Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
date written:1788-1-22

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:27 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Aug. 19, 2022, 10:45 a.m. UTC

"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. 1297-1305. Print.

Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (January 22, 1788)

Section 8th, still under consideration.
[For Tristram Dalton's speech, see Newspaper Report of Convention Proceedings and Debates, 22 January A. M., immediately below.]
Judge SUMNER. The powers proposed to be delegated in this sect. are very important, as they will in effect place the purse-strings of the citizen in the hands of Congress for certain purposes. In order to know whether such powers are necessary we ought, sir to inquire what the design of uniting under one government is. It is, that the national dignity may be supported, its safety preserved, and necessary debts paid—Is it not necessary then to afford the means by which alone those objects can be attained? Much better it appears to me, would it be for the States not to unite under one government which will be attended with some expense, than to unite and at the same time withhold the powers necessary to accomplish the design of the union. Gentlemen say the power to raise money may be abused—I grant it: And the same may be said of any other delegated power. Our General Court have the same power; but did they ever dare abuse it?1 Instead of voting themselves 6/8, they might vote themselves £.12 a day; but there never was a complaint of their voting themselves more than what was reasonable—If they should make an undue use of their power they know a loss of confidence in the people would be the consequence, and they would not be re-elected; and this is one security in the hands of the people. Another is, that all money-bills are to originate with the house representatives: And can we suppose, the representatives of Georgia, or any other State, more disposed to burden their constituents with taxes, than the representatives of Massachusetts—it is not to be supposed—for whatever is for the interest of one State in this particular will be the interest of all the States; and no doubt attended to, by the house of representatives.2 But why should we alarm ourselves with imaginary evils—an impost will probably be a principal source of revenue; but if that should be insufficient, other taxes, especially in time of war ought to supply the deficiency. It is said, that requisitions on the States ought to be made in cases of emergency; but we all know there can be no dependence on requisitions: The Hon. Gentleman from Newbury-Port, gave us an instance from the history of the United Provinces to prove it, by which it appears they would have submitted to the arms of Spain, had it not been for the surprizing exertions of one Province. But there can be no need of recurring to ancient records, when the history of our own country furnishes an instance, where requisitions have had no effect. But some gentlemen object further and say the delegation of these great powers, will destroy the state legislatures but I trust this never can take place, for the general government depends on the state legislatures for its very existence—the president is to be chosen by electors under the regulation of the State legislatures—the senate is to be chosen by the State legislatures; and the representative body by the people, under like regulations of the legislative body in the different States.—3If gentlemen consider this, they will, I presume alter their opinion, for nothing is clearer than that the existence of the legislatures in the different States, is essential to the very being of the general government. I hope, sir we shall all see the necessity of a federal government, and not make objections, unless they appear to us to be of some weight.
Mr. GORE. This section, Mr President, has been the subject of many observations, founded on real or pretended jealousies of the powers herein delegated to the general government—and by comparing the proposed Constitution, with things in their nature totally different, the mind may be seduced from a just determination on the subject.—Gentlemen have compared the authority of Congress, to levy and collect taxes from the people of America, to a similar power assumed by the Parliament of Great-Britain—if we but state the relation which these two bodies bear to America, we shall see that no arguments drawn from one, can be applicable to the other. The House of Commons, in the British Parliament, which is the only popular branch of that assembly was composed of men, chosen exclusively by the inhabitants of Great-Britain, in no sort amenable to, or dependent upon the people of America, and secured by their local situation, from every burthen they might lay on this country. By impositions on this part of the empire, they might be relieved from their own taxes, but could in no case be injured themselves. The Congress of the United States is to be chosen, either mediately or immediately by the people. They can impose no burthens but what they participate in common with their fellow-citizens:—The Senators and Representatives during the time for which they shall be elected, are incapable of holding any office which shall be created, or the emoluments thereof be increased during such time—this is taking from candidates, every lure to office, and from the administrators of the government, every temptation to