated by
the purest motives. Some of them I have the pleasure to be particularly
acquainted with, and can safely pronounce them to be men of virtue and honor.
They have, no doubt, a laudable concern for the liberties of their country; but
I would beg them to remember that extreme jealousy and suspicion may be as
fatal to freedom as security and negligence.
With respect to myself, I am conscious of no motive which guides me in this
great and solemn question, but what I could justify to my own heart, both on
the bed of death, and before the tribunal of omnipotence. I am a poor man; I
have the feelings of a poor man. If there are honors and emoluments in this
proposed Constitution, I shall, by my profession and circumstances in life, be
forever excluded from them. It is my wish and prayer, that, in the solemn
verdict we are very soon to pronounce, we may be directed to that measure which
will be for the glory, freedom, and felicity of my country.
I shall trouble this house no further than by joining sincerely in the wish
of the honorable gentleman from Tops-ham, that the people, in their day, may
know the things which belong to their peace.
[The committee appointed, on Saturday, to consider his excellency's
propositions, by their chairman, honorable Mr. Bowdoin, reported a few
alterations to the amendments submitted to them; and that, at the decision, the
committee consisted of twenty-four, fifteen of whom agreed in the report, seven
were against it, one was absent, and one declined giving his opinion. For the
report, see the form of ratification, at the end of the debates.]
Major LUSK concurred in the idea already thrown out in the debate, that,
although the insertion of the amendments in the Constitution was devoutly
wished, yet he did not see any reason to suppose they ever would be adopted.
Turning from the subject of amendments, the major entered largely into the
consideration of the 9th section, and, in the most pathetic and feeling manner,
described the miseries of the poor natives of Africa, who are kidnapped and
sold for slaves. With the brightest colors he painted their happiness and ease
on their native shores, and contrasted them with their wretched, miserable, and
unhappy condition, in a state of slavery. From this subject he passed to the
article dispensing with the qualification of a religious test, and concluded by
saying, that he shuddered at the idea that Roman Catholics, Papists, and Pagans
might be introduced into office, and that Popery and the Inquisition may be
established in America.
Rev. Mr. BACKUS. Mr. President, I have said very little in this honorable
Convention; but I now beg leave to offer a few thoughts upon some points in the
Constitution proposed to us, and I shall begin with the exclusion of any
religious test. Many appear to be much concerned about it; but nothing is more
evident, both in reason and the Holy Scriptures, than that religion is ever a
matter between God and individuals; and, therefore, no man or men can impose
any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord
Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and
then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of
Christianity, as an engine of state policy. And let the history of all nations
be searched from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of
religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world. And I
rejoice to see so many gentlemen, who are now giving in their rights of
conscience in this great and important matter. Some serious minds discover a
concern lest, if all religious tests should be excluded, the Congress would
hereafter establish Popery, or some other tyrannical way of worship. But it is
most certain that no such way of worship can be established without any
Much, sir, hath been said about the importation of slaves into this
country. I believe that, according to my capacity; no man abhors that wicked
practice more than I do; I would gladly make use of all lawful means towards
the abolishing of slavery in all parts of the land. But let us consider where
we are, and what we are doing. In the Articles of Confederation, no provision
was made to hinder the importation of slaves into any of these states; but a
door is now open hereafter to do it, and each state is at liberty now to
abolish slavery as soon as they please. And let us remember our former
connection with Great Britain, from whom many in our land think we ought not to
have revolted. How did they carry on the slave trade? I know that the bishop of
Gloucester, in an annual sermon in London, in February, 1776, endeavored to
justify their tyrannical claims of power over us by casting the reproach of the
slave trade upon the Americans. But at the close of the war, the bishop of
Chester, in an annual sermon, in February, 1783, ingenuously owned that their
nation is the most deeply involved in the guilt of that trade of any nation in
the world; and, also, that they have treated their slaves in the West Indies
worse than the French or Spaniards have done theirs. Thus slavery grows more
and more odious through the world; and, as an honorable gentleman said some
days ago, "Though we cannot say that slavery is struck with an apoplexy,
yet we may hope it will die with a consumption." And a main source, sir,
of that iniquity, hath been an abuse of the covenant of circumcision, which
gave the seed of Abraham to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, and to take
their houses, vineyards, and all their estates, as their own; and also to buy
and hold others as servants. And, as Christian privileges are greater than
those of the Hebrews were, many have imagined that they have a right to seize
upon the lands of the heathen, and to destroy or enslave them as far as they
could extend their power. And from thence the mystery of iniquity carried many
into the practice of making merchandise of slaves and souls of men. But all
ought to remember that, when God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his
seed, he let him know that they were not to take possession of that land until
the iniquity of the Amorites was full; and then they did it under the immediate
direction of Heaven; and they were as real executors of the judgment of God
upon those heathens as any person ever was an executor of a criminal justly
condemned. And in doing it they were not allowed to invade the lands of the
Edomites, who sprang from Esau, who was not only of the seed of Abraham, but
was born at the same birth with Israel; and yet they were not of that church.
Neither were Israel allowed to invade the lands of the Moabites, or of the
children of Ammon, who were of the seed of Lot. And no officer in Israel had
any legislative power, but such as were immediately inspired. Even David, the
man after God's own heart, had no legislative power, but only as he was
inspired from above; and he is expressly called a prophet in the New
Testament. And we are to remember that Abraham and his seed, for four hundred
years, had no warrant to admit any stranger into that church, but by buying of
him as a servant, with money. And it was a great privilege to be bought, and
adopted into a religious family for seven years, and then to have their
freedom. And that covenant was expressly repealed in various parts of the New
Testament, and particularly in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where it
is said, "Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body,
and in your spirit, which are God's." And again, "Circumcision is
nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping of the commandments of God.
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." Thus the
gospel sets all men upon a level, very contrary to the declaration of an
honorable gentleman in this house, that "the Bible was contrived for the
advantage of a particular order of men."
Another great advantage, sir, in the Constitution before us, is, its
excluding all titles of nobility, or hereditary succession of power, which hath
been a main engine of tyranny in foreign countries. But the American revolution
was built upon the principle that all men are born with an equal right to
liberty and property, and that officers have no right to any power but what is
fairly given them by the consent of the people. And in the Constitution now
proposed to us, a power is reserved to the people constitutionally to reduce
every officer again to a private station; and what a guard is this against
their invasion of others' rights, or abusing of their power! Such a door is now
opened for the establishment of righteous government, and for securing equal
liberty, as never was before opened to any people upon earth.
Dr. JARVIS. Mr. President, the objections which gentlemen have made to the
form of ratification which has been submitted by your excellency, have arisen
either from a doubt of our having a right to propose alterations, or from the
supposed improbability that any amendments recommended by this assembly will
ever become a part of the federal system If we have no right, sir, to propose
alterations, there remains nothing farther to be attempted, but to take the
final question, independent of the propositions for amendment. But I hope the
mere assertion of any one is not to operate as an argument in this assembly;
and we are not yet waiting for evidence to prove this very singular position,
which has been so often repeated. If we have a right, sir, to receive or reject
the Constitution, surely we have an equal authority to determine in what way
this right shall be exercised. It is a maxim, I believe, universally admitted,
that, in every instance, the manner in which every power is to be exerted, must
be in its nature discretionary with that body to which this power is delegated.
If this principle be just, sir, the ground which has been taken to oppose your
excellency's proposals, by disputing the right of recommending alterations,
must be necessarily relinquished. But gentlemen say, that they find nothing
about amendments in the commission under which they are acting, and they
conceive it neither agreeable to the resolution of the legislature, nor to the
sense of their constituents, that such a scheme should be adopted. Let us
inquire, then, sir, under what authority we are acting, and to what tribunal we
are amenable. Is it, then, sir, from the late federal Convention that we derive
that authority? Is it from Congress, or is it even from the legislature itself?
It is from neither, sir. We are convened in right of the people, as their
immediate representatives, to execute the most important trust which it is
possible to receive; we are accountable, in its execution, to God only, and our
own consciences. When gentlemen assert, then, that we have no right to
recommend alterations, they must have ideas strangely derogatory to the
influence and authority of our constituents, whom we have the honor of
representing. But should it be thought there was even a part of the people who
conceived we were thus restricted as to the forms of our proceedings, we are
still to recollect that their aggregate sense, on this point, can only be
determined by the voices of the majority in this Convention. The arguments of
those gentlemen who oppose any propositions of amendments, amount simply to
this, sir, — that the whole people of Massachusetts, assembled by their
delegates, on the most solemn and interesting occasion, are not at liberty to
resolve in what form this trust shall be executed. When we reflect seriously
and coolly on this point, I think, sir, we shall doubt no longer.
But, with respect to the prospect of these amendments, which are the subject
of discussion, being adopted by the first Congress which shall be appointed
under the new Constitution, I really think, sir, that it is not only far from
being improbable, but is in the highest degree likely. I have thought long and
often on the subject of amendments, and I know no way in which they would be
more likely to succeed If they were made conditional to our receiving the
proposed Constitution, it has appeared to me that a conditional amendment must
operate as a total rejection. As so many other states have received the
Constitution as it is, how can it be made to appear that they will not adhere
to their own resolutions? and should they remain as warmly and pertinaciously
attached to their opinion as we might be decidedly in favor of our own
sentiments, a long and painful interval might elapse before we should have the
benefit of a federal Constitution. I have never yet heard an argument to remove
this difficulty. Permit me to inquire of gentlemen what reason we have to
suppose that the states which have already adopted the Constitution will
suddenly consent to call a new convention at the request of this state. Are we
going to expose the commonwealth to the disagreeable alternative of being
forced into a compliance, or of remaining in opposition, provided nine others
should agree to receive it? As highly as some persons talk of the force of this
state, I believe we should be but a feeble power, unassisted by others, and
detached from the general benefit of a national government. We are told that,
under the blessing of Providence, we may do much. It is very true, sir, but it
must be proved that we shall be most likely to secure the approbation of Heaven
by refusing the proposed system.
