Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention
Robert Yates, Luther Martin (1787; kept secret until 1838)
(You can download this book for FREE, in various formats, from Archive.org)
Chief Justice Yates, though often solicited, refused during his life to permit his notes of those debates to be published, not only because they were originally not written for the public eye, but because he conceived himself under honorable obligations to withhold their publication. These notes, after his death, fell into the hands of his widow, who disposed of them, and they are thus become public. (333n.)
[From the Editor's preface:]
The historians of free nations ought not to be less attentive to collect whatever may throw light on the origin of their government, on the principles which have guided their legislators, and on the seeds of disease from which human prudence has never been able to guard entirely human institutions. (v)
We possess no other testimony concerning the secret proceedings of the federal convention. (vii)
[From The Genuine Information, delivered to the Legislature of the State of Maryland, relative to the Proceedings of the General Convention, held at Philadelphia in 1787, by Luther Martin, Esquire, Attorney-General of Maryland, and one of the delegates in the said Convention:]
Some came to the convention under the former appointment, authorizing the meeting of delegates merely to regulate trade. Those of Delaware were expressly instructed to agree to no system, which should take away from the States that equality of suffrage secured by the original articles of confederation. (4)
But, Sir, the favorers of monarchy, and those who wished the total abolition of State governments, well knowing, that a government founded on truly federal principles, the basis of which were the thirteen State governments, preserved in full force and energy, would be destructive of their views; and knowing they were too weak in numbers openly to bring forward their system; conscious also that the people of America would reject it if proposed to them,joined their interest with that party, who wished a system giving particular States the power and influence over the others, procuring in return mutual sacrifices from them, in giving the government great and undefined powers as to its legislative and executive; well knowing, that, by departing from a federal system, they paved the way for their favorite object, the destruction of the State governments. (15)
In fine, Sir, all these threats were treated with contempt, and they were told, that we apprehended but one reason to prevent the States meeting again in convention; that, when they discovered the part this convention had acted, and how much its members were abusing the trust reposed in them, the States would never trust another convention. (26)
When it was found, that nothing could induce us to yield to the inequality in both branches, they at length proposed, by way of compromise, if we would accede to their wishes as to the first branch, they would agree to the equal representation in the second. To this it was answered, that there was no merit in the proposal; it was only consenting, after they had struggled to put both their feet on our necks, to take one of them off, provided we would consent to let them keep the other on; when they knew, at the same time, that they could not put one foot on our necks, unless we would consent to it; and that, by being permitted to keep on that one foot, they should afterwards be able to place the other foot on whenever they pleased.
They were also called on, to inform us what security they could give us, should we agree to this compromise, that they would abide by the plan of government formed upon it, any longer than it suited their interests, or they found it expedient. "The States have a right to an equality of representation. This is secured to us by our present articles of confederation; we are possession of this right; it is now to be torn from us. What security can you give us, that, when you get the power the proposed system will give you, when you have men and money, that you will not force from the States that equality of suffrage in the second branch, which you now deny to be their right, and only give up from absolute necessity? Will you tell us we ought to trust you, because you now enter into a solemn compact with us? This you have done before, and now treat with the utmost contempt." (28-9)
Before the adjournment, I moved for liberty to be given to the different members to take correct copies of the propositions, to which the convention had then agreed, in order that, during the recess of the convention, we might have an opportunity of considering them, and, if it should be thought that any alterations or amendments were necessary, that we might be prepared, against the convention met, to bring them forward for discussion. But, Sir, the same spirit, which caused our doors to be shut, our proceedings to be kept secret, our journals to be locked up, and every avenue, as far as possible, to be shut to public information, prevailed also in this case; and the proposal, so reasonable and necessary, was rejected by a majority of the convention; thereby precluding even the members themselves from the necessary means of information and deliberation on the important business in which they were engaged. (32)
It was urged, that the government we were forming was not in reality a federal, but a national government; not founded on the principles of the preservation, but the abolition or consolidation of all State governments; that we appeared totally to have forgot the business for which we were sent, and the situation of the country for which we were preparing our system; that we had not been sent to form a government over the inhabitants of America, considered as individuals; that as individuals, they were all subject to their respective State governments, which governments would still remain, though the federal government should be dissolved; that the system of government we were intrusted to prepare, was a government over these thirteen States. (34-5)
In this State it is provided by its constitution, that the representatives in Congress shall be chosen annually, shall be paid by the State, and shall be subject to recall even within the year; so cautiously has our constitution guarded against an abuse of the trust reposed in our representatives in the federal government; whereas, by the third and sixth section of the first article of this new system, the senators are to be chosen for six years, instead of being chosen annually; instead of being paid by their States, who send them, they, in conjunction with the other branch, are to pay themselves out of the treasury of the United States; and are not liable to be recalled during the period for which they are chosen. Thus, Sir, for six years the senators are rendered totally and absolutely independent of their States, of whom they ought to be the representatives, without any bond or tie between them. During that time, they may join in measures ruinous and destructive to their States, even such as should totally annihilate their State governments, and their States cannot recall them, nor exercise any control over them.
