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title:“Robert R. Livingston's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates”
authors:Robert R. Livingston
date written:1788-6-19

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:25 a.m. UTC
retrieved:May 16, 2021, 9:41 a.m. UTC

Livingston, Robert R.. "Robert R. Livingston'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. 1690-95. Print.

Robert R. Livingston's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates (June 19, 1788)

R. R. LIVINGSTON. The Chancellor then rose and addressed the Chair—To the people it is a matter of indifference said he whether these [powers] are vested in the general or particular government, as they make no greater sacrifice of their liberty to [one] than to the other.— He beleived that all men agreed that a power for ruling should be given— they only differed in respect to the hands they should place it in.—He was pleased with the opportunity prospect that now presented itself, where we might lodge it securely, and to advantage, & hoped that we might not throw away the opportunity.—The seeds of Jealousy were already Sown, & if we lost the present opportunity for an union, we might never have another—He trusted that no Gent. had come there who was not disposed to render his country essential services; and yet he was not without his apprehensions—He feared more from the false ideas of some, than the particular views of others.—If any two in that room were selected to draft a Constitution he did not suppose they would agree—all human institutions were imperfect— do not therefore and that we ought not to let us sacrifice real advantages for ideal dangers.—Such was the difference of opinion among men, that even in the only instance wherein God had visited the Earth to give it a form of Government, they had disagreed.—He spoke pathetically on our situation and the advantages that would result from union—our necessities he said called for one—he would not urge it from those topicks which were in every mans mouth—he would draw a veil over our national weaknesses—he would say nothing on the decay of our commerce—the loss of our credit—the private distresses which it occasioned;—and the insults daily received from abroad.
Continuing his arguments for the necessity of an union he said that New York had advantages superior to any other State. It had the supports of Life in greater abundance, & besides the surplus to support our Commerce had all those Staples which are to be found in the more northern States.—The waters of New Jersey were tributary to those of New York;—the communication with the Eastern States was easy & safe; the noble Hudson which ranges through our State affords a ready conveyance to our Markets;—& the whole trade of the Western Country would probably concenter with us.—that the greater part of our domestic debt was in our Treasury;—tho' much was still due to our Citizens, A little industry and economy would soon rid us of discharge this.—The back Lands under a vigorous Government would be a great source for its redemption;—under a weak Government, they would produce nothing.
If we were disunited, we should have no other Support than our own internal strength would afford.—We were weak, one of our Counties, & that which commands our best harbour was but a stone's throw from a neighbouring State, and that State too, not only entertained jealousies of us, but had a claim upon that very County; another great part of our State lay exposed to the ravages of any foreign invader, & which, in the late war, even the whole force of Great Britain could not save from plunder. When we looked to the North East we should find a great tract of our country erected into a free and independent State, in defiance of our Laws, by a race of brave and hardy men whom we had compelled to be our enemies.—On the North West, we should find our natural enemy in force within our borders—in what part then was the Strength of our State to be found? Not here—a broad, & a deep river intersected us—so that if either side should be attacked, it would be difficult to obtain succours from the other.—Taking therefore a general view of the State, he considered it as the weakest in the Union. He knew that there was a certain pride which we all felt—we were taught to beleive that we were Strong, & of importance—in union, we were Strong indeed.— Some Gentlemen he beleived, entertained ideas that if we were disunited from the grand confederacy, we might form Separate alliances— let us, said he, examine whether this be practicable—we know that a similarity of manners has connected the Eastern States—in our habits & manners we are quite different from them.—Discussions of territory early took place between us—& it is well known that those disputes existed till the beginning of the late war:—they may not yet be forgotten. We have no reason to expect that they will be our voluntary allies.—What inducements can we hold out to them? Is there any thing that we can offer?—It will be madness for us to think of it. If any of the U. S. is vulnerable it is New York.—our ports are easily assailed by water—& by land our Northern Frontiers invite the Foe—Is it therefore to be expected that the Eastern States would agree to a league which would involve them in war.—This argument, if it would have weight with them, ought to have weight with our Western neighbours.
New Jersey will be more attached to the middle States than to us—not more from motives of policy—than a jealousy that Subsists between us.
