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title:“Debate in the Virginia Convention”
date written:1788-6-21

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:57 a.m. UTC
retrieved:July 1, 2022, 11:05 p.m. UTC

"Debate in the Virginia Convention." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

Debate in the Virginia Convention (June 21, 1788)

June 21, 1788.
. . . Governor Randolph. where is the part that has a tendency to the abolition of slavery? Is it the clause which says, that "the migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing, shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by congress prior to the year 1808?" This is an exception from the power of regulating commerce, and the restriction is only to continue till 1808.1 Then congress can, by the exercise of that power, prevent future importations; but does it affect the existing state of slavery? Were it right here to mention what passed in convention on the occasion, I might tell you that the southern states, even South-Carolina herself, conceived this property to be secure by these words. I believe, whatever we may think here, that there was not a member of the Virginia delegation who had the smallest suspicion of the abolition of slavery. . . .
I have never hesitated to acknowledge, that I wished the regulation of commerce had been put in the hands of a greater body than it is in the sense of the constitution. But I appeal to my colleagues in the federal convention, whether this was not a sine qua non of the union. . . .
Mr. George Mason. — Mr. Chairman — With respect to commerce and navigation, he has given it as his opinion, that their regulation, as it now stands, was a sine qua non of the union, and that without it, the states in convention would never concur. I differ from him. It never was, nor in my opinion ever will be, a sine qua non of the union. I will give you, to the best of my recollection, the history of that affair. This business was discussed at Philadelphia for four months, during which time the subject of commerce and navigation was often under consideration; and I assert, that eight states out of twelve, for more than three months, voted for requiring two-thirds of the members present in each house to pass commercial and navigation laws. True it is, that afterwards it was carried by a majority, as it stands. If I am right, there was a great majority for requiring two-thirds of the states in this business, till a compromise took place between the northern and southern states; the northern states agreeing to the temporary importation of slaves, and the southern states conceding, in return, that navigation and commercial laws should be on the footing on which they now stand. If I am mistaken, let me be put right. These are my reasons for saying that this was not a sine qua non of their concurrence. The Newfoundland fisheries will require that kind of security which we are now in want of: The eastern states therefore agreed at length, that treaties should require the consent of two-thirds of the members present in the senate.2
Mr. Madison. . . . It is worthy of our consideration, that those who prepared the paper on the table, found difficulties not to be described, in its formation — mutual deference and concession were absolutely necessary. Had they been inflexibly tenacious of their individual opinions, they would never have concurred. Under what circumstances was it formed? When no party was formed, or particular proposition made, and men's minds were calm and dispassionate. Yet under these circumstances, it was difficult, extremely difficult to agree to any general system. . . .
The state of New-York has been adduced. Many in that state are opposed to it from local views. The two who opposed it in the general convention from that state, are in the state convention. Every step of this system was opposed by those two gentlemen. They were unwilling to part with the old confederation. . . .
The regulation of commerce, he further proposes, should depend on two-thirds of both houses. I wish I could recollect the history of this matter, but I cannot call it to mind with sufficient exactness. But I well recollect the reasoning of some gentlemen on that subject. It was said, and I believe with truth, that every part of America, does not stand in equal need of security. It was observed that the northern states were most competent to their own safety. Was it reasonable, asked they, that they should bind themselves to the defence of the southern states; and still be left at the mercy of the the minority for commercial advantages? Should it be in the power of the minority to deprive them of this and other advantages, when they were bound to defend the whole union, it might be a disadvantage for them to confederate. These were their arguments.

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