It has been insinuated, sir, that these amendments have been artfully
introduced to lead to a decision which would not otherwise be had. Without
stopping to remark on the total want of candor in which such an idea has
arisen, let us inquire whether there is even the appearance of reason to
support this insinuation. The propositions are annexed, it is true, to the
ratification; but the assent is complete and absolute without them. It is not
possible it can be otherwise understood by a single member in this honorable
body. Gentlemen, therefore, when they make such an unjust observation, do no
honor to the sagacity of others. Supposing it possible that any single member
can be deceived by such a shallow artifice, permit me to do justice to the
purity of intention in which they have arisen, by observing, that I am
satisfied nothing can be farther from your excellency's intentions. The
propositions are general, and not local; they are not calculated for the
peculiar interest of this state, but, with indiscriminate justice, comprehend
the circumstances of the individual on the banks of the Savannah, as well as
the hardy and industrious husbandman on the margin of the Kennebeck. Why, then,
they should not be adopted, I confess I cannot conceive. There is one of them,
in a particular manner, which is very agreeable to me. When we talk of our
wanting a bill of rights to the new Constitution, the first article proposed
must remove every doubt on this head; as, by positively securing what is not
expressly delegated, it leaves nothing to the uncertainty of conjecture, or to
the refinements of implication, but is an explicit reservation of every right
and privilege which is nearest and most agreeable to the people. There has been
scarcely an instance where the influence of Massachusetts has not been felt and
acknowledged in the Union. In such a case, her voice will be heard, sir, and I
am fully in sentiment, if these amendments are not ingrafted on the
Constitution, it will be our own fault. The remaining seven states will have
our example before them; and there is a high probability that they, or at least
some of them, will take our conduct as a precedent, and will perhaps assume the
same mode of procedure. Should this be the fact, their influence will be united
to ours. But your delegates will, besides, be subjected to a perpetual
instruction, until its object is completed; and it will be always in the power
of the people and legislature to renew those instructions. But, if they should
fall, we must then acquiesce in the decision of the majority; and this is the
known condition on which all free governments depend.
Would gentlemen who are opposed to the Constitution wish to have no
amendments? This does not agree with their reiterated objections to the
proposed system. Or are they afraid, sir, that these propositions will secure a
larger majority? On such an occasion we cannot be too generally united. The
Constitution is a great political experiment. The amendments have a tendency to
remove many objections which have been made to it; and I hope, sir, when it is
adopted, they will be annexed to the ratification, in the manner which your
excellency has proposed.
TUESDAY, February 5. — Mr. AMES observed
that, at length, it is admitted that the Constitution, connected with the
amendments, is good. Almost every one, who has appeared against the
Constitution, has declared that he approves it, with the amendments. One
gentleman, who has been distinguished by his zealous opposition, has declared
that he would hold up both hands for it, if they could be adopted. I admire
this candid manner of discussing the subject, and will endeavor to treat it
myself with equal care and fairness. The only question which seems to labor is
this: the amendments are not a part of the Constitution, and there is nothing
better than a probability to trust to, that they will ever be adopted. The
nature of the debate is totally shifted, and the inquiry is now, not what the
Constitution is, but what degree of probability there is that the amendments
will hereafter be incorporated into it.
Before he proceeded to discuss this question, he wished to notice two
objections, which had been urged against his excellency's proposition —
that this Convention, being confined in their powers to reject or ratify the
Constitution as it is, have no right to propose amendments; and that the very
propositions imply the Constitution is not perfect, and amount to a confession
that it ought to be rejected. It is well that these objections were not made by
a lawyer: they would have been called quibbles, and he would have been accused
of having learned them at the bar. Have we no right to propose amendments? This
is the fullest representation of the people ever known, and if we may not
declare their opinion, and upon a point for which we have been elected, how
shall it ever be known? A majority may not fully approve the Constitution, and
yet they may think it unsafe to reject it; and they may fully approve his
excellency's propositions. What shall they say? That they accept, or reject,
and no more? — that they be embarrassed, perhaps, to do either. But let
them say the truth, that they accept it, in the hope that amendments will
obtain. We are chosen to consider the Constitution, and it is clearly incident
to our appointment to declare the result of our deliberations. This very mode
of obtaining amendments is pointed out in the Constitution itself. How can it
be said that we have no right to propose them? If, however, there was any
irregularity in this proceeding, the General Court would not delay to conform
If it is insisted that the Constitution is admitted to be imperfect, let
those objectors consider the nature of their own argument. Do they expect a
perfect constitution? Do they expect to find that perfection in government
which they well know is not to be found in nature? There is not a man who is
not more or less discontented with his condition in life, and who does not
experience a mixture of good and evil; and will he expect that a whole society
of men can exclude that imperfection which is the lot of every individual in
it? The truth is, we call that condition good and happy, which is so upon the
whole. But this Constitution may be good without any amendments, and yet the
amendments may be good; for they are not repugnant to the Constitution. It is a
gratification to observe how little we disagree in our sentiments; but it is
not my purpose to compare the amendments with the Constitution. Whatever
opinion may be formed of it by others, Mr. Ames professed to think it
comparatively perfect. There was not any government which he knew to subsist,
or which he had ever heard of, that would bear a comparison with the new
Constitution. Considered merely as a literary performance, it was an honor to
our country: legislators have at length condescended to speak the language of
philosophy; and if we adopt it, we shall demonstrate to the sneering world, who
deride liberty because they have lost it, that the principles of our government
are as free as the spirit of our people.
I repeat it, our debates have been profitable, because, upon every leading
point, we are at last agreed. Very few among us now deny that a federal
government is necessary to save us from ruin; that the Confederation is not
that government; and that the proposed Constitution, connected with the
amendments, is worthy of being adopted. The question recurs, Will the
amendments prevail, and become part of the system? In order to obtain such a
system as the Constitution and the amendments, there are but three ways of
proceeding — to reject the whole, and begin anew; to adopt this plan upon
condition that the amendments be inserted into it; or to adopt his excellency's
Those who propose to reject the whole, are bound to show that we shall
possess some advantage in forming a system which we do not enjoy at present, or
that some obstacles will be removed which impede us now. But will that be the
case? Shall we adopt another constitution with more unanimity than we expect to
find in this Convention? Do gentlemen so soon forget their own arguments? We
have been told that the new Constitution will be rebellion against the
Confederation; that the interests of the states are too dissimilar for a union;
and that Massachusetts can do without the union, and is a match for all the
world. We have been warned of the tendency of all power towards tyranny, and of
the danger of trusting Congress with the power of the purse and of the sword;
that the system is not perfect; there is no religious test, and slavery is not
abolished. Now, sir, if we reject the Constitution, and, after two or three
years' exertion, another constitution should be submitted to another convention
of Massachusetts, shall we escape the opposition which is made in this
assembly? Will not the same objections then apply with equal force to another
system? Or do gentlemen expect that a constitution may be formed which will not
be liable to those objections? Do they expect one which will not annul the
Confederation, or that the persons and properties of the people shall not be
included in the compact, and that we shall hear no more about armies and taxes?
But suppose that it was so framed, who is there, even amongst the objectors,
who would give his vote for so paltry a system? If we reject, we are exposed to
the risk of having no constitution, of being torn with factions, and at last
divided into distinct confederacies.
If we accept upon condition, shall we have a right to send members to
the new Congress? We shall not; and, of course, this state would lose its voice
and influence in obtaining the adoption of the amendments. This is too absurd
to need any further discussion.
But, in objection to your excellency's propositions, it is said that it is
no more than probable that they will be agreed to by the other states. I ask,
What is any future thing that we devise more than probable? What more is
another constitution? All agree that we must have one; and it is easy to
perceive that such a one as the majority of the people approve must be
submitted to by this state; for what right have an eighth or tenth part of the
people to dictate a government for the whole? It comes to this point,
therefore: Is any method more likely to induce the people of the United States
to concur with Massachusetts, than that proposed by your excellency? If it is
answered that there is none, as I think it must be, then the objection, that
the chance of obtaining the amendments is no more than probable, will come to
the ground, and it will appear that, of all chances, we depend upon that which
is the safest. For when will the voice of Massachusetts have so powerful an
influence as at present? There is not any government now to counteract or awe
the people. The attention of the people is excited from one end of the states
to the other, and they will watch and control the conduct of their members in
Congress. Such amendments as afford better security to liberty will be
supported by the people. There will be a Congress in existence to collect their
sentiments, and to pursue the objects of their wishes. Nine states may insert
amendments into the Constitution; but if we reject it, the vote must be
unanimous. Our state, in that case, would lose the advantage of having
representatives according to numbers, which is allowed by the Constitution.
Upon a few points, and those not of a local nature, unanimity may be expected;
but, in discussing a whole Constitution, in which the very amendments, that, it
is said, will not be agreed to by the states, are to be inserted, unanimity
will be almost a miracle. Either the amendments will be agreed to by the Union,
or they will not. If it is admitted that they will be agreed to, there is an
end of the objection to your excellency's propositions, and we ought to be
unanimous for the Constitution. If it is said that they will not be agreed to,
then it must be because they are not approved by the United States, or at least
nine of them. Why shall we reject the Constitution, then, for the sole purpose
of obtaining that unanimous vote of thirteen states, which, it is confidently
said, it is impossible we ever shall obtain from nine only? An object which is
impossible is out of the question. The argument that the amendments will not
prevail, is not only without force, but directly against those who use it,
unless they admit that we have no need of a government, or assert that, by
ripping up the foundations of the compact, upon which we now stand, and setting
the whole Constitution afloat, and introducing an infinity of new subjects of
controversy, we pursue the best method to secure the entire unanimity of
But shall we put every thing that we hold precious to the hazard by
rejecting this Constitution? We have great advantages by it in respect of
navigation; and it is the general interest of the states that we should have
them. But if we reject it, what security have we that we shall obtain them a
second time, against the local interests and prejudices of the other states?
Who is there, that really loves liberty, that will not tremble for its safety,
if the federal government should be dissolved. Can liberty be safe without
The period of our political dissolution is approaching. Anarchy and
uncertainty attend our future state. But this we know — that Liberty,
which is the soul of our existence, once fled, can return no more.