Another consideration, Mr. Speaker, it was thought ought to have great weight, to prove that the smaller States cannot depend on the Senate for the preservation of their rights, either against large and ambitious States, or against an ambitious and aspiring President. The Senate, Sir, is so constituted, that they are not only to compose a privy council for the President; hence, it will be necessary, that they should be, in a great measure, a permanent body, constantly residing at the seat of government. Seven years are esteemed for the life of a man; it can hardly be supposed, that a senator, especially from the States remote from the seat of empire, will accept of an appointment which must estrange him for six years from his State, without giving up, to a great degree, his prospects in his own State. If he has a family, he will take his family with him to the place where the government shall be fixed; that will become his home, and there is every reason to expect, that his future views and prospects will centre in the favors and emoluments of the general government. . . . If he places his future prospects in the favors and emoluments of the general government, he will become the dependent and creature of the President. (36-8)
By the fourth section of the first article, it is expressly provided, that the Congress shall have a power to make and alter all regulations concerning the time and manner of holding elections for senators; a provision expressly looking forward to, and, I have no doubt, designed for, the utter extinction and abolition of all State governments. (38-9)
Nay, so far were the friends of the system from pretending that they meant it, or considered it as a federal system, that on the question being proposed, "that a union of the States, merely federal, ought to be the sole object of the exercise of the powers vested in the convention," it was negatived by a majority of the members, and it was resolved "that a national government ought to be formed." Afterwards the word "national" was struck out by them, because they thought the word might tend to alarm; and although, now, they who advocate the system pretend to call themselves federalists, in convention the distinction was quite the reverse; those who opposed the system were there considered and styled the federal party, whose who advocated it, the antifederal. (39)
It was urged, that no principle could justify taking slaves into computation in apportioning the number of representatives a State should have in the government. That it involved the absurdity of increasing the power of a State in making laws for freemen in proportion as that State violated the rights of freedom. (42)
By the power to lay excises (a power very odious in its nature, since it authorizes officers to go into your houses, your kitchens, your cellars, and to examine into your private concerns), the Congress may impose duties on every article of use or consumptionon the food that we eat, on the liquors we drink, on the clothes that we wear, the glass which enlightens our houses, or the hearths necessary for our warmth and comfort. By the power to lay and collect taxes, they may proceed to direct taxation on every individual, either by a capitation tax on their heads, or an assessment on their property. By this part of the section, therefore, the government has power to lay what duties they please on goods imported; to lay what duties they please, afterwards, on whatever we use or consume; to impose stamp duties to what amount they please, and in whatever case they please; afterwards to impose on the people direct taxes, by capitation tax, or by assessment, to what amount they choose; and thus to sluice them at every vein, as long as they have a drop of blood, without any control, limitation, or restraint; while all the officers for collecting these taxes, stamp duties, imposts and excises, are to be appointed by the general government, under its directions, not accountable to the States. (53)
I brought in a proposition, on which a vote of the convention was taken. The proposition was as follows: "And whenever the legislature of the United States shall find it necessary that revenue should be raised by direct taxation, having apportioned the same by the above rule, requisitions shall be made of the respective States to pay into the continental treasury their respective quotas, within a time in the said requisition to be specified; and in case of any of the States failing to comply with such requisition, then, and then only, to have power to devise and pass acts directing the mode and authorizing the collection of the same." Had this proposition been acceded to, the dangerous and oppressive power in the general government, of imposing direct taxes on the inhabitants, which it now enjoys in all cases, would have been only vested in it in case of the non-compliance of a State, as a punishment for its delinquency, and would have ceased the moment that the State complied with the requisition.
