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title:“John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates”
authors:John McKesson
date written:1788-7-11

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:15 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 8, 2022, 12:39 p.m. UTC

McKesson, John. "John McKesson's 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. 2130-33. Print.
McKesson's Notes, New-York Historical Society

John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates (July 11, 1788)

JOHN JAY. A proposition That the Constitution should be so far ratified as to go into Operation except as to certain parts which should not operate until a Convention Not admissable It called on Congress to admit this State into Congress upon Conditions not contained in that Constitution Could this have been admitted What Powers will this Congress have— Can they change any Article of it— Will the Constitution authorize Congress to alter or Change any part of it— Have Congress any such Power If not when are we—We must of Necessity remain out of the Union— It said such will be the necessity of Union that Congress will Accept it and that it amounts to a ratification Can an Agreemt. to a part amount to an Adoption of the whole I wish some mode to be fallen on for the union of the whole We must suspend our Assent until it can be shewn We are Sent here on a most important Occasion Our Constituents calmly to consider and wisely to decide on the proposition before us— We Were sent here to serve general Purposes and promote public Good We should reason together—let us reason first and decide afterwards This Constitution is the work of freemen who have given to world the Highest Evidence of Patriotism disinterestedness wisdom & great Abilities— Therefore let us examine Cautiously before we reject Consider farther—This Constitution taken into Considerat. by ten different Conventions chosen in 10 different States— There have been great Men who have had Doubts But here are eleven Verdicts in favour of it—That it would be expedient for this Country to adopt it— If there be a Question of Right vs wrong and it be tried by 10 with Respects to the Merits of this Constitution it has been fully discus[s]ed The Question reduced to this point—The Advantages in one Scale the Disadvantages in another— I shall be able to say in the day of Judgmt. that I think it expedient for this With respect to expediency as to our national Situat. they have been fully developed— The insufficiency of our Confederat If we change we shall exchange for the Better This Constitution has been adopted by 10 States—It has grown too fast to be pulled up by the Roots—Can it be supposed a Convention will be called—Or that another Constitution will be obtained— It will be answered we only hope for Amendmts. Is there a single Condition which the Congress of the United States have Power to make—Will any man say Congress shall have power to alter a Constitution— Then how are we to get Amendmts. I say as other States—and it is reasonable we should get Amendments if they are necessary in the Same way— That is in the way the Constitution has pointed out— Are the other States less attentive to their Rights than we—Are they less wise to discover their Rights—have given less room for Confidence then we—No. We are to consider this Country as one People divided Should we not then let every thing be the result of joint Counsels and joint Deliberations Then when should we dictate and insist that the other States should come down to our Terms— If they had it, would they come down to it— Would we not hereafter repent it— Example the Septenial Parliam Will not Rhode Island say she must have her Terms— Let us Consider We remain out of the Union—for you cannot wish that Congress should Trample How long shall we then continue out of the Union— Until the Amendments we wish for shall be made— How long will be—perhaps two years—It must be near that Time— Where shall we be in the Mean Time— Standing upon our own Ground unconnected in Policy wth. our Neighbours— Will that give no uneasiness— With respect to the People of this State Will your Govt. be respected your Magistrates be obeyed party heats Subside— Heats are Abroad—Parties formed and forming— some affraid of them others wishing for them Is this desirous Are all parts of the State happy and easy in their Situation— Have not Some of your Laws given discontent— Have the Burthens been equally laid Their Apprehensions and their Fears rather than their hopes encrease Yet those men warmly advocate this Constitution— The men who have born the greatest Burthens most advocate this Constitution— It would [be] most happy for this State to continue in union— We have much to fear from the Passions of the People— Is that part of the State surrounded with peacemaking mediatorial Neighbours—Will those Neighbours be interested Other Considerations— This Govt. will be organized and we have no hand [in] it— Many important Laws will & must then be passed They may affect our Rights and Interests Our Explanatory Amendmts Can we have any Representation there to state our explanatory Amendmts. and procure Laws for the purpose— These are not threats—This is prudence— Are there other Evil Consequences Consider them Is it [of] no Importance that Congress should sit in your State form Connections, Is it of Importance that you have the Treasury of the united States Is The Sittings of Congress is worth 100,000 [dollars] a year The sitting of Congress is worth much to a certain Branch of Commerce All the Hard Money in the City of New York arise from the Sitting of Congress there— If it is not