The Union is essential to our being as a nation. The pillars that prop it
are crumbling to powder. The Union is the vital sap that nourishes the tree. If
we reject the Constitution, — to use the language of the country, —
we girdle the tree, its leaves will wither, its branches drop off, and the
mouldering trunk will be torn down by the tempest. What security has this
single state against foreign enemies? Could we defend the mast country, which
the Britons so much desire? Can we protect our fisheries, or secure by treaties
a sale for the produce of our lands in foreign markets? Is there no loss, no
danger, by delay? In spite of our negligence and perverseness, are we to enjoy,
at all times, the privilege of forming a constitution, which no other nation
has ever enjoyed at all We approve our own form of state government, and seem
to think ourselves in safety under its protection. We talk as if there was no
danger in deciding wrong. But when the inundation comes, shall we stand on dry
land? The state government is a beautiful structure. It is situated, however,
upon the naked beach. The Union is the dike to fence out the flood. That dike
is broken and decayed; and, if we do not repair it, when the next spring tide
comes, we shall be buried in one common destruction.
Mr. BARRELL, (of York.) Awed in the presence of this august assembly;
conscious of my inability to express my mind fully on this important occasion;
and sensible how little I must appear in the eyes of those giants in rhetoric,
who have exhibited such a pompous display of declamation; without any of those
talents calculated to draw attention; without the pleasing eloquence of Cicero,
or the blaze of Demosthenian oratory, — I rise, sir, to discharge my duty
to my constituents, who, I know, expect something more from me than merely a
silent vote. With no pretensions to talents above the simple language adapted
to the line of my calling, — the plain husbandman, — I hope the
gentlemen who compose this honorable body will fully understand me when I
attempt to speak my mind of the federal Constitution as it now stands. I wish,
sir, to give my voice for its amendment before it can be salutary for our
acceptance; because, sir, notwithstanding the Wilsonian oratory, and all the
learned arguments I have seen written, notwithstanding the many labored
speeches I have heard in its defence, and after the best investigation I am
able to give this subject, — I fear it is pregnant with baneful effects,
although I may not live to feel them.
Because, sir, as it now stands, Congress will be vested with more extensive
powers than ever Great Britain exercised over us; too great, in my opinion, to
intrust with any class of men, let their talents or virtues he ever so
conspicuous, even though composed of such exalted, amiable characters as the
great Washington; for, while we consider them as men of like passions, the same
spontaneous, inherent thirst for power with ourselves, great and good as they
may be, when they enter upon this all-important charge, what security can we
have that they will continue so? And, were we sure they would continue the
faithful guardians of our liberties, and prevent any infringement on the
privileges of the people, what assurance can we have that such men will always
hold the reins of government — that their successors will be such? History
tells us Rome was happy under Augustus, though wretched under Nero, who could
have no greater power than Augustus; and yet this same Nero, when young in
government, could shed tears on signing a death-warrant, though afterwards he
became so callous to the tender feelings of humanity as to behold, with
pleasure, Rome in flames.
Because, sir, I think that six years is too long a term for any set of men
to be at the helm of government; for in that time they may get so firmly
rooted, and their influence be so great, as to continue themselves for life.
Because, sir, I am not certain we are able to support the additional expense
of such a government.
Because, sir, I think a Continental collector will not be so likely to do us
justice in collecting the taxes, as collectors of our own.
Because, sir, I think a frame of government on which all laws are founded,
should be so simple and explicit, that the most illiterate may understand it;
whereas this appears to me so obscure and ambiguous, that the most capacious
mind cannot fully comprehend it.
Because, sir, the duties of excise and impost, and to be taxed besides,
appear too great a sacrifice; and when we have given them up, what shall we
have to pay our debts, but a dry tax?
Because, sir, I do not think this will produce the efficient government we
are in pursuit of.
Because, sir, they fix their own salaries, without allowing any control.
And because, sir, I think such a government may be disagreeable to men with
the high notions of liberty we Americans have.
And, sir, I could wish this Constitution had not been, in some parts of the
continent, hurried on, like the driving of Jehu, very furiously; for such
important transactions should be without force, and with cool deliberation.
These, sir, were my objections, and those of my constituents, as they occur to
my memory; some of which have been removed, in the course of the debates, by
the ingenious reasonings of the speakers. I wish I could say the whole were.
But, after all, there are some yet remaining on my mind, enough to convince me,
excellent as this system is, in some respects it needs alterations; therefore I
think it becomes us, as wise men, as the faithful guardians of the people's
rights, and as we wish well to posterity, to propose such amendments as will
secure to us and ours that liberty without which life is a burden.
Thus, sir, have I ventured to deliver my sentiments, in which are involved
those of my constituents, on this important subject; cautiously avoiding every
thing like metaphysical reasoning, lest I should invade the prerogative of
those respectable gentlemen of the law, who have so copiously displayed their
talents on the occasion. But, sir, although you may perceive, by what I have
said, that this is not, in my view, the most perfect system I could wish, yet,
as I am possessed with an assurance that the proposed amendments will take
place; as I dread the fatal effects of anarchy; as I am convinced the
Confederation is essentially deficient, and that it will be more difficult to
amend that than to reform this; and as I think this Constitution, with
all its imperfections, is excellent, compared with that, and that it is
the best constitution we can now obtain; — as the greatest good I can do
my country at present, I could wish for an adjournment, that I might have an
opportunity to lay it before my constituents, with the arguments which have
been used in the debates, which have eased my mind, and I trust would have the
effect on theirs so as heartily to join me in ratifying the same. But, sir, if
I cannot be indulged on this desirable object, I am almost tempted to risk
their displeasure, and adopt it without their consent.
Dr. TAYLOR examined the observations of several gentlemen, who had said,
that, had the Constitution been so predicated as to require a bill of rights to
be annexed to it, it would have been the work of a year, and could not be
contained but in volumes. This, if true, he said, was an argument in favor of
one being annexed; but so far from its being the case, he believed any
gentleman in that Convention could form one in a few hours, as he might take
the bill of rights of Massachusetts for a guide. He concluded by objecting to
the amendments, because no assurance was given that they ever would become a
part of the system.
Mr. PARSONS demonstrated the impracticability of forming a bill, in a
national constitution, for securing individual rights, and showed the inutility
of the measure, from the ideas, that no power was given to Congress to infringe
on any one of the natural rights of the people by this Constitution; and,
should they attempt it without constitutional authority, the act would be a
nullity, and could not be enforced.
Several other gentlemen spoke in a desultory conversation on the amendments.
It was urged again and again, on one side, that it was uncertain whether they
ever would be interwoven in the Constitution, and that, therefore, they could
not vote for it, on that precarious condition. On the other side, the
importance of the opinion of Massachusetts, in other states, in determining on
great political questions, the general nature of the amendments proposed,
&c., were repeatedly urged in favor of their being a part of the
[A motion was made by Mr. DENCH, and seconded, "That, for the purpose
of informing the good people of this commonwealth of the principles of the
proposed federal Constitution. and the amendments offered by his excellency,
the president, and reported by the committee, and of uniting their opinions
respecting the same, this Convention do adjourn to a future day." After
debate, (which continued the best part of the day,) the question was put, and
was determined in the negative, 329 members being present, and 115 only voting
in the affirmative.]
WEDNESDAY, February 6. [The Hon. Mr. ADAMS
introduced some amendments, to be added to those reported by the committee;
but, they not meeting the approbation of those gentlemen whose minds they were
intended to ease, after they were debated a considerable time, the honorable
gentleman withdrew them.]
Rev. Mr. STILLMAN. Mr. President, I rise, with deference to gentlemen of
superior abilities, to give my opinion on the present all-important national
question, and the reasons on which it is founded — an opinion, the result
of the most serious deliberation.
Upon entering the Convention, it was my full determination to keep my mind
cool and open to conviction, that so I might profit by the discussion of this
interesting subject; and now, sir, return my sincere thanks to the gentlemen
who have taken opposite sides in the course of the debates. From both I have
received advantage — from one class in bringing forward a great variety of
objections; from the other class in answering them. Whatever my previous
opinion was, I now stand on firmer ground than ever respecting the pro posed
But my present situation, sir, is to me extremely affecting. To be called by
the voice of my fellow-citizens to give my vote for or against a constitution
of government that will involve the happiness or misery of millions of my
countrymen, is of so solemn a nature as to have occasioned the most painful
I have no interest to influence me to accept this Constitution of
government, distinct from the interest of my countrymen at large. We are all
embarked in one bottom, and must sink or swim together.
Besides, sir, Heaven has fixed me in a line of duty that precludes every
prospect of the honors and the emoluments of office. Let who will govern, I
must obey. Nor would I exchange the pulpit for the highest honors my country
can confer. I, too, have personal liberties to secure, as dear to me as to any
gentlemen in the Convention, and as numerous a family, probably, to engage my
attention; besides which, I stand here, with my very honorable colleagues, as a
representative of the citizens of this great metropolis, who have been pleased
to honor me with their confidence — an honor, in my view, unspeakably
greater than a peerage or a pension.
The absolute deficiency of the Articles of Confederation is allowed by all.
Nor have I seen any publication that places this subject in so convincing a
point of view as a letter written by his excellency, Governor Randolph,* which
has appeared in several of our newspapers; whom I the rather introduce, on this
occasion, because he was a delegate in the late federal Convention, refused to
sign the Constitution before us, and has been twice mentioned by gentlemen in
the opposition. His candor, apparent in the letter referred to, does him honor,
and merits the esteem of every candid mind. I declare, sir, I revere his
character, while I differ from him in opinion.
