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title:“James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention”
date written:1787-11-28

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:44 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Sept. 29, 2023, 12:00 a.m. UTC

"James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 2. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1976. 386, 398-399, 410-411, 420. Print.

James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention (November 28, 1787)

Smilie: There is no security for our rights in this Constitution. Preamble - to Declaration of Independence. Why did they the Constitutional Convention omit a bill of rights? With respect to trial by jury and habeas corpus there is a bill of rights.1 Without one, we cannot know when Congress exceed their powers. There is no check but the people. No security for the rights of conscience.2
6th Article of the Constitution: This sweeping clause levels all the bills of rights of the several states, and their governments are not confirmed.
Whitehill: If we were sure that the general government would not infringe on the state governments we would be satisfied. Power is of an increasing nature.4 We are not bound by forms or examples of other countries. We should improve on them.5
"We the People etc." changes the principles of the Confederation, and introduces a consolidating and absorbing government. Does not this system violate the Confederation? 9 states are sufficient here–163 were necessary before. May not the other 4 still insist on the Confederation?
The business was intended to give more powers to Congress–the powers of the delegates of this state in the Convention. A general government was not thought of. Nor to unhinge the state governments. The Convention have made a plan of their own. They have assumed the power of proposing. Alterations in government should proceed from the people. The Assembly of Pennsylvania are limited in their powers. And this business should have been left to the people.
There is a mode of amendment in the present Confederation.
Article 1, section 1 and 8: Power unbounded. Who are to be judges of what is necessary and proper?
Section 2: Annual parliaments and assemblies necessary. British Parliament took 7 years.8 Present delegates in Congress may be recalled. 6 years too long for the senatorial term.9
Section 4: Times and places of election.
The members of the Senate may enrich themselves, for they have a power to tax. Their powers pervade everything.10 It forms one general consolidating government.
Power of borrowing money–raising armies.
If we give the power; we are wrong; tho the legislature are of our own election.
Could any state oppose the general government? All are to be sworn to observe it.
A bill of rights may be dangerous to the governors.
Article VI: This Article eradicates every vestige of state government and was intended so, for it was deliberated.12
Article 1, section 4: This is intended to carry on the business when the state governments are destroyed.
Can we give away the rights of conscience? There is no reserve of it, tho these reservations are provided as to ex post facto laws (Article 1, section 9).
Let us secure our liberties, and not quarrel about a bill of rights. They are not secured except as to habeas corpus.16
Smilie: This Constitution goes too far in favor of tyranny. We admit that the formof the state governments must subsist, but their efficiency and powermust be destroyed by the superabundant power of the general government.
It is not a federal government - not a confederation. It is a complete government-legislative, judicial, executive. Its powers extend to almost all legislative acts, to taxes; and leave only to the states what they please.17 Article I, section 8: "collect Taxes"-"to make all Laws necessary &c." Who are to be the judges of what is necessary for the welfare of United States?18
The state governments cannot make head against the general government. Power will not lessen . A power of appropriating money, raising armies, and commanding the militia. Could the state governments oppose this?
There will be a rivalship between the general and state governments. On each side they will endeavor to increase their power. Oaths to be taken to the general government. The state governments will lose the attachment of their citizens by losing their power. The people will not support them; but will suffer them to dwindle to nothing. The forms of government may subsist after the substanceis gone as in the senate of Rome. The state elections will be ill-attended. The state governments will be mere electors. Will one consolidated government be a proper one for the United States?
McKean: There has been no objection to two branches in the leg20islature, nor to the mode of choosing them or the President.
The powers are well-defined and necessary.
The great guard against excessive taxation is that he that lays, pays—and frequent election.
To prevent mischief, we will not give the power of doing good.21
Who are to be the judges? Those who are chosen because they are capable of being so.
Administration of government is of as much practical importance as its nature.

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