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title:“Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
date written:1788-1-21

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"Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention." 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. 1282-94. Print.

Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (January 21, 1788)

The Messenger informed the Convention that he had acquainted the Printers of the Boston Gazette, &c. of the order of this forenoon respecting them, and was answered that one of them would attend the Convention this afternoon. A letter from Messrs. Benjamin Edes and Son, Printers of the Boston Gazette, &c. relative to the publication entered this morning. Read and committed to Mr Parsons, Mr. Nason, Mr. Gorham, Mr. Widgery, Mr. Porter, Mr. Gore, and Mr. Thomas, of Plymouth.
The 5th section being read.
Dr. TAYLOR wished to know the meaning of the words "from time to time" in the 3d paragraph. Does it mean, says he, from year to year, from month to month or from day to day?
The Hon. Mr KING rose, and explained the term.
Mr. WIDGERY read the paragraph, and said by the words, "except such parts as may require secrecy " Congress might withhold the whole - journals under this pretence, and thereby the people be kept in ignorance of their doings.
The Hon. Mr GORHAM exposed the absurdity of any publick body - publishing all their proceedings. Many things in great bodies are to be kept secret— and records must be brought to maturity before published: In case of treaties with foreign nations, would it be policy to inform the world of the extent of the powers to be vested in our ambassadour and thus give our enemies opportunity to defeat our negotiations? There is no provision in the constitution of this state, or of Great-Britain, for any publication of the kind: And yet the people suffer no inconveniency The Printers no doubt, will be interested to obtain the journals as soon as possible for publication, and they will be published in a book, by Congress, at the end of every session.
Rev. Mr. PERLEY described the alarms and anxiety of the people at the commencement of the war when the whole country, he said cried, with one voice, "why don't General Washington march into Boston, and drive out the tyrants?" But, said he, heaven gave us a commander who knew better than to do this. The Rev Gentleman said, he was acquainted with the Roman history, and the Grecian too, and he believed there never was, since the creation of the world, a greater General than Washington, except, indeed, Joshua, who was inspired by the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. Would it, he asked, have been prudent for that excellent man, General Washington, previous to the American army's taking possession of Dorchester heights, to have f' published to the world his intentions of so doing? No, says he, it would not.
The 1st paragraph of the 6th section read.
Dr. TAYLOR. Mr. President, it has hitherto been customary for the gentlemen of Congress, to be paid by the several state legislatures, out of the state treasury. As no state has hitherto failed paying its delegates, why should we leave the good old path? Before the revolution it was consideredas a grievance, that the governours, &c. received their pay from Great-Britain. They could not, in that case, feel their dependence on the people, when they received their appointments and salaries from the crown. I know not why we should not pay them now as well as heretofore.
General PORTER. Have not delegates been retained from Congress, which is virtually recalling them, because they have not been paid? Has not Rhode-Island failed to pay their delegates? Should there not be an equal charge throughout the United States, for the payment of the delegates, as there is in this state for the payment of the members of this Convention, met for the general good? Is it not advantageous to the people at large, that the delegates to this Convention are paidout of the publick treasury? If any inconvenience, however, can be shewn to flow from this plan, I should be glad to hear it.
Hon. Mr SEDGWICK hoped gentlemen would consider that the federal officers of government would be responsible for their conduct— and as they would regard their reputations, will not assess exorbitant wages. In Massachusetts, and in every other state, the legislatures have power to provide for their own payment; and, he asked, have they ever established it higher than it ought to be? But on the contrary have they not made it extremely inconsiderable? The Commons of Great Britain, he said, have the power to assess their own wages, but for two centuries they have never exercised it. Can a man, he asked, who has the least respect for the good opinion of his fellow countrymen, go home to his constituents after having robbed them by voting himself an exorbitant salary? This principle will be a most powerful check: and in respect to economy, the power lodged as it is in this sect. will be more advantageous to the people, than if retained by the state legislatures. Let us see what the legislature of Massachusetts have done; they vote the salaries of the delegates to Congress, and they have voted them such as have enabled them to live in style suited to the dignity of a respectable state, but these salaries have been four times as much, for the same time, as they ever voted themselves. Therefore, concluded the Hon. Gentleman, if left to themselves to provide for their own payment, as long as they wish for the good opinion of mankind, they will assess no more than they really deserve, as a compensation for their services.