'' Before my departure for the (federal) Convention," says he, "I
believed that the Confederation was not so eminently defective as it had been
supposed. But after I had entered into a free conversation with those who were
best informed of the condition and interest of each state, — after I had
compared the intelligence derived from them with the properties that ought to
characterize the government of our Union, — I became persuaded that the
Confederation was destitute of every energy which a constitution of the
United States ought to possess." And after he had, in the most masterly
manner, proved its insufficiency, he adds, "But now, sir, permit me to
declare that, in my humble judgment, the powers by which alone the blessings of
a general government can be accomplished, cannot be interwoven in the
Confederation, without a change of its very essence; or, in other words,
that the Confederation must be thrown aside." Having stated his
objections to it, he proceeds thus: "My inference from these facts and
principles is, that the new powers must be deposited in a new body, growing out
of the consolidation of the Union, as far as the circumstances of the states
would allow." Thus fully and candidly does this gentleman insist on the
absolute necessity of a new constitution of general government, at the very
time that he objected to the present form; and concludes his letter with these
memorable words, which I most heartily wish may make a deep impression on the
mind of every gentleman in the opposition: "I hesitate not to say, that
the most fervent prayer of my soul is, the establishment of a firm, energetic
government; that the most inveterate curse that can befall us is a dissolution
of the Union; and that the present moment, if suffered to pass
unemployed, can NEVER be recalled. I shall therefore cling to the Union as the
rock of our salvation, and urge Virginia to finish the salutary work which she
hath begun. And if, after our best efforts for amendments, they cannot be
obtained, I scruple not to declare (notwithstanding the advantage the
declaration may give to the enemies of my proposal) that I will, as an
individual citizen, accept the Constitution."
I pause, sir, that every gentleman present may have time to indulge those
feelings which these excellent expressions must occasion. May that God who has
the hearts of all men under his control, inspire every member of this
Convention with a similar disposition! Then shall we lay aside every opposite
interest, and unite, as a band of brothers, in the ratification of this
Constitution of national government.
Then, sir, will your terms of conciliation be attended to with gratitude and
candor. Your excellency, depressed with bodily infirmity, and exercised with
severe pain, has stepped forth at the critical moment, and, from the
benevolence of your heart, presented us with a number of proposed amendments,
in order, if possible, to quiet the minds of the gentlemen in the opposition,
and bring us together in amity and peace — amendments which you, sir,
declare you do not think necessary, except for the sole purpose of uniting us
in a common and most important cause.
But what has been the consequence of your excellency's conciliatory
propositions? Jealousy — jealousy, sir, that there was a snake in the
grass, a secret intention to deceive. I shuddered at the ungenerous suggestion,
nor will I dwell a moment longer on the distressing idea. Be banished forever
the groundless suspicion of him whose name stands foremost in the list of
American patriots! Let love and harmony prevail!
The important hour is just arrived when the die will be cast, that will in a
great measure determine the fate of this commonwealth, and have a mighty
influence on the general interests of the Union; for, from the best information
I have been able to collect from gentlemen of observation and of undoubted
veracity, there is the greatest reason to fear that the rejection of this
Constitution will be followed with anarchy and confusion.
The Convention, I doubt not, will bear with me while I take a general view
of the Constitution before us.
From all that has been said on the subject of biennial elections, it is my
decided opinion that two years in the general government will not be in
proportion to one year in the local governments; because, in the former, the
objects of government will be great, numerous, and extensive; in the latter,
comparatively small and limited. The general government involves all the states
now in the Union — all such as shall in future accede to it — all
foreign nations with whom we are now, or hereafter shall be, in alliance —
an extensive and growing commerce — war and peace, &c.
It has been said that this is a stride towards septennial elections, or
perpetuity in office. I answer, the Constitution itself is to be the rule: that
declares that "representatives shall be chosen every second year by the
people of the several states." Elections, then, of representatives must be
every second year; nor can they be otherwise, without a direct violation of the
Constitution. The men who shall be wicked enough to do this, would not be
restrained, had the elections been annual; it being equally easy to violate the
Constitution in one case as in the other. Elections, indeed, ought to be so
frequent as to make the representatives feel they are dependent on and amenable
to the people. The difference, then, between annual and biennial elections is
small, and, in either case, will answer the end just mentioned.
The powers that are granted to Congress by this instrument are great and
extensive; but, sir, they are defined and limited, and, in my judgment,
sufficiently checked; which I shall prove before I sit down. These powers have
been the subject of long and ingenious debate. But the arguments that have been
made use of against delegating these powers to the general government prove too
much, being applicable to all delegated power; I mean the possible abuse of it.
The very term government implies a supreme controlling power somewhere;
a power to coerce, whenever coercion shall be necessary; of which necessity
government must be the judge. This is admitted; if so, the power may be abused.
Every gentleman must confess that we cannot give a power to do good, but it may
be abused to do evil. If a merchant commits the care of a ship and cargo to the
master, he may dispose of both, and appropriate the money to his own use. If we
raise a body of men, and put arms into their hands for our defence, they may
turn them against us and destroy us. All these things prove, however, that, in
order to guard as much as possible against the abuse of those powers we
delegate to government, there ought to be sufficient checks on them; every
precaution should be used to secure the liberties of the people on the one
hand, and not render government inefficient on the other. I believe, sir, such
security is provided in this Constitution: if not, no consideration shall
induce me to give my voice in its favor. But the people are secured by the
following circumstances: —
1st. All the offices in Congress are elective, not hereditary. The President
and senators are to be chosen by the interposition of the legislatures of the
several states, who are the representatives and guardians of the people, whose
honor and interest will lead them, in all human probability, to have good men
placed in the general government.
2d. The representatives in Congress are to be chosen, every second year, by
the people of the several states. Consequently, it lies with the people
themselves to say who shall represent them. It will, then, be their own fault
if they do not choose the best men in the commonwealth.
Who are Congress, then? They are ourselves; the men of our own choice, in
whom we can confide; whose interest is inseparably connected with our own. Why
is it, then, that gentlemen speak of Congress as some foreign body, as a set of
men who will seek every opportunity to enslave us? Such insinuations are
repugnant to the spirit of the Constitution.
But a worthy gentleman from Middleborough has told us, that, though they may
be good men when chosen, they may become corrupt. They may so; nor is it in the
power of angels or men to prevent it; but should this be the case, the
Constitution has made provisions for such an event. When it happens, we shall
know what method to adopt, in order to bring them to punishment. In all
governments where offices are elective, there ever has been, and there ever
will be, a competition of interests. They who are in office wish to keep in,
and they who are out, to get in; the probable consequences of which will be,
that they who are already in place will be attentive to the rights of the
people, because they know that they are dependent on them for a future
election, which can be secured by good behavior only. Besides, they who are out
of office will watch them who are in, with a most critical eye, in order to
discover and expose their malconduct, if guilty of any, that so they may step
into their places. Every gentleman knows the influence that a desire to obtain
a place, or the fear of losing it, hath on mankind. Mr. Borgh tells us, that,
towards the close of the seven years for which the representatives are chosen
in the British Parliament, they become exceedingly polite to the people. Why?
Because they know there is an approaching election depending. This competition
of interest, therefore, between those persons who are in and those who are out
of office, will ever form one important check to the abuse of power in our
3d. Every two years there will be a revolution in the general government in
favor of the people. At the expiration of the first two years, there will be a
new choice of representatives; at the expiration of the second two years, there
will be a new choice of President and representatives; and at the expiration of
the third term, making six years from the commencement of the Congress, there
will be a new choice of senators and representatives. We all know, sir, that
power thus frequently reverting to the people will prove a security to their
liberties, and a most important check to the power of the general government.
4th. Congress can make no laws that will oppress the people, which will not
equally involve themselves in the oppression.
What possible motive, then, can Congress have to abuse their power? Can any
man suppose that they will be so lost to their own interest as to abuse their
power, knowing, at the same time, that they equally involve themselves in the
difficulty? It is a most improbable supposition. This would be like a man's
cutting off his nose to spite his face. I place this, sir, among the securities
of the liberties of my fellow-citizens, and rejoice in it.
5th. Congress guaranty to every state in the Union a republican form of
government, and engage to protect them against all foreign and domestic
enemies; that is, as it hath been justly observed by the honorable gentleman
[Mr. Adams] near me, of known and tried abilities as a politician, each state
shall choose such republican form of government as they please, and Congress
solemnly engage themselves to protect it from every kind of violence, whether
of faction at home or enemies abroad. This is an admirable security of the
people at large, as well as of the several governments of the states;
consequently the general government cannot swallow up the local governments, as
some gentlemen have suggested. Their existence is dependent on each other, and
must stand or fall together. Should Congress ever attempt the destruction of
the particular legislatures, they would be in the same predicament with Samson,
who overthrew the house in which the Philistines were making sport at his
expense; them he killed, indeed, but he buried himself in the ruins.
6th. Another check in favor of the people is this — that the
Constitution provides for the impeachment, trial, and punishment of every
officer in Congress, who shall be guilty of malconduct. With such a prospect,
who will dare to abuse the powers vested in him by the people?
7th. Having thus considered several of the checks to the powers of Congress,
which are interwoven with the Constitution, we will now suppose the worst that
can take place in consequence of its adoption: I mean, that it shall be found
in some of its parts oppressive to the people; still we have this dernier
ressort — it may be amended. It is not, like the laws of the Medes and
Persians, immutable. The fifth article provides for amendments.
It has been said, it will be difficult, after its ratification, to procure
any alterations. By no means, sir, for this weighty reason — it is a
general government, and, as such, will have a general influence; all states in
the Union will feel the difficulty, and, feeling it, will readily concur in
adopting the method provided by the Constitution. And having once made the
trial, experience will teach us what amendments are necessary.
Viewing the Constitution in this light, I stand ready to give my vote for
it, without any amendments at all. Yet, if the amendments proposed by your
excellency will tend to conciliation, I readily admit them, not as a condition
of acceptance, but as a matter of recommendation only; knowing that blessed are
the peace-makers. I am ready, sir, to submit my life, my liberty, my family, my
property, and, as far as my vote will go, the interest of my constituents, to
this general government.
