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title:“Francis Childs' Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates”
authors:Francis Childs, Gilbert Livingston
date written:1788-7-2

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:34 a.m. UTC
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Childs, Francis and Gilbert Livingston. "Francis Childs' Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 22. Ed. John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2008. 2058-62. Print.

Francis Childs' Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates (July 2, 1788)

GILBERT LIVINGSTON. Sir, I perfectly agree with every gentleman that has spoken on this clause [Article I, section 8, clause 1], that it is most important, and I likewise agree with those of the honorable members who think that if this section is not amended there will not the shadow of liberty be left to the states—as states. The honorable member from New-York, (Mr. Hamilton) on Saturday [28 June] went largely into the justification of the section as it stand—asserted that the government was truly republican—good and safe—that it would never be the interest of the general government to dissolve the states—that there was a concurrent jurisdiction, independent as to every thing but imports, that the states had a supreme uncontrouled and uncontrolable power in common with the general government to every branch of revenue except as to impost—post-office—and the restraint with respect to exports; that with respect to any productive source of revenue left—which ever the general government or particular state, applied first, would obtain it. As to the safety in the general government, considered as a compleat republican government, several honorable members as well as my worthy colleague, have fully considered, and in my humble opinion clearly shewn—that it cannot be fully depended on as safe, on the score of representation.—Therefore, I conceive the state governments are necessary, as the barrier between the people's liberties—and any invasion which may be attempted on them by the general government. The honorable member from New-York has given us a new kind of power—or rather endeavored to shew that power can be equally exercised in a way I believe never before thought of:—That is, two bodies which have, or at least may have, separate and indeed contrary interests, to have at the same time uncontrolable power to derive support from, and have compleat direction of, the same branch of revenue.
It seems, Sir, to be agreed, that state governments are necessary. The state governments will undoubtedly endeavor to support themselves. It also seems to be agreed, that the general government will want all the money they can raise—it is in my mind as true—(if they possibly can) that they will raise all they want. Now, Sir, what will be the consequence, the probable consequence, in this taxing, collecting squabble.—I think, Sir, we may conclude with great certainty, that the people will between them be pretty well taxed. An honorable member from New-York (Chancellor [Robert R. Livingston] ) on Friday last [27 June] endeavoured to prove, and yesterday again tauntingly mentioned it, that because taxes are annually collected in our counties—for state and county purposes, by the same collector—authorised by the same legislature—appointed by the same assessors, and to support the same government—that therefore the same sources of revenue may safely be applied to without any danger of clashing interference for different purposes, and by different powers—nay by powers, between whom it seems to be agreed, there will be a struggle for supremacy—and one of the gentlemen (Mr. Hamilton) declares his apprehensions to be, that in the issue the state governments will get the victory, and totally supplant the general government.—Others, I believe with greater probability of truth, think the states will cut but a scurvy figure in the unequal contest. This Sir, however seems certain, that a contention there must be between them. Is this wise, Mr. Chairman—now when we are deliberating on a form of government which we suppose will affect our posterity to many ages—to adopt a system in which we see, clearly see, the seeds of feud, contest, jealousy, and confusion. Farther, Sir, it is agreed that the support of the general government is of the utmost consequence on the great scale; it is contended by some as before mentioned, that, if both powers—these supreme co-existing, co-equal powers, should tax the same objects, the state taxes would be best paid. What, Sir, would be the consequence? Why, the others would be badly paid, or not be paid at all.—What then is to become of your government? In this case it must be annihilated indeed—Will this do? This bantling, Sir, ought to be better provided for—for my part I like it too well — if a little amended, to agree to a provision which is manifestly not sufficient for its support, for if the gentlemen's arguments have weight in them—(and that I would not wish to contest) this government must fail, the states will be too many for it. My opinion is, Sir, that a line be drawn.—Certain and sufficient resources ought to be left solely to the states, as states, which the amendment does. And as the general government has some particular ones altogether at its command, so also ought there to be a right of requisition for what the specific funds may be deficient in. Sir, this requisition, will have in my opinion, directly a contrary effect to what some gentlemen suppose It will serve to impress both the general government as well as the particular state governments with this important idea—that they conjointly are the guardians of the rights of the whole American family. Different parts of the administration of the concerns of which, being entrusted to them respectively. In the one case, Congress as the head will take care of the general concerns of the whole: In the other, the particular legislatures, as the stewards of the people, will attend to the more minute affairs. Thus, Sir, I wish to see the whole transacted in amity and peace; and no other contest, than what may arise in the strife, which may best answer the general end proposed, to wit, peace, happiness and safety.
