As the only member of this respectable body, who had the honor of a seat in the late Federal Convention, it is peculiarly my duty, Mr. President, to submit to your consideration, the general principles that have produced the national Constitution, which has been framed and proposed by the assembled delegates of the United States, and which must finally stand or fall by the concurrent decision of this Convention, and of others acting upon the same subject, under similar powers and authority. To frame a government for a single city or state is a business both in its importance and facility, widely different from the task entrusted to the Federal Convention, whose prospects were extended not only to thirteen independent and sovereign states, some of which in territorial jurisdiction, population, and resource equal the most respectable nations of Europe, but likewise to innumerable states yet unformed, and to myriads of citizens who in future ages shall inhabit the vast uncultivated regions of the continent. The duties of that body, therefore, were not limited to local or partial considerations but to the formation of a plan commensurate with a great and valuable portion of the globe.
I confess, sir, that the magnitude of the object before us filled our minds with awe and apprehension. In Europe the opening and extending the navigation of a single river has been deemed an act of imperialmerit and importance; but how insignificant does it seem when we contemplate the scene that nature here exhibits, pouring forth the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the Susquehanna, and other innumerable rivers to dignify, adorn, and enrich our soil. But the magnitude of the object was equalled by the difficulty of accomplishing it, when we considered the uncommon dexterity and address that were necessary to combat and reconcile the jarring interests that seemed naturally to prevail, in a country which, presenting coast of 1500 miles to the Atlantic, is composed of 13 distinct and independent states, varying essentially in their situation and dimensions, and in the number and habits of their citizens. Their interests too, in some respects really different, and in many apparently so; but whether really or apparently, such is the constitution of the human mind, they make the same impression, and are prosecuted with equal vigor and perseverance. Can it then be a subject for surprise that with the sensations indispensably excited by so comprehensive and so arduous an undertaking, we should for a moment yield to despondency, and at length, influenced by the spirit of conciliation, resort to mutual concession, as the only means to obtain the great end for which we were convened? Is it a matter of surprise that where the springs of dissension were so numerous, and so powerful, some force wasrequisite to impel them to take, in a collected state, a direction different from that which separately they would have pursued?
There was another reason, that in this respect, increased the different tempers and dispositions of the people for whom they acted. But, however widely they may differ upon other topics, they cordiallyagree in that keen and elevated sense of freedom and independence, which has been manifested in their united and successful oppositionto one of the most powerful kingdoms of the world. Still it was apprehended by some, that their abhorrence of constraint would be thesource of objection and opposition; but, I confess, that my opinion, formed upon a knowledge of the good sense, as well as the highspirit of my constituents, made me confident that they would esteemthat government to be the best, which was best calculated eventuallyto establish and secure the dignity and happiness of their country. Upon this ground, I have occasionally supposed that my constituentshave asked the reason of my assent to the several propositions contained in the plan before us. My answer, tho concise, is a candid, and,I think a satisfactory one—because I thought them right; and thinkingthem right, it would be a poor compliment, indeed, to presume theycould be disagreeable to my constituents—a presumption that mightoccasion a retort to which I wish not to expose myself, as it wouldagain be asked, "is this the opinion you entertain of those who haveconfided in your judgment? From what ground do you infer thata vote right in itself would be disagreeable to us?" And it might withjustice be added, "this sentiment evinces that you deserved not thetrust which we reposed in you." No sir I have no right to imaginethat the reflected rays of delegated power can displease by a brightness that proves the superior splendor of the luminary from whichthey proceed.
The extent of country for which the new Constitution was requiredproduced another difficulty in the business of the Federal Convention. It is the opinion of some celebrated writers that to a small territory, the democratical; to a middling territory (as Montesquieuhas termed it), the monarchical; and, to an extensive territory, the despotic form of government is best adapted. Regarding then, thewide and almost unbounded jurisdiction of the United States, at firstview, the hand of despotism seemed necessary to control, connect, "and protect it; and hence the chief embarrassment arose. For, we knewthat, although our constituents would cheerfully submit to the legislative restraints of a free government, they would spurn at every attempt to shackle them with despotic power.
In this dilemma, a federal republic naturally presented itself toour observation as a species of government which secured all the internal advantages of a republic, at the same time that it maintainedthe external dignity and force of a monarchy. The definition of thisform of government may be found in Montesquieu, who says, I believe, that it consists in assembling distinct societies, which are consolidatedinto a new body capable of being increased by the addition of othermembers; an expanding quality peculiarly fitted to the circumstancesof America.
But, while a federal republic removed one difficulty, it introducedanother, since there existed not any precedent to assist our deliberations; for, though there are many single governments, both ancient andmodern, the history and principles of which are faithfully preservedand well understood, a perfect confederation of independent statesis a system hitherto unknown. The Swiss cantons, which have oftenbeen mentioned in that light, cannot properly be deemed a federal republic, but merely a system of united states. The United Netherlands are also an assemblage of states; yet, as their proceedings arenot the result of their combined decisions, but of the decisions of eachstate individually, their association is evidently wanting in that quality which is essential to constitute a federal republic. With respectto the Germanic body, its members are of so disproportionate a size, their separate governments and jurisdictions so different in natureand extent, the general purpose and operation of their union so indefinite and uncertain, and the exterior power of the House of Austria so prevalent, that little information could be obtained or expected from that quarter. Turning then to ancient history, we find the Achaean and Lycian leagues, and the Amphyctionic Council bearing a superficial resemblance to a federal republic; but of all these, the accounts which have been transmitted to us are too vague and imperfect to supply a tolerable theory, and they are so destitute ofthat minute detail from which practical knowledge may be derived, that they must now be considered rather as subjects of curiosity, than of use or information.