Hon. Mr KING said, if the arguments on the 4th sect. against an undue controul in the state legislatures, over the federal representatives, were in any degree satisfactory they are so on this.
Gen. THOMPSON. Mr President, the Hon. Gentleman means well, and is honest in his sentiments—It is alike—When we see matters at large, and what it all is, we shall know what to do with it. Mr. PARSONS. In order that the general government should preserve itself, it is necessary it should preserve justice between the several states. Under the confederation the power in this sect. would not be just, for each state has a right to send seven members to Congress, though some of them do not pay one tenth so much of the publick expenses as others: it is a mere federal government of states, neither equal or pro- portionate. If gentlemen would use the same candour that the Hon. Gentleman from Topsham (Gen. Thompson) does, considering all the parts as connected with others, the constitution would receive a better discussion.
The 2d paragraph of the 6th sect. read.
Hon. Mr GORHAM said that this constitution contained restrictions which were not to be found in any other; and he wished gentlemen who had objected to every paragraph which had been read, would give the Convention credit for those parts which must meet the approbation of every man.
The 8th sect. of art. I. containing the POWERS OF CONGRESS, being read, General BROOKS (Lincoln) said, this article contained more matter than anyone yet read; and he wished to know whether there are not to be some general restrictions to the general articles.
Hon. Mr KING. Mr President, it is painful to me to obtrude my sentiments on the Convention, so frequently. However, sir, I console myself with the idea that my motives are as good as those of more able gentlemen, who have remained silent. Sir, this is a very important clause, and of the highest consequence to the future fortune of the people of America. It is not my intention to go into any elaborate discussion of the subject: I shall only offer those considerations which have influenced my mind in favour of the article, in the hope that it may tend to reconcile gentlemen to it. It shall not be with a view of exhibitingany particular knowledge of mine: for such is not my inten- tion. Hitherto we have considered the construction of the general government. We now come, sir, to the consideration of the powers with which that government shall be clothed. The introduction to this con- stitution is in these words: "We the people &c." The language of the confederation is, "We the states, &c." The latter is a mere federal government of states. Those, therefore, that assemble under it have no power to make laws to apply to the individuals of the states confederated; and the attempts to make laws for collective societies, necessarily leave a discretion to comply with them or not. In no instance has there been so frequent deviations from first principles, as in the neglect or refusal to comply with the requisitions of general governments for the collection of monies.1 In the ancient governments this has been a principal defect. In the United Provinces of the Netherlands it has been conspicuously. A celebrated political writer, I mean John de Witt, formerly pensioner of Holland, says, that in the confederacy of 1570, though the articles were declared equally binding on the several provinces, yet anyone had it in its power to comply with the requisitions of the generality or not; and some provinces taking advantage of this discretionary power, never paid any thing. During 40 years of their war with Spain, the Province of Holland paid 58 parts of an hundred, of all the expenses thereof. Two or three of the Provinces never so much as passed a resolution to pay any thing; and de Witt says, that two of them paid not a single gilder. What was the consequence? In one instance, Holland compelled a neighbouring province to comply with the requisitions, by marching force into it. This was a great instance of usurpation, made in the time of a war. The Prince of Orange, and the generality, found that they would not continue the war in this manner. What was to be done? They were obliged to resort to the expedient of doubling the ordinary requisitions on the states. Some of the provinces were prevailed upon to grant these requisitions fully, in order to induce Holland to do the same. She seeing the other states appearing thus forward, not only granted the requisitions, but paid them. The others did not. Thus was a single province obliged to bear almost the whole burdens of the war; and one hundred years after, the accounts of this war were unsettled. What was the reason? Holland had but one voice in the states-general. That voice was feeble when opposed by the rest. This fact is true. The history of our own country, is a melancholy proof of a similar truth. Massachusetts has paid, while other states have been delinquent. How was the war carried on with the paper money? Requisitions on the states for that money were made. Who paid them?— Massachusetts, and a few others. A requisition of 29,000,000 dollars was quotaed on Massachusetts, and it was paid. This state has paid in her proportion of the old money. How comes it then, that gentlemen have any of this money by them? Because the other states have shamefully neglected to pay their quotas. Do you ask for redress? You are scoffed at. The next requisition, was for 11,000,000 of dollars, 6,000,000 of which, were to be paid in facilities, the rest in silver money for discharging the interest of the national debt. If the legislatures found a difficulty in paying the hard money, why did they not pay the paper? But 1,200,000 dollars have been paid. And six states have not paid a farthing of it.
