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title:“John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates”
authors:John McKesson
date written:1788-7-2

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:29 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 9, 2023, 10:06 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. 2062-63. Print.
McKesson's Notes, New-York Historical Society

John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates (July 2, 1788)

G. LIVINGSTON. I agree this is an important Clause—but if not amended there will be nothing but the Shaddow of Liberty left— A Member from N York [Alexander Hamilton] on Saturday [28 June] went fully into this Clause—The Gent set up a new kind of Power— That Bodies having Seperate & perhaps opposite Interests may at the same [time] have Concurrent Powers and Jurisdictions and not interfere— A Member from N York [Robert R. Livingston] on friday [27 June] argued and yesterday tauntingly mentioned That it was similar to our State & County Taxes— One Gent supposes the State Govts. will prevail— Several other Gent suppose and perhaps with Truth that the Genl. Govt. will leave the State Govts. to make a Scurvy figure— Should we form a Govt. with the Seeds of disunion— It is said If both Govts. lay Taxes the State Taxes will be best paid What will then become of the Genl Govt. it must fail— Much is said that Congress cannot be corrupt—What will they be— Angels or Men— Some Revenue should be left to the States and a perfect Line drawn— Each their own powers and Resources— If I had not heard it I could not have believed that the same Gent who pourd out such Torrent of Illiberality who at the opening of the Business proposed calmness and Liberality— In 1775 was the Subject of the Tory Wit of Vardil or some of his Associates— What the Consequences—his advice yesterday—Well to weigh what they say before they come here— After his redicule of his Ante Climax—he redicules the Gospel itself— When a Man departs from the Line of Propriety he is fare Game—
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WILLIAMS. Even the Gentlemens fancy is not perfect With the Gent misrepresentation is the Test of Truth— If we were able to attack him with his own weapons would it not be like Don Quixot attacking the windmill— I do
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SMITH. When the mind has been long fixed it wants relaxation—The Gent [Robert R. Livingston] yesterday diverted not only the Committee but also After a Tragedy it is proper to have a Farce— A Gent in an elaborate Argumt. held up all This Gent. by fancy endeavoured to fix contradiction had he Stated That a Gent from New York [Alexander Hamilton] insisted The Gent. says a federable Govt. is pract At one time the federal Govt Confederation has [ - - - ] Power The Gent supposed most of the Committee except myself convinced—This may be tryed In the Course of Argumt. I said as much should be committed to the State Govts as could with Safety to the Genl Govt. I suppose there no Inconsistency—That the State Govts will be necessary as the Amendmt. Stands— The Dungeon he brot in View clouded The Gent says adding this Clause will give no additional Strength or Power The Gent. says why keep the Purse—I say for fear too many People put their Hands in it— More wise to make a Govt. for the present Time—Than for time to come—a Century hence— Any Gent ought at proper Times any where to reason on this Constitution Arguments will always have more weight than Redicule— It is said Congress should have all funds to enable her to borrow Money with facility— The funds given to Congress are large enough—They can on those funds borrow as much or more than the Country can pay— If their funds are too large
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R. R. LIVINGSTON. Like Sir John Falstaff I am happy if I have not wit myself I have been the Cause of Wit in others— I want to shew that I am consistent with myself I said a Govt. consisting of a League of States cannot exist—and attempted to prove it—— I said the Senate could do no act— He then sophistically He says I assert that the Genl. Govt is Supreme as to certain Acts—That the State Govermts. are Supreme to certain other Acts—No Contradiction in this— I did not mean to assert that But what is worse than all is that my worthy kinsman regardless of How have I treated Mr. Holt with disrespect— I said I had Seen a Something which I supposed was the Cap of Liberty but that I now found it was from a prophetic Spirit and Tipical of the Sword— Have I come forward first—was I not first attacked— I will measure to others the Measure they give me— The other Argumt. was fair—They have raised a Govt. and no Govt. one Govt. and 13 Governments— I Cannot treat things otherwise than as they strike my feelings—