Government, indeed, taken as a science may yet be considered inits infancy; and with all its various modifications, it has hitherto been the result of force, fraud, or accident. For, after the lapse of six thousand years since the Creation of the world, America now presentsthe first instance of a people assembled to weigh deliberately andcalmly, and to decide leisurely and peaceably, upon the form of government by which they will bind themselves and their posterity. Among the ancients, three forms of government seem to have been correctly known, the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical; buttheir knowledge did not extend beyond those simple kinds, thoughmuch pleasing ingenuity has occasionally been exercised, in tracinga resemblance of mixed government in some ancient institutions, particularly between them and the British constitution. But, in myopinion, the result of these ingenious refinements does more honorto the moderns in discovering, than to the ancients in forming thesimilitude. In the work of Homer, it is supposed by his enthusiasticcommentators, the seeds of every science are to be found, but, in truth, they are first observed in subsequent discoveries, and then the fondimagination transplants them to the book. Tacitus, who lived towardsthe close of that period, which is called ancient, who had read thehistory of all antecedent and contemporary governments, who wasperfectly competent to judge of their nature, tendency, and quality,Tacitus considers a mixed government as a thing rather to be wishedthan expected; and, if ever it did occur, it was his opinion, that itcould not last long. One fact, however, is certain, that the ancientshad no idea representation, that essential to every system of wise, good, and efficient government. It is surprising, indeed, how veryimperfectly, at this day, the doctrine of representation is understood inEurope. Even Great Britain, which boasts a superior knowledge ofthe subject, and is generally supposed to have carried it into practice, falls far short of its true and genuine principles. For, let us inquire, does representation pervade the constitution of that country? No. Is it either immediately remotely the source of the executivepower? No. For it is not any part of the British constitution, as practiced at this time, that the king derives his authority from the people. Formerly that authority was claimed by hereditary or divine fight; and even at the Revolution [of 1688], when the government wasessentially improved, no other principle was recognized, but that ofan original contract between the sovereign and the people—a contractwhichrather excludes than implies the doctrine of representation. Again, is the judicial system of England grounded on representation? No. For the judges are appointed by the king, and he, as we havealready observed, derives not his majesty or power from the people. Lastly, then, let us review the legislative body of that nation, andeven there, though we find representation operating as a check, itcannot be considered a pervading principle. The Lords, acting withhereditary right, or under an authority immediately communicatedby regal prerogative, are not the representatives of the people, and yetthey, as well as the sovereign, possess a negative power in the paramount business of legislation. Thus the vital principle of the Britishconstitution is confined to a narrow corner, and the world has left toAmerica the glory and happiness of forming a government whererepresentation shall at once supply the basis and the cement of thesuperstructure.
For, representation, sir, is the true chain betweenthe people and those to whom they entrust the administration of thegovernment; and, though it may consist of many links, its strengthand brightness never should be impaired.2
Another, and perhaps themost important obstacle to the proceedings of the Federal Conventionarose in drawing the line between the national and the individualgovernments of the states.
On this point a general principle readily occurred, that whateverobject was confined in its nature and operation to a particular stateought to be subject to the separate government of the states, but whatever in its nature and operation extended beyond a particular stateought to be comprehended within the federal jurisdiction. The greatdifficulty, therefore, was the application of this general principle, forit was found impracticable to enumerate and distinguish the variousobjects to which it extended; and as the mathematics, only, are capable of demonstration, it ought not to be thought extraordinary thatthe Convention could not develop a subject involved in such endless perplexity. If however, the proposed Constitution should be adopted,I trust that in the theory there will be found such harmony, and inthe practice such mutual confidence between the national and individual governments, that every sentiment of jealousy and apprehension will be effectually destroyed. But sir, permit me to ask, whetheron the ground of a Union, the individual or the national governmentought most to be trusted? For my part, I think it more natural topresume that the interest of each would be pursued by the whole, than the reverse of the proposition, that the several states would prefer the interest of the confederated body, for in the general governmenteach is represented, but in the separate governments, only the separatestates.
These difficulties, Mr. President, which embarrassed the FederalConvention are not represented to enhance the merit surmountingthem, but with a more important view, to show how unreasonable itis to expect that the plan of government should correspond with thewishes of all the states, of all the citizens of anyone state, or of allthe citizens of the united continent. I remember well, sir, the effectof those surrounding difficulties in the late Convention. At one timethe great and interesting work seemed to be at a stand, at anotherit proceeded with energy and rapidity, and when at last, it was accomplished, many respectable members beheld it with wonder andadmiration.3
But having pointed out the obstacles which they hadto encounter, I shall now beg leave to direct your attention to theend which the Convention proposed.
Our wants, imperfections, and weakness, Mr. President, naturallyincline us to society, but it is certain; society cannot exist withoutsome restraints. In a state of nature each individual has a right, uncontrolled, to act as his pleasure or his interest may prevail, but itmust be observed that this license extends to every individual, andhence the state of nature is rendered insupportable by the interferingclaims and the consequent animosities of men, who are independentof every power and influence, but their passions and their will. Onthe other hand, in entering into the social compact, though the individual parts with a portion of his natural rights, yet, it is evidentthat he gains more by the limitation of the liberty of others, thanhe loses by the limitation of his own; so that in truth, the aggregateof liberty is more in society, than it is in a state of nature.
It is then, sir, a fundamental principle of society, that the welfareof the whole shall be pursued and not of a part, and the measures necessary to the good of the community must consequently be bindingupon the individuals that compose it. This principle is universally allowed to be just with respect to single governments, and there areinstances in which it applies with equal force to independent communities; for the situation and circumstances of states may make itas necessary for them, as for individuals, to associate. Hence, Mr. President, the important question arises—are such the situation andcircumstances of the American states?
At this period, America has it in her power to adopt either of thefollowing modes of government: she may dissolve the individual sovereignty of the states and become one consolidated empire; she maybe divided into thirteen separate, independent, and unconnected commonwealths; she may be erected into two or more confederacies; or, lastly, she may become one comprehensive federal republic.