Further, Sir. It has been frequently remarked, from one side of the house, that most of the amendments proposed, go on the supposition that corruption may possibly creep into the general government; and seem to discard the idea, as totally improbable. Of what kind of beings, Sir, is the general government to be composed?—If of men, I think it probable at least, they may be corrupt: Indeed, if it were not for the depravity of human nature, we should stand in no need of human government at all.
Sir, I should not have added, but I am led to do it, thus publicly to hold up my testimony to the world against the illiberal treatment we met with yesterday—and that from a quarter I little expected it. Had I not been present, I should hardly have believed it possible, that the honorable member from New-York, who harrangued the committee yesterday with such a torrent of illiberality, was the same man [Robert R. Livingston], who at the opening of the debates of this convention, could wish that we should investigate with candor.
Will men, Sir, by being called children, be convinced there is no reason in their arguments?—or that there is strength in those of their opponents. I confess, Sir, in the case before us, they will see strength in the gentleman's argument, (if what was said may be called an argument) it was strong; (and to use one of the member's own similies) it consisted wholly of brass, without any mixture of clay—and by a luxuriancy of fancy, which that member is famous for—and I suppose for the sake of variety, he has taken it from the feet and toes, where on another occasion he had emphatically placed it, and now has displayed it wholly in front.
The honorable member, Sir, wrought himself up into such a strain of ridicule, that after exhausting his admirable talents, in this sublime and gentlemanlike science, on his opponents—he finds another subject to display them on. In the emblem of liberty, the pillar and cap, which that friend and asserter of the rights of his fellow citizens, John Holt, late printer of the New-York Journal, in perilous times dared to use, as expressive of his own whiggish sentiments, who must be hauled from his grave for the purpose but whose memory, maugre all the invective which disdain may wish to throw upon it, will be dear to this country, as long as the friends of liberty will dare to shew their heads in it. Indeed, Sir, this is not the first time, that this emblem of liberty has been endeavored to be held up, in a ridiculous point of light. And let me tell you, Mr. Chairman, it has the same effect on me now, it had the first time. It roused every spark of whiggish resentment about my heart. In or about the year 1775, this cap of liberty was the subject of the tory wit of Vardel, or some of his associates about king's college, (as was supposed.) The member who now exactly follows their track (if they were the authors of it) at that time, found it not to his purpose, openly to avow the sentiment.
But, Sir, from the light in which he appears to hold the wavering conduct of up, up, up—and down, down, down—and round, round, round— we are led to suppose, that his real sentiments, are not subject to vary, but have been uniform throughout. I will leave the gentleman himself to reflect, what are the consequences which will naturally follow from these premises. If he does not like them, I cannot help it; he must be more careful in future, in laying down propositions, from which such consequences will follow.
I repeat, Sir, that the member in the first place endeavors to ridicule the gentlemen opposed to him in sentiment. That was not enough— he must next attack the memory of the distinguishing emblem of that good old whig, Mr. Holt. But, Sir, as he laughed at a worthy member for making what he termed an anticlimax, he appears to be determined to make his own complete—and for want of a third part more to his purpose, he finishes, by an indirect, though fashionable attempt to ridicule the sacred Gospel itself—and the faith necessary for a sinner to partake of the benefits contained in it.
Before I set down, Sir, I must lament the occasion of the remarks I have last made. When gentlemen will, for the sake of displaying their own parts, or perhaps for worse purposes, depart from the line of propriety—they then are fair game. I cannot suppose, however, that it is disagreeable to the member himself, as he appears to delight to dabble in dirty water.