But the proposition was rejected by a majority, consistently with their aim and desire of increasing the power of the general government, as far as possible, and destroying the power and influence of the States. (54-5)
This plan of government, instead of guarding against a standing army, that engine of arbitrary power, which has so often and so successfully been used for the subversion of freedom, has in its formation given it an express and constitutional sanction, and hath provided for its introduction . . . it being their determination, that the power of Congress to keep up a standing army, even in peace, should only be restrained by their will and pleasure. (58)
It was thought, that not more than a certain part of the militia of any one State ought to be obliged to march out of the same, or be employed out of the same, at any one time, without the consent of the legislature of such State. This amendment I endeavoured to obtain; but it met with the same fate which attended almost every attempt to limit the powers given to the general government, and constitutionally to guard against their abuse; it was not adopted. (58-9)
The design of this clause is to prevent the general government from prohibiting the importation of slaves; but the same reasons which caused them to strike out the word national, and not admit the word stamps, influenced them here to guard against the word slaves. They anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which might be odious in the ears of Americans, although they were willing to admit into their system those things which the expressions signified. (62)
It must, therefore, appear to the world absurd and disgraceful to the last degree, that we should except from the exercise of that power, the only branch of commerce which is unjustifiable in its nature, and contrary to the rights of mankind; that, on the contrary, we ought rather to prohibit expressly in our constitution, the further importation of slaves; and to authorize the general government, from time to time, to make such regulations as should be thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of slavery, and the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the States. That slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to tyranny and oppression. (65)
You will perceive, Sire, not only that the general government is prohibited from interfering in the slave-trade before the year eighteen hundred and eight, but that there is no provision in the constitution that it shall afterwards be prohibited, nor any security that such prohibition will ever take place; and I think there is great reason to believe, that, if the importation of slaves is permitted until the year eighteen hundred and eight, it will not be prohibited afterwards. (66)
The power given to the President, of granting reprieves and pardons, was also thought extremely dangerous, and as such opposed. The President thereby has the power of pardoning those who are guilty of treason, as well as of other offences; it was said, that no treason was so likely to take place as that in which the President himself might be engagedthe attempt to assume to himself powers not given by the constitution, and establish himself in regal authority; in which attempt a provision is made for him to secure from punishment the creatures of his ambition, the associates and abettors of his treasonable practices, by granting them pardons, should they be defeated in their attempts to subvert the Constitution. (74-5)
By the principles of the American revolution, arbitrary power may and ought to be resisted, even by arms if necessary. The time may come, when it shall be the duty of a State, in order to preserve itself from the oppression of the general government, to have recourse to the sword; in which case, the proposed form of government declares, that the State and every of its citizens who act under its authority are guilty of a direct act of treasonreducing, by this provision, the different States to this alternative, that they must tamely and passively yield to despotism, or their citizens must oppose it at the hazard of the halter if unsuccessful: and reducing the citizens of the State which shall take arms, to a situation in which they must be exposed to punishment, let them act as they will; since, if they obey the authority of their State government, they will be guilty of treason against the United States; if they join the general government, they will be guilty of treason against their own State. (83)
I have now, Sir, in discharge of duty I owe to this House, given such information as hath occurred to me, which I consider most material for them to know; and you will easily perceive, from this detail, that a great portion of that time, which ought to have been devoted calmly and impartially to consider what alterations in our federal government would be most likely to procure and preserve the happiness of the Union, was employed in a violent struggle on the one side to obtain all power and dominion in their own hands, and on the other to prevent it; and that the aggrandizement of particular States and particular individuals, appears to have been much more the object sought after, than the welfare of our country. (95)
When I took my seat in the convention, I found it attempting to bring forward a system, which I was sure never had entered into the contemplation of those I had the honor to represent. (95)
But, Sir, it would be well to remember, that this system is not calculated to diminish the number or value of offices; on the contrary, if adopted, it will be productive of an enormous increase in their number. (96)
