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title:“Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
date written:1788-1-24

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:09 a.m. UTC
retrieved:June 7, 2023, 12:29 p.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. 1334-38. Print.

Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (January 24, 1788)

Mr. NASON renewed his motion for "reconsidering a former vote to discuss the Constitution by paragraphs, so that the whole might be taken up."
The Hon. Mr. ADAMS said he was one of those who had had difficulties and doubts respecting some parts of the proposed Constitution—He had, he said, for several weeks after the publication of it, laid by all the writings, in the publick papers, on the subject, in order to be enabled leisurely to consider them. He had, he said, still some difficulties on his mind; but that he had chosen rather to be an auditor than an objector and he had particular reasons therefor: As this was the case with him, and as others, he believed, were in a similar situation, he was desirous to have a full investigation of the subject; that thereby such might be confirmed, either in favour or against the Constitution; and was therefore against the motion. We ought not, he said, to be stingy of our time, or the publick money, when so important an object demanded them: and the publick expect that we will not. He was sorry he said, for gentlemen's necessities: but he would rather support the gentlemen, who were thus necessitated, or lend them money to do it, than they should hurry so great a subject. He therefore, hoped that the question would be put, and that we should proceed as we began.
Hon. Mr. PITTS said it was impossible to consider the whole until the parts had been examined; our constituents, said he, have a right to demand of us the reasons which shall influence us to vote as we shall do; he must, he said, therefore, oppose the motion. Hon. Mr. KING, Col. [Jonathan] SMITH, and several other gentlemen, spoke against the motion.
Mr. WIDGERY opposed the motion's being winked out of sight—he wished, he said, the question might be put, that the sense of the Convention respecting it, might be taken.
Gen. THOMPSON said, it was not essential how the matter was considered, but he wished to have the whole subject at large open to discussion, so that every body might speak to it. A member says he, gets up and speaks, but he is called to order as not confining himself to the particular paragraph under debate, and this puts him out. In his opinion, he said, the Constitution, and the reasons which induced gentlemen to frame it, ought to have been sent to the several towns, to be considered by them. My town, says he, considered it seven hours, and after this, there was not one in favour of it. If this had been done, we should have known the minds of the people on it; and should we dare, he asked, to act different from the sense of the people? It is strange, he said, that a system, which its planners say is so plain that he that runs may read it should want so much explanation.
(The question being generally called for the motion was put, and negatived without a return of the house. The endeavours of gentlemen to hush to silence a small buz of congratulation, among a few citizens in the gallery being mistaken by some of the members, for a hiss, created a momentary agitation in the Convention; which, however after a short conversation subsided.)
The 8th sect, was again read.
The Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK went into a general answer to the objections, which had been started against the powers to be granted to Congress, by this section. He shewed the absolute necessity there was that the body which had the security for the whole for their object, should have the necessary means allowed them to effect it—and in order to secure the people against the abuse of this power the representatives and people, he said, are equally subject to the laws, and can therefore have but one and the same interest—that they never would lay unnecessary burthens, when they themselves must bear a part of them; and from the extent of their objects their power ought necessarily to be illimitable. Men, says he, rarely do mischief for the sake of beingmis- chievous. With respect to the power in this sect, to raise armies, the Hon. Gentleman said, although gentlemen had thought it a dangerous power and would be used for the purpose of tyranny yet they did not object to the confederation in this particular; and by this, Congress could have kept the whole of the late army in the field, had they seen fit. He asked, if gentlemen could think it possible, that the legislature of the United States should raise an army unnecessarily which, in a short time, would be under the controul of other persons? For if it was not to be under their controul, what object could they have in raising it? It was, he said, a chimerical idea to suppose, that a country like this, could ever be enslaved. How is an army for that purpose to be obtained? from the freemen of the United States? They certainly says he, will know to what object it is to be applied. Is it possible, he asked, that an army could be raised for the purpose of enslaving themselves and their brethren? or if raised, whether they could subdue a nation of freemen, who know how to prize liberty; and who have arms in their hands? He said, it was a deception in gentlemen to say that this power could be thus used. The Hon. Gentleman said, that in the Constitution every possible provision against an abuse of power was made; and if gentlemen would candidly investigate for themselves, they would find that the evils they lament cannot ensue therefrom.
Mr. DAWES observed, upon the authority of Congress to raise and support armies, that all the objections which had been made by gentlemen against standing armies, were inapplicable to the present question; which was, that as there must be an authority (somewhere), to raise and support armies, whether that authority ought to be in (Congress). As Congress are the legislature upon the proposed plan of government, in them only said he, should be lodged the power under debate. Some gentlemen seem to have confused ideas about standing armies: That the (legislature) of a country should not have power to raise armies, is a doctrine he never heard before. Charles II. in England, kept in pay an army of five thousand men, and James II. augmented them to thirty thousand. This occasioned a great and just alarm through the nation; and accordingly when William III. came to the throne, it was declared to be unconstitutional to raise or keep a standing army in time of peace, without the consent of the legislature. Most of our own State constitutions have borrowed this language from the English declaration of rights; but none of them restrain their (legislatures) from raising and supporting armies. Those who never objected to such an authority in Congress, as vested by the old Confederation, surely ought not to object to such a power in a Congress, where there is to be a new branch of representation, arising immediately from the people, and which branch alone must originate those very grants that are to maintain the army. When we consider that this branch is to be elected every two years, there is great propriety in its being restrained from making any grants in support of the army for a longer space than that of their existence. If the election of this popular branch were for seven years, as in England, the same men who would make the first grant, might also the second and third, for the (continuance) of the army; and such an acquaintance might exist between the representatives in Congress and the leaders of the army as might be unfavourable to liberty. But the wisdom of the late Convention has avoided this difficulty. The army must expire of itself in two years after it shall be raised, unless renewed representatives, who at that time will have just come fresh from the body of the people. It will share the same fate as that of a (temporary law), which dies at the time mentioned in the act itself unless revived by some future legislature.1
Capt. DENCH said, it had been observed, and he was not convinced that the observation was wrong, that the grant of the powers in this sect. would produce a consolidation of the States—and the moment it begins, a dissolution of the State governments commences.—If mistaken, he wished to be set right.

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