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would interfere with the States, and that revenue enough could be raised from lands and imposts, or loans, for all the purposes of government. He thought “congress could not discriminate over so great a territory as to lay direct taxes, that would be satisfactory to the people.” He was also in favor of a bill of rights, – “the polar star and great support of American liberty.” He thought that, by giving congress all powers to make laws to carry into operation the powers granted, they might take away the trial by jury: “there were no limits pointed out.”
“They are not restrained or controlled from making any law, however oppressive in its operation, which they may think necessary to carry their laws into effect. By this general, unqualified power they may infringe, not only the trial by jury, and every right that is not expressly secured, or excepted from the general power. I conceive that such general powers are very dangerous. Our great, inalienable rights ought to be secured from being destroyed by such unlimited powers, either by a bill of rights, or by express provisions in the Constitution. It is immaterial in which of these two modes rights are secured.”
He alluded to the divisions of power in the Roman republic and in Great Britain; but he could see no real check in this Constitution. He thought the power of the president too great, and that he could secure his constant reëlection; and that the senate, combined with the president, would destroy the legislative influence of the States; and concluded, under his present impressions, he thought it a dangerous government, and calculated neither to secure the interests nor the rights of our countrymen. And under such a government he should be adverse to embark the best hopes and prospects of a free people. We have struggled long to bring about this revolution, by which we enjoy our present security. Why, then, this haste, this wild precipitancy? Mr. Madison, in answer, spoke of the “inefficiency of the federal government,”' of its “inability to pay the debts” of the country, and “to fulfil its treaties,” and “of the contempt with which foreign nations were treating us; ” of the “refractory conduct of some of the States; ” of their not “paying ” the quota of money which they ought; and of the manner in which the country were borrowing money to pay even the interest of what she owed; of the ruinous manner of conducting so; of the necessity of their altering their form of government, and that Washington had acknowledged there was a necessity for so doing, and that the Confederacy had, from the first, proved defective. Mr. Henry, in reply to Mr. Madison, went on at great length, and said,
“He saw not the evils that had been stated. He did not know but the country was as well governed as any other; he referred to the Swiss Cantons, to the United Netherlands, the height of power and riches to which these had attained. He explained, as a reason why we
* Elliot's Reports, vol. ii. p. 215.
had not paid our debts, was because we had been too extravagant, [what would he have thought if he had lived in these days ) and that by industry and economy these debts could be paid ; he saw no danger of the States remaining out of the Union till amendments could be adopted; he thought that Massachusetts, by adopting the Constitution, and then recommending amendments, had put the cart before the horse. He alluded to the observation that the civil power was defective; he knew not that it was so; that there were instances where men had been guilty of very great crimes, and, in consequence, put themselves out of the pale of civilized treatment, and referred to a person' who had been punished by an . expost facto law. He spoke of the Constitution as endangering the liberties of the people, in its taxing power, the power it possessed over the militia and the army, its several arsenals, of its uniting the sword and the purse, of the corruption that might take place among the representatives and senators, and the federal court, particularly when the freedom of the citizen should come in opposition to the laws of congress. He treated the explanation given by Mr. Madison of the mixed nature of the government (as we shall give in another place) with ridicule, and concluded by saying he should not give his sanction to that instrument; he, however, desired a union of the States, but not of the kind proposed. It was not the kind of government for which the American people had effected a revolution ; it was not for making a great government, but for individual freedom they had contended. He said gentlemen may retain their opinions, but I shall look on that paper (meaning the Constitution) as the most fatal plan that could possibly be
Josiah Phillips was the man alluded to. He was attainted by a bill passed by the legislature of Virginia in a very short time after he committed the act for which he was attainted.
conceived to enslave a free people! If such be your rage for novelty, take it and welcome ; but you shall not have my consent.”
Mr. Henry, in his opening remarks, observed, all governments were a necessary evil, and he alluded to the ten miles square as being an attractive object to some minds; as if he thought that there were some in the country who were anxious to secure to themselves some high station in the government, and, for that reason, were anxious to change the form of government from a confederacy to such a government as was proposed, because it would open the door for a greater number of offices. [Whether such ideas entered into the minds of those who formed the Constitution we cannot say; but offices in these days appear to be very attractive..] In the increase of our army, and the alarming proposition to have the militia of the States under the control of the president ; in the desire to spread slavery, and in the assertion that the Constitution guarantees slavery, or, which in effect is the same thing, that we have prevented the government from abolishing it, or provided no way by which it could be abolished, and at the same time have agreed to suppress insurrections, – should we not take alarm, and see that the liberties of this country are not lost; and may we not see, in the servility with which many members of congress bow to the influence of slavery, cause to take warning 2 We think we should, and should bear in mind those observations made by Mr.
What could induce northern members of congress to gag the mouths of their own constituents but this desire for office, and this unholy influence, that slavery, the withholding the individual freedom of so large a portion of the inhabitants of our country, has so blinded the eyes of those that remain free they are beginning to lose sight of those principles on which true liberty is founded ? and is it not wonderful a man could speak as Mr. Henry here does of individual rights, – that the object of the revolution was not for making a “great government,” but to secure “individual freedom,” when he himself was a slaveholder, and opposed the Constitution in some of its parts, because in its effect it might destroy the power of the master, and which he feared would take away his supremacy 2. It seems impossible to explain such a course of proceeding ; and it cannot be explained, unless you admit the colored people, in his eyes, were no people; and yet he did not think so. No ! it must be put down to man's inconsistency, or, as he himself said, because he really feared true liberty would be endangered by letting the colored man enjoy the same advantages the white man did ; he thought they would take advantage of their liberty and become licentious.
Mr. Lee, of Westmoreland, answered Mr. Henry: he defended the Constitution; he referred to Shays's rebellion in Massachusetts, to the tender laws, and a variety of other circumstances, to show there ought to be a change in the government, and that those who desired it were as anxious