Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Mr. Henry made quite a speech in answer, portions of which will be found among the extracts taken from his life, so far as relates to this subject. His whole speech turned on securing the individual and State rights ; he was fearful of the results of the Constitution, of its power of taxation, of the powers of the president. But he wished for the union. His first wish was for American liberty, and his second, for American union; ” and he concluded his remarks by saying, “May you be fully apprized of the dangers of the latter, not by fatal experience, but by some abler advocate than I.”

Gov. Randolph, in answer to Mr. Henry, who thought the country was in peace, and there was no reason to alter the government, said, –

“There is no peace in this land; can peace exist with injustice, licentiousness, insecurity, and oppression 2 These considerations, independent of many others which I have not yet enumerated, would be a sufficient redson for the adoption of this Constitution, because it secures the liberty of the citizen, his person, and property, and will invigorate and restore commerce and industry.”

He went on in a long speech, giving his reasons why Virginia should adopt the Constitution, on account of her exposed situation, both on her coasts, by Indians, and the other States who had already adopted the Constitution, and from the slaves, which he said at that time “bore the immense proportion of 236,000 slaves to 352,000 whites.” He was very eloquent in urging his reasons for the adoption of the Constitution. Mr. Randolph, un

doubtedly, had some desire the Constitution should be adopted because a greater power would be at command to suppress an insurrection of slaves, though we have no evidence but that he might have wished their individual freedom. Mr. Madison, in answer to the objections made by Mr. Henry, respecting the consolidation of the government proposed to be adopted, said,

“Give me leave to say something of the nature of the government, and to show it is safe and just to vest it with the power of taxation. There are a number of opinions, but the principal question is, whether it be a federal or a consolidated government. In order to judge properly of the question before us we must consider it minutely in its principal parts. I conceive, myself, it is of a mixed nature; it is in a manner unprecedented; we cannot find one express example in the history of the world; it stands by itself. In some respects it is a government of a federal nature ; in others, it is of a consolidated nature. Even if we attend to the manner in which the Constitution is investigated, ratified, and made the act of the people of America, I can say, notwithstanding what the honorable gentleman has alleged, that this government is not completely consolidated, nor is it entirely federal. Who are parties to it? The people; but not the people as composing one great body, but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties. Were it, as the gentleman asserts, a consolidated government, the assent of the majority of the people would be sufficient for its establishment; and, as a majority have adopted it already, the remaining States would be bound by the act of the majority, even if they unanimously reprobated it. Were it such a government as is suggested, it would be now binding on the people of this State, without having the privilege of debating upon it; but, sir, no State is bound by it, as it is, without its own consent. Should all the States adopt it, it will then be a government established by the thirteen States of America, not through the intervention of the legislatures, but by the people at large. In this particular respect the distinction between the present and proposed government is very material. The existing system has been derived from the dependent derivative authority of the legislatures of the States; whereas this is derived from the superior power of the people. If we look at the manner alterations are to be made in it, the same idea is in some degree attended to. By the new system, a majority of the States cannot introduce amendments; nor are all the States required for that purpose; three fourths of them must concur in amendments: in this there is a departure from the federal idea. The members of the national house are to be chosen by the people at large, in proportion to the numbers in the representative district. When we come to the senate its members are elected by the States in their equal and political capacity; but had the government been completely consolidated, the senate would have been chosen by the people in their individual capacity, in the same manner as the members of the other house. Thus it is of a complicated nature; and this complication, I trust, will be found to exclude the evils of absolute consolidation, as well as a mere confederacy. If Virginia was separated from all the States, her authority would extend to all cases: in like manner, were all power vested in the general government, it would be a consolidated government; but the powers of the general government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.” "

* Elliot's Reports, vol. ii. p. 95.

Mr. Corbin, in answer to Mr. Henry, and approving of the Constitution, and of its adoption of the expression “we the people,” and of its powers of direct taxation, and of its nature to secure the liberties of the country and of the people, says, – “What power is given that will endanger liberty 2 I consider all of the traits of this system as having a tendency to the security of our liberty.” ". He also spoke of the distracted state of the country, particularly in other States, and the ease with which Virginia herself might be convulsed.

On the request of Mr. Henry, Gov. Randolph concluded his remarks on the divided state of the country, and the necessity of adopting the Constitution. “The debts of the country must be paid. We were much in debt to Europe, and we were unable. to pay.” Rhode Island, it appeared, had resisted many of the laws of the Confederation, and he thought the powers given were not too great.

“Go through these powers, examine every one, and tell me if the most exalted genius can prove the liberty of the press is in danger. The trial by jury is supposed to be in danger also. It is secured in criminal cases, but supposed to be taken away in civil cases. It is not relinquished by the Constitution; it is only not provided for. Look at the interest of congress to suppress it. Can it be in any manner advantageous for them to suppress it In equitable cases it ought not to prevail, nor with respect to admirality causes, because there will be an undue leaning against those characters of

! Elliot's Reports, vol. ii. p. 106.

whose business courts of admirality will have cognizance. I will rest myself secure under this reflection, that it is impossible that the most suspicious or malignant mind to show that it is the interest of congress to infringe on this trial by jury.” " In continuing his remarks, in answer to Mr. Henry's objections, which, by the way, he thought very unreasonable, he said,

“He would take notice of what the honorable gentleman had said with respect to the power to provide for the general welfare. The meaning of this clause has been perverted to alarm our apprehensions. The whole clause has not been read together. It enables “congress to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” The plain and obvious meaning of this is, that no more duties, taxes, imposts, and excises shall be laid than are sufficient to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.”

This same opinion we have seen advanced by the Hon. John Q. Adams. Here is a metaphysical distinction we have not yet been able to perceive. Whatever is for the general welfare, it would seem by the expression, it would be in the power of congress to adopt; but this is denied. It is said, - if we understand the expression of the

* We have quoted these remarks, and others that will appear in this work, respecting the trial by jury, partly because this subject has been considerably agitated in this community, and to show how jealous the men of that age were on this subject.

« AnteriorContinuar »