After all, if this Constitution was as perfect as the sacred volume is, it
would not secure the liberties of the people, unless they watch their own
liberties. Nothing written on paper will do this. It is therefore necessary
that the people should keep a watchful, not an over-jealous, eye on their
rulers; and that they should give all due encouragement to our colleges,
schools of learning, &c., so that knowledge may be diffused through every
part of our country. Ignorance and slavery, knowledge and freedom, are
inseparably connected. While Americans remain in their present enlightened
condition, and warmly attached to the cause of liberty, they cannot be
enslaved. Should the general government become so lost to all sense of honor
and the freedom of the people, as to attempt to enslave them, they who are the
descendants of a race of men who have dethroned kings, would make an American
Congress tremble, strip them of their public honors, and reduce them to the
lowest state of degradation.
Afternoon. — Hon. Mr. TURNER. Mr. President, being advanced in
life, and having endeavored, I hope, with a faithful attention, according to my
ability, to assist my country in their trying difficulties and dangers for more
than twenty years; and as, for three weeks past, my state of health has been
such as to render me unable to speak in this assembly, — I trust I shall
be heard with some indulgence, while I express a few sentiments at this solemn
crisis. I have been averse to the reception of this Constitution, while it was
considered merely in its original form; but since the honorable Convention have
pleased to agree to the recommendation of certain amendments, I acknowledge my
mind is reconciled. But even thus amended, I still see, or think I see, several
imperfections in it, and some which give me pain. Indeed, I never expect to see
a constitution free from imperfections; and, considering the great diversity of
local interests, views, and habits, — considering the unparalleled variety
of sentiments among the citizens of the United States, — I despair of
obtaining a more perfect constitution than this, at present. And a constitution
preferable to the Confederation must be obtained, and obtained soon, or we
shall be an undone people. In my judgment, there is a rational probability,
amoral certainty, that the proposed amendments will meet the approbation of the
several states in the Union. If there is any respect due to the hoary head of
Massachusetts, it will undoubtedly have its proper influence in this case. The
minds of gentlemen, throughout the nation, must be impressed with such a sense
of the necessity of all-important union, especially in our present
circumstances, as must strongly operate in favor of a concurrence. The proposed
amendments are of such a liberal, such a generous, and such a catholic nature
and complexion, — they are so congenial to the soul of every man who is
possessed of patriotic regard to the preservation of the just rights and
immunities of his country, as well as to the institution of a good and
necessary government, — that I think they must, they will, be universally
accepted. When, in connection with this confidence, I consider the deplorable
state of our navigation and commerce, and various branches of business thereon
dependent; the inglorious and provoking figure we make in the eyes of our
European creditors; the degree in which the landed interest is burdened and
depreciated; the tendency of depreciating paper, and tender acts, to destroy
mutual confidence, faith, and credit, to prevent the circulation of specie, and
to overspread the land with an inundation, a chaos of multiform injustice,
oppression, and knavery; when I consider what want of efficiency there is in
our government, as to obliging people seasonably to pay their dues to the
public, instead of spending their money in support of luxury and extravagance,
of consequence the inability of government to satisfy the just demands of its
creditors, and to do it in season, so as to prevent their suffering amazingly
by depreciation; in connection with my anxious desire that my ears may be no
longer perstringed, nor my heart pained, with the cries of the injured widow
and orphans; when I also consider that state of our finances which daily
exposes us to become a prey to the despotic humor even of an impotent invader,
— I find my self constrained to say, before this assembly, and before God,
that I think it my duty to give my vole in favor of this Constitution, with the
proposed amendments; and, unless some further light shall be thrown in my way
to influence my opinion, I shall conduct accordingly. I know not whether this
Convention will vote a ratification of this Constitution, or not. If they
should do it, and have the concurrence of the other states, may that God, who
has always, in a remarkable manner, watched over us and our fathers for good,
in all difficulties, dangers, and distresses, be pleased to command his
almighty blessing upon it, and make it instrumental of restoring justice,
honor, safety, support, and salvation, to a sinking land! But I hope it will be
considered, by persons of all orders, ranks, and ages, that, without the
prevalence of Christian piety and morals, the best republican constitution can
never save us from slavery and ruin. If vice is predominant, it is to be feared
we shall have rulers whose grand object will be (slyly evading the spirit of
the Constitution) to enrich and aggrandize themselves and their connections, to
the injury and oppression of the laborious part of the community; while it
follows, from the moral constitution of the Deity, that prevalent iniquity must
be the ruin of any people. The world of mankind have always, in general, been
enslaved and miserable, and always will be, until there is a greater prevalence
of Christian moral principles; nor have I any expectation of this, in any great
degree, unless some superior mode of education shall be adopted. It is
education which almost entirely forms the character, the freedom or slavery,
the happiness or misery, of the world. And if this Constitution shall be
adopted, I hope the Continental legislature will have the singular honor, the
indelible glory, of making it one of their first acts, in their first session,
most earnestly to recommend to the several states in the Union the institution
of such means of education as shall be adequate to the divine, patriotic
purpose of training up the children and youth at large in that solid learning,
and in those pious and moral principles, which are the support, the life and
soul, of republican government and liberty, of which a free constitution is the
body; for, as the body, without the spirit, is dead, so a free form of
government, without the animating principles of piety and virtue, is dead also,
being alone. May religion, with sanctity of morals, prevail and increase, that
the patriotic civilian and ruler may have the sublime, parental satisfaction of
eagerly embracing every opportunity of mitigating the rigors of government, in
proportion to that increase of morality which may render the people more
capable of being a law to themselves! How much more blessed this than to be
employed in fabricating constitutions of a higher tone, in obedience to
necessity, arising from an increase of turbulent vice and injustice in society!
I believe your excellency's patience will not be further exercised by hearing
the sound of my voice on the occasion, when I have said, May the United States
of America live before God! May they be enlightened, pious, virtuous, free, and
happy, to all generations!
Capt. SOUTHWORTH spoke a short time against the adoption of the
Constitution; but the worthy gentleman, from the indisposition of body, not
being able to complete his speech, we cannot give it to the public.
Mr. SYMMES. Mr. President: I hope, sir, the Convention will indulge me with
a few words, and I promise I will not detain them long. It may be known to your
excellency, that I have heretofore had the honor to address the Convention in
opposition to a certain paragraph in the Constitution. That fact is the sole
occasion of my craving a turn to be heard again.
Sir, it never was my opinion that we ought, entirely, to abandon this
Constitution. I thought it had great defects: and I still think it by no means
free from blemishes; but I ever expected the worst consequences to follow a
total rejection of it. I always intended to urge amendments, and was in hopes
that the wisdom of this assembly would devise a method to secure their
adoption. Therefore, when your excellency came forward, as well became your
high office, in the character of a mediator, a ray of hope shone in upon the
gloom that overspread my heart — of hope that we should still be united in
the grand decision.
Sir, a mortal hatred, a deadly opposition, can be deserved by no government
but the tyranny of hell, and perhaps a few similar forms on earth. A government
of that complexion, in the present enlightened age, could never enter the heart
of man; and if it could, and impudence enough were found to propose it, —
nay, if it should be accepted, — I affirm, sir, that in America it would
never operate a moment. I should glory in debating on my grounds for this
assertion; but who will dare to question the truth of it?
Mr. President, so ample have been the arguments drawn from our national
distress, the weakness of the present Confederation, the danger of instant
disunion, and perhaps some other topics not included in these, that a man must
be obstinate indeed, to say, at this period, that a new government is needless.
One is proposed. Shall we reject it totally, or shall we amend it? Let any man
recollect or peruse the debates in this assembly, and I venture to say, he
shall not be a moment, if he loves his country, in making his election. He
would contemplate the idea of rejection with horror and detestation. But, sir,
it has been alleged that the necessary amendments cannot be obtained in the way
your excellency has proposed. This matter has been largely debated. I beg a
moment to consider it. Our committee, sir, were pretty well agreed to the
amendments necessary to be made, and, in their report, it appears that these
amendments are equally beneficial to all the citizens of America There is
nothing local in them. Shall we, then, totally reject the Constitution, because
we are only morally certain that they will be adopted? Shall we choose certain
misery in one way, when we have the best human prospect of enjoying our most
sanguine wishes in another? God forbid!
But, sir, a great deal has been said about the amendments. Here again I
refer to the debates. Such has been said to have been the past prevalence of
the Northern States in Congress, the sameness of interest in a majority of the
states, and their necessary adhesion to each other, that I think there can be
no reasonable doubt of the success of any amendments proposed by Massachusetts.
Sir, we have, we do, and we shall, in a great measure, give birth to all
events, and hold the balance among the United States.
The honorable gentleman, my respected friend from Scituate, has so fully
entered into the expediency of ratifying the Constitution upon the basis of the
report, and so ably stated the unanswerable reasons he finds for giving his
sanction to it, notwithstanding his former different opinion, that I may
decently waive a task I could not half so well perform.
Upon the whole, Mr. President, approving the amendments, and firmly
believing that they will be adopted, I recall my former opposition, such as it
was, to this Constitution, and shall — especially as the amendments are a
standing instruction to our delegates until they are obtained — give it my
In so doing, I stand acquitted to my own conscience; I hope and trust I
shall to my constituents, and [laying his hand on his breast] I know I
shall before God.
The time agreed upon for taking the question being arrived, and the same
being called for from every quarter, —
JOHN HANCOCK, the PRESIDENT, rose, and addressed the honorable Convention as
Gentlemen, being now called upon to bring the subject under debate to a
decision, by bringing forward the question, I beg your indulgence to close the
business with a few words. I am happy that my health has been so far restored,
that I am rendered able to meet my fellow-citizens as represented in this
Convention. I should have considered it as one of the most distressing
misfortunes of my life to be deprived of giving my aid and support to a system
which, if amended (as I feel assured it will be) according to your proposals,
cannot fail to give the people of the United States a greater degree of
political freedom, and eventually as much national dignity, as falls to the lot
of any nation on earth. I have not, since I had the honor to be in this place,
said much on the important subject before us. All the ideas appertaining to the
system, as Well those which are against as for it, have been debated upon with
so much learning and ability, that the subject is quite exhausted.