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JOHN WILLIAMS. Mr. Chairman. Altho' I think the speech of an honorable gentleman from New-York [Robert R. Livingston] totally undeserving of notice, with regard to argument; yet as he has taken upon himself to mis-state some of my sentiments, and attribute improper motives to me, I shall make a very short reply. He observed that I said the state government was imperfect, because it answered my purpose—With equal justice I might retort, that the honorable gentleman has been frequently talking of the defects of the articles of the confederation, because it answered his purpose. But, sir, I said no more of the state constitution, than I can say with propriety of every thing else—that nothing is perfect.—Even the honorable gentleman's wit and fancy cannot lay claim to perfection, or he would not have introduced the vulgar idea of children's tottering with boards. The gentleman observed, that I alledged, that the Congress would rob the people of the light of Heaven, and pick their pockets.—This egregious mis-statement I cannot account for. I have heard that a great philosopher endeavored to prove, that ridicule was the test of truth; but with the honorable gentleman, misrepresentation is the test of ridicule. I think, sir, that no prudent people will trust power with their rulers, that cannot be exercised without injuring them—This I suppose to be the case with poll taxes. But the honorable gentleman hath not attempted to overthrow either of the arguments of the honorable gentlemen [Melancton Smith and John Lansing, Jr.] who have spoken in favor of the amendment, I had the honor to propose, or my own. He hath indeed attacked us with wit and fancy.—If however, we supposed him a formidable adversary, upon those considerations, and attempted to combat him with the same weapons,—would it not be as ridiculous, as it was for Don Quixote to fight with a wind mill upon the mad supposition that it was a giant. The gentleman had also observed that every member of the committee was convinced by the arguments of an honorable gentleman of New-York [Alexander Hamilton], of the propriety of this paragraph, except the honorable gentleman from Dutchess [Melancton Smith]. Now, Sir, how the gentleman came to discover this I cannot say: This I can say for myself, that I am not convinced. The gentleman must indeed possess some wonderful faculties, if he can penetrate into the operations of the mind; he must, Sir, possess the second sight in a surprising degree.—Sir, I should, however, be very uncandid if I attributed the gentleman's satirical remarks to a malevolent disposition:—I do not, Sir.—I impute them to his politeness, which is the art of pleasing. Now, Sir, every person must acknowledge that the honorable gentleman gave a great deal of pleasure yesterday; if laughter is a sign of pleasure, consequently he was very polite. Sir, I shall not enter seriously into the subject, until I hear serious answers [to] what I have offered to the committee. Sir—to conclude—The hon. gentleman in my eye, from New-York [Robert R. Livingston], may substitute his fanciful notions in the room of arguments; he may, Sir, by his ridiculous, I mean ridiculing powers, excite laughter, and occasion smiles. But trust me, Sir, they will instead of having the desired effect, instead of frightening, be considered with contempt.
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MELANCTON SMITH. Mr. Chairman, the honorable gentleman [Robert R. Livingston], who spoke yesterday, animadverted, in a very ludicrous manner, upon my arguments; and endeavored to place them in a ridiculous point of view. Perhaps it was necessary that the convention should be diverted with something fanciful, and that they should be relieved from the tediousness of a dull debate, by a few flashes of merriment. I suppose it was for this purpose, that the gentleman was induced to make so handsome a display of his comic talents, to the no small entertainment of the ladies and gentlemen without the bar. It is well known, that in theatrical exhibitions, the farce succeeds the tragedy. Now, as another honorable gentleman (Mr. Duane) had, but the day before, called to our minds, in a most dismal picture, the tragic scenes of war, devastation and bloodshed; it was entirely proper that our feelings should be relieved from the shocking impression, by a light and musical play. I think the gentleman has acquitted himself admirably. However, this attack seems to have thrown him off his guard, and to have exposed him to his own weapons. The gentleman might well have turned his strictures upon his own contradictions; for at one time, he argues that a federal republic is impracticable; at another, he argues that the proposed government is a federal republic: At one time, he says the old confederation has no powers at all; at another, he says it has nearly as many as the one proposed. He seems to be an enemy to creeds; and yet, with respect to concurrent jurisdiction, he presents us with his creed, which we are bound to believe. Let us hear it. "I believe that the general government is supreme, and that the state governments are supreme, and yet they are not two supremes, but one supreme; and this cannot be doubted." He says, there is a concurrent jurisdiction in your mine, Mr. Chairman, and yet you do not concur; for the gentleman himself claims the soil, and there seems to be a difference between you. But as the honorable gentleman considers his harrangue as containing some reasoning, I shall take notice of a few of his remarks. The gentleman has said, that the committee seemed to be convinced by the arguments of an honorable member from New-York [Alexander Hamilton]. I suppose it was only a fancy of the moment that struck him, of which he probably can give no better account than the rest of us. I can only say for myself, that the more I hear and reflect, the more convinced I am of the necessity of amendments. Whether the committee have received conviction, can easily be settled by a vote. The gentleman from Washington [ John Williams] had said that even the state of New-York was not a perfect form—In the course of my argument, I observed that the state legislatures were competent to good government, and that it was not proper to exchange governments, at so great a risk. Where is the mighty contradiction? I said that the state governments were proper depositaries of power, and were the proper guardians of the people. I did not say that any government was perfect, nor did I ascribe any extraordinary qualities to the states. The gentleman endeavors to fix another contradiction upon me. He charges me with saying, that direct taxes