So destructive do I consider the present system to the happiness of my country, I would cheerfully sacrifice that share of property with which Heaven has blessed a life of industry; I would reduce myself to indigence and poverty, and those who are dearer to me than my own existence I would intrust to the care and protection of that Providence, which hath so kindly protected myself, if on those terms only I could procure my country to reject those chains which are forged for it. (97)
[Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787, taken by the late Hon. Robert Yates, Chief Justice of the State of New York, and one of the Delegates from that State to the said Convention:]
[Governor Randolph of Virginia] candidly confessed, that they were not intended for a federal government; he meant a strong, consolidated union, in which the idea of States should be nearly annihilated. (101)
"1. Resolved [by Governor Randolph of Virginia], That a union of the States, merely federal, will not accomplish the objects proposed in the articles of the confederation, namely, common defence, security of liberty, and general welfare.
"3. Resolved, That a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme judicial, legislative, and executive." (102)
[Madison:] It is impossible that the articles of confederation can be amended; they are too tottering to be invigorated; nothing but the present system, or something like it, can restore the peace and harmony of the country. (116)
Mr. Patterson opposed the resolve. Let us consider, with what powers are we sent here? (Moved to have the credentials of Massachusetts read, which was done.) By this and the other credentials we see, that the basis of our present authority is founded on a revision of the articles of the present confederation, and to alter or amend them in such parts where they may appear defective. Can we on this ground form a national government? I fancy not. Our commissions give a complexion to the business; and can we suppose, that, when we exceed the bounds of our duty, the people will approve our proceedings?
We are met here as the deputies of thirteen independent, sovereign States, for federal purposes. Can we consolidate their sovereignty and form one nation, and annihilate the sovereignties of our States, which have sent us here for other purposes? (118)
[Patterson:] But it is said, that this national government is to act on individuals and not on States; and cannot a federal government he so framed as to operate in the same way? It surely may. I therefore declare, that I will never consent to the present system, and I shall make all the interest against it in the State which I represent that I can. Myself or my State will never submit to tyranny or despotism. (119)
Mr. Patterson moved, that the further consideration of the report be postponed until tomorrow, as he intended to give in principles to form a federal system of government, materially different from the system now under consideration. Postponement agreed to. (128)
Mr. Lansing moved to have the first article of the last plan of government read; which being done, he observed, that this system is fairly contrasted with the one ready to be reportedthe one federal, and the other national. In the first, the powers are exercised as flowing from the respective State governments. The second, deriving its authority from the people of the respective States; which latter must ultimately destroy or annihilate the State governments. To determine the powers on these grand objects with which we are invested, let us recur to the credentials of the respective States, and see what the views were of those who sent us. The language is there expressive; it is, upon the revision of the present confederation, to alter and amend such parts as may appear defective, so as to give additional strength to the Union. And he would venture to assert, that, had the legislature of the State of New York apprehended, that their powers would have been construed to extend to the formation of a national government, to the extinguishment of their independency, no delegates would have here appeared on the part of that State. This sentiment must have had its weight on a former occasion, even in this House; for when the second resolution of Virginia, which declared, in substance, that a federal government could not be amended for the good of the whole, the remark of an honorable member of South Carolina, that, by determining this question in the affirmative, their deliberative powers were at an end, induced this House to waive the resolution. It is in vain to adopt a mode of government, which we have reason to believe the people gave us no power to recommend; as they will consider themselves, on this ground, authorized to reject it. See the danger of exceeding your powers, by the example which the requisition of Congress of 1783 afforded. They required an impost on all imported articles; to which, on federal grounds, they had no right, unless. voluntarily granted. What was the consequence? Some, who had least to give; granted it; and others, under various restrictions and modifications, so that it could not be systematized. If we form a government, let us do it on principles which are likely to meet the approbation of the States. Great changes can only be gradually introduced. The States will never sacrifice their essential rights to a national government. New plans, annihilating the rights of States (unless upon evident necessity) can never be approved. (129-31)
