The Meaning of the Constitution

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On January 9, 1788, Gov. Huntingdon spoke.

I am fully of opinion that the great council of the Union must have a controlling power with respect to national concerns. There is, at present, an extreme want of power in the national government [Ed. so Huntingdon supported a general government that was more powerful than that under the AoC]; and it is my opinion that this Constitution does not give too much [Ed. but it is the Constitution, through the its ratification by the people of the states that gives]. As to the subject of representation, at the first view it appears small; but, on the whole, the purposes of the Union could not be so well answered by a greater number. It is impracticable to have the number of the representatives as great, and times of election as frequent, as they are in our state governments. [Ed. Common political theory of the day held that when great powers were given, frequent elections and larger numbers of representatives were required. Congress had 59 Representatives, 65, once NC and RI joined the Union, and they were elected biennially. State legislators of the day were generally elected annually, and there were hundreds, maybe thousands. This gives a rough indication of which level the Founders thought would have more power.] Nor is this necessary for the security of our liberty. It is sufficient if the choice of our representatives be so frequent that they must depend upon the people, and that an inseparable connection be kept up between the electors and the elected.

The state governments, I think, will not be endangered by the powers vested by this Constitution in the general government. While I have attended in Congress, I have observed that the members were quite as strenuous advocates for the rights of their respective states, as for those of the Union. I doubt not but that this will continue to be the case; and hence I infer that the general government will not have the disposition to encroach upon the states. But still the people themselves must be the chief support of liberty. [page 200] [Ed. Thus, if the general government does encroach upon the states, Huntingdon is relying on the opposition of the people to support liberty by pushing back.]

While the great body of freeholders are acquainted with the duties which they owe to their God, to themselves, and to men, they will remain free. But if ignorance and depravity should prevail, they will inevitably lead to slavery and ruin. Upon the whole view of this Constitution, I am in favor of it, and think it bids fair to promote our national prosperity.

This is a new event in the history of mankind. Heretofore most governments have been formed by tyrants, and imposed on mankind by force. Never before did a people, in time of peace and tranquillity, meet together by their representatives, and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government. This noble attempt does honor to our country. While I express my sentiments in favor of this Constitution, I candidly believe that those gentlemen who oppose it are actuated by principles of regard to the public welfare. If we will exercise mutual candor for each other, and sincerely endeavor to maintain our liberties, we may long continue to be a free and happy people.
 
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Tidewater

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Connecticut ratified the Constitution by a tally of 128-40. The scene then shifted to Massachusetts.

On January 15, 1788, the Massachusetts convention was debating whether Representatives in Congress ought to be elected annually or biennially. Mr. Ames spoke.


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. [Ed. In other words, there are few subjects on which Congress can pass laws, and those are national, not local, in nature] 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?

[Ed. Biennial elections were sufficient because the general government could legislate only on limited objects. If the general government could legislate on any topic, biennial elections would be insufficient to protect the peoples' liberties.]
 
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Tidewater

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Moses Ames continued.

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. [Ed. does that sound familiar?] 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 [Ed. "Freedom fries," anyone?]; 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.
 
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Tidewater

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January 15, 1788. The Massachusetts Convention continues to debate how long the terms of Representatives should be.

Gen. William Heath said,


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."

To which Thomas Dawes replied:

... the passage quoted from Montesquieu applied to single governments, and not to confederate ones. (Emphasis in the original)

[Ed. This says little about the division between federal and state powers, but is does demonstrate the concerns of delegates about delegating powers to the general government. They were very concerned about delegating too much.]
 
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Tidewater

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On January 16, 1788, William Widgery,
insisted that we had a right to be jealous of our rulers, who ought never to have a power which they could abuse.

On January 17, 1788, Charles Turner said, ... 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 guarded.

[Ed. This does not show anything specific, just how cautious the Founders were about delegating too much.]
 
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Tidewater

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On Jan 17. Gen. Samuel Thompson continued.

Mr. President, ... 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 our rulers.

And later that day.

Afternoon. — The second paragraph of the 2d section of the 1st article [Ed. The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.] was reverted to, and some debate had thereon.

Gen. Samuel 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.

[Ed. A common belief of the day, that only freeholders had "skin in the game," so only they should hold office. In fact, in most states, a "freehold," a certain amount of property, free and clear of any debt, was necessary in order to vote.]
 

Tidewater

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January 17th. Discussion on Article I, Section 2, Clause 3:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole 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.


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 imperfect. ...

On January 18th, the discussion continued.

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.

A lot of the Founders were uncomfortable with slavery. Mr. Dawes believed the institution was dying.
 
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Tidewater

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On January 19, 1788, Amos Singletary spoke on the eligibility for office in Congress.

He 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.

[Ed. I just present this because Massachusetts had an official state religion at the time (the Congregational church), an it shows one man's view of the relationship between man, the state and religion.]
 
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Tidewater

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Fisher 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. [Ed. Consolidation of the states would be bad, according to Ames. The argument that the Constitution would caused Ames to stop and really consider.] 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 violated rights.

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 federal republic.

Ames argued that (a) the states are sovereign (not the state governments, but the people of the states), (b) Senators represent that sovereignty of the states in the federal legislature, (c) the state governments have a duty to protect the people from the encroachments of the federal government, and (d) direct election of senators would subvert the Constitution because the Representatives are already elected directly by the people of their districts. Ames voted in favor of ratification when that vote came.
 
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Tidewater

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On January 21, 1788, Judge Dana said,

This section [Ed. Art. I, Section 4], 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, ... I have altered my opinion on this point.

[Ed. Thus, delegates came to their state convention inclined to oppose ratification and, after the delegates who had been in Philadelphia or those who supported ratification but had not been in Philadelphia explained their meaning, the suspicious delegates changed their minds. and supported ratification.]
 