(After mentioning another requisition equally disregarded, Mr. King said,) two states have not paid a single farthing, from the moment they signed the confederation, to this day; if my documents are to be depended on, and they are open to inspection of all. Now, sir, what faith is to be put in requisitions on the states, for monies to pay our domestick creditors, and discharge our foreign debts—for monies lent us in the day of difficulty and distress. Sir, experience proves, as well as any thing can be proved, that no dependence can be placed on such requisitions. What method then can we devise to compel the delinquent states to pay their quotas? Sir, I know of none. Laws to be effective, therefore, must not be laid on states, but upon individuals. Sir, it has been objected to the proposed constitution, that the power is too great, and by this constitution is to be sacred. But if the want of power is the defect in the old confederation, there is a fitness and propriety in adopting what is here proposed, which gives the necessary power wanted. Congress now have power to call for what monies, and in what proportion they please; but they have no authority to compel a compliance therewith. It is an objection in some gentlemen's minds, that Congress should possess the power of the purse and the sword. (But, Sir, I would ask, whether any government can exist—or give security to the people which is not possessed of this power? The first revenue will be raised from the impost, to which there is no objection, the next, from the excise; and if these are not sufficient, direct taxes must be laid. To conclude, sir, if we mean to support an efficient federal government, which under the old confederation can never be the case the proposed constitution is, in my opinion, the only one that can be substituted.)2
Hon. Mr. WHITE said, in giving this power we give up every thing; and Congress, with the pursestrings in their hands, will use the sword with a witness.
Mr. DAWES said, he thought the powers in the paragraph under debate should be fully vested in Congress. We have suffered, said he, for want of such authority in the federal head. This will be evident if we take a short view of our agriculture, commerce and manufactures. Our agriculture has not been encouraged by the imposition of national duties on rival produce: nor can it be, so long as the several states may make contradictory laws. This has induced our farmers to raise only what they wanted to consume in their own families; I mean however, after raising enough to pay their TAXES: For I insist, that upon the old plan, the land has borne the burden. For as Congress could not make laws whereby they could obtain a revenue, in their own way, from impostor excise, they multiplied their requisitions on the several states. When a state was thus called on, it would perhaps impose new duties on its own trade, to procure money for paying its quota of federal demands. This would drive the trade to such neighbouring states as made no such new impositions: Thus the revenue would be lost with the trade, and the only resort would be a direct tax.
As to commerce, it is well known that the different states now pursue different systems of duties in regard to each other. By this, and for want of general laws of prohibition through the union, we have not secured even our own domestick traffick, that passes from state to state. This is contrary to the policy of every nation on earth. Some nations have no other commerce. The great and flourishing empire of China has but little commerce beyond her own territories; and no country is better circumstanced than we, for an exclusive traffick from state to state: Yet even in this we are rivalled by foreigners—by those foreigners to whom we are the least indebted. A vessel from Roseway or Halifax finds as hearty a welcome with its fish and whale bone at the southern ports, as though it was built, navigated and freighted from Salem or Boston. And this must be the case, until we have laws comprehending and embracing alike all the states in the union.