Mr. [Alexander] Hamilton I have well considered the subject, and am convinced, that no amendment of the confederation can answer the purpose of a good government, so long as State sovereignties do, in any shape, exist. (138)
[Hamilton (one of the great weasels of all time):] Let us now review the powers with which we are invested. We are appointed for the sole and express purpose of revising the confederation, and to alter or amend it, so as to render it effectual for the purposes of a good government. Those who suppose it must be federal, lay great stress on the terms sole and express, as if these words intended a confinement to a federal government; when the manifest import is no more, than that the institution of a good government must be the sole and express object of your deliberations. (138)
[Hamilton:] To avoid the evils deducible from these observations, we must establish a general and national government, completely sovereign, and annihilate the State distinctions and State operations. (141)
[Hamilton:] I foresee the difficulty, on a consolidated plan, of drawing a representation from so extensive a continent to one place. What can be the inducements for gentlemen to come six hundred miles to a national legislature? The expense would at least amount to £ 100,000. This, however, can be no conclusive objection, if it eventuates in an extinction of State governments. (143)
[Hamilton:] Let one body of the legislature be constituted during good behaviour or life.
Let one executive be appointed who dares execute his powers.
It may be asked, is this a republican system? It is strictly so, as long as they remain elective. (145)
[Hamilton:] All State laws to be absolutely void, which contravene the general laws. An officer to be appointed in each State, to have a negative on all State laws. All the militia, and the appointment of officers, to be under the national government. (146)
[Hamilton:] I did not intend, yesterday, a total extinguishment of State governments; but my meaning was, that a national government ought to be able to support itself without the aid or interference of the State governments; and that therefore it was necessary to have full sovereignty. Even with corporate rights, the States will be dangerous to the national government, and ought to be extinguished, new modified, or reduced to a smaller scale. (150-1)
Mr. Martin. When the States threw off their allegiance to Great Britain, they became independent of her and each other. They united and confederated for mutual defence; and this was done on principles of perfect reciprocity. They will now again meet on the same ground. But when a dissolution takes place, our original rights and sovereignties are resumed. Our accession to the Union has been by States. If any other principle is adopted by this convention, he will give it every opposition. (151)
Judge Ellsworth. I propose, and therefore move, to expunge the word national, in the first resolve, and to place in the room of it, government of the United States; which was agreed to, nem. con. (152)
Mr. Lansing. I am clearly of opinion, that I am not authorized to accede to a system which will annihilate the State governments, and the Virginia plan is declarative of such extinction. It has been asserted, that the public mind is not known. To some points it may be true, but we may collect from the fate of the requisition of the impost, what it may be on the principles of a national government. When many of the States were so tenacious of their rights on this point, can we expect that thirteen States will surrender their governments up to a national plan? Rhode Island pointedly refused granting it. Certainly she had. a federal right so to do; and I hold it as an undoubted truth, as long as State distinctions remain, let the national government be modified as you please, both branches of your legislature will be impressed with local and State attachments. (152-3)
Mr. Lansing. This national government will, from their power, have great influence in the State governments; and the existence of the latter are only saved in appearance. And has it not been asserted, that they expect their extinction? If this be the object, let us say so, and extinguish them at once. But remember, if we devise a system of government which will not meet the approbation of our constituents, we are dissolving the Union; but if we act within the limits of our power, it will be approved of; and should it upon experiment prove defective, the people will intrust a future convention again to amend it. Fond as many are of a general government, do any of you believe it can pervade the whole continent so effectually as to secure the peace, harmony, and happiness of the whole? The excellence of the British model of government has been much insisted on; but we are endeavouring to complicate it with State governments, on principles which will gradually destroy the one or the other. You are sowing the seeds of rivalship, which must at last end in ruin. (153)
Mr. Mason. Let me ask, will the people intrust their dearest rights and liberties to the determination of one body of men, and those not chosen by them, and who are invested both with the sword and purse? They never will; they never can; to a conclave, transacting their business secret from the eye of the public. (154)
Mr. Mason. I never will consent to destroy State governments, and will ever be as careful to preserve the one as the other. (154)
Mr. Sherman. Foreign states have made treaties with us as confederated States, not as a national government. Suppose we put an end to that government under which those treaties were made, will not these treaties be void?