create or increase emoluments to such degree as shall be burthensome to their constituents.4 Gentlemen who candidly consider these things, will not say that arguments against the assumption of power by Great-Britain can apply to the Congress of the United States. Again, sir it has been said that because ten men of Rome, chosen to compile a body of laws for that people, remained in office after the time for which they were chosen, therefore the Congress of America will perpetuate themselves in Government. The Decemviri in their attainment to their exalted station, had influence enough over the people to obtain a temporary sovereignty which superseded the authority of the Senate and the Consuls, and gave them unlimited controul over the lives and fortunes of their fellow-citizens—They chosen for a year—At the end of this period, under pretence of not having completed their business, they with the alteration of some few of their members were continued for another year; at the end of the second year notwithstanding the business for which they were chosen was completed, they refused to withdraw from their station, and still continued in the exercise of their power—But to what was this owing? if history can be credited, it was to an idea universally received by the Roman people, that the power of the magistrate was supposed to [be] determine[d] by his own resignation, and not by expiration of the time for which he was chosen—this is one, among many instances which might be produced of the small attainments of the Roman people, in political knowledge—And I submit it, sir to the candour of this Convention, whether any conclusions can be fairly drawn, against vesting the proposed government with the powers mentioned in this section, because the magistrates of the ancient republicks usurped power and frequently attempted to perpetuate themselves in authority.
Some gentlemen suppose it is unsafe and unnecessary to vest the proposed government with authority to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises."—Let us strip the subject of every thing that is foreign, and refrain from likening it with governments which in their nature and administration have no affinity—and shall soon see that it is not only safe, but indispensibly necessary to our peace and dignity to vest the Congress with the powers described in this section—to determine the necessity of investing that body with the authority alluded to, let us inquire what duties are incumbent on them?—5To pay the debts, and provide for the common defence, and general welfare of the United States—To declare war &c.—To raise and support armies—To provide and maintain a navy: These are authorities and duties incident to every government—No one has, or I presume will, deny that whatever government may be established over America ought to perform such duties;6 the expense attending these duties is not within the power of calculation—The exigencies of government are in their nature illimitable, so then must be the authority which can meet these exigencies—where we demand an object, we must afford the means necessary to its attainment—whenever it can be clearly ascertained, what will be the future exigencies of government, the expense attending them, and the product of any particular tax, duty or impost, then, and not before, can the people of America limit their government to amount and fund. Some have said that the impost and excise would be sufficient for all the purposes of government in times of peace; and that in war requisitions should be made on the several states for sums to supply the deficiencies of this fund—Those who are best informed, suppose this fund inadequate to, and none pretend that it can exceed the expenses of a peace establishment; what then is to be done? Is America to wait until she is attacked, before she attempts a preparation for defence—this would certainly be unwise—It would be courting our enemies to make war upon us—The operations of war are sudden and call for large sums of money—collections from states are at all times slow and uncertain and in case of refusal, the non-complying state must be coerced by arms, which in its consequences would involve the innocent with the guilty and introduce all the horrours of a civil war—but it is said we need not fear a war—we have no enemies—let gentlemen consider the situation of our country they will find we are circumscribed with enemies from Maine to Georgia. I trust therefore that upon a fair and candid consideration of the subject, that it will be found indispensibly requisite to the peace, dignity and happiness of America, that the proposed government should be vested with all the powers granted by the section under debate.
