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title:“James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention”
date written:1787-12-1

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:57 a.m. UTC
retrieved:March 5, 2024, 6:54 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. 457-62. Print.

James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention (December 1, 1787)

Rush: We sit here as representatives of the people- we were not appointed by the legislature. A passion for state sovereignty dissolved the union of Greece. Britain—France—enjoyed more advantages united than separate. A plurality of sovereigns is political idolatry. The sovereignty of Pennsylvania is ceded to United States.
(1) I have now a vote for members of Congress;
(2) I am a citizen of every state;
(3) I have more security for my property; the weakness of Pennsylvania in the Wyoming business; the insurgents are Antifederal;
(4) no corruption of blood or forfeiture except. . . ;
(5) no paper money or tender laws;
(6) no religious test;
(7) commerce—its influence on agriculture;
(8) shipbuilding; iron mines;
(9) hemp;
(10) produce to load our vessels built—one only exists in the Southern—the other only in the Eastern States;
(11) the communication of the Mississippi with the Atlantic will be opened under the new Constitution. The members in Virginia from Kentucky are enthusiasts for this system.
By adopting the funding system we have assumed a great disproportion of the public debt. It must be thrown back on Congress. Distress general thro the country.
JOHN SMILIE: (1) It is admitted that the state sovereignty is given up.
(2) I never heard anything so ridiculous except a former sentiment of the same gentleman.
(3) Our preposterous commerce has been the source of our distress, together with our extravagance.
(4) We wish alterations made in the Confederation, but we wish not to sacrifice the rights of men to obtain them.
(5) Rights of conscience should be secured. They are so in the bill of rights of Pennsylvania.
WILLIAM FINDLEY: (6) A confederation and good government would be more to me and my family than wealth, honors, and offices.
(7) This a government of individuals, and not a confederation of states.
(8) Sovereignty is in the states and not in the people in its exercise.
(9) Vattel's description sovereignty—it belonged originally to the body of the society (Vat. page 9. of the Sovereign).
(10) Vattel's description of a federal republic. If I am wrong, Vattel and Montesquieu are wrong (Vat. p. 11. s. 10.).
(11) 1. Investigate the nature and principles of this government.
(12) 2. How will it apply to our security and interests?
(13) Gentlemen should first explain its principles.
(14) General interests are well secured.
(15) A single branch I will concede.
(16) I wish not to destroy this system. Its outlines are well laid. By amendments it may answer all our wishes.
(17) Notwithstanding the legislative power in Article I, section 1, the power of treaties is given to the President and Senate. This is branch of legislative power.
(18) Dark conclave.
TIMOTHY PICKERING: According to common acceptation of words, treaties are not part of the legislative power.5 The king of Great Britain.
WILLIAM FINDLEY: (19) The king of Great Britain makes laws ministerially, and the legislature confirms them.6
(20) Ministers impeached for the Partition Treaty.
JOHN SMILIE: (21) If the ministers of Great Britain make an inglorious - conduct; they may be impeached and punished, but can you impeach the Senate before itself?7
(22) If it is ministerial, the Senate are not here a legislature.
(23) Supreme laws cannot be made ministerially, but legislatively.
TIMOTHY PICKERING: In Great Britain treaties are obligatory.
JOHN SMILIE: (24) In Great Britain a law is frequently necessary for the execution of a treaty.
ROBERT WHITEHILL: (25) When a treaty is made in Great Britain it binds not the people, unreasonable. Treaties are binding by acts of Parliament and the consent of the people.
William Findley: The President has a qualified negative. This is another inconsistency.9
John Smilie: (27) If the king of Great Britain makes a treaty contrary to act of Parliament, it can10not be executed till the law is repealed. We have not the same security here.
(28) If the Senate could be impeached as the British ministers may be; we would have more security.11
WILLIAM FINDLEY: (29) The manner of numbering the inhabitants is dark–"other Persons" (Article I, section 2).12
(30) Article I, section 9, 1st clause: Migration, etc. is unintelligible. It is unfortunate if this guarantees the importation of slaves or if it lays a duty on the importation of other persons.
(31) This is a reservation; and yet the power of preventing importation is nowhere given.