Judge Ellsworth. If we are so exceedingly jealous of State legislatures, will they not have reason to be equally jealous of us? If I return to my State, and tell them we made such and such regulations for a general government, because we dared not trust you with any extensive powers, will they be satisfied? Nay, will they adopt your government? And let it ever be remembered, that, without their approbation, your government is nothing more than a rope of sand. (164-5)
Mr. Mason. It seems as if it was taken for granted, that all offices will be filled by the executive, while I think many will remain in the gift of the legislature. In either case, it is necessary to shut the door against corruption. If otherwise, they may make or multiply offices in order to fill them. Are gentlemen in earnest, when they suppose that this exclusion will prevent the first characters from coming forward? Are we not struck at seeing the luxury and venality which has already crept in among us? If not checked, we shall have ambassadors to every petty state in Europe; the little republic of San Marino not excepted. We must in the present system remove the temptation. I admire many parts of the British constitution and government, but I detest their corruption. Why has the power of the crown so remarkably increased the last century? A stranger, by reading their laws, would suppose it considerably diminished; and yet, by the sole power of appointing the increased officers of government, corruption pervades every town and village in the kingdom. (166-7)
Mr. Butler. This second branch I consider as the aristocratic part of our government; and they must be controlled by the States, or they will be too independent. (187) [And so much for that.]
Mr. [Luther] Martin I would not trust a government organized upon the reported plan, for all the slaves of Carolina or the horses and oxen of Massachusetts. Price says, that laws made by one man, or a set of men, and not by common consent, is slavery. And it is so when applied to States, if you give them an unequal representation. What are called human feelings in this instance, are only the feelings of ambition and the lust of power. (191)
Mr. Lansing. I move, that the word "not" be struck out of the resolve, and then the question will stand on its proper ground; and the resolution will read thus: "That the representation of the first branch be according to the articles of the confederation;" and the sense of the convention on this point will determine the question of a federal or national government. (194)
Mr. Williamson. If any argument will admit of demonstration, it is that which declares, that all men have an equal right in society. Against this position, I have heard, as yet, no argument, and I could wish to hear what could be said against it. What is tyranny? Representatives of representatives, if you give them the power of taxation. From equals take equals, and the remainder is equal. What process is to annihilate smaller States, I know not. But I know it must be tyranny, if the smaller States can tax the greater, in order to ease themselves. A general government cannot exercise direct taxation. Money must be raised by duties and imposts, &c., and this will operate equally. It is impossible to tax according to numbers. Can a man over the mountains, where produce is a drug, pay equal with one near the shore? (196)
Judge Ellsworth. If this convention only chalk out lines of a good government we shall do well. (205)
Mr. Wilson. There are only two kinds of bad governmentsthe one which does too much, and therefore oppressive, and the other which does too little, and therefore weak. (207)
Judge Ellsworth. Mankind are apt to go from one extreme to another, and because we have found defects in the confederation, must we therefore pull down the whole fabric, foundation and all, in order to erect a new building totally different from it, without retaining any of its materials? (208-9)
Mr. Bedford. Pretences to support ambition, are never wanting. Their cry is, Where is the danger? and they insist, that, although the powers of the general government will be increased, yet it will be for the good of the whole; and, although the three great States form nearly a majority of the people of America, they never will hurt or injure the lesser States. I do not, Gentlemen, trust you. If you possess the power, the abuse of it could not be checked; and what then would prevent your exercising it to our destruction? You gravely allege, that there is no danger of combination, and triumphantly ask, how could combinations be effected? "The larger States," you say, "all differ in productions and commerce; and experience shows, that, instead of combinations, they would be rivals, and counteract the views of one another." This, I repeat, is language calculated only to amuse us. Yes, Sir, the larger States will be rivals, but not against each other; they will be rivals against the rest of the States. (214-15)
