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title:“Newspaper Report of Massachusetts Ratification Convention Debates”
date written:1788-1-18

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:57 a.m. UTC
retrieved:May 12, 2021, 8:31 a.m. UTC

"Newspaper Report of Massachusetts Ratification Convention Debates." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 6. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2000. 1243-46. Print.

Newspaper Report of Massachusetts Ratification Convention Debates (January 18, 1788)

The 3d par of the 2d sect. of art. I. still under consideration.
Hon. Mr. DALTON opened the conversation with some remarks on Mr Randal's positive assertions of the fertility of the southern states- who said from his own observation, and from accounts he had seen, which were better, he could say that the gentleman's remark was not perfectly accurate- the Hon. Gentleman shewed why it was not so, by stating the inconsiderable product of the land; which, though it might in part be owing to the faithlessness and ignorance of the slaves who cultivate it, he said, was in a greater measure owing to the want of heart in the soil.
Mr. RANDAL. Mr. President, I rise to make an observation on the suggestion of the Hon. Gentleman from Newbury. I have, sir, travelled into the southern states, and should be glad to compare our knowledge on the subject together. In Carolina, Mr President, if they don't get more than 20 or 30 bushels of corn from an acre, they think it a small crop. On the low lands they sometimes get 40. I hope, sir, these great men of eloquence and learning will not try to make arguments to make this Constitution go down, right or wrong. An old saying, sir, is, that a good thing don't need praising; but, sir, it takes the best men in the state to gloss this Constitution, which they say is the best that human wisdom can invent. In praise of it, we hear the Rev. Clergy, the Judges of the Supreme Court, and the ablest Lawyers, exerting their utmost abilities.- Now, sir, suppose all this artillery turned the other way and these great men would speak half as much against it, we might complete our business, and go home in 48 hours. Let us, sir, consider we are acting for the people, and for ages unborn; let us deal fairly and above board. Every one comes here to discharge his duty to his constituents, and I hope none will be biassed by the best orators; because we are not acting for ourselves: I think Congress ought to have power, such as is for the good of the nation, but what it is, let a more able man than I tell us.
Mr. DAWES said, he was sorry to hear so many objections raised against the paragraph under consideration. He thought them wholly unfounded; that the black inhabitants of the southern states must be considered either as slaves, and as so much property, or in the character of so many free men; if the former, why should they not be wholly represented? Our own State laws and Constitution would lead us to consider those blacks as free men, and so indeed would our own ideas of natural justice: If then, they are free men, they might form an equal basis for representation as though they were all white inhabitants. In either view, therefore, he could not see that the Northern States would suffer, but directly to the contrary.1 He thought, however, that gentlemen would do well to connect the passage in dispute with another article in the Constitution, that permits Congress, in the year 1808, wholly to prohibit the importation of slaves, and in the mean time to impose a duty of ten dollars a head on such blacks as should be imported before that period.2 Besides, by the new Constitution, every particular state is left to its own option totally to prohibit the introduction of slaves into its own territories. What could the Convention do more? The members of the Southern States, like ourselves, have their prejudices. It would not do to abolish slavery, by an act of Congress, in a moment, and so destroy what our Southern brethren consider as property. But we may say, that although slavery is not smitten by an apoplexy, yet it has received a mortal wound and will die of a consumption.
Mr. D. said the para in debate related only to the rule of apportioning internal taxes, but gentlemen had gone into a consideration of the question, whether Congress should have the power of laying and collecting such taxes; which he thought would be more properly discussed under the section relative to the Powers of Congress: But as objections had been suggested- the answers might be hinted as we went along. By the old articles, said he, Congress have a right to ascertain what sums are necessary for the union, and to appropriate the same- but have no authority to draw such monies from the States. The States are under an honorary obligation to raise the monies- but Congress cannot compel a compliance with the obligation; so long as we withhold that authority from Congress, so long we may be said to give it to other nations- Let us contemplate the loan we have negociated with the Dutch, our ambassadour has bound us all jointly and severally to pay the money borrowed. When pay day shall come, how is the money to be raised? Congress cannot collect it; if any one State shall disobey requisition, the Dutch are left in such a case to put their own demand in force for themselves. They must raise by arms what we are afraid Congress shall collect by the law of peace. There is a prejudice, said Mr. Dawes, against direct taxation, which arises from the manner in which it has been abused by the errours of the old Confederation. Congress had it not in their power to draw a revenue from commerce, and therefore multiplied their requisitions on the States. Massachusetts, willing to pay her part, made her own trade law, on which the trade departed to such of our neighbours as made no such impositions on commerce: Thus we lost what little revenue we had, and our only recourse was, to a direct taxation. In addition to this, foreign nations, knowing this inability of Congress, have on that account been backward in their negociations, and have lent us money at a premium which bore some proportion to the risk they had of getting payment; and this extraordinary expense has fallen at last on the land- Some gentlemen have said, that Congress may draw their revenue wholly by direct taxes; but they cannot be induced so to do; it is easier for them to have resort to the impost and excise: But as it will not do to over-burthen the impost, (because that would promote smuggling, and be dangerous to the revenue) therefore Congress should have the power of applying, in extraordinary cases, to direct taxation.3 War may take place, in which case it would not be proper to alter those appropriations of impost which may be made for peace establishments, it is inexpedient to divert the publick funds, the power of direct taxation would in such circumstances be a very necessary power. As to the rule of apportioning such taxes, it must be by the quantity of lands, or else in the manner laid down in the paragraph under debate. But the quantity of lands is an uncertain rule of wealth- compare the lands of different nations of Europe- some of them have great comparative wealth and less quantities of lands, while others have more lands and less wealth. Compare Holland with Germany. The rule laid down in the paragraph is the best that can be obtained for the apportionment of the little direct taxes which Congress will want.4

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