Allow me, sir, to take a short view of each of these suppositions. Is it probable that the dissolution of the state governments and theestablishment of one consolidated empire, would be eligible in itsnature and satisfactory to the people in its administration? I think not, as I have given reasons to show that so extensive a territorycouldnot be governed, connected, and preserved, but by the supremacyofdespotic power. All the exertions of the most potent emperors of Romewere not capable of keeping that empire together, which in extentwas far inferior to the dominion of America. Would an independent, an unconnected situation, without any associating head, be advantageous or satisfactory? The consequences of this system would atone time expose the states to foreign insult and depredations, and, at another, to internal jealousy, contention, and war. Then let usconsider the plan of two or more confederacies which has often beensuggested, and which certainly presents some aspects more invitingthan either of the preceding modes, since the subjects of strife would not be so numerous, the strength of the confederates would be greater, and their interests more united. But even here when we fairlyweigh the advantages and the disadvantages, we shall find the last greatly preponderating; the expenses of government would be considerably multiplied, the seeds of rivalship and animosity would spring up and spread the calamities of war and tumult through the country; for tho the sources of rancor might be diminished, their strength and virulence would probably be increased.
Of these three species of government, however, I must observe, that they obtained no advocates in the Federal Convention, nor can I presume that they will find advocates here, or in any of our sister states. The general sentiment in that body, and, I believe, the general sentiment of the citizens of America, is expressed in the motto which some of them have chosen, UNITE OR DIE; and while we consider the extent of the country, so intersected and almost surrounded with navigable rivers, so separated and detached from the rest of the world, it is natural to presume that Providence has designed us for an united people, under one great political compact. If this is a just and reasonable conclusion, supported by the wishes of the people, the Convention did right in proposing single confederated republic. But in proposing it, they were necessarily led not only to consider the situation, circumstances, and interests of one, two, or three states, but of the collective body; and as it is essential to society, that the welfare of the whole should be preferred to the accommodation of a part, they followed the same rule in promoting the national advantages of the Union in preference to the separate advantages of the states. A principle of candor, as well as duty, lead to this conduct; for, as I have said before, no government, either single or confederated can exist, unless private and individual rights are subservient to the public and general happiness of the nation. It was not alone the State of Pennsylvania, however important she may be as a constituent part of the Union, that could influence the deliberations of a Convention, formed by a delegation from all the United States, to devise a government adequate to their common exigencies and impartial in its influence and operation. In the spirit of union, inculcated by the nature of their commission, they framed the Constitution before us, and in the same spirit, they submit it to the candid consideration of their constituents.
Having made some remarks upon the nature and principles of civil society, I shall now take a cursory notice of civil liberty, which is essential to the wellbeingof civil government. The definition of civil liberty is, briefly, that portion of natural liberty which men resign to the government, and which then produces more happiness than it would have produced if retained by the individuals who resign it; still however leaving to the human mind the full enjoyment of every privilege that is not incompatible with the peace and order of society. Here I am easily led to the consideration of another species of liberty, which has not yet received a discriminating name, but which I will venture to term "federal liberty." This, sir, consists in the aggregate of the civil liberty which is surrendered by each state to the national government; and the same principles that operate in the establishment of a single society, with respect to the rights reserved or resigned by the individuals that compose it, will justly apply in the case of a confederation of distinct and independent states.
These observations have been made, Mr. President, in order to preface a representation of the state of the Union, as it appeared to the late Convention. We all know, and we have all felt, that the present system of confederation is inadequate to the government and the exigencies of the United States. Need I describe the contrasted scene which the Revolution has presented to our view? On the one hand, the arduous struggle in the cause of liberty terminated by a glorious and triumphant peace; on the other, contention and poverty at home, discredit and disgrace abroad. Do we not remember what high expectations were formed by others and by ourselves, on the return of peace? And have those honorable expectations from our national character been realized? No! What then has been the cause of disappointment? Has America lost her magnanimity or perseverance? No. Has she been subdued by any high-handed invasion of her liberties? Still I answer no; for, dangers of that kind were no sooner seen, than they were repelled. But the evil has stolen in from a quarter little suspected, and the rock of freedom, which stood firm against the attacks of a foreign foe, has been sapped and undermined by the licentiousness of our own citizens. Private calamity and public anarchy have prevailed; and even the blessing of independency has been scarcely felt or understood by a people who have dearly achieved it.
Shall I, sir, be more particular in this lamentable history? The commencement of peace was likewise the commencement of our distresses and disgrace. Devoid of power, we could neither prevent the excessive importations which lately deluged the country, nor even raise from that excess a contribution to the public revenue; devoid of importance, we were unable to command a sale for our commodities in a foreign market; devoid of credit, our public securities were melt- ing in the hands of their deluded owners, like snow before the sun; devoid of dignity, we were inadequate to perform treaties on our own part or to compel a performance on the part of a contracting nation. In short, sir, the tedious tale disgusts me, and I fondly hope it is unnecessary to proceed. The years of languor are over. We have seen dishonor and destruction, it is true, but we have at length penetrated the cause, and are now anxious to obtain the cure. The cause need not be specified bya recapitulation of facts; every act of Congress and the proceedings of every state are replete with proofs in that respect, and all point to the weakness and imbecility of the existing Confederation; while the loud and concurrent voice of the people proclaims an efficient national government to be the only cure. Under these impressions, and with these views, the late Convention were appointedand met; the end which they proposed to accomplish, being to frame one national and efficient government, in which the exercise of beneficence, correcting the jarring interests of every part, should pervade the whole, and by which the peace, freedom, and happiness of the United States should be permanently insured. The principles and means that were adopted by the Convention to obtain that end are now before us and will become the great object of our discussion. But on this point, as upon others, permit me to make a few general observations.
In all governments, whatever is their form, however they may be constituted, there must be a power established from which there is no appeal and which is therefore called absolute, supreme, and uncontrollable. The only question is, where that power is lodged? A question that will receive different answers from the different writers on the subject. Sir William Blackstone says it resides in the omnipotence of the British Parliament or, in other words, corresponding with the practice of that country, it is whatever the British Parliament pleases to do. So that when that body was so base and treacherous to the rights of the people as to transfer the legislative authorityto Henry VIII, his exercising that authority by proclamations and edicts could not strictly speaking be termed unconstitutional, for under the act of Parliament his will was made the law, and therefore, his will became in that respect the constitution itself. But were we to ask some politicians who have taken a faint and inaccurate view of our establishments, "Where does this supreme power reside in the United States?" they would probably answer, "in their constitutions." This however, tho a step nearer to the fact, is not a just opinion; for, in truth, it remains and flourishes with the people; and under the influence of that truth we, at this moment, sit, deliberate, and speak. In other countries, indeed, the revolutions of government are connected with war and all its concomitant calamities. But with us, they are considered as the means of obtaining a superior knowledge of the nature of government and accomplishing its end. That the supreme power therefore should be vested in the people is, in my judgment, the great panacea of human politics. It is a power paramount to every constitution, inalienable in its nature, and indefinite in its extent. For, I insist, if there are errors in government the people have the right not only to correct and amend them, but likewise totally to change andreject its form; and under the operation of that right, the citizens of the United States can never be wretched beyond retrieve, unless they are wanting to themselves.