Mr. Bedford. But what have the people already said? "We find the confederation defective. Go, and give additional powers to the confederation; give to it the imposts, regulation of trade, power to collect the taxes, and the means to discharge our foreign and domestic debts." Can we not, then, as their delegates, agree upon these points? As their ambassadors, can we not clearly grant those powers? Why then, when we are met, must entire, distinct, and new grounds be taken, and a government, of which people had no idea, be instituted? And are we to be told, if we won't agree to it, it is the last moment of our deliberations? I say, it is indeed the last moment, if we do agree to this assumption of power. (215)
Mr. Bedford. Let us then do what is in our poweramend and enlarge the confederation, but not alter the federal system. The people expect this, and no more. We all agree in the necessity of a more efficient government; and cannot this be done? Although my State is small, I know and respect its rights, as much, at least, as those who have the honor to represent any of the larger States. (216)
Mr. Pinckney. There is a solid distinction as to interest between the southern and northern States. (217)
Mr. Morris. History proves, I admit, that the men of large property will uniformly endeavour to establish tyranny. How then shall we ward off this evil? Give them the second branch, and you secure their weight for the public good. They become responsible for their conduct, and this lust of power will ever be checked by the democratic branch, and thus form a stability in your government. (218-19) [That really worked out great, didn't it?]
Mr. Madison. I have observed, that committees only delay business. (221)
[From ADVERTISEMENT, Published by the Department or State as an Introduction to the Journal of the Convention assembled at Philadelphia, Monday, May12th, and dissolved Monday, September 17th, 1787:]
"Resolved, That in the opinion of Congress, it is expedient, that on the second Monday in May next, a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several States, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose of revising the articles of confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures, such alterations and provisions therein, as shall, when agreed to in Congress, and confirmed by the States, render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union." (295)
[Letter from the Honorable Robert Yates, and the Honorable John Lansing, Jun., Esquires, to the Governor of New York, containing their reasons for not subscribing to the federal constitution (in full):]
SIR, We do ourselves the honor to advise your Excellency, that, in pursuance of concurrent resolutions of the Honorable Senate and Assembly, we have, together with Mr. Hamilton, attended the Convention appointed for revising the articles of Confederation, and reporting amendments to the same.
It is with the sincerest concern we observe, that in the prosecution of the important objects of our mission, we have been reduced to the disagreeable alternative of either exceeding the powers delegated to us, and giving our assent to measures which we conceived destructive of the political happiness of the citizens of the United States; or opposing our opinion to that of a body of respectable men, to whom those citizens had given the most unequivocal proofs of confidence. Thus circumstanced, under these impressions, to have hesitated would have been to be culpable. We therefore gave the principles of the Constitution, which has received the sanction of a majority of the Convention, our decided and unreserved dissent; but we must candidly confess, that we should have been equally opposed to any system, however modified, which had in object the consolidation of the United States into one Government.
We beg leave briefly to state some cogent reasons which, among others, influenced us to decide against a consolidation of the States. These are reducible into two heads.
1st. The limited and well defined powers under which we acted, and which could not, on any possible construction, embrace an idea of such magnitude as to assent to a general Constitution in subversion of that of the State.
2d. A conviction of the impracticability of establishing a general Government, pervading every part of the United States, and extending essential benefits to all.