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RICHARD MORRIS. It is agreed a Genl. Govt. is necessary—And such as will be agreeable to A Majority of the rest of the States— The Rights of the People will be safe as long [as] the State Legislatures are their Guardians— Read the 5th. Article of the Constit[u]tion— Under this Article we can amend the Constitution to the end of the World— The Question is shall we give our Voices to begin a Govt. so formed as that if other States will concur in it can be amended to the End of Time—
MELANCTON SMITH. I only rise to make a few Cursory Observations and then propose the Business in the way I suppose it should come before the House— Why have we heard so much of Accommadition if nothing can be done but Adopt or reject the Constitution Then explained the Propositions— Their Reasoning goes only to Shew the evil Tendency of Rejecting the Constitution— Then moved the Draft of a form of Ratification which he read
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JOHN JAY. Congress to be called in Virtue of the Constitution— They can neither encress [i.e., increase] nor diminish their Power— How then can they suspend the operatn of these Articles untill a certain Contingency can happen— How can Congress justify to lay Taxes on other States— and only make a requisition on this State— Can Congress call out the Militia of other States for a longer Period, and ours for only Six Weeks or apply to the Legislature— Ten States have Adopted this Constitution — Congress cannot receive or Govern us on any other Terms even for a Single Day or a Moment—
MELANCTON SMITH. I understood the Gent. that where ever a Clause would rece[i]ve two Constructions they would agree to such explanatory Construction as this Convention should think proper— Exam Taxations—Elections—calling a Convention— We intended so to word those Restrictions so that Congress might Exercise those powers in a particular mode which they by the Constitution might otherwis ex[er]cise in various mode[s] — That these Conditions only desire Congress to do in one way that which they had before a Right to do—
JOHN JAY. You take away the discretion of Congress—They might ask for Militia or not ask—you say they shall ask— Will the other States be content— They will ask what right had you to make Exemptions— Can We agree with Suffolk County that they shall MELANCTON SMITH. Cannot the Genl. Legislature by Law lay a Tax in this State in one manner and in Georgia in another— Cannot the Genl. Govt. in any one of Instances agree for a Limitted time to suspend the Exercise of certain Powers, if a way is proposed that the other Powers JOHN JAY. When a Contract is offered if doubtful Articles they may be explained. If the explanation is concurred in by Congress they are agreed—If Congress do not so understand it—then New York has not ratified it— Gent. Says If we make a Contract we have a right to consider of it— Who is the Contract with—with the People of the other States— I Grant Congress can exercise the Power in that way if they Please— I agree they may exercise it as they please—But can they tie up their Hands
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MELANCTON SMITH. We do not ask Congress to change this Consti tution—We ask only that this proposition shall go to the People of America when it can be brought before them— The Question before the different Conventions has been expedi ence—They have agreed on different Principles
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JOHN JAY. It is new way of Answering difficult Questions to ask others— Here are fish always swiming in Salt water yet how If we ask Congress to do what they have no power to do they ought not to do it—and we shall not be without Blame— If Congress has power it must be delegated to them—Shew me the Power that they can dispense with one Article for a Moment— It is Sacred cannot be changed—Power was not born with Congress They must have got it by delegation—
JOHN LANSING, JR. The Convention only say That it be submitted to Conventions for their approbation— Congress had not the Power and did not prescribe a Rule of Conduct— The only rule of Conduct is prescribed by the Concurrent Resolutions of the Senate and Assembly— It is submited to the Consideration of the Delegates—&c We therefore have Power to reject—to adopt—or to recommend—Qu. Whence the Powers of Congress to organize this Govt. Was the Power of the Genl. Convention binding on the People of the States and on Congress— If not they will [have] all the discreation [i.e., discretion] we contend for If they cannot use their discreation and have not Powers from the People it will be a mere assumption of Power— Arguments of Expedience have been highly couloured I shall consider some of them to morrow tho most of them have been fully heretofore considered—