Then let us examine, Mr. President, the three species of simple governments, which, as I have already mentioned, are the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical In a monarchy, the supreme power is vested in a single person; in an aristocracy, it is possessed bya body, not formed upon the principle representation, but enjoying their station by descent, by election among themselves, or in right of some personalor territorial qualification; and, lastly, in a democracy, it is inherent in the people, and is either exercised by themselves or by their representatives. Each of these systems has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages ofa monarchy are strength, dispatch, and unity; its disadvantages are expense, tyranny, and war. The advantages ofan aristocracy are experience and the wisdom resulting from education; its disadvantages are the dissension of the governors and the oppression of the people. The advantages ofa democracyare liberty, caution, industry, fidelity, and an opportunity of bringing forward the talents and abilities of the citizens without regard to birth or fortune; its disadvantages are dissension and imbecility, for the assent of many being required, their exertions will be feeble, and their councils too soon discovered.
To obtain all the advantages, and to avoid all the inconveniences of these governments, was the leading object of the late Convention. Having therefore considered the formation and principles of other systems, it is natural to inquire, of what description is the Constitution before us? In its principles, sir, it is purely democratical; varying indeed, in its form, in order to admit all the advantages and to exclude all the disadvantages which are incidental to the known and establishedconstitutions of government. But when we take an extensive and accurate view of the streams of power that appear through this great and comprehensive plan, when we contemplate the variety of their directions, the force and dignity of their currents, when we behold them intersecting, embracing, and surrounding the vast possessions and interests of the continent, and when we see them distributing on all hands, beauty, energy, and riches, still, however nu- merous and wide their courses, however diversified and remote the blessings they diffuse, we shall be able to trace them all to one great andnoble source, THE PEOPLE Such, Mr. President, are the general observations with which I have thought it necessary to trouble you. In discussing the distinct proposi- tions of the federal plan, I shall have occasion to apply them more particularly to that subject, but at present, I shall conclude with requesting the pardon of the Convention for having so long intruded upon their patience.
Version of Wilson's Speech by Thomas Lloyd The system proposed, by the late Convention, for the government of the United States is now before you. Of that Convention I had the honor to be a member. As I am the only member of that body, who have the honor to be also a member of this, it may be expected that I should prepare the way for the deliberations of this assembly by unfolding the difficulties which the late Convention were obliged to encounter, by pointing out the end which they proposed to accomplish, and by tracing the general principles which they have adopted for the accomplishment of that end.
To form a good system of government for a single city or state, however limited as to territory or inconsiderable as to numbers, has been thought to require the strongest efforts of human genius. With what conscious diffidence, then, must the members of the Convention have revolved in their minds the immense undertaking, which was before them. Their views could not be confined to a small or a single community, but were expanded to a great number of states; several of which contain an extent of territory, and resources of population, equal to those of some of the most respectable kingdoms on the other side of the Atlantic. Nor were even these the only objects to be comprehended within their deliberations. Numerous states yet unformed, myriads of the human race, who will inhabit regions hitherto uncultivated, were to be affected by the result of their proceedings. It was necessary, therefore, to form their calculations on a scale commensurate to a large portion of the globe.
For my own part, I have been often lost in astonishment at the vastness of the prospect before us. To open the navigation of a single river was lately thought in Europe, an enterprise adequate to im- perial glory. But could the commercial scenes of the Scheldt be compared with those, that, under a good government, will be exhibited on the Hudson, the Delaware, the Potomac, and the numerous other rivers, that water and are intended to enrich the dominions of the United States? A. DEBATES/24 NOV. 351 The difficulty of the business was equal to its magnitude. No smallshare of wisdom and address is requisite to combine and reconcile thejarring interests, that prevail, or seem to prevail, in a single commu-nity. The United States contain already thirteen government mutual-ly independent. Those governments present to the Atlantic a frontof fifteen hundred miles in extent. Their soil, their climates, theirproductions, their dimensions, their numbers are different In manyinstances a difference and even an opposition subsists among theirinterests. And a difference and even an opposition is imagined to sub-sist in many more. An apparent interest produces the same attachmentas a real one; and is often pursued with no less perseverance and vigor. When all these circumstances are seen and attentively considered, willanymember of this honorable body be surprised, that such a diversityof things produced proportioned diversity of sentiment? Will hebe surprised that such a diversity of sentiment rendered a spirit ofmutual forbearance and conciliation indispensably necessary to thesuccess of the great work, and will he be surprised that mutualcon-cessions and sacrifices were the consequences of mutual forbearanceandconciliation? When the springs of opposition were so numerousandstrong, and poured forth their waters in courses so varying, needwe be surprised that the stream formed by their conjunction wasimpelled in a direction somewhat different from that, which eachofthem would have taken separately? I have reason to think that a difficulty arose in the minds of somemembers of Convention from another consideration-their ideas of thetemper and disposition of the people for whom the Constitution isproposed. The citizens of the United States, however different insome other respects, are well-known to agree in one stronglymarkedfeature of their character-a warm and keen sense of freedom andindependence. This sense has been heightened by the glorious resultof their late struggle against all the efforts of one of the most power-fulnations of Europe. It was apprehended, I believe, by some, thata people so highly spirited, would ill brook the restraints of an efficientgovernment. I confess that this consideration did not influence myconduct. I knew my constituents to be high-spirited, but I knew themalso to possess sound sense. I knew that, in the event, theywouldbe best pleased with that system of government, which would bestpromote their freedom and happiness. I have often revolved thissubject in my mind. I have supposed one of 'my constituents to askme, why I gave such a vote on a particular question? I have alwaysthought it would be a satisfactory answer to say, "because I judged, upon the best consideration I could give, that such a vote was right."I have thought that it would be but a very poor compliment to myconstituents to say-"that, in my opinion, such a vote would have. I - .- — 'g .-. -.- .- -. - .