But you will permit me, gentlemen, to close the whole with one or two
general observations. This I request, not expecting to throw any new light on
the subject, but because it may possibly prevent uneasiness and discordance
from taking place amongst us and amongst our constituents.
That a general system of government is indispensably necessary to save our
country from ruin, is agreed upon all sides. That the one now to be decided
upon has its defects, all agree; but when we consider the variety of interests,
and the different habits of the men it is intended for, it would be very
singular to have an entire union of sentiment respecting it. Were the people of
the United States to delegate the powers proposed to be given, to men who were
not dependent on them frequently for elections — to men whose interest,
either from rank or title, would differ from that of their fellow-citizens in
common — the task of delegating authority would be vastly more difficult;
but, as the matter now stands, the powers reserved by the people render them
secure, and, until they themselves become corrupt, they will always have
upright and able rulers. I give my assent to the Constitution, in full
confidence that the amendments proposed will soon become a part of the system.
These amendments being in no wise local, but calculated to give security and
ease alike to all the states, I think that all will agree to them.
Suffer me to add, that, let the question be decided as it may, there can be
no triumph on the one side or chagrin on the other. Should there be a great
division, every good man, every man who loves his country, will be so far from
exhibiting extraordinary marks of joy, that he will sincerely lament the want
of unanimity, and strenuously endeavor to cultivate a spirit of conciliation,
both in Convention and at home. The people of this commonwealth are a people of
great light — of great intelligence in public business. They know that we
have none of us an interest separate from theirs; that it must be our happiness
to conduce to theirs; and that we must all rise or fall together. They will
never, therefore, forsake the first principle of society — that of being
governed by the voice of the majority; and should it be that the proposed form
of government should be rejected, they will zealously attempt another. Should
it, by the vote now to be taken, be ratified, they will quietly acquiesce, and,
where they see a want of perfection in it, endeavor, in a constitutional way,
to have it amended.
The question now before you is such as no nation on earth, without the
limits of America, has ever had the privilege of deciding upon. As the Supreme
Ruler of the universe has seen fit to bestow upon us this glorious opportunity,
let us decide upon it; appealing to him for the rectitude of our intentions,
and in humble confidence that he will yet continue to bless and save our
The question being put, whether this Convention will accept of the report of
the committee, as follows, —
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
In Convention of the Delegates of the People of the Commonwealth of
The Convention, having impartially discussed and fully considered the
Constitution for the United States of America, reported to Congress by the
Convention of delegates from the United States of America, and submitted to us
by a resolution of the General Court of the said commonwealth, passed the
twenty-fifth day of October last past; and acknowledging, with grateful hearts,
the goodness of the Supreme Ruler of the universe in affording the people of
the United States, in the course of his providence, an opportunity,
deliberately and peaceably, without fraud or surprise, of entering into an
explicit and solemn compact with each other, by assenting to and ratifying a
new Constitution, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice,
insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the
general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their
posterity, DO, in the name and in behalf of the people of the commonwealth of
Massachusetts, assent to and ratify the said Constitution for the United States
And, as it is the opinion of this Convention, that certain amendments and
alterations in the said Constitution would remove the fears and quiet the
apprehensions of many of the good people of the commonwealth, and more
effectually guard against an undue administration of the federal government,
the Convention do therefore recommend that the following alterations and
provisions be introduced into the said Constitution: —
First. That it be explicitly declared, that all powers not expressly
delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several states, to
be by them exercised.
Secondly. That there shall be one representative to every thirty
thousand persons, according to the census mentioned in the Constitution, until
the whole number of representatives amounts to two hundred.
Thirdly. That Congress do not exercise the powers vested in them by
the 4th section of the 1st article, but in cases where a state shall neglect or
refuse to make the regulations therein mentioned, or shall make regulations
subversive of the rights of the people to a free and equal representation in
Congress, agreeably to the Constitution.
Fourthly. That Congress do not lay direct taxes, but when the moneys
arising from the impost and excise are insufficient for the public exigencies,
nor then, until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the states,
to assess, levy, and pay their respective proportion of such requisitions,
agreeably to the census fixed in the said Constitution, in such way and manner
as the legislatures of the states shall think best, and, in such case, if any
state shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion, pursuant to such
requisition, then Congress may assess and levy such state's proportion,
together with interest thereon, at the rate of six per cent. per annum, from
the time of payment prescribed in such requisitions.
Fifthly. That Congress erect no company with exclusive advantages of
Sixthly. That no person shall be tried for any crime, by which he may
incur an infamous punishment, or loss of life, until he be first indicted by a
grand jury, except in such cases as may arise in the government and regulation
of the land and naval forces.
Seventhly. The Supreme Judicial Federal Court shall have no
jurisdiction of causes between citizens of different states, unless the matter
in dispute, whether it concern the realty or personalty, be of the value of
three thousand dollars at the least; nor shall the federal judicial powers
extend to any action between citizens of different states, where the matter in
dispute, whether it concern the realty or personalty, is not of the value of
fifteen hundred dollars at the least.
Eighthly. In civil actions between citizens of different states,
every issue of fact, arising in actions at common law, shall be tried by a
jury, if the parties, or either of them, request it.
Ninthly. Congress shall at no time consent that any person holding an
office of trust or profit, under the United States, shall accept of a title of
nobility, or any other title or office, from any king, prince, or foreign
And the Convention do, in the name and in the behalf of the people of this
commonwealth, enjoin it upon their representatives in Congress, at all times,
until the alterations and provisions aforesaid have been considered, agreeably
to the 5th article of the said Constitution, to exert all their influence, and
use all reasonable and legal methods, to obtain a ratification of the said
alterations and provisions, in such manner as is provided in the said article.
And, that the United States, in Congress assembled, may have due notice of
the assent and ratification of the said Constitution by this Convention, it is
Resolved, That the assent and ratification aforesaid be engrossed on
parchment, together with the recommendation and injunction aforesaid, and with
this resolution; and that his excellency, JOHN HANCOCK, President, and the Hon.
WILLIAM CUSHING, Esq., Vice-President of this Convention, transmit the same,
countersigned by the Secretary of the Convention, under their hands and seals,
to the United States in Congress assembled.
The question was determined by yeas and nays, as follows: —
COUNTY OF SUFFOLK.
Boston -- His Ex. John Hancock, Yea.
Hon. James Bowdoin, Yea.
Hon. Samuel Adams, Yea.
Hon. William Phillips, Yea.
Hon. Caleb Davis, Yea.
Charles Jarvis, Esq., Yea.
John Coffin Jones, Esq., Yea.
John Winthrop, Esq., Yea.
Thomas Dawes, Jun., Yea.
Rev. Samuel Stillman, Yea.
Thomas Russell, Esq., Yea.
Christopher Gore, Esq., Yea.
Roxbury -- Hon. William Heath, Yea.
Hon. Increase Sumner, Yea.
Dorchester -- James Bowdoin, Jun., Yea.
Ebenezer Wales, Esq., Yea.
Milton -- Rev. Nathaniel Robbins, Yea.
Weymouth -- Hon. Cotton Tufts, Yea.
Hingham -- Hon. Benj. Lincoln, Yea.
Rev. Daniel Shute, Yea.
Braintree -- Hon. Richard Cranch, Yea.
Rev. Anthony Wibird, Yea.
Brookline -- Rev. Joseph Jackson, Yea.
Dedham -- Rev. Thomas Thacher, Yea.
Fisher Ames, Esq., Yea.
Needham -- Col. William M'lntosh, Yea.
Medfield -- John Baxter, Jun., Yea.
Stoughton -- Hon. Elijah Dunbar, Yea.
Capt. Jedediah Southworth, Nay.
Wrentham -- Mr. Thomas Man, Yea.
Mr. Nathan Comstock, Nay.
Walpole -- Mr. George Payson, Yea.
Sharon -- Mr. Benjamin Randall, Nay.
Franklin -- Hon. J. Fisher, Yea.
Medway -- M. Richardson, Jun., Nay.
Bellingham -- Rev. Noah Alden, Nay.
Chelsea -- Rev. Phillips Payson, Yea.
Foxboro' -- Mr. Ebenezer Warren, Yea.
Hull -- Mr. Thomas Jones, Yea.
Yeas, 34. Nays, 5.
COUNTY OF ESSEX.
Salem -- Richard Manning, Esq., Yea.
Edward Pulling, Esq., Yea.
Mr. William Gray, Jun., Yea.
Mr. Francis Cabot, Yea.
Danvers -- Hon. Is. Hutchinson, Nay.
Newbury -- Hon. Tristam Dalton, Yea.
Enos Sawyer, Esq., Yea.
E. March, Esq., Yea.
Newburyport -- Hon. Rufus King, Yea.
Hon. Benjamin Greenleaf, Yea.
Theophilus Parsons, Esq., Yea.
Hon. Jonathan Titcomb, Yea.
Beverly -- Hon. G. Cabot, Yea.
Mr. Joseph Wood, Yea.
Capt Israel Thorndike, Yea.
Ipswich -- Hon. Michael Farley, Yea.
J. Choate, Esq., Yea.
Daniel Noyes, Esq., Yea.
Col. Jonathan Cogswell, Yea.
Marblehead -- Isaac Mansfield, Yea.
J. Glover, Esq., Yea.
Hon. Azor Orne, Yea.
John Glover, Esq., Yea.
Gloucester -- Daniel Rodgers, Esq., Yea.
John Low, Esq, Yea.
Capt. W. Pearson, Yea.
Lynn and Lynnfield -- J. Carnes, Yea.
Capt John Burnham, Yea.
Andover -- Peter Osgood, Jun., Nay.
Dr. Thomas Kittridge, Nay.
William Symmes, Jun., Yea.
Rowley -- Capt Thomas Mighill, Nay.
Haverhill -- Bailey Bartlett, Esq., Yea.
Capt Nathaniel Marsh, Nay.
Topsfield -- Mr. Israel Clark, Yea.
Salisbury -- Dr. Samuel Nyre, Yea.
Mr. Enoch Jackman, Yea.
