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title:“The Landholder [Oliver Ellsworth]”
authors:Oliver Ellsworth
date written:1787-12-10

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:23 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 1, 2023, 4:20 p.m. UTC

Ellsworth, Oliver. "The Landholder [Oliver Ellsworth]." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

The Landholder [Oliver Ellsworth] (December 10, 1787)

Just at the close of the Convention, whose proceedings in general were zealously supported by Mr. Mason, he moved for a clause that no navigation act should ever be passed but with the consent of two-thirds of both branches; urging that a navigation act might otherwise be passed excluding foreign bottoms from carrying American produce to market, and throw a monopoly of the carrying business into the hands of the eastern states who attend to navigation, and that such an exclusion of foreigners would raise the freight of the produce of the southern states, and for these reasons Mr. Mason would have it in the power of the southern states to prevent any navigation act. This clause, as unequal and partial in the extreme to the southern states, was rejected; because it ought to be left on the same footing with other national concerns, and because no state would have a right to complain of a navigation act which should leave the carrying business equally open to them all. Those who preferred cultivating their lands would do so; those who chose to navigate and become carriers would do that. The loss of this question determined Mr. Mason against the signing the doings of the convention, and is undoubtedly among his reasons as drawn for the southern states; but for the eastern states this reason would not do.1 . . .
There is to be no ex post facto laws. This was moved by Mr. Gerry and supported by Mr. Mason, and is exceptional only as being unnecessary; for it ought not to be presumed that government will be so tyrannical, and opposed to the sense of all modern civilians, as to pass such laws: if they should, they would be void.1
The general Legislature is restrained from prohibiting the further importation of slaves for twenty odd years. . . . His objections are . . . that such importations render the United States weaker, more vulnerable, and less capable of defence. To this I readily agree, and all good men wish the entire abolition of slavery, as soon as it can take place with safety to the public, and for the lasting good of the present wretched race of slaves. The only possible step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix a period after which they should not be imported. . . .2
To make the objections the more plausible, they are called The objections of the Hon. George Mason, etc. — They may possibly be his, but be assured they were not those made in convention, and being directly against what he there supported in one instance ought to caution you against giving any credit to the rest; his violent opposition to the powers given congress to regulate trade, was an open decided preference of all the world to you. . . .
It may be asked how I came by my information respecting Col. Mason's conduct in convention, as the doors were shut? To this I answer, no delegate of the late convention will contradict my assertions, as I have repeatedly heard them made by others in presence of several of them, who could not deny their truth.
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 According to Mr. P. L. Ford: "The paragraph containing Mason's objection to the mere majority power of Congress to regulate commerce, was included in all the southern papers, but omitted in copies furnished to the papers north of Maryland." See also CLV below.
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