But it is not only our coasting trade, our whole commerce is going to ruin. Congress has not had power to make even a trade law, which shall confine the importation of foreign goods to the ships of the producing or consuming country: If we had such a law we should not go to England for the goods of other nations; nor would British vessels be the carriers of American produce from our sister states. In the states southward of the Delaware, it is agreed, that three fourths of the produce are exported, and three fourths of the returns are made in British bottoms. It is said, that for exporting timber one half the property goes to the carrier, and of the produce in general, it has been computed, that when it is shipped for London from a southern state, to the value of one million of dollars, the British merchant draws from that sum three hundred thousand dollars, under the names of freight and charges. This is money which belongs to the New-England States, because we can furnish the ships as well as, and much better, than the British. Our sister states are willing we should receive these benefits, and that they should be secured to us by national laws; but until that is done, their private merchants will, no doubt, for the sake of long credit, or some other such temporary advantage, prefer the ships of foreigners: And yet we have suffered these ignominious burthens, rather than trust our own representatives with power to help us; and we call ourselves free and independent states? We are independent of each other but we are slaves to Europe. We have no uniformity in duties, imposts, excises or prohibitions.4 Congress has no authority to withhold advan- tages from foreigners, in order to obtain advantages from them. By the 9th of the old articles, Congress may enter into treaties and alliances under certain provisos, but Congress cannot pledge, that a single state shall not render the whole treaty of commerce a nullity.5
Our manufactures are another great subject, which has received no encouragement by national duties on foreign manufactures, and they never can by any authority in the old confederation. It has been said, that no country can produce manufactures until it be overstocked with inhabitants. It is true, the United States have employment, except in the winter, for their citizens in agriculture—the most respectable employment under heaven: But it is now to be remembered, that since the old confederation there is a great emigration of foreign artizans hither, some of whom are left here by the armies of the last war, and others, who have more lately sought the new world, from hopes of mending their condition—these will not change their employments. Besides this, the very face of our country leads to manufactures. Our numerous falls of water, and places for mills, where paper, snuff, gun powder, iron works, and numerous other articles are prepared—these will save us immense sums of money, that otherwise would go to Europe. The question is, have these been encouraged? Has Congress been able, by national laws to prevent the importation of such foreign commodities as are made from such raw materials as we ourselves raise. It is alledged, that the citizens of the United States have contracted debts within the last three years, with the subjects of Great-Britain, for the amount of near six millions of dollars, and that consequently our lands are mortgaged for that sum. So Corsica was once mortgaged to the Genoese merchants for articles which her inhabitants did not want, or which they could have made themselves, and she was afterwards sold to a foreign power. If we wish to encourage our own manufactures— to preserve our own commerce—to raise the value of our own lands, we must give Congress the powers in question.
The Hon. Gentleman from Norton [Abraham White] last speaking, says, that if Congress have the power of laying and collecting taxes, they will use the power of the sword. I hold the reverse to be true. The doctrine requisitions, or of demands upon a whole state, implies such a power For surely a whole state, a whole community, can be compelled only by an army; but taxes upon an individual, implies only the use of a collector of taxes. That Congress, however, will not apply to the power of direct taxation, unless in cases of emergency, is plain; because, as thirty f thousand inhabitants will elect a representative, eight tenths of which electors perhaps are yeomen, and holders of farms, it will be their own faults if they are not represented by such men as will never permit the land to be injured by unnecessary taxes.M6r. BODMAN said, that the power given to Congress, to layand collect duties, taxes, &c. as contained in the section under consideration, was certainly unlimited, and therefore dangerous: And wished to know, whether it was necessary to give Congress power to do harm, in order to enable them to do good. It had been said, that the sovereignty of the States remains with them—but if Congress has the power to lay taxes—and in cases of negligence or non-compliance, can send a power to collect them—he thought that the idea of sovereignty was destroyed. This, he said, was an essential point: and ought to be seriously considered. It had been urged that gentlemen were jealous of their rulers—he said, he thought they ought to be so—it was just they should be so—for jealousy was one of the greatest securities of the people, in a republick. The power in the 8th section, he said, ought to have been defined—that he was willing to give power to the federal head—but he wished to know what that power was.
Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK, in answer to the gentleman last speaking, said, if he believed the adoption of the proposed constitution would interfere with the state legislatures, he would be the last to vote for it; but he thought all the sources of revenue ought to be put into the hands of government, (who were to protect, and secure us: and powers to effect this had always been necessarily unlimitted) Congress would necessarily take that which was easiest to the people; the first would be impost, the next excise, (and a direct tax, will be the last;) for says the Hon. Gentleman, drawing money from the people, by direct taxes, being difficult and uncertain, it would be the last source of revenue applied to, by a wise legislature—and hence, says he, the people may be assured that the delegation of a power to levy them would not be abused.7 Let us suppose—and shall not be thought extravagant in the supposition—continued Mr S. that we are attacked by a foreign enemy, that in this dilemma our treasury was exhausted, our credit gone; our enemy on our borders; and that there was no possible method of raising impost or excise: In this case, the only remedywould be a direct tax. Could, therefore, this power being vested in Congress, lessen the many advantages which may be drawn from it.
Mr. SINGLETARY thought no more power could be given to a despot, than to give up the purse-strings of the people.
Col. PORTER asked, if a better rule of yielding power could be shewn than in the constitution; for what we do not give (said he) we retain.
Gen. THOMPSON. Mr President, I totally abhor this paragraph. Massachusetts has ever been a leading state; now let her give good advice to her sister states. Suppose nine States adopt this Constitution, who shall touch the other four? Some cry out, force them. I say draw them. We love liberty Britain never tried to enslave us until she told us we had too much liberty. We cannot have too much liberty. The confed-eration wants amendments; shall we not amend it? The Convention were sent on to Philadelphia to amend this confederation; but they made a new creature; and the very setting out of it is unconstitutional. In the Convention, Pennsylvania had more members than all New-England, and two of our delegates only were persuaded to sign the Constitution. Massachusetts once shut up the harbours against the British. There confess I was taken in. Don't let us be in a hurry again. Let us wait to see what our sister states will do. What shall we suffer if we adjourn the consideration of it for five or six months? It is better to do this than adopt it so hastily. Take care we don't disunite the states. By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.
Major KINGSLEY. Mr President, after so much has been said on the powers to be given to Congress, I shall say but a few words on the subject. By the articles of confederation the people have three checks on their delegates in Congress; the annual election of them, their rotation, and the power to recall any or all of them, when they see fit: in view of our federal rulers, they are the servants of the people: in the new constitution, we are deprived of annual elections, have no rotation, and cannot recall our members; therefore our federal rulers will be masters and not servants.8 I will examine what powers we have given to our masters. They have power to lay and collect all taxes, duties, imposts and excises; raise armies, fit out navies, to establish themselves in a federal town of ten miles square, equal to four middling townships, erect forts, magazines, arsenals, &c—Therefore, should the Congress be chosen of designing and interested men, they can perpetuate their existence, secure the resources of war; and the people will have nothing left to defend themselves with.9 Let us look into ancient history—The Romans, after a war thought themselves safe in a government of ten men, called the Decemviri: these ten men were invested with all powers, and were chosen for three years. By their arts and designs they secured their second election; but finding, from the manner in which they had exercised their power they were not able to secure their third election, they declared themselves masters of Rome, impoverished the city and deprived the people of their rights. It has been said that there was no such danger here; I will suppose they were to attempt the experiment, after we have given them all our money established them in a federal town, given them, the power of coining money and raising a standing army; and to establish their arbitrary government; what resources have the people left? I cannot see any—The parliament of England was first ir chosen annually; they afterwards lengthened their duration to three years; and from triennial they became septennial. The government of England has been represented as a good and happy government, (but some parts of it, their greatest political writers much condemn: especially that of the duration of their Parliaments:) Attempts are yearly made to shorten their duration, from septennial to triennial; but the influence of the ministry is so great, that it has not yet been accomplished. From this duration, bribery and corruption are introduced. Notwithstanding they receive no pay they make great interest for a seat in Parliament, one or two years before its dissolution, and give from five to twenty guineas, for a vote; and the candidates sometimes expend from 10,000 I to 30,000 I. Will a person throw away such a fortune—and waste so much time, without the probability of replacing such a sum with interest? Or can there be security in such men? Bribery may be introduced here as well as in Great-Britain—and Congress may equally oppress the people—because we cannot call them to an account; considering that there is no annual election—no rotation—no power to recall them, provided for.

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