Amesbury -- Capt Benj. Lurvey, Yea.
Mr. Willis Patten, Yea.
Boxford -- Hon. Aaron Wood, Nay.
Bradford -- Daniel Thruston, Esq., Yea.
Methuen -- Capt. E. Carlton, Nay.
Wenham -- Mr. Jacob Herrick, Yea.
Manchester -- Mr. Simeon Miller, Yea.
Yeas, 38. Nays, 6.
COUNTY OF MIDDLESEX.
Cambridge -- Hon. Francis Dana, Yea.
Stephen Dana, Esq., Yea.
Charlestown -- Hon. N. Gorham, Yea.
Watertown -- Dr. Marshal Spring, Nay.
Woburn -- Capt. Timothy Winn, Nay.
Concord -- Hon. Joseph Hosmer, Yea.
Newtown -- Hon. A. Fuller, Yea.
Reading -- Mr. William Flint, Nay.
Mr. Peter Emerson, Nay.
Marlborough -- Mr. Jonas Morse, Nay.
Maj. Benjamin Sawin, Nay.
Billerica -- Wm. Thompson, Esq., Nay.
Framingham -- Capt. L. Buckminster, Yea.
Lexington -- Benj. Browne, Esq., Yea.
Chelmsford -- Maj. John Minot, Nay.
Sherbume -- Daniel Whitney, Esq., Yea.
Sudbury -- Capt. Asahel Wheeler, Yea.
Malden -- Capt. Benjamin Blaney, Yea.
Weston -- Capt. Abraham Bigelow, Yea.
Medford -- Maj. Gen. John Brooks, Yea.
Hopkinton -- Capt. Gilbert Dench, Yea.
Westford -- Mr. Jonathan Keep, Nay.
Stow -- Dr. Charles Whitman, Yea.
Groton -- Dr. Benjamin Morse, Nay.
Joseph Sheple, Esq., Nay.
Shirley -- Mr. Obadiah Sawtell, Nay.
Pepperell -- Mr. Daniel Fisk, Nay.
Waltham -- Leonard Williams, Esq., Yea.
Townsend -- Capt. Daniel Adams, Nay.
Dracut -- Hon. Joseph B. Varnum. Yea.
Bedford -- Capt. John Webber, Nay.
Holliston -- Capt. St. Chamberlain, Nay.
Acton and Carlisle -- Mr. A. Parlin, Nay.
Dunstable -- Hon. J. Pitts, Yea.
Lincoln -- Hon. E. Brooks, Yea.
Wilmington -- Capt. J. Harnden, Nay.
Tewksbury -- Mr. Newman Scarlet, Nay.
Littleton -- Mr. Samuel Reed, Nay.
Ashby -- Mr. Benjamin Adams, Nay.
Natick -- Maj. Hezekiah Broad, Nay.
Stoneham -- Capt. Jonathan Green, Nay.
East Sudbury -- Mr. Phi. Gleason, Nay.
Yeas, 17. Nays, 25.
COUNTY OF HAMPSHIRE.
Springfield -- Wm. Pynchon, Esq., Yea.
West Springfield -- Col. Benj. Ely, Nay.
Capt. John Williston, Nay.
Wilbraham -- Capt. Phin. Stebbins, Nay.
Northampton and Easthampton --
Hon. Caleb Strong, Yea.
Benjamin Sheldon, Yea.
Southampton -- Capt. L. Pomeroy, Yea.
Hadley -- Brig. Gen. Elisha Porter, Yea.
South Hadley -- Hon. N. Goodman, Yea.
Amherst -- Mr. Daniel Cooley, Nay.
Granby -- Mr. Benjamin Eastman, Nay.
Hatfield -- Hon. J. Hastings, Yea.
Whately -- Mr. Josiah Allis, Nay.
Williamsburg -- Mr. W. Bodman, Nay.
Westfield -- John Ingersoll, Esq., Yea.
Deerfield -- Mr. Samuel Field, Nay.
Greenfield -- Mr. Moses Bascum, Nay.
Shelburn -- Mr. Robert Wilson, Nay.
Conway -- Capt. Consider Arms, Nay.
Mr. Malachi Maynard, Nay.
Sunderland -- Capt. Z. Crocker, Nay.
Montague -- Mr. M. Severance, Nay.
Northfield -- Mr. Eben James, Yea.
Brimfield -- Abner Morgan, Esq., Yea.
South Brimfield -- Capt. A. Fisk, Nay.
Monson -- Mr. Phineas Merrick, Nay.
Pelham -- Mr. Adam Clark, Nay.
Greenwich -- Capt. N. Whitcomb, Nay.
Blandford -- Mr. Timothy Blair, Nay.
Palmer -- Mr. Aaron Merrick, Nay.
Granville -- Mr. John Hamilton, Nay.
Mr. Clark Cooley, Nay.
New Salem -- Mr. J. Chamberlin, Nay.
Belchertown -- Mr. Justus Dwight, Nay.
Coleraine -- Mr. Samuel Eddy, Nay.
Ware -- Mr. Isaac Pepper, Nay.
Warwick and Orange --
Capt. John Goldsborough, Nay.
Chester -- Capt. David Shepard, Yea.
Charlemont -- Mr. Jesse Reed, Yea.
Ashfield -- Mr. Ephraim Williams, Nay.
Worthington -- Nahum Eager, Esq., Yea.
Shutesbury -- Mr. Asa Powers, Nay.
Chesterfield -- Col. Benj. Bonney, Yea.
Southwick -- Capt. Silas Fowler, Nay.
Northwick -- Maj. T. J. Doglass, Yea.
Ludlow -- Mr. John Jennings, Nay.
Leverett -- Mr. Jonathan Hubbard, Nay.
West Hampton -- Mr. A. Fisher, Yea.
Cunningham and Plainfield --
Mr. Edmund Lazell, Yea.
Buckland -- Capt. T. Maxwell, Yea.
Long Meadows -- Mr. E. Colton, Yea.
Yeas, 33. Nays, 19.
COUNTY OF PLYMOUTH.
Plymouth -- Joshua Thomas, Esq., Yea.
Thomas Davis, Yea.
John Davis, Yea.
Scituate -- Hon. William Cushing, Yea.
Hon. Nathan Cushing, Yea.
Hon. Charles Turner, Esq., Yea.
Marshfield -- Rev. William Shaw, Yea.
Bridgewater -- D. Howard, Esq., Yea.
Mr. Hezekiah Hooper, Yea.
Capt. Elisha Mitchell, Yea.
Mr. Daniel Howard, Jun., Yea.
Middleboro' -- Rev. Isaac Backus, Yea.
Mr. Benjamin Thomas, Nay.
Isaac Thompson, Esq., Yea.
Mr. Isaac Soule, Nay.
Duxbury -- Hon. G. Partridge, Yea.
Rochester -- Mr. N. Hammond, Nay.
Mr. Abraham Holmes, Nay.
Plympton -- Capt. F. Shurtliff, Nay.
Mr. Elisha Bisbee, Jun., Nay.
Pembroke -- Capt. John Turner, Yea.
Mr. Josiah Smith, Yea.
Kingston -- W. Sever, Jun., Esq., Yea.
Hanover -- Hon. Joseph Cushing, Yea.
Abington -- Rev. Samuel Niles, Yea.
Halifax -- Mr. F. Waterman, Yea.
Wareham -- Col. Israel Fearing, Yea.
Yeas, 22. Nays, 6.
COUNTY OF BARNSTABLE.
Barnstable -- Shear. Browne, Esq., Yea.
Sandwich -- Dr. Thomas Smith, Nay.
Mr. Thomas Nye, Nay.
Yarmouth -- D. Thatcher, Esq., Yea.
Capt. Jonathan Howes, Yea.
Harwich -- Hon. Solomon Freeman, Yea.
Capt. Kimball Clark, Yea.
Wellfleet -- Rev. Levi Whitman, Yea.
Falmouth -- Capt. Joseph Palmer, Yea.
Yeas, 7. Nays, 2.
COUNTY OF BRISTOL.
Taunton -- James Williams, Esq., Yea.
Col. Nathaniel Leonard, Nay.
Mr. Aaron Pratt, Nay.
Rehoboth -- Capt. Phan. Bishop, Nay.
Maj. Frederick Brown, Nay.
William Windsor, Esq., Nay.
Swansey -- Mr. Christopher Mason, Nay.
Mr. David Brown, Nay.
Dartmouth -- Hon. Hol'r Slocum, Nay.
Mr. Melatiah Hathaway, Nay.
Norton -- Hon. Abraham White, Nay.
Attleboro' -- Hon. Elisha May, Yea.
Capt. Moses Wilmarth, Yea.
Dighton -- Col. Sylvester Richmond, Yea.
Hon. William Baylies, Yea.
Freetown -- Hon. Thomas Durfee, Yea.
Israel Washburn, Esq., Yea.
Easton -- Capt. Eben Tisdell, Nay.
Mansfield -- Capt. John Pratt, Nay.
New Bedford -- Hon. W. Spooner, Yea.
Rev. Samuel West, Yea.
Westport -- Mr. William Almy, Yea.
Yeas, 10. Nays, 12.
COUNTY OF YORK.
York -- Capt. Esaias Preble, Nay.
Nathaniel Barrell, Esq., Yea.
Kittery -- Mr. Mark Adams, Nay.
Mr. James Neal, Nay.
Wells -- Rev. Mr. Hemmenway, Yea.
Hon. Nathaniel Wells, Yea.
Berwick -- Dr. Nathaniel Low, Nay.
Mr. Richard F. Cutts, Nay.
Mr. Elijah Hays. Nay.
Pepperelboro' -- T. Cutts, Esq., Yea.
Lebanon -- Mr. T. M. Wentworth, Nay.
Sanford -- Maj. Samuel Nason, Nay.
Buxton -- Jacob Bradbury, Esq., Yea.
Fryeburg -- Mr. Moses Ames, Nay.
Coxhall -- Capt. John Low, Yea.
Shapleigh -- Mr. Jeremiah Emery, Nay.