- 352III. PENNSYLVANIA CONVENTION been proper, but that I supposed a contrary one would be more agreeable to those who sent me to the Convention." I could not, even in idea, expose myself to such a retort, as, upon the last answer, might have been justly made to me. "Pray, sir, what reasons have you for supposing that a right vote would displease your constituents? Is this the proper return for the high confidence they have placed in you?" If they have given cause for such a surmise, it was by choosing a representative, who could entertain such an opinion of them. I was under no apprehension that the good people of this state would behold with displeasure the brightness of the rays of delegated power, when it only proved the superior splendor of the luminary, of which those rays were only the reflection. Avery important difficulty arose from comparing the extent of the country to be governed with the kind of government which it would be proper to establish in it. It has been an opinion, countenanced by high authority, "that the natural property of small states is to be governedas a republic; of middling ones, to be subject to a monarch; and of large empires, to be swayed bya despotic prince; and that the consequence is, that, in order to preserve the principles of the estab- lished government, the state must be supported in the extent it has acquired; and that the spirit of the state will alter in proportion as it extends or contracts its limits.(a) This opinion seems to be supported, rather than contradicted, by the history of the governments in the Old World. Here then the difficulty appeared in full view. On one hand, the United States contain an immense extent of territory, and, ac- cording to the foregoing opinion, a despotic government is best adapted to that extent. On the other hand, it was well-known, that, however the citizens of the United States might, with pleasure, submit to the legitimate restraints of a republican constitution, they would reject, with indignation, the fetters of despotism. What then was to be done? The idea ofa confederate republic presented itself. This kind of constitution has been thought to have "all the internal advantages ofa republican, together with the external force of a monarchical gov- ernmentb) Its description is, "a convention, by which several states agree to become members ofa larger one, which they intend to estab- lish. It is a kind of assemblage of societies, that constitute a new one, capable of increasing by means of further association."(c) The expand- ing quality of such a government is peculiarly fitted for the United States, the greatest part of whose territory is yet uncultivated. But while this form of government enabled us to surmount the difficulty last mentioned, it conducted us to another, of which I am now to take notice. It left us almost without precedent or guide; and consequently, without the benefit of that instruction, which, in manyA. DEBATES/24 NOV. 353cases, may be derived from the constitution, and history and experi-ence of other nations. Several associations have frequently been calledby the name of confederate states, which have not, in proprietyoflanguage, deserved it. The Swiss cantons are connected only byalli-ances. The United Netherlands are indeed an assemblage of societies; but this assemblage constitutes no new one; and, therefore, it does notcorrespondwith the full definition ofa confederate republic. TheGermanic body is composed of such disproportioned and discordantmaterials, and its structure is so intricate and complex, that littleuseful knowledge can be drawn from it. Ancient history discloses, andbarely discloses to our view, some confederate republics-the AchaeanLeague, the Lycian Confederacy, and the Amphyctyonic Council Butthe facts recorded concerning their constituions are so few and gen-eral, and their histories are so unmarked and defective, that no satis-factory information can be collected from them concerningmanyparticular circumstances, from an accurate discernment and comparison - , of which alone legitimate and practical inferences can be madefrom one constitution to another. Besides, the situation and dimen-sions of those confederacies, and the state of society, manners, andhabits in them, were so different from those of the United States, thatthe most correct descriptions could have supplied but a verysmallfund of applicable remark. Thus, in forming this system, we weredeprivedof many advantages, which the history and experience ofother ages and other countries would, in other cases, have afforded us. Permit me to add, in this place, that the science even of governmentitself seems yet to be almost in its state of infancy. Governments, ingeneral, have been the result of force, of fraud, and of accident. Aftera period of six thousand years has elapsed since the Creation, theUnited States exhibit to the world, the first instance, as far as wecan learn, ofa nation, unattacked by external force, unconvulsed bydomestic insurrections, assembling voluntarily, deliberating fully, anddecidingcalmly, concerning that system of government, under whichtheywould wish that they and their posterity should live. The an-cients, so enlightened on other subjects, were very uninformedwithregard to this. They seem scarcely to have had any idea of any otherkinds of governments than the three simple forms designed by theepithets, monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical I know thatmuch and pleasing ingenuity has been exerted, in modern times, indrawing entertaining parallels between some of the ancient consti-tutions and some of the mixed governments that have since existedin Europe. But I much suspect that, on strict examination, the in-stances of resemblance will be found to be few and weak; to be sug-gested by the improvements, which, in subsequent ages, have beenp7t"- " " "": - '- '-"" " ', - , - ." 354III. PENNSYLVANIA CONVENTION made in government, and not to be drawn immediately from the ancient constitutions themselves, as they were intended and under- stood by those who framed them. To illustrate this, a similar obser- vation may be made on another subject. Admiring critics have fancied that they have discovered in their favorite, Homer, the seeds ofall the improvements in philosophy and in the sciences made since his time. What induces me to be of this opinion is that Tacitus-the profound politician Tacitus-who lived towards the latter end of those ages, which are now denominated ancient, who undoubtedly hadstu- died the constitutions of all the states and kingdoms known before and in his time; and who certainly was qualified in an uncommon degree for understanding the full force and operation of each of them, con- siders, after all he had known and read, a mixed government, com- posedof the three simple forms, as a thing rather to be wished than expected. And he thinks, that if such a government could even be instituted, its duration could not be long. One thing is very certain, that the doctrine of representation in government was altogether un- known to the ancients. Now the knowledge and practice of this doc- trine is, in my opinion, essential to every system that can possess the qualities of freedom, wisdom and energy. It is worthy of remark, and the remark may, perhaps, excite some surprise, that representation of the people is not, even at this day, the sole principle of any government in Europe. Great Britain boasts, and she may well boast, of the improvement she has made in politics by the admission representation. For the improvement is important as far as it goes, but it byno means goes far enough. Is the executive power of Great Britain founded on representation? This is not pre- tended. Before the Revolution [of 1688] many of the kings claimed to reign by divine right, and others by hereditary right; and even at the Revolution nothing further was effected or attempted than the recognition of certain parts of an original contractd) supposed, at some former remote period, to have been made between the kingand the people. A contract seems to exclude, rather than to imply, dele- gated power. The judges of Great Britain are appointed by the Crown. The judicial authority, therefore, does not depend upon representa- tion, even in its most remote degree. Does representation prevail in the legislative department of the British government? Even here it does not predominate; though it may serve as a check. The legislature consists of three branches, the King, the Lords, and the Commons. Of these only the latter are supported by the constitution to represent the authority of the people. This short analysis clearly shows to what a narrow corner of the British constitution the principle of represen- tation is confined. I believe it does not extend further, ifso far, inany other government in Europe. For the American states were reserved the glory and the happiness of diffusing this vital principle throughout the constituent parts of government. Representation is the chain communication between the people and those to whom they have committed the exercise of the powers of government. This chain may consist of one or more links; but in all cases it should be sufficiently strong and discernible.