are dangerous, and yet impracticable. This is an egregious misrepresentation. My declaration was, that general direct taxes would be extremely difficult, in the apportionment and collection, and that this difficulty would push the general government into despotic measures. The gentleman also ridicules our idea of the states losing their powers. He says this constitution adds little or no power to the union; and consequently takes little or nothing from the states. If this be true, what are the advocates of the system contending about? It is the reasoning among all reasoners, that nothing to something adds nothing. If the new plan does not contain any new powers, why advocate it? If it does, whence are they taken? The honorable member cannot understand our argument about the sword and the purse, and asks, why should the states hold them? I say the state governments ought to hold the purse, to keep people's hands out of it. With respect to the sword, I say you must handle it, through your general government: But the states must have some agency, or the people will not be willing to put their hands to it. It is observed that we must talk a great deal; and that [it] is necessary to support here what we have said out of doors. Sir, I conceive that we ought to talk of this subject every where.—Several gentlemen have observed, that it is necessary these powers should be vested in Congress, that they may have funds to pledge for the payment of debts. This argument has not the least weight in my mind. The government ought not to have it in their power, to borrow with too great facility. The funds, which we agree to lodge with Congress, will be sufficient for as much as they ought to borrow. I submit to the candor of the committee, whether any evidence of the strength of a cause is afforded, when gentlemen, instead of reasoning fairly, assert roundly; and use all the powers of ridicule and rhetoric, to abuse their adversaries. Any argument may be placed in a ridiculous light, by taking only detached parts. I wish, Mr. Chairman, that ridicule may be avoided. It can only irritate the passions, and has no tendency to convince the judgment.3
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ROBERT R. LIVINGSTON said he was very unfortunate, in provoking so many able antagonists. They had given a turn to his arguments and expressions, which he did not expect. He was however happy, that he could say with Sir John Falstaff, that if he had no wit himself, he had been the occasion of wit in others; and therefore he supposed that the ladies, this day, had been as well entertained as yesterday. He went on to explain what the gentleman [Melancton Smith] had imputed to him as contradictions. He had charged him with saying, that a federal government could not exist, and yet that he had contended for one. This was false—He had maintained, that a simple league of states could not long exist—and had proved it, by examples. This was fair reasoning; and he had not said any thing to contradict it. He then went through a review of his arguments, to prove that he had been misrepresented, and that he had been consistent throughout. But, said the Chancellor, what most deeply wounds me is, that my worthy kinsman [Gilbert Livingston] across the table, regardless of our common ancestry, and the tender ties of blood, should join his dagger with the rest, and compel me to exclaim, in the dying words of Cæsar, "And thou too Brutus! " The gentleman alledges, first, that I have treated the holy gospel with disdain. This is a serious charge. I deny it. If I have used a phrase disagreeable to him, I certainly have expressed nothing disrespectful of the scriptures. If I have used a few words, there are gentlemen who have quoted, not only verses, but chapters. He then tells you, I have insulted the good Mr. Holt. I declare, I did not know that the newspaper, I referred to, was his. He tells you that my sentiments are illiberal; and that I insinuate, that the worthy printer did not act on sound principles of whiggism. If this were true, my insinuations would indeed be both illiberal and false. Sir, if gentlemen will come forward with absurd arguments, imagine erroneous premises, and draw false conclusions, shall they not be exposed? and if their contradictions render them ridiculous, is it my fault? Are not the absurdities of public speakers ridiculed in all countries? Why not expose false reasoning? Why not pluck from sophistry the delusive veil, by which she imposes on the people? If I am guilty of absurdities, let them be detected, and displayed. If the fool's cap fits me, clap it on. I will wear it, and all shall laugh. Sir, the very day after I made my first speech to this committee, I was attacked with great severity, and with unusual weapons. A dreadful and terrible beast, with great iron claws and ghastly look, was made to grin horribly in my face. I appeal to this committee, Sir, whether gentlemen have not said plainly, that the powers of Congress would be dangerous, and yet impracticable. If they will speak such nonsense, they must be exposed. Their other arguments are equally ridiculous. They reason in confusion. They form a government, to consist of thirteen governments—One controuls thirteen, and thirteen controul one. With regard to the sword and the purse, I could have no conception of Congress keeping a sword, and the states using it—of Congress using a purse, and the states keeping it—of Congress having power, and the states exercising it. I could not reconcile these things to my reason. Sir, when any argument, on such a subject as this, strikes me, as being absurd and ridiculous, I cannot conceal my emotions: I think it my duty to expose it boldly; and I shall continue to do this, without any apprehensions from those elegant attacks which have been aimed at me from every quarter.4
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CONVENTION PROCEEDINGS. The committee then proceeded through sect. 8, 9 and 10 of this article [i.e., Article I], and the whole of the next, with little or no debate. As the secretary read the paragraphs, amendments were moved, in the order and form hereafter recited.
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CONVENTION PROCEEDINGS. To the clause respecting the establishment of post offices, &c. Mr. Jones moved the following amendment: "Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, that the power of the Congress to establish post-offices and post roads, is not to be construed to extend to the laying out, making, altering or reparing high ways, in any state, without the consent of the legislature of such state."

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