Hon. Mr. PHILLIPS, (Boston) (I rise to make a few observations on this section, as it contains powers absolutely necessary.) If social government did not exist, there would be an end of individual government; therefore our very being depends on social government. On this article is founded the main pillar of the building—take away this pillar and where is your government? Therefore, I conceive, in this view of the case, this power is absolutely necessary. There seems to be a suspicion that this power will be abused, but is not all delegation of power equally dangerous? If we have a castle, shall we delay to put a commander into it, for fear he will turn his artillery against us? My concern is for the majesty of the people; if there is no virtue among them, what will the Congress do? If they had the meekness of Moses, the patience of Job, and the wisdom of Solomon, and the people were determined to be slaves, sir could the Congress prevent them? If they set heaven at defiance no arm of flesh can save them. Sir I shall have nothing to do in this government. But we see the situation we are in, we are verging towards destruction, and everyone must be sensible of it. (I suppose the New-England states have a treasure offered to them, better than the mines of Peru: and it cannot be to the disadvantage of the southern states.) Great-Britain and France come here with their vessels; instead of our carrying our produce to those countries in American vessels, navigated by our own citizens. When I consider the extensive sea-coast there is to this state alone, so well calculated for commerce, viewing matters in this light, I would rather sink all this continent owes me, than that this power should be withheld from Congress. Mention is made that Congress ought to be restricted of the power to keep an army except in times of war; I apprehend that great mischiefs would ensue from such a restriction. Let us take means to prevent war by granting to Congress the power of raising an army. If a declaration of war is made against this country and the enemy's army is coming against us, before Congress could collect the means to withstand this enemy they would penetrate into the bowels of our country and every thing dear to us, would be gone in a moment.7 The Hon. Gentleman from Topsham has made use of the expression "0! my country" from an apprehension that the constitution should be adopted; I will cry out "0! my country" if it is not adopted. I see nothing but destruction and inevitable ruin, if it is not. The more I peruse and study this article, the more convinced am I of the necessity of such a power being vested in Congress—the more I hear said against it, the more I am confirmed in my sentiments of its expediency—for it is like the pure metal, the more you rub it, the brighter it shines. It is with concern I hear the Hon. Gentleman from Topsham make use of language against the gentlemen of the law Sir I look on this order of men to be essential to the liberties and rights of the people; and whoever speaks against them as speaking against an ordinance of Heaven. Mr. President, I hope every gentleman will offer his sentiments candidly on this momentous affair that he will examine for himself and consider that he has not only the good of this Commonwealth under his consideration, but the welfare of the United States.
Doctor WiLLARD entered largely into the field of ancient history and deduced therefrom arguments to prove that where power had been trusted to men, whether in great or small bodies, they had always abused it, and that thus republicks had soon degenerated into aristocracies. He instanced Sparta, Athens, and Rome. The Amphictionick league, he said, resembled the confederation of the United States—while thus united, they defeated Xerxes—but were subdued by the gold of Philip, who bought the council to betray the interest of their country.
Hon. Mr. GORHAM, (in reply to the gentleman from Uxbridge) exposed the absurdity of conclusions and hypotheses drawn from ancient governments—which bore no relation to the confederacy proposed; for those governments had no idea of representations as we have. He however warned us against the evils which had ruined those states, which he thought was the want of an efficient federal government. As much as the Athenians rejoiced in the extirpation of a Lacedemonian, will, if we are disunited, a citizen of Massachusetts, at the death of a Connecticut man, or a Yorker With respect to the proposed government degenerating into an aristocracy the Hon. Gentleman observed, that the nature and situation of our country rendered such a circumstance impossible: As from the great preponderance of the agricultural interest in the United States—that interest would always have it in its power to elect such men, as would, he observed, effectually prevent the introduction of any other than a perfectly democratical form of government.
Hon. Mr. [George] CABOT went fully into a continuation of the arguments of the Hon. Gentleman last up. In a clear and elegant manner he analysed the ancient governments mentioned by Dr. Willard and by comparing them with the proposed system, fully demonstrated the superiority of the latter, and in a particular manner, the section under debate.
Mr. RANDAL said, the quoting of ancient history was no more to the purpose, than to tell how our fore fathers dug clams at Plymouth; He feared a consolidation of the thirteen states. Our manners, he said, were widely different from the southern states—their elections were not so free and unbiassed therefore, if the states were consolidated he thought it would introduce manners among us which would set us at continual variance.
Mr. BOWDOIN pointed out other instances of dissimilarity between the systems of the ancient republicks, and the proposed constitution, than those mentioned by the Hon. Gentlemen from Charlestown and Beverly in the want of the important checks in the former which were to be found in the latter—to the want of which, in the first, was owing, he said, the usurpation which took place. He instanced the decemviri, who though chosen for a short period, yet unchecked, soon subverted the liberties of the Romans and concluded with a decided opinion in favour of the constitution under debate.

Resource Metadata





  • Unknown