To be left without guide or precedent was not the only difficulty, in which the Convention were involved, by proposing to their constituents a plan of a confederate republic. They found themselves embarrassed with another of peculiar delicacy and importance; I mean that of drawing a proper line between the national government and the government of the several states. It was easy to discover a proper and satisfactory principle on the subject. Whatever object of government is confined in its operation and effects within the bounds of a particular state should be considered as belonging to the government of that state; whatever object of government extends in its operation or effects beyond the bounds of a particular state should be considered as belonging to the government of the United States. But though this principle be sound and satisfactory, its application to particular cases would be accompanied with much difficulty; because in its application, room must be allowed for great discretionary latitude of construction of the principle. In order to lessen or remove the difficulty arising from discretionary construction on this subject, an enumeration of particular instances, in which the application of the principle ought to take place, has been attempted with much industry and care. It is only in mathematical science that a line can be described with mathematical precision. But I flatter myself that upon the strictest investigation, the enumeration will be found to be safe and unex- ceptionable; and accurate too in as great a degree as accuracy can be expected in a subject of this nature. Particulars under this head , will be more properly explained, when we descend to the minute view of the enumeration, which is made in the proposed Constitution.
After all, it will be necessary, that, on a subject so peculiarly delicate as this, much prudence, much candor, much moderation, and much liberality should be exercised and displayed both by the federal government and by the governments of the several states. It is to be hoped, that those virtues in government will be exercised and displayed, when we consider, that the powers of the federal government and those of the state governments are drawn from sources equally pure. If a difference can be discovered between them, it is in favor of the federal government, because that government is founded on a representation of the whole Union; whereas the government of anyparticular state is founded only on the representation ofa part, inconsiderable when compared with the whole. Is it not more reasonable to suppose, that the counsels of the whole will embrace the interest of every part, than that the counsels of any part will embrace the interests of the whole?
I intend not, sir, by this description of the difficulties withwhich the Convention were surrounded to magnify their skill or their merit in surmounting them, or to insinuate that any predicament in which the Convention stood should prevent the closest and most cautious scrutiny into the performance, which they have exhibited to their constituents and to the world. My intention is of far other and higher aim-to evince by the conflicts and difficulties which must arise from the many and powerful causes which I have enumerated, that it is hopeless and impracticable to form a constitution, which, in every part, will be acceptable to every citizen, or even to every government in the United States; and that all which can be expected is to form such a constitution, as upon the whole, is the best that can possibly be obtained. Man and perfection!-a state and perfection!- an assemblage of states and perfection!-can we reasonably expect, however ardently we may wish, to behold the glorious union?
I can well recollect, though I believe I cannot convey to others the impression, which, on many occasions, was made by the difficulties which surrounded and pressed the Convention. The great undertaking, at some times, seemed to be at a stand; at other times, its motion seemed to be retrograde. At the conclusion, however, of our work, many of the members expressed their astonishment at the success withwhich it terminated.
Having enumerated some of the difficulties, which the Convention were obliged to encounter in the course of their proceedings, I shall next point out the end, which they proposed to accomplish. Our wants, our talents, our affections, our passions, all tell us that we were made for a state of society. But a state of society could not be supported long or happily without some civil restraint. It is true, that in a state of nature, anyone individual may act uncontrolled by others; but it is equally true, that in such a state, every other individual may act uncontrolled by him. Amidst this universal independence, the dissensions and animosities between interfering members of the society would be numerous and ungovernable. The consequence would be, that each member, in such a natural state, would enjoy less liberty, and suffer more interruption, than he would in a regulated society. Hence the universal introduction of governments of some kind or other into the social state. The liberty of every member is increased by this introduction; for each gains more by the limitation of the freedom _,-T - .,_,:"_A. DEBATES/24 NOV. 357of every other member, than he loses by the limitation of his own. The result is, that civil government is necessary to the perfection andhappiness of man. In forming this government, and carrying it intoexecution, it is essential that the interest and authority of the wholecommunityshould be binding in every part of it. The foregoing principles and conclusions are generally admittedto be just and sound with regard to the nature and formation of singlegovernments, and the duty of submission to them. In some cases theywillapply, with much propriety and force, to states already formed. The advantages and necessityof civil government among individualsin society are not greater or stronger than, in some situations andcircumstances, are the advantages and necessity ofa federal govern-ment among states. A natural and a very important question nowpresents itself-is such the situation-are such the circumstances ofthe United States? A proper answer to this question will unfold somevery interesting truths. The United States may adopt anyone of four different systems. They may become consolidated into one government, in which theseparate existence of the states shall be entirely absorbed. Theymayreject "any plan of union or association and act as separate and un-connected states. They may form two or more confederacies. Theymayunite in one federal republic. Which of these systems ought tohave been formed by the Convention? To support, with vigor, asingle government over the whole extent of the United States woulddemand a system of the most unqualified and the most unremitteddespotism. Such a number of separate states, contiguous in situation, unconnected and disunited in government, would be, at one time, thepreyof foreign force, foreign influence, and foreign intrigue; atanother, the victim of mutual rage, rancor, and revenge. Neither ofthese systems found advocates in the late Convention. I presume theywill not find advocates in this. Would it be proper to divide theUnited States into two or more confederacies? It will not be unad-visable to take a more minute survey of this subject. Some aspects, under which it may be viewed, are far