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On January 21, 1788, the Massachusetts convention moved to discussing Article 1, Section 8, Congress' enumerated powers.

Mr. KING said, Sir, this is a very important clause, and of the highest consequence to the future fortune of the people of America. … [Ed. Then King moved on to the taxing power] Sir, it has been objected to the proposed Constitution, that the power is too great, … 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.

Mr. DAWES said we call ourselves free and independent states! We are independent of each other, but we are slaves to Europe. … 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? … as thirty thousand inhabitants 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 unnecessary taxes.

[Ed. There was a school of thought that the republic was set up for yeoman farmers. Obviously this is not the case any more. While this does not invalidate the ratification, it does bring to light questions as to what changes to the system are wrought by a change in the electorate.]
 
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Tidewater

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On January 21, the discussion of Art. I, Sect. 8 continued.

Mr. Bodman [Ed. an opponent of ratification] 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.

Mr. Sedgwick [Ed. an advocate of ratification], 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.

Mr. Singletary [Ed. an opponent of ratification] thought no more power could be given to a despot, than to give up the purse-strings of the people.

Col. Elisha Porter [Ed. an advocate of ratification] 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 [Ed. an opponent of ratification], 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? [Ed. In other words, Thompson is suggesting they reject the Constitution and just amend the Articles of Confederation.]

[Ed. In this exchange, we can see the back and forth of the advocates and opponents of ratification. Opponents worried about giving the general government too much power, the advocates countering that the powers given will not be abused. This dynamic continued in other states.]
 
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Tidewater

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Major Kingsley [Ed. An opponent of ratification] said … our federal rulers will be masters, and not servants. … 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.

On January 22, 1788, Hon. Mr. Phillips, of Boston [Ed. Phillips eventually voted in favor of ratification] said 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?

Dr. Willard [Ed. voted against ratification] 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.
 
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Tidewater

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Mr. Bowdoin … 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. [Ed. In other words, the checks the Constitution places on the general government were a key component in Bowdoin's approval of the Constitution. He supported ratification because he believed there were effective checks on federal power, unlike the decemviri of ancient Rome.]

Mr. Symmes said, "I have been, and still am, desirous of a rotation in office [Ed. i.e. term limits], to prevent the final perpetuation of power in the same men; … 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. … we ought … 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.
[Ed. Symmes is saying that he fears the taxing power will be unlimited and that tradition will make Congress' judgment indefatigable. The key will be the conditions on which the state convention placed in the delegation of the powers to the general government to keep it limited and safe.]

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.

… I also disapprove of the power to collect [taxes], 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.
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. [Ed. Symmes is arguing that the Congress might be able to stretch the "general welfare"clause to cover anything, and, having the majority behind them, will crush its opponent. This is, Symmes says, a sufficient reason to reject the Constitution.]
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,
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.

[Ed. The general government ought to spend with an awareness of just how much the taxes have cost the taxpayers.]
 
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On January 23, Capt. Jeremiah Pierce [Ed. who eventually voted not to ratify the Constitution] said, 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 [Ed. Shay's rebellion in 1786], 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.
 
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Col. Varnum (Ed. would eventually vote in favor of the Constitution), 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 [Ed. as in the state constitution], 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.

[Ed. Varnum, a supporter of ratification, said that the proposed federal Constitution differed from the state's constitution. In Massachusetts, the constitution says the state can do anything not prohibited by the Massachusetts bill of rights of 1780. In the federal constitution, the general government would have only the powers delegated to it by the Constitution.]
 
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Tidewater

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Gen. Thompson [Ed. who opposed ratification] said, Sir, the question is, whether Congress shall have power [to tax]. 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. … It is my wish she [Massachusetts] may be one of the four dissenting States; then we shall be on our old ground, and shall not act unconstitutionally. [Ed. The AOC required unanimity to change, so ratifying a new constitution, while the AOC were still in operation was itself unconstitutional. Art. VII of the Constitution says the ratification of nine states' convention will establish the Constitution. Here Thompson is saying the final four will be out of the Union "on their own old ground" and is urging Massachusetts to be one of the Final Four.] …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. [Ed. A Bill of Rights would limit Congress. The peoples of the states are the masters of the federal and state governments, and by ratifying a constitution with a bill of rights, they are dictating to their servants, the officers of the federal and state governments, what they may and may not do.] The safety of the people depends on a bill of rights. If we build on a sandy foundation, is it likely we shall stand?
 
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Tidewater

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Hooterville, Vir.
Governor Bowdoin discussed the imbecility of the Union under the Articles of Confederation and the bad effects it was having on Massachusetts trade and emigration.

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 determine. ... [Ed. Bowdoin is not clear here. He might mean the state convention determine through discussion which powers will be delegated by their interpretation of the text, or he could mean that the act of ratifying means the state conventions have delegated.]
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. ...
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. ... [Ed. If only.]
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. ...
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. ...
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.

[Ed. If the Constitution were to attempt to declare what rights the people retained after ratification, they might miss some important rights. This is a refrain heard from advocates of ratification in almost every state. The safety of rights is to be found in the fact that the powers of the general government are to be limited. Congress cannot abridge free speech, for example, because the Constitution delegates to Congress no power over free speech.]
 
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Tidewater

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Hooterville, Vir.
Mr. Parsons, of Newburyport said, 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.

[Ed. Massachusetts, at the time of the debate, had an official, established religion (Congregationalism), and the state paid some of the expenses of the church.]

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.

[Ed. Interestingly, Parsons is arguing that the ability to recall an elected official will render them parochial in their perspective.]
 
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