What then is to be our doom, is it in our power to Stand alone?—he wished not to be misapprehended—tho' he knew the value of union he also knew the value of good government.—It was not his object to induce Gentlemen to accept of the proposed government, without duly considering it:—He only wished to impress upon the House the importance of coolly &candidly discussing the subject—some sacrifice must unavoidably be made, & it should be well considered which was to be preferred, either to make a partial Sacrifice; or give up the union.—But our weakness and our wealth equally concurred to make an union necessary.—He thought it proper to examine where was this union to be found; he knew but two places—either by a common consent among the neighbouring States, which he had shewn to be improbable—or in the Constitution now offered.— He knew that some Gentlemen entertained ideas of remaining under the Old Confederation. he would examine the practicability of it. The great object of union had been pointed out in the paragraph just read (the Preamble of the Constitution) he asked if we had found any of those benefits under the existing confederation—Do we find it capable of defending us against our foreign enemies? How comes it then that the British are in possession of a great part of our State.—Is it in our power to maintain domestic tranquility? if it is, how has it happened that Vermont is a free and independent State.—How has it happened that new States have arisen in the West, & in the heart of other States.—Sir, said he, does any Gentleman pretend to say that our commerce stands on the ground it ought; is it not governed by the Laws of Great Britain—If then we have not found security and domestic tranquility—if new States may arise—if our commerce is restricted—and our national reputation injured.—These misfortunes must flow from some radical defects in the old confederation—there was an insufficiency of power given to the general government.—For altho' it appeared by the old confederation that many powers were given, yet they were withheld, by withholding the means of executing them.1
For instance, Congress had a power to raise troops by a requisition on the States.—if there should be a war on the Banks of the Missippi, it would be almost impossible to get troops there from this State, or from New England,—who would feel little anxiety from dangers at that distance.—On the other hand if a war should break out in the Eastern States—the Southern States would furnish their quotas with equal reluctance. But there is a greater danger which arises from each State Judging of the propriety or impropriety of the war;—if the navigation of the Missippi is the object—the Eastern States will not find themselves interested in the event.—if the Fishery, the Southern States will not think it an object of their concern.—Who does not know the difficulties this State experienced in the late war from a neglect of the States to comply with the requisitions of Congress. This will eternally be the case—& Congress have no power to compel a compliance—because there can be no coercion but that of arms—& this will ever be unadviseable, (even if it was practicable) as it carries with it the seeds of disunion and domestic violence.—The power of raising money was of a nature with that of raising troops—the public treasury must either be filled by voluntary contributions—or by force. The power to make loans is also given in the same defective manner—as the power of borrowing must depend on the capacity of repaying.—Suppose said he there may be some who would be credulous enough to lend—Congress not having the means of repaying—it might involve us in a war,—for foreign powers would not suffer us to rob them under the masque of a loan.—Besides, the power of making loans under the old Confederation is in other respects disadvantageous—as none can borrow on good terms except those who have funds to pledge. The power of making treaties is also given to Congress,—but of what avail is it for Congress to make treaties without being able to compel an observance of them.—Have we any reason to believe but that every treaty will more or less clash with the interest of some one of the States.—and is it not in the power of that State to involve us in a war by disregarding those Treaties.—There was, he repeated, a radical defect in the old Confederation.—Federal Republics had often been attempted, but in vain.—The United Netherlands he observed was a Federal Republic, and in our day we had seen the difficulties they had experienced. Even the long war in which they made their noble struggle for liberty—the burthens of that war was chiefly born by the Province of Holland one of the most wealthy and powerful in the confederacy; by the repeated instances of the other provinces neglecting to make good their proportion of supplies, was obliged to send an armed force into their country and levy contributions.— Have not we delinquent States States who for a long time have added nothing to the common treasury.—The Germanic confederacy he cited as another instance, of the inefficacy of Federal Governments.—Who tho' a body of brave & virtuous men, were continually rushing on each others Swords.—These things tended to prove that the principles of those governments were radically defective.— He spoke of the necessary powers to be given to Congress—& among the most urgent mentioned that of regulating our commerce now on the decline—he supposed they would all agree on that point.2
Congress he said were hardly the representatives of the States.—
He gave many other evidences of the defects of the old confederation—& all tending to force the necessity of adopting the New Government, which, he said, we had happily at present in our power—He wished that Gentlemen would go into the investigation of it with candour, and with sincerity;—the cause of humanity was interested in the present decision.—He wished that all prejudices & jealousies might be banished from among them. Many of us, said he, are the Officers, and the Legislators of the State.— On this solemn occasion let us consider ourselves as So many private citizens assembled to consult on the general good.—As officers of government we may feel interested in retaining those powers which we now possess—but as Citizens, it can make no difference to us, whether we live under a general or particular State government, provided we find the same security in the one as in the other.3
He had made the foregoing address as a preface to the following resolution,—it was intended to prevent any hasty & premature decisions—give every member a chance of coming forward with his sentiments & by examining the Constitution with patience and diligence, clause by clause, give it a fair & dispassionate discussion.— The resolution he offered was &c.—

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