Our powers were explicit, and confined to the sole and express purpose of revising the articles of Confederation, and reporting such alterations and provisions therein, as should render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government, and the preservation of the Union.
From these expressions, we were led to believe that a system of consolidated Government, could not, in the remotest degree, have been in contemplation of the Legislature of this State, for that so important a trust, as the adopting measures which tended to deprive the State Government of its most essential rights of Sovereignty, and to place it in a dependent situation, could not have been confided, by implication, and the circumstance, that the acts of the Convention were to receive a State approbation, in the last resort, forcibly corroborated the opinion, that our powers could not involve the subversion of a Constitution, which being immediately derived from the people, could only be abolished by their express consent, and not by a Legislature, possessing authority vested in them for its preservation. Nor could we suppose, that if it had been the intention of the Legislature to abrogate the existing Confederation, they would, in such pointed terms, have directed the attention of their delegates to the revision and amendment of it, in total exclusion of every other idea.
Reasoning in this manner, we were of opinion, that the leading feature of every amendment ought to be the preservation of the individual States, in their uncontrolled constitutional rights; and that, in reserving these, a mode might have been devised, of granting to the Confederacy, the monies arising from a general system of revenue, the power of regulating commerce, and enforcing the observance of Foreign treaties, and other necessary matters of less moment.
Exclusive of our objections, originating from the want of power, we entertained an opinion that a general Government, however guarded by declarations of rights or cautionary provisions, must unavoidably, in a short time, be productive of the destruction of the civil liberty of such citizens who could be effectually coerced by it; by reason of the extensive territory of the United States; the dispersed situation of its inhabitants, and the insuperable difficulty of controlling or counteracting the views of a set of men (however unconstitutional and oppressive their acts might be) possessed of all the powers of Government, and who, from their remoteness from their constituents, and necessary permanency of office, could not be supposed to be uniformly actuated by an attention to their welfare and happiness; that however wise and energetic the principles of the general Government might be, the extremities of the United States could not be kept in due submission and obedience to its laws at the distance of many hundred miles from the seat of Government; that if the general Legislature was composed of so numerous a body of men as to represent the interest of all the inhabitants of the United States in the usual and true ideas of representation, the expense of supporting it would become intolerably burthensome, and that if a few only were invested with a power of legislation, the interests of a great majority of the inhabitants of the United States must necessarily be unknown, or if known even in the first stages of the operations of the new Government, unattended to.
These reasons were in our opinion conclusive against any system of consolidated Government: to that recommended by the Convention we suppose most of them forcibly apply.
It is not our intention to pursue this subject further than merely to explain our conduct in the discharge of the trust which the Honorable the Legislature reposed in usinterested however, as we are in common with our fellow citizens in the result, we cannot forbear to declare that we have the strongest apprehensions that a Government so organized as that recommended by the Convention, cannot afford that security to equal and permanent liberty, which we wished to make an invariable object of our pursuit.
We were not present at the completion of the New Constitution; but before we Left the Convention, its principles were so well established as to convince us that no alteration was to be expected, to conform it to our ideas of expediency and safety. A persuasion that our further attendance would be fruitless and unavailing, rendered us less solicitous to return.
We have thus explained our motives for opposing the adoption of the National Constitution; which we conceived it our duty to communicate to your Excellency, to be submitted to the consideration of the Hon. Legislature.
We have the Honor to be, with the greatest Respect, your Excellency's most obedient and very humble Servants,
John Lansing, Jun.
[From a letter of Edmund Randolph, Esquire, on the federal constitution, addressed to the speaker of the house of delegates, Virginia, 10oct1787:]
No government can be stable, which hangs on human inclination alone, unbiassed by coercion. (310)
I also fear more from inaccuracies in a constitution, than from gross errors in any other composition; because our dearest interests are to he regulated by it; and power, if loosely given, especially where it will be interpreted with great latitude, may bring sorrow in its execution. Had I signed with these ideas, I should have virtually shut my ears against the information which I ardently desired. (324)