Waterboro' -- Rev. Pel. Tingley, Nay.
Yeas, 6. Nays, 11.
COUNTY OF DUKES.
Edgartown -- Mr. Wm Mayhew, Yea.
Tisbury -- Mr. C. Dunham, Yea.
COUNTY OF WORCESTER.
Worcester -- Mr. David Bigelow, Nay.
Lancaster -- Hon. John Sprague, Yea.
Mendon -- Ed. Thompson, Esq., Nay.
Brookfield -- Mr. Daniel Forbes, Nay.
Mr. N. Jenks, Nay.
Oxford -- Capt. Jeremiah Learned, Nay.
Charlton -- Mr. Caleb Curtiss, Nay.
Mr. Ezra M'Intier, Nay.
Sutton -- Mr. David Harwood, Nay.
Hon. Amos Singletary, Nay.
Leicester -- Col. Samuel Denny, Nay.
Spencer -- Mr. James Hathun, Nay.
Rutland -- Mr. Asaph Sherman, Nay.
Paxton -- Mr. Abraham Smith, Nay.
Oakham -- Capt. Jonathan Bullard, Nay.
Barre -- Capt. John Black, Nay.
Hubbardston -- Capt. J. Woods, Nay.
New Braintree -- Capt. B. Joslyn, Nay.
Southboro' -- Capt. Seth Newton, Yea.
Westboro' -- Capt. S. Maynard, Nay.
Northboro' -- Mr. Art. Brigham, Nay.
Shrewsbury -- Capt. I. Harrington, Nay.
Lunenburg -- Capt. John Fuller, Nay.
Fitchburg -- Mr. Daniel Putman, Nay.
Uxbridge -- Dr. Samuel Willard, Nay.
Harvard -- Joshua Whitney, Esq., Nay.
Dudley -- Mr. Jonathan Day, Nay.
Bolton -- Hon. Samuel Baker, Yea.
Upton -- Capt. T. M. Baker, Nay.
Sturbridge -- Capt. Timothy Parker, Nay.
Leominster -- Maj. D. Wilder, Yea.
Hardwick -- Maj. M. Kinsley, Nay.
Holden -- Rev. Joseph Davi, Nay.
Western -- Mr. Mat. Patrick, Yea.
Douglass -- Hon. John Taylor, Nay.
Grafton -- Dr. Joseph Wood, Nay.
Petersham -- Jonathan Grout, Esq., Nay.
Capt. Samuel Peckham, Nay.
Royalston -- John Frye, Esq., Nay.
Westminster -- Mr. Stephen Holden, Nay.
Templeton -- Capt. J. Fletcher, Nay.
Princeton -- Mr. Timothy Fuller, Nay.
Ashburnham -- Mr. Jacob Willard, Nay.
Winchendon -- Mr. Moses Hale, Nay.
Northbridge -- Capt. J. Wood, Nay.
Ward -- Mr. Joseph Stone, Nay.
Athol -- Mr. Josiah Goddard, Yea.
Milford -- Mr. David Steams, Nay.
Sterling -- Mr. Ephraim Wilder, Yea.
Boylston -- Mr. Jonas Temple, Nay.
Yeas, 8. Nays, 43.
COUNTY OF CUMBERLAND.
Falmouth -- Daniel Isley, Esq., Nay.
John K. Smith, Esq., Yea.
Portland -- Mr. John Fox, Yea.
Capt. Joseph M'Lellen, Yea.
North Yarmouth -- D. Mitchell, Yea.
Samuel Merrill, Esq., Yea.
Scarboro' -- W. Thompson, Esq., Yea.
Brunswick -- Capt. John Dunlap, Yea.
Harpswell -- Capt. Isaac Snow, Yea.
Cape Elizabeth -- Mr. Joshua Dyer, Yea.
Gorham -- Mr. S. Longfellow, Jun, Nay.
New Gloucester -- Mr. Widgery, Nay.
Gray -- Rev. Samuel Perley, Yea.
Yeas, 10. Nays, 3.
COUNTY OF LINCOLN.
Pownalboro' -- Thomas Rice, Esq., Yea.
Mr. David Sylvester, Yea.
Georgetown -- Mr. N. Wyman, Yea.
Newcastle -- Mr. David Murray, Nay.
Woolwich -- Mr. David Gilmore, Yea.
Topsham -- Hon. S. Thompson, Nay.
Winslow -- Mr. Jonah Crosby, Nay.
Bowdoinham -- Mr. Zach. Beal, Nay.
Boothbay -- William M'Cobb, Esq., Yea.
Bristol -- William Jones, Esq., Nay.
Vassalboro' -- Capt. Samuel Grant, Yea.
Edgecomb -- Moses Davis, Esq., Yea.
Hallowell -- Capt. James Carr, Nay.
Thomaston -- David Fayles, Esq., Yea.
Bath -- Dummer Sewall, Esq., Yea.
Winthrop -- Mr. Joshua Bean, Nay.
Yeas, 9. Nays, 7.
COUNTY OF BERKSHIRE.
Sheffield and Mount Washington --
John Ashley, Jun., Esq., Yea.
Great Barrington -- Hon. E. Dwight, Yea.
Stockbridge -- Hon. T. Sedgwick, Yea.
Pittsfield -- Mr. Val. Rathburn, Nay.
Richmond -- Mr. Comstock Betts, Nay.
Lenox -- Mr. Lemuel Collins, Nay.
Lanesboro' -- Hon. Jona. Smith, Nay.
Williamstown -- Hon. T. J. Skinner, Yea.
Adams -- Capt. J. Pleroe, Nay.
Egremont -- Ephraim Fitch, Esq., Nay.
Becket -- Mr. Elisha Carpenter, Yea.
West Stockbridge -- Maj. T. Lusk, Nay.
Alford -- Mr. John Hulbert, Nay.
New Marlborough -- D. Taylor, Yea.
Tyringham -- Capt. E. Herrick, Nay.
Loudon -- Mr. Joshua Lawton, Nay.
Windsor -- Mr. Timothy Mason, Nay.
Partridgefield -- E. Peirce, Esq., Nay.
Hancock -- Mr. David Vaughan, Nay.
Lee -- Capt. Jesse Bradley, Nay.
Washington -- Mr. Zenas Noble, Nay.
Sandisfield -- Mr. J. Picket, Jun., Nay.
Yeas, 6. Nays, 16.
TOTAL. -- Yeas, 187. Nays, 168.
On the motion for ratifying being declared in the affirmative, by a majority
of nineteen, the
Hon. Mr. WHITE rose, and said that, notwithstanding he had opposed the
adoption of the Constitution, upon the idea that it would endanger the
liberties of his country, yet, as a majority had seen fit to adopt it, he
should use his utmost exertions to induce his constituents to live in peace
under and cheerfully submit to it.
He was followed by Mr. WIDGERY, who said, that he should return to his
constituents, and inform them that he had opposed the adoption of this
Constitution; but that he had been overruled, and that it had been carried by a
majority of wise and understanding men; that he should endeavor to sow the
seeds of union and peace among the people he represented; and that he hoped,
and believed, that no person would wish for, or suggest, the measure of a
PROTEST; for, said he, we must consider that this body
is as full a representation of the people as can be convened. — After
expressing his thanks for the civility which the inhabitants of this town have
shown to the Convention, and declaring, as his opinion, that they had not in
the least influenced the decision, he concluded by saying, that he should
support, as much as in him lay, the Constitution, and that he believed, as this
state had adopted it, that not only nine, but the whole thirteen, would come
into the measure.
Mr. WHITNEY said that, though he had been opposed to the Constitution, he
should support it as much as if he had voted for it.
Mr. COOLEY (Amherst) said, that he endeavored to govern himself by the
principles of reason; that he was directed to vote against the adoption of the
Constitution, and that, in so doing, he had not only complied with his
directions, but had acted according to the dictates of his own conscience; and
that, as it had been agreed to by a majority, he should endeavor to convince
his constituents of the propriety of its adoption.
Dr. TAYLOR also said, he had uniformly opposed the Constitution; that he
found himself fairly beaten, and expressed his determination to go home and
endeavor to infuse a spirit of harmony and love among the people.
Other gentlemen expressed their inclination to speak; but, it growing late,
the Convention adjourned to the next morning.
THURSDAY, February 7, 1788. — The
Convention met, when Major NASON, in a short address, intimated his
determination to support the Constitution, and to exert himself to influence
his constituents to do the same.
Mr RANDAL said, he had been uniformly opposed to the Constitution. He had,
he said, fought like a good soldier; but, as he was beaten, he should sit down
contented, hoping the minority may be disappointed in their fears, and that the
majority may reap the full fruition of the blessings they anticipate. In the
hope that the amendments recommended by his excellency, the president, will
take place, I shall, says he, go home and endeavor to satisfy those that have
honored me by their choice, so that we may all live in peace.
Major SWAIN declared, that the Constitution had had a fair trial, and that
there had not, to his knowledge, been any undue influence exercised to obtain
the vote in its favor; that many doubts which lay on his mind had been removed;
and that, although he was in the minority, he should support the Constitution
as cheerfully and as heartily as though he had voted on the other side of the
The Convention then passed the pay-roll, amounting to £4499 2 s.; and,
after unanimously passing votes of thanks to his excellency, the president, the
honorable the vice-president, and the reverend clergymen of the town of Boston,
who officiated as chaplains, for their services, it was voted, That,
when the business of the Convention shall be completed, the members will
proceed to the state-house to proclaim the ratification, and to take an
affectionate leave of each other. An invitation from a number of the
inhabitants of Boston, requesting the members of the Convention to take
refreshment at the senate-chamber, when the ratification of the Constitution
should be declared, was read, and thereon voted, That the thanks of the
Convention be given to the inhabitants of Boston for their polite invitation,
and that the Convention will attend, as requested.
The business being finished, the Convention proceeded to the state-house,
when the ratification was proclaimed by Joseph Henderson, Esq., high sheriff of
the county of Suffolk; after which, the Convention was dissolved
* See Vol. I. p. 482.