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title:“James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention”
date written:1787-12-3

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:01 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 1, 2023, 10:21 p.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. 465-69. Print.

James Wilsons' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention (December 3, 1787)

JOHN SMILIE: (32) As the greatest part of the states have compound legislatures, I shall give up that point.
(33) I shall not object to the President's negative, for he will never be able to execute it. The king of Great Britain does not execute.
(34) Tho there be no separate orders, there is a natural aristocracy.
The Senate will represent it. House of Representatives will represent the common mass of the people.
(35) Are the rights of the people secured? Is the balance preserved? A
comparison between the powers of the two houses.
(36) The number of the House of Representatives too small.
(37) They will not have the confidence of the people, because the people will not be known by them as to their characters, etc. Only 8 for Pennsylvania. The districts will be very large.
(38) The greatest part of the members even in this house will be attached to the natural aristocracy.
(39) This body will be subject to corruption; and the means of corruption will be in the Senate; for they have a share in the appointment of all officers.
(40) There will be people willing to receive bribes. The lower house may be corrupted, with offices, by the Senate; as the House of Commons are. There will be judges, tax gatherers, land waiters, tide waiters, excise officers.
(41) To the legislative power of the Senate are added some judicial power and an alarming share of the executive. They are to concur with the President in making treaties, which are to be the supreme law of the land.
(42) In Great Britain if treaties interfere with subsisting laws; they must be confirmed. Treaty of commerce between France and England, Article 14. (Bl 252-57 [Blackstone, I].
(43) The Senate may be bribed. Ought they not to be brought to punishment? Will their colleagues convict him on impeachment?
(44) If it was not for such things as these, we would not contend against this Constitution.
(45) The Senate may forever prevent the addition of a single member to the lower house; while their own representation may be increased.
(46) This Constitution contradicts the leading principles of government (Mont. b. 11. c. 6. p. 199 [Montesquieu, I, 221-37].
(47) We have not every security from the judicial department. The judges, for disobeying law, may be impeached by one house, and tried by the other.
JAMES WILSON: Summary of Objections to the Constitution
(1) There is no bill of rights. Many of the states have bills of rights. There are some reservations; why not more? Powers given, and powers and rights reserved ought all to be enumerated. What harm in a bill of rights?
(2) There is no check but the people. Our liberties are not secured but as to habeas corpus.
(3) There is no security for the rights of conscience.
(4) This system violates the Confederation; and the Assembly of this state could not join in it; for their powers are limited by the Constitution.
(5) There is a mode of amendment in the Confederation.
(6) "We the People," etc. This clause changes the principles of the Confederation; and introduces a consolidating and absorbing government. Will this be a proper one for the United sovereign powers. Subordinate sovereignty is no sovereignty. The sovereignty of the states States?
(7) The sovereignty and independence of the states is not preserved. There cannot be two is not represented in this Constitution. A state can speak but one voice; here each Senator has a vote.
(8) This system unhinges and eradicates the state governments; and was systematically intended to do so.
(9) Congress may prescribe the times and places and manner of elections, when the state governments shall be abolished. They may make the times as distant as they please.
(10) Article 1, section 8, last clause gives the power of self-preservation to the general government, independent of the states; for, in case of their abolition, it will be alleged on behalf of the general government, that self-preservation is the first law, and necessary to the exercise of all other powers.12
(12) [sic] This is not a federal government, but a complete one, with legislative, executive, and judicial powers. It is a consolidating government.
(13) The forms of the state governments may remain; but their power will be destroyed. They will lose the attachment of the people by losing the power of conferring advantages.
(14) The people will not be at the expense of keeping them up.
(15) The state elections will be illattended and the state govern- ments mere electors.
(16) There will be a rivalship between the state governments and the general governments. On each side endeavors will be made to increase power. The state governments cannot make head against the general government.
(17) The power over elections, and of judging of elections gives absolute sovereignty.
(18) There is a dependence of the state officers on the general government; they must swear to support it.
(19) The number of Representatives is too small. There should be more in a country lately and thinly settled, than in one old and populous. Pennsylvania will not have any Representative far from Philadelphia.16
(20) Annual assemblies and annual appropriations are necessary. The British Parliament took seven years; but even there the appropriations are annual.
(21) The members of the Senate may enrich themselves; they may hold their offices as long as they live, and there is no power to prevent them. The Senate will swallow up any thing.
(22) The powers of Congress extend to taxation-to direct taxation, to internal taxation, to poll taxes, to excises-to other state and internal purposes. Those who possess the power to tax, possess all other sovereign powers.
(23) Congress may borrow money, keep upstanding armies, and command the militia.
(24) The powers of Congress are unlimited and undefined. They will be the judges of what is necessary and proper.
(25) The liberty of the press is not secured. Congress may license the press, and declare what shall be a libel.
(26) Crimes shall be tried by a jury; therefore Congress may declare crimes.
(27) An aristocratical government cannot bear the liberty of the press.
(28) For speeches in Congress, members cannot be tried in any other place; therefore not by the press.
(29) Congress will have the power self-preservation; and there- fore may destroy the liberty of the press.
(30) The judicial powers are coextensive with the legislative powers; and extend even to capital cases.
(31) This is not such a system as was within the powers of the Convention. They assumed the power of proposing.
(32) This system was not expected by the people, the legislatures, or by us.
(33) A general government was not in contemplation. The business was only to amend the present Confederation, and give more powers to Congress.
(34) The objections are not on local but on general principles. They are uniform throughout the states.
(35) The plan is inimical to our liberties.

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