Monday, April 17, 2006

Excerpts from Virginia Ratifying Convention...

Excerpts from the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Saturday, June 14, 1788:

"With respect to the other point....should be uniform throughout the continent. Some states might regulate on the principles of equality, and others might regulate them otherwise. This diversity would be obviously unjust....are regulated now unequally in some states....Should the people of any state by any means be deprived of the right of suffrage, it was judged proper that it should be remedied by the general government. It was found impossible to fix the time, place, and manner....in the Constitution. It was found necessary to leave the regulation of these, in the first place, to the state governments, as being best acquainted with the situation of the people, subject to the control of the general government, in order to enable it to produce uniformity, and prevent its own dissolution....And, considering the state governments and general government as distinct bodies, acting in different and independent capacities for the people, it was thought the particular regulations should be submitted to the former, and the general regulations to the latter. Were they exclusively under the control of the state governments, the general government might easily be dissolved. But if they be regulated properly by the state legislatures, the congressional control will very probably never be exercised. The power appears to me satisfactory, and as unlikely to be abused as any part of the Constitution."

"It was thought improper to leave it to the state legislatures, because it is improper that one government should be dependent on another; and the great inconveniences experienced under the old Confederation show the states would be operated upon by local considerations, as contradistinguished from general and national interests. Experience shows us that they have been governed by such heretofore, and reason instructs us that they would be influenced by them again. This theoretic inconvenience of leaving to Congress....which enabled the states to destroy the general government. There is no instance where this power has been abused. In America, legislative bodies have reduced their own wages lower, rather than augmented them. This is a power which cannot be abused without rousing universal attention and indignation. What would be the consequence of ....legislature raising their pay to four or five pounds each per day? The universal indignation of the people. Should the general Congress annex wages disproportionate to their service, or repugnant to the sense of the community, they would be universally execrated. The certainty of incurring the general detestation of the people will prevent abuse."

It was conceived that the great danger was in creating new offices, which would increase the burdens of the people; and not in a uniform admission of all meritorious characters.....There is no instance of any state constitution which goes as far as this. It was thought to be a mean between two extremes. It guards against abuse by taking away the inducement....and it gives them an opportunity of enjoying, in common with other citizens, any of the existing offices which they may be capable of executing. To have precluded them from this, would have been to exclude them from a common privilege to which every citizen is entitled, and to prevent those who had served their country with the greatest fidelity and ability from being on a par with their fellow-citizens. I think it as well guarded as reason requires; more so than the constitution of any other nation.  - James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention, Sat., June 14, 1788

"Considering the corruption of human {372} nature, and the general tendency of mankind to promote their own interest, I think there is great danger. I am confirmed in my opinion from what I have seen already in Congress, and among other nations. I wish this part, therefore, to be amended, by prohibiting any senator or representative...." - Mr. Grayson, Virginia Ratifying Convention, Sat., June 14, 1788

Mr. MADISON supposed the reasons of this power to be so obvious that they would occur to most gentlemen. "If resistance should be made to the execution of the laws", he said, "it ought to be overcome. This could be done only in two ways — either by regular forces or by the people. By one or the other it must unquestionably be done. If insurrections should arise, or invasions should take place, the people ought unquestionably to be employed, to suppress and repel them, rather than a standing army. The best way to do these things was to put the militia on a good and sure footing, and enable the government to make use of their services when necessary." - James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention, Sat., June 14, 1788

"I consider and fear the natural propensity of rulers to oppress the people. I wish only to prevent them from doing evil. By these amendments I would give necessary powers, but no unnecessary power. If the clause stands as it is now, it will take from the state legislatures what divine Providence has given to every individual — the means of self-defence. Unless it be moderated in some degree, it will ruin us, and introduce a standing army." - George Mason....And answered by James Madison:.... "Mr. Chairman, I most cordially agree, with the honorable member last up, that a standing army is one of the greatest mischiefs that can possibly happen. It is a great recommendation for this system, that it provides against this evil more than any other system known to us, and, particularly, more than the old system of confederation. The most effectual way to guard against a standing army, is to render it unnecessary. The most effectual way to render it unnecessary, is to give the general government full power to call forth the militia, and exert the whole natural strength of the Union, when necessary. Thus you will furnish the people with sure and certain protection, without recurring to this evil; and the certainty of this protection from the whole will be a strong inducement to individual exertion. Does the organization of the government warrant a belief that this power will be abused? Can we believe that a government of a federal nature, consisting of many coĆ«qual sovereignties, and particularly having one branch chosen from the people, would drag the militia unnecessarily to an immense distance? This, sir, would be unworthy the most arbitrary despot. {382} They have no temptation whatever to abuse this power; such abuse could only answer the purpose of exciting the universal indignation of the people, and drawing on themselves the general hatred and detestation of their country." - (end of commentary by Madison, in response to George Mason).

"My honorable friend went on a supposition that the American rulers, like all others, will depart from their duty without bars and checks. No government can be safe without checks. Then he told us they had no temptation to violate their duty, and that it would be their interest to perform it. Does he think you are to trust men who cannot have separate interests from the people? It is a novelty in the political world (as great a novelty as the system itself) to find rulers without private interests, and views of personal emoluments, and ambition. His supposition, that they will not depart from their duty, as having no interest to do so, is no satisfactory answer to my mind. This is no check. The government may be most intolerable and destructive, if this be our only security.