from being, at first sight, un-inviting. Two or more confederacies would be each more compactand more manageable than a single one extending over the same ter-ritory. By dividing the United States into two or more confederacies, the great collision of interests, apparently or really different andcon-trary, in the whole extent of their dominion, would be broken, and, in a great measure, disappear in the several parts. But these disad-vantagese) which are discovered from certain points of view, are great-ly overbalanced by inconveniences that will appear on a more accurateexamination. Animosities, and perhaps wars, would arise from assign-ing the extent, the limits, and the rights of the different confederacies. The expenses of governing would be multiplied by the number of federal governments. The danger resulting from foreign influence and mutual dissensions would not, perhaps, be less great and alarming in the instance of different confederacies, than in the instance of different though more numerous unassociated states. These observations, and many others that might be made on the subject, will be sufficient to evince, that a division of the United States into a number of separate confederacies would probably be an unsatisfactory and an unsuccessful experiment. The remaining system which the American states may adopt is a union of them under one confederate republic. It will not be necessary to employ much time or many arguments to show, that this is the most eligible system that can be proposed. By adopting this system, the vigor and decision of a wide-spreading monarchy may be joined to the freedom and beneficence of a contracted republic. The extent of territory, the diversity of climate and soil, the number, and greatness, and connection of lakes and rivers, with which the United States are intersected and almost surrounded, all indicate an enlarged government to be fit and advantageous for them. The principles and dispositions of their citizens indicate that in this government, liberty shall reign triumphant. Such indeed have been the general opinions and wishes entertained since the era of independence. If those opinions and wishes are as well-founded they have been general, the late Convention were justified in proposing to their constituents, one confederate republic as the best system of a national government for the United States.
In forming this system, it was proper to give minute attention to the interest of all the parts; but there was a duty of still higher import- to feel and to show a predominating regard to the superior interests of the whole. If this great principle had not prevailed, the plan before us would never have made its appearance. The same principle that was so necessary in forming it is equally necessary in our deliberations, whether we should reject or ratify it.
I make these observations with a design to prove and illustrate this great and important truth-that in our decisions on the work of the late Convention, we should not limit our views and regards to the State of Pennsylvania. The aim of the Convention was to form a system of good and efficient government on the more extensive scale of the United States. In this, and in every other instance, the work should be judged with the same spirit with which it was performed. A principle of duty as well as candor demands this.
We have remarked, that civil government is necessary to the perfection of society. We now remark that civil liberty is necessary to the perfection of civil government. Civil liberty is natural liberty itself, divested only of that part, which, placed in the government, produces more good and happiness to the community than if it had remained in the individual Hence it follows, that civil liberty, while it resigns a part of natural liberty, retains the free and generous evercise of all the human faculties, so far at it is compatible with the public welfare.
In considering and developing the nature and end of the system before us, it is necessary to mention another kind of liberty, which has not yet, as far as I know, received a name. I shall distinguish it by the appellation of "federal liberty." When a single government is instituted, the individuals, of which it is composed, surrender to it apart of their natural independence, which they before enjoyedas men. When a confederate republic is instituted, the communities, of which it is composed, surrender to it a part of their political in- dependence, which they before enjoyed as states. The principles, which directed, in the former case, what part of the natural liberty of the man ought to be given up and what part ought to be retained, will give similar directions in the latter case. The states should resign, to the national government, that part, and that part only, of their political liberty, which placed in that government will produce more good to the whole than if it had remained in the several states. While they resign this part of their political liberty, they retain the free and generous exercise of all their other faculties as states, so far as it is compatible with the welfare of the general and superintending confederacy.
Since states as well as citizens are represented in the Constitution before us, and form the objects on which that Constitution is proposed to operate, it was necessary to notice and define federal as well as civil liberty. These general reflections have been made in order to introduce, with more propriety and advantage, a practical illustration of the end proposed to be accomplished by the late Convention.
It has been too well-known-it has been too severely felt-that the present Confederation is inadequate to the government and to the exigencies of the United States. The great struggle for liberty in this country, should it be unsuccessful, will probably be the last one which she will have for her existence and prosperity, in any part of the globe. And it must be confessed, that this struggle has, in some of the stages of its progress, been attended with symptoms, that foreboded no fortunate issue. To the iron hand of tyranny, which was lifted upagainst her, she manifested, indeed, an intrepid superiority. She broke in pieces the fetters, which were forged for her, and showed she was unassailable by force. But she was environed with dan-gers of another kind, and springing from a very different source. While she kept her eye steadily fixed on the efforts of oppression, licentiousness was secretly undermining the rock on which she stood.
Need I call to your remembrance the contrasted scenes of which we have been witnesses? On the glorious conclusion of our conflict with Britain, what high expectations were formed concerning us byothers What high expectations did we form concerning ourselves I Have those expectations been realized? No. What has been thecause? Did our citizens lose their perseverance and magnanimity? Did they become insensible of resentment and indignation at any high handed attempt that might have been made to injure or enslave them? No. What then has been the cause? The truth is, we dreaded danger only on one side. This we manfully repelled. But on another side, danger not less formidable, but more insidious, stole in uponus; and our unsuspicious tempers were not sufficiently attentive eitherto its approach or to its operations. Those, whom foreign strength could not overpower, have well-nigh become the victims of internal anarchy.