MELANCTON SMITH. I said the Impracticability of this Tax went only to a part of it—I argued that they could not lay assess or Levy Taxes as they are now generally laid—I admitted they could Tax Houses—They could lay a poll Tax—Tax Lands—Tax Manufactures The Gent. [Robert R. Livingston] said the other day The Senate had no Power— I therefore reasoned on it to Shew the Gent his reasoning was sophistical—
SAMUEL JONES. I did not say the Genl. Govt. could not lay & raise direct Taxes—I did say they could not do it with propriety— 2d Article Paragraph [of Article I, section 8] To Borrow Money—
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JOHN LANSING, JR., proposed An Amendment The reasons are That Congress can borrow Money if nine States are present Loans should never be obtained but with Caution & from Necessity JOHN JAY. One or two objections—If there could [be] no Members but those devoted to the public Good I should think the Amendmt. good— But factions sometimes prevail in repub Govts. the best Constituted— If a faction prevails on third part of the Legislature may prevent the other two thirds from obtaining a Loan when the Exigencies of the State require it or when it would be for the public Good—
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JOHN LANSING, JR. The Observation of [____] has weight— If there is any danger of Corruption the fewer to be corrupted the Easier it is done— If the President is for or averse to a Loan he may Send the Bill back— So that two third must then agree— This leaving much Power— [Confederation] Congress must have nine States to borrow Money— Congress it is said are about to borrow Money to pay Interest—If they can now borrow Money to pay Interes JOHN JAY. People in Republic's come under three descriptions— One party will favour one Nation Another A third will consider only the Interest of our own Country Suppose a Rupture with the Spaniards urged upon us suddenly by Imprudencies there committed— The Honor of the united States obliged to support the free Navigation of the River— It is unwise to le [a]ve the Volition of the whole to be controuled by a part— If in the Course of Time America and England should concert measures unfriendly to france—And If Loans should be necessary—would not france interfere—She would have Interest—Should we here Submit the will of the whole to be controuled by one third— The Executive will rarely if ever interfere in Money Matters and therefore he will seldom if ever oblige such a Bill to pass by two Thirds GEORGE CLINTON. The Amendmt seems safe and proper— The framers of the Constitution thot it safe to restrain many Powers to a larger Number than a Majority—Two thirds of the Senate necessary to form a Treaty— On Impeachmts. Two thirds of the Court must agree and that even tho' the Penalty only removal from Office— Would not a like Restriction here be proper and agreeable to their principle in Matters great and Important to have the Concurrence of more than a Majority— . . . .
JOHN JAY. The House of Representatives are in no Instance confined to any thing but by a Majority— The lower House had nothing to do with Treaties—Therefore it was prudent to have more than a majority of the Senate— Treaties vastly convenient to a Number of States, and not other States—Therefore it was right there should be no Treaty unless agreed to by two thirds— The States are represented as States only in the Senate— The dangers of War may be sudden—The attlantic States may be much Interested—Shall the western States who are not Interested may refuse their Concurrence and One third of them prevent the Loan— The Case of Impeachmts. does not apply—A Majority of the lower House can Impeach or Indict him—but they have been more Cautious as to his Trial and made 2/3d Necessary— This is because Factions generally Occasion Impeachments— . . . .
GEORGE CLINTON. I meant that the Constitution had made two thirds necessary where there is as much danger of Influence or Corruption and thot it necessary—Why not as necessary here— We might wish a Treaty with Spain—Great Britain will oppose it ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Loans in Time of Peace peculiar to our Govt. because made thro Necessity— The Inconvenience of being in Debt is a sufficient restriction— If I was reason I would The Only Method of preventing Loans to an improper Degree give them all the Resources of the Country that they may be able by their Own Efforts to avoid the Necessity of Loans— Neither should their Power be restrained— When the Resourses of the Country are insufficient they ought to have the Unrestricted Power of making Loans— This is restraining the Arm of Power which is necessary for its defence— Gent. [John Lansing, Jr., and George Clinton] seem to dread Corruption Foreign Corruption is the most dangerous and to be dreaded— If a foreign Power can corrupt a Small minority of your Counsel in Senate, only five, and they will prevent a Loan, which may be necessary for your Common Defence— Corruption has had its Effects in the Commonwealths of Holland and Sweden and other Republic's— We ought not to facilitate the like in our Govt.