My honorable friend attacked the honorable gentleman with universal principles — that, in all nations and ages, rulers have been actuated by motives of individual interest and private emoluments, and that in America it would be so also. I hope, before we part with this great bulwark, this noble palladium of safety, we shall have such checks interposed as will render us secure. The militia, sir, is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it. But then, he says that the power of arming and organizing the militia is concurrent, and to be equally exercised by the general and state governments. I am sure, and I trust in the candor of that gentleman, that he will recede from that {386} opinion, When his recollection will be called to the particular clause which relates to it.

As my worthy friend said, there is a positive partition of power between the two governments. To Congress is given the power of "arming, organizing, and disciplining the militia, and governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States." To the state legislatures is given the power of appointing the officers, and training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress." I observed before, that, if the power be concurrent as to arming them, it is concurrent in other respects. If the states have the right of arming them, &c., concurrently, Congress, has a concurrent power of appointing the officers, and training the militia. If Congress have that power, it is absurd. To admit this mutual concurrence of powers will carry on into endless absurdity — that Congress has nothing exclusive on the one hand, nor the states on the other. The rational explanation is, that Congress shall have exclusive power of arming them, &c., and that the State governments shall have exclusive power of appointing the officers, &c. Let me put it in another light.

May we not discipline and arm them, as well as Congress, if the power be concurrent? so that our militia shall have two sets of arms, double sets of regimentals, &c.; and thus, at a very great cost, we shall be doubly armed. The great object is, that every man be armed. But can the people afford to pay for double sets of arms, &c.? Every one Who is able may have a gun. But we have learned, by experience, that, necessary as it is to have arms, and though our Assembly has, by a succession of laws for many years, endeavored to have the militia completely armed, it is still far from being the case. When this power is given up to Congress without. limitation or bounds, how will your militia be afraid? You trust to chance; for sure I am that that nation which shall trust its liberties in other hands cannot long exist. If gentlemen are serious when they suppose a concurrent power, where can be the impolicy to amend it? Or, in other words, to say that Congress shall not arm or discipline them, till the states Shall have refused or neglected to do it? This is my object. I only wish to bring it to what they themselves say is implied. Implication is to be the foundation of our civil liberties; and when you speak of arming the militia by a {387} concurrence of power, you use implication. But implication will not save you, when a strong army of veterans comes upon you. You would be laughed at by the whole world, for trusting your safety implicitly to implication.

The argument of my honorable friend was, that rulers might tyrannize. The answer he received was, that they will not. In saying that they would not, he admitted they might. In this great, this essential part of the Constitution, if you are safe, it is not from the Constitution, but from the virtues of the men in government. If gentlemen are willing to trust themselves and posterity to so slender and improbable a chance, they have greater strength of nerves than I have.

The honorable gentleman, in endeavoring to answer the question why the militia were to be called forth to execute the laws, said that the civil power would probably do it. He is driven to say, that the civil power may do it instead of the militia. Sir, the military power ought not to interpose till the civil power refuse. If this be the spirit of your new Constitution, that the laws are to be enforced by military coercion, we may easily divine the happy consequences which will result from it. The civil power is not to be employed at all. If it be, show me it. I read inattentively, and could see nothing to warrant a belief that the civil power can be called for. I should be glad to see the power that authorizes Congress to do so. The sheriff will be aided by military force. The most wanton excesses may be committed under color of this; for every man in office, in the states, is to take an oath to support it in all its operations. The honorable gentleman said, in answer to the objection that the militia might be marched from New Hampshire to Georgia, that the members of the government would not attempt to excite the indignation of the people. Here, again, we have the general unsatisfactory answer, that they will be virtuous, and that there is no danger.

Will gentlemen be satisfied with an answer which admits of dangers and abuses if they be wicked? Let us put it of their power to do mischief. I am convinced, there is no safety in the paper on the table as it stands now. I am sorry to have an occasion to pass a eulogium on the British government, as gentlemen may object to it. But how natural it is, when comparing deformities to beauty, to be {388} struck with the superiority of the British government to that system! In England, self-love — self-interest — powerfully stimulates the executive magistrate to advance the prosperity of the nation. In the most distant part, he feels the loss of his subjects. He will see the great advantage of his posterity inseparable from the felicity of his people. Man is a fallen creature, a fallible being, and cannot be depended on without self-love. Your President will not have the same motives of self-love to impel him to favor your interests. His political character is but transient, and he will promote, as much as possible, his own private interests. He will conclude, the constant observation has been that he will abuse his power, and that it is expected. The king of England has a more permanent interest. His stock, his family, is to continue in possession of the same emolument. The more flourishing his nation, the more formidable and powerful is he. The sword and purse are not united, in that government, in the same hands, as in this system. Does not infinite security result from a separation?

But it is said that our Congress are more responsible than the British Parliament. It appears to me that there is no real, but there may be some specious responsibility. If Congress, in the execution of their unbounded powers, shall have done wrong, how will you come at them to punish them, if they are at the distance of five hundred miles? At such a great distance, they will evade responsibility altogether. If you have given up your militia, and. Congress shall refuse to arm them, you have lost every thing. Your existence will be precarious, because you depend on others, whose interests are not affected by your infelicity. If Congress are to arm us exclusively, the man of New Hampshire may vote for or against it, as well as the Virginian. The great distance and difference between the two places render it possible that the people of that country can know or pursue what will promote our convenience. I therefore contend that, if, Congress do not arm the militia, we ought to provide for it ourselves." - Patrick Henry, Virginia Ratifying Convention, Sat., June 14, 1788




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