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title:“James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention”
authors:James Wilson
date written:1787-12-4

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:07 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Nov. 30, 2023, 2:25 p.m. UTC

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

James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention (December 4, 1787)

December 4, 1787.
A good deal has already been said, concerning a bill of rights; I have stated, according to the best of my recollection, all that passed in convention relating to that business. Since that time, I have spoken with a gentleman, who has not only his memory, but full notes, that he had taken in that body; and he assures me, that upon this subject no direct motion was ever made at all; and certainly, before we heard this so violently supported out of doors, some pains ought to have been taken to have tried its fate within; but the truth is, a bill of rights would, as I have mentioned already, have been not only unnecessary, but improper. . . .
. . . Enumerate all the rights of men! I am sure, Sir, that no gentleman in the late convention would have attempted such a thing. . . .
I say, Sir, that it was the design of this system, to take some power from the State government, and to place it in the general government. It was also the design, that the people should be admitted to the exercise of some powers which they did not exercise under the present confederation. It was thought proper that the citizens, as well as the States, should be represented; . . .
. . . I am not a blind admirer of this system. Some of the powers of the senators are not with me the favorite parts of it, but as they stand connected with other parts, there is still security against the efforts of that body: it was with great difficulty that security was obtained, and I may risk the conjecture, that if it is not now accepted, it never will be obtained again from the same States. Though the1 senate was not a favorite of mine, as to some of its powers, yet it was a favorite with a majority in the Union, and we must submit to that majority, or we must break up the Union. It is but fair to repeat those reasons, that weighed with the convention; perhaps I shall not be albe to do them justice, but yet I will attempt to show, why additional powers were given to the senate, rather than to the house of representatives. These additional powers, I believe, are, that of trying impeachments, that of concurring with the President in making treaties, and that of concurring in the appointment of officers. These are the powers that are stated as improper. It is fortunate, that in the exercise of every one of them, the Senate stands controlled; if it is that monster which it said to be, it can only show its teeth, it is unable to bite or devour. With regard to impeachments, the senate can try none but such as will be brought before them by the house of representatives.
The senate can make no treaties; they can approve of none unless the President of the United States lay it before them. With regard to the appointment of officers, the President must nominate before they can vote. So that if the powers of either branch are perverted, it must be with the approbation of some one of the other branches of government: thus checked on one side, they can do no one act of themselves.2
. . . Sir, I confess I wish the powers of the senate were not as they are. I think it would have been better if those powers had been distributed in other parts of the system. . . .

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