We ought not to do any thing to impede a Loan when necessary— As to the Gent from Ulster [George Clinton] — It was a part of the policy between the Northn [and] So. Navigatg & non navigatg States that Treaties should not be made whereby many States might be Injured— As to Impeachmts. They are the accusations of the Representatives of the People and therefore popular— toguard Innocence it is necessary that 2 3ds. Should find the party guilty— Tho' this may in some Cases be a proper Guard it cannot be necessary [in] other Cases especially where the Genl defence is concerned— Navigat Acts were contended to be made by 2 3ds. but at last a Majority prevailed— In this Case it would Embarrass your defence— The Power of the President to send an Act back with his objections does not weigh—Because tho he may do that it cannot be necessary to establish it so as always to have two thirds—
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JOHN LANSING, JR. Several Important Sentimts. have [been] offered— One that the Minority may Controul the Majority— The other That the Interests of some States may Suffer by the partial or Corrupt votes of a third— It is said that a War may be necessary—and one third may prevent it—If a war necessary The Sentimts. of a large proportion of the People must go with it— I did not mean to say intimate that unnecessary loans had been made—I intended to State that Loans had hitherto been obtained The differing Interests of Southern Eastern & Middle States make the Amendment necessary— If the President from whatever Quarter has any local Views RICHARD MORRIS. The Gent. [John Lansing, Jr.] moved this Amendmt. for want of Confidence This Amendmt. will when necessary may be frustrated—but when Wanted he weakens the Security to obtain it—<6/strong>
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ALEXANDER HAMILTON. The Gent [John Lansing, Jr.] says if they are disinclined to a War they will clogg it agreed—but his Amendment is to encrease their Power If the President interposes Objections from Local Views it is an evill which can only be remedied by 2 3ds. The Gent would have 2 3ds in all Cases—This encreases the Evil— The fisheries are claimed by France England & the Eastern States The Navigation of the Missisippi Our Western Posts—perhaps we could persuade a Majority to assist us to obtain them—but perhaps one third part might not concur— It should be in our power to enforce a defence and assert the Rights of the Nation—And the Major will should be left open to make the defence and assert the Rights— When you cannot raise more Money by Taxes and more is necessary you must have recourse to Loans—And must not fetter the Govermt.
JOHN JAY. Suppose we were in a dangerous War as in 78-79 or 80 Would you put it in the power of five Men to disarm the Continent—not five States—Only five Men in Senate may disarm the Continent—
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MELANCTON SMITH. The Gent [John Jay] asks I ask is it prudent to put it in the Power of five men to engage you at their pleasure in a Dangerous War If the Govt. had a proper Representation the power could not be so dangerous This Restriction is to restrain men from doing—to restrain them from running you in Debt or running you into War & devastation How was Britain be enabled to carry on wars (perhaps often from Ambitious Motives or Ambitious Leaders D ] By borrowing Money— It is true the Amendmt. liable to the Objections made to it We were allways charged with fears of Influence Now the fears of Influence are held up in all their Terrors There will be in every Country a Class of Men who will wish for and endeavour to Better to omit two JOHN LANSING, JR. I contended that if any Principle in a Govt. amounting to one third of the People cannot be brot to agree to any Measure they ought to be gratified if it can be done consistent with the com[mon] Safety— Mr. Lansing restated GEORGE CLINTON. If the Amendmt. is agreed to it will only give a proper Security to the Lender— The president can always from his influence and Situation require 2/3ds. unless you lessen the Number RICHARD HARISON. If I understand the Gent from Dutchess [Melanc— ton Smith] You are to form a Govt. that will not admit of War There have been wars of Ambition Wars for defence agt. Tyranny War for defence of Liberty— A Gent from N York Mr. Jay—Stated that it would be necessary to currupt but five The Gent. says only necessary to corrupt but Eight19 as the Clause Stands Why encreas the Evil It is said Many of the States may [be] averse to the Warr The Amendmt increases the Evil We may be engaged in a War for defence agt. Ambition Our Resources may be exhausted— This Restraint may prevent obtaining Loans and may thereby bring on our Inevitable Destruction It is not necessary to interest the feeling of all the People of the Country—The more distant States may not have all their passions
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ALEXANDER HAMILTON. I add to enforce the Ideas of the Member who spoke last [Richard Harison] — The Gent from Dutchess [Melancton Smith] says it is less dangerous to prevent grant power to restrain an Act than a power to do Here the Power to restrain is as dangerous as to do an Act — The Power to restrain here is to restrain you from your defence— The Gentleman contends that there may be corruption in a Majority or the whole— We contend that there may be corruption in a Small Body only five
If evils are to be submitted to which to be prefered — to trust a Majority of your whole Govt. and president to enter into a War of Ambition — or to put it into the power of a Minority to prevent your own defence agt. an Ambitious War— What Interest in a Republic to have a War of Ambition— Some Individuals may obtain A part of the Common Fame— but no man can acquire Territory—
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MELANCTON SMITH. A Gent [Richard Harison] says I would have no Warrs— I said that when a restrictive could do any harm would only be in the Time of a Defensive Warr— Will not every man then Consent would any Man oppose— If this Country was attacked—is there any man who would refuse— Has any Gent seen an Instance in Congress where the Consent of Nine States necessary— Sometimes every Mans Consent necessary— This will not disarm Govt. perhaps SAMUEL JONES. The Argumts. are comprised within a narrow Compass— Sufficient has been Said on both Sides— To Establish Post Offices and Post Roads Mr. Jones moved an Amendment— "Resolved as the opinion of this Committee that the Power of the Congress to establish post Offices and Post Roads is not to be construed to extend to the laying out making Altering or repairing Highways in any State—"