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ROBERT R. LIVINGSTON. Every man knows that the States violated the Confederation —It had long been broken as was not in Existence when the Convention met at Philadelphia—We threw of[f] Great Britain because she had violated the Compact—Every man knows that every State & even New York has violated the Compact—The Gent. [says] We have a right to make our own Compact—This might be true if we acted with the People—but this cannot be the Case with Congress who cannot receive us— Gent If Congress have no power to receive us on other Terms All Conditions are wrong— The General Sense of all the States is to have Amendments— Many Men of Virtue think amendmts. necessary The door is open Are Circumstances now and Six Months ago the Same— Many Considerat. now exist which did not exist— The Ground is changed— Let us join with our Neighbours to obtain the same Ends in the same Way— Let us agree and be una[ni]mous—have no Ideas of Victory—We will have our Constitution you will have your Adments Resolutions proposed Mr Chancellor Livingston— I have revolved Conditional Amendmts. Addoption for a given Time No Road open for us but a general Adoption— I shall assign my Reasoning 1st What are our Powers— If we exceed our Constn To ratify or reject— We have no Power to Amend— What will our Constituents say— If you assume a Right to make an alteratn in one part you may in the whole—you may make a new Constitution— If I authorize my friend to buy a farm and he buy but half will the greater Power include the less— Did the People intend we should Amend or frame a new Constitution— Let those who think it necessary boldly come Let us Consider the Powers which Congress have from the People.
1st. As to the present Congress— 2d As to the future Congress— The present Congress merely Ministerial—can they say that we have acceded to this Govt. when we come forward with Amendmts. that Strike at the Powers of the new Govt.
Suppose that Congress had a wish to receive us—Consider their divided Interests—It is the Interest of the Small States to divide your State into Small States—will they then exceed their Powers to let us in— Jealo[u]sy of other States Agents now at New York Soliciting Congress to remove to Philadelphia In all public Bodies Men Soliciting Honors & offices for themselves and for their States— Will they then not keep us out We must then be kept out of Representation until the next Congress— Shall we give up our Share in the Organization of the Laws which in a great measure give a Tone to the Govermt.
Advantages to the State by the Residence of Congress great Can we afford to drive 100,000 [dollars] out of the State— The Eastern States and New York interest New Jersey The Southern States They wish the federal City far South— Eight States will be against removing them from Philadelphia They will remain until there is a Ballance of Southern States to draw them South I shall now Consider Conditional Amendmts.
I shall consider myself a freeman We united in our Secession from Britain carrying on a war and Contracting Debts— We are one People—It has been admitted a majority must Govern— Then why Conditional Amendmts. is not this force—Can we justify imposing Laws on the other 12 States Shall we provoke a just God by such an Act of Injustice Such it will be called by every honest Man But if we set out with Injustice will it not carry with it its own Punishmt.— Would not the Southern part of the State say you set out with an Act of Injustice—We have a right to Separate Then Considered the Amendmts. of the Committee of yesterday— These three Powers are great ones— We are to have a Share of the Genl. Treasury—we are to have a Share of Excise if laid and necessary—And yet be subject to no excise &c— Would not those States who wish for Amendments refuse to receive us— The People of New England and other States a free People & pursue the Spirit of Liberty— The Opinion of other States that New York is interested in her Politics— Will not Congress feel her Pride hurt by these restrictions—Will their Resentmts. be raised— From the present View of Congress, we have no reason to hope for a Convention— There must be nine States to obtain a Convention—without we come in there will not be nine States— Then can it be wise that we do adopt the Measure to obtain the Amendmts.
Every Man will believe if this Constitution is not adopted the State will be convulsed— Then the paper of this State Sinks to nothing— Can we banish 100 000 [dollars] a year and destroy our paper circulatg medium— I dread to Mention perhaps the Southern part of the state may Separate— It is pain to me to mention it—but Truth must come out What will become [of] us in this Northern part of the State— Can we Support a Govt.
Can we reduce them by Arms— Will not their Neighbours aid them— Will Vermont lay Still—Will Canada be Quiet What may be the Effects— I know many Gentlemen sent here in a delicate Situation— Many Expected as only Six States had adopted that this State and others would reject and we should get a new Convention— The Ground is changed— If The Responsibility must be from the Majority of the House— It is in Our Power to create una[ni]mity—Or to sow dissentions war and ruin— Ex gr. [i.e., e.g.] The late heat dissention & Bloodshed on a Holiday at Albany— I feel myself attached to the Glorious Inhabitants of Montgomery Are they alone ready to resist the Power of the British or the Slaughter of the Savages— I could call on the Members of every County in the State—but to call for human Aid is Vain—I call for the Aid of that God of the Universe

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