If we become a little more particular, we shall find that the foregoing representation is by no means exaggerated. When we had baffled all the menaces of foreign power, we neglected to establish among our-selves a government, that would insure domestic vigor and stability. What was the consequence? The commencement of peace was the commencement of every disgrace and distress, that could befall a people in a peaceful state. Devoid of national power, we could not prohibit the extravagance of our importations, nor could we derive a revenue from their excess. Devoid of national importance, we could notprocure, for our exports, a tolerable sale at foreign markets. Devoid of national credit, we saw our public securities melt in the hands of the holders, like snow before the sun. Devoid of national dignity, wecouldnot, in some instances, perform our treaties, on our parts; and, in other instances, we could neither obtain nor compel the performance of them on the part of others. Devoid of national energy, we could not carry into execution our own resolutions, decisions, or laws.
Shall I become more particular still? The tedious detail would disgust me. Nor is it now necessary. The years of languor are passed. We have felt the dishonor with which we have been covered. Wehave seen the destruction with which we have been threatened. Wehave penetrated to the causes of both, and when we have once discovered them, we have begun to search for the means of removingthem. For the confirmation of these remarks, I need not appeal toan enumeration of facts. The proceedings of Congress, and of the states, are replete with them. They all point out the weaknessand insufficiency the cause, and an efficient general governmentas the only cure of our political distempers.
Under these impressions, and with these views, was the late Con-vention appointed; and under these impressions, and with theseviews, the late Convention met.
We now see the great end which they propose to accomplish. It was to frame, for the consideration of their constituents, one federaland national constitution -a constitution, that would produce the advantages of good, and prevent the inconveniences of bad government-a constitution whose beneficence and energy would pervade the whole Union; and bind and embrace the interests of every part-a constitution that would insure peace, freedom, and happiness, to the states and people of America.
We are now naturally led to examine the means by which they proposed to accomplish this end. This opens more particularly toour view the important discussion before us. But previously to ourentering upon it, it will not be improper to state some general and leading principles of government, which will receive particular applications in the course of our investigations.
There necessarily exists in every government a power from which there is no appeal; and which, for that reason, may be termed supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable. Where does this power reside? To this question, writers on different governments will give differentanswers. Sir William Blackstone will tell you, that in Britain thepower is lodged in the British Parliament, that the Parliament mayalter the form of the government; and that its power is absolute with-out control. The idea of a constitution, limiting and superintendingthe operations of legislative authority, seems not to have been accurately understood in Britain. There are, at least, no traces of practiceconformable to such a principle. The British constitution is justwhat the British Parliament pleases. When the Parliament transferred legislative authority to Henry VIII, the act transferring could not in the strict acceptation of the term be called unconstitutional.
To control the power and conduct of the legislature by an overruling constitution was an improvement in the science and practice of government reserved to the American states.
Perhaps some politican, who has not considered, with sufficient accuracy, our political systems, would answer, that in our governments, the supreme power was vested in the constitutions. This opinion approaches - a step nearer to the truth; but does not reach it. The truthis, that, in bur governments, the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power remains in the people. As our constitutions are superior to our legislatures; so the people are superior to our constitutions. Indeed - the superiority, in this last instance, is much greater; for the people possess, over our constitutions, control in act, as well as in right.
The consequence is, that the people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please. This is a right, of which no posi- tive institution can ever deprive them.
These important truths, sir, are far from being merely speculative. We, at this moment, speak and deliberate under their immediate and benign influence. To the operation of these truths, we are to ascribe the scene, hitherto unparalleled, which America now exhibits to the world-a gentle, a peaceful, a voluntary, and a deliberate transition from one constitution of government to another. In other parts of the world, the idea of revolutions in government is, bya mournful and an indissoluble association, connected with the idea of wars and all the calamities attendant on wars. But happy experience teaches us to view such revolutions in a very different light-to consider them only as progressive steps in improving the knowledge of government, and increasing the happiness of society and mankind.
Oft have I viewed, with silent pleasure and admiration, the force and prevalence through the United States, that the supreme power resides in the people; and that they never part with it. It may be called the panacea in politics. There can be no disorder in the com- munity but may here receive a radical cure. If the error be in the legislature, it may be corrected by the constitution. If in the consti- tution, it may be corrected by the people. There is a remedy, there- fore, for every distemper in government; if the people are not wanting to themselves. For a people wanting to themselves, there is no remedy. From their power, as we have seen, there is no appeal. To their error, there is no superior principle of correction.
There are three simple species of government-monarchy, where the supreme power is in a single person; aristocracy, where the supreme power is in a select assembly, the members of which either fill up, by election, the vacancies in their own body, or succeed to their places in it by inheritance, property, or in respect of some personal right or qualification; a republic or democracy, where the people at large retain the supreme power, and act either collectively or by representation.
Each of these species of government has its advantages and dis- advantages.
The advantages of a monarchy are strength, dispatch, secrecy, unity of counsel. Its disadvantages are tyranny, expense, ignorance of the situation and wants of the people, insecurity, unnecessary wars, evils attending elections or successions.
The advantages of aristocracy are wisdom, arising from experienceand education. Its disadvantages are dissensions among themselves, oppression to the lower orders.
The advantages of democracy are liberty, equal, cautious, andsalutary laws, public spirit, frugality, peace, opportunities ofexcitingand producing abilities of the best citizens. Its disadvantages are dissensions, the delay and disclosure of public counsels, the imbecilityof public measures retarded by the necessity ofa numerous consent.
A government may be composed of two or more of the simple formsabove mentioned. Such is the British government. It would be animproper government for the United States; because it is inadequateto such an extent of territory; and because it is suited to an establishment of different orders of men. A more minute comparisonbetween some parts of the British constitution and some parts of theplan before us may perhaps find a proper place in a subsequent periodof our business.
What is the nature and kind of that government which has beenproposed for the United States by the late Convention? In its principle, it is purely democratical. But that principle is applied in dif-ferent forms, in order to obtain the advantages and exclude the in-conveniences of the simple modes of government.
If we take an extended and accurate view of it, we shall find thestreams of power running in different directions, in different dimen-sions, and at different heights watering, adorning, and fertilizing thefields and meadows thro which their courses are led; but if we tracethem, we shall discover, that they all originally flow from one abun-dant fountain.
In THIS CONSTITUTION, all authority is derived from the PEOPLE.
Fit occasions will hereafter offer for particular remarks on thedifferent parts of the plan. I have now to